May 22 2015

Google Has Replaced Matt Cutts

It looks like Matt Cutts has been officially replaced as the head of web spam at Google. We don’t know who his replacement is, and we might not anytime soon, but the company has confirmed his replacement nevertheless. In July, it will be the one-year anniversary of when Cutts announced he was taking leave from Google. It was originally supposed to last at least through the following October. At the time, he wrote on his personal blog : I wanted to let folks know that I’m about to take a few months of leave. When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years, and then she’d get to see more of me. I talked about this as recently as last month and as early as 2006. And now, almost fifteen years later I’d like to be there for my wife more. I know she’d like me to be around more too, and not just physically present while my mind is still on work. So we’re going to take some time off for a few months. My leave starts next week. Currently I’m scheduled to be gone through October. Thanks to a deep bench of smart engineers and spam fighters, the webspam team is in more-than-capable hands. Seriously, they’re much better at spam fighting than I am, so don’t worry on that score. At the end of October, Cutts revealed in a tweet that he was extending his leave into 2015: I'm planning to extend my leave into 2015: https://t.co/T5adq50x4L — Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) November 1, 2014 In November, Cutts made some comments on a web chat show indicating that he might be interested in doing different work at Google when he decides to go back to work. Search Engine Land is now reporting that Google has someone new in the Matt Cutts position of head of web spam, but that this person won’t be “the all-around spokesperson” that Cutts was, so they’re not naming who it is. Danny Sullivan writes: Going forward, Google says to continue to expect what’s already been happening while Cutts has been away. Various individual Googlers will keep splitting the role of providing advice and answers to SEOs and publishers in online forums, conferences and other places. So far, webmaster trends analyst John Mueller has been the most publicly visible voice of webmaster issues for Google on the internet, regularly hosting lengthy webmaster hangouts and talking about various Google updates and whatnot. Matt’s Twitter bio still says, “I’m the head of the webspam team at Google. (Currently on leave).” Image via YouTube

Jul 3 2014

Google Continues Link Network Attack

It would appear that Google’s attack on European link networks is not over (if it ever will be). Google has been penalizing link networks on the Internet with a vengeance over the past year or so, with much of the focus on Europe. The company says it has now penalized two more from Poland. This week, Google posted about reconsideration requests on its Poland blog, and then Googler Karolina Kruszyńska told Rusty Brick they took action on two networks in Poland: @rustybrick We took action on two link networks. — Karolina Kruszyńska (@karo_krus) July 3, 2014 She didn’t name the networks (at least publicly). Google’s Matt Cutts also tweeted about it: @bart_goralewicz Yes. I didn't tweet about it because people have been asking us to be more positive, but yes. — Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) July 3, 2014 I wonder who those people are. Back in February, Google said it was focusing on networks in Poland. Since then, it was gone after various other networks in Europe, and also in Japan . Image via YouTube

May 30 2014

Google’s Transparency Called Into Question Again

Though it’s back in Google’s results now, another company is making headlines for being penalized by Google. This time it’s Vivint, which produces smart thermostats, and competes with Nest, which Google acquired earlier this year. PandoDaily’s James Robinson wrote an article about it , noting that Vivint had received warnings from Google about external links that didn’t comply with its quality guidelines, but didn’t confirm what the links were. Rather, the company was “left to fish in the dark to figure out what i had done to upset its rival.” As Robinson correctly noted, Rap Genius was removed from Google’s search results last year for violating guidelines, and was back in business within two weeks. At the time, Google was accused by some of employing a double standard for letting the site recover so quickly compared to others. Google’s Matt Cutts had some comments about the Pando article on Hacker News . He wrote: It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me, because the suggestion that Google took action on vivint.com because it was somehow related to Nest is silly. As part of a crackdown on a spammy blog posting network, we took action on vivint.com–along with hundreds of other sites at the same time that were attempting to spam search results. We took action on vivint.com because it was spamming with low-quality or spam articles… He listed several example links, and continued: and a bunch more links, not to mention 25,000+ links from a site with a paid relationship where the links should have been nofollowed. When we took webspam action, we alerted Vivint via a notice in Webmaster Tools about unnatural links to their site. And when Vivint had done sufficient work to clean up the spammy links, we granted their reconsideration request. This had nothing whatsoever to do with Nest. The webspam team caught Vivint spamming. We held them (along with many other sites using the same spammy guest post network) accountable until they cleaned the spam up. That’s all. He said later in the thread that Google “started dissecting” the guest blog posting network in question in November, noting that Google didn’t acquire Nest until January. In case you’re wondering when acquisition talks began, Cutts said, “You know Larry Page doesn’t have me on speed dial for companies he’s planning to buy, right? No one involved with this webspam action (including me) knew about the Nest acquisition before it was publicly announced.” “Vivint was link spamming (and was caught by the webspam team for spamming) before Google even acquired Nest,” he said. Robinson, in a follow-up article , takes issue with Cutts calling Pando’s reporting “silly,” and mockingly says Cutts “wants you to know Google is totally transparent.” Here’s an excerpt: “It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me,” Cutts writes, insinuating we didn’t contact the company for comment. Pando had in fact reached out to Google’s press team and consulted in detail with the company spokesperson who was quoted in our story. It is now clear why Google didn’t pass on our questions to Cutts. He goes on to say that Cutts’ assessment of VIvint’s wrongdoing is “exactly what we described in our article — no one is disputing that Vivint violated Google’s search rules.” He also calls Cutts’ comments “a slightly simplistic version of events, given the months-long frustration Vivint spoke of in trying to fix the problem.” Robinson concludes the article: The point of our reporting is to highlight the unusual severity of the punishment (locked out for months, completely delisted from results until this week) given Vivint’s relationship to a Google-owned company and the lack of transparency Google offers in assisting offending sites. Multiple sources at Vivint told us that the company was told that it had “unnatural links” but was left to guess at what these were, having to repeatedly cut content blindly and ask for reinstatement from Google, until it hit upon the magic recipe. To these charges, Cutts has no answer. That’s a shame. Now, I’m going to pull an excerpt from an article of my own from November because it seems highly relevant here: Many would say that Google has become more transparent over the years. It gives users, businesses and webmasters access to a lot more information about its intentions and business practices than it did long ago, but is it going far enough? When it comes to its search algorithm and changes to how it ranks content, Google has arguably scaled back a bit on the transparency over the past year or so. Google, as a company, certainly pushes the notion that it is transparent. Just last week, Google updated its Transparency Report for the eighth time, showing government requests for user information (which have doubled over three years, by the way). That’s one thing. For the average online business that relies on Internet visibility for customers, however, these updates are of little comfort. A prime example of where Google has reduced its transparency is the monthly lists of algorithm changes it used to put out, but stopped. Cutts said the “world got bored” with those . Except it really didn’t as far as we can tell. Image via YouTube The post Google’s Transparency Called Into Question Again appeared first on WebProNews .

May 30 2014

Google’s Transparency Called Into Question Again

Though it’s back in Google’s results now, another company is making headlines for being penalized by Google. This time it’s Vivint, which produces smart thermostats, and competes with Nest, which Google acquired earlier this year. PandoDaily’s James Robinson wrote an article about it , noting that Vivint had received warnings from Google about external links that didn’t comply with its quality guidelines, but didn’t confirm what the links were. Rather, the company was “left to fish in the dark to figure out what i had done to upset its rival.” As Robinson correctly noted, Rap Genius was removed from Google’s search results last year for violating guidelines, and was back in business within two weeks. At the time, Google was accused by some of employing a double standard for letting the site recover so quickly compared to others. Google’s Matt Cutts had some comments about the Pando article on Hacker News . He wrote: It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me, because the suggestion that Google took action on vivint.com because it was somehow related to Nest is silly. As part of a crackdown on a spammy blog posting network, we took action on vivint.com–along with hundreds of other sites at the same time that were attempting to spam search results. We took action on vivint.com because it was spamming with low-quality or spam articles… He listed several example links, and continued: and a bunch more links, not to mention 25,000+ links from a site with a paid relationship where the links should have been nofollowed. When we took webspam action, we alerted Vivint via a notice in Webmaster Tools about unnatural links to their site. And when Vivint had done sufficient work to clean up the spammy links, we granted their reconsideration request. This had nothing whatsoever to do with Nest. The webspam team caught Vivint spamming. We held them (along with many other sites using the same spammy guest post network) accountable until they cleaned the spam up. That’s all. He said later in the thread that Google “started dissecting” the guest blog posting network in question in November, noting that Google didn’t acquire Nest until January. In case you’re wondering when acquisition talks began, Cutts said, “You know Larry Page doesn’t have me on speed dial for companies he’s planning to buy, right? No one involved with this webspam action (including me) knew about the Nest acquisition before it was publicly announced.” “Vivint was link spamming (and was caught by the webspam team for spamming) before Google even acquired Nest,” he said. Robinson, in a follow-up article , takes issue with Cutts calling Pando’s reporting “silly,” and mockingly says Cutts “wants you to know Google is totally transparent.” Here’s an excerpt: “It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me,” Cutts writes, insinuating we didn’t contact the company for comment. Pando had in fact reached out to Google’s press team and consulted in detail with the company spokesperson who was quoted in our story. It is now clear why Google didn’t pass on our questions to Cutts. He goes on to say that Cutts’ assessment of VIvint’s wrongdoing is “exactly what we described in our article — no one is disputing that Vivint violated Google’s search rules.” He also calls Cutts’ comments “a slightly simplistic version of events, given the months-long frustration Vivint spoke of in trying to fix the problem.” Robinson concludes the article: The point of our reporting is to highlight the unusual severity of the punishment (locked out for months, completely delisted from results until this week) given Vivint’s relationship to a Google-owned company and the lack of transparency Google offers in assisting offending sites. Multiple sources at Vivint told us that the company was told that it had “unnatural links” but was left to guess at what these were, having to repeatedly cut content blindly and ask for reinstatement from Google, until it hit upon the magic recipe. To these charges, Cutts has no answer. That’s a shame. Now, I’m going to pull an excerpt from an article of my own from November because it seems highly relevant here: Many would say that Google has become more transparent over the years. It gives users, businesses and webmasters access to a lot more information about its intentions and business practices than it did long ago, but is it going far enough? When it comes to its search algorithm and changes to how it ranks content, Google has arguably scaled back a bit on the transparency over the past year or so. Google, as a company, certainly pushes the notion that it is transparent. Just last week, Google updated its Transparency Report for the eighth time, showing government requests for user information (which have doubled over three years, by the way). That’s one thing. For the average online business that relies on Internet visibility for customers, however, these updates are of little comfort. A prime example of where Google has reduced its transparency is the monthly lists of algorithm changes it used to put out, but stopped. Cutts said the “world got bored” with those . Except it really didn’t as far as we can tell. Image via YouTube

May 19 2014

Google Responds To Link Removal Overreaction

People continue to needlessly ask sites that have legitimately linked to theirs to remove links because they’re afraid Google won’t like these links or because they simply want to be cautious about what Google may find questionable at any given time. With Google’s algorithms and manual penalty focuses changing on an ongoing basis, it’s hard to say what will get you in trouble with the search engine down the road. Guest blogging, for example, didn’t used to be much of a concern, but in recent months, Google has people freaking out about that. Have you ever felt compelled to have a natural link removed? Let us know in the comments . People take different views on specific types of links whether they’re from guest blog posts, directories, or something else entirely, but things have become so bass ackwards that people seek to have completely legitimate links to their sites removed. Natural links. The topic is getting some attention once again thanks to a blog post from Jeremy Palmer called “Google is Breaking the Internet.” He talks about getting an email from a site his site linked to. “In short, the email was a request to remove links from our site to their site,” he says. “We linked to this company on our own accord, with no prior solicitation, because we felt it would be useful to our site visitors, which is generally why people link to things on the Internet.” “For the last 10 years, Google has been instilling and spreading irrational fear into webmasters,” he writes. “They’ve convinced site owners that any link, outside of a purely editorial link from an ‘authority site’, could be flagged as a bad link, and subject the site to ranking and/or index penalties. This fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) campaign has webmasters everywhere doing unnatural things, which is what Google claims they’re trying to stop.” It’s true. We’ve seen similar emails, and perhaps you have too. A lot of sites have. Barry Schwartz at Search Engine Roundtable says he gets quite a few of them, and has just stopped responding. It’s gotten so bad that people even ask StumbleUpon to remove links . You know, Stumbleupon – one of the biggest drivers of traffic on the web. “We typically receive a few of these requests a week,” a spokesperson for the company told WebProNews last year. “We evaluate the links based on quality and if they don’t meet our user experience criteria we take them down. Since we drive a lot of traffic to sites all over the Web, we encourage all publishers to keep and add quality links to StumbleUpon. Our community votes on the content they like and don’t like so the best content is stumbled and shared more often while the less popular content is naturally seen less frequently.” Palmer’s post made its way to Hacker News, and got the attention of a couple Googlers including Matt Cutts himself. It actually turned into quite a lengthy conversation . Cutts wrote: Note that there are two different things to keep in mind when someone writes in and says “Hey, can you remove this link from your site?” Situation #1 is by far the most common. If a site gets dinged for linkspam and works to clean up their links, a lot of them send out a bunch of link removal requests on their own prerogative. Situation #2 is when Google actually sends a notice to a site for spamming links and gives a concrete link that we believe is part of the problem. For example, we might say “we believe site-a.com has a problem with spam or inorganic links. An example link is site-b.com/spammy-link.html.” The vast majority of the link removal requests that a typical site gets are for the first type, where a site got tagged for spamming links and now it’s trying hard to clean up any links that could be considered spammy. He also shared this video discussion he recently ad with Leo Laporte and Gina Trapani. Cutts later said in the Hacker News thread, “It’s not a huge surprise that some sites which went way too far spamming for links will sometimes go overboard when it’s necessary to clean the spammy links up. The main thing I’d recommend for a site owner who gets a fairly large number of link removal requests is to ask ‘Do these requests indicate a larger issue with my site?’ For example, if you run a forum and it’s trivially easy for blackhat SEOs to register for your forum and drop a link on the user profile page, then that’s a loophole that you probably want to close. But if the links actually look organic to you or you’re confident that your site is high-quality or doesn’t have those sorts of loopholes, you can safely ignore these requests unless you’re feeling helpful.” Side note: Cutts mentionedin the thread that Google hasn’t been using the disavow links tool as a reason not to trust a source site. Googler Ryan Moulton weighed in on the link removal discussion in the thread, saying, “The most likely situation is that the company who sent the letter hired a shady SEO. That SEO did spammy things that got them penalized. They brought in a new SEO to clean up the mess, and that SEO is trying to undo all the damage the previous one caused. They are trying to remove every link they can find since they didn’t do the spamming in the first place and don’t know which are causing the problem.” That’s a fair point that has gone largely overlooked. Either way, it is indeed clear that sites are overreacting in getting links removed from sites. Natural links. Likewise, some sites are afraid to link out naturally for similar reasons. After the big guest blogging bust of 2014, Econsultancy, a reasonably reputable digital marketing and ecommerce resource site, announced that it was adding nofollow to links in the bios of guest authors as part of a “safety first approach”. Keep in mind, they only accept high quality posts in the first place, and have strict guidelines. Econsultancy’s Chris Lake wrote at the time, “Google is worried about links in signatures. I guess that can be gamed, on less scrupulous blogs. It’s just that our editorial bar is very high, and all outbound links have to be there on merit, and justified. From a user experience perspective, links in signatures are entirely justifiable. I frequently check out writers in more detail, and wind up following people on the various social networks. But should these links pass on any linkjuice? It seems not, if you want to play it safe (and we do).” Of course Google is always talking about how important the user experience is. Are people overreacting with link removals? Should the sites doing the linking respond to irrational removal requests? Share your thoughts in the comments . Image via Twit.tv

Apr 2 2014

Google Has Reputable Sites Afraid To Link Naturally

And the freaking out continues…. As mentioned in a previous post , Google has reignited the link removal hysteria by going after guest blog posts. People who have written guests posts on other sites over the years are now rushing to have their links removed just in case Google doesn’t like them, and decides to penalize their sites. Who can blame them when Google is in fact penalizing sites for guest posts? This may have been a perfectly acceptable practice for years on the Internet, but Google has now decided that it doesn’t like it much, and is making people pay. Of course the message has been that guest blogging for SEO is bad, but high quality guest posts for editorial purposes are just fine. The problem is you’re leaving it up to Google’s judgment, and that might not be the same as yours. Because of this, people are also wondering if they need to put nofollows on all guest blog links. The thing about this is that some might argue that high quality guest posts should be counted as a signal of quality in a person’s favor, and by extension in their site’s favor through a link. That can provide encouragement for some to write these posts. But Google is probably looking at that as a “link scheme,” even if it seems perfectly legit to everybody else. Econsultancy, a respected digital marketing and ecommerce resource site, announced (via Search Engine Roundtable ) that it is “taking a safety first apporach. That means adding nofollow links in the bios of guest bloggers”. They proceed to list a bunch of “facts” about their editorial process. Essentially, it all boils down to this: They only accept high quality posts, and have strict guidelines. They do everything the way it’s supposed to be done, and assume editorial control over it all – even the signatures. But they do allow links in the signatures, and for that reason, they’re afraid that Google might find some reason to penalize them. Econsultancy’s Chris Lake writes, “Google is worried about links in signatures. I guess that can be gamed, on less scrupulous blogs. It’s just that our editorial bar is very high, and all outbound links have to be there on merit, and justified. From a user experience perspective, links in signatures are entirely justifiable. I frequently check out writers in more detail, and wind up following people on the various social networks. But should these links pass on any linkjuice? It seems not, if you want to play it safe (and we do).” From a user experience perspective. User experience. Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, it’s Google from the past decade saying over and over again that they want to give people what’s best for users. It SEEMS that these links shouldn’t pass on any linkjuice, he says. It seems so because of Google’s recent crackdown, but I ask again, why not? If the content is legit, and editorially controlled, why not? Why shouldn’t somebody get credit towards their authority on a topic (something Google is particularly interested in nowadays ) if their work was editorially selected to appear on a respected site like Econsultancy? Lake asks, “Can’t Google discount these links at an algorithmic level?” He’s talking about author bio links, but on a broader level, many have been asking a similar question for years: instead of penalizing sites, why doesn’t Google just not count the bad links? “I’d like to think that if Google’s webspam team was to look at Econsultancy’s content, our guest bloggers, and the way we standardise the signatures, that we’d have no problem. But I can’t bank on that,” Lake writes. Yep, this is what it has come to. Reputable sites with high standards for content have to fear Google because of some change they decided to make. Will it ever end? Image via Econsultancy

Dec 6 2013

Google Updates Toolbar PageRank After All

Just when you thought you were out, they’ve pulled you back in. Google has updated its data for Toolbar PageRank, after giving indication that it likely wouldn’t happen before the end of the year, if at all. Many of us assumed that it was pretty much going away because it has been so long since it has been updated, after years of regularity. Reactions to the update are mixed. Some are happy to see the new(er) data, while others wish it would just go away once and for all. As those in the SEO industry have known for years, the data simply isn’t that useful as a day-to-day tool, mainly due to the time that passes between updates. Yet others obsess about it. Here’s a real time look at what people are saying about the update on Twitter: Tweets about “pagerank” This is the first time Google has updated PageRank since February. Historically, they’ve updated it every thee or four months. Google’s Matt Cutts tweeted in October that he’d be surprised if there was another PR update before 2014. Shortly after that, Cutts discussed the topic in a Webmaster Help video: “Over time, the Toolbar PageRank is getting less usage just because recent versions of Internet Explorer don’t really let you install toolbars as easily, and Chrome doesn’t have the toolbar so over time, the PageRank indicator will probably start to go away a little bit,” he said. In another video earlier in the year, he said, “Maybe it will go away on its own or eventually we’ll reach the point where we say, ‘Okay, maintaining this is not worth the amount of work. Apparently that time has not come yet, as we thought it probably had. Are you happy to see the PR update? Should Google continue to update this information?

Oct 7 2013

Matt Cutts Tells You Why Your Site’s PageRank Isn’t Changing (Kind Of)

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The question of whether or not Google Toolbar PageRank is dead has come back around, as Google’s Matt Cutts indicated the other day that we’re not likely to see an update before the end of the year. This Twitter exchange occurred on Sunday ( via Barry Schwartz ): @NielsBoschh I would be surprised if that happened. — Matt Cutts (@mattcutts) October 6, 2013 Google hasn’t updated it since February, after historically updating it every three or four months. The latest Webmaster Help video from Google has come out, and it just happens to talk about Google Toolbar PageRank. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really tell us anything new. It’s pretty much the same thing Cutts said last time he did a video on it . He says, “The thing to remind yourself about is that the Google Toolbar PageRank, number one, it’s only updated periodically, so, you know, for a while, we would update it relatively often. Now, we’ll update it a few times a year. Over time, the Toolbar PageRank is getting less usage just because recent versions of Internet Explorer don’t really let you install toolbars as easily, and Chrome doesn’t have the toolbar so over time, the PageRank indicator will probably start to go away a little bit.” “But it’s also the case that we only update this information every few months, so it does take time in order to show up,” he says. The messaging here is a little odd considering, again, that there hasn’t been an update since February, and we shouldn’t expect to see one before the end of the year. Image: Google

Mar 27 2013

Will Google Offer A ‘Brain Interface’ Within The Next Ten Years?

Google put out a new Webmaster Help video today, though this one doesn’t really do much to help webmasters. It’s simply Matt Cutt responding to the question: Where do you see Google search 10 years down the road? An interesting topic, for sure. As Cutts notes, that’s a long time. In Internet years that’s a really, really long time. I can’t imagine how even Cutts could possibly know what Google will be like that far into the future. It sounds, however, like a lot of current Google projects like Google Glass and Google Now are involved. One interesting (if not scary) concept Cutts mentions is a brain interface. “In theory there could be a brain interface so you could be having a dialogue where some of it is audible and some of it is not,” he contemplates. I think that hovers somewhere around that “creepy line” that Microsoft likes to keep talking about (and even illustrating ). Former Google CEO (and current Executive Chairman) Eric Schmidt said a few years ago that brain implants would cross the creepy line. The part about the creepy line was used as a sound byte in Microsoft’s “Scroogled” campaign about Gmail , even though Schmidt was talking about brain implants. I smell a Scroogled resurrection .

Feb 6 2013

Here’s Why Google Doesn’t Turn Off Toolbar PageRank

Now that Google’s Matt Cutts is back online , he’s been steadily putting out new Webmaster Help videos on a daily basis. It will be interesting to see how long this continues. Today’s is particularly timely considering Google just pushed out a toolbar PageRank update (the first of the year). Cutts responds to the following user-submitted question: Why don’t you switch off the PageRank Toolbar feature? It is widely used by link sellers as a link grading system. Why do you continue to display PageRank publicly? It appears to have little relevance, except to spammers. “My rough answer is: there are a lot of SEOs and people in search who look at the PageRank toolbar, but there are a ton of regular users as well,” says Cutts. “You would be really surprised at how many just regular people have the Google Toolbar, and user PageRank as a way to figure out…how reputable at something…I know it seems kind of strange, but it also seems strange that nofollow is only a single digit percentage of links on the web. We get into our tunnel vision, and we sort of say, ‘Oh, well no one else uses the PageRank toolbar,’ but the fact is a lot of people do.” He continues, “Now, one interesting twist is Chrome doesn’t really have a PageRank toolbar feature built in, and Internet Explorer 10, as I understand it, doesn’t allow toolbars or add-ins, or as Microsoft calls it, it provides an ‘add-in free experience,’ so if IE 10 becomes more popular, eventually it might be the case that the Google Toolbar is not as commonly used, and in that case, it might be the case that, it might be such that over time, maybe the PageRank feature is not used by as many people, and so maybe it will go away on its own or eventually we’ll reach the point where we say, ‘Okay, maintaining this is not worth the amount of work.’” He says Google will probably continue to support the feature as long as people are using it. With IE 10, however, he says, “the writing is on the wall,” so they’ll see how that affects things in the future (particularly for Windows users).