Ex-Googler: “To Please Google With Your SEO, Forget About SEO”

seo-200It’s not everyday you get to hear from someone that’s worked on Google’s Search Quality/Webspam team and isn’t named Matt Cutts.

But Andre Weyher, whose LinkedIn profile lists a two-year stint as a member of the search quality team, recently spoke with James Norquay, a search/digital marketer based in Australia, and shared some interesting comments that may — and I’ll say more about this below — help search marketers and webmasters understand a little better how Google views certain SEO strategies and tactics.

NOTE: Before publishing, we asked Google for a comment on this story. It declined. A day after publishing, Google got in contact to say that Weyher “didn’t work on webspam engineering or algorithms at Google” and said it found inaccuracies in what he said. The postscript below has Google’s full statement. Weyher has also responded to say that while he wasn’t an engineer, he did work within the webspam team. His statement is also in a postscript, below.

Weyher explains that each person on the search quality team covers a certain “market” or “specialization.” His was content quality and backlink profiles. Below, some of the quotes that I found most interesting from the interview along with a comment or two from me in italics where appropriate.

On Link Building

“Everyone knew that Penguin would be pointed at links, but I don’t think many people expected the impact to be as large as it turned out to be. At this stage a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago.”

He’s referring to the Penguin update that launched in late April, of course. Google estimated that it would impact about three percent of search queries. There have been two Penguin updates since: in late May and early October.

“Not only this but take PR for example, getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR.”

“…don’t dismiss directories completely. I have heard people talking about directories being altogether bad and advise people to avoid them. This is not the case, good quality, moderated directories, or niche directories are still worth looking in to.”

On What Makes A Spammy Link Profile

“There are a good few elements taken into account here, like how many links are there in total? A very important one; what is the quality of the pages they come in from? Do the pages look “real” or are they just there to host the links? What anchors are used? The commercial vs. non commercial ratio of the anchors.”

One of the most common post-Penguin pieces of advice that I’ve seen is to vary the anchor text of links pointing to your website. This interview seems to confirm that Google is (or was) looking at anchor text ratios.

On On-page SEO

“Of course you can’t over-do it as Google now also penalises for over optimisation, so don’t putt [sic] more than 2 commercial keywords in your titles or Google will frown upon it.”

Google might disagree with this quote. There was talk earlier this year that Google was planning to penalize for over-optimization, but when the Penguin update launched, Matt Cutts clarified that “over-optimization wasn’t the best description.” See our Penguin launch article for more on that. Also, I’ve never heard any other Googler make such a specific comment about keywords in title tags.

“Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.”

“…what I tend to tell people is the following; if you want to please Google with your SEO, then forget about SEO.”

This echoes a theme that I’ve seen many smart SEOs talk about this year. Probably the best article on this idea is Adam Audette’s SEO Should Be Invisible.

Final Thoughts

We reached out to Google, but the company declined to comment on the interview.

The interview offers what I think is an interesting and potentially valuable look into how Google views certain SEO strategies and tactics in relation to its search quality and anti-webspam efforts. But I think it’s also important to keep in mind that these are the views of just one member of a large team at Google. As with any interview, it’s up to us as readers to try to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff — i.e., what may reflect Google’s views versus what may be the interviewee’s opinions.

Postscript (Oct. 17): Google has now decided it does want to comment on this post, telling us about Weyher:

He didn’t work on webspam engineering or algorithms at Google. Given that we saw several incorrect statements in even this quick interview, we’d recommend sticking to trustworthy sources for accurate info on how Google works.

Postscript 2 (Oct. 17): Weyher tells us:

I wasn’t an engineer and wasn’t responsible for creating the algorithm in any way. No one within Google knows the entire picture apart from maybe 1 engineer, 1 level under Larry Page.

My tasks in the search quality team under Matt Cutts were executing Google policy, especially content quality rating and quality of backlink profiles, applying appropriate penalties and creating reports that would be taken into account by the webspam engineers.

By reviewing literally thousands of cases of what NOT to do, you learn what the limits are and from what exact point Google starts seeing something as spammy.

My answers in the original interview were based on my experiences in the 2 years I was on the team. Of course it’s important to mention that I am not an official Google spokesperson but certain things that I have learnt at my time in Google are still current.

As far as elements like commercial keywords in titles are concerned, I don’t think anyone would doubt that Google doesn’t like on-page over optimization. You can give it another name but it comes down to the same thing: try to make your page only search engine focused is not something Google likes.

It’s hard for me to comment about any incorrect statements without Google describing which were incorrect.

(Stock image via Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: SEO | SEO: General | Top News

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • http://twitter.com/SemMetric SEMMetric

    Couple parts that stood out to me:

    “choose your domain name wisely”
    “Good domains are still expensive and for a good reason.”

    Exact match domains = still big on page factor

    And also:

    “Google does not judge the nature of your content, only it’s authenticity”

  • http://twitter.com/incrediblehelp Jaan Kanellis

    “One of the most common post-Penguin pieces of advice that I’ve seen is to vary the anchor text of links pointing to your website. This interview seems to confirm that Google is (or was) looking at anchor text ratios.”

    I would still love to hear what Google thinks about branded anchor text. Surely a majority of anchor is going to be your domain or brand name. Does that hurt? What about using branded links across footers, across multiple sites you own?

  • http://avgjoegeek.net/ avgjoegeek

    “Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.”

    I think this is the best advice since the Penguin updates. I try and think of how users will find the article more than how Google will search for it. You still need to use common sense here. I’ll still use SEO as a guideline for the stuff I write – but not as the hard rule any more.

  • http://twitter.com/sharithurow sharithurow

    Hi-

    I really disagree with this ex-Googler. Search engine optimization, when done properly, helps define the aboutness of web pages and other documents, and can really clarify information scent.

    In the information architecture field, labeling is incredibly important for establishing and maintaining aboutness. Labeling also a key part of the search optimization process.

    I am not going to stop making my and my clients’ document labels effective just because someone who used to work for the search quality team tells us to not do SEO. I understand that there is good SEO and bad SEO, and the stuff in between the two.

    Search engine optimization is a critical component of findability (which includes browsing, searching/retrieval, and asking, according to information architecture guru Peter Morville). We all need to do optimize our content and documents well and not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

    My 2 cents.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kelvin.s.jones Kelvin Jones

    A lot of nothing really. Don’t over optimise, link text, relevancy, page rank is old, the only confirmation of my gut feeling, based on working with dozens and dozens of domain for over a decade is… Specific markets. The rest you can get from seasoned knowledgeable folk. Oh and exact match domains seem to of been hit by something…. domain age counts, but trust me, it’s what you do with it that counts!!

  • http://phill.co/ Phill

    Sorry, did you not see the EMD update that landed 2 weeks back?

  • http://phill.co/ Phill

    And it makes perfect sense too…. I have also had the pleasure of meeting Andre – hes certainly a talented & methodical individual.

    Key point for me here really is the quote: “Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.”

  • http://twitter.com/connections8 James Norquay

    Site should be back up and running, we had some issues with the hosting sorry about that.

  • http://twitter.com/phillgeorge George Phillip

    Interesting, great insight into how things work over there.

  • http://twitter.com/techseo Claire

    He’s not really said anything new here, and actually I think the statement “Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.” has been taken out of context a bit here. Clearly for the purpose of getting us all a bit irritated ;-). Unless of course he thinks SEO incorporates purely link building and copy.. (which I don’t believe is the case). Perhaps we should retire the term SEO entirely to avoid confusion, and only refer to our specialities (such as ‘content quality and backlink profiles’).

    As for his other statements regarding those specific areas, we’re already aware that unnatural link profiles can have a negative impact and may results in link penalties in extreme cases. Fortunately if you have made use of poor link building tactics previously and you’re being penalised, you can now make use of Google’s disavow tool in order to rectify the situation. Happy days (unless its your job to go through them of course).

    As for content – again this is something we’ve been getting drummed into us for a while now. Make good, interesting, shareable content for the user. Yup. Got it. Thanks :)

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Great. Another rogue robot that we have to track down and block. Until these guys pay me some compensation for sucking up my resources and selling my Website information for their own benefit, NetComber and all their ilk are filthy spammers.

  • Alan

    It will be funny when his site starts sharing adsense info of European based websites. He will be shutdown faster than a drug deal in a police station.

  • Yousee

    “…what I tend to tell people is the following; if you want to please Google with your SEO, then forget about SEO.”………Does this mean that SEO is Dead?

  • Peter Sundstrom

    Have you been living under a rock recently? Have you checked to see how many EMD’s have tanked in the last few weeks?

  • http://www.seo-first-page.com/ SEO First

    If you want to please google stop seo…!!! Wow Really?

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    Have you checked to see how many haven’t?

    Google didn’t make the
    EMD update to completely remove exact match domains but to remove the
    extra weight that they have! In doing so this was meant to help remove
    some spammy EMD from the SERPs but google didn’t do as well as a lot of
    people was hoping they would, just check SEO forums such as SEO Chat and
    you will see people have been talking about the fact google is still
    ranking a great deal of EMD which are simply spam and look like shit!

  • http://twitter.com/bathbusinessweb Bath Business Web

    Nice to see the message is consistent from Google, ex and current alike.

    “At this stage a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago” – something that we have found as a web design company is the difficulty of explaining this to our customers, when they want to know why their website is suddenly not performing as well. A good challenge for us is to keep our portfolio up to date!

    Great interview :)

  • http://twitter.com/marcusbowlerhat Marcus Miller

    Well, for kicks, we could get all conspiracy theory here and claim this guy is now a stealth Google employee put out in the wild to spread more FUD about SEO and to dissuade the masses against spam techniques which still work better than they should. ;)

  • http://twitter.com/BrandonMPAD PageRankWorld.com

    those only hurt EMD’s that also had bad backlink profiles or bad on-page seo… etc.

  • http://twitter.com/SemMetric SEMMetric

    Yes I did, but did you actually read it? Nothing in the update said they are turning the dial down on ALL EMDs, just what they deem as low-quality or spam.

  • http://twitter.com/SemMetric SEMMetric

    Again, they never said they are turning the dial for ALL EMDs, I could show you tons that are ranking well. In some cases I have even seen them getting stronger positions.

    There will always be people who claim that their website that got hit was not low-quality, and you always have casualties as with Panda and Penguin.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    ““Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.””

    That’s an approach I’ve always told my clients to take. Obviously you can forget about SEO completely, but when you get too fixated on it is usually when you start making mistakes and taking risks that could hurt your site.

  • http://www.stupidtechie.net/ Ujjwal Kumar

    That’s what I did on my blog and guess what it was affected due to the freaking EMD update.. Will not believe any Googler from now on…
    So please.. STFU

  • http://www.stupidtechie.net/ Ujjwal Kumar

    cool story bro.. changed my life..

  • http://techdraginfo.blogspot.com/ shenoyjoseph

    they introduced the term SEO and now they tell us forget about SEO. What the heck happened to Google?

  • http://twitter.com/AlisonJReeves Alison Reeves

    Favourite quote is “Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan.” If this is true, at least we’ll get websites that humans can comfortably read!

  • http://twitter.com/incrediblehelp Jaan Kanellis

    Please define: “Commercial” for anchor text/keywords and “frown upon it”

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Google didn’t introduce the term SEO.

  • http://www.facebook.com/azzae89 Aaron Egan

    Bruce Clay did

  • http://www.facebook.com/sheiwah Shei Wah Tan

    Nothing new here. It’s all about execution.

  • http://twitter.com/connections8 James Norquay

    Correct I believe Bruce first used the term, but first published version is by Danny apparently – http://www.searchenginejournal.com/who-invented-the-term-search-engine-optimization-part-deux/3925/

  • http://twitter.com/connections8 James Norquay

    Big claim to make that some one is a filthy spammer.

  • http://golalaa.net/ william

    SEO ???? :O Just a word to describe this thing ” BORING ” :P

  • Saifi Rizvi

    SEO is very easy don’t make it too hard ……

  • Saifi Rizvi

    SEO is very easy don’t make it too hard …..

  • Yousee

    Thanks for the reply. Suppose, I have eCommerce website, what types of Good content should I publish in my website? I may write review on product, specification of products, usage of the products but there are number of site providing reviews, specification and usage of the products. Don’t you think that would be a content spamming as we cannot change the specification or usage of product. Moreover, I would want people to land in my product page and not the content page.

  • http://twitter.com/connections8 James Norquay

    Depends what level you work in Saifi, I wouldn’t class Enterprise SEO as “Easy”, I would prefer to class it as a “challenge”. Kind Regards, James Norquay.

  • http://www.facebook.com/the.nathaniel.bailey Nathaniel Bailey

    “someone who used to work for the search quality team tells us to not do SEO” That’s not what he said! As with most people from google you have to take what is said with a pinch of salt and read between the lines!

    He is saying forget about seo when your making your site, writing up content and so on, because you should always remember your site is for your human visitors not the bots!

    “We all need to do optimize our content and documents” If your content is of high quality and written for the user (not the search engine like you are saying we “need to do”) you will gain natural links and rank well, you need to think of the long term, not just short term effects of your content and site!

    For example, do you think that Matt McGee or the other posters on here site down, look over the articles they write and wonder if they need to make changes for google? I think not (and I hope not with their experience lol)! The articles are written for us, the users of this site, not the search engines!

    Now with that in mind and the fact this article like all the other articles on SEL has not been checked to make sure it has keywords etc, see how well they rank and how well they will continue to rank!

  • Robert

    If he really works/worked with google why does he use a hotmail email address in his video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=apU7CV3AEEc ????

  • Kyle Burton

    Great article, really suprised that a huge company like google does not require employees to sign confidentiality and nda agreements.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shugert Samuel Noriega

    Google will die by their own algorithms. The fall has begun today with their big wall street failure, people is tired of their policies and is not investing as much as they did in the past.

  • http://seo-expert4hire.blogspot.com/ SEO Specialist Philippines

    I think it’s all about quality.. content quality and link quality. With the many updates implemented by Google, you’ll need to review your SEO strategy and try to adjust this strategy accordingly.

  • vishy

    Its quite obvious Larry and Matt are playing chess with the world. Unfortunately they are the ones who have the time machine and we are all blind folded. They have already planned their updates and the next 1 year of moves. We think we know what we are doing. We are limited. They are the bosses here guys. They’ve got a fantastic plan and they are just panning it out slowly. The fact that penguin hit out and gave negative values to spammy links and asked webmasters to remove the low quality links (manually) and then file for reconsideration… and then only to reveal the disavow tool… which is a brilliant idea to now negate the negative seo… just think why did they not release that earlier? because they have a game plan my friend. They are running a mutli-billion dollar company my seo friends… and they know exactly how to play the cards against all of us blindfolded folks. :-) 2 people know the algo and how it functions… maybe 3… and they are not going to let us in on it. We need to figure out stuff and they *will* mislead us in all good faith of their shareholders. So much for capitalism.

  • Andre Weyher

    Hi There,

    Andre Weyher here. Thanks very much for the interesting comments. Some are very corrects, others are “surprising”.

    I think it’s worth mentioning that people are dissecting opinions of experts in the field to every last word in order to learn all possible tricks to push their sites up as high as possible in the search engines. It’s understandable that webmasters want to rank as high as they can but the point I am trying to get across is that instead of putting the emphasis on search engine manipulation, webmasters should start focusing on what value they can actually give to the people that visit their sites.

    There is no need to reveal any deep secrets of the Google algorithm, it’s a complicated set of rules that represent a very logical and simple “big picture”. The moment you try to give your content more authority that you DESERVE, search engines will try to push you back, so instead of fighting windmills, make your site more interesting and use SEO to let it rank as high as it should rank!

    Please do let me know if you have any other questions about the interview, website fingerprinting, or my new service!

    All the best,

    Andre

  • unavailable
  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Just send me compensation for crawling my Websites so that you can become rich and I’ll be glad to tell everyone you’re better than all the other greedy selfish filth out there.

  • Egan Rao

    I really hope that Google be more transparent after this kind of claims.. What exactly is over 200 factors? How many are related back links? This still remain puzzle.. I wish users have the right to vote which factor should be taken into account and which should not.. Which one to be given weight and which one to be given least importance…

  • Martin Weber

    Right, I also heard and saw, that not all the EMDs are going to be influenced.
    It also depends on how good and authentic the rest of your site is. If you have an EMD and spammy anchor-texts and some bad content-boxes just for SEO, then of corse your page will be downgraded.
    I think as long as everything looks authentic, you still have an advantage with an EMD.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cassandradawson Cassandra Dawson

    Holy fighting, who cares? Just use common sense. Get a domain with a keyword in it, make great content, optimize on page and off page without making it look dumb. Keep things up to date, maintain plugins, post regular, useful content, use social media and quality sites for links. Make sure the website has clean code, is laid out well and has a good design. Build an organic mailing list and PPC. Don’t be a prick. Search Engine Land probably knows more about SEO than you and I combined X2, to the power of 20 or some other likely shit. :D

  • http://www.devonwebdesigners.com/ Elizabeth Jamieson

    Someone please tell me what an EMD is? I mean top-movies-2012 might be an EMD but so is frenchcooking and any domain containing a string of words found in a dictionary. Unless your domain is zzuurrggbb or something else meaningless isn’t everything an EMD? How does G tell the difference. Do they count hyphens … ? Or do they count how many times dictionary keywords are searched for, that match an actual domain, and then count how many times people bounce straight off? Is this how they tell the navigational (intentional search for a domain) from the accidental – EMD? Sounds like a lot of good sites would be hit by anything trying to fathom a real EMD as they’d get so many wrong. Oh! They did.

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