Day one of our SMX Advanced conference is wrapping up with a late afternoon tradition: Danny Sullivan’s “You & A” conversation with Google’s top spam cop, Matt Cutts. The session is due to start at 5:00 pm PST but, just between us, it’s bit hectic up front and gut feeling is that we’ll be a little late. (In other words, the Cuttlets are already out in force and Matt is being mobbed.)
For those of you who like to keep track of what Matt wears, it’s a green polo shirt today. Come on back and follow along as I try to keep up with what’s always an entertaining session to wrap up the first day of SMX Advanced.
For the sake of bookkeeping, mentions below of “DS” will be Danny Sullivan and “MC” will be Matt Cutts. (“Thank you, Captain Obvious” I can hear you saying.)
Danny begins the session by giving Matt a pair of Google logo Vans sneakers and he also puts one on himself. Then he uncovers a large stuffed panda sitting in the chair between them, and pulls out a panda footstool. Much laughter ensues.
DS: Talking about Panda, says that he’s getting a ton of emails from people who say that scraper sites are now outranking them after Panda.
MC: A guy on my team working on that issue. A change has been approved that should help with that issue. We’re continuing to iterate on Panda. The algorithm change originated in search quality, not the web spam team.
We used to think about the world as if search quality and web spam were separate. There was a pretty clear demarcation of web spam and that worked well for years at Google. But there’s this mass perception outside the search industry that there’s too much low quality stuff polluting the search results. Panda was designed to address that.
DS: Where are we now? Panda 2, Panda 2.1 … are we at Panda 2.2?
MC: There’s another change coming soon. I don’t know when we’ll launch fully internationally, not just in English.
DS: Panda works on a site basis. Danny asks about manual exceptions.
MC: We haven’t made any manual exceptions. Cult of Mac might have been confused because they started getting all this new traffic from blogging about it, but we haven’t made any manual exceptions.
DS: Has it changed enough that some people have recovered? Or is it too soon?
MC: The general rule is to push stuff out and then find additional signals to help differentiate on the spectrum. We haven’t done any pushes that would directly pull things back. We have recomputed data that might have impacted some sites. There’s one change that might affect sites and pull things back.
DS: You guys made this post with 22 questions, but it sounds like you’re saying even if you’ve done that, it wouldn’t have helped yet?
MC: It could help as we recompute data. Matt goes on to say that Panda 2.2 has been approved but hasn’t rolled out yet.
DS: Reads an audience question – is site usability being considered as more of a factor?
MC: Panda isn’t directly targeted at usability, but it’s a key part of making a site that people like. Pay attention to it because it’s a good practice, not because Google says so.
DS: ANy suggestions for websites that are based on sharing data, images — sites where the best user experience is to show image and not have a lot of text. Is that think content?
MC: That’s not the sort of thing that would normally be an issue. Flickr is a site that isn’t heavy on text but offers value to users.
DS: Change of subject — how’s it going with Larry? (He’s referring to Larry Page taking over as CEO back in April.)
MC: He stopped by a couple weeks ago and spent a few hours with us.
DS: What’s Larry saying about search? Is he helping you?
MC: It’s cool because Larry has been involved in search for a long time. Larry trusts us, but at the same time, he continues to send us bad queries.
DS: Like what?
MC: I think I can share this … he sent us the query “warm mangoes.” And we were like, We don’t understand what you want. Is that a band? He told us more info — people were wondering why mangoes get warm in boxes.
Now time for announcements…
Matt talks about the new rel=author tag that Google introduced today. Read our story for an explanation of what that’s about.
DS: This is Google specific.
MC: Yes, we’ve decided we’re going to support that tag.
Danny asks about authorship carrying over from one site to another.
MC: That’s the hope.
DS: So you can have this concept of author rank.
MC: That’s been discussed for a while now. The concept is that if an author is trustworthy, why does it matter what site the article appears on?
DS: Danny asks about schema.org and the critics that have spoken up about it. Schema.org also has a way of dealing with authors, so which one should I use?
MC: I would start with rel=author.
DS: (audience question) What are you doing to let publishers know the effect of site blocking? And what about letting us know the effects of positive things like +1?
MC: Explains the various ways sites can be blocked. The second version of Panda does use aggregated data about blocked sites, but that’s only when we have a very high level of confidence. We’re leaning away from giving stats on blocks because there’s nothing actionable you can do about it. We don’t anticipate giving metrics on that. But metrics on +1 should be coming soon. (True. See our story Google +1 Analytics Coming Soon; Here’s What To Expect.)
DS: Data on blocking might be useful if you show it on a page-level basis.
MC: We used to give three options for blocking, but we found it was too much work for people. So now the two options are simpler.
DS: Do you want to talk about pagination?
MC: Matt recalls Maile Ohye’s answer earlier to a question in a different session and says it was the right answer.
DS: (asks a question about Ajax presentation and cloaking)
MC: If you stick to standard stuff with Ajax you should be in relatively good shape. But if there’s abuse you might be in trouble. Use pages when it makes sense for users, don’t use Ajax just because it’s cool.
DS: How’s it feel to be “the Alan Greenspan of Google, whose words can crash an economy.” How’s that feel? Let’s get all personal now.
MC: (shaking head – doesn’t like question – much laughter ensues) I think it’s unhealthy when people say “This is right because Matt said it.” There are a lot of Googlers in the audience –
DS: Raise your hands!
MC: (laughing) No, no – we want them to be able to go visit a booth and say, “Tell me how you guys buy links.” (Audience LOL)
DS: (question about Panda)
MC: If we think you’re relatively high quality, Panda will have a smaller impact. If you’re expert enough and no one else has the good content, even if you’ve been hit by Panda that page can still rank.
DS: (time to start debunking segment) Asks about SEOmoz ranking factors survey showing correlation between Facebook shares and Google rankings.
MC: This is a good example of why correlation doesn’t equal causality because Google doesn’t get Facebook shares. We’re blocked by that data. We can see fan pages, but we can’t see Facebook shares.
DS: It could be just that the content is good.
MC: Exactly. It’s a signal that the content is good and that means you may get more links.
Matt goes on to say that JC Penney didn’t regain rankings because it added a lot of .edu links via job postings. We don’t give a boost because of the TLD — .gov or .edu. It’s that those domains tend to get lots of quality links.
DS: Are you gonna get back on Facebook?
MC: I don’t expect to go back on Facebook anytime soon. I’ve been off Facebook for about a year and a half. (A couple people applaud.) (Matt wasn’t alone. See our story: Matt Cutts & Other Google Engineers Close Facebook Accounts.)
Lightning Round time!
DS: Ranking reports – your thoughts?
MC: We don’t like them for several reasons including scraping our search results. But also because it’s the wrong thing to focus on.
DS: Is that still a bannable offense?
MC: It’s rare. But if we see a lot of scraping, we could take action.
DS: How do you handle multi-variate testing on sites?
MC: A/B testing is a good way to know what copy converts. The website optimizer team came to me before that product launched to discuss it. They’re not treating Googlebot specially. That’s the big litmus test. If you treat us like any desktop browser, life is good.
DS: Panda question — seems to focus on better content with less ads. You spend more money on content and make less money on ads. Is this going to kill the internet?
MC: I think what’s best is what helps the internet thrive. If you’re rehashing content or writing low quality content, that’s not good for the internet. At a lot of sessions today, I heard people talking about being creative with content and developing stuff users will find interesting.
And with that, Danny thanks Matt for continuing this tradition and gives him the huge stuffed panda to take back to Google.
Keynote is over, thanks to all for reading!