Microsoft, Mehdi, and Matt Cutts

Yusuf Mehdi
Bing's Yusuf Mehdi

It seems that every search conference I attend Microsoft has a new guy representing them. And except when they sent Ballmer they’ve generally failed. Last year’s PubCon ended with a smackdown between the search engines, and Google’s Matt Cutts looked like he was sitting in his living room entertaining his guests while the Bing rep looked like a lost and uninvited guest. Sure, it helped that Google is dominating search, but it also helped that Matt is a regular with this crowd and Bing had no equivalent.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Bing’s Yusuf Mehdi’s spoke at SMX Advanced, especially compared to last year’s failed Bing keynote. He was funny, engaging, and informative. Just as importantly, he spoke convincingly of Bing’s approach towards engaging the SEO community. The release of improved Bing Webmaster Tools added credibility.

The search engines have always had 2 choices in how to deal with SEOs. Most seem to have taken the “security through obscurity” approach of sharing as little information as possible. Google’s relationship, while somewhat rocky at times (see for example Google openly profiles SEOs as criminals) has generally been one of engagement and respect.

Here are some of the benefits Google gets from Matt having established himself within the SEO & Webmaster communities:

  • Goodwill towards Google. People often underestimate goodwill, even as they’re religiously buying or boycotting iPads and iPods because they love or hate Steve Jobs, and having religious wars over programming languages and operating systems. This is even more important with Google always having one eye on the Justice Department. Google’s tweaks can have large effects on companies, and Google would probably be in greater danger if the community had the same antipathy to Google as people had towards other near-monopolies like AT&T, IBM, and Microsoft. [I’m getting this vision of near-monopolies through the ages at a conference together, and the Justice Department having its own Matt Cutts type figure answering questions. And Google’s Matt asks the JD’s Matt questions like “we thought it would be great for our customers and our industry if we did this Google Knol thing … you wouldn’t destroy us for that, right?” But I digress.] Many Web publishers and SEOs are extremely vulnerable to Google, but they’re not leading a revolt of any kind. In fact, they’re generally Google users who also embrace other Google products. Matt’s one of the reasons for that.
  • Giving information. Matt’s able to push Google’s message to people. Sure SEO Stephan Spencer joked “there’s a bar game, but it also works on Matt Cutts. If his eyes move up and to the left while answering, he’s telling the truth …” But Matt gets Google’s messages across.
  • Receiving information. Matt gets significant feedback from the community, by listening at the conferences and by getting questions.

Microsoft and Yahoo! never got this kind of feedback from the community. They generally seemed to take the attitude of “we’re building our secret algorithms, and you’re trying to beat us, so why should we talk to you?”

I’m hoping that Yusuf becomes a regular at search conferences. It would change the dynamic of these conferences. Yes, Bing is still much less relevant for most Web publishers & SEOs. But a good Bing-rep could provide a lot of help & perspective. Microsoft & Bing would get some goodwill, some good feedback, and better opportunities to express its messages.

Nice keynote Yusuf. Hope to see you around.