The Matt & Danny Show

And now, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the highlight of the search year … the Matt & Danny show, aka You & A with Matt Cutts.

Matt McGee: I know you’re all waiting for Matt Cutts. I just got a text from him. Says he’s running late, got caught up at the black and white animal exhibit at the Seattle zoo. I don’t know how he got my number. I never gave it to him. He does work at Google, but how would he get my number?

Starts with the recent video compilation of Matt Cutts webmaster videos. “Get the same phrase on the page as many times as possible.” “IN addition to keyword stuffing … it might be really annoying .. and that’s fine .. you will rank higher … if you run AdSense … I would definitely recommend that .. I do think that Bing, Blekko … are doing really cool things … like hacking sites …”

OK, we’re on. This year we have 33% more Matt time, [My second suggestion in my Best of SMX Advanced 2009 was make the Matt session an hour instead of 45 minutes. So I’m taking all the credit for this].

Doing a fake Google Glasses demo.

Matt: I have an app that lets me see link buyers. Pans the room.

OK, now to the session.

I have all these penguins here. BTW, this is You & A with Matt, except we start it with Me & A. But a lot of that is from your questions.

So what’s Penguin. Is it a penalty?

Matt: We think of it as trying to find the right calibration level. It is an algo from the spam team (Matt’s) unlike Panda which was the search quality team. On the one hand you’ve got the great peer review stuff like NYT, and on the other side you have the real bad sites, but there’s a lot of bad stuff in the middle. That’s what Panda went after.

There’s an interesting book called the Information Diet. The stuff Panda went after was bad stuff. That cleared out a lot of stuff.

So now Penguin came. It’s an algo change. Not quite a penalty. But it does knock down sites to where we think it belongs. It’s just one more signal that we use.

Danny: I always thought penalties, like the -50 penalty, they weren’t manually applied. So are you saying that penalties are manual.

Matt: That’s the nomenclature we use. We don’t talk of penalties much any more. Now we talk about Manual Actions. And then there’s algo stuff. The algo stuff is part of the holistic stuff with the 200 signals.

We do that manual vs algo breakdown because we want to be as transparent as we can be. We’ve become a lot more transparent on the manual side. Now if the manual team takes action we’ll almost always notify you through Webmaster Tools. So make sure you’ve registered there.

Danny: Did you just do another Penguin update?

Matt: No. We’re doing Panda and Penguin updates about once a month

Danny: Speaking of penalties. There was a wordpress template site, they said they were great, and then got penguinized.

Matt: They made their case. I thought it was a good case. They got rid of a lot of links that were keyword rich. And we did an algo update. And they recovered.

Danny: So negative SEO works now [You can hit competitors]?

Matt: We’ve been taking stronger actions. Our guidelines used to be that it’s almost impossible to hurt someone else. We are seeing more examples of that. We try very hard to stop that. We built in a lot of protections against hurting competitors. Some people want to be able to disavow links. Even though we don’t think you should need it, there are enough requests that we’re trying to get it in, maybe in a few months.

A lot of people waste their money on buying links, and it hurts the name of the whole industry. Now we’ve gone farther and try to get those links to actually hurt you.

Danny: When you get one of these “you’re in an artificial link network” messages does that mean you have a manual penalty?

Matt: Yes. We have one algo that affects millions of sites. We can’t have hundreds of signals and tell every site “you may be affected by algo 23b.” We sent a lot of messages recently. Most of those were not artificial link warnings. Most of those were egregious black hat violations. Stuff that anybody could recognize. We’ve been progressively told people more and more about the manual actions we’re taking.

One of the cool conspiracy theories was “Google doesn’t know what they’re doing, so they just send lots of warnings, and hope people do reconsideration requests and tell them all the things they’re doing wrong.” That’s not what’s going on.

When you buy or sell links, you may think you’re being extremely cautious. But the person on the other side may be less cautious. I love the blog networks that say that “we have no footrprint, Google can never tell” and then a few days later “we’re shutting down.”

Danny: Is it getting better?

Matt: If you ask any SEO — I believe — is SEO more dynamic and harder than a few years ago, they’ll say that it’s more challenging. Someone Tweeted earlier today “SEO in 2005 was fat, dumb, and happy.” Yeah, it’s not like that any more.

[There’s a sound behind them. Matt: I think that’s a dog. That’s our link bloodhound. We found a link buyer and we’re mauling him out back. Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war]

Douglas Adams wrote “Space is big. You have no idea how mind boggingly big space is. You may think that the walk down to the druggist is big, but that’s nothing compared to space.” The same is true for data on the web. It’s mind boggling how much stuff we’re indexing and ranking.

Danny: You do these 30 day challenges. Things like “I’ll only use Bing for the next 30 days.”

Matt: I never did that one. I only do good challenges. Just kidding, Duane, you’re doing good stuff.

Danny: How about a 30-day challenge where you choose a charity site and link build to it for 30 days. And no cheating like writing on your blog that you want people to link to it. Then you can see what it’s like.

Matt: That’s an interesting idea. That’s one of the reasons I started a blog. And a lot of people on my team blog. So we get the view of the webmasters.

Danny: And then we’ll get the people here to walk in your shoes for 30 days. I don’t think there’s enough walking in each other’s shoes.

Danny: Thomas Schmidt said earlier that you said you don’t consider bounce rate.

Matt: I’ve said that my spam team doesn’t use Google Analyitcs. Bounce rate doesn’t tell you a lot of things. If you ask what time is sunset, and a time quickly tells you, that’s a good thing, even though the user bounced quickly. I think it would be hard to tease out useful info from Bounce Rates.

Danny tries to get him to answer whether or not he uses SERP bounce rates. Matt says that I can’t he never wants to say what they will or won’t use in the future. [This is a recurring issue. Almost an exact repeat of a Q&A in Matt’s keynote at Pubcon 2009. He’s asked about Bounce Rate. He says his team doesn’t use Analytics. He’s asked wider questions about whether they consider what’s known as pogo-sticking, or Google bouncing (clicking a SERP result, bouncing quickly, and clicking another result from the same SERP. Matt ignores the question and answers something else instead)]. Update: Matt later clarified in a Tweet that he confirmed with the quality team that they don’t use Analytics either.

Danny: This question is from Barry Schwartz. Was there just a Google update? [laughter]

Matt: Roughly once a week Barry asks if there was an update. Barry is your canary in the coal mines. You should appreciate him [applause. Good to see people appreciate Barry]. But I told him there’s no update, and there won’t be an update during SMX. But he still e-mailed me today Is there an update? NO!

Google is trying to make it so you can get more personalized results. So we launched SSL only in the US. Not provided means you got a hit from a signed in user. About 3 months later we rolled it out to other countries. You’re seeing browsers like Firefox doing encrypted connections. I think if you were building the internet you’d encrypt user queries. I realize that puts marketers at a disadvantage. So we try to help them. So now in Webmaster Tools we’re giving you 2,000 queries going back 90 days.

Danny: You gave people a way to block sites, and then you did the SSL thing, and now you don’t do that any more.

Matt: There are two ways to ban sites, through the SERPs and through the Chrome toolbar. We only got rid of the SERPs way.

Danny: So there’s only one way.

Matt: OK. There were 2 ways. Now there’s one. We hope to get that second one back. But it was very helpful in developing Panda. So sites that people really hated, it helped us adjust Panda to de-rank them.

Matt: Suppose I have Panda and Penguin. In Panda we had the quality and spam teams working hand in hand. Well, not literally hand in hand cause it’s hard to program with one hand. It used to be that my team was insular. We just did spam. Post-panda we work much closer together. People on the quality side have worked on link spam. Panda illustrated that we don’t want to have a gap. So it’s harder to say what’s a penalty.

Danny: So there are negative and positive ranking factors

Matt: Yes

Danny: Is there rich snippets spam?

Matt: That’s a great question [that’s the first time he said that today. I guess he thought the previous questions were really bad 🙂 ] That’s an example of where the quality and spam teams are working together to fight abuse of the system.

Danny: Our site has bad incoming links, but we can’t do anything about it because the agency we used is out of business.

Matt: We’re going to look at if there’s an earnest, good faith effort.

Danny: So we should create an artificial link network totally in your control so when you complain we can take them all down and show quick progress …

Matt: That’s why I’m so glad you’re not a black hat SEO, Danny.

Danny: What percent of spam reports do you act on?

Matt: Good question. We have good leads ourselves. So when we get a spam request we have to weigh that against the stuff that we’ve identified. So we take into account how important we think the manual request is, and we multiply it by 4 and then put it in the same queue.

Danny: Is G+ becoming so important that SEOs are becoming your pawns in fighting Facebook

Matt: Not in my opinion

Danny: So yes.

Matt: No. It’s still early days for Plus Ones. We’re looking at the signals that we can find. The Plus signals are just part of the system, they have to prove to us that they’re a reliable signal. So you’re not a pawn. Maybe a rook. I think Google+ has a lot of potential, and may help us understand the web.

Danny: You have to be on G+ to rank well on Google.

Matt: No you don’t.

Danny: So I can get rid of all the G+ buttons.

Matt: You can do whatever you want. … You’re trying to say why you should use G+, and I’m trying to say you don’t have to.

Danny: Why did you name it Penguin? Is there an engineer named Penguin? [Panda was named after a Google engineer. So was Page Rank. I think Google is sponsored by the letter P].

Matt: We thought the code name we were using was too descriptive. So I let the engineer pick the name.

Danny: If I was hit by Panda and Penguin should I just give up?

Matt: Sometimes. Sometimes you should just start over. But they’re algorithmic. So if you clean up, you can recover.

Danny: You used to say you’d never do Paid Inclusion. Now you do.

Matt: No we don’t. Google’s Web Rankings remain as pure as 10 years ago. We’ve added stuff around it. We do these extra contracts to get access to more data. Like I used Google Flights, which gets data from Southwest, which nobody else shows.

Danny: I do a search on your name every day. People have been really mean recently. Do you just shrug that away?

Matt: The beauty of participating on these forums since 2001 is I’ve had time to develop a thick skin. So I’m always like “that’s not the worst I ever heard.” I always assume people aren’t vicious, they’re just defensive and worried. So we try to get to the kernel of truth and consider that. It is weird to be on a black hat forum and people are saying I’m going to spam my way through this and then they get banned and they’re like that’s not fair.

Danny: What do you like most about what’s new and coming?

Matt: There’s something great that’s coming up but I can’t talk about it yet.

Danny: That wasn’t helpful.

Matt: The knowledge graph. That we can give a good result for Danny Sullivan, and who is connected to him.

Danny: The coolest thing you like about Google right now?

Matt: That we’re pushing for more transparency. We’re not done. If you asked me when I started if we’d tell spammers that we caught them I’d have thought you were crazy. But we do that now.

Danny: In general what are you most excited about on the internet?

Matt: I like my fitbit. A little pedometer. But I’m competitive. People are like do you want to be my fitbit friend and I’m like how much do you walk, and if it’s too much, I say no, that’s too much for me to compete with.

And that’s it. Thank you Danny & Matt. And that concludes Day 1 of SMX Advanced!

More SMX Advanced Coverage:

And later tonight: the first version of Best of SMX Advanced 2012. Stay tuned!