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Matt Cutts Talks Google Penguin, Negative SEO, Disavowing Links, Bounce Rate & More

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What is Google looking for in a high quality website, worthy of top rankings? Well according to Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, you must first use as many keywords as possible; the optimal keyword density is actually 77 percent. Definitely link to porn sites. Annoying users: that’s a plus. You do get a boost for running AdSense, he revealed. Oh, and all those other search engines - Bing, Blekko, DuckDuckGo - they’re a bunch of hackers doing illegal things. You heard it hear, folks.

If you bought any of that, I have some icebergs I’d like to sell you. That video was actually a mash-up spoof Google put out, one that was played at the beginning of You & A with Matt Cutts at SMX Advanced 2012.

All jokes aside, Cutts got into some great topics and dispelled some modern-day SEO myths in his session. Here are the highlights.

Is Penguin a Penalty?

No, neither Penguin nor Panda are manual penalties, Cutts said. He explained that Penguin was designed to tackle “the stuff in the middle;” between fantastic, high quality content and spam. Panda was all about spam, but the need for Penguin arose from this middle ground.

“It does demote web results, but it’s an algorithmic change, not a penalty. It’s yet another signal among over 200 signals we look at,” he said.

A penalty is a manual action taken against a site and you will “pretty much always” be notified in Webmaster Tools if it’s a penalty affecting your site.

Will a Reconsideration Request Help You Recover From Penguin?

No. “People who think it should rank higher after Penguin can let us know and we can look at it, and in a couple of instances, it actually helped us make a couple of tweaks to the algorithm.” You should submit a reconsideration request if you receive a warning.

Negative SEO - Will Google Add an Option to Disavow Links?

They sure seem to be thinking about it. People have been asking about negative SEOfor a long time, Cutts said. He noted that Google has changed their documentation over time to reflect that negative SEO is not impossible, but it is difficult. Google is “talking about” being able to enable disavowing links, possibly within a few months.

Did Google Send WMT Notifications About Penguin?

Google is trying to be more transparent by sending out more warnings, he said. Only a single-digit percent of those 700,000 unnatural link warnings that went out around the time of Penguin were actually Penguin-related. The majority were for obvious black-hat tactics.

Is Google Trying to Make a Point About Buying Links?

Yes, they are. According to Cutts, “People don’t realize, when you buy links, you might think you’re very careful, that you have no footprints, but you may be getting into business with someone who’s not as careful. People need to realize as we build new tools, it becomes a higher-risk endeavor.”

Is SEO Going to Get More Difficult?

Yes. He notes that it’s become more challenging over the past five to seven years and SEOs should expect that trend to continue and even increase.

Does That Mean Google Hates SEOs?

Of course not. Though Cutts did hand out a spanking for SEOs who buy or sell links: “There are people who continue to sell links, although they don’t do any good, and that’s part of how SEO has a bad reputation.”

Later, he said he would consider giving link building for non-profits a try to better understand what SEOs are facing. When asked about the war on SEOs, he said, “There’s no war on SEOs!” and that it’s just a war on spam.

Should You NoFollow Affiliate Links?

Yes. While Google does understand the vast majority of network links, you should nofollow them if you’re making money from it and worried about it.

Are Links a Dying Signal?

No. “There’s a perception that everything will go social and links will be obsolete but I wouldn’t write the epitaph for links just yet,” he said.

Is Bounce Rate a Signal in Determining What Content May be Spam?

No. Cutts said the Google web spam team doesn’t use Google Analytics data. It’s not a bad thing when someone finds their answer right away and bounces, he said.

Is Google Ever Going to go Back to the Days Before (Not Provided)?

Nope. Not even if you write about it and stamp your feet up and down. He realizes it’s not good for marketers, but secured search is better for users, Cutts said. As more browsers move towards securing traffic, expect not provided to increase.

Why Isn’t AdWords Blocked From Referrer Data?

According to Cutts, this is because Google would then have to deal with exact matches for every search ever done and the ad database would grow exponentially. He did say that he would like to see that decision revisited, though.

Other interesting tidbits:

  • Hacked sites may abuse rich snippets, in which case Google may demote sites abusing them or take them away.
  • When asked why a site might stay penalized after attempting to remove bad links, Cutts say they are looking at a subsample and want to see an earnest effort to have those removed, so if nothing in that sample changed, you might be SOL.
  • +1s are not the best quality signal yet because it’s still “early days.”
  • Google does not consider any of their sponsored ads paid inclusion because they are clearly marked.
  • In some cases, sites hit by Panda and Penguin might be further ahead just to scrap the site and start over.

The Bruce Clay Blog, Search Engine Land, and Outspoken Media were all in attendance and covered the session live; you can check out their posts for verbatim quotes and more extensive coverage of each question.


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