Posted by great scott!
We’ve got a very special bonus video for you today. Our buddy-and the Googliest spam cop to ever walk the webz-Matt Cutts stopped by to do a quick interview in front of ye olde whiteboard. Watch in wonder and amazement as Rand and Matt discuss headers, status codes, how much of the web is worth indexing, porn, redirect chains, URL structures, geo targeting, leaking link juice, and amateur beekeeping!
Before you get all cynical on me and assume all you’ll hear in this interview is, "design content for users, not for engines," give it a chance. Matt only brings up his trademark catchphrase once in the whole ~20 minute interview, and he is exceedingly candid and forthcoming throughout. I promise you’re gonna walk away from this knowing some things about Google you didn’t know before. If you don’t, I’ll stand on my head. Maybe. Not really. BUT I won’t have to because you’re going to be all super-smart and educated by the end of the video. So put on your learning pants and hit play, you uppity whipper-snapper, or, if you’re like Steve Jobs and are incompatible with Flash video, read the recap below…
If you need a refresher or you’re scared of moving images and prefer the company of fluffy, harmless typing, here’s a little recap of what Matt and Rand discussed.
Should Webmasters Use the ‘If Modified Since’ Header?
The ‘If Modified Since’ header can be used to manually indicate to Google whether or not you’ve made changes to content on the page. According to Matt, they started supporting it in 2003 when bandwidth was a big issue, but nowadays, it’s not very important. That said, he still advises it as a good standard practice, but also notes that it won’t necessarily help you get crawled faster.
Should Webmasters Use 503 Status Codes for Downtime?
503s can help avoid getting a page that’s under construction or experiencing problems crawled and indexed, which can be a big problem especially for large, popular sites (watch the video for Rand’s example of Disney running into this issue). Matt advocates using 503s in this case. You can’t specify when you’d like Google to re-crawl, but they will come back and won’t index the maintenance content of the page.
Does the Number of Outbound Links from a Page Affect PageRank?
For instance, to conserve "link juice" and/or funnel it more discretely, does it matter whether I have three outbound links versus two? In the original PageRank formula, yes, juice flowed out in a simple formula of Passable PR divided by number of outbound links. But nowadays, Matt says it is a much more cyclical, iterative analysis and, "it really doesn’t make as much difference as people suspect." There’s no need to hoarde all of your link juice on your page and, in fact, there may be benefit to generously linking out (not the least of which is the link-building power of good will).
If Google’s seen a Trillion URLs, How Many Do They Pay Attention To?
Since Google crawls in PageRank order, they see the "best" stuff first and avoid a lot of the serious crap. The biggest issue is discovering duplicate or previously banned content. Matt said that about 28% of what they see is duplicate. He also made the careful distinction between "quality" content and "popular" content, further illustrating that traffic isn’t a significant ranking factor: "PR does not reflect popularity in the sense that porn is very popular, but nobody links to porn…(those sites) don’t have the PageRank you’d expect if you went by usage."
Is a Trailing / Important in URL Structure?
Seems like a minor thing right? Do you use url.com/folder of url.com/folder/ in your URL structure? Matt says he would slightly advocate for using a trailing slash simply because it clearly indicates that a URL is a folder and not a document. That said, Google is quite good at differentiating so it’s not a huge deal.
Does Google Crawl from Multiple Geopgraphic Locations?
Should I be displaying geo-specific content based on user IP? It’s a very popular question among SEOs dealing with international sites and users; but how does it affect what Google sees and what shows up in the SERPs?
Matt confirmed that, "Google basically crawls from one IP address range worldwide because (they) have one index worldwide. (They) don’t build different indices, one for each country."
This means it’s very important to avoid showing significantly different content to users from different countries. As Matt says, "The problem is if you’re showing different content-like French content to French IPs-Googlebot may not see that."
Is It a Bad Idea to Chain Redirects (e.g. 301–>301–>301)?
"It is, yeah."
Matt was very clear that Google can and usually will deal with one or two redirects in a series, but three is pushing it and anything beyond that probably won’t be followed. He also reiterated that 302s should only be used for temporary redirects…but you already knew that, right?
What’s with the Bees?
It’s true, there are bees in Mountain view. A rash of amateur apiculture has sprung up on the Google campus and a few members of the Web Spam Team have caught stinger fever (though not Matt, he prefers cats). Apparently they’ve ven gone so far as to color all of the hives in the apiary in Google’s traditional primary colors…what a bunch of geeks
Well, that was a whole pile of great stuff we were able to get out of Mr. Cutts (and we didn’t even have to ply him with booze)! Now, go venture forth and use your new nuggets of searchy goodness to clobber your competitors.
Another huge thanks to Matt for taking the time to answer our questions so thoughtfully!