Posted by Dr. Pete This post is the culmination of two of my lifelong dreams: (1) To spend an entire day on YouTube and call it "work", and (2) To Photoshop Matt Cutts’ face on cartoon food. Early in 2009, Matt Cutts, Google’s most visible anti-spam engineer, began releasing a series of short Webmaster Help videos. You’ve probably seen some of these videos, but what you may not know is that there are currently over 200 of them, with more than 70 posted in 2010 alone.
From time to time, I’ve been amazed at the details that slip out during these videos, many of which don’t get much play in the blogosphere. So, I decided to watch all of the 2010 videos and report back on what I learned. This post contains my Top 10 picks along with a few interesting tidbits and one SHOCKING CONSPIRACY.
Let’s get this out of the way, as Matt seems to be a lightning rod for controversy. I’m a nice guy, but if you don’t read this section, don’t expect me to reply to your comments.
Other than having played a couple of hands of Search Spam with Matt over the years (I think we’re 1-and-1), I don’t know him and I’m not trying to put words in his mouth. I’ve used the original video titles, for reference, but the rest is paraphrased. I strongly encourage you to watch the originals.
Matt, like everyone, has vested interests, and Google doesn’t have any motivation to tell us every detail about how the algorithm works.
I don’t think Matt stays up nights scheming about how to deceive SEOs. I think he’s a smart, decent guy who cares about search quality.
One quick note, before I reveal my picks (counting down from 10 to 1). If you want to get Matt to answer your questions, it apparently helps to have a cool-sounding name, like "Magico" or "Youser". From now on, I will have my Muppet Intern Yoozer submit all of my help questions.
Matt says: "I wouldn’t spend even 0 minutes on it, personally".
I know most of you know this, but it’s good to hear it from the source. Google does not use the keywords meta tag for ranking. Meta description still has value for other reasons (Watch the video – 1:21).
Matt says: "Google doesn’t worry so much about how deep a set of directories is."
This post raises an important distinction – URL structure is not link structure. We get this confusion frequently in Q&A. Let’s say you have a URL like this:
That page isn’t 5 levels deep, just because it’s 5 /s behind the root domain in the URL. The depth of the page is determined by your internal architecture and link structure. URL length may affect the power of keywords in the URL and the click-through of the URL, but the crawlers don’t really care when it comes to finding your pages. What matters is if this page is one hop from the home-page or 10 hops away (Watch the video – 2:04).
Note: SEOmoz correlation data has shown that deeper folder structure may correlate with worse rankings. Deep folder structures can be an indication of other issues, including information architecture problems.
8. Can I make sure Google always uses my meta description tags? (Mar 24)
Matt says: "The short answer is ‘no’."
I hear this complaint a lot. Google will sometimes rewrite its own snippets for relevance. You can block the ODP and you can write relevant, unique meta descriptions, but you can’t completely control what Google does (Watch the video – 1:52).
This is an interesting two-parter. First off, outbound links to spammy sites can have a negative impact on your reputation. Manage your outbound links and nofollow if you have to. Individual, inbound spammy links will typically not harm you, on the other hand, because they’re beyond your control (although, in my experience, a pattern of inbound spammy links can be a different story). Matt has some great comments at the end about the value of commenting on dofollow blogs (Watch the video – 2:35).
Matt says: "I would ask yourself: are these websites really related in any kind of sense?"
When Matt wants to read cartoons, links to auto insurance and coffee tables make him sad. Cross-linking 3 sites probably isn’t a big deal, but 30 or 300 could likely get you into trouble. Relevance is the key, and footer cross-links are often low-value (Watch the video – 2:00).
Matt says: "I wouldn’t get hung up on just how many pages have been indexed…"
We hear this one from frustrated webmasters every day. Google does not guarantee that pages in your XML sitemap will be indexed. Indexation has a lot to do with your authority and trust – an authoritative site will get more love from the crawlers, plain and simple (Watch the video – 1:31). Check out Rand’s recent post diving deeper into Matt’s comments on the indexation cap.
Matt says: "Most people can switch their IP address and never have any issue whatsoever."
This is a common fear that is usually unfounded. As long as your domain name and hosting country stay the same, switching from one reliable host to another should have no SEO impact. Matt gives a nice briefing on how to change DNS servers and set your TTL that’s worth watching (Watch the video – 1:53).
Note: Although I implied this in the recap, it deserves repeating. If you’re changing your domain name and/or hosting country, that can definitely affect your ranking and is a much more complex issue. Consider the risks and plan accordingly, in those cases.
Matt says: "I promise you, my team will never ask the analytics team to use their data."
I don’t think you’ll hear a more direct answer from Matt than that. Conspiracy theories abound, but there are 3 separate videos in 2010 where Matt states that the quality team does not use Google Analytics data. Of course, that doesn’t mean that user metrics (click-through rate, etc.) aren’t a factor, but these are more likely coming from other sources, such as SERP tracking (Watch the video – 1:17).
This is a discussion of the so-called "Mayday" update. Matt clearly states that Mayday is a deliberate, algorithmic change to improve the quality of long-tail searches, and it is not temporary. It is not related to Caffeine, although the roll-out timeline overlaps somewhat (Watch the video – 2:39).
Matt says: "We have considered in 2010 using page speed…"
There are a couple of important points here. First, Google hasn’t even finalized the decision to use page speed as a ranking factor (at least in May). Second, if they do consider page speed, it would be one of over 200 ranking factors. All else being equal, a fast site is good for users and good for search, but an occasional server glitch isn’t going to kill your rankings. If you can speed up your site with a few simple changes, though, why not do it (Watch the video – 2:28)?
This is a nice review of what bots/spiders actually are. They aren’t real robots that come knocking on your door. It’s a good, short primer for new SEOs (Watch the video – 1:30).
This is a long one, and it’s slightly out of date, but it’s a good review of some of what happened in 2009. It has a solid explanation of rel=canonical, as well as the parameter blocking and fetch as Googlebot features in Webmaster Tools. It ends with a brief explanation of what Caffeine is all about (Watch the video – 25:59).
Google makes a change to the algorithm on the order of ONCE PER DAY. These changes may be batched and rolled out in chunks, but another video confirmed a number of roughly 400 algorithm changes in 2009. If you think May-Day and Caffeine are the only things that have happened in 2010, think again. Google is constantly evolving. This video also includes a statement you don’t hear from Matt every day – Good content is necessary, but not sufficient (Watch the video – 1:53).
Of course, it wouldn’t be a post about Matt Cutts without a conspiracy. If you watch the 2010 videos, you’ll see a shocking transformation, where Matt goes from having hair to no hair back to hair again almost instantaneously. I’ve graphed this phenomenon below:
Matt claims this has something to do with the timing of the videos and filming them in batches, blah blah blah, but those of us who are savvy are forced to reach one of two conclusions:
So, there you have it. My Top 10 picks of 2010 (so far), a few highlight reels, and one shocking conspiracy, as promised. By the way, if you’re a beginner or are interested in general SEO tips like these, make sure to check out our completely revised, free Beginner’s Guide to SEO.