Interview with Matt Cutts

>> CUTTS: Hi there, everybody from Germany!
Whether you’re a user or a Web site or a SCO, very nice to have a chance to talk with you
for a few minutes. And hopefully, I’ll get a chance to visit
Germany sometime soon, but if not, we have some really great people who are paying attention
to the German market–the German Webmaster Discussion Group passing that feedback on.
And at Google, we’ll take that very seriously and try to make good use out of it, so hope
you enjoy it and thanks very much. [pause] The very first time I ran across spam–
Whenever I started at Google, I was working on SafeSearch, which was a porn filter–a
family filter. And we had something in there that said if
somebody has enough page rank, they’ve got to be clean, because who would be a porn site
with tons of page rank? And a porn site was getting through the filter.
And I looked at the site, and it turns out it was an expired domain which was linked
to by the W3C, which is one of the main standards body that the Web pays attention to.
And I remember thinking, okay, link-based metrics and page rank are fantastic, but maybe
there are some ways that dedicated attackers could try to get around that.
And so it was a really big awakening to sort of realize there are ways that people can
target any search engine, and that was the very first spam site I saw–and it happened
to be a porn site. So it really stuck in my mind more than it
would otherwise. [pause] I think there’s a lot of challenges.
A big challenge is the users expect more from search engines, so–
Udi Manber, who’s one of our VPs of engineering, makes a really interesting point, which is
if you look at the queries that were really hard even a few years ago, we don’t consider
them quite as hard now. We do a pretty good job on them, which means
users expect to be able to do harder queries. So they send us queries that are incredibly
difficult. We look at them, and we’ll say this is practically
impossible. How are we going to solve this query?
So I think we’ll continue to get better, but a big challenge is that users will continue
to ask harder and harder queries. [pause] I think one of the keys has to be to be creative.
Whenever you first start out, you don’t expect that a small Webmaster is going to be able
to compete with a huge Webmaster for a very big phrase or something like that.
So if you can target a specific niche, if you can say, “Okay, maybe I won’t go after
all types of shoes. Maybe I’ll go after shoes for people with
big feet.” I’ve seen small Webmasters go after that niche.
Then you can really target that, and once you become known as the expert in that area,
then you can sort of build out a little bit. The other thing is that you can be a lot more
creative and a lot faster as a small Webmaster than many big sites.
So I’ve talked to people at large sites, and they said, “Yeah, I’m leading a multi-year
project.” And I said, “Really, what’s the project?”
And they said, “Oh, we’re trying to add one thing along the top of all of our different
Web properties.” And that’s the sort of thing where it took
them months to get consensus from everybody in the organization.
And so it’s really nice because you as a small Webmaster can run these experiments.
You can try out new and different things, and if they work, you can adjust really, really
well very quickly. So I think the ability to move fast, the ability
to be creative and think about new techniques that a big company might not be willing to
try or might not think about trying, and then the ability to just start with a small niche.
Start with something where you can become an authoritative resource, and then build
out from there, once you become known as the authority in that area. [pause] Google Webmaster Central.
Yeah, that’s– [laughs] I may be a little biased here, but it’s absolutely
the case that you can find out back links for your site.
You can find out the key words that people type in whenever they’re searching for your
site. You can find crawl errors.
So if you have broken links and things that aren’t getting crawled, it’s really nice to
be able to find out, oh, I have these 404 errors.
You can find out statistics like how long is the delay whenever Googlebot tries to fetch
your site. You can see graphs of how many pages are being
fetched per day. And one of my personal favorites is you can
see if you have, say, hidden text or Google thinks that you’re spamming or possibly even
that your site got hacked–we will show you a little message.
We have what’s known as a message center, and so we’ll show it many different languages.
We can show you yes, here was some hidden text, here was the exact URL, and then once
you fix that problem, you can go and file what’s known as a reconsideration request.
So there’s a ton of great tools. You can even report spam that you see on Google.
It’s definitely a resource I recommend everybody to be familiar with, and it’s also completely
free. [pause] Yeah–every market is different, and I think
that Google has to be mindful of that. And as Google has gotten to be a company that
a lot of people pay attention to, I think it’s important for Google to try to be as
sensitive as possible and as aware as possible of every single market.
So in Germany, for example, a lot of the times, rather than seeing a bunch of different words,
you’ll see people combining words. In English, you think of glomming them all
together and appending them, and you end up with these really long words.
And so you do different techniques. You do different ways of doing spell checking,
you do different ways of retrieving which documents are going to be the most relevant
in any given language. I think it’s great that Google is relatively
international in terms of our Webmaster Central console–supports a ton of different languages
from German to Chinese to all sorts of other languages.
So I think we try to be mindful. Google tries to be mindful and sensitive and
think about the different market [sic] and how to do well in each individual country.
And then, hopefully, we also respond to feedback. So I know that we have people listening to
the Google Discussion Groups. We have free discussion groups where any Webmaster
can show up and say, “Hey, I really want this feature,” or “I don’t like that you did this.”
And we pay attention to those in the German markets just like we do in the English markets,
and we get great feedback. We have very smart people paying attention
there. So I’m really glad that we get good ideas,
and then we can find suggestions for how to improve. [pause] [laughs] I do.
Yeah, [laughs] it’s– We like to joke around at Google that once
you learn how to really see spam, it’s almost like x-ray vision.
You can sort of look and guess why somebody making these links–
The blessing and the curse of being able to see spam that regular users might not notice
is you kind of notice it everywhere you go. Like, everything you do, every site you’re
on, you’re sort of looking. What is this site doing well?
What is this site not doing well? So sometimes it interferes with your enjoyment.
You can’t just surf around the Web and be completely innocent.
But you also get a lot of really good feedback that way.
We have a ton of users who are–who give us spam reports or who give us feedback.
And so the nice thing is even as a lot of regular people surf around the Web, they look
for ways that Google could do better, and they’ll tell us that as well. [pause] Yeah.
One of my favorite questions is always along the lines of I have a whole lot of different
sites, and I’ve been cross-linking them together, and I’m not doing as well in Google–and actually,
I’m not doing as well in Yahoo!, either. So I’m wondering what I need to do to–in
order to improve how my web sites are listed. And I was on a panel with somebody from Yahoo!,
and the Yahoo! guy–he got sort of a cynical look on his face–and he said, “When you say
you have a lot of Web sites, how many are we talking here?
Do you have five, do you have 10, how many is it?”
And the person got a sort of sheepish look on his face, and he sort of looked around
a little bit–he was on the front row–he said, “I have 1,500 Web sites.” [laughs]
And the whole room went, “Oh!” Just a ton of Web sites.
So that was pretty funny. Somebody will as a question about a completely
innocent Web site, and you’re, like, you know you’ve got some hidden text on the bottom
of this page, or something like that. The other question that I get, which is sort
of funny, is sometimes people will say or ask a question that’s sort of like how much
can I get away with? It’s almost like a student asking the professor,
“Well, is this going to be on the test? Okay.
Is this going to be on the test?” And at some point, you want to just say, “You
know, make a great site, promote it well, do _____ ??, and you’ll sleep well, and you
don’t need to worry about how much can I get away with?” [pause] I’m a big sucker for gadgets.
So I really enjoy open source, Ubon2, Linux–gadgets in general.
All of those are a lot of fun for me. Another thing that is kind of weird, but that
I enjoy a lot, are plug-ins. And kind of any type of plug-in–Firefox extensions,
Photoshop plug-ins, Firefox add-ons, WordPress add-ons.
And so I think if I had an infinite amount of time, I would spend a lot of time just
writing these little plug-ins and extensions for all these different pieces of software.
It’s a lot of fun to see somebody put something out there and then have people have the ability
to hack it or mod [sic] it or tune it or tweak it or whatever you want to call it–to be
able to improve the functionality above and beyond whatever it would already be.
So that’s a lot of fun, and probably if I had an infinite amount of time, something
about open source or maybe doing various hacks and extensions–things like that.

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