Google Gets Revealed During Latest Q&A Session
A group of Google employees, including blogger Matt Cutts, sat down on October 22nd in a live chat and fielded questions from some Google users. There were many highlights of the Q&A session, most notably:
- Rank checking software doesn't make much sense anymore (not to mention that they're against our Terms of Service and could result in us blocking your IP address). We use a lot of personalization and geotargeting in our search results - so what ranks high for one user might not rank high for others.
- That being said, Google might be considering releasing its own rank checking software to eliminate all the automated applications such as WebCeO and AdvancedWebRanking)
- On a question of mass article marketing... If you're thinking of boosting your reputation and getting to be well-known, I might not start as the very first thing with an article directory. Sometimes it's nice to get to be known a little better before jumping in and submitting a ton of articles as the first thing.
- None of the search engines penalize duplicate content -- they just ignore the duplicates.
Below are some questions and answers that stood out to me and I have added my own commentary underneath.
What weight does the age of a site and the amount of time a domain is registered for have on it's search placement?
Matt Cutts says: In the majority of cases, it actually doesn't matter--we want to return the best information, not just the oldest information. Especially if you're a mom/pop site, we try to find ways to rank your site even if your site is newer or doesn't have many links. I think it is fair for Google to use that as a signal in some circumstances, and I try never to rule a signal out completely, but I wouldn't obsess about it.
Verdict: The Google algorithm takes domain/web site age into consideration along with hundreds of other factors.
Recently, you removed this suggestion: "Submit your site to relevant directories such as the Open Directory Project and Yahoo!" from your guidelines. Is there any chance that you will be discounting these kinds of links for ranking value in future?
Matt Cutts says: There's always the chance that we'll discount directory links in the future. What we were seeing was quite a few novice people would see the "directory" recommendation and go out and just try to submit to a ton of directories, even if some of the directories were lower-quality or even fly-by-night directories that weren't great for users. Right now we haven't changed how we're weighting directory links--we've only removed the directory suggestion from the webmaster guidelines.
Verdict: Continue to submit to high quality directories (I can't stress the 'quality' enough). Nothing's changed with how Google ranks sites regarding directory backlinks.
Since Google is against using ranking software (ie:WebCeO) to monitor SERP rankings, is there any plans on Google creating an approved, in-house rank check application that webmasters can use?
Matt Cutts says: It's something that we've talked about. My concern is that sometimes people get too worried with paying attention to their "trophy phrase" and want to rank for that even if that's not the best phrase for them, or concentrating on one phrase to the exclusion of all the other stuff they rank for isn't the best idea. I think paying attention to server logs or analytics data gets you a really nice array of keywords that are practical to work on. But this is feedback that we've heard, and personally I think it would be nice if we offered this for some reasonable size of keywords.
Verdict: Very cool. Even though Matt's right in that visitor data and conversions count for far more than rankings, clients continue to swoon over where they show up for keywords. Software straight from Google would be a welcomed sight.
Are .gov and .edu back links still considered more "link juice" than the common back link?
Matt Cutts says: This is a common misconception--you don't get any PageRank boost from having an .edu link or .gov link automatically. If you get an .edu link and no one is linking to that .edu page, you're not going to get any PageRank at all because that .edu page doesn't have any PageRank.
Verdict: Makes sense. There are .edu or .gov sites that don't have much authority or value so why should they count for more than a .com on TLD alone?
Recently went through a rebranding of our company name. The old domain name was successful in page ranking, however the new domain name has terrible page ranking. Do 301 redirects transfer the site equity from the old domain to new domain?
Answer: This is a pretty common question, so we actually did a blog post about it recently. In short, 301's are the best way to retain users and search engine traffic when moving domains.
Verdict: For instructions on how to implement 301 redirects in multiple programming languages, visit our SEO tools section at the FreshPromo web site.
Some blackhat linked to my blog from 300+ adult splogs as revenge for calling him out. My blog had #1 ranking for it's keywords, now it is on the second page at best. Can mass amounts of links from "bad neighborhoods" cause a drop in site ranking?
Nathan J says: We work hard to make sure a site can't have a negative effect on another site. Feel free to report spam if you think you find some - https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/spamreport
Verdict: Yikes. If it's true that the site in question did nothing on its own then this is a real shame to see ranking sabotage still working on Google.
Any chance of Google favouring sites with valid markup anytime soon? On the principle that if the webmaster has taken the trouble to write valid markup, it's less likely to be a spammy site?
JohnMu says: Since less than 5% of the pages out there actually validate according to study done by Opera, it wouldn't make much sense for us to give the other 95% of the pages any trouble. You can find the study at http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/mama-markup-validation-report/
Verdict: This makes sense, as most validation errors don't even result in a difference of what the user sees on a web page. When invalid markup does hurt, however, is when it results in search engine robots not being able to follow links or index content.
Given, the incoming links are intact and there is no link buying/selling. Can there be any other reason for a drop in Page Rank?
JohnMu says: Assuming the number of links stays the same, it's always possible that some links change with regards to the way they pass PageRank.
Verdict: Wow, how ambiguous was that answer! Let me translate: Can there be another reason for PR drop? Yes. Nothing happens in Google without a reason. My best guess in this specific situation is that the links that link to the direct incoming links to your site have changed (ie. Site A is linked to from Site B; Site B is linked to from Site C, and so forth). Of course the impact is diluted as you move back each link level, but just think of it as a family tree -- how many generations (ie. links) came before you? They all, indirectly, have an impact on how your PageRank is calculated.
How does Google view content that is placed in divs that are hidden/display none until a user does something? These are also good places to stuff SEO content that a user may never see. What is best practise from Google's point of view?
Wysz says: I've addressed this question in the Google Webmaster Help Group here: http://groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help-Indexing/browse_thread/thread/b2d09046ab4d5ed/And here: http://groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help-Indexing/browse_thread/thread/5d31cc395fe20b64/What is boils down to is intent: If it's there for the user, you're probably safe. If you're trying to deceive search engines... that's risky. :)
I have reported sites that clearly have paid links (e.g. the backlink page says "Advertising" above the link), but Google does not seem to take action. Why would that be the case? These are .orgs who are clearly selling their .org juice.
Kaspar aka Guglarz says: While paid links and spam reports are being taken very seriously by Google, the results may not be seen immediately for users or even not at all. This does not mean no action is being taken on the offending sites. Also, the TLD of the sites should not be a factor being taken into account. For this reason reporting both, web spam and PageRank passing link selling makes sense and contributes in an important way to the quality of Google's index.
Verdict: I wonder under what circumstances the results from reporting paid links "would not be seen at all"... the only scenario I can think of is if two sites pay for advertising on each other. Would that be considered a link exchange, albeit with money exchanging hands?
How many times a year do you update a site PageRanking?
Matt Cutts says: PageRank is re-computed all the time (different PageRanks every day). But we update the toolbar PageRank 3-4 times/year.
About IP addresses, you always used to hear that you don't want to share because you could get punished if you share with a bad site. I'm guessing that's not a concern anymore -- true or false?
JohnMu says: You're right, I wouldn't worry about that anymore. The situations where it would matter are when the server is overloaded (can't respond to your visitors) and when it's incorrectly configured (not returning your site to your visitors).
Verdict: Makes sense. Not everyone can afford dedicated hosting so it wouldn't make sense to penalize those sites who have the misfortune of being hosted on the same IP as spammers.
Is it true that the fewer the links FROM your website, the more influence they have on the sites receiving those links?
JohnMu says: PageRank is split up over the links from a page, but I would recommend not concentrating on this (as you won't be able to "measure" and act upon it anyway) and instead making your site as usable as possible for your visitors.
Verdict: If you wish to pass more PageRank from your own site to another, the fewer external links you have, the better. Your site holds a maximum amount of PageRank at any one time and outbound PageRank is divided amongst all your external links.
John Metzler has held executive positions in the search engine marketing industry since 2001. He is the Founder of FreshPromo, a Toronto-based SEO firm and updates his blog regularly.