An Interview with an EX-Member of Matt Cutts’s Search Quality team!
Today we have something special for the readers of JamesNorquay.com, I have an exclusive interview with Andre Weyher. I first met Andre at a Search Industry event in Sydney and was intrigued too see why some one who use to work with Matt Cutts had moved to Sydney, if he could possibly share any “secret information” and also to talk about his new project which we will also talk over.
Question 1: Tell us about yourself Andre, how long did you work in the Google Search Quality team?
I’ve been in Google for close to 5 years, after spending 2 years in the AdSense and AdWords teams (and some shameless self promotion) I got the chance to join Matt Cutts’s Search Quality team. A great experience as there are much less people in his department and the experience and knowledge I got are quite unique. Matt is a great guy and the atmosphere in the team is fantastic, you get to investigate the deep and dark corners of the internet, keeping the search index clean from spam and blackhat SEO. It’s also great to see the exact other side of the coin now!
Question 2: What were your daily roles in the search quality team?
The teams main focus is fighting spam and keeping Google’s search results clean so that the user gets the best possible experience. This is a very important thing for Google if you think about it. Google’s entire earning model relies on the good quality of the organic results, if people didn’t trust organic, they would stop using search and not click on ads anymore. Everyone in the team gets a market or a specialisation. I was mostly busy with content quality and back link profile, making decisions on the quality of pages and the links pointing to them and if needed, applying a penalty based on the severity and nature of the violating behaviour. The job also entailed creating reports about the current spam “situation” on a particular market.
Question 3. What are your thoughts on the recent algo updates penguin and panda are more on the way?
Absolutely, from what I have heard, there are still plenty of tweaks to come in the future. I think the message that Google is sending is very clear, they are fed up with people breaking the guidelines on an industrial scale and are coming down very hard on webmasters who do. Everyone knew that Penguin would be pointed at links, but I don’t think many people expected the impact to be as large as it turned out to be. At this stage a webmaster is out of his mind to still rely on techniques that were common practice 8 months ago. Purchasing links was always risky but resembled a game of roulette, you could get caught but many people also got away with it. Today it’s not a question IF you get caught, it’s merely a question of WHEN you’ll get caught. Not only this but take PR for example, getting a link from a high PR page used to always be valuable, today it’s more the relevance of the site’s theme in regards to yours, relevance is the new PR.
Question 4. What are common trends you looked for to determine a spammy site?
These can be divided into a few categories; On page signals like keyword stuffing, hiding things under the CSS or silly techniques like making a keyword rich text in the same colour as the background of the site. The second category would be content quality, it’s important to remember here that Google does not judge the nature of your content, only it’s authenticity. So any type of scraped, synonymised or obviously poorly written text would be a clear spam signal. The third would be backlink profile.
Question 5. What are common trends you looked for to determine a spammy link profile?
There are a good few elements taken into account here, like how many links are there in total? A very important one; what is the quality of the pages they come in from? Do the pages look “real” or are they just there to host the links? What anchors are used? The commercial vs. non commercial ratio of the anchors. In reality it’s very easy to recognise a blackhat profile, all you have to do is imagine what anchors would have been used if the linking happened completely naturally and compare it with what is going on in reality. Anyone can do it, just think logically and keep in mind which keywords convert to money.
Question 6. From your time in Google what are 3 on page tactics that you recommend?
Very good question, on page tactics are often overlooked, while in reality they should be a key element in your SEO strategy. First of all, choose your domain name wisely, having a good URL can give you a head start in the race. Good domains are still expensive and for a good reason. Second, be very thorough about your basic elements like titles, descriptions and H1/H2 headers. People are so focussed on putting the most expensive fuel in their car (link building) that they totally forget about the basics like putting wheels on it (on page elements). Of course you can’t over-do it as Google now also penalises for over optimisation, so don’t putt more than 2 commercial keywords in your titles or Google will frown upon it. Third, and most important, focus on content quality. Try to work on your website as if SEO was not part of your plan, create content out of a sincere interest and enthusiasm for the topic of your page. This is what Google and your users want form you, I know it’s tempting to think about financial gain but remember that Googles primary concern is valuable information!
Question 7. What are 3 off site (link building) tactics that you recommend?
Off site link building has dramatically changed since the recent updates. Anything that you can do automatically or at scale putts your website at risk. So keep the following in mind; Link building has changed from an almost purely technical process into something that resembles a relationship management campaign. Building a network with owners of sites that are related to yours for example. If your website is about cheese production, reach out to people in the milk industry, like I mentioned before, relevance is the new PR. Second, don’t dismiss directories completely. I have heard people talking about directories being altogether bad and advise people to avoid them. This is not the case, good quality, moderated directories, or niche directories are still worth looking in to. Third, to stay focussed on quality of pages linking in to you, Google judges your link profile by the quality of pages linking to your site, getting 3 links from authentic pages will do much more than 1000 links from splogs, so invest your time into getting quality, not quantity.
Question 8. Are there any other secrets or tips you can give to SEO’s from a search quality member?
This is a hard one… There are many secrets in Google’s sauce. I am aware that this might disappoint you but what I tend to tell people is the following; if you want to please Google with your SEO, then forget about SEO. Google wants you to create a site as if you don’t intend to manipulate their algo, but as if you are doing it because your passionate about the topic of your site. If you really are, your content will be great and your target audience will love you, this will do the best possible SEO you can imagine. Apart from this, follow Matt Cutts on Google+
Question 9. What are your thoughts on the trend towards social in search is more social integration on the way?
The change is definitely in the air, I think we have all seen signs of this happening already. It also looks like Google is moving towards more localised versions of search instead of a country wide version. Social will surely play a huge part in this. Integrating Google places into Google+ was a clear sign of the direction in which they are heading. I can only guess how it will look in the future but you can bet on Google+ being a very important part of it. I don’t think Google will let go of their social network any time soon so if you don’t have a profile for your site yet… don’t wait.
Question 10. Tell us about your new project Netcomber.com, how can it help SEO’s?
Netcomber is a brand new project that I have been working on, together with my business partner. We are planning to make it into the world best fingerprinting website. Our system uses over 3000 factors to calculate which websites are owned by the same person who’s website you submit. We use signs like account IDs, hosting information and even coding style to determine ownership clusters, so it will also show hidden relationships that normally would not be shown because of anonymization of data. Search engines always used this data in their fight against spam, checking the quality of a network, or even taking down an entire (spammy) owner cluster. The data was always internal only, we have made it external! SEOs can use it in many ways e.g. checking if a directory is of good quality (if the same owner has 500 of them in the same template, you might want to watch out), getting new ideas for potential linking partners, or simply keeping an eye on the competition and much more… Currently the tool is based on 20 million sites, in a few short weeks we will finish a crawl of over 200 million sites, so we are in BETA and the tool is free to use for now.
Thank you to Andre for taking his time to answer these 10 search related questions.
For more check out Andrea on LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/andre-weyher/4/524/859
And be sure to check out his new project Net Comber here: netcomber.com
About the Author: James Norquay is a well known Australian digital marketer, with over 7 years experience. James deals with Enterprise level projects from some of Australia & Asia Pacific’s largest corporations. You can find him online via: Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin or posting on his other blog backlinks.com.au.
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