Further Questions with an Ex-Search Quality Team Member Andre Weyher

Over the last few weeks we have received many questions from readers on this blog and I also received several messages on Twitter to do a follow up interview with Andre (the Ex Google Search Quality members) to answer some questions and provide clarification towards specific points from his last interview here.

Andre-Weyher
Andre-Weyher

Question 1. How have you found the last few week’s after the article went viral, have you been contacted by many parties has Google contacted you?

The week after the interview went live was absolutely crazy. I never thought that it would cause such a stir. The reactions varied from enthusiastic to weird and even bizarre. I learned that the outside world is very divided in it’s opinions about SEO. It’s not that weird if you think about it, being an SEO is not a protected title and if I were to compare the opinions and reactions it stirred, I would almost compare it to a religion. Very sensitive, people can get extremely upset when they hear something that they don’t agree with or goes against their experiences. I think that many people forget that there is no magic formula and believe that they have found the holy grail. I also noticed that a lot of people easily forget the big picture. They are so focused on dissecting every single letter and using it to their benefit, instead of focusing on actually giving the users something interesting to read about which will in return help their rankings grow. So I believe that SEO’s should look at their field as a long term project and not as a “quick win” solution.
Also, an interesting thing I’ve noticed: many people interpreted my comments as a sort of “SEO is dead” statement. This is absolutely not the case. SEO is and should be an integral part of any online marketing campaign. It’s just an element that should come as second nature for someone who is truly passionate about the topic of his or her site. On page SEO is something that needs to be done pro-actively and intelligently. But the content part should flow more naturally instead of being looked at as a mere tool to increase traffic.
As far as contact is concerned, I was approached by many people in the industry to comment on some of the answers. Google commented on the article on Search Engine Land and I was given the opportunity to react to their comments as well, so very fair play by Danny Sullivan.

Question 2. Users on the blog have asked if you can please define further: “Commercial” for anchor text/keywords?

Absolutely, I saw this question come up quite often in the forum threads. It’s very simple really. A “commercial” keyword is a high volume and/or high value keyword! There is no official list of these words but you can make the judgement yourself very easily. Any keyword that has high commercial value like “cheap flights” or “car insurance” would be seen as commercial. People tend to over complicate this issue when in reality it’s very simple. If 90% of the anchor texts on your backlinks are commercial keywords, it’s a dead giveaway of a spammy profile, especially if the links run in to the tens of thousands. This would never occur “naturally”. So ensure you have non-commercial keywords anchor texts in there too – like the url of the website and long tail keywords.

Question 3. Users have asked if you have any examples of directories Google deems as high quality?

Good question, I’ve seen a lot of confusion about this topic and I want to be as clear as I can about it; there is no magical list of quality directories out there. There are, however a few guidelines that you can keep in mind when doubting about the quality of a directory. Pay attention to the following;
1) Does the directory demand a reciprocal link before they accept your submission? If they do, it’s a sign that something fishy might be up.
2) Perform a simple snippet search. Take a random entry, perform a “quotation” search on Google with a random sentence in the entry, are there hundreds of directories with the exact same sentence? You do the math! 😉
Apart from these 2 simple giveaways, remember the value of moderation and specialisation. Directories with a clear niche or with a very active moderator are for more likely to have value. Also, the SEOmoz list of directories is pretty up to date and good.

Question 4. You mentioned last time when I met you that META Keywords for SEO are still worth including, can you elaborate on this if possible?

Funny you should ask. I tend to mention META keywords as an often overlooked element and this causes a look of disbelief in the faces of the more experienced and “corporate” SEOs. There has been a lot of speculation about this and I appreciate the chance to expand on this topic. Part of the SEO community is of the opinion that META keywords are worthless and can be overlooked. The other (smaller) part thinks they are some kind of magic weapon. The truth lies in the middle in my opinion. It’s obvious that having correct META keywords will not make you rank on the #1 position in a competitive field. But that doesn’t mean that they will not help Google understand what your site is about! Even if Google totally disregards them from a ranking perspective, they are still being seen by the algorithm, and they can’t do you any harm, so why not include them and tell Google what your site is about?
Having said that, you shouldn’t overdo it. I see a lot of sites with a huge amount of them in the META data. Webmasters need to remember that the more of them you have, the less each one of them is worth! The less of them you put in your META data, the more powerful each one of them becomes. They might not make a difference in the battle for the #1 position for the keyword “cola” between Pepsi and Coke, but they might give a head start to the bakery around the corner, competing for the keyword “bakery in Brooklyn”.

Question 5. Finally you have been living in Sydney for a few months now how have you found the city would you recommend it?

I absolutely LOVE this city. I’ve been travelling for the last 10 years and lived in a good few places. All of them have their charm but as far as I’m concerned, Sydney combines them all. The people, the climate and the city itself, it has all the good elements from the places I’ve been before. Not to mention that there is an amazing tech startup scene here. There are a lot of very clever people working on interesting new projects. I’ve had the chance to be a part of it and it’s fantastic experience. Speaking of which, I’d like to invite all your readers to check out my new blog on http://netcomber.com/blog The amount of questions that my first interview generated has motivated me to start my own Q&A blog. I’ll be telling people about my new service and about an ex Googlers view on SEO. I’ll also give people the chance to send in their questions about search, so hope to see you all there!

Finally I would like to say thank you to Andre for doing the two interviews.

Andre will also be attending a new monthly meetup running in Sydney on the 22nd November, so be sure to sign up now here: Online Marketing Sydney

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.

Google-Search-Quality-Member
Google-Search-Quality-Member

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 (backlinks) 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 and founder of Prosperity Media a High Performance SEO Agency in Sydney, with over 8+ 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.