Matt Cutts disavows himself from Google until October


Matt Cutts had always planned to work at Google for 4-5 years. After 15, the time has come for the head of the Webspam team to take his leave from now through October. Local Search Masters, along with the rest of the search engine marketing industry, will certainly notice his absence, and we wish him well. Cutts is known for making headlines with his announcements that often signal a change in the SEO landscape. He has insisted that his team of engineers is much better at fighting spam than he is, and that there is no reason to worry about Google. Cutts cites his lack of time with his wife as his reason for stepping away, and the couple is set to embark on quite the adventure, leaving their email inboxes and voicemails behind for ballroom dancing lessons and exotic cruises.

SEO Moneyball: Do Google +1s Lead to Higher Search Placement?

An article on Moz blew up the SEO community last week when it outlined the high correlation between Google +1s and higher search rankings.

Author Cyrus Shepard claims that, besides Moz’s own Page Authority statistic, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor. Searchmetrics, another SEO website, found the exact same thing in a similar study using different methods.

That’s all well and good, but the real question is whether the higher search results are driven by +1s or are merely coincidentally mirroring them.

Shepard acknowledges this question, but says that his study shows that it is not merely correlation, but in fact causation between Google+ posts and search rankings.

He notes three big reasons why he sees this correlation:

  1. Posts are crawled and indexed almost immediately
  2. Google+ posts pass link equity
  3. Google+ is optimized for semantic relevance

In looking at his claims, let’s start off by saying that Google has already flatly denied the thesis of Shepard’s work. Google engineer Matt Cutts said this week on a Hacker news forum post about the article:

“Just trying to decide the politest way to debunk the idea that more Google +1s lead to higher Google web rankings. Let’s start with correlation != causation:

But it would probably be better to point to this 2011 post (also from SEOMoz/Moz) from two years ago in which a similar claim was made about Facebook shares:… . From that blog post from two years ago: “One of the most interesting findings from our 2011 Ranking Factors analysis was the high correlation between Facebook shares and Google US search position.”

This all came to a head at the SMX Advanced search conference in 2011 where Rand Fishkin presented his claims. I did a polite debunk of the idea that Google used Facebook shares in our web ranking at the conference, leading to this section in the 2011 blog post: “Rand pointed out that Google does have some access to Facebook data overall and set up a small-scale test to determine if Google would index content that was solely shared on Facebook. To date, that page has not been indexed, despite having quite a few shares (64 according to the OpenGraph).”

If you make compelling content, people will link to it, like it, share it on Facebook, +1 it, etc. But that doesn’t mean that Google is using those signals in our ranking.

Rather than chasing +1s of content, your time is much better spent making great content.”

So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at each of Shepard’s points.

1. Posts are crawled and indexed almost immediately

While I haven’t been able to find any hard evidence to confirm this claim, but it certainly falls within reason. Having a strong Google+ profile is absolutely a good way to be indexed by Google’s algorithm. Maintaining and updating your G+ page is extremely important for social media and seo, especially if this claim that posts are indexed immediately is true

2. Google+ posts pass link equity

Shepard claims that because all links from Google+ are followed, they pass on link equity. Dave Davies at Search Engine Watch, who called this claim unlikely, says,

“[Shepard] claims that shared links pass link weight simply because they’re not nofollowed (whereas other links are). Now, this brings up an interesting question: Does the fact that Google nofollows some links necessarily indicate that they pass weight to the others?

One could ask, ‘Why nofollow some if you aren’t going to pass weight to any?’ More likely than passing link weight from the easily abused environment that would breed goes back to point one – they will crawl the content that is shared (i.e., followed) and not crawl additional links, thus seriously restricting the benefits of comment spamming on stronger profiles.

I can’t say the conclusion that the links are nofollowed just to pass crawlers and not link juice is heavily tested or based on more than an understanding of what Google’s trying to accomplish and the pitfalls if they started passing link weight through Google+, but I will assert that it’s far more likely than Google setting themselves up to be a link spam property.”

Google is unlikely to let its own social networks be abused for search rankings, which makes Shepard’s claim dubious. The most likely scenario is that Google is following these links to index posts on its own site, not to pass link juice onto anyone posting on G+.

3. Google+ is optimized for semantic relevance

Google does rank its own site for relevance. That much is undoubtedly true. What we don’t know, and the crux of this point, is whether Google assigns that relevance to the post itself or the destination URL. Matt Cutts hasn’t answered that question, and without his input I doubt the author can make this claim with any certainty.


Google+ plays a role in SEO. What that role is exactly is unclear to everyone outside (and probably most people within) the Google offices. Without hard evidence, we need to treat the claims of Moz as merely correlation, without proven causation.

As Cutts said himself, you’re wasting your time if all you try to do is get +1s. Great content will be shared, and that should be your focus.

Jackson on Google+


For more SEO Moneyball check out these posts!

SEO Moneyball Series

SEO Moneyball: How to Utilize Google Trends

SEO Moneyball: Takings Advantage of Geo-Targeting in Google AdWords

Tips for Writing Great Content

For years, Matt Cutts of Google has been stressing that one of the keys to being successful in the search engine’s algorithm is producing “great content.”  But what is great content? That’s the million-dollar question.  Usually, Google’s perception of great content is based on the concept of providing “real value” to people browsing your site.

“Real value” might seem like a fairly subjective term (probably because it is), so it might be difficult to know if the content you’re producing really is great content.  The next time you’re trying to decide if what you want to post really is useful, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Have I utilized different types of media? You don’t need to have eight pictures, four videos, and ten links in every post, but the more variety you can inject into your stuff, the better.  Switching up the media by which information is delivered keeps the reader entertained longer and therefore listening for a greater period of time.  Just be sure that you’re not putting in so much extra media that it distracts from your main point by ruining the flow of your message.  Usually, my rule of thumb is to bring in a picture with an interesting caption or some kind of relevant link if I go two or three paragraphs without any comic relief or seriously provocative insights.
  • Am I really offering new insights or am I simply parroting or rephrasing common knowledge?  Speaking of insights, I’d say that answering this question in the affirmative is the greatest step that a business can take toward producing great content.  Your writing can be ultra-witty and adorned from head to toe in a highly complex mixture of media, but, if the reader isn’t learning anything new, there’s not a lot of value there.  Do a quick Google search about what others in your field have to say about the topic and try to take a different approach if possible.  If your content is unique, then you’ll be more likely to intrigue the reader and therefore retain his or her attention for longer.
  • Is there anything personal and/or relatable in the content? When I was growing up, my teachers always taught me to take myself out of the essay.  Ever the narcissist, even today I tend to ignore that rule.  If you’re writing a piece of content for your business-especially if it’s in the form of a blog and not just purely technical and educational- it’s okay to bring your own or your business’ experiences into the conversation.  People relate to other people (not impersonal institutions), and mentioning successes or failures that you’ve had individually with whatever your topic is will make you more relatable to your readers/viewers.  Case studies are an effective way to do this when you want more focus on your company and its results rather than personal procedures that you’ve explored.
  • Is this funny at all? Right about now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Just be funny? Easier said than done.”  You’re right, of course, and humor is so subjective that it’s tough to tell if your content really will make people laugh.  You can’t really know how well your punch lines are going to land, but here are a few tips to help: First, try your material on your colleagues.  They can help you reword or scrap content that just isn’t working.  Second, actually take some time in the revision process to come up with tweaks or better ideas.  The longer you spend on your content, the better it gets (usually). And last, don’t act like you’re trying to be funny, even if you are.  Humor loses its appeal when the audience suspects you care too much about the reaction.
  • Are there any bold claims or stats that should be cited? This might take you back to your high school and college days when your professors would ask where you came across those suspicious statistics that just so happen to coincide perfectly with the point that you’re making.  Even today, that lesson should still apply, though you’d be surprised at the hundreds of articles I’ve read that introduce ambitious stats with absolutely no hint at where they’ve gotten the information.  If you’re going to make an argument based on numbers, make sure people know where you’re getting the numbers from.  Anything to boost credibility makes your point hit home that much harder.

Now get out there and post some of your own engaging- nay, mind-blowing- content before you waste any more of your precious day reading mine.


James on Google+