My Conversation With Matt Cutts At SMX Advanced
I had a nice chat with Matt Cutts at SMX Advanced. Not only is he a great guy but he is incredibly accessible for a person who has such a strong position of importance in our industry. I’m totally convinced that Matt would spend as much time with a search newbie as he would with a SEO “A” lister and if you happen to see Matt at a conference, don’t feel bashful in going up and introducing yourself.
During our conversation (the only part of it I’m going to share with you), Matt asked my opinion on what Google could do better. Quite frankly, my answer was a little lame and I only told Matt a portion of what I wanted to say. I shared with Matt some details and examples but it was only after the conference that I realized that these details represented an overall theme that I did not communicate. Since do-overs are allowed in Cyberspace, I want to go back and restate the answer I would have given Matt if I had the chance:
“Matt, I wasn’t on Google’s side in the war against paid links; however, there is one thing that Google did during that skirmish that I very much liked. Google assumed the role of ‘search engine activist’ and algorithmically used its might to push an agenda that it felt was in its best interest. Google can wield an awesome power if it desires and though I wouldn’t have used it here, in theory, I’m very much in favor of Google taking on the role of activist in limited circumstances.
In the Sphinn comments to one of Eric Ward’s linkbuilding articles a while back, I commented that Eric’s notion of using one’s moral compass in deciding whether to take on a link-building project was correct but neglected the role of the searcher in taking personal responsibility for smartly synthesizing the information found in Google or to know when to ask for help in understanding what they find. You called me out in a way that suggested that Google should “game” the results for critical searches in order to present accurate information if the algorithm (perhaps assisted by wayward SEO) spits out results that are potentially dangerous to the searcher.
You know what? You’re right. In limited situations, Google should game the results or editorialize them to serve the greater good.
As an example, let us look at the term “warez”. There isn’t much good about “warez”. In fact, when I Google the term, all the sites ranked on the first page besides the dictionary sites contain warnings from software installed in my computer that I’m running the risk of infecting my machine if I visit them.
It might not be reasonable (and it’s perhaps impossible) to exclude all the dangerous web pages that might appear in Google’s SERPS when this term is searched. However, why not give the folks a bit of warning? It is quite possible that plenty of folks will search this term not knowing the implications of clicking through to “warez” websites. If Google places a warning at the top of the SERPS for this search, Google will, in my opinion, be making its best efforts to keep the public out of harms way while not censoring the results or changing their algorithm that generally works extremely well without manual intervention.
Now we both know that there are a lot of SEO charlatans ripping off customers by selling worthless services such as “Search Engine Submission”. At this moment, I see over 3 million results returned for a Google Search on this term and 278 paid advertisers are bidding on it. Should Google be a search engine activist and editorialize these results? Absolutely. Google need not practice censorship nor manually change the algorithm. Just put one simple statement at the top of the results page stating that it is not necessary to submit your site to Google in order to be listed and ranked, and that somebody who tries to sell you that service with promises of its value is not being truthful (I would use much harsher language but I know Google needs to remain diplomatic). I have a feeling that a lot of scammers would see their income stream dry up very quickly.
Using Google’s power in an editorial manner is not a step to be taken lightly. However, I think there are some limited “black and white” cases where Google should throw down the gauntlet in order to best serve its users.