SES San Jose 2007 write-up

I’m really late giving thoughts on SES San Jose 2007, but better late than never! :)

For much of 2007, we’ve been working to get more Googlers doing different types of communication. I really saw that effort bear fruit in San Jose. From the webspam team, Greg Grothaus and Shashi Thakur were first-time SES speakers and did a great job. Also from webspam, Evan Roseman spoke again. We also had SES veterans like Shuman and Amanda Camp, plus lots of other speakers.

I’ll try to post about all the Googlers working on communication at some point, but for now just look at the last 10-15 posts on the Official Google Webmaster blog. Pretty much every post was written by a different person. That’s a lot of different people talking on the official blog for webmasters.

The only panel I did was the “Are Paid Links Evil?” session. After the “Personalized Search: Fear or Not?” panel at SMX Seattle I had joked that Michael Gray was easier on me than Tim Mayer, so Michael probably came after me even more than he normally would have. I did my slides from scratch again so that they would be easier to release to everyone, not just conference attendees. I got approval to release the slides, so here they are. Lots of people wrote up the panel; Rand did a good job of documenting the session. I think people are familiar with Google’s stance and we’ve said pretty much the same thing on this subject since 2005, so I’m going to try to avoid getting pulled back into that discussion unless there’s something new to add.

It was great to see old friends and meet a few new people. I got to meet Kevin Newcomb, the new daily news editor for Search Engine Watch and we walked around the show floor chatting and checking out the exhibit floor. And somehow I’d missed talking to Kim Krause Berg all this time — thanks to Brett Tabke for getting us talking. Can you believe that Cre8asiteForums just turned five years old? It was fun just talking to lots of folks, including Xoogler Vanessa Fox. Joe Hunkins and I finally got to talk face-to-face, and spent our time discussing Techmeme and artificial intelligence (Joe asked Marissa Mayer about it as well).

Speaking of Marissa Mayer, someone asked her a question about a favorite topic of mine: search augmented by humans. I was very happy to see that she gave almost exactly the same answer I would have given. Actually, she probably said it better than I would. Lisa Barone summarized it thusly:

Google is often painted as the algorithm purist. That they believe in all algorithm, all the time and they don’t get humans involved. That’s not true. The algorithm is important because it’s the only way to ensure comprehensiveness. But once you have that base of algorithm, you can layer that human input into it. Now Google is starting to look at things like Google Co-op where users are layering results or Google Notebook where users are pulling information themselves. The best answer is to layer both the algorithm and humans together.

And Tamar Weinberg wrote it down as:

Marissa: Google is painted as the algorithmic purist. That’s not our view. The algorithmic approach is important. That said, once you had the basic algorithm, you can layer human elements into it. We have properties like Google Co-op where people can label items and Google Notebook which has human interaction. But you need to layer the two together – algorithms and human elements to achieve relevance.

See my previous post for more background and to read about how both Marissa and Larry have been open and pragmatic about the idea of “person + machine” instead of “only machine.”

I spent most of the Google Dance in the Meet the Google Engineers room; as you can tell from that photo, we probably had 30 engineers talking with webmasters and answering various questions. I think a lot of people really enjoyed the Google Dance, judging from the photos of hundreds of people dancing:

People dancing in Google cafeteria

I also saw new Googler Rick Klau in person for the first time at SES; he gave a great talk that drove home that you should be using the free MyBrand service if you use Feedburner. Let’s see, what else? Oh, DaveN hadn’t tried Google Reader since it turned kick-ass; I almost pulled him away from Bloglines until Ask rolled out a new beta version of Bloglines. And as long as I’m giving kudos to competitors, congrats to Yahoo for giving webmaster more control over url rewriting, and congrats to MSFT for announcing their upcoming webmaster portal, which will debut later this fall.

At last year’s SES San Jose conference we had a small under-NDA roundtable with about 15-20 different webmasters. We had another roundtable this year with about 20 people to pick their brains. ;) They gave us feedback on what Google should be working on, and in return we did some Q&A with them and they got dinner at the Googleplex and a tour. Somehow some Werewolf cards showed up, and after dinner we played Werewolf until about 10 p.m.

All in all, it was a good conference. The sessions were solid, tons of people visited the Googleplex to ask questions/dance/drink (maybe not in that order), and we got a lot of useful feedback.

Update: Mike McDonald and I did an interview at SES San Jose and ended up talking about invalid clicks, which was fun.

35 Responses to SES San Jose 2007 write-up (Leave a comment)

  1. You have a missing “http://” on your link to your powerpoint presentation, labelled “here they are”.

  2. Just a quick question

    Will Google remove the secrecy behind what the humans do? If Google changes its ranking of a site arbitrarily will they inform the webmaster of how, when and why? Protecting the algorythm as a reason for secrecy doesn’t seem to apply to the humans who alter what the algo spits out.

    Specificaly, JohnChow.com has had all 7000+ of his articles dropped from Google, as can be seen on seodigger.com, and he now only ranks well for his site name. He sold batches of links and google snipped the value of incoming and internal links. Will his PR of 6 remain PR6 as if frozen there during the next update or will it drop to PR0 or go gray as it should with no links? I’m curious as to how far the secrecy goes, will he keep his PR to make the site look unchanged despite the fact that articles can’t be found anymore in Google ?

  3. So it seems that Rand is your friend?

    I do n’t think these SES conferences will help anyway in improving the quality of the results a search engine gives.

    It is simply a meeting point between SEO’s and SE people where SEO’s some bucks to SE’s to increase ranking for SEO’s clients!

  4. Looks like it was great… Give me a couple of years and ill be there :D

  5. I never saw Google as ‘algorithm purists’ because Google had some strange ritualistic belief in the algo – I always reckoned it was because the sheer size of the web means that constantly improving the algo is the only way to get the job done.

    I fear all this recent ‘human interest’ PR will backfire, once the truth comes out – the sheer size of the web means that constantly improving the algo *is* the only way to get the job done.

    You can ‘human layer’ the tip of the iceberg until blue with cold – but it won’t really make a difference – unless you are intend to forget about the bits below the surface.

  6. I was looking forward to checking out your slides but…

    The requested URL /blog/www.mattcutts.com/files/paid-links-presentation.ppt was not found on this server.

    Bad Matt bad ;-)

  7. What a post full of links and I get nothing … damn payback is a bitch ;-)

  8. Boudewijn

    What about links that are falsely marked as PPP (Paid PageRank-Passing) links?
    Is there some kind of notification through the Webmaster console that a link is marked PPP?
    How can one ‘proof’ that a normal (linkexchange) is not paid for and thus not violating the Quality Guidelines?

  9. > Google is often painted as the algorithm purist. That they
    > believe in all algorithm, all the time and they don’t get
    > humans involved. That’s not true. The algorithm is
    > important because it’s the only way to ensure
    > comprehensiveness. But once you have that base of
    > algorithm, you can layer that human input into it.

    This creates a “human vs algorithm” approach, I believe you should point out that in fact most algorithms at Google are based on the traces of human interaction online. PageRank for instance is not a “human-free algorithm” but an algorithm making use of the human decisions all over the web of where to point their links to. While services like Google Base may seem like more of “human data” they’re not: it’s still “the algorithm” that decides whether the data will appear to everyone in a web search.

  10. Pip

    Hi Matt,

    according to your SES slides: Do you recommend to enhance my Amazon Affiliate Links with nofollow. I’m not sure at all, since they’ve forgot to redirect those links via 302. And I do not know if they are buying my links via revenue share (i.e. paid links?), or if they just forgot to set a 302.

    2nd question: If _I_ would give some big newspaper 10% of my revenues for that link (or at least say so). Would THAT be linkbuying in terms of webmaster guidelines or not?

    Cheers,
    Pip

  11. So any chance of version (or should that be shard) of this at london/paris or other major google offices.

  12. Matthew Anderson, I fixed the link. Michael, you got plenty of links out of your presentation. ;)

    Philipp Lenssen, well-said. In my post at http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/the-role-of-humans-in-google-search/ I tried to make that point (PageRank and much other data at Google are often based on human activities on the web.

    Andrew Heenan, you said “the sheer size of the web means that constantly improving the algo *is* the only way to get the job done.” I would rephrase that as “the sheer size of the web means that a human-only approach would not cover the ‘long tail’ of search.” I’m not advocating an “all humans, all the time” approach, because I agree that such an effort couldn’t scale to process the entire web in all its many languages. But if you read how people summarized Marissa’s statement, I believe that she said that algorithms can form the foundation or substrate, and then human input could be used to adjust anything that’s not optimal. I have seen that approach work well in webspam, for example, where we certainly use algorithms wherever we can, but we’re not opposed to taking manual action on spam as well.

  13. The Financial Times on Sunday had a couple of articles about algorithms, one referencing Google for the fact the word had now managed to make it into everyday parlance and whether or not they were a good thing, and one very good one about the role of humans within algorithms pretty much agreeing with Marissas statement.

    Faulty powers “Thanks to Google, it has become fashionable to call any computational process that has more two steps in it an “algorithm”
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1575a034-56b7-11dc-9a3a-0000779fd2ac.html

    Man vs machine – How computers routed the experts
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/44f39c1c-5824-11dc-8c65-0000779fd2ac.html

  14. I spent most of the Google Dance in the Meet the Google Engineers room; as you can tell from that photo, we probably had 30 engineers talking with webmasters and answering various questions.

    It says more about the selfishness of those Engineers that no one cared enough to post on here or on the Google Webmaster blog and give a summary of the points they discussed and the advice they gave.

    Examining the picture, there are just a few people around EACH of the tables, so in essence, information that could have been shared with thousands of people around the world, was only discussed with a handful and lost forever without being archived.

    Ironically, the very purpose of THIS blog and the Webmaster blog IS to disseminate SEO information – so what better use could there be than to have those SAME Engineers highlight and recap info that many would need.
    And of course, archiving it for people who in the future may discover those posts by using Search Engine keywords.

    Sometimes it is just so hard to understand what makes people tick :-?

  15. Hi Matt:

    Thanks for the great information. I was looking at your presentation slides and I know you encourage the use of ‘nofollow’ links for paid links. I agree with your (and Googles) stance on paid links. However, I’m concerned about the overuse of ‘nofollow’ links on “non paid links”. Are you (Google) concerned about losing your ability to accurately measure web page authority from the other side of the coin? For instance, using Wikipedia as an example – if you consider that ‘nofollow links’ are not “trusted references” – then Wikipedia has no trusted references and it is pretty much spam. Since Wikipedia continues to rank well in Google SERPs – why does Google count all those inbound links that Wikipedia received before they wen to external nofollow? How can you accurately measure their authority? It’s sort of like they were allowed to cheat – not much different than paid links… Wouldn’t it make more since for Google to discount all the inbound links Wikipedia received before they went to external nofollow – possibly do the same with other websites? Do you see what I’m getting at or maybe I’m not making sense….. It just seems like nofollow links are mudding up the issue of web page authority more than they’re helping to do away with paid links. Just so you know, this isn’t a “rant” it’s a genuine concern for the “big picture”… :)

    Thanks,

    E Welch

  16. SearchENGINESweb, lots of Googlers spend time communicating via blogs and forums, which lets many people get the same info. But there’s a lot to be said for face-to-face communication as well, even though (I agree) that it isn’t scalable.

    In this case, anyone could have gotten an Expo pass to SES San Jose for free (by registering for it in advance) and then signed up for the Google Dance for free. So anyone who wanted to attend this particular event could have done so for free. Something to bear in mind for next year..

  17. Matt, meeting you, f.i.n.a.l.l.y was hilarious. When Brett came over to get me, I had no idea what he was up to. It was a total surprise that he was taking me to meet you. Next time, hopefully we can talk longer. It was a busy night for you :)

    Stop by the forums anytime. Thanks for mentioning our B-day. We’re as surprised as anybody it’s lasted this long.

  18. Matt, does Evan Roseman have a Blog outside of Google Webmaster Central?

    On average, how many times do you need to report a company that is cloaking porn sites before something gets done about? Matt, Google “waukiki trolley””, top result

    Sorry everyone but I cant stand seeing that crap in a SE that children use.

  19. Matt – really enjoyed the chance to chat about AI stuff, and the Google Party was fun as always. The links session was the talk of the conference and you were very cordial under fire – do you want some boxing gloves for PubCon?

  20. hello matt

    i understand that the paid links topic is very important for google and that paid links are messing with the SERPs, but …

    “Make pages for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, which is commonly referred to as “cloaking.””

    thats the first point from the “Quality guidelines – basic principles”
    http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=35769

    humans buy and sell and a link from one side to another side has it’s justification, even without search engines. so is this basic principle a thing of the past?

    another thing is, where does selling/buying begin? if i sponsor a goodybag for contest on another website and they are setting a link to my site in return, is this buying?

    stormhoek offered free wine to bloggers, well this is not linkbuying, but it’s bribe, isn’t it?

    dmoz is a very important directory, but everybody in the SEO-world knows that there in some cases has been some kind of money-flow….

    where does buying for google begin, where does linkbait end?

    ask
    franz, vienna

  21. Here’s a couple articles for you too Matt.

    “Are Paid Links Evil?” SES Style
    Google Dance 2007

    I tried linking to the images earlier, but they died in the comment formatting when I submitted it. So if you want some of the pics, there ya go :)

  22. Attending the “Google-Dance” was a fun experience. Now if only someone could merge the Hamster Dance music with people that danced at the “Google-Dance”…

  23. Your guidelines mentioned in ppt on Paid pagerank passing Links were simply superb. After all, its quality which matters. :-)

  24. Google doesn’t crack down enough on the “loud” voices who spew around truly crap at conferences and such. I guess politics is alive and well in any type of environment. It’s a shame really. Altavista, Excite, Infoseek, and a few other se’s from the past all had the same mindset. They couldn’t crack down enough either….. or just didn’t want to do so. The voices are even louder today.

  25. Hey Matt, thanks for the interview question suggestion for Tim Mayer, but both he and I liked the first question much better. It’s no fun playing it so “safe”.

  26. Matt,

    I really enjoyed your concise overview of what constitutes a paid link. In addition I also admire the fact that with all the millions of web sites in your index Google finds the time to add a human component to its algorithm as I feel it imparts equity and fairness to the cold calculating pure algorithm approach. However, I do have a few questions:
    Article submissions and directories are they considered paid links? Human edited directories that offer free submissions are they considered paid links? Is the heuristic Google Algorithm approaching AI?
    Also, if your site got caught up in the recent broad based paid link algo changes will there be human corrections made to accomodate those that had non-paid directory links?

    Thanks
    Fred

  27. Many thanks to Matt, very large meeting, am I to say that it is international?However I think that the such meeting is very useful it’s very good!

  28. I would like to dance with google but it doesn’t like me… snif ;)

  29. Hi,

    Unfortunately I live abroad and cannot attend these mettings and conferences. I was wondering if google could have a live show so those that live abroad can attend these type of conferences, even though through their monitors :)

    I also want to know if there was any confirmations regarding the text link sales and if those who use it to advertise their sites will be punished?

    Thanks

  30. I am looking forward to SES London in Feb 2008. All being well, I should be able to go to it this time despite missing the last 3 in a row :(

    Matt will you be going to the conference?

    Cheers.

  31. See, told you I’d be here. Subscribed and everything … nice place, how I missed this right along I haven’t a clue. ;)

    I’m also particularly interested in the human:algorithm ratio, and (though I’m sure it’s proprietary) what those human positions actually do as far as the search results we get are concerned. Very interesting stuff.

  32. I realize that the ever changing algorithm is necessary so that evolution can take place (Darwin would be proud), not just on Google, but the web in general. My concern is not so much the human element as the humane element. It seems that when an algorigthm change takes effect it is likened to wavying a magic wand which magically stirs up the web world in a fashion similar to a tornado doing damage on some random path, strewing unsuspecting sites up the trees or down the drain. Why can’t there be a more fair system of informing website owners in advance of upcoming changes and the possible repercussions, or institute a form of compliance so that it can be an even playing field for all web businesses. Honest businesses that have lived and perhaps have died on Google can be drastically impacted by algo changes and leave one wondering when there will be FEMA for the web.

  33. What a changing world we have. The Google Dance photo just makes me think about how the internet (as we now know it) was in its infancy perhaps 10 years ago. I remember making my first website with Front Page and trying to get search engines to simply index it.

  34. I realize that the ever changing algorithm is necessary so that evolution can take place (Darwin would be proud), not just on Google, but the web in general. My concern is not so much the human element as the humane element. It seems that when an algorigthm change takes effect it is likened to wavying a magic wand which magically stirs up the web world in a fashion similar to a tornado doing damage on some random path, strewing unsuspecting sites up the trees or down the drain. Why can’t there be a more fair system of informing website owners in advance of upcoming changes and the possible repercussions, or institute a form of compliance so that it can be an even playing field for all web businesses. Honest businesses that have lived and perhaps have died on Google can be drastically impacted by algo changes and leave one wondering when there will be FEMA for the web.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

If you have a question about your site specifically or a general question about search, your best bet is to post in our Webmaster Help Forum linked from http://google.com/webmasters

If you comment, please use your personal name, not your business name. Business names can sound salesy or spammy, and I would like to try people leaving their actual name instead.

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

css.php