The real lesson from this week

Hi, in case you haven’t been following along at home, I’ll give you the short catch-up info first. Blake Ross wrote a post criticizing some tips that Google recently tried. I agreed that I didn’t like the tips, primarily because the targeting was too poor (even substrings would trigger the tips). Danny Sullivan, who has covered the search industry for a decade, saw the tone of some of the discussion and wrote a good post about keeping perspective. He noted that folks should hold every company to the fire, not just Google. Right when it seemed like things were calming down, Michael Arrington decided to turn up the heat on the discussion up to the proverbial 11. He asked if this issue would be a tipping point where people would be much more negative toward Google. Arrington concluded with

And while Matt Cutts, the unofficial Google blogger, deals with the Ross post in a straightforward and honest way, I think he should be far more critical of his company. Even to the point of risking his job. Because that is exactly what Google needs right now.

I’ve never met Michael, but I respect him a lot. For example, I agree with pretty much everything he’s said about PayPerPost. But I believe his final statement (that I need to be more critical of Google on my blog) is dead wrong. To understand why, you need to know a little more about Googlers and how Google works.

Words can’t express how much I respect my colleagues at Google, but I’ll try. Googlers are smart, rational, and polite. They execute well on projects and listen to objections with an open mind. When they run up against an obstacle, they get creative and look for a new approach to solve the problem. Among the hundreds of Googlers I know, there’s also a strong streak of wanting to change the world for the better.

Google the organization in many ways mirrors the character of its employees. Google is a very polite, consensus-driven company. Usually if you get everyone in the same room and everyone explains their reasoning, the best decision emerges pretty quickly. As a result, I can’t recall ever hearing someone shout at Google. Even when issues are hotly debated, we tend to keep our discussion and our self-criticism within the company. So for me to be “far more critical” on my blog is not what Google needs right now. If anything, that’s more likely to burn bridges than to solve issues. I don’t have the outsider status that Scoble did. If disagree with something Google does, I go directly to the Googlers involved and I discuss it with them. I’m lucky to be enough of an old-timer that I usually can find the right person to ask, bug, or cajole.

Here’s the other thing you need to know about Google. We listen and respond to the feedback we hear. Google makes mistakes, just like anyone or any company does. That’s a given. The important thing is how you react to those mistakes. In an ideal world, you find out quickly when something has gone wrong. You correct it as soon as possible. And then you ask yourself “How can I try to prevent this issue from happening again?”–just like you’d do when you found a bug in a computer program. With any luck, future failures won’t happen unless several circumstances align against you.

Did a backhoe bring down your site by cutting a cable? Next time, you look to have redundant data centers and redundant network connectivity. If someone sends you a legal or DMCA request and you worry that the removal request impacts free speech, then you look for a better approach. You have to comply with the legal request and remove the requested pages, but maybe you revise your DMCA policy to give the other party a chance to counter-notify. Maybe you also add a DMCA notice at the bottom of the page that points to Chilling Effects so that users can get more background on the situation. We may think that a “Blog about this page” button on the toolbar is a good idea, but what do you do when someone cries foul because the button goes to Blogger? Well, one thing you can do is introduce the notion of custom toolbar buttons. Then anyone can add a button to their toolbar that posts to del.icio.us, TypePad, or they can make their own button for their favorite site.

So what does Google need to keep us on the right path?

I think what Google needs is more bloggers. I’m using a liberal definition of bloggers here; I mean people who monitor the blogosphere. In an ideal world, they’d also respond to feedback online. Some of the most dynamic teams at Google are the ones that listen to bloggers and respond. The webmaster console team has Vanessa Fox, Amanda Camp, and several others. Mihai Parparita and the entire Google Reader team listens for requests and responds to feedback in the blogosphere. Sometimes I’ve gone to answer a blogger’s question about Google Calendar only to see that Carl Sjogreen already arrived and answered it better than I could. There’s a VP of Engineering in ads who keeps a close eye on blogs, and I’d trust his intuition on any issue at Google.

My ideal would be if every Google project had someone watching the blogosphere for feedback. It could start as simply as a persistent search in Google News and Google Blogsearch for mentions of that product. That would help us spot if a particular project is causing headaches for someone. We should get the listening locked in first. As people get familiar with listening, they’ll soon be ready to comment, answer questions, and post a lot more.

Finally, Arrington’s mention of “Matt Cutts, the unofficial Google blogger” also set my spidey sense tingling. No single person should be Google’s unofficial blogger–that’s not scalable. I love working at Google, but at some point my wife is going to wake up and smell the coffee. She’ll say “Hey, we agreed we’d try this Google thing for four or five years, and then I’d get to pick what to do next. It’s been like eight years now! When do we move on to our next adventure?” Any Google engineer will tell you that a good way to scale something is to shard it. Rather than relying on one person, Google needs lots of unofficial bloggers.

So how do we keep the tipping point firmly in the “Google is Good” range?
- Each project at Google should monitor the blogosphere for issues. Reduce the disconnect to reduce the danger.
- Get more Googlers talking online. There will be some mistakes, but the conversations will be worth it.
A lot of this is already happening naturally at Google. I just want it to move faster. :)

68 Responses to The real lesson from this week (Leave a comment)

  1. First Post!

    I am really going to get into this webmaster console for 2007 maybe I can get shoemoney.com out of supplimental hell ;)

  2. Thanks for the good post Matt and for renewing the bit of lost faith in Google over some of the recent errors and gossip. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder but it does sound like there are a lot of good players at Google and having you as a gateway between the two worlds (Google and the rest of us) is a critical communication line.

    Thank you.

  3. “She’ll say ‘Hey, we agreed we’d try this Google thing for four or five years, and then I’d get to pick what to do next. It’s been like eight years now! When do we move on to our next adventure?’”

    Might as well start the rumour here: Matt Cutts is leaving Google!

    Great post as always and Happy New Year to everyone

  4. hey matt -

    thanks for the background & explanation… it does sound like Google has a reasonable approach to navel-gazing. that said, i think many of us who are FoG (“Friends of Google”) on the outside — who have many friends on the inside — would applaud more transparency and openness in the future.

    it’s certainly not anything the company *has* to do, and the GOOG is well within its rights to not change a damn thing. as you note, it has plenty of bright people who are executing very well in any number of areas. altho i’m occasionally a critic of the company’s lack of product evangelism and educational marketing, i’m still a fan overall. and i think you’re a shining example of the right attitude, and i agree more Google bloggers would help a lot.

    still, if you truly do believe Google is a company that serves a large audience (arguably, the entire online world) and if you are a believer in the “wisdom of crowds”, then wouldn’t it behoove both the company and its customers (that is, the rest of us on the outside) to include *everyone* in more of those introspective conversations? i guess it just seems like there’s a fair amount of elitism & hubris in how Google approaches decisions. altho the company culture is unique in many ways, there’s a lot of similarity to things i’ve seen before at Netscape in the late 90′s and Microsoft in the early 90′s. both were dominant companies full of smart people (in fact likely some of the same folks who are now Googlers). and notably, both companies experienced some unexpected comeuppances and changes in their market position.

    perhaps it isn’t realistic for Google to jump on the ClueTrain on all of its tactical and strategic decisions, however i feel like a company with a mission statement that’s about “organizing the world’s information” and a moral compass of “don’t be evil” might want to include more of its customers and community in figuring out where it’s headed. just a thought.

    in any case, regards & here’s to a terrific new year… hope wherever your journeys take you they are happy ones :)

    - dave mcclure
    http://500hats.typepad.com/

    (ps – don’t think we’ve ever met, but if you’re up for it would be great to catchup sometime for a coffee… i’m local. and i’m sure you get a million requests like this a week, so as you have time & interest.)

  5. rob

    Matt, if we are talking users and perspectives here, then just a little 2c’s if I may.

    On the communications thing, I think a whole lot more could be done with regard to keeping people informed, specifically with regard to penalties and possible reasons for them. As things stand, they just aren’t good enough, and in some cases you guys just go way too far. As you said, people do hold Google to a higher benchmark, we do expect a lot more from you and when you dont deliver, its not surprising when people like those referenced are vocal in their disapprobation.

    Take me, a personal perspective of course, but a valid one nonethless, im sure there are 100′s if not 1000′s like me. We are all on this earth to play our part and do what we can to help others and get a little reward; its how life works right? Or at least its how I like to think it does! So, i built a site and added stuff and added little tools and did this and that and tried to keep ahead of the curve and all that, made a few mistakes, tried again, built this type of page and that type of page and eventually settled with a formula that seemed to work ok, at least in the sense of making steady positive progress up through the SERPs. I was user focused, and straddled the line between making something useful and worthwhile whilst also earning a penny for my efforts. I didnt earn fortunes, but earnt enought to pay the bills and provide for my family. All I had to do was keep improving what I did and remain focused towards my site users and Id do ok, or at least so I thought, I even used to use adwords too just to give a little back to the big G who gave me all that lovely traffic, in my naivety I saw it as a little insurance, a tacit recognition that I appreciated what you guys delivered – I recognised that the ground was always a little shakey and that nothing lasts for ever. When the bang came it hurt like hell, and I couldnt quite work out why – another little shakeup one thinks, I’ll wait till it settles, weeks pass, then months, you write to Google, they tell you theres nothing wrong, no penalty here buddy, you explain that you just dont rank anymore for anything, they tell you the same, no penalty here buddy, yet as the site owner and one who has looked at this stuff and lived and breathed it for years you just know it has of course, you just cant figure why or what. You see, when you have a site that takes a big hit. It hurts, really it does, especially if its a lone project labour of love. Your confidence is shaken, you really do begin to question what it is that you have been doing for the past however many years, sure perhaps you shouldnt, but you do, its just one of those things. Anyhow, when youve been hit and see other sites still there ranking, you kinda feel a little hard done by, you get a little cranky, you analyse what they’ve done, you see they’ve done the same as you even, in some cases far more, you pull them all apart and realise for some odd reason youve been singled out. Its human nature. You sit there and say to yourself ‘why me?’ ‘what did I ever do that was so bad?’ You look at the guidelines, assess what youve built, tick all the boxes and correct what you feel might just have overdone it a little.You then go into various fora and read a multitude of comments aligned to ‘eggs and baskets’ from people who haven’t yet experienced what you have and just have to kinda shrug and say, well wait until it happens to you, then come back and call me a whiner. I wouldnt mind if I was some hardcore viagra or pill or casino type dude, I’d just accept it and see it as an occupational pitfall and get on with the next way of trying to crack open the safe, god at times i wish I had been! Especially when I look at the latest balance sheet figures!

    Ok so, its difficult to not sound like im ranting and venting and complaining so I’ll try and tone down my personal experience and broaden it out a little; but perhaps personalised perspectives are what’s needed at times,perspectives like that blake ross chap (albeit a different aspect, but related nonetheless) maybe you guys do need to hear and listen and respond to people like me when we voice our perceptions. My view on Google and spam for example, is one of an almost frenetic, dont-tell-them-a-thing bunker mentality approach to site owners you deem worthy of a penalty. This is just wrong.We are not all hard core spammers, yet we are treated like we are. If for example you dont want certain types of sites, then show people examples, be more specific, show borderline cases, give people the benefit of your reasoning, tell us why its ok for a site owner to earn a comision for a payment processed within his own domain yet offensive should it be processed elsewhere, tell us why its ok for a big player to set up multiple means of inward link generation yet not so for other smaller concerns. Tell us why. Thats all we ask, to be treated in a fair objective way, not like some nasty two bit opportunist, exploiting the goodwill of some monolith.

    Can it really be possibly correct that people are just left to languish and drive themselves nuts in trying figure out what it is that they’ve triggered thats either put them into supplemental hell, or worse still minus 31 land! Take the recent blog post you did regarding notifying webmasters of penalties. I cant recall the exact wording, but it more or less read as if we think you not a hard core spammer we might tell you we have a problem. The inference being, that if you dont tell us and we have a ranking issue, then we must be evil spammers and deserve all we get.

    Trust me, its no fun at all, especially when youve worked on stuff for 6 or 7 years of your life only to see it blown out of the water overnight.I dont expect specifics here, no one does, but I have to say that the existing way things are handled just leaves one feeling frustrated to hell, Im sure im not alone either.

    You see, you file a reinclusion request and explain what you’ve done and even go as far as to say, yes I may have overstepped the guidelines, just so you can try and communicate and find a way through – you hear nothing back, you are left hanging in the wind, no feedback, no nothing, just left there to dry. I dont think thats a right way to treat people, but i guess if you are locked into a kill the evil spammer mindset then its a whole lot easier to do, a kind of a dehumanisation process even. Go away you dirty 2 bit spammer git even!

    Ok sure, in the grand scheme of things people like me are a relative handful in a sea of 1000′s if not millions of other users, but the negativity and ill will it creates as a result, does help add to this rolling negative snowball you appear to allude to.

    Most of us built sites way back in the day when the guidelines were pretty clear cut or as unambiguous as they could possibly be, dont spam. Lets have it right any site worth its salt or rank relies to a degree upon second guessing how the engine might weight certain factors and does therefore exploit them in one way or another. Take any major kw out there and do some analysis on the factors that make them rank and I guarantee we’d be able to draw a ‘this site has been SEO’d’ hypothesis of one form or another, yet some sites are teflon whereas others are clearly not.

    Take Googles recent addition about sites that are designed to drive users to a product or a service; yes thats right, affiliates. Then look at this policy and see if most of the big boys and girls at the top aren’t the very same thing themselves.If you are going to squash a guy like some fly, then at least squash a few of the bigger bugs too. If you cant do that, then just let them compete algorithmically, trust in your technology to weed things out and if you cant do that, then at least try and a find a way to tell the guy why – that really isnt so much to ask.If a group of people decide that one is offensive, then maybe they should just have the balls to stand up and tell that person why. Its just common decency really.

    Im yada yada’ing a little here really, personal stories can often be a little boring to outsiders; I accept that, but im just trying get across I guess the fact that in the early days of Google, it was the webmastering community who really did help you guys. We all talked about Google glowingly for many reasons. Google was hip , Google was cool it seemed to actually believe the stuff it professed. The ‘do no evil slogan’ in particular. We’d recommend it to our friends, we’d give lots of feedback, we’d share our opinions on what was good or bad, we’d draw your attention to heinous exploits just as some of us still do today. We did so because we liked what you were all about, and we benefitted too. If we built a good site, youd rank us on our keywords, the more popular you got, the better it was for us too, more users equalled more traffic, a virtuous win win circle.We also talked about things like altavista less glowingly; we all complained and dissed it and now its history.Could history repeat itself as Mr Allerton suggests, perhaps so, who knows, time will tell.Its a difficult path to tread, I dont doubt that, god, how does one realistically begine to juggle the needs and demands of such high expectations from 1000′s if not 1000,000′s of critical eyes – not easy.

    My issues are minor,and Ive kinda just accepted how it is and am thinking about what I want to do next, and yes of course, my problems associated through this expereince are infinitesimally teeny when set against some of the bigger issues, Im just another self interested whinging dissenter even, but I would hope that some of what im saying can be taken in the constructive way its intended, and that perhaps in some way through the feedback presented it ripples through and makes a difference to someone somewhere.

    Happy New year all! Lets all hope for a better brighter 2007, especially those who know exactly where Im coming from :D

  6. Harith

    Matt

    “My ideal would be if every Google project had someone watching the blogosphere for feedback.”

    Why only watching the blogsphere, Matt?

    Shouldn’t Googlers also be more present on webmasters forums too? Letely we don’t see many Googlers answering webmasters questions! And webmasters are mostly left to their own resurces during significant updates/ data refreshes. God bless the good old days of GoogleGuy ;)

    Wish you and family a Happy 2007.

  7. German

    Matt,

    I join Harith on this point. Feeddback should be available on webmaster forums too. Not everybody is following the blogsphere. Anyway, as long as you keep us informed here, it can be anywhere.

    Have a nice 2007.

  8. Good post. I would like to see more international Google blogs.

    The latest post on the official Google blog is making a lot of hope for the Google communication strategy in 2007: “And before long, perhaps you can begin leaving comments directly. We’re working on that.”

  9. It just amazes me how high the standards are that Google is expected to meet. But this whole dialogue about this issue is a splendid example of a real Web 2.0 savvy company in action.

    By this I mean that they engage in a direct and open dialogue with their critics. This is extremely powerful stuff. Three years ago this level of publicly viewable dialogue between a company and the general public would be unheard of.

  10. Great post, Matt. I completely agree.

    Harith, I can only speak for our team, but we definitely monitor a number of forums, in addition to our own forum linked from webmaster central. We are there gathering feedback even when we aren’t posting directly. I’d like us to post more, and we’re working on that (adding more people to the team, for instance).

  11. I blog a few requests about google products but I never see comments or even acknowledgment of any ideas. It sometimes feels like talking to a brick wall. I know that it is impossible to comment on everything, but is there even a place for discussion at google groups? My two big wishes from google is 1/. To be able to import an online opml file into google reader and that it just adds the enclosed feeds and 2/. In blog search I can create an rss feed of a search query, I want to be able to do that for a normal google search as well so that I can keep track of ongoings on the non-blog side if internet. Make my day! Good reply to Mike Arringtons critique… The Google office vibe seems very creative and non-arrogant.

  12. Thomas

    Onlo one thing about this:

    “We listen and respond to the feedback we hear.”

    I think Google got a lot of feedback about highjackersites like http://www.gizliweb.com
    Many Webmasters lost their good ranking on Google and with the ranking a lot of money. So do i.
    gizliweb is not only a proxy, they work with the intention of highjacking, and get higher ranking than the highjacked site!
    Well, Google is maybe listening. But what is Google doing?

  13. I think it’s also important to remember that there are other online communities with things to say, and feedback to give. Sure a lot of useful information comes out of the blogosphere but what’s to stop Joe Bloggs (excuse the ironic name ;)) coming along to gmail and noticing something that could be improved. You mean to say his feedback is not valuable because he doesn’t blog? I think each google product should have a feedback page where ANYONE can send some feedback to the team for that project.

  14. Great post, Matt. Try not to let her smell the coffee for just a bit longer, eh? Try making some tea :)

  15. roy

    I think the whole problem is actually a good thing.
    Techcrunch is right, Blake Ross is right and (surprise!) you are right too.

    When people use something as often as we use google, they start thinking of it as theirs. When something is yours – you want it to be perfect.
    Google started the tips a long time after the others – but we expected more from google. Google is big, successful, world changing…you just don’t expect it to use ‘cheap’ tricks to attract people. And if they do, we expect them to do it smart (google image labeller game).

    Feedback is good. Expecting higher standards from google is logical. And all is good.

    Happy new year !!
    roy

  16. Josh

    Matt,

    As one of your earlier readers, I gotta say that like it or not you have dug yourself the deep hole of being Google’s unofficial blogger. That being said, I think most of your readers would agree that this happened not only because of the huge insight you’ve given us into the Google behind the curtain but through the respect you’ve earned by giving appropriate criticism when appropriate and props to other engines when its due as well.

    I’ve been impressed that you’ve kept up with your blogging with no economic benefit when it leads to you having to deal with thus kind of public scrutiny.

    I may not write much anymore in the comments because I just feel like it gets lost in the crowd, but I still think you strike an excellent balance and you have helped me do my job better this year. Hopeully your little lady doesn’t take you away, because I’m counting on Goggle’s reluctant unofficial blogging chapion to keep helping for 2007

    Happy New Year
    Josh

  17. Matt you should buy a Jura C5 ,,

    DaveN

  18. Great post Matt. I have been very surprised this year at how critical of certain Google features you have been and I am very impressed with that. Google needs more people like you, a lot more.

    While it’s great that you guys monitor the blogsphere for feedback, you are notorious for your communication. Don’t get me wrong, you have made some serious inroads in that department lately (Webmaster console) but you have a lot further to go. The Google group is great also, but if you want to gather feedback on something quickly, you need to open up more.

    Google is a big part of many peoples lives now and it is only natural that when someone sees something they think is not right, they react.

  19. Danny, you said it. :) Mike Empuria, one of Google’s first VP’s of engineering taught me the phrase “bus test”: if someone got run over by a bus, would the company still get by okay without them? At this point, I think if I failed the bus test, the webspam team would be fine, because it’s an ultra-smart team and at this point, they know everything I know–probably even more. I’m more worried about the engineering communication side of things, even though that’s not my official job at all. I’d like to get several people talking online so that should my wife wake up and smell the coffee, it doesn’t cause problems. :)

    Dave McClure, great comment. I personally agree that more transparency and openness would help Google in most cases. You mention doing that with the decision-making process as well, and that’s a more delicate subject. Historically, Google has done a good job of keeping things quiet before they launch (e.g. Gmail, Google Maps, Google News, Google webmaster console, custom toolbar buttons), and I think that was smart. In many of these cases, that’s enabled us to get a jump start on the competition. (And make no mistake, we face a lot of very strong competitors.) So while I want Google to be more transparent/open in general, I’m not sure I agree on the specific case of future products. If you telegraph future launches, that gives competitors a chance to prepare. That’s part of why you rarely see Google pre-announce or promise future products (another reason not to promise future products is that if we change our priorities or want to slip a release to tweak something, we can).

    rob, that was a big chunk of post! You need to start a blog if you’re putting that much work into it. :) My short answer would be that I agree. In my ideal world, spamming would be so hard (in terms of effort, time, or money) that we could make every spam-related penalty public. The positive is that would turn everything inside-out and hugely boost transparency. The negative is that it would warn every spammer when they’ve been caught, so they’d just start on a new site–it would kick the metabolism of spamming up several notches. We’re definitely not there yet, but several of us do have some ideas for ways to improve communication. I won’t promise anything (see the previous paragraph about future promises), but it is an issue that we take seriously and think about how to do better on.

    Vanessa’s right, Harith. I’m using “blogosphere” as short-hand for online, because it’s a little catchier. (This also covers your point, Dean.) But I agree that forums, feedback groups, other peoples’ blogs, etc. are all places that could use Googlers participating. By the way, part of the idea of the webmaster Google Group is to allow users to help other users as well. So it’s not designed to be “I post my question and Google answers it” so much as “I post my question and a bunch of people help me talk it over. Sometimes Googlers stop by, but they aren’t the only source of info on the group.” That’s my understanding, at least. I’ve even asked Adam in the past to give some of the discussions a little more room for people to help each other–not to answer every single thread. If that group gets that kind of “users help users, and Googlers chime in” community going, I think that would be pretty helpful. BTW, thanks for stopping by, Vanessa. :)

    Jojo, that was a surprise to me too, but I think it would be wonderful if more Google blogs allowed comments. :)

    Don, sometimes we don’t have the cycles to respond right now, but that doesn’t mean we’re not absorbing feedback. For example, I completely agree with your continuous search idea at http://doncrowley.blogspot.com/2006/11/continuous-search.html
    and have persistent searches set up for Google News and blogsearch already. Sometimes for various reasons we can’t implement a suggestion (e.g. partners or other stuff), but maybe we file it away and look for ways to tackle it in the future.

  20. Oh, by the way, my wife wants to hang out today, go shopping, etc. I’m going with her, so I won’t be approving comments or responding for a few hours. It’s all part of the “keep her from smelling the coffee” program. ;)

  21. I agree with Roy; part of the problem is that we Google users think of Google as “ours.” In fact, the vast majority of non-techies don’t even know or care how Google works or where it came from; they treat it like a religion and accept its results on faith. I can’t think of another company that enjoys similar good cred.

    But Matt, you never did answer the question of how I could reply to bloggers directly from Google Reader without navigating to their blogs :-) Can this happen?

    A very happy New Year to you.

  22. But I believe his final statement (that I need to be more critical of Google on my blog) is dead wrong. To understand why, you need to know a little more about Googlers and how Google works

    With all due respect (and this is nothing personal) there should be more blatent criticism about Google!!

    Having been the first commenter(s) since the blog’s beginnings,
    there have been many occassions when SearchEnginesWeb has passionately explained in detailed , the inequities and misguided policies that were reflected in the topics.

    These are passionate comments because LIVES and LIVELIHOODS are being affected. The sole purpose was to show the other side.
    and the voids that needed to be addressed. To show WHY – controversial strategies and tactics were growing among desperate , but GOOD people.

    SearchEnginesWeb HAS definitely been able to get verifiable changes in Google’s policies due to the contant lobbying – and of course these insightful comments were read by the VIP-Hierarchy and being discussed, worldwide

    But suddenly after posting, the critical comments would disappear :-?
    :?

  23. Well Matt, like it or not you *are* Google’s defacto blogger. Ask me which Google employee has a blog, and the only name that comes to mind is Matt Cutts. You are also the only one who shows up by name on the first page of search results.

    http://www.google.com/search?q=google+blog

    The so-called “official” google blog reads more like a corporate press release page:

    http://googleblog.blogspot.com/

    We like your blog better because it is more personal and straightforward. Anyway keep up the good work. I agree that more Googlers should have blogs and be willing to interact with us, the end-users.

  24. No, SEW, you’ve ranted and raved and highlighted every other word in bold or italic in a completely incoherent and false rant designed to appeal to those who don’t find themselves where they want to be by telling them what they want to hear rather than telling them what they should. I believe the term for this is SEWing.

    Now, back to the regularly scheduled programming. Arrington might have a point about the criticism if the content is taken slightly out of context, which I’m about to do:

    And while Matt Cutts, the unofficial Google blogger, deals with the Ross post in a straightforward and honest way, I think he should be far more critical of his company.

    A critic can offer both positive and negative critiques. In other words, you can be “critical” and satisfy the needs of others without biting the hand that feeds you on every post, to the point of risking your job. Besides, if you risked your job and lost, that breaks a line of webmaster communication, which I don’t think any of us really want.

    I also tend to agree with Harith, but I’m going to take a different tack on it. What would stop you guys from throwing up a copy of vBulletin and creating the Official Google Forums? You open up the lines of communication, provide a direct path, can have as many mods as you want (to avoid the single blogger scenario), and you could do some of the PSA-type Adsense stuff on it for charity and do some good with it.

    As far as your wife deciding your next adventure, I have a four-word answer for that:

    He’s OUR husband now. ;)

    We’ll give him back to you when we’re done with him, Mrs. Cutts. It probably will take a while, though. ;)

  25. Intreresting (and lengthy) post!

    Do you think that Google’s culture will allow a broader participation of empowered Google people to satisfy Google concerns in the blogosphere, in person, etc???

    If so, how? Like you stated, the current state is not scalable.

  26. JohnMu

    Nice post, Matt. I love the emotional drive in that post. Sounds like an interesting and fun place to work. Have a great new year, everyone!

  27. You have momentum going against you, Matt. You’re such a visible figure now that in some sectors people identify you with Google more than they identify Sergey and Larry.

    Increasing the visibility of other Googlers would only be a great thing, in my opinion, but you’re the number 1 guy in a lot of people’s minds and they will look to you for guidance and leadership in “correcting the course” if they feel the Google ship is heading the wrong way.

    You may not be the captain, but you’re the man on watch.

  28. Hey Vanessa when are you going to get your own blog!?!? Then you can outrank daveN for you ;)

  29. Amit Patel

    But Matt – what happens if you (and Google) are wrong?

  30. MarkT

    Matt sez:

    “I agreed that I didn’t like the tips, primarily because the targeting was too poor (even substrings would trigger the tips)…”

    This is the kicker IMHO. It’s one thing for tips to be triggered off generic keywords like ‘calendar’ or ‘photo’, and entirely another when triggered off of substrings which are part of a registered TRADEMARK or domain-name-as-keyword searches.

    Let’s take a look at some searches that trigger a Google Images ‘tip’:

    istockphoto
    istockphoto.com
    yahoo photos
    photos.yahoo.com
    photobucket
    photobucket.com

    (repeat the above for other tip triggers like ‘calendar’ and so on)

    So the question is:

    If bidding on competitors trademarked terms is verboten with Adwords, then why is Google allowed to trigger it’s own product ads on these very same terms?

    Thanks in advance Matt.

  31. I am working on a post with my thoughts, more than the one if you click on my name. But my disappointment was fueled in November at ad:tech when I asked one of the Google’rs a question on a video about audio ads and the “boss Google’r” came over and demanded that I turn it off and delete it while she watched me delete it. It felt cold, and really poor relations.

    I do still believe that in general people are afraid of Google.

  32. Matt the day you leave google is the day I go blackhat!

    Well, not really, but the thought would go through my mind. Many webmasters want to spend time SEOing there site. And since we each have a finite amount of time, will we spend it on whitehat or blackhat work? YOU give us plenty of whitehat work to keep us busy and productive — and not delving into the darker arts. Your value then for google is: you keep webmasters working in the direction that is best for us both.

    So your value is not your anti-spam sword /algos. But rather, it’s your communication skills and your carefully worded insight and direction. Take that away, and what does the average webmaster have left to do? Game the SE the best way he can. Keep the communication coming. At this point ‘the bus test’ is in favor of ‘we need you’. If you can pass on (File/Save As) your communication skills to others then let your wife wake up and smell the coffee. Until then, we (google and webmasters) need your skills HERE.

  33. It’s hard to overstate how important this conversation is. Yes, it scales, Karen Wickre of the Google Blog team has partially enumerated it in her current post (12/30) and the rate is in fact accelerating. But you’re right, it’s not moving fast enough. More rides on it than any of us can imagine. :)

    Thanks for your efforts Matt and Happy New Year.

  34. I’m still on vacation, so I’m just gonna chime in quickly.

    Google should quickly ditch the substring matching in favor or actual search phrase matching…

    Substrings aren’t very accurate

  35. Hi!

    Matt is at the point: more blogs needs a comment option,
    blogs without comment options seems to me more as an official
    statement release
    than a real comunication wish.

    I mean, that the early comunication is the best way to handle probs before they becomes too big to solve them easiely.

    the best 4 U all at 2007 (here the new year is more than 2 1/2 hours old) from:

    Karl Heinz

  36. francine hardaway, I’m sorry to say the answer is no–there isn’t a way to comment directly on a blog from Google Reader. I agree that would be pretty kick-ass, but most blogs don’t support functionality like that. Heck, it still surprises me when I enter my email for a comment (e.g. Tim Converse’s blog or Dare’s blog) and my email ends up on the web. :)

    On the bright side francine, I think there are ways to get your shared stuff into a blogroll. I hope to do a howto post about that if things ever cool down. But if someone beats me to it, I’d be happy to point to them instead. :)

    Sean Carolan, the Google blog might have started as more PR-ish (blame that on the fact that it started during the IPO quiet period), but I think we post more often and often more in-depth (e.g. about legal issues) than many companies do. I agree we could still improve though.

    M.W.A, the current Google Groups for different products are a step in that direction. Not everybody realizes, but there are currently groups for
    Calendar: http://groups.google.com/group/Google-Calendar-Help
    Apps for your domain: http://groups.google.com/group/hosted
    Gmail: http://groups.google.com/group/Gmail-Help-Discussion
    Base: http://groups.google.com/group/base-help-discussion
    and lots and lots of other Google products (just go to Google Groups and search for “Google” to find some).

    David Dalka, I think Scoble has spoken well about this: it’s like a membrane. If you push too far too fast, you break it. But if you go a little slower, things stretch to allow it to happen.

    Amit Patel, if Google does a misstep (or lots of them), there are other search engines that people will go to. That gives us a lot of motivation to do the right thing.

    Allen Stern, because Google keeps its cards close to its chest, I think sometimes we are a little overly sensitive about random Googlers saying things on tape or on the record. My hope is that we can ramp up more listeners and talkers without leaking confidential secrets. It sounds like your experience was tarnished by someone who was really insensitive, and I apologize for that.

    Toby Adams and Andi, thanks for the kind words. :)

    MarkT and Ryan, from the people I’ve talked to, it sounds like the substring matching wasn’t intentional. I believe with the next binary push we do, that behavior will change. Of course, I’m lobbying for the messages to be turned off completely for now, but I don’t know if that will happen yet.

  37. Amit Patel

    Matt said:

    >Amit Patel, if Google does a misstep (or lots of them), there are other search engines that people will go to.

    ——

    This is just like saying – Google can do as much wrong as it likes as long as people don’t leave.

    So why not call it as it is? Why spin it?

    Maybe because actually the Zeitgeist at the plex is that Google can make “missteps” but not really be “wrong”. After all, if it is you job to be right you can never be wrong. Right?)

  38. If the FTC decides that you must disclose paid posts, then that is pretty much final. Nothing u or I can do about it and their decision is generally fair with both the consumer and the marketer in mind.

    Now bout google as a ‘good company’ or a ‘company which listens’ or ‘welcomes feedback’, i think is true.This blog is evidence. I needed some feedback on an adsense issue, and the way google handled it was great.

    We communicated for almost a week, and I got a fair and accurate reply to every question which I asked, Yahoo pretty much did the same when i reported a bug on their email.

    Not to criticize microsoft, but when getting my CS from Univ, of Md, we literally were given these big, big projects, involving 1000s of lines of code. Looking up msdn documentation for some of the visual c++ libraries at times got to be a nightmare.

    At times I literally wanted to go and give the technical writers at microsoft a piece of my mind. It almost seemed as the documentation which they wrote was intended to be difficult to follow.

    I have also had some experiences with microsoft where I just felt that they just don’t care.

  39. I can’t resist, forgive me Matt…

    So how do we keep the tipping point firmly in the “Google is Good” range?

    How about getting rid of the Made For AdSense (MFA) sites that are the current scourge of the web and all the search engines?

    What a wonderful world it would be then!

  40. The points about expectation I think are key here. With expectation comes goodwill. And looking at the stock price, it seems that expectations are so high that there will come a point where that momentum can no longer be sustained – and goodwill with it.

    I think there are clear issues where Google has made mistakes – for example, digital storage of copyrighted books as copyright violation. Also the fact that it has become such a dominant force online means that it’s never going to keep everyone happy whatever Google does.

    However, if Google is seen to stumble in future, it won’t necessarily be because of anything Google may have done wrong – as much as user perception be unable to maintain overt expectation and corresponding goodwill.

    On Bill’s point about MFA sites – I’ve been revisting Jen Slegg’s comment’s on Smart Pricing for Adsense from last year(http://www.jensense.com/archives/2005/10/one_poorly_conv.html) of late.

    I suspect that sites that promote high quality content first and ads second are going to have lower clickthroughs than sites built around Adsense. The result being a shift in payments from higher quality sites to MFA sites. Would be interesting if the Adsense team has any stats on that.

  41. LOL I can see it now.. Blogs across the globe announcing you are leaving Google because your wife had some coffee =P

  42. another Hi today or it’s tomorrow?1?

    a proposal 4 the future of the company

    http://www.light2art.de/Google-2007.gif

    at first intercedes this style a little bit more motion

    and at second the white swallowtail gets spots last year

    therfore should stands the second part of this Art-gif

    (and it would be better for our eyes).

    hopefully Greetings that this way wasn’t wrong

    Karl Heinz

  43. Amit Patel, it my estimation it would be worse to think that Google can “not really be ‘wrong’.” Of course we can; anyone can. But we try to prevent mistakes as much as we can, and if Google makes a mistake, we (the people who work at Google) work to try to correct it. But I’d never claim that Google can’t be wrong. If I did, please correct me, because I’d be wrong. :)

    IncrediBILL, that’s a good example where we have a lot of internal discussion; I don’t want that sort of behavior rewarded either. About a month and a half ago, Google decided to pursue this more aggressively, and quite a few people have already been dropped from AdSense for webspam (violations of our quality guidelines). I’m sure I’ll have a chance to talk about it more in 2007. :)

    Pretty nice, Karl. :)

  44. Amit Patel

    Matt – there is a difference between making a mistake and being wrong.

    Google, does wrong.
    Not by mistake.
    Intentionally.
    And it still claims to be “right”.

    Just an example – follow the money.

    Before AdWords – PPC advertisers knew what they pay and what they get. With AdWords – Google decides.

    Before AdSense – Publishers knew what they sell and what % they get from their agency. With AdSense – Google decides.

    Will Google backtrack this? Nope.
    That’s the core business.

    —–
    P.S – it is ironic that you mention DMCAs when Google is: A. the worst in handling those among big media companies; B. the only one in which resubmitting same notice may be necessary.

    But heck, in a “consensus-driven company”, if everyone is in agreement, than who cares. “groupthink”?

  45. From Violet Blue’s tinynibbles.com:

    ” It’s clear by reading this post [http://www.comstockfilms.com/blog/tony/2006/12/31/googles-matt-cutts-want-to-know-more-about-sex/] that Google absolutely does not have the tools — or current knowledge — to evaluate sex on the web. And possibly a lot of other things as well. This is how they do it? Really? They need a community liaison for each of the types of spam they’re expected to deal with, because it’s crystal clear they are in the dark.”

    Last week when I needed some rubber tipped flu-flu arrows, I had no trouble using Google to find what I needed, compare products and prices, and make a purchase. But then you don’t see a lot of archery spam, do you?

    Upon a time, corportations used to have ombudsmen on staff, an advocate for stakeholders from outside the walls with an office and influence inside the walls. The MBA business era has eliminated these positions from all but the most old-school of corporations, but the need is still there. In fact, it seems as if this is a roll you’ve made (by accident or design) for yourself. But by the tone of this post, it sounds like perhaps it all gets to be a little much at times. (Dammit Jim, I’m a software engineer, not an ombudsman!)

    Does Google have formal ombudsmen structure in place? (Googliing for it says no.)

    Are there people inside of Google, with the right sort of expertise, devoted to various areas of search, especially areas that seem to be popular spam targets? (sex, loans/mortgage, drugs, online education, etc.) Even to a layperson it’s pretty obvious that the seach ‘couples porn’ should probably return a site like Comstock Films before it returns beastiality or anal rape websites, but other aspects of sex culture are a little more subtle.

    For example, in many circles Adam&Eve is regarded at the Walmart of sex retailers, i.e. they’re driven by mostly by marketing and price-point, not innovation. You won’t find Njoy or Fun Factory products (probably the two most innovative toy companies of the last five years) at A&E

    Please keep in mind, I’m one of those people constantly carping on how exagerated revenues in the sex and porn industry are. It wouldn’t surprise me if sex-related searches just aren’t important enough in the grand scheme of Google and the internet as whole to warrent an ombudsmen or similar devoted to making sure sex related search results as relevent, useful, and informative as archery querries. Sex might be an important part of life, but sex commerce is a marginal activity at best.

    Whatever the case, what’s “crystal clear” to me is that Google isn’t just a collection of yellow pizzaboxes (do you guys still use those?), it’s people. (“It’s people! Google is made out of people!”)

    Thanks for your interest in our Google woes, and best wishes to you and your colleagues for the New Year!

  46. Amit Patel

    Ah, Matt, I almost forgot, in this documented case you know I’m interested in – what was the “mistake” and what was the “correction”? No need to answer just think about it. As for “wrong” – Google is still doing “wrong” in this case and we both know it.

  47. Matt, that’s great new if it’s true Google is dumping MFA spammers from AdSense.

    I have a few huge lists of them on my blog I’ll be keeping an eye on to monitor your progress ;)

  48. I’ve been super frustrated with Google lately and I appreciated your post. The recent discontinuation of the SOAP Search API was the final straw for me, and it prompted me to start the new year Google free.

  49. IncrediBILL, that’s a good example where we have a lot of internal discussion; I don’t want that sort of behavior rewarded either. About a month and a half ago, Google decided to pursue this more aggressively, and quite a few people have already been dropped from AdSense for webspam (violations of our quality guidelines). I’m sure I’ll have a chance to talk about it more in 2007.

    I for one would like to see this as well. A comment made earlier by Brian Turner touched on it: the problem with MFAs is because of their lack of content, the ads tend to get clicked on more. Chances are, their conversion rates aren’t all that high either so that’s a problem for advertisers as well.

    So how’s about say, January 15? That’d be a great day to dump the MFAs. ;)

  50. Jon Henshaw – It must be tough when you are a developer and Google drops an API, looks like Google needs to also be more “social” in this area. Does Google have a development blog? You know, a place to give folks a fair warning to use at their own risk?

    Matt says all the right things but if Google doesn’t adopt these ideas it is sadly just wishes from a nice guy who works @ Google.

  51. Kirby

    Matt, right before you start your next adventure, buy stock in pharma that sells anti-depressants. The void you will leave will cause sales to go thru the roof.

  52. Matt,

    Hope you had fun with the shopping thing.

    My wife and I did that year end shopping mega-trip Saturday.

    Two new computers, new leather office chairs, lots of misc. stuff and a new large screen HDTV (R. X. Cringely told me in 1999 or so that this year or next year would be the year to buy that.)

    How is Moore’s Law doing? I kind of miss RCFoC sometimes.

    Where is Jeff Harrow when you need him?

  53. Kirby, I might just dig a hole and crawl in it when I see the official headlines proclaiming that Matt has “moved on to a new venture” because surely the Apocalypse can’t be too far off at that point.

  54. My sincere view on Google, Big G is polite and inherently democratic with exceptional and innovative people like you.
    Matt you are SEO school for me, since this is my first post in your blog, hope you’ll moderate it moderately.

  55. Matt, surely you don’t agree with every decision being made? Then again, from what you’ve said and things that I have heard, the google work environment isn’t like regular corporate America where you sometimes need to be negative to effect a change. I like google and I like their corporate attitude. G does try to please its users and is constantly innovating. Its too bad you guys don’t make os… :)

  56. brilliant post. thank you.

  57. “We listen and respond to the feedback we hear”.

    Well, exactly how does Google “hear” the feedback? I have a major issue with Google’s indexing of Chinese and Japanese content on the same (Unicode) page — or rather failure to index. It means not only that I don’t show up at all for valid keywords (at all!), it also makes a mockery of the Google site search function that I rather optimistically installed on my site. Because Google doesn’t even index these Chinese and Japanese terms, they don’t show up on a search of my own site.

    I’ve raised this at several Webmaster forums, but since it is largely a non-issue for North American webmasters I got feedback that was unrelated (although useful for a completely different issue) or I was ignored.

    So how can you really say that Google is listening? For people ‘on the outside’, dealing with Google is a bit like Joseph K trying to get into the Castle — completely Kafkaesque.

  58. Firstly, thanks to Matt for your superb tips and advice on SEO – a lot of which go completely over my head, but the ones I actually understand I have implemented and – hey – they work! And thank goodness for common sense – everybody makes mistakes at times (even – gasp – Google), so the trick is to have procedures in place to help cope with the mistakes when they happen, and to put in fail safes to stop those mistakes happening again.

  59. Matt you should buy a Jura C5 very good

  60. Matt, really enjoy the added perspectives. Much needed from google masters, keep up the blog please and thankyou.

  61. To be honest, Google sounds like an awesome place to work at / for / with, and I am pretty sure that all the recent criticism of Google is because Google has become remarkably big and has the ability to control a lot. By the looks of it, though, Google’s internal policies prevent it from becoming the more traditional corporate monopoly consumerist extreme-capitalist vibe that has been the plague of company’s like Microsoft. In other words, please Matt, make sure Google snubs becoming corporate for as long as possible – actually, forever. This will allow it to continue being a great company.

  62. Thanks for the good post Matt and for renewing the bit of lost faith in Google over some of the recent errors and gossip. I have to admit I was beginning to wonder but it does sound like there are a lot of good players at Google and having you as a gateway between the two worlds (Google and the rest of us) is a critical communication line.

    Thank you.

  63. Upon a time, corportations used to have ombudsmen on staff, an advocate for stakeholders from outside the walls with an office and influence inside the walls. The MBA business era has eliminated these positions from all but the most old-school of corporations, but the need is still there. In fact, it seems as if this is a roll you’ve made (by accident or design) for yourself. But by the tone of this post, it sounds like perhaps it all gets to be a little much at times. (Dammit Jim, I’m a software engineer, not an ombudsman!)

    Does Google have formal ombudsmen structure in place? (Googliing for it says no.)

  64. Take me, a personal perspective of course, but a valid one nonethless, im sure there are 100’s if not 1000’s like me. We are all on this earth to play our part and do what we can to help others and get a little reward; its how life works right? Or at least its how I like to think it does! So, i built a site and added stuff and added little tools and did this and that and tried to keep ahead of the curve and all that, made a few mistakes, tried again, built this type of page and that type of page and eventually settled with a formula that seemed to work ok, at least in the sense of making steady positive progress up through the SERPs. I was user focused, and straddled the line between making something useful and worthwhile whilst also earning a penny for my efforts. I didnt earn fortunes, but earnt enought to pay the bills and provide for my family. All I had to do was keep improving what I did and remain focused towards my site users and Id do ok, or at least so I thought, I even used to use adwords too just to give a little back to the big G who gave me all that lovely traffic, in my naivety I saw it as a little insurance, a tacit recognition that I appreciated what you guys delivered – I recognised that the ground was always a little shakey and that nothing lasts for ever.

  65. I agree with the post I think Google needs more and best bloggers like Michael Arrington or John Chow.

  66. yes this is reality, not only google needs a good blogger. We all need a good blogger.

  67. Wow! Actually, this is the first time that I read a lot of negative thoughts about Google. All this time, I keep on hearing about how credible Google is in terms of giving information and tips. Now, I’m quite confused whether or not I should believe Google considering that famous and credible personas have already aired their thoughts.

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