I have to say that I got a good chuckle out of the Blog Herald’s “Something’s very wrotten [sic] in the googleplex” article.
My job at Google is to improve our quality, and I spend a lot of time working on webspam and webmaster issues. I look for feedback on how to improve Google wherever I can find it. I enjoy speaking at Search Engine Watch, but I’ve also participated in WebmasterWorld conferences, AD:TECH, Infonortics, CFP (Computers, Freedom and Privacy), the Webspam Squashing Summit, WebSearch University, and Consumer WebWatch (the online arm of Consumer Reports) conferences, among others. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll be invited to Web 2.0. At all of these venues, my main goal is to find out how to make Google better.
So my job is to find out how to improve quality, and I listen to any and all feedback I get. I’ve enjoyed late-night talks about the NEAR operator with librarians. Talking to people about Google is just fun for me. And I learn a ton from listening to webmasters, both whitehat and blackhat. It’s a great way to find out ways to improve Google, or what the faddish spamming trends will be in the coming months. The work Google has started against scraper sites was directly due to feedback we got at the WebmasterWorld conference in New Orleans a few weeks ago, for example.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that search engines talk to people who claim to be blackhat spammers. Several blackhats have participated in MSN’s Search Champs program. At SES San Jose, Yahoo invited a passel of SEOs (including Dave Naylor) over to talk. I do the same thing when I chat with SEOs at conferences. They have alcohol, I have Sprite, and we all try to pick each others’ brains. SEOs who have seen me write things down in my notebook know this. It’s a great way to get into the SEO viewpoint and find out what people are talking about. At SES San Jose, conference attendees were welcome to attend our Google Dance event with free drinks and free food for everyone. I didn’t have anything to drink, because I spent about 3 hours answering webmaster questions in the “Meet the Google Engineers” session (which was open to everyone) that we did at the same time as the Google Dance on our campus.
So when I saw a chance to talk to Dave Naylor, Chris Raimondi, and JenSense, I was happy to give them a G-rated tour of the GooglePlex (don’t worry, I didn’t let them near the big red button we use to begin the index update Google Dance). We walked around for 20 minutes and then fell into the “I try to pick your brain, you try to pick my brain” routine and talked in a lobby until 1am. Would I do it again? Heck yeah! I found out the types of phrases that DaveN is targeting, including a few industries. JenSense always has a great perspective on AdSense and where it can improve. I calibrated my understanding of how much money people can make on various porn phrases, and double-checked my knowledge of the landscape of the adult industry. I got a feel for how Google was doing on spam compared to other search engines, and what outsiders thought of Yahoo’s 19B webpages claim. I heard how long it takes to gather backlinks now vs. six months ago. It was a good time for brain-picking.
I was just as surprised as my (2 blackhat, 1 whitehat) visitors to see Larry and Sergey come down the stairwell at 1am. But I always want Larry and Sergey to take webspam seriously, so when they came over to say hello, it was fine with me to prod DaveN into telling stories. If only I’d known how much more useful info I’d get! Forget the “SEOs have alcohol, I have a soda” technique: from now on, I’m bringing a cardboard cutout of Sergey when I talk to SEOs. I just need a tape player that says “Uh huh, tell me more about what you do” and I’ll just sit back and take notes. 😉 So you don’t need to worry: nothing untoward happened, and we actually got some really useful feedback about how to do better on webspam. DaveN was also a visitor to Yahoo that week, and I think that’s a fine thing: everyone should get a chance to talk to the other side every so often.
Personally, I’ve been contemplating an “SEO Exchange Program” where people in the search engine industry can give a talk at Google and in return we’ll feed them lunch and show them some of the GooglePlex. We’ve already had one SEO give a talk for us several weeks ago, and I’ve got an invite out to a different SEO. To keep from getting swamped with requests, I’m thinking about limiting it to people that I’ve read online or that I’ve met at a webmaster conference, at least until we see how it goes.
So you don’t need to worry. We keep our ears open when we work on quality and webspam. That includes listening to everyone, including spammers.