Christmas Truce of 1914

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. 🙂

23 Responses to Christmas Truce of 1914 (Leave a comment)

  1. Well said, Matt — though my understanding is that on the odd occasion, you might have had something a bit stronger than Sprite 🙂

  2. I’m glad to hear that you talk to the librarians as well as the SEOs, since they are the ones that really know information search. You really need to keep the perspective of who the search is really for, instead of just battling spam.

    Did you happen to see the article in American Libraries this month “Google Print vs. Online Collections – Don’t send your paper copies off to remote storage just yet”? No, it wasn’t an anti-Google Print rant, it was about how keyword searches can still fail when compared to categorized access to books.

    While I am on the webmaster/SEO end of things, I have learned a lot from my girlfriend, a college reference librarian, about how people really search. If you are interested, I’m sure she could arrange for you to go to one of their conferences. At least there you could let your guard down a little bit more as they will not be trying to pick your brains for the secrets of the algorithm.

    As for ways to add value to Google Search, how about adding the ability to search local library’s catalogs to find the books you are after, then giving links to the library sites to request holds or transfers. The library search software that is out there is rather dismal, and I’m sure that most of them would love to have some help with organizing their corner of the “world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”. It would also fit in quite nicely with Google Print as it grows.

  3. I love your blog. Bookmarked and thanks.

  4. After reading this, I really wanted to pipe in with the issues I have with Google and search engines in general. I design web sites mainly for small businesses in a rural region of New Jersey. Of course everyone asks how people will find them via search engines. I know enough about SEO topics to be dangerous, but let’s not worry about what I can do for this moment, but concentrate on the quality of service offered for the user in general.

    As an example, I do web sites for a couple of local churches. Now, they could care less if someone in California can find them, but they are very interested about local people moving to the area finding them. The problem is what do people type in when looking for information like this. Do they type in the specific domination like [methodist church] which yields all sorts of web sites, but mostly not what they are looking for. Do they type in their town name like [methodist church new york city]? Maybe Zip Code? If I do a simple poll everyone seems to type in something different Maybe you could post one day about some stats about this topic (local searches use town, zip, county, state).

    Google Local has helped resolve this some what, but only if you do something like [methodist church in New York City, NY], but the regular Joe has no idea to type in in that format.

    It would be amazing for both users, and my clients, if somehow Google could know to show local results for services that are most likely wanted from a local merchant ([church], [cleaning service], [italian food], etc.).

  5. Thanks for the tour Matt – I had a great time. Your knowledge of the adult industry is – I would say – pretty good 🙂

  6. Perfect clarity, Matt. In games theory there is a common state called a “competitive-doorperative” state. That’s what’s being described here — a paradoxical but very real world situation. In fact, most real world situations hold a big dose of paradox in my experience.

    It’s like the Stuart Brand statement that “information wants to be free, but information alos wants to be expensive — the person who understands how both these are true at the same time will be the one who makes the best decisions.”

    At any rate, it sounds like you all had a healthy amount of the free side of information exchange. Good on ya!

  7. Yes Matt, very well said. So what was it that you were

  8. Matt,
    I was in that 3 hours answering webmaster questions in the “Meet the Google Engineers” session, and I thought it was great, you were very open and I was pretty surprised at how much everyone else was open as well. Although I have to admit, kudos to you for having the endurance to deal with 50 people surrounding you and asking questions.

    The idea of sharing information back and forth is great, it can help Goog improve and help webmasters that want to improve. How about developing a webmaster Google FAQ from all the questions that you get frequently?

  9. Complaints raised about Google talking to blackhats seem bizarre – firstly, we’re all human beings with inter-related industries based on the internet, so webmasters trying to set up social divisions at social events on the basis of industry would seem small-minded at best.

    It also seems to presume that information exchange is one-way – I’m sure that from all accounts that Sergey and Larry came away with something of interest, not least because Dave is an affable personality who tells good stories, but also because he works with methods that Google are no doubt keen to learn more about.

    Personally, it’s good to see that there’s still a good-natured mixing in this industry.

  10. I’m a little concerned that if I go to a SEO conference I’m going to wake up the next morning with a hazy recollection and the taste of chloroform in my mouth…. 😉

  11. I am very concerned about scraping because when I first started building my site I did not know better and I wrote some articles using some content from other sites that were not copyrighted thinking this was okay. I want to clean this up but now I now have about 50-60 pages, mostly with original content, so I want to find out what to clean up.

    Is there a tool or command that can help me identify what pages or areas I should delete?

    I am new to all of this since I started a small business importing coffee last year. Google does not rank me well though the other engines so I think this may be my problem.

    BTW, Love your blog.

    Thanks in advance.

  12. Matt, you really know how to pull out the big guns to mine for SEO secrets. I don’t know how you’ll top getting Larry & Sergey to pump DaveN et al, but at the next conference I’ll be the guy wearing the mind control protector: 🙂

  13. Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, eh? Smart strategy.

  14. It’s all very well fraternising with the ‘enemy’ and taking notes, but it’s a bit one-way, isn’t it? There’s no way that you Google people are going to give as good as you get. Now you be the one drinking the alcohol, and I’ll be the one drinking lemonade, and then let’s chat 😉

    On the other hand, if it causes Google to deal with things like scraper sites, then it’s definitely worthwhile.

  15. Jealousy is a tough thing to control at times – like anyone else who enjoys working in this industry – the opportunity was the dream happening all of us would have liked to be part of.

    Guess some people can’t just be envious and let the green monster get the better of them…

  16. Meet the Engineers was an amazingly refreshing event.

    After SES San Jose last year, I went away ranting about how there were actually Google employees at the Google party, while Yahoo seemed content to just send us off to a museum and keep us from our computers for a bit (if the SEO’s aren’t at their PC’s, the engineers can take it easy!) This year, they had a few employees at their event, had a small booth for meeting their engineers, but Google blew them away again by having a HUGE employee turnout and a much more open engineering event.

    Don’t get me wrong, the amusement park was cool. But I find it to be sort of like taking your in-laws out for supper… it’s just not as personal as inviting them over to your own house, which is exactly what Google has done for us. I don’t care where they take us, nothing beats going to Google’s house for the evening. Now, about that tour…

    The only thing I’d improve for next year is the T-shirts… although the blue is better than the brown from last year. 🙂


  17. Haha.
    I’m sorry to be the odd one out here in this ruba dub dub each others back thread.The danger in top google engineers and amateur spammers fraternising is that a fools clique develops, where everyone who thinks they matter is on first name terms and everyone thinks all is well with the world.
    They all get blogs and they all link to each other.Very Quaint and Very cute.The only problem is the outlook and perspective is incestuous and blinkered and often at odds with whats really happening in google world.Matt thinks because he talked to some blogspammer he knows whats going on and the blogspammer talks to google so he thinks he knows whats going on.
    A bit like politics and politicians.
    Google has a hospital full of PHD’s .They don’t need to ask any spammer whats working and whats not.For God’s sake look at the serps and do what the amateur spammers are doing themselves and reverse engineer the results and find the methods that are working.For all your talk of google’s sophistication Matt , google has lost its grip on expired domains, hidden text and hidden links, cloaking, JS redirects, expired blogs, message boards.
    Just take for example a adult kw ‘nude latina girls’ in the top 40 results there is only 1 or 2 real adult sites in the results.All the rest are spam.Its not too hard to see how they got there.Even blind Feddy can see the spam.But peers and followers tend to go along with the hype and think all is well.Haha.

  18. I think that Google reaching out to webmasters and seo guys is great. It is truely beneficial when a company can have liasons that bring about a education thats leads to a better product. Matt is great at answering questions and helping people. (Even when he is asked a question that he has to pull up short on when Larry walks into the conversation) 😉

  19. You say “…my main goal is to find out how to make Google better.” It’s my hobby, too, for the past two years or so. Maybe, from another side of this mammoth and definitely outside of it, but believe me: here [url][/url] you may find not just rants about riduculously poor record of Google at certain markets, but also some remedies. Have a look at my sections “Googlocalizations”, “Googlese”, and “Googler”.

    Email me what you think.
    (I admit, chances are you don’t have a slightest idea of what I was blogging there about. Or it’s not even a problem as you’re outsourcing it that far, to be ever visible. Maybe the, give me an email of a person who WAS responsible? Thank you.)

  20. Hi Matt,

    You mentioned in this blog: “My job at Google is to improve our quality, and I spend a lot of time working on webspam and webmaster issues.”

    To be honest, I am worried. Google seems to have an enormous focus on how to get/keep spam out of the SERPs. So much even that anything else seems to no longer be that important anymore.

    Google revolutionized and improved online search enormously with its pagerank algorithm. Since then it has had 2 focusses: Increase the index and combatting the abuse of the pagerank algorithm. I can’t really see any other improvements to its search results.

    When people started to use Google they were amazed. All the sudden it was easy to find what you were looking for. Searching no longer was a whole project that took an hour before you found something you could actually use.

    What has changed since then?

    Bigger index, that´s about it. For the rest Google just kept growing because many people started using Google. But that´s because the others waited and waited and waited and now they´re like the google of a couple of years ago. Yahoo specifically. (not saying I want to promote Yahoo. I like Google’s presentation much better.)

    This whole crusade against spam seems to have taken over Google’s objectives. At first you would think that taking out spam is great for maintaining quality. And it is. But it doesn’t do anything for improving the quality. I am hoping to see a leap forward like the pagerank algorithm did.

    But what can there be improved in the SERPs besides keeping the spam out? Is Google’s future now limited by its ability to keep the spam out of the SERPs? I sincerely hope that´s not the case.

    Are we at a point that the quality of the SERPs are determined by the quality of the best sites available on the internet? If this is true you can’t improve quality. Is this this the point Google is at?

    Sure I am upset because a site of mine lost 75% if its traffic due to the last updates. But at the same time I am happy because another site of mine is just getting more and more traffic. And for the love of (whoever you like) I can’t see any difference between the 2 sites in relation to SEO (just simple on-site optimization and no active link building other than some directory submissions in the beginning).

    What can Google do to improve quality? Besides combatting spam which really is nothing more than quality maintenance, not quality improvement, what can you do?

  21. Matt,

    I´m hoping you can shed some light on your opinions on how search quality can improve,.. 🙂


  22. Matt,

    Google should invent some democratic method of indexing the pages and ranking them. SEO for Google is too difficult and when the big boys come up with the money the small kids like us are dead…

  23. Why not make a official blog for SEO, we don’t want to find the useful info from searchenginewatch, webmasterworld, or more other sites. It will took me more time.