Search Results for: quality

“Why did our PageRank go down?”

Recently a newspaper contacted me. Their PageRank had dropped from 7 to 3, and they wanted to know why. They genuinely didn’t seem know what the issue was, so I took some time to write them an in-depth reply. Part of the motivation for my blog is to provide information in more scalable ways, so I figured I’d strip any identifying information from my email and post it. Here’s what I wrote:

Hi, the usual reason why a site’s PageRank drops by 30-50% like this is because the site violates our quality guidelines by selling links that pass PageRank. Here’s our documentation on that: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356 and here’s a video I made about this common case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFcJ7PaLoMw (it’s about 1:30 into the video). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all is a good recent article about paid reviews. In Google’s world, we take paid links that pass PageRank as seriously as Amazon would take paid reviews without disclosure or as your newspaper would treat a reporter who was paid to link to a website in an article without disclosing the payment.

In particular, earlier this year on [website] we saw links labeled as sponsored that passed PageRank, such as a link like [example link]. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and it’s the reason that [website]’s PageRank as well as our trust in the website has declined.

In fact, we received a outside spam report about your site. The spam report passed on an email from a link seller offering to sell links on multiple pages on [website] based on their PageRank. Some pages mentioned in that email continue to have unusual links to this day. For example [example url] has a section labeled “PARTNER LINKS” which links to [linkbuyer].

So my advice would be to investigate how paid links that pass PageRank ended up on [website]: who put them there, are any still up, and to investigate whether someone at the [newspaper] received money to post paid links that pass PageRank without disclosing that payment, e.g. using ambiguous labeling such as “Partner links.” That’s definitely where I would dig.

After that investigation is complete and any paid links that pass PageRank are removed, the site’s webmaster can do a reconsideration request using Google’s free webmaster tools console at google.com/webmasters. I would include as much detail as you can about what you found out about the paid links. That will help us assess how things look going forward.

Sincerely,
Matt

That’s about it. This case was interesting because we also had an external spam report about the newspaper selling links.

Sharing a search story

I’ve been reading a lot of the coverage of the Search plus Your World launch and I wanted to share my story and then clarify something.

I love to stay up until early in the morning playing Werewolf. In early December I went to a journalism conference called “News Foo Camp” in Phoenix and played a lot of Werewolf. When I got back, for some reason I searched for [werewolf] — maybe I was thinking about making a custom deck of werewolf cards. Because I was dogfood-testing Search plus Your World, this is what I saw:

Search for werewolf

In the top row of pictures, you’ll see a bunch of people playing werewolf, including a picture of me as the werewolf in the top-left image. Doing a generic search like [werewolf] or [photos] and getting back a picture of you or your friends is a pure, magic moment.

Let me tell you how it happened. I have Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick in a circle on Google+, because he’s in charge of Google’s Data Liberation Front and he’s an all-round awesome guy to boot. Fitz published an album of 25 Werewolf photos shortly after the conference. Okay, but I’m only in one of the 25 pictures; how did Google return the picture of me first? It turns out that Brian had tagged me in that single photo.

Once you know the trick, it might not seem like magic anymore. In fact, this is the “things just work” experience that everyone in the tech industry strives for. But when I searched for [werewolf] and got back a recent picture of me playing werewolf, it did seem like magic right then. I suspect as more people take Search plus Your World out for a test drive, they’ll quickly experience similar magical “Aha!” moments like I did.

I was reading some of the comments on tech blogs, and I wanted to clarify something: Search plus Your World does surface public content from the open web, not just content from Google+. For example, look back up to the top-right image from my screenshot above. That’s actually a werewolf photo that Gina Trapani took and it’s hosted on Flickr, not Google.

Here’s another example. If you follow the excellent and erudite Jennifer 8 Lee and search for [general tso’s chicken], Google can surface this high-quality thread from Quora:

Quora page

By the way, that’s a fantastic thread for Google to highlight, since Lee literally wrote the book about General Tso’s Chicken. It’s exactly the sort of “just works” user experience you’d want.

It’s not hard to find content shared on other sites. For a search [grand unified theory of snack food], Paul Buchheit shared a link on FriendFeed, and Google can highlight that:

Shared on FriendFeed

Or if I search for [connectbot], here’s a link that Brad Fitzpatrick shared on Live Journal:

LiveJournal example

(Yes, we do have both a Brian Fitzpatrick and a Brad Fitzpatrick at Google. People sometimes mix them up, but they’re different.)

I hope that helps to make my point. Search plus Your World builds on the social search that we launched in 2009, and can surface public content from sites across from the web, such as Quora, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Twitter, and WordPress.

The team should be finishing the rollout of Search plus Your World in the next day or so, and I hope you enjoy it. Remember, to see the new results, you’ll need to be signed in with a Google account and search on google.com. Give this new feature a whirl: once you see how much better personal search can be, I don’t think you’ll want to give it up.

Halloween costume: stickman from xkcd

For Halloween this year I asked people on Google+ what I should be for Halloween, and someone suggested going as the blackhat stick man from xkcd. You know, this guy:

Black hat stick man from xkcd

That sounded like a good challenge. I finished the costume and taped a video, but unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to get the video to the quality level that I wanted. Here’s the video:

A couple quick things: 1) I know the video is cheesy and lo-fi, but that’s what I was going for. 2) With a little more time and more work on the video (e.g. better lighting, turning off automatic brightness on the video camera, a little more time spent on the greenscreen key) I think it could have been pretty great. But sometimes you run out of time, and October was a busy month. 🙂

Maybe I’ll write a bit more about the costume and the video later. Happy Halloween everyone!

What cool new websearch ideas should Google launch in 2012?

Even though this year is nowhere near finished, a lot of people at Google are already thinking about things to launch next year. So I wanted to put the question out: what cool things would you like to see Google launch in 2012?

For example, in 2011, we launched hundreds of search quality changes that might not be noticeable, along with a few high-impact changes. But we also added new ways to search, like the ability to search by image and search by voice. We’ve beefed up our social search, and continued to make search faster.

So take a minute to think about potential search features, products, or changes that we could launch next year. As a user (not as an SEO/webmaster/publisher), what cool piece of technology would you like to see Google launch in 2012?

Goal: getting email under control

Each year I try to settle on a small set of big goals for the year. Last year my big goal was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. This year, I settled on 2-3 goals I wanted to achieve:

1. Go skydiving. I was with a group of ~15 people in January and we realized that no one in the room had gone skydiving or run a marathon. Both sounded fun, so I made them goals for this year. I met some great folks at Foo Camp a couple weeks ago who had been skydiving, and this past weekend we went skydiving together:

Matt skydiving at 8000 feet or so

It was a lot of fun; I’d recommend skydiving to anyone. You’re up high enough that a fear of heights doesn’t come into play… much. (If you live in the Bay Area, I went to Bay Area Skydiving in Byron, California and had a great experience.)

2. Run a marathon. This goal came from the same group in January where no one had run a marathon. I’ve been training for a couple months now and I’m up to nine miles on my long runs. Unless I’m injured, I think I’ll run a marathon this year. (By the way, USA FIT is a great organization in a bunch of U.S. cities where people get together to train for running a marathon.)

3. Get my email under control. This is a recent goal, but it might be the most important. Email is flawed in a lot of ways. Some wise people have referred to it as a “to-do list that anyone can add to.” It’s typically a poor use of time: you’re often talking to someone 1:1 when those cycles would be better spent working on something that will help a broader range of people or to realize a broader goal. Emails can take a long time to craft compared to other ways to communicate. Email is near-universal, but it lacks good ways for better processing or prioritizing (e.g. “show me the five least useful mailing lists” I get). Lots of email is sent to too many people or is just trying to find the right person to ask a question. Email also encourages us to pay attention to things that are urgent at the expense of things that are important.

Like most people in the tech industry, email has grown into monster for me in a lot of ways. I recently had a day without meetings, and I ended up spending the entire day replying to email, and still only took care of the email that I’d received that day. That’s just not sustainable–even a little more email would mean that I could never catch up–and that’s time that I’m not talking with my team, or thinking about new ways to improve search quality, or making videos or blog posts that can benefit a lot of people.

I’ve tried various email challenges before, e.g. not replying to outside emails for 30 days or not replying to emails after 10 p.m. I don’t know what my final solution to email will be, but this is a heads-up notice that I’m going to try a bunch of things until I find a better balance. I suspect that the final answer may be fairly radical, so if you’re hoping for an email reply from me, you should probably lower your expectations to zero. I’m going to try not replying to outside-Google emails for a while and then adjust things more over time.

Email is a big part of the problem, but I’ll probably have to say “no” more often as well. Please be patient with me while I try to recalibrate. I want to make sure that I spend my work time in the best way I can.

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