Matt Cutts and Tim Mayer – tidbits from SMX

While I was out at SMX Advanced, I sat through the penalty box summit. As always, Tim Mayer and Matt Cutts had a few interesting things to say.

Tim Mayer started by noting that Yahoo! remains committed to search. Evidently, there was a rumor floating around in the industry that Yahoo! was going to reduce their investment in search. I had not hear the rumor myself, but it’s not true.

Also of interest was that Yahoo! has now added to Site Explorer a way to disclaim and inbound link. I think this is really cool. It may not be something that most webmasters need, but there are definitely times when it would be useful. For example, if you ever bought a link from the Washington Times, who used to sell text links that people bought for SEO purposes, you probably discontinued it once you learned that they don’t count any more.

However, you would also find that the Washington Times never takes pages down, so the links are persistent. Given that this would be a possible black mark for your site from an SEO perspective, you would want them removed. But the Washington Times is not going to remove them for you, they are a newspaper with other things to do. So disclaiming that old purchased link could be a great idea. The good news is that Yahoo! now makes that easy.

Tim also noted that there are legitimate uses for almost every technique. For example, cloaking is considered OK, if you are doing it for delivery of content on a geographic basis (i.e. the Spanish language site to Spanish speaking countries). Ultimately, it’s all about Intent and Extent. The intent with which you do something, and the extent to which you do it. So beware the consequences if a simple examination of your site or it’s linking pattern will reveal that you obviously tried to disguise something from the engines.

When Matt got up, one of the more interesting things he has to say was that Google was not averse to manual action. His comment was intended to address the perception that Google does everything by algorithm. In fact, Google does have a process by which sites get flagged for manual review. Tie that in to Google’s recent efforts with spam reporting forms, and Google’s statement that they review all spam reports filed using the Google Webmaster Tools authenticated version of the form, and it’s clear that they are willing to act on these reports, if it’s appropriate to do so.

Also of interest was Matt’s comment that Google does send proactive emails to webmasters who violate the Webmaster Guidelines, if they believe the violation is unintentional. In some cases, these emails actually detail the specific problem,

Matt also said that Google does make use of 30 day penalties as a warning. This means if your site disappears for 30 days, and then magically pops back in, that this is a warning. Don’t relax, you do have a problem, and there is something you need to go looking for, and fix it, because the penalty will most likely come back.

The most interesting suggestion made by the audience during this session was that Google Webmaster Tools, and Yahoo! Site Explorer should add functionality to mark sites that are currently being penalized or banned with some sort of readily visible flag. This would help webmasters understand when that drop in rankings is due to a penalty, as opposed to changes in the algorithms.

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