Matt Cutts: 'Don't Write the Epitaph for Links Just Yet'

September 13, 2017

Matt Cutts
Every year at SMX Advanced, Matt Cutts does a “You & A” question-and-answer session with Danny Sullivan. Matt McGee’s write-up of this year’s interview is full of juicy tidbits and interesting insight into Google’s inner workings – but it’s worth reminding ourselves that part of Cutts’ job is PR. When a company goes around saying “We value transparency, we value transparency!” all the time, you have to wonder how transparent they’re being – and Google’s algorithms for organic search rankings and Quality Score are still very cryptic.

But let’s see what we can take away from his comments anyway, shall we?

Links Still Matter – But Not Site-Wide Links, Suckers

Danny asked, “Do links still work, or are social signals gonna replace them?” Cutts responded:

Douglas Adams wrote “Space is big. You have no idea how big space is.” The web is like that. Library of Congress, the biggest library in the world, has 235 terabytes of data. That’s not very big compared to the way the web grows.

The actual percentage of nofollow links on the web is a single digit percentage, and it’s a pretty small percentage. To say that links are a dead signal is wrong. I wouldn’t write the epitaph for links just yet.

As for +1’s, Cutts admits they’re “not necessarily the best quality signal right now.”

But he’s most definitely not saying a link is a link is a link:

We’ve done a good job of ignoring boilerplate, site wide links. In the last few months, we’ve been trying to make the point that not only is link buying like that not doing any good, we’re turning the dial up to let people know that certain link spam techniques are a waste of money.

What Matt Cutts seems to be saying here is that most of the time when you buy a link it ends up in a footer or sidebar – and that this has little to no worth compared to editorial links, which generally appear on a single page in the main body of the content.

OK, Maybe Negative SEO Works After All

Cutts in the past has said that negative SEO isn’t really possible, but this week he admitted that he has seen cases where it has worked, and says Google is considering ways to address it, for example by allowing sites to disavow certain links:

People have asked questions about negative SEO for a long time. Our guidelines used to say it’s nearly impossible to do that, but there have been cases where that’s happened, so we changed the wording on that part of our guidelines.

Some have suggested that Google could disavow links. Even though we put in a lot of protection against negative SEO, there’s been so much talk about that that we’re talking about being able to enable that, maybe in a month or two or three.

Is Bounce Rate a Factor?

Paranoid Joe is absolutely not going to believe this, but Cutts claims that “Google does not use analytics in its rankings” – so if you have a high bounce rate, that’s a user experience issue, not a rankings issue.

What About that Whole Paid Inclusion Thing?

Sullivan last week called out Google for appearing to do a 180 on its position on paid inclusion:

Google Product Search is getting a new name, Google Shopping, and a new business model where only merchants that pay will be listed. It’s the first time Google will decommission a search product that previously listed companies for free. The company says the change will improve the searcher experience, but it will also likely raise new worries that Google may further cut free listings elsewhere.

But Cutts says no, you still can’t buy higher rankings:

You call it paid inclusion, but it’s a separately labeled box and it’s not in web ranking. Google’s take on paid inclusion is when you take money and don’t disclose it. Google’s web rankings remain just as pure as they were 10 years ago. We have more stuff around the edges, that’s true, but that stuff is helpful.

Yeah it’s helpful all right … to their profit margins!!!

Just Be Awesome

Does Google really hate SEOs? Cutts says no, what they hate is spam:

If you go on the black hat forums, there’s a lot of people asking, How do I fake sincerity? How do I fake being awesome? Why not just be sincere and be awesome? We’re trying to stop spam so people can compete on a level playing field. I think our philosophy has been relatively consistent.

So just be awesome, websites! (Harder than it sounds, right?)

More Web Marketing Highlights

In a surprising move, Google actually listened to cries of outrage from advertisers who were pissed that AdWords was taking away the ability to rotate ads for as long as you want. You can now rotate ads for up to 90 days, versus the previously announced 30, or fill out a form to opt out of the change completely if you really want to rotate your ads indefinitely.

Michael Martinez of SEO Theory makes some great points in a post called “How to Lose Millions of Dollars with Content Marketing” – as a writer, I’m especially supportive of this point: “To do content marketing right you have to let your writers write — and you have to pay them to write so they feel like their writing matters.”

Reuters reports that four out of five Facebook users have never bought something due to a Facebook advertisement – of course, what people say they do and what they actually do are different things, but it’s more evidence that Facebook ads aren’t working yet.

Blueglass offers a guide to getting referral traffic from Reddit – a hugely powerful site with a very quirky user base.

Twitter has changed its logo. The bird now looks happier, bluer and balder.

That’s all for now, folks. Have a great weekend!

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is WordStream's Director of Content and SEO. Likes include wine, karaoke, poker, ping-pong, perfume, and poetry.

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