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Link Building Is Not Illegal (or Inherently Bad) with Matt Cutts

An interview with Matt Cutts, Google Distinguished Engineer, and head of the Google Webspam Team.
Eric Enge: There are people who think link building is illegal now. Is link building illegal?
Matt Cutts: No, link building is not illegal.
Eric Enge: Really?
Matt Cutts: It’s funny because there are some types of link building that are illegal, but it’s very clear-cut: hacking blogs, that sort of thing is illegal.
Eric Enge: Of course, people are using the term illegal in an imprecise way. So don’t be literal as an engineer with me now. They’re thinking that Google says all link building is bad.

“No, not all link building is bad.”

Matt Cutts: No, not all link building is bad. The philosophy that we’ve always had is if you make something that’s compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it. And so a lot of people approach it from a direction that’s backward. They try to get the links first and then they want to be grandfathered in or think they will be a successful website as a result.
Their goal should really be to make a fantastic website that people love and tell their friends about and link to and want to experience. As a result, your website starts to become stronger and stronger in the rankings.
Eric Enge: I always liken this to doing marketing the way it used to be done, right? Businesses always tried to create the best product, the best value, of the best something. Then they would find a way to promote it. Then promotion becomes easy. For example, you can even do a press release and it may well attract attention and cause people to write about it.
Matt Cutts: Right. So the link from a press release will probably not count, but if that press release convinces an editor or a reporter to write a story about it, and that’s an editorial decision, then if that newspaper links to your website as a result of that editorial decision to write a story, it doesn’t matter whether it started or was sparked by a press release or it was started by an email that you sent. It’s still someone making a decision to cover it.

“… it is true that a lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old fashioned marketing.”

Going back to something that you said before we started the interview, a lot of SEO has been focused on technical matters and very highly specific ways to configure your website and stuff like that. There are best practices, and you need to make sure you get the basics right, but it is true that a lot of SEO is now circling back around to good old fashioned marketing.
There are lots of ways to do marketing and do it well; there are lots of different ways to get peoples’ attention and to get traction. And the more creative you are or the better the experience is with your website, the more likely you are to be successful. But in a lot of ways, if you think like a good marketer and think about what will appeal to people, you will find your job as an SEO and getting links or trying to build your links will be easier as well.
Eric Enge: One great way to build links in my vision is to build strong Twitter, Facebook, Google+ presences. Build strong, engaged, followings and then create great content and you push that out and then that audience will likely share it, and start doing other things that cause visibility and help it rank. That’s a cool way to do link building.
Synergy between SEO and Social Media
Matt Cutts: Absolutely, I completely agree. If you take that big picture view in which you’re really doing marketing, one of the ways to get the word out is to have a devoted following. Musicians could have a mailing list or people could follow you on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ or any social outlet.
I firmly support the idea that people should have a diversified way of reaching their audience. So if you rely only on Google, that might not be as strong of an approach compared to having a wide variety of different avenues by which you can reach people and drive them to your website or whatever your objective is.
Eric Enge: Yes, and as you said in our last interview before this one:

“By doing things that help build your own reputation, you are focusing on the right types of activity. Those are the signals we want to find and value the most anyway.”

You can argue about how good Google is about detecting a particular signal today, or whether a given signal is noisy or not, but over time Google’s capabilities in these areas will continue to get better and better.

“There are certainly people who are widely known on the web, who have a great reputation, who are experts, who are authorities, who everybody listens to or trusts.”

Matt Cutts: It’s definitely the case that we will improve over time at assessing the authority and reputation and all those characteristics of authors and people in general and people on the web. There are certainly people who are widely known on the web, who have a great reputation, who are experts, who are authorities, who everybody listens to or trusts.
Somebody like Nate Silver for example who talks about elections. If he talks about elections, you want to take what he says seriously. You might disagree with him, but you’ll probably pay attention to it.
There’s the same sort of thing with, for example, Danny Sullivan on search engines. You want to be one of those people because that’s useful in and of itself, and over time you can certainly expect that search engines will try and do a better job of saying this person or this website is an authority on this topic and therefore when they write about it, it’s something that users are more likely to be interested in.
Eric Enge: Another concept is the notion of syndicating great content. There are many different ways to do that. You can take content that you’ve published on your own website, and you can distribute that, which has its own issues. Some businesses have really strong fundamental reasons for doing that.
I know one business that has a massive content syndication deal with Yahoo! for example, and they get more traffic from their syndication than they do from search. But it turns out they have the same content on their site as well.
Syndication for Link Building Purposes
This notion of syndicating great content seems to be another very valid way of building links, particularly if you’re getting on authoritative sites.
Matt Cutts: Syndication can be a valid way to either increase your reputation or to drive traffic and potentially to get more links. The main caution that I would add is that there are some mechanical things that you should pay attention to and try to make sure that you get right.

“So if you are also publishing the article on your site, you want to try and do these mechanical things so you are still seen as the original author.”

Things like rel=canonical help. Embedding a link within the text of the article itself never hurts. Ideally, you’d want to insist on some sort of attribution on the syndicated page. You can use authorship markup. So if you are also publishing the article on your site, you want to try and do these mechanical things so you are still seen as the original author.
Or, see if you can make sure that the article publishes first on your website. Give it a few hours or days or however much of a window you can, and then syndicate it onto another site. If you think about it, search engines are not psychic. They have to use signals and heuristics to make their best guess about what the best website is or who wrote content in the first place.

“The more signals or hints or indications you can give us, the easier job it will be for search engines to make sure that the attribution and the reputation flow in the correct direction so that you enjoy the benefits of syndication but you also do well on search.”

The more signals or hints or indications you can give us, the easier job it will be for search engines to make sure that the attribution and the reputation flow in the correct direction so that you enjoy the benefits of syndication but you also do well on search.
Eric Enge: Right. Of course, a much cleaner way of dealing with this, is to create content for syndication and not publish it on your own site. You can have a simple one-page piece of content that lists key resources for people looking for information on a specific topic.
Another very popular tactic that people like to use is guest posting. Frankly though, more often than not, when I see guest posting, it’s actually not good stuff. But, I would say that creating a very high-quality article and getting it published on a truly authoritative site that has a lot of editorial judgment is still a good thing.
Matt Cutts: Those are certainly good criteria to keep in mind. The challenge with guest posting is that people have different conceptions about what it means. And so for a lot of people, a guest post is something that a fantastic author has thought deeply about, labored over, polished, put a lot of work into and then publishes on a highly reputable domain name.
Posts like that can be a great way to get your name out there, to build your reputation, to make yourself more well-known, potentially build links or traffic or help with your SEO.
The problem is that if we look at the overall volume of guest posting we see a large number of people who are offering guest blogs or guest blog articles where they are writing the same article and producing multiple copies of it and emailing out of the blue and they will create the same low-quality types of articles that people used to put on article directory or article bank sites.

“If people just move away from doing article banks or article directories or article marketing to guest blogging and they don’t raise their quality thresholds for the content, then that can cause problems.”

If people just move away from doing article banks or article directories or article marketing to guest blogging and they don’t raise their quality thresholds for the content, then that can cause problems. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity. On the other hand, we don’t want people to think guest blogging is the panacea that will solve all their problems.
Eric Enge: In the opposite direction, when I advise people on how to accept a guest post, I give very simple criteria. First, I want them to really only work with people who have really strong social presences because it’s a measure of what they’ve done to build their authority.
And then the metric that I give them is if you have to ask them to share it on their social sites, then you don’t want the article, because that means they’re there to trade on your authority rather than they gave you their best stuff.
Matt Cutts: That’s a good way to look at it. There might be other criteria too, but certainly, if someone is proud to share it, that’s a big difference than if you’re pushing them to share it.
Eric Enge: Of course, it is important to look at this in the other direction in guest posting. You should only submit articles where the quality is high enough, and the site it is going on is authoritative enough that you would be proud to share it on your own social media accounts.
There’s also the notion of giving and getting interviews. If you are able to interview people with recognized authority and publish that on your own site, that’s good content. It’s also great if you can get interviewed by people, and have that published on their site with a link back to yours. Those would seem like very good signals as well. Of course, the quality of the content matters, and where it is published counts for a lot here too.

“… interviews can be a fantastic way to build awareness of your brand and to generate and distribute insights.”

Matt Cutts: Yes, absolutely. It’s interesting that you mentioned that because interviews can be a fantastic way to build awareness of your brand and to generate and distribute insights. It’s funny because if you think about it, the entire podcasting industry is often based around this idea of doing interviews or even just people in conversations.
Somebody like Kevin Smith has something he calls the SModcast which is just him talking with friends. He has been able to more or less make a living at just doing tours where he goes around and does his SModcast in an auditorium.
Criteria that come to mind are, “who are you talking to?”, or “how interesting is the conversation”? The beauty of an interview or a podcast for something like that is if you’re not interesting, people won’t tune in. Or they might tune in at first but they’ll tune out. It’s a self-limiting phenomenon. You can’t just do interviews with everybody forever if you’re always giving or getting boring interviews.
Pick the Right People to Interview
There’s a little bit of reinforcement that helps force you to either be interesting or say interesting things or think hard about how to make something compelling.
Eric Enge: You’ve had rel=author tagging for a while and people talk a lot about author rank or author authority. You made a comment back in October that:

“I think if you look further out in the future and look at something that we call social signals or authorship or whatever you want to call it, in ten years, I think knowing that a really reputable guy – if Dan has written an article, whether it’s a comment on a forum or on a blog – I would still want to see that. So that’s the long-term trend.”

Similarly Eric Schmidt said in the New Digital Age:

“Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.”

Basically, as an author you should think about how you develop and build your authority. You should measure things to see how you are doing. Some ideas for this are:

  • How much engagement does your content get?
  • Try to develop relationships so you can post on authoritative sites.
  • The inverse is true too, don’t publish on crappy sites.

Where you write, and who you’re trying to address, I would argue, is as important as what content you contribute.

“… you make a very good point that the outlets and the responsiveness of those outlets is a good way to get an idea of how other people think about you.”

Matt Cutts: While it remains the case that you always want to think about what you’re saying and make sure that that’s interesting and of use to people, you make a very good point that the outlets and the responsiveness of those outlets is a good way to get an idea of how other people think about you.
Just to switch to an analogy from email, Google has something called a priority inbox and we look at things like how often you reply to people and how fast you reply, versus do you always archive something, an email that somebody sent, or never even read it.
The priority inbox can start to get an idea of what is important to you. It might not know that this person is your boss, but it sees that you always respond within 5 minutes. It takes some of those signals and ends up with a pretty good assessment of which emails really matter.
You really want to think about, how do I make sure that in an SEO sense, I’m in somebody’s priority inbox? That I matter to them? That I’m relevant to them? That I can give them something of use? That they find me of value?
If those are the sorts of things you’re thinking about, that will be really useful because you’ll tend not to bore people or be pushing for favors when people are a little leery of doing that. That can be a good attitude to approaching life in general. How can you add value to anybody else’s life?
Eric Enge: Do you still believe that these types of considerations, i.e. the authority that people demonstrate online, will become a ranking factor?
Matt Cutts: I would concentrate on the stuff that people write, the utility that people find in it, and the amount of times that people link to it. All of those are ways that implicitly measure how relevant or important somebody is to someone else.

“Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover that, and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.”

Links are still the best way that we’ve found to discover that, and maybe over time social or authorship or other types of markup will give us a lot more information about that.
We’ll always keep chasing after the ideal world in which the search engines do what you would intuitively expect and bring you the best answer, whether it be from someone who is a friend of yours or someone who is an expert in the field or some completely different serendipitous author or person that you didn’t know about before, but they can really help with the information you need at that moment.
Eric Enge: Right. So as always we could speculate until we’re blue in the face as to what signals are driving ranking at the moment, but you shouldn’t necessarily get so wrapped up in that as monitoring the signals yourself to see whether or not you’re getting good reinforcement for what you’re doing.
Matt Cutts: Yes. If your emails are getting replies, if people are replying to you on Twitter or Facebook, if you’re getting good traction on your endeavors, that usually means you’re moving in the right direction. If people suddenly go radio silent or you’re not getting traction, that’s a good time to step back and do an assessment and see if there’s something that’s missing in your approach or something that you could hone in order to resonate with your audience.
Eric Enge: Right. So even if you are currently tracking signals that matter not at all to Google, but they’re really strong signals of the degree that you matter to people, you’re probably also sending off the signals that Google does take into consideration.
Matt Cutts: That’s a reasonable way to look at it. If you’re always trying new things, whatever your criteria is, and if you’re making forward progress on those goals, you’re often showing the signs of making progress in other areas well. It wouldn’t surprise me if in the process of setting and making progress on and achieving your goals you end up also getting traction, reputation as a person, as an individual, as an author, as an expert, as someone on the web and potentially someone in search engines as well.
Eric Enge: Thank you, Matt.
Matt Cutts: Always fun to talk.

About Matt

Matt CuttsMatt Cutts joined Google as a Software Engineer in January 2000. Before Google, he was working on his Ph.D. in computer graphics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has an M.S. from UNC-Chapel Hill, and B.S. degrees in both mathematics and computer science from the University of Kentucky.
Matt wrote SafeSearch, which is Google’s family filter. In addition to his experience at Google, Matt held a top-secret clearance while working for the Department of Defense, and he’s also worked at a game engine company. He claims that Google is the most fun by far.
Matt currently heads up the Webspam team for Google. Matt talks about webmaster-related issues on his blog.
Credit for Matt Cutts conference speaking image: Josh Hallet on Flickr – used by a Creative Commons Attribution License.

Thoughts on “Link Building Is Not Illegal (or Inherently Bad) with Matt Cutts”

  1. Honored to be the first to show my appreciation on this piece. Here comes the cliched blog comment: “Great post!” It’s great to know from an SEO point of view, that Matt Cutts doesn’t see us as Google’s enemies. It was nice of him to shed some light on his stance on link building, and that if we approach link building as something organic, we *hopefully* wouldn’t get punished for it.

  2. Hey Eric,
    Well, first of all it was an amazing, full of information and very interactive interview.. but it will be great if you just post the video of this interview too…

  3. Good post. Nothing has been changed – Always stick with SEO 101 – Good Contents, Interaction with Readers. Social share, like will follow.

  4. Well done, Eric. I don’t recall more than a handful of interviews (most of them yours, probably) where Matt is as detailed and clear about Google’s interpretation of links.
    While it seems so simple to those of us who get it, it’s difficult for many people (including well-educated, highly intelligent executives of Fortune 500 companies) to understand that the links are simply are marker of a company doing the right things.
    Having content or a product that is QUALITY (i.e., informative, engaging or entertaining — ideally a combination of all three) is the primary force that SHOULD determine a site’s or page’s place (ranking) in the web hierarchy. The links are simply the best social proof of that quality we can measure for now.
    But, of course, many people want the ranking (i.e. social proof) without actually deserving it:
    Buying people’s votes (paid links), conning people into linking to them (email requests pretending to be their fan/friend or even a young child), copying other people’s content (scraping), creating hollow content (content farms), sneaking links onto people’s pages (widget spam). You know the drill.
    “Create competitive, quality content or product, label it well and promote it.” remain the guiding principles.
    In short, link building is not dead again for the 10th time.

  5. That is by far the most informative interview I have ever heard/read by Matt Cutts! Well done you really helped clear some confusion.

  6. Another great interview with Mr. Cutts himself! As he has stated many times before, great content and links are the building blocks of all Internet marketing and they’re inter-related. Without content there’s nothing to link to, and without links there’s less opportunity for content to be found and seen. Good content will find a receptive environment for links, and the more links you get, the more valuable your content becomes.
    Thanks for the great interview Eric!

  7. A good write up. Certainly clears up a lot of questions for me. Clearly the emphasis is on editorial and G knows which sites they hold in esteem for editorial input.
    I still think brands hold a massive advantage now and even more so than before. If you have the outreach, content creators and big budget youre just buying your links under the guise of editorial control. You can see how the large publishers cement there own places in SERPS. They are all linking to each other to help themselves out. NY Times links to BBC. BBC links to Reuters. etc etc…Its all generally rehashed press releases or content syndication.
    I can see SEO being based around content publishing or content republishing for smaller businesses now. Find a good writer or seo firm who write for you and try some outreach to (buy?) get your links out there. Its manipulation but no worse than the big media sites undertake. Obviously, im not taking into account some stunning online article revelation that tends to earn a viral links in the thousands overnight.
    I liked the days when the internet wasnt based around big budgets and corperates….sadly those have gone now. I`m not totally onboard with Cutts as I still see lots of sites ranking on big money keywords with thin and duplicate content abusing canonical rels to rank and seemingly using directory listings mainly. I can easily give examples.
    Well done Eric.

  8. I would agree that there is nothing inherently wrong with link building.
    Google isn’t the boogeyman that some are making them out to be. They are just closing a few loopholes and making the exploitation of their algo a bit harder. Good for them.

  9. I really enjoyed reading this, but one thing makes me wondering:
    Matt says, that social reputation is a good way to share your content (which is absolutely right) and he seems to be a big fan of social marketing. But then I just can not understand why the Google bot algorithm still shows no interest in how a website is linked to social media.
    In an interview earlier this year he said: “Social Media is the most overrated aspect of SEO right now”.
    How long is this gonna stay that way?

  10. That’s made it a bit clearer. It’s good to know that if you are doing it the right way then you should be ok. I nearly have a heart attack every time I see a link appear for our site wondering if its gonna dump us out of Google. Maybe I should relax a bit more now.

  11. It has been, it is and it will be a secret ingredient which makes the SEO soup more positive. As for link building tactics – one has to be very ethical in his approach or else the coming days might not be favorable for them.

  12. Great article. It’s kinda funny how often I meet people involved in SEO who have never read the Google SEO starter guide. Although not as straightforward as Matt Cutts almost litterly saying “linkbuilding is OK”, the Google SEO starter guide clearly states that promoting your site and getting quality links for it in return is fine.
    “While most of the links to your site will be gained gradually, as people
    discover your content through search or other ways and link to it,
    Google understands that you’d like to let others know about the hard
    work you’ve put into your content. Effectively promoting your new
    content will lead to faster discovery by those who are interested
    in the same subject (1). As with most points covered in this
    document, taking these recommendations to an extreme could
    actually harm the reputation of your site.
    (1) Promoting your site and having quality links could lead to increasing your site’s
    reputation.” – Page 28 of Google SEO starter guide

  13. Of course, I agree that words have meanings. But social communities (in this case the community of people who follow SEO) often use words in non-literal ways. I have seen many articles declare that link building was now illegal, when what they really meant was that Google did not like it any more. As you can see, I re-phrased the question.
    There is a hidden second point to the conversation though, which most will miss. When interacting with Matt, it is important to remember that he is an engineer, and is very literal, and his choice of words is usually quite deliberate. You can find TONS of additional meaning in the things he says if you realize this – not just in this interview but in any situation where you see him speak or write.

  14. I think the biggest takeaway is the fact that Links are still a very large signal with Google. Although the various ways to link build have diminished in value – good quality links have become more valuable as a result.

  15. Reassuring to read that link building is still ok and likely to remain so. Useful information about syndication. Always great to get advice direct from Matt at Google. Look forward to the next interview.

  16. So SEOs should move away from technical voodoo to customer-centric communication approach .. however obvious this should have been for years already, there’s never enough interviews and articles to spread this idea! Thumbs up! 🙂

  17. Facts
    google bot cannot read
    People will not blame website if they come across the same kind of info on the search engines they will blame google
    If you want to stand out in marketing ranking in a search engine is not the way to go at all.. these people are just making you make their search result more diverse.
    No great company began because it was number 1 for something on google.
    Dont waste your time pleasing these people and making them rich if quality could be calculated then there would be no need for links. DUH…..
    I pity these people, don’t let them control and dictate over how you should run your business it is quite clear from a psychological point of view that these google employees are narrow minded, selfish and show know empathy anyone at all… This definition is what some psychologists call a psychopath.

  18. Thank you both for taking the time to share and publish this information. Forgive me if this was asked in the comments and I missed it, but was did either you or Matt suggest doing this interview over a Google+ Hangout and recording the video? Thanks.

  19. One thing that this interview did not mention is the importance of site update in Google. Hope it will be ask the next time.

  20. Great read, I have been trying to follow up with SEO for a while, and this is a treat, however what about these sites that are out there that hire an SEO company and they end up masking their ranking, still until now there are sites that ranking using a lot of illegal way, but it is working for them, and they usually get to their goal before the person that is doing the right thing, my question here will be? Is it fair or not to follow the rules and end up in the end of the search results, I mean we all know that the first page and in particular the first 3 results that will appear in Google search results is echo banks on most traffic. And as a web master you have a goal and you also want to be within these first results that appear in your niche, so you can get the traffic, and it gets tempting to do illegal things when you see it working for your competition. 🙂
    Just saying!
    Have a great day.

  21. One of the toughest part of SEO is that there are so many ranking signals that the search engines use. There are 3 consequences of this:
    1. It makes SEO a best practices game, where it is part Art and part Science.
    2. Once you understand best practices, you will ALWAYS be able to find counter-examples that don’t make sense – sites that you don’t understand why they succeed in spite of clear violation of Google’s guidelines.
    3. You can pull your hair out trying to explain 2, and adapt accordingly, but it still remains a bad idea. The reality is that Google is continuously getting better and better at enforcing it’s guidelines. So at the end of the day, most businesses are still best off by following the best practices. The TRICK is, how do you do that so you still beat the cheaters, and there is a lot of thought, and often innovation, that has to go into how you do that.
    Unfortunately, it is a LOT easier to say that than to do it!

  22. This is a really great interview. And I like the overall direction of creating high quality content a main consideration of basic SEO, as opposed to purely mechanical methods. This makes it a lot easier to explain what SEO is to clients, I think, who sometimes get too caught up in the details. Now we can talk to them about creating the highest quality content, giving away really great free stuff, and giving superior customer service. These are things a small business owner understands very well.
    Thanks, Matt and Eric!

  23. Hi,
    Thanks for a great interview. I got into search engine optimization recently and its been fun all the way. And I have been carefully about content marketing but reading the first few paragraph, i believe it makes perfect sense to market your content.

  24. This interview is very usefull for my bachelor thesis…and I think, there is much more to find on your website. Great Interview, thank you from Germany.

  25. There are a lot of gems on this article and one of the most important ones for me is the suggestion on how to syndicate your content because a lot of people are doing it wrong, they are still doing it the way it was done a while ago with article directories.
    Thanks Eric, great job with the interview 🙂

  26. More Google fan boy banter, Google is not the internet ppl, stop falling for there bullying techniques this is yet again another use Google+ sham.
    Social an SEO how can they relate, like this the concept of having more G+ followers somehow making you more authoritative, its like getting time travel advice from your high school jock.

  27. First Eric, love your stuff. Really enjoy your interviews and great posts. Very insightful article which reassures that what we have been doing here at Enquiro, and now Mediative, is the “right” way to help our clients market their brands and their services. We’ve never been about gaming the system with artificial link inventories. In fact the whole idea of link building is annoying. Having said that producing great content is not enough without the promotion or authority that is received from it. Love the section on syndication.

  28. If you think SEO is search engine optimization, then you may get results, but if you define it as “satisfaction elements optimization”, then you are the winner of the future. Don’t just build links, build relationships by providing help to users through blog comments, forums, Q/A sites, guest posting etc., whatever methods you may apply. Think for users’ satisfaction. I think this is what Matt implied when he says that link building is not bad.

  29. Chris, I think we ALL liked the days when a small company could just “do” SEO right and rank in the engines. People get upset that big brands will come to dominate search but in the long term I think that’s only natural. Big brands are big because they have done an awful lot right, content, prices, selection, service, etc. They will rank well because they do the same things that let them be successful online or off.
    That’s going to make it much harder for SEOs to just be SEOs and not more general marketers. I already consult with my clients on a whole range of things to improve their businesses, not just tech seo, link building, and content, because we are getting to the point where those 3 won’t be enough any more.
    What my concern is for the future of the web is – will there be places to go for people to discover new and interesting businesses and sites? If Google is going to become the equivalent of a shopping mall with nothing but big brands, where are the online equivalents where the funky little out of the way shops can flourish? Social? Mobile? I’m not sure the industry has matured enough that we know yet…

  30. This is a great interview and clears up a lot of mud. The inherent problem though is Google is now focused on how much marketing you are doing and how people respond to that, rather than what’s actually on the page and whether it’s helpful to people looking for answers.
    When people do a search, they’re often looking for an answer to a specific question and they used to find it through a page of content—often a page with no social signals, no social media icons, no photos even. In the current scenario, that valuable content page with all the answers would be shunned, while an fluff article dashed off by a big brand’s intern in five minutes and flogged to death by their big-budget social media team would crush that more useful page into the ground like a pebble.

  31. Eric,
    This was an amazingly thorough interview. I was especially intrigued by this quote from Matt:
    Things like rel=canonical help. Embedding a link within the text of the article itself never hurts. Ideally, you’d want to insist on some sort of attribution on the syndicated page. You can use authorship markup. So if you are also publishing the article on your site, you want to try and do these mechanical things so you are still seen as the original author.
    I totally agree with insisting on attribution on a syndicated page. However, what about insisting on a link when an article or news report mentions your company? In other words, it’s not content your company has produced, but content someone else has produced about your company. I am thinking that this could be a sensitive topic, but if approached diplomatically may not necessarily be a bad thing. What’s your take? If you spot an article that quotes you, or uses excerpts from one of your posts without giving you any attribution other than your name in text (no link), do you approach them for the link or leave it alone? Thanks Eric!

  32. Thank your for the great Interview, I must say this interview clears so many doubts about Modern SEO. I agree social media will rock your content in SERP

  33. I think that it is OK to ask someone to change it to a link if they write about you, but it’s hard to insist on it. If they quote you then it seems to me like they should make it a link, but if they don’t for some reason you then have to decide how much of a stink you want to make about it – know what I mean?

  34. That´s a pretty good interview and I have a lot of questions!
    Natural links are good? Right
    But what about the big link networks and domains who make strong link building?
    In German you type in “Kroatien Urlaub” “ferienwohnung Italien” and the Top 10 positions are with sites which are ranking with bad link exchanges or linknetworks… I don´t understand the answers from Matt Cutts.
    I have only a simple backlink checker because I am a student, but I will write my student work about the history of link building and the future…. I want to do a good job, but what I should write about the coming future?
    I hope the questions are not to stupid, but it´s very difficult to analyze and write something about this in the right way….

  35. “In the current scenario, that valuable content page with all the answers would be shunned, while an fluff article dashed off by a big brand’s intern in five minutes and flogged to death by their big-budget social media team would crush that more useful page into the ground like a pebble.”
    Hit the nail on the head there Tim, spot on.

  36. I am afraid that I can’t speak too much about But even with it remains possible to see awful domains ranking for a number of queries. Expressed simply, the problem is that there is a gap between what Google wants you to do, and what they can enforce with their algorithms.
    Currently, there are still a lot of people who get away with really bad stuff. This makes it very tempting to do the same things that the other people are doing in the hopes that it will work for you. For some people who try this, it actually might work.
    However, Google is constantly improving their algorithms, and the gap between what the want you to do, and what they can enforce, is closing. So, if you are running a serious business, rather than a garage shop spammy website operation, it is just too risk to violate Google’s guidelines. The better plan is to learn what Google wants you to do, and then do that very, very well.

  37. Well put Roy, especially your last paragraph. If youre a small independant clothes oulet, what chance have you when the serps are full of ebay,amazon and big brands. Youre right, its shopping mall on the computer now. Theres no evidence whatsover that a large brand sells better goods or cheaper than local business. It has a bigger marketing budget is the biggest factor.
    I tried an example search of “Audi Parts”. What the hell are Ebay doing in the top 5 when I expect to see audi garages, parts retailers etc and indeed no local results at all (Considering the Venice update that should impact). Number #4 – A company from Dublin? Whats that all about… its in another country to me for a start! These results arent what I want and for most they want local services right?
    Well some will say Ebay does good SEO but thats a world away from the results I expect. Ebay have no place there…they are middle man, a ten percenter and taking the credit for motor retail companies that have been around a lot longer.
    And its the same all over search. 🙁

  38. It’s great to get a clear inside view from Matt about search engines. I am still brushing up my seo knowledge. Great post. Thanks a lot!

  39. Thanks for the interview, great article!
    I go mad if I read “just prepare good content and people will link to it”. It depends on what your topic is. If you are a SEO and webdesign company (like us), competitors will just COPY your site, and it can happen that their ranking with the stolen content would come really close to your rankings.
    Many years ago I have written a good article for our website about how to use Twitter. A site about Formula-1 has copied it, actually INCLUDING LINKS to my screenshots, and became No1. for many many months, while our site dropped to No. 2. position. HOW COME?
    That is how Google works in Hungarian.
    I can mention websites which have 10 sentences on their site (keyword density above 10%) since years and they are in top10! Regardless how much quality content you write, you won’t have any rankings if your competitor has tons of manipulated links.
    And sorry to say, but it did not change in the past year.
    Regardless how closely you try to follow Google’s rules – black hat SEO is still working brilliantly. At least in small language environment, like in Hungarian.

  40. hi @Eric sir,
    really it is informative and valuable interview i also confused “Is link building illegal?” so after reading this interview my problem solved thanks @Eric sir for this interview and also thanks @Matt Cutts. 🙂

  41. Hi Eric,
    Very interesting interview. I found a lot of information in the post.
    How could you get a chance to interview Matts Cutts?

  42. Great article. Finally, Matt explained to me some things I did not understand well. I want more of those interviews. Thanks!

  43. once again matt’s make clear cut that press releases links are not count and guest blogging is not the only way for link building and can cause troubles.
    Thanks Eric for this great SEO tips i mean this interview 🙂

  44. I really enjoyed the intreview! Matt replied most times to the point and gave cleared answers. “Links are still the best way…” while social and authorship eventually will be more usefull…

  45. Great interview.It’ s help all .So submit article in article directory is good for SEO.but need unique article.Then It will be work. Article submission is good way to improve rank.But how many article directory submit an article it’s important.Maximum 20.

  46. Nothing new to me – but worth reading anyway! The logic of social interaction taken into algorithmic consideration will be emphasized more and more by search engines in the future – you better be ready and make up your mind guys! 😉

  47. Hi Amartya – Matt is quite clearly saying that article directories are BAD, so please don’t use them for your promotion strategy! Article quality will not help with that. Create those good articles and post them elsewhere – on your site, or possibly in article directories on VERY high quality sites that are authoritative themselves.

  48. Leandro Scalise

    Awesome interview. I guess it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a sincere and complete interview from Matt. After all the evolution of google, links still play a very important role. I reckon that most links google takes in consideration are real ones, made by normal people acting normally online, however, there is still space for some clever and effective linkbuilding for a good website!

  49. It was interesting to find out that Matt Cutts continues to see the backlinks as the best ranking signal, at least for now. Lots of people think that the social media signals will shape the future of seo, but I’d say that the social media mentions are much easier to automate / scale up.
    Also, I don’t like the idea of syndicating your website content on other websites; I’ve seen situations where the 3rd party site ranked better because of its higher authority.

  50. I think there’s definitely a gap in the market now for an independent search engine that doesn’t show Amazon, Wikipedia and YouTube at the top of virtually all search results. I don’t see it taking over from Google but running side by side, attracting different users, a bit like when Firefox came through as a rival browser for the dominant IE.

  51. Enjoyed the piece. One thing that was said I do have a problem with. When Matt spoke about an editor writing a piece due to a press release that talks about your product or service. It’s not safe to assume that the editor will link back to you. Many times I’ve found that they feel just mentioning your site is good enough. Understanding that this isn’t the case all the time, but not all industries/editors naturally include a link back to a site. Some that I know of don’t link intentionally. I agree with the point of creating great content and people will talk about you but that doesn’t mean they will link to you.

  52. It is good know that legal or natural link building is good to go in SEO processes. Social signals are also important which are the part of sharing/providing useful information to end user.

  53. This interview is really helpful for me. Though I was thinking in the same way with Mr. Cutts. This days as an Internet Marketer, we from our Agency putting more specialization on Social Media as well as Guest Blogging. But I have some confusion about Content Syndication and I preferred not to publish the same content that we already publish on our site. About Press Release what Matt says, is really hard to get my content picked up and elaborated by an editor for writing a new Story. Anyway, but this Interview answers many of my queries. Thanks @Eric and @Matt

  54. Sounds like all the principles of excellent traditional marketing applied online are the answer – no tricks or gimmicks, just great content delivered to the right audience at the right time!
    I’m on it!

  55. Hi Eric, great interview, how did you manage to get Matt Cutts nailed down for it?? Some fantastic points in there but one area you touched on was about who to link to in regard for guest posts.
    While I understand you wouldn’t want a guest post from someone blatantly trying to use your authority, surely using the criteria of “a strong social presence” is almost creating an old boys/girls club?
    I mean picture this, a young Matt Cutts hasn’t got his job at Google yet but is just as interested in all things SEO and wants to raise awareness. But due to his low social following he cant get his content out there.
    What should young Matt do?

  56. A great interview on the discussion of how SEO works now. I think it always a great practice to build links with high quality and unique contents. And increase social visibility. If they got much exposure it will help a lot to get more inbound links. And also a site with strong network can build more value to the SEO. So, social media is key factor now to increase SERP.

  57. “The more signals or hints or indications you can give us, the easier job it will be for search engines to make sure that the attribution and the reputation flow in the correct direction so that you enjoy the benefits of syndication but you also do well on search.”
    Now for long I did not understand how syndication can help once site when other sites benefit than the site that created the original post.But now I do with all the authorship mechanics and waiting some few hours to help Google help you before syndication make everything about syndication cristal well not really crystal clear but to a greater extent .Thanks for the interview it was worth reading.

  58. When you are starting out you have to build your authority in steps, one at a time.
    Note that high authority sites will work with lesser known people, but the bar for content quality is much higher. So to your question, the young Matt Cutts would have to create a kick *** piece of content.

  59. This is a really interesting article. I’m kind of surprised by the comments on syndication. You’d end up with the article on your site (or not) and in a whole lot of other places. How would this help with link building? Wouldn’t Google disregard the dupes in other places? Isn’t this (or wasn’t this) the whole problem with e.g. article websites that Google was seeking to get rid of with its algo updates? But this almost seems to be encouraging it… (I’m not sure if I have misunderstood?!)

  60. Jen – think of it this way: You create some great content on the upcoming NFL season, perhaps some killer series of interviews with pro football players that have not been arrested (I think there are some of those :->). Then ESPN asks for permission to republish it.
    From a human point of view I think you would agree that ESPN republishing your content is a sure sign that you created some really great content. To a human reader this sure adds to your authority. I bet that search engines see it the same way, and I think this is what is implied by Matt in the syndication discussion.
    Of course, syndicating to crap sites (such as via article directories) is a no-no.

  61. One of the best marketing posts that I have read in a while. More often than not people get stuck in the minutia of tasks that they think will make an effective SEO strategy instead of focusing on the larger “why” question. Focusing on your message and marketing that message through relevant respected channels is the best form of SEO that you can do.

  62. One thing that wasn’t touched on was the relevance of blog comment backlinks (like this one for example).
    I am not talking about automated spam – we all know that is rubbish, but if you take the time to write proper comments (like all we see on this page) and get the resultant backlinks from them, are they of very limited value now to proper in content links?
    What I am reading more and more is that G is placing much more emphasis on social media and traffic and markets on there. However, all links on such places are obfuscated by and similar redirection mechanisms. Does G have the facility to offer any juice for the eventual link BEHIND the link?

  63. Great interview, Eric! And thank you Matt for sharing this info. We have seen great results from high quality guest posts and they are definitely a valuable way to generate links both now and the in the future.

  64. I’d be surprised if blog comment links had any value at all. They are generally nofollowed. You should think of the comment as a way to participate in a dialogue with a community and build a reputation. Over time, as you publish great content elsewhere, this should help you get links (because people will believe in you do to the other things they have seen you do online).

  65. Nice interview. Matt Cutts isn’t always right you know. He said “encrypted search” as part of Google’s way to protect its users in GA was supposed to be less than 5-10% we are seeing in Analytics that this is more than 30-40% these days

  66. Matt Cutts certainly isn’t going to give anyone but those in his inner “themezoom” circle, to which he is a silent partner, any information on how to rank in Google. He is paid by Google to spread disinformation. Not to help anyone “Game” Google. The faster you realize that, the better off you will be.

  67. So glad to see a real interview and not just Matt’s video. A real time Q&A. The vagueness of what Google is doing is a little unsettling at times, but good to hear someone corner him and ask the questions we all wish we could. Thank you Eric.

  68. “Give it a few hours or days or however much of a window you can, and then syndicate it onto another site.”
    I actually had an issue where my content was being syndicated on another, more trusted site and it was outranking my original post! Sure I was glad for the traffic that syndicated content was getting, but it was also getting the lion’s share of links and social signals that I would have preferred on my own domain!

  69. I hope (in some ways) that authorship doesn’t become the ‘end all’ regarding relevance, as there a many, many SMB’s who are busy doing whatever it is they do, and their website is a way to bring in potential clients/customers… they are not in the business of ‘social interaction’ or publishing per se.

  70. One thing that is bothering me right now is how google is controling where you can advertise or be if you want to be in their search engine. I recently had to delete a dozen of links of my site from relevant websites in my niche because google spam team told me to do so. It’s really sad they are even allowed to do so. They could’ve just disregarded the links if for any reason(I still don’t know why and neither the sites where I was on) ,but they chose to punish my website for being there.

  71. Hi Eric! Great interview! You covered guest posting but was there any conversation regarding how Google treats or feels about providing incentives for bloggers to review products or giveaways? Such as providing a blogger product to review or gift cards for giveaways.
    Also, I read that Matt supports Zemanta, but I feel like that is a form of paid link dev. Any thoughts on these tactics?

  72. Very happy that you were able to conduct this interview, Eric! Matt’s awesome for taking the time to do this because there’s obviously been a lot of uneasiness when it comes to this subjects. Professional guest blogging services are really going to take the cake on this subject because they generate links on the “non crappy sites” as you discussed. It’ll be interesting to watch this.

  73. Incentives are a no-no. I am not familiar with how Zemanta works, but any form of money or incentives changing hands, even if it is indirectly, would not be consistent with what Google wants to see.

  74. I think Google would say advertise wherever you want, but if your advertisements are similar to the types of behavior people use that makes our product worse (search quality lower) that they reserve the right to adjust their results accordingly. I do think that is how they think about it.
    You don’t need to agree with them, but that is the environment we live in.

  75. I think the role of authorship will be specific to search queries where an authoritative answer is one of the best results to offer. There are many other queries where authorship will have no impact whatsoever.

  76. Matt revealed at SMX Advanced this year that he regretted that statement as soon as he made it. The 5% to 10% number was true at the time, but it has grow steadily since.

  77. I’d advise care with assuming that guest blogging services do this right. Many of them don’t. It’s important for people to really qualify how the links are being obtained. This is not a comment on your service, as I don’t know how you do your business! But publishers need to make sure that the posts are going on very high quality sites with tight editorial controls, and that links use simple attribution instead of trying to jam rich anchor text all over the place.

  78. @ Eric right my point is he’s wrong sometimes
    Originally the “positioning” of the encrypted search was to protect a small percentage of users we know now that pretty much blocks almost half the data points in Google Analytics

  79. John Q Siteowner

    Well Matt also said Google would make a level playing field for small sites…never happened. Matt warned if we did not support efforts against laws being considered to censor the web or international treaties we would see nothing but major companies in e commerce/products search results…..Google ended up doing that on their own. Sorry but Matt is not to be trusted on anything that he says is good or bad for sites….They will just change the rules tomorrow and everything you did today will be wrong.

  80. Totally agree about Social Signals. They’re much easier to “fake” and if people think they’re emerging as a strong ranking factor then the tools will get even better, and more “spam” will be channeled there. It’s tough being Mr Cutts.

  81. Very nice interview. I’m quite new to this industry so it’s nice to learn some new things from the gurus. I had a very limited knowledge about link building, but thanks to this post, I will be able to build a great link building strategy.

  82. Matt said about the link building process. Its very cleared link building still worth if we go with legal. Stop buying links, unnatural links, hacking blogs, and illegal methods on link building..

  83. Though highly unlikely that he would tell, it would be good to get MC to give examples of what is white, grey and black hat. For example, some people see GBPs as white, whereas others consider them quite grey. A scale of where all link building activity sits would be great to dispel some myths.

  84. This is probably one of the most interesting piece of advice from Matt. Eric, you’ve done a remarkable job on getting this vital and pertinent information out to us all. For that, we are grateful.
    I was actually very happy with the panda and penguin updates as it weeded out the link farming from shady search result bullies and gave the smaller guys a chance. I still think Google needs to do some more work on this though as some sites are still ranking high that has little to no relevance with the only exception of backlinks.
    Overall, great job to you and Matt and I for one is very appreciative of the detailed information you all provided.

  85. This is also very interesting: Eric – you can even do a press release and it may well attract attention and cause people to write about it.
    Interestingly enough, there are companies out there asserting that a press release will boost one’s seo ranking..this is completely at odds according to Matt.
    Matt Cutts: Right. So the link from a press release will probably not count, but if that press release convinces an editor or a reporter to write a story about it, and that’s an editorial decision, then if that newspaper links to your website as a result of that editorial decision to write a story, it doesn’t matter whether it started or was sparked by a press release or it was started by an email that you sent. It’s still someone making a decision to cover it.

  86. Hey Eric,
    My issue is that the products that i sell are not fun and interesting. They are helpful and necessary to all kinds of people but it’s not something that would make you want to go run and talk or blog about. Do you have any recommendations for a case such as mine, where i have tons of blog posts that i’ve written and content all over the site that is unique and helpful, but it’s not so interesting and entertaining that people are sharing and discussing?
    Basically, if i was discussing how to improve your business or be found better, it would get tons of shares (like this post you just created)… but since I’m selling storage solutions, and blogging about how to organize your office and home, people aren’t dying to share it with their friends… Any recommendations on how to get my unique, helpful and original content out to the masses in a better way?

  87. Go for educational and authoritative. People that want products like yours need information on ways to use them, use the more effectively, save money while using them, etc. This may not generate a ton of social shares like consumer content, but you can still get links for your high quality content.

  88. As most everyone has pointed out, this interview was very useful to SEO professionals! It was great to hear Matt talk directly about press releases and link building strategies; since it always seemed Google has been sort of against the concept of incorporating link building into your SEO efforts – in a sense. Thanks again Eric!

  89. “The philosophy that we’ve always had is if you make something that’s compelling then it would be much easier to get people to write about it and to link to it.”
    This is where I fundamentally disagree with Google. I have seen some truly compelling and well written articles and blog posts that didn’t generate any backlinks or social media citations. I understand that Google is interested in creating the best “search experience” possible for its users but they shouldn’t stick their head in the sand and think that all you need to do in order to get people to link to your site is create compelling content. My experience (and I’ve been doing SEO for 17+ years) is that rarely does content alone generate links.

  90. My problem with all of this is Google’s tautological definition of a “bad” site. The assumption is that only “bad” sites get punished by Panda or Penguin. And thus by definition, if you’ve been punished, then you’ve been bad.
    All of our links come from organic sources, from libraries, universities, journalism sites, and government services like the Library of Congress. Our site predates Google, is ranked #1 for public records and free public records, has twice been named one of PCWorlds top 50 sites on the Internet. Homeland Security’s Law Enforcement Training Center uses our site to train financial investigators, and a recently revealed NSA report shows that the NSA recommends our site to track down bad guys.
    Yet we’ve been brutally punished by Panda for over two years– with occasional periods where the punishment stops– only to be reimposed weeks later. No SEO company or so-called “Panda” expert has been able to help. We’ve lost 70% of our traffic and watch daily as our rankings flail up and down the Google charts like overweight clowns on bungie cords.
    So you can have the best link-building strategy in the world, but if Panda gets hold of you, there is little hope.

  91. one of the biggest problems is competitor who backlinks to your site from link farms in order to get you punished…could that have happened to you?

  92. Watching most of you people do the Google dance is like watching a puppet master at work.
    When are you people going to learn that all this stuff is about Google and those who profit from their “rule changes” (ie: SEO and even the author of this blog) and all the other “tin foil heads” who make a living at trying to please these (pardon the phrase) “yahoos”.
    Whether it’s Panda or Penguin or any other funny little animal name that comes down the pike in the next few years and decides to blow your site off the SERPs, you might consider designing a business that fires Google or any other search engine that relies on the word “FREE” as in traffic. Hello? Anyone home?
    Here’s an idea. Treat your online business like any other business. Put up some money you cheap a.s.s. Invest in your business and quit dancing with Google. It’s a very unhealthy relationship. Break up with her/him now and put Matt Cutts out of business. (too many of you are treating him like some kind of God anyway)
    Here’s the bottom line. I fired all the search engines back in 2006. I’ve been doing this stuff since 1999. If your business is built on the Free Search engine traffic model, you’re dead in the water. There are many many ways to get traffic and yes you might even have to put out some money (it’s called investing in your business) but the freedom from doing the “dance” at the end of puppet strings is liberating. You want to build a real online business… Take the first step and fire Google.

  93. My take-away and summary of the interview: Nothing has really *changed” recently, in terms of Google’s official line, and the rules are still basically – create useful/original/real content and don’t spam. It’s always great to have Google/Cutts on the record, so I’m not knocking the interview, but I have to say I didn’t have an “ah-ha” moment while reading. However I will say that this information is a good breakdown for non-SEO business owners, trying to manage their own online marketing, without getting sucked in to old traps like link buying, etc.

  94. What a fantastic discussion Eric. I’m so relieved that he says link building is still well and truly alive. Long may it be…

  95. Marc A. Donald

    Nice Article Eric !! I want to add a small tip concerning link building, Avoid guest posts. Have a conversation with webmasters and know what kind of articles that’s related to your business that they want to put on their website.
    This is much better than sending a random guest post that has no value and will get the web master to delete your email request instantly.

  96. Great article, but.. I can not even understand why the major factor become people engagement – social networks and those natural links. Yes, these factors are fair for artist, actor or whatever targeted for wide audience. But what if website is about Laser Optics Technique or Car Tyres technology where noone is reading all the article till the end or noone is going to share? Cause keywords are not so popular and Google doesn’t manage them fair,
    I strongly believe that there are many OFFLINE criteria’s Google should take into consideration when rating. For example, if listing two companies, they must take consider: size of company, years company founded, etc. Because now we can usually find newly established spam crap at the top of the results instead of a serious company, whose only flaw is they are lacking SEO.

  97. Nice tips for syndication on attributing authorship.
    Have you come across any examples where a small website has content that gets syndicated, but the syndicated content becomes indexed before the original?
    This was also a good reminder to think about playing with the interview content idea!

  98. Nice Job Eric! Another really thoughtful piece and so great to hear an update right from Matt on the best approach.
    The trick as an SEO agency is to educate clients that they have to take web marketing more seriously as they can’t expect it to come as easily as it used to. If people are not willing to not only commit to blogging and sharing content socially but to up the content quality significantly, they should probably stick to PPC (which is a valid strategy IF they can’t stomach what it now takes to do SEO and inbound marketing.
    Certainly a balanced content focused strategy that includes a variety of tactics makes a stronger campaign and nice to hear some good old fashion SEO stuff like rel=canonical, SEO strategy and quality link building being “nurtured” by Matt . It shows how SEO is far from dead but has morphed into being part of a more holistic and authentic marketing concept.

  99. Great interview, suprising to see that Matt gives some good tips about linkbuilding. If this is all true it will help me in my linkbuilding in near future, thanks.

  100. This is a really interesting article. I think in the last year, people have really bashed on the term link building. Instead they say link earning, or some other silly term, when in reality it is the same thing.

  101. As I suspected, all this linking paranoia is just crazy. Thanks Eric for the informative interview with Matt Cutts. With all the “guru” advice around the web, its great to know that old old school is still good school. Some so called pro SEOers say article marketing is dead, or its duplicate content or blah blah, and contrary to those faulty claims, it’s really about your intent, and how you implement it. It only makes sense to always give it your best, and be proud of anything you write or content you write in the name of your client, but in the competitive world of marketing, people always seem to look for shortcuts–but there really aren’t any.

  102. I am really impressed by the facts put in this article. I would further suggest that irrelevant link building is no longer effective in fact it damages our site. I agree with many in the comments sections that Google is plugging all shortcuts and loopholes.

Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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