Here’s a fun idea. Let’s have a simple, five-question pop quiz.
1. Who very recently said: I’m about to publish a blog post with a ton of links in it — almost two hundred of them.
a.) Bill Clinton
b.) Barack Obama
c.) George H.W. Bush
d.) A top Google executive who may still harbor hopes of growing up to be president
e.) None of the above
2. Who very recently said: Does Google automatically consider a page spam if your page has over 100 links? No, not at all.
a.) Bill Gates
b.) Warren Buffet
c.) Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa
d.) A top Google executive who is not (yet) one of the richest men in the world
e.) None of the above
3. Who very recently said: Pages with lots of links are not automatically considered spammy by Google.
a.) Janet Jackson
b.) Phil Jackson
c.) Jesse Jackson
d.) A top Google executive who is not now and never has been named Jackson
e.) None of the above
4. Who very recently said: I wouldn’t be surprised if search engines begin to take stronger action against link buying in the near future.
a.) Arnold Schwarzenegger
b.) Terminator 3
c.) Conan the Barbarian
d.) A top Google executive who has so far successfully resisted entering the Mr. Universe contest.
e.) None of the above
Well, guess what? If you picked “D” on all four questions — and you almost certainly did — you’ve just earned an A+ or, to put it numerically, a perfect score of 100 percent.
Yes, all those statements were recently brought done the mountain from Google’s castle in the sky by none other than Matt Cutts, who is neither as presidential as the other contenders in Question 1, as wealthy as those in Question 2, as Jacksonian as those in Question 3, or as steroidal as the hulks in Question 4.
Still, in his own realm as head of das Google Spamgendarmerie (as the governor of California might put it) Matt C is not only more powerful than a speeding super hero, he’s more feared than a Machivillian nightmare.
In other words, Matt’s every utterance on the subject of what does and doesn’t influence Google PageRank and return position invariably hits the SEO and webmaster community with all the oomph of multi-zillion-buck stimulus package landing on an investment banker’s private airstrip.
In the interests of full disclosure, we have to admit that here at LinksManager we’re big fans of the Matt Cutts: Gadgets, Google, and SEO blog. Not because he always agrees with us about the pressing issues of the linking day, which he doesn’t, but because he generally has well-thought out, intelligent reasons when he does question our omnipotence.
What the Big C does is take an arguable position, thus enabling us to argue about it, to point out why we think he’s wrong (not that it ever does us any good.)
But compare that with the “position” of the Chicken Little SEO Crowd, which drags its dried up, gnarly claws through the pea gravel waving its stunted wings in the air and squawking about how the sky is absolutely, positively going to fall if every webmaster in the world doesn’t stop linking and engaging in other perfectly ethical, fully search engine-compliant, site-promotion practices.
Like, how do you argue with that? You can try “links have been the skeletal support, nervous system, and major arteries of the web since Tim Berners-Lee invented it and the sky hasn’t fallen so far.” But they’d just cackle something like “of course it hasn’t fallen yet, but it’s going to. Just look up at it, can’t you see how much closer to earth it is today than it was yesterday?”
End of discussion. What can you say beside “actually, duh, no, A-hole, it looks exactly the same to me.” But that’s not a debate point, it’s an opinion.
Getting back to Matt Cutts, the other reason we generally like his blog is that he does, in fact, agree with us much more often than he disagrees.
Over the course of scores of posts he has repeatedly affirmed the importance of link exchanging to a properly ordered World Wide Web. He has stated and restated that Google does not penalize sites for featuring a robust slate of organic, relevant links. And he has criticized the same types of link spam — paid links, link farm links, automated linking schemes, etc. — that we have been warning you about for more than ten years.
Perhaps most importantly, he has continually rebutted BS rumors that Google no longer considers quality links as a positive factor in ranking pages.
The most recent of these rebuttals came this month March 2009, just a few days before this post was written. In a blog entry posted that day (from which three of our four opening “test questions” were taken), Matt wrote that “If you end up with hundreds of links on a page … you’re dividing the PageRank of that page between hundreds of links, so each link is only going to pass along a minuscule amount of PageRank … ”
That’s pretty clear. It says that high-quality links pages can attain good page ranks and favorably impact the page rank of sites linked to them — but not if that PR is squandered by having too many links on each links page.
Matt also goes on to point out that “users often dislike link-heavy pages” and recommends that “before you go overboard putting a ton of links on a page, ask yourself what the purpose of the page is and whether it works well for the user experience.”
If you are a regular (or even occasional) visitor to this blog, the Linking School or the LinksManager FAQs, you probably recognize that phrase “works well for the user experience” as a key part of our mantra as well.
Indeed, in his post Matt Cutts answered the question “How Many Links Per Page” by quoting a Google Design and Content Guideline recommendation to “keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number (fewer than 100).” No wonder we like Matt’s blog so much, that’s the maximum number we’ve been recommending for years, most recently in a November blog entry here.
Which gives us a great opportunity to put another bogus horror story out of its (and possibly your) misery. Despite what you may have heard, despite what some $300-an-hour SEO consultants might tell you to justify their invoices, the Google Design and Content Guidelines have absolutely nothing — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — to do with whether a site gets indexed or de-indexed, whether it has a PR of 10 or Zero, whether it returns on the first page of a search query or the 800th.
The Design and Content Guidelines, most of which are totally admirable, are strictly Google’s attempt to help you build a good site, they are not mandates or requirements and it’s doubtful that Googlebot even knows they exist.
Let us once again quote from Mr. Cutts (the emphasis, however, is ours): Does Google automatically consider a page spam if your page has over 100 links? No, not at all. The “100 links” recommendation is in the “Design and content” guidelines section, and it’s the Quality guidelines that contain the things that we consider webspam (stuff like hidden text, doorway pages, installing malware, etc.).
OK, Matt, here’s what you’ve taught us today.
You’ve taught us that quality links still play a positive SEO role.
You’ve taught us there’s nothing wrong with having lots of links as long they’re ethically obtained, relevant, displayed properly and posted over a reasonable time period.
You’ve taught us that links pages — just like every other site element — should be created with end-user friendliness and benefits in mind.
You’ve taught us that ignoring Google’s Quality Guidelines is playing with fire, but that we can use or abuse its Design and Content Guidelines with impunity.
Most of all, you’ve taught us that you, Matt Cutts, the one and only director of Google’s Webspam Team, probably won’t be putting all 200 of the links in your upcoming blog onto the same page.
So, what’s question number 5?
5. Someone recently said: If I say something stupid in the future, it’s better to be able to point out that the stupidity is mine, and mine alone. My stupidity! You can’t have it!
a.) Donald Trump
b.) Tyra Banks
c.) Ryan Seacrest
d.) A top Google executive whose doesn’t host a reality show (but does specialize in reality checks)
e.) None of the Above.
(The correct answer is still D)