Behind the Scenes: An Exclusive Interview With Google’s Matt Cutts

by / Thursday, 19 July 2012 / Published in Google

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, reveals information most of us have never heard before in an interview with Eric Enge, founder of Stone Temple Consulting. Cutts discusses why content does not rank, linking, why infographics may become Google’s next target, and how Google may treat content curation.

Read all the way through—you may just learn something new.

Here are some of the highlights of the interview:

Duplicate Content that is not Duplicate Content

Traditionally, duplicate content refers to pages or copy on websites that are exact duplicates of each other. But in the interview, Eric brings up an even more important issue of which most people are not aware. He asks Matt about content that essentially says the same thing yet it is not an exact duplicate.

He uses this example:

When performing a search on “frogs”, users may see content like this:

Users may not like what they see so they move on to the next website that reveals this content:

At this point users may get frustrated because this is not the information they seek and it is just a copy of the rest. Eric points out that even though the content is not an exact duplicate, it still consists of the same information. And simply being “non-duplicate” is not enough to rank well in the search engines.

Matt agreed with Eric and stated that the second site was not bringing any additional value. He stated that the people who are regurgitating the same old content are not doing anything wrong; however, they won’t rank well.

According to Matt, “Google would seek to detect that there is no real differentiation between these results and show only one of them so we could offer users different types of sites in the other search results.”

When asked a question about e-commerce and aggregator sites, Matt Cutts explains that sites that aggregate content must discover their “value add” and what makes them special.

No Special Privileges for Big Brands

Most of us at one time or another thought Google was playing favorites with big brands—I know I did. Eric asked Matt about his opinion on people who feel Google is favoring advertisers with big budgets.

Matt Cutts’ response:

First off, I just want to emphasize that whether someone is an advertiser doesn’t help in our web search rankings at all.

Google does try to mirror the real world. We try to reflect the real-world importance of things as we see that reflected in the web. Brands sometimes are an indicator that people see value, but it isn’t the only way that people see value. There are many other possible indicators that something is important and worth surfacing in the search results.

A brand could be potentially useful, but it’s certainly not the only lens to interpret the world. There are lots of signals we use to try to find the results that bring the most value to users. And whether or not someone is an advertiser does not matter at all.

One of the great things about the web is that it still offers up-and-coming businesses opportunities to build their own reputation online. This can enable them to succeed even though other companies may have large advertising budgets.”


Eric told Matt that he feels linking has misled people to think they must reach a far off place to acquire links, “places where no one ever goes.” In these places, marketers do not care about what they do there. This has become a linking mindset.

Matt agreed with Eric’s example and added that people think of linking as the end goal instead of prioritizing producing excellent content. Once you create content, he says to focus on promoting it.

Eric talks about building a reputation which forces website owners and business to engage in the right types of activities. When you get links from article directories, link wheels, blog networks, and sites that are not concerned with editorial quality, you are not building your brand.

Matt Cutts responds:

“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. Just promoting your site on a spammy blog network that no one would ever choose to visit is not a good strategy.

It’s wild to see some blog networks just repackage the same spammy sites and services and have the nerve claim that their content is ‘Panda and Penguin compliant’ when the quality of the network is clearly not at the level that even a regular person would choose to read it.”

Infographics and Link Bait

We discussed link bait in previous Site-Reference articles and the topic has become prevalent on the web. Link bait is a piece of content that goes viral and causes others to link to the original publisher. SEO greats such as Bruce Clay and others touted link bait as an effective method to acquiring high-quality links, but Matt Cutts had a little more to say about it.

Matt agrees that businesses can use this type of content as a promotional tool, but infographics can blur the lines of spam which we all know Google will not tolerate. Matt doesn’t mind infographics, but he does not like when they are used as strictly promotional and include incorrect facts and unrelated links. When people repost the infographics on their sites, they are unaware of the link’s destination which could be totally unrelated to the infographic. According to Matt, “This is not what a link is meant to be.”

Will Google make some algorithm changes to infographics? It may be on the way…

Matt says:

This is similar to what people do with widgets as you and I have talked about in the past. I would not be surprised if at some point in the future we did not start to discount these infographic-type links to a degree. The link is often embedded in the infographic in a way that people don’t realize, vs. a true endorsement of your site.

Any infographics you create will do better if they’re closely related to your business, and it needs to be fully disclosed what you are doing. The big key is that the person publishing the infographic has to know, and agree with, including an endorsement to your site as attribution with the infographic. Even then, there is reason to believe that the link is more about the barter to get the infographic than a real endorsement of your site.

Content Curation

I discussed content curation briefly in my last article, and Google seems to be following the path I proposed it would.

Eric mentioned that businesses are using content curation to increase their content.

Matt didn’t seem too keen on the idea. He questioned whether content cutators are really focusing on a value add, and also whether visitors will want to read others’ opinions on these topics.

In Matt’s own words:

“If the information stream is coming from a third party service and you aren’t involved in anyway, except for providing a place to publish it, this may be something that you might want to decide not to do.

We might not view this as spam, but it’s sort of shallow and we would tend to not want to rank this type of content as highly.”

That last sentence pretty much sums it up. Content curation will most definitely fall under Google’s radar. I suppose that when mixed with fantastic content as part of an overall marketing strategy, it will not hurt a site. But Google will see right through the webmaster using content curation specifically to manipulate rankings.