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Submit video topics and webmaster questions

septiembre 8

I’m planning to record some new webmaster questions next week. I made a Google Moderator page where you can submit topics and vote for different questions.

Please ask your questions in on the Google Moderator page, not in the comments here. When the comments are in Moderator, people can vote them up and down.


mattcutts.com/blog

“Why did our PageRank go down?”

agosto 28

Recently a newspaper contacted me. Their PageRank had dropped from 7 to 3, and they wanted to know why. They genuinely didn’t seem know what the issue was, so I took some time to write them an in-depth reply. Part of the motivation for my blog is to provide information in more scalable ways, so I figured I’d strip any identifying information from my email and post it. Here’s what I wrote:

Hi, the usual reason why a site’s PageRank drops by 30-50% like this is because the site violates our quality guidelines by selling links that pass PageRank. Here’s our documentation on that: http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=66356 and here’s a video I made about this common case: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kFcJ7PaLoMw (it’s about 1:30 into the video). http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all is a good recent article about paid reviews. In Google’s world, we take paid links that pass PageRank as seriously as Amazon would take paid reviews without disclosure or as your newspaper would treat a reporter who was paid to link to a website in an article without disclosing the payment.

In particular, earlier this year on [website] we saw links labeled as sponsored that passed PageRank, such as a link like [example link]. That’s a clear violation of Google’s quality guidelines, and it’s the reason that [website]‘s PageRank as well as our trust in the website has declined.

In fact, we received a outside spam report about your site. The spam report passed on an email from a link seller offering to sell links on multiple pages on [website] based on their PageRank. Some pages mentioned in that email continue to have unusual links to this day. For example [example url] has a section labeled “PARTNER LINKS” which links to [linkbuyer].

So my advice would be to investigate how paid links that pass PageRank ended up on [website]: who put them there, are any still up, and to investigate whether someone at the [newspaper] received money to post paid links that pass PageRank without disclosing that payment, e.g. using ambiguous labeling such as “Partner links.” That’s definitely where I would dig.

After that investigation is complete and any paid links that pass PageRank are removed, the site’s webmaster can do a reconsideration request using Google’s free webmaster tools console at google.com/webmasters. I would include as much detail as you can about what you found out about the paid links. That will help us assess how things look going forward.

Sincerely,
Matt

That’s about it. This case was interesting because we also had an external spam report about the newspaper selling links.


mattcutts.com/blog

Please turn on two-factor authentication

agosto 7

You should read Mat Honan’s heartbreaking tale of a hack attack and the ensuing discussion on Techmeme. Much of the story is about Amazon or Apple’s security practices, but I would still advise everyone to turn on Google’s two-factor authentication to make your Gmail account safer and less likely to get hacked.

Two-factor authentication means “something you know” (like a password) and “something you have,” which can be an object like a phone. Here’s a simple video about how it works:

I often hear the same questions or objections when I recommend two-factor authentication. Jeff Atwood has done a good job of debunking common misperceptions–check out his post, which even has pictures. But here are some misconceptions that I hear, along with the reality:

Myth #1: But what if my cell phone doesn’t have SMS/signal, or I’m in a foreign country?
Reality: You can install a standalone app called Google Authenticator (it’s also available in the App Store), so your cell phone doesn’t need a signal.

Myth #2: Okay, but what about if my cell phone runs out of power, or my phone is stolen?
Reality: You can print out a small piece of paper with 10 one-time rescue codes and put that in your wallet. Use those one-time codes to log in even without your phone.

Myth #3: Don’t I have to fiddle with an extra PIN every time I log in?
Reality: You can tell Google to trust your computer for 30 days and sometimes even longer.

Myth #4: I heard two-factor authentication doesn’t work with POP and IMAP?
Reality: You can still use two-factor authentication even with POP and IMAP. You create a special “application-specific password” that your mail client can use instead of your regular password. You can revoke application-specific passwords at any time.

Myth #5: Okay, but what if I want to verify how secure Google Authenticator is?
Reality: Google Authenticator is free, open-source, and based on open standards.

Myth #6: So Google Authenticator is a free and open-source, but does anyone else use it?
Reality: Yes! You can use Google Authenticator to do two-factor authentication with LastPass, Amazon Web Services, Drupal, and DreamHost, or even use a YubiKey device.

One last tip: use a different password on Gmail/Google than on other services. If you reuse a password and a hacker cracks into one company, they can use the same password to crack into your Google account.

Please don’t wait to turn on 2-step verification. It’s not that hard, and it will really protect your account. Why not set up two-step authentication right now?


mattcutts.com/blog

“Fetch as Googlebot” tool helps to debug hacked sites

agosto 3

One of the most tenacious blackhat webspam techniques we continue to see is hacked sites. I wanted to remind site owners that our free “Fetch as Google” tool can be a really helpful way to see whether you’ve successfully cleaned up a hacked site.

For example, recently a well-known musician’s website was hacked. The management firm for the musician wrote in to say that the site was clean now. Here’s the reply I sent back:

Unfortunately when our engineers checked this morning, the site was still hacked. I know the page looks clean to you, but when we send Googlebot to fetch www.[domain].com this morning, we see

<title>Generic synthroid bad you :: Canadian Pharmacy</title>

on the page. What the hackers are doing is sneaky but unfortunately pretty common. When you surf directly to the website, you see normal content. But when a search engine (or a visitor from a search engine) visits the website, they see hacked drug-related content. The reason that the hackers do it this way is so that the hacked content is harder to find/remove and so that hacked content stays up longer.

The fix in this case is to go deeper to clean the hack out of your system. See http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=163634 for some tips on how to do this, but every website is different.

One important tool Google provides to help in assessing whether a site is cleaned up is our “Fetch as Googlebot” feature in our free webmaster console at http://google.com/webmasters/ . That tool lets you actually send Googlebot to your website and see exactly what we see when we fetch the page. That tool would have let you known that the website was still hacked.

I hope that helps give an idea of where to go next.

Something I love about “Fetch as Googlebot” is that it’s self-service–you don’t even need to talk to anyone at Google to diagnose whether your hacked site looks clean.


mattcutts.com/blog

New 30 day challenge: No sending email after 9 p.m.

julio 3

Last month (June 2012), my 30 day challenge was to try to eat mindfully (eat more slowly, don’t eat while distracted by TV or web browsing, chew more, stop eating when I’m full, etc.). It turns out that eating mindfully is hard. I’m the sort of person that eats whatever is on my plate, so a couple tricks that worked for me were to 1) get smaller plates and utensils, and 2) don’t put a serving of food on your plate unless you know you want it.

My 30 day challenge this month (July 2012) is “Don’t send any emails after 9 p.m.” Email is the part of my life that is most out of control, so it’s worth trying a few approaches to tackle it. I thought about doing something like “Only send 25 emails a day” but time tracking is much easier. You can help by not sending me any emails this month. :)

By the way, if you’re wondering about this whole “30 day challenge” thing, you can watch my TED talk about it:


mattcutts.com/blog

Example email to a hacked site

abril 27

Beyond clear-cut blackhat webspam, the second-biggest category of spam that Google deals with is hacked sites. The most common reaction we hear from webmasters is “The problem is with the Google search. There is nothing wrong with our website.” That’s a real quote from an email one site owner recently sent us. Sadly, it turns out that the site is almost always really hacked.

The single best piece of advice I can give to prevent website hacking is “keep your web server software up-to-date and fully patched.” That prevention is much better than the hassle of cleaning up a hack. Here’s an example email I just sent to a site owner with the identifying details removed:

Hi xxxxxxx, I’m the head of Google’s webspam team. Unfortunately, example.com really has been hacked by people trying to sell pills. I’m attaching an image to show the page that we’re seeing.

We don’t have the resources to give full 1:1 help to every hacked website (thousands of websites get hacked every day–we’d spend all day trying to help websites clean up instead of doing our regular work), so you’ll have to consult with the tech person for your website. However, we do provide advice and resources to help clean up hacked websites, for example
http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=163634
https://sites.google.com/site/webmasterhelpforum/en/faq-malware-and-hacked-sites
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/04/my-sites-been-hacked-now-what.html
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2007/09/quick-security-checklist-for-webmasters.html
http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/02/best-practices-against-hacking.html

We also provide additional assistance for hacked sites in our webmaster support forum at https://groups.google.com/a/googleproductforums.com/forum/#!forum/webmasters . I hope that helps.

Regards,
Matt Cutts

P.S. If you visit a page like http://www.example.com/deep-url-path/ and don’t see the pill links, that means the hackers are being extra-sneaky and only showing the spammy pill links to Google. We provide a free tool for that situation as well. It’s called “Fetch as Googlebot” and it lets you send Google to your website and will show you exactly what we see. I would recommend this blog post http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/11/generic-cialis-on-my-website-i-think-my.html describing how to use that tool, because your situation looks quite similar.

Anyway, just a reminder for site owners to keep their web server software up-to-date, because hacked sites are a real pain. Most Google searchers and even website owners don’t think about hacked sites much, but on our side have to spend a fair amount of effort writing classifiers to catch this illegal activity, helping the victims of hacked sites, adapting when the hackers change their techniques, etc.


mattcutts.com/blog

New 30 day challenge: No news

marzo 15

I haven’t given an update on my 30 day challenges in, like, forever. So here goes:

- In 2011, I paused my 30 day challenges to do a “six month challenge”: training to run a marathon. I ended up running the San Francisco marathon (while tweeting!) and a couple half-marathons. Pro tip: ramp up slowly to a marathon. I trained but then said “Hey, I can run 13 miles, so let’s just go for it!” and that was pretty foolish. But I’ve continued to run with some friends I met through USA Fit, and I did an 18 mile run this past Sunday!

- In October 2011, I went vegan with some friends at work. I thought this would be a crazy-hard challenge. But it turns out that Northern California (and especially at Google) is a pretty easy place to go vegan. I gained a lot of respect for people that choose to go vegan for different reasons.

- In November 2011, I needed an easy challenge, so I grew a moustache for Movember. That was a ton of fun, especially the part where a bunch of search folks, including Duane Forrester from Bing, raised almost $20,000 for charity.

- In December 2011, I decided to do an act of kindness or a good deed a day for 30 days. You can read all the different things I did my “act of kindness” Google+ post. It was a really rewarding month, although coming up with something to do every day was kind of stressful (I ended up falling back on giving money or tips more often than I wanted). I definitely noticed my mindset shift–I started looking for nice things to do. It was good to give myself permission to say “yes” to people more often, too. I liked my behavior more this month.

- In January 2012, I tried to draw something every day. My *goal* was that I would pay more attention to creativity and my right brain in 2012: drawing, learning guitar, singing lessons, etc. In *practice*, this was a disastrous failure. I lasted for about 6-7 days, then slipped while on vacation, and never got back into the habit. I want to be the sort of person who draws, but even with a 30 day challenge pushing me, I didn’t actually do it. I need to do some deep thinking about why I didn’t participate in this activity, which I thought I was enthusiastic about.

- In February 2012, I decided to exercise every day. I normally exercise most days, but this challenge upped my focus a lot and I did several “exercise and then bike into work” days. I’d been on the road for 4 out of six weeks between holidays, a vacation, and a trip to India and Korea. It made me really happy to get back into the habit of exercising, and I definitely felt better and saw results.

- In March 2012, I decided to avoid reading, watching, or hearing the news. This was motivated by a TED University talk from TED 2011. The speaker said that he had cut all news out of his daily life. He figured that if something important happened, a friend or taxi driver would mention it to him. The philosophy is simple: lots of news is sensationalized or depressing, you can’t do much about it anyway, and it takes up a fair amount of your mental cycles.

I’ve already learned a lot from my “no news” challenge. I learned that I’m a literal news junkie. Most of the sites I surf for fun (Techmeme, Google News, Hacker News) are all news sites. My default radio station is the BBC World Service. At dinner my wife and I often watch The Daily Show. When I wait in line I frequently browsed news on my Galaxy Nexus. Heck, my favorite podcast for exercising is This Week in Google, which is a weekly breakdown of news about Google and the cloud. I’m not kidding when I say a huge fraction of my “entertainment” time was actually news consumption. And if news is your hobby, that’s fine, but it should be a deliberate choice, not something you back into.

I eventually had to construct a personal spectrum of what counted as news. Twitter stream? Lots of news there. Twitter mentions? Mostly news-free. Google+ stream? Some news at first, but I put newsy people in a circle and set their volume to zero for this month. Reddit? Mostly news free. WIRED magazine? I decided it was okay to read.

The first few days of going news-free were awful. I was unmoored without a constant stream of events to pay attention to. But within a few days, I started to relax and focus more. Without news to occupy me, large swaths of time of time have opened up to do other things. I’ve gotten a lot more stuff done in the last couple weeks. It’s curiously freeing to have no idea who won Super Tuesday or what company just bought what other company. When an occasional piece of news lands in front of me, I’m much more aware of my heart speeding up as I get wrapped up in that story.

It’s also interesting to see which “news” stories are reflected back to me second-hand. Evidently Snooki is pregnant and Rush Limbaugh did something that has people up in arms. It’s made me think a lot more about my information diet. We need better tools to distill the river of news–or more often, bread-and-circus factoids–down to the trickle of things that really matter.

I have no idea what I’ll do after my news-free challenge ends, but it’s definitely made me realize how much time and effort I was putting into hunting and gathering information, and how I used news as an unconscious way to spend time.


mattcutts.com/blog

Eventful Events

marzo 5

Every so often real life catches up with you in ways you didn’t expect. My wife broke her foot a few days ago. She took a unfortunate spill off a stepstool, but she’s telling everyone it was a ninja fight. Those ninjas pack a wallop: she’ll wear a cast for up to 6-8 weeks, and the doctor said she can’t drive with her current cast. Overall, the broken foot has been a good reminder that having your bike stolen, while annoying, isn’t too horrible in the grand scheme of things.

One wrinkle is that my wife and I were going to spend about a week together at South by Southwest, and I was scheduled to participate on a panel. She’s not going now for obvious reasons (ninja fight). I’ve rejiggered my travel so I’m only away from my wife for a day but I believe I can still do the panel.

So if you want to see me at SXSW, your best chance is to come to our Q&A session: Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better! I’ll be fielding questions alongside Danny Sullivan and Duane Forrester of Bing. I’m heading back to the airport pretty much right after our panel.

Here’s a quick SXSW tip: I think you’d like Frank Warren’s PostSecret session. I recently got a chance to talk some with Frank, and he’s as thoughtful and interesting as you secretly hoped he would be.


mattcutts.com/blog

It’s time to stop PROTECT IP

enero 18

A couple months ago, I wrote this about SOPA:

SOPA galvanized the tech community, from start-ups to venture capitalists to the largest web companies. SOPA was an unexpected shock and a wake-up call. Well, guess what? Now the internet is awake. And I don’t think it’s going back to sleep any time soon. We might need to rally again in the near future, but we can do that. The internet learns fast.

Now it’s time to rally and get loud. It’s time to call your Senators. Heck, it’s time to ask your parents to call their Senators. If you think the internet is something different, something special, then take a few minutes to protect it. Groups that support SOPA have contributed nine times more money in Washington D.C. than our side. We need to drown out that money with the sound of our voices. I’d like to flood every Senator’s phone, email, and office with messages right up until January 24th.

If you need a quick refresher about why the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) are horrible ideas, Google did a blog post talking about how SOPA and PIPA will censor the web and won’t stop actual pirates. Or read about how capricious takedowns can cause serious collateral damage. Find out how real, legitimate companies can be run out of business.

What you can do?
It’s time for action. Call your Senator right now. Spread the word to your friends and family. Promise not to vote for politicians who support SOPA. Print out some PDFs and post them at work or on your campus. There’s also protests and meetups happening today in New York, the Bay Area of California, and Seattle. Don’t live in the United States? You can still petition the State Department at americancensorship.org.

This is it. You want to look back months from now and know that you did everything you could to protect the internet. Call your Senators, educate your friends and family, and please spread the word about PROTECT IP and SOPA as widely as you can.

But if you can only spare five or six minutes, please call both of your senators below:

Thank you!


mattcutts.com/blog

Sharing a search story

enero 11

I’ve been reading a lot of the coverage of the Search plus Your World launch and I wanted to share my story and then clarify something.

I love to stay up until early in the morning playing Werewolf. In early December I went to a journalism conference called “News Foo Camp” in Phoenix and played a lot of Werewolf. When I got back, for some reason I searched for [werewolf] — maybe I was thinking about making a custom deck of werewolf cards. Because I was dogfood-testing Search plus Your World, this is what I saw:

Search for werewolf

In the top row of pictures, you’ll see a bunch of people playing werewolf, including a picture of me as the werewolf in the top-left image. Doing a generic search like [werewolf] or [photos] and getting back a picture of you or your friends is a pure, magic moment.

Let me tell you how it happened. I have Brian “Fitz” Fitzpatrick in a circle on Google+, because he’s in charge of Google’s Data Liberation Front and he’s an all-round awesome guy to boot. Fitz published an album of 25 Werewolf photos shortly after the conference. Okay, but I’m only in one of the 25 pictures; how did Google return the picture of me first? It turns out that Brian had tagged me in that single photo.

Once you know the trick, it might not seem like magic anymore. In fact, this is the “things just work” experience that everyone in the tech industry strives for. But when I searched for [werewolf] and got back a recent picture of me playing werewolf, it did seem like magic right then. I suspect as more people take Search plus Your World out for a test drive, they’ll quickly experience similar magical “Aha!” moments like I did.

I was reading some of the comments on tech blogs, and I wanted to clarify something: Search plus Your World does surface public content from the open web, not just content from Google+. For example, look back up to the top-right image from my screenshot above. That’s actually a werewolf photo that Gina Trapani took and it’s hosted on Flickr, not Google.

Here’s another example. If you follow the excellent and erudite Jennifer 8 Lee and search for [general tso’s chicken], Google can surface this high-quality thread from Quora:

Quora page

By the way, that’s a fantastic thread for Google to highlight, since Lee literally wrote the book about General Tso’s Chicken. It’s exactly the sort of “just works” user experience you’d want.

It’s not hard to find content shared on other sites. For a search [grand unified theory of snack food], Paul Buchheit shared a link on FriendFeed, and Google can highlight that:

Shared on FriendFeed

Or if I search for [connectbot], here’s a link that Brad Fitzpatrick shared on Live Journal:

LiveJournal example

(Yes, we do have both a Brian Fitzpatrick and a Brad Fitzpatrick at Google. People sometimes mix them up, but they’re different.)

I hope that helps to make my point. Search plus Your World builds on the social search that we launched in 2009, and can surface public content from sites across from the web, such as Quora, FriendFeed, LiveJournal, Twitter, and WordPress.

The team should be finishing the rollout of Search plus Your World in the next day or so, and I hope you enjoy it. Remember, to see the new results, you’ll need to be signed in with a Google account and search on google.com. Give this new feature a whirl: once you see how much better personal search can be, I don’t think you’ll want to give it up.


mattcutts.com/blog