Matt Cutts was, for a long time, essentially a rock star in the world of SEO. Not even one of the universally-beloved rock stars, either. He was more like one of those controversial rock stars, the ones a lot of people like as musicians but who keep doing things everyone cringes to see.
Matt was the head of Google’s webspam team, and as such, he was the public face of everything Google did to change SEO. Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, the mobile emphasis, guest blogging; all of those changes came through him. To some people, this made him the most reviled figure in their lives. Others begrudgingly kept up with his blog and followed him on Twitter because the alternative was to fall behind in marketing.
Regardless of your opinions on the man, he still has a lot of words of wisdom about SEO and life throughout his blog, his seminars, and his social media pages. I’ve compiled some of the best, and I’ll give you a little context as well.
1. “The objective is not to ‘make your links appear natural’; the objective is that your links are natural.”
This is one of the most popularly cited quotes from Matt, and the meaning is clear; whatever you do to generate links in an unnatural way will be detected and penalized, sooner or later. Google isn’t trying to push you to make more advanced link building strategies; they’re pushing you to create content that earns you links naturally.
2. “If you don’t provide adequate disclosure of paid content, we’re willing to go up to and including removing the publication from Google News.”
This quote illustrates how seriously Google takes their ideal of removing money from search. They don’t want a site to be able to dominate just because it has more money to spend, be it on advertising, building links, or paying for content. It’s impossible to truly even the playing field, of course, but Google is doing everything they can to keep it as fair as possible for newcomers.
3. “Guest blogging is probably the sort of thing that you should be thinking about doing in moderation.”
4. “Okay, I’m calling it: if you’re using guest blogging as a way to gain links in 2014, you should probably stop.”
These two quotes are related, and show the progression over the last few years of certain strategies. The strategy specifically mentioned here is guest posting, which was one of the primary post-Panda means of building links and content marketing. It was heavily abused, and the first quote illustrates that Google was looking to penalize excessive abuse. The second quote comes from his famous post on the decay and fall of guest blogging. That post had almost as big an effect on SEO as Panda and Penguin did, though discussion of the subject itself proved to be fruitful for marketers who could write on the subject.
5. “You should always have a well-rounded portfolio of ways to get leads.”
Diversification of traffic sources has always been the way to go. It’s laughable to see black hat marketers try, again and again, to rely on one single strategy. It’s a constant cycle of penalties, recovery, brief bits of profit, and new penalties. When you don’t put all your eggs in one basket, you can weather the odd penalty with your other legitimate strategies, and you can build a high quality site all around.
6. “We’re probably not going to update PageRank throughout the rest of the year.”
This is a quote from a speech in 2013, and it has proven prophetic. It was also, technically, not true. Matt Cutts said it in October of 2013, when the last update had been in February of that year. Only a few short months later, he was proven wrong when PageRank updated in December of 2013. After that, though? He’s right. PageRank has not been updated in just over two years, and is unlikely to ever be publicly updated again.
If you’re buying links from specific PageRank domains, or paying attention to PageRank at all, stop. It’s inaccurate now, and it will only get worse as time goes on.
7. “I wouldn’t worry about going ahead and disavowing links even if you don’t have a message in your Webmaster console.”
8. “If there’s any site you don’t want to be associated with, you can just do a disavow.”
9. “Sometimes people think that Disavow is the be all and end all, the panacea that’s going to cure all their ills.”
The Disavow tool has been one of the strongest “last resort” tools for marketers looking to cure their past bad link building and start from scratch. We’ve written before about it being the final step in a long process of link removal, and we stand by that. However, back when it was a new tool, Matt Cutts was explaining that there wasn’t really a penalty to using it. You couldn’t hurt yourself by disavowing too many links, or disavowing links when you didn’t have an active penalty from links. However, he points out that too many people looked at the disavow tool as a cure, when it’s really just a step in the process of restoring your link presence.
10. “We’re working on becoming more transparent and giving more examples with [Reconsideration Request] messages as we can.”
11. “Over time, we are going to give more and more information in those [Webmaster Tools] messages”
These two quotes speak to Google’s ongoing intent to provide information to webmasters, and indeed they have provided on both fronts. Google does not want to be one singular dominant force; they want to be a guiding hand, improving the Internet without ruling it. They aren’t making decrees and “comply or die” demands without reasoning; they’re providing that reasoning.
12. “Typically, internal website links will not cause you any sort of trouble.”
This quote illustrates that internal links and external links are treated differently. Internal links are beneficial, but many webmasters feared going overboard with them and earning some kind of penalty. Matt assures you that on such thing will happen, barring extreme abuse of internal links.
13. “If there is a link selling site and they get caught for selling links, and they just happen to be linking to you, the value of that link that the site was providing, it just goes away.”
This quote, still on the topic of links, is telling webmasters that buying links is a temporary solution at best. However, he’s also talking about the lack of any sort of “negative” PageRank. When a link seller links to you and is caught and their links demoted, you aren’t suddenly inheriting a penalty; you’re just losing the value those links once had. It doesn’t matter if they linked to you organically or not.
14. “Mobile is important, and coming faster than most people in this room realize.”
15. “U.S. mobile internet traffic nearly doubled this year (2013). A good 2014 resolution? Get ready for mobile!”
Another prophecy, though it wasn’t difficult to see the increasingly mobile trends online and predict that it would continue to increase. Mobile is here, mobile is sticking around, and at this point, if you’re not ready to cater to mobile, you’re going to lose out. These quotes were a warning in retrospect, as well; Google implemented mobile-friendliness as a search ranking factor only a year later.
16. “In the long term, having good social signals is a reflection of being an authority; a reflection of sort of person that people want to listen to.”
The important part of this quote is not that social signals are important to search ranking, it’s that social signals are a reflection of search value. Google doesn’t really pay attention to the number of followers or likes you have, but they recognize that there’s a correlation between being a person providing value and having an account that is highly valued.
17. “Make your links from blog comments genuine.”
Don’t drop spam links in comments. It doesn’t work, it has never worked, and it will never work. You first have to find a blog that enables comments, then you have to make sure they allow links in comments, then you have to post a link that makes it past the spam filters and moderator approval, and after all of that your link is still nofollowed. That’s a lot of work to waste with a spam link and garbage comment. Just make a real comment with a valuable link.
18. “Make your assumptions explicit and question them.”
This is just good life advice, but it works for SEO specifically as well. Whenever you’re running a campaign for a while, you’ll fall into a rut. You’ll make assumptions based on increasingly outdated evidence or data, or you’ll just assume you know things based on reasoning that may not be accurate. There’s always a reason to take a step back and identify your assumptions. Turn those assumptions into questions you can test, and make sure they’re valid. Who knows; you might discover something new!
19. “If you make something useful, some weird or bad things will happen along with the good.”
Business has its ups and downs. This was a quote directed at startups, while talking about the history of Google. You can’t make one good product and expect everything to skyrocket from there; there will be a lot of ups and downs, and some weird, unexpected things will happen. Always be open to the unexpected, and be prepared for the good and the bad.
20. “Think about what a user is going to type.”
This was a quote in the context of Google’s internal optimization, but it applies to websites as well. Think about your typical users, and think about what it is they want to get out of the internet. Think about what they might type to find that information, and provide that information using those phrases as keywords. Semantic search and voice search are on the rise, and you can take advantage of plain English queries.
21. “A lot of people get caught up in description, meta keywords, thinking about all those kinds of things, but don’t just think about the head, think about the body because the body matters as well.”
This is a word of caution. Too many marketers are caught up in the technical aspects of SEO, the meta descriptions and keyword densities and all the rest, when they could be improving their site ranking far more overall just by creating more and better content.
22. “There are different ways that you could try to assess the quality of content.”
Google looks at content in a lot of different lights. They look at how it stands on its own, and how it stands in relation to the rest of the content on your site. They look at how it compares to similar content on the web, and other content targeting the same keywords. They look at other content by similar competitors, and they even compare it to historical content. There are different perspectives, and Google tries to take them all.
23. “Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away.”
Front-loading content and working ads into the midst of that content is more effective than lacing your header and top third of your site with ads. Banner blindness and the desire to get what they came for leads viewers to ignore all of those ads, and they just end up hurting the user experience.
24. “When you’ve got 5 minutes to fill, Twitter is a great way to fill 35 minutes.”
This is a two-fold quote. On the surface, it’s a jab at Twitter for being such a time-waster, sapping the time you don’t have when you just need a quick mental break. Dig a little deeper, though, and you see an endorsement for Twitter as a marketing platform; people get caught up in its social pull and spend a lot of time there, even when they shouldn’t.
25. “In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the concept of an infographic. What concerns me is the types of things that people are doing with them. They get far off topic, or the fact checking is really poor. The infographic may be neat, but if the information it’s based on is simply wrong, then it’s misleading people.”
This quote is both about infographics and about any form of marketing in general. Infographics are great, and Matt Cutts likes them; there’s nothing wrong with them so long as they’re put together properly. However, like any other marketing technique, when they are done poorly or are abused, they can hurt more than they help.
26. “If you have an outstanding product, world class content, or something else that sets you apart, then you can step back and start thinking about how to promote it.”
This is another quote geared first at startups, but I think it has broader applications. Apply it to content and you see what I mean. You can promote your site all you want, promote it to the end of days, but it won’t matter if you don’t have the content there to back it up.
27. “Everybody thinks their website is above average.”
Everyone thinks they’re ahead of the curve. The question is, how right are they? With hundreds of thousands of spam blogs and thin affiliate sites out there, the people running legitimate sites might actually all be above average, just by default.
28. “It doesn’t hurt you if you use a 301.”
301 redirects are not dangerous to SEO. At least, no more dangerous than any other form of redirect or code in general; abuse it and you’ll find out differently, though. It’s abuse that is penalized, not the process itself.
29. “We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites.”
Google is not trying to set up an Internet for marketers. They don’t want the only method of reaching success to be investing your life into marketing. They want even those people who have no idea about SEO to be able to succeed, just on the basis of passion and content.
30. “SEO will only get harder!”
Think about everything you have to know and remember today. There’s a lot going on in SEO, and it’s only going to get more complex as the constant arms race between black hats and Google gets ever hotter.
31. “We’re making Google smarter and smarter. We’re going to keep trying to figure out how to add more value for users and for searchers.”
At the end of the day, Google is about one thing; providing value to users. Anything that helps provide value will see success, while anything that tries to exploit that value and bring nothing in return will see penalties. Be the value you want to see in the world.