“The best place to hide a body is page 2 of Google,” they say.

There are plenty of math guys and possibly gals behind the constant tuning of Google Search to produce most relevant to your interests, combatting spam and SEO tricksters. It’s a complicated interminable game and in order to play for Google’s team, Bing’s as well, you have to be a genius as Matt Cutts’s academic accolades affirm. Among his less-mathematic duties at Google is being a spokesman for Google Search or, more accurately, a lightening rod to all the people Google Search pisses off which it does all the time. I’d wager as a human proxy to Google Search’s evolution he is the direct object of the greatest volume of anti-Google rage.

Google regularly, almost constantly, and mostly mysteriously, refines how its search engines weighs relevance of content it finds against what people searching for things search for. Let’s say you’re a big store like JCPenney, you pay some company that says it can get you ranked higher on search returns for clothing, that company does some tricks that artificially elevate JCPenney on Google search returns (SERPs), then Matt Cutts, his team and others at Google implement an update they’d been working on to hunt for the tricks this company was using and punish websites using them accordingly by either lowering their rank or knocking them off altogether. The intended result is a better web for you, not necessarily for JCPenney. And for businesses in general, the blacklisting of JCPenney might, for instance, incidentally benefit Macy’s and other competitors that absorb would-be JCPenney’s traffic. And of course the blacklisting of JCPenney surely made some people angry, and when those people were angry, other than maybe Schmidt’s, the face they most commonly had in mind with flames underneath was that of Matt Cutts. Somehow even in spite of this guys like Amit Singhal manage to duck away from this spotlight. Matt just has some je ne sais quoi to him I guess (that’s French for he has a sweetly vulnerable twinkle to his smile).

So it is these subtle and mostly-secret mathematical modifications that earned Google a title as the kingmaker. In defense of the negative connotations that title carries, Eric Schmidt noted to senators that Google’s primary goal is to improve Search for the users; and yes, while they may one day take traffic away from one business, that’s traffic another business gets, or businesses plural. Invariably, while I’d wager these changes tend to benefit the world, they do sting when you’re running a site that is not spam, doesn’t violate any of Google’s guidelines, you’re not link farming, you’re not doing anything wrong, but you wake up one day and you’re knocked off page one and the people suddenly above you look like garbage sites. What might you do? Go to Matt Cutts’s blog, check if he posted anything about an update, go on his most recent post and vent your indignation at him, a lot of which he fields, a lot of which he probably takes into consideration when working more on the math for the next update.

Were you just to skim through Matt’s blog’s comment threads over the years you might get the impression that the man is utterly incompetent and driving the Internet into the ground. We, here, suspect we’ve been on the receiving end of painful math from Google (though I’ve argued that they’ve been overly-generous to us and have since been correcting that). However, given that there are about as many losers as winners of websites in SERP changes from these updates, you will always have a large collection of folks who feel they were hurt unjustly. It’s not really human nature to get smashed by Google overnight and wake up to discover the damage and give Google the benefit of the doubt that they probably did the right thing, or are still on their quest in that direction. That’s not what people tend to do – many of them either call their lawyer or they go bash Matt either on the web or do something nasty to him in effigy.

Another thing Matt does which, if you’re involved somehow in websites, you may find very helpful is offer tips to the web both to make it communicate with Google and other search engines effectively and also to just make better sites for the sake of your own visitors. I’d encourage you to check that out on the Google Webmasters Youtube channel and to subscribe to the Webmaster Central blog. Actually we should probably catch up on that stuff ourselves…

Doug Simmons

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