Anyone who reads here knows I have a deep appreciation for Matt Cutts so when I saw Brian McCullough published his interview with Matt, I got excited (hence why I am slow to post this morning on this site). In any event, I listed to the hour-plus interview and it was simply amazing. They went through the early days at Google, when Matt first discovered spam on Google and so much more.
This is on the Internet History Podcast and 100% worth listening to.
Here is the YouTube version:
Here are my raw notes:
Matt first discovered you can spam Google: Sergey went to a search conference and said you can’t spam Google. Around that time, Matt built a classifier around porn and used PageRank as a way to filter out bad sites. But noticed one site was doing very well in Google that shouldn’t have. They used an expired domains with lots of good PageRank and links to spam Google and a light bulb went off in his head, you can spam Google.
Lonely time at Google for him because most felt spam was not an issue with Google. In fact, in a meeting with Larry and Sergey and they persistent that Google was fine with spam. To the point where they said if 8 out of the top 10 results for antique green glass were from one company, then yes, you can take action, but failing that, we want you to back off. That was super hard. He took it all the way up to the founders and the founders were like stop wasting your time on this.
Things changed in 2005 or so. Matt had to step back and wait for things with spam to get worse. When Orkut came out, Larry Page read Slashdot a lot and everyone there was like why are you, Google, launching a weird social network when your search results sucks. That is when he flipped. 2005 or so is when this happened.
But he was in charge of spam before Sometimes in 2004, he was asked to run the web spam team. 2001 there was a quality team of just about 8 of people. Not just spam, but speed, etc. Matt focused down on spam aspect. They were able to change any part of the algorithm, there was no evaluation group back then.
The SEO and webmaster community brought perspective. Matt would hang out in a forum named at WebmasterWorld and go to conferences and use that feedback to improve the algorithm. Google took the approach that these are not necessarily black hats, cheating, stealing, doing illegal things. These are mostly just small businesses trying to do what they can to help their business.
Matt was internet famous Around 2005, he started a blog after doing the GoogleGuy thing at WebmasterWorld quietly for sometime. Then he did webmaster videos, they could do 20 videos per day. So people got to know what Matt Cutts looked like. He got recognized places then, first time was in the airport somewhere in India. So Matt learned that he needed other people to get involved, they tried to scale beyond just him being the face.
How did you deal with antagonist response from webmasters? He has the most respect for people trying to do the best for their business. Even if someone is so angry, even when they are so angry they are spitting when they are yelling in your face. He tries to find a kernel in what people are saying during that anger. Matt did admit he got maybe 2 or 3 real death threats he thinks. Ultimately he said, if you give people the respect, you mostly get the respect back.
The algorithm the same, what about machine learning? Larry and Sergey’s original stuff, how much is in there now, is there machine learning? Matt said he thinks there is a lot of machine learning in there now but Amit Singhal (head of search back then) said if you let neural networks do everything, if there is a bad result, you don’t know why it happened. So decoupling things into specific boxes is important. Having things that are human understandable is super important. But having machines adjust the weights within those boxes can be useful. He said he suspect they have gone even further with that approach since he left. But when he was there, it was important to be able to figure out what went wrong by a human. With the original PageRank algorithm…. The intent of the model is still there Matt said.
Backing away from the SEO community Matt Cutts said he mostly unfollowed most SEOs on Twitter and replaced them with comedians. He still has this corner of his brain always interested in search. Danny Sullivan is sorta of the face now… Matt said it is important for Google to realize they need to listen to the outside world.
Forum discussion at Twitter.