Why Listening To Matt Cutts Is A Bad Idea

Look, we all hated the dark days when Google was uber-secretive about everything, and we cheered up when first “Googleguy” and then Matt Cutts (aka Googleguy) started giving us a few glimpses of veiled instructions. Later Matt began to give exact instructions for things that were on Google’s agenda. In other words, if Google wanted to control our actions, Matt pulled our little puppet strings and gave us specific instructions.

Two examples?

  1. He specifically told us to either use nofollow or javascript for paid links so that we wouldn’t pass link juice through.
  2. He specifically told us that nofollowing our own internal links would be a good way to sculpt our link juice so that it flowed where we wanted it to.

Now? Both of those specific instructions are null and void. If you followed some of those directions, you now have to start over. Why?

  1. At the Google I/O conference recently, Vanessa Fox learned that Google can now understand more Javascript and that those links pass both anchor text and PageRank. Uh-oh. If you followed Matt’s instructions and used javascript on your paid links, you now have to go back and change them all – AGAIN – now that Google has changed things on their end.
  2. At SMX today, Matt Cutts basically let everyone know that PageRank sculpting is now dead. He said “Suppose you have 10 links and 5 of them are nofollowed. There’s this assumption that that the other 5 links get ALL that PageRank and that may not be as true anymore (your leftover PageRank will now “evaporate”). So now, all that work you did to sculpt your PR throughout your site, which Matt earlier suggested was a good idea, is work that is down the drain.

puppet on a stringSee folks, Google used to tell us that we should design for our users and NOT for the search engines. But then, they realized that they could manipulate us by giving us nuggets of info that we would chew like cows chew cuds, so they did. Unfortunately, that ends up hurting us in the end when they change their tactics every few months, and it may end up hurting our users as well, as we keep jumping every time we’re told to jump by the mighty G.

I think we all have enough information now that we can make wise decisions on our own. I think I’d rather go back to the dark, secretive days before our puppet strings were being pulled. At least then we’d be pulling our own strings rather than being manipulated like a bunch of muppets.

Matt, I appreciate the efforts and all, but I think maybe I’ll just go back to making decisions based on what my user needs. They are less likely to change their minds than Google is.

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19 Responses to “Why Listening To Matt Cutts Is A Bad Idea”

  1. B. Moore says:

    Wow learned something new today…

    I have yet to make any of the changes Matt suggested because of one of those old sayings you always hear your dad say…

    “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”

    My companies rankings have not changed since all of Matt suggestions came about so I never wasted my time with the changes and today the ranking are still great so now I have nothing to worry about!

    I hate to say it but when you run on the bleeding edge of search you will definitely bleed yourself multiple times following that edge.

  2. Dudibob says:

    hmm, doesn’t sound good, and won’t this royally screw with blogs PR flow around a website now? as each link from a commenter will dilute the page rank distribution while providing no benefit…

    What is G doing?

  3. Sint Smeding says:

    A very good example of the ongoing battle between search engines at one end of the table and on the other end webdesigners and search engine optimizers (either white or black hat).

    As search engines continue to develop their technology and adapt their algorithms to create the best search results for the web at a certain moment, focus in SEO will have to change too. Of course you can use SEO to help Google generate better SERP’s for its users, but it’s not only the most valuable websites that have knowledge about SEO.

    I think it’s fair that Google shares information on what you could and shouldn’t do to appear well in relevant search queries. But don’t expect that every advice they give you will work forever. Just like you, Google cares most about it’s users.

    If you want to benefit from the advices of Matt Cutts and others, please do, but don’t start whining when Google makes changes causing these advices no longer to help you.

    You should still build great websites for visitors, this is still the best way to rank well in Google.

  4. Chris Ronk says:

    This doesn’t effect my work personally. I use the rel=”nofollow” very seldom and primarily use it exactly what it was meant for.

    People I associate with often scream when Google makes a change. I look at it as an opportunity to leave the others behind.

  5. Matt has always cautioned people against jumping on the “PageRank sculpting” bandwagon (at least through comments published on the Web). It was Rand Fishkin who projected his own enthusiasm for sculpting onto Matt in an SEOmoz post — in the comments to which Matt advised people not to fuss with it.

    This is really just another case of the SEO community not paying attention to the facts and going with a “good feeling” quick trick that, like all other quick SEO tricks, burned itself out.

    People should be more concerned about the fact that Matt has modified his “Federal Trade Commission supports Google on paid links” argument by saying that people should disclose paid links and paid posts to search engines too.

    The Federal Trade Commission is not concerned with helping Google make its failed PageRank model work. The Federal Trade Commission is only concerned with ensuring that consumers are not misled (such as when Google favors a site over the most relevant content because the most relevant content lacks sufficient PageRank to get out of the Supplemental Index).

    Since “rel=’nofollow’” doesn’t say “this link was paid for or otherwise compensated”, using it doesn’t really fulfill Matt’s call for “disclosure to search engines, too”.

    Technically, Matt Cutts has explained why no one needs to bother with “rel=’nofollow’” for paid links and paid posts — he really just wants disclosure for the search engine. Hence, Google should pay more attention to the disclaimers required by law rather than create confusion and hysteria with bogus tags that don’t show whether a link is paid or not.

  6. adele says:

    great article thanks.
    I love your blog – i’ve been a keen follower of it after meeting Judith :)

    go girls!

  7. DazzlinDonna says:

    People who might think I’m screaming about the changes need some clarification. I’m not screaming about anything actually. What I am doing is reminding everyone that jumping to the various suggestions made by the search engines, are very likely doing things the search engines want because the search engines have a larger agenda. In the end, no one but the search engines get what they want; not the webmaster or the seo, and not the users. And btw, I have no ill will towards Matt. He’s a good guy, doing his job. But his job may not mesh with your job. For the record, I don’t use PR Sculpting, so it doesn’t affect me. I have, however, recommended that peoople choose the javascript link method over the nofollow method when one was linking to one’s own separate site but didn’t want to pass juice to it (long story…that’s what the webmaster wanted). I recommended the js method because I didn’t want the webmaster to “taint” the link with nofollow. I didn’t want him to imply to Google that the link was paid or untrustworthy, when clearly it wasn’t. Now of course, I have to undo that recommendation, since link juice will flow through the JS link. So that change did affect me, in a roundabout way.

  8. LowLevel says:


    Just trying to understand how much of this is just hysteria…

    I searched a lot, but I wasn’t able to find the post where Matt Cutts “specifically told us that nofollowing our own internal links would be a good way to sculpt our link juice”.

    Can you tell me where I can find his ORIGINAL statement, please?


  9. IBL Builder says:

    It is beginning to feel a it out of control with Google moving the goalposts all the time. And for their “official” policies to basically be hidden away in blogs from their employees etc, is just a bit mad really?

  10. zanakin says:

    Think about that:

    1) Wikipedia is a Knol (Google) competitor.
    2) Wikipedia success is only based on amazing SEO (sorry Google) performance.
    3) Wikipedia always uses nofollow for external links, this technique has created a “SEO black hole”.

    Conclusion: the new nofollow rules will reduce the Wikipedia strength and should let more space for other knowledge website, so Knol.

  11. nomalab says:

    @LowLevel: not sure when / where / if Matt Cutts has “specifically told us that nofollowing our own internal links would be a good way to sculpt our link juice”, but in his SEOMoz comment on August 29, 2007 he said it *could* be used for sculpting:

    I think saying people “should be” using nofollow is a bit strong. More like people can use it for internal links if they’re power-user-y enough to want to sculpt PageRank flow within their site at the link level. But I’d say that most regular webmasters don’t need to worry about link-level PageRank flow within their site. I think saying “power users and webmasters should be employing on their sites” overstates it a little. It’s available if you want to get into that much fine-grained control.

    Source: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/questions-answers-with-googles-spam-guru#jtc33536

  12. Doug says:

    Thank you for the explanation.

    My lesson is to focus on building great sites that people like and support alternate methods for arriving at the content. The more methods the better.

    If there is one lesson we can learn for this we suffer when there is lack of diversity in the competitive landscape.

  13. Thom says:

    I like what you have to say. I like how you wrote this article for you user, and I especially like the fact that you are willing to say what others won’t. Now with all that being said, I have three web sites, all of which are small. One of them I have is strictly for information to consumers, anti-corporation. Two of my three site were running a PR of 5, until a few days ago. I got dinged. I might not use the best advertising platform, but I also don’t make more than 100 dollars a month about ($7.00 from google adsense). I find it frustrating that even when I did play by the google rules, I was less successful than I am now. I continue to grow my sites as best as possible, but no matter the approach, I get punished by google. Not looking for sympathy, or help hence the reason I didn’t put any url in my name. Just voicing my 2 opinion.

  14. NSL says:

    Thank you for the great article. I don’t believe this G Matt Cut. He misleads the people. He advices something but google does sth totally different to it.

  15. Sandy says:

    Classic article. I rarely pay attention to nofollow anyways .. i still think their is the benefit of getting a clickthrough and even though PR is not passed it still counts as an inbound link. Build for your user and not for Google.

  16. Ian says:

    It would be nice if we really could write for our readers and not Google.The problem with that is we wouldn’t have any readers.There are sites with great content that don’t even show up on Google’s radar.
    On the other hand, it is amazing to come across sites that are all ads and no real content,yet have a high page rank.
    For now we will have to continue aiming to please Google as there is little choice.

  17. Alisa Perlet says:

    Thank you Donna- you truly ARE dazlin’. I support my family online with our various websites- and my “Jewel” website- the one all my hopes and dreams are invested in (and hard work every day!) I followed to the letter- everything I thought Google was telling me to do – tons of great content (hard work) followed up with no follow sculpting. Internally to my own site and to others I was linking out to.

    No matter how hard I worked- or how much unique content our site had- our best intentions – how much we grew- our PR climbed but we had NO traffic from Google?

    Yet my other sites that were not PR sculpted with nofollow were thriving with traffic.

    I started to suspect the no follow tag after exhausting all other posibilities. I was ABOUT to cross to the dark side until I read your article.

    I had read many SEO opinions- but when I read your article- it gave me the guts as a fellow SEO Chic- I opened the flood gates on our site – pulled ALL the no-follows and within 1 DAY- we finally were sub-categorized by Google. I have tried to earn that honor for a year- we finally got sub category links under our domain name. Eight of them! ;-) I’m not talking indent! I’m talking eight extra sub category divisions!

    The no-follow idea was great for blog comments but for those of us that build websites and intentionally put links in?

    If I intentionally put a link in- it’s been human approved, SEO chic approved actually! and the link is there for my visitors. Which is the point- the visitors.

    Thanks for your article – you really helped me – to help my visitors – and to help spread the link love as it is meant to be spread (Not hoarded).

    You also helped me to trust MY instincts again – as opposed to what I read that was supposed to be dogma. I agree with you – I prefer doing this SERP thing in the dark! Letting my website analytics and visitor traffic reports tell me what to do and what I need to change.


  18. Alisa Perlet says:

    The courage you gave me was to do a find replace that resulted on over 6,000 rel=”nofollow”‘s being removed within my site of almost 500 pages – in – well you know computers- five minutes my computer undid months of my feeble human work work.

    At first- at fear I’d maybe want to reverse it later- if Google changed their mind- or Baidu took over- etc – I tried to turn it to edit find replace “rel follow”.

    Then research brought to light that was a tactic blog spammers were using- and it was ineffective and futile as only in a meta tag can you have follow as an attribute. So – if I did that I would have red flagged my own site even though- once again- I was trying to do the right thing. Hmmmm.

    So- I stared at my computer screen (my buddy – his name is “Flat Face”) – and the site I and Flat Face have built heart and soul together for almost a year every day- morning and night- and I did the ultimate find replace- I told Flat Face to pull ALL rel no follow refs.

    No turning back – well a lot of work to turn back- nothings final I guess.

    I thought of THREE things while I opened the flood gates of well deserved human approved link juice and then instructed Flat Face to FTP over 500 html pages stripped of their no follow tags.

    The first thing I I thought about was physics- and how I suck at math – I thought about the flow of electricity – how it doesn’t flow if shut down at any one point. Anywhere. Just shuts down. I suck at math – but even I understand that. (Link Juice)

    I thought about how hard it was for me- when I had my first website ever – out in deep space- and no-one would link to me bc I was a PR N/A and then finally someone did! And the whole web opened up for me – I was a part of it.

    Most importantly- I remembered- being three years old- in the early 80s – sitting at my princess desk- with my Vic 20 or maybe it was a commodore 64 – logged in on “COMPUSERVE” – this is pre- internet. I remember the point- everything is supposed to be interconnected – like a WEB.

    Like a WORLD WIDE WEB. Doesn’t anybody remember that? It’s supposed to be CONNECTED.

    So – Flat Face and I FTP’d over a huge shift rel anchor text/ SEO to our site we have built together for almost a year.

    And – I know- you should never be that dramatic. But we did it. And I’m watching my live woopra traffic reports – and its going great. So far. Traffic and rankings are picking up.

    It’s almost like my PR sculpted site was artery clogged and now the blood is flowing again?

    So Far- I can recommend – open the flood gates, get the electricity flowing- open the world wide web BACK UP!

    Ditch the rel=”nofollow” on all hyperlinks you have the time to review yourself. If they are valid- spread the link love.

    Remember – www means – world wide web! ;-)


  19. Tasha Cillis says:

    Russ, your example of how to analyse a security hole and produce a win-win solution is brilliant. It’s akin to the police inflitrating a crime ring to befriend the crook who cracks a car’s security code with ease, if you don’t understand it, you’re never going to get anywhere. The carmakers take this onboard, just as the search engines do.

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