5 Common SEO Questions Answered by Google’s Matt Cutts

In my experience as an SEO, there are several questions that pop up quite often. Matt Cutts has answered these questions, so I thought I would post his answers on this awesome SEO blog of mine.

  1. Should I use pipes or dashes in my title tags?
    “I think they’re both viewed as separators, so I think either one should be fine. Dashes are a lot more common…We definitely handle dashes well. I would expect that we handle pipes well as well.” – Matt Cutts
  2. Should I use underscores or hyphens in URLs?
    “It does make a difference. I would go with dashes or hyphens if you can. If you have underscores and things are working fine for you, I wouldn’t worry about changing your architecture.” – Matt Cutts
  3. Can the geographic location of a web server affect SEO?
    “Yes it does because we look at the IP address of your web server. So if your web server is based in Germany, we’re more likely to think that it’s useful for German users…We also look at TLD…If you want to experiment, you can certainly try switching the geographic location of your web server [in Google Webmaster Central], which is essentially changing your IP address…” – Matt Cutts
  4. Is excessive whitespace in the HTML source bad?
    “Um. We really don’t care that much…Any time we see white space, we’ll separate stuff. And we can ignore white space, so it doesn’t really cause us a lot of harm either way…As long as you’re doing normal, reasonable stuff, I wouldn’t worry about it that much.” – Matt Cutts
  5. Does the position of keywords in the URL affect ranking?
    “It does help a little bit to have keywords in the URL. It doesn’t help so much that you should go stuffing a ton of keywords into your URL.” – Matt Cutts

There. I hope you enjoyed that. Thanks to Matt Cutts for answering these questions for us all. I’m just going to send any and all clients to this blog post from now on.

Matt Cutts Debuts Shaved Head at SES San Jose 2009

Shaved Head Duo: Greg Boser & Matt Cutts look tough for the Live Site Clinic session at SES San Jose 2009
Shaved Head Duo: Greg Boser & Matt Cutts look tough for the Live Site Clinic session at SES San Jose 2009

Well, here we are. It’s Thursday, August 13, 2009. SES San Jose 2009 is coming to an end. What did I think of the conference? Actually, it was fairly quiet. I wasn’t able to catch many sessions, but the sessions I was able to attend were relatively mild. It was kinda quiet, and the Expo Hall was not very crowded. In year’s past, SES San Jose has been a place where breaking news from search engines creates a buzz or some other stuff has got the SEM world in a tizzy. Sure, Google Webmaster Blog announced the Caffeine update on Monday, but that did not seem to really have an impact on the SES crowd. I surfed around sandbox for a while, noticing some changes in the top results. However, it was kind of boring after a while. I even found this cool tool that allows you to see side-by-side results from the sandbox and the current Google. But it, too, was nothing to write home about.

Furthermore, I did not hear anyone talking about the recent Bing/Yahoo merger deal and how it might affect SEO. I heard nothing about the recent Facebook acquisition of FriendFeed. The site clinic with Matt Cutts was very funny, and I’m not used to that. I mean, Matt’s a great guy and his banter with seasoned SEO’s is always hilarious. But in the end, those sessions with Matt Cutts typically devolve into in-your-face questions about nofollow tags and disclosing links (thanks to Michael Gray, who is also awesome btw).

Danny Sullivan wasn’t there, and I didn’t see Rand Fishkin or Dave Naylor there. Could it be that allegiances have been sworn and sides have been picked? (Stay tuned for UFC 103: SES vs. SMX! ) I had a few drinks with Greg Boser and Todd Friesen, and Todd Malicoat’s charity party was awesome. But overall, the conference was nothing to write home about. For me, it was really a great chance to enjoy the weather in California. My love affair with this State continues…

Anyways, there were still a few highlights.

  • Social is killing SEO
    This is such bullshit. Stupid claims and rumors driven to gain readers or followers – that’s all this really is. If you consider that SEO is an entire industry based on driving free traffic to a website, then there is nothing to fear from social media and social search. It is not replacement for SEO. It’s a supplement and a complement to SEO. In fact, whenever ‘social’ comes up in sessions, it is usually followed by a conversation of how to optimize it (ie. SEO). Social and SEO are all part of the same game. Can’t we all just get along? [Note: Personally, I believe claims like this are happening because people are bored. We’re in the middle of an industry news lull. I think big things are on the horizon, but I’m sick of hearing about social media.
  • Matt Cutts shaved his head
    From Blogoscoped.com: Matt says “I bet my team that they couldn’t meet a certain turnaround speed for an entire quarter. They were able to maintain that turnaround time for the whole quarter, so they got to do whatever they wanted to my hair. :)” I asked Matt about his hair before the live site clinic session, and he was all smiles about it. Matt’s a good sport. During the session, he talked addressed a sex toys website. His back-and-forth with Greg Boser was great for the rest of the session. I’m glad that guy from MyPleasure was there. It made the session hilarious.
  • Matt Cutts says not to use nofollow attributes on internal links
    Matt said this during the live site clinic session. Okay. Uh…should we follow this advice (no pun intended)? This news was big at SMX Seattle back in June. I feel like the dust is still clearing. I might wait a little bit longer before I follow Matt on this one.
  • Tim Ash handed out cash in his session on landing page optimization
    Tim Ash wrote the book on Landing Page Optimization. Literally. He has a book called Landing Page Optimization. I had a chance to meet him. Super nice guy. During his session, he asked questions, and he was handing out $10 and $20 bills to people just for attempting to answer the questions. I have never seen anything like that before. But his session was awesome. It’s really the next big frontier for SEM. From my experience, conversion optimization and landing page optimization is falling under the SEO umbrella, but it really deserves its own category. He said for every $80 spent on driving visits to websites via PPC, only $1 was being spent on landing page optimization. This is tragic. After spending years optimizing our PPC and SEO campaigns, it’s definitely time to focus on what our visitors see when they get to our site. It’s the natural, organic next step (no pun intended).
  • Clay Shirky’s Keynote: Here Comes Everybody
    Clay Shirky is a great speaker. If you’re even remotely interested in human behavior and interaction with technology, I definitely recommend checking out his book (Here Comes Everybody), and I certainly recommend catching one of his sessions.

That’s it for now. Sorry it’s kind of a half-assed post today. I only had 30 minutes before I have to get on a plane. Cheers!

The SEO Impact of the Microsoft Bing Yahoo Search Merger

As you have all heard, Yahoo gave up today. Epic give up. Danny Sullivan wrote a great eulogy over at Search Engine Land, and Jason Calacanis said, “Yahoo committed seppuku today.” And over at TechCrunch, “Today, Yahoo died as a search engine.” To make it more depressing – I have already seen name mashups like YooBing, BingYoo, YaBing, Bingoo, BingYah, MicroHoo, BingYa, etc…

I’ve got to admit: Today, I actually teared up a little. I remember surfing Yahoo in 1995, looking for Cliffs Notes for Grendel. Yahoo was the only place to go. I mean, search is a space that Yahoo created! WTF are they doing by throwing in the towel? Yahoo had 20% market share in search. What were they thinking? Obviously, this deal benefits Microsoft more than it benefits Yahoo. So sad…

How about the SEO impacts of the merger of Yahoo and Microsoft Bing? There are a few that come to mind:

  • Will the link: and linkdomain: search operators continue to work on the new Yahoo?
    A few years ago, MSN disabled the link: and linkdomain: search operators at msn.com. This was an important day because you could no longer check MSN’s database stats for inbound links for a site. It came back about a year later, and then went away again. If you haven’t noticed, Google’s link: operator sucks. Google doesn’t want you to know all the links for a site, so the link: command on Google always returns an extremely low, inaccurate number of inbound links. Those bastards! But if you have a WebmasterCentral account for your site(s), you can see some more actual/honest inbound link data. With MSN and Google not providing any worthwhile backlink data, we have been forced to use Yahoo’s linkdomain: operator. Yahoo’s backlink data is much more honest and accurate. For the most part, checking back links is great for 2 purposes: 1) checking your own site(s) backlinks quantity and 2) checking your competitors’ backlinks. If Yahoo uses MSN’s search algorithm and the linkdomain: operator is disabled, it’s going to be really tough to check your competitors’ backlink growth. Furthermore, it will be tough to tell if they are buying links. I’m not into reporting people for buying links, but if you are, you may want to invest in some new backlink tool.
  • What happens to the Yahoo Search Directory?
    This one is interesting. As the Yahoo Directory (dir.yahoo.com) is a money-maker, I can’t imagine Yahoo or Microsoft getting rid of it. However, you may recall that MSN once had a Small Business Directory (archive view) at sbd.bcentral.com. There were thousands of sites in that directory. Now that site redirects to the MS OfficeLive website. If MSN got rid of their own directory, what might they do with the Yahoo Directory? It’s a good question. In terms of link authority and trust, the Yahoo Directory is the #2 directory behind DMOZ. But unlike DMOZ, you can pay $299 per year to be in the the Yahoo Directory. It’s a highly-respected directory, and unlike DMOZ, you won’t have to waits months on end with no answer. As long as you have a good site, you can get into the Yahoo Directory for $299 per year. But if the Yahoo Directory is discontinued….holy crap. That is a lot of link juice that will just evaporate. A lot of sites will lose quality historical links. Maybe it will shake things up a bit. Maybe not. Either way, you may want to make sure your sites find their way into other trusted directories, like business.com and botw.org.
  • What happens to Yahoo’s feeds programs, such as Paid Inclusion and SSP?
    Yahoo’s Paid Inclusion and Search Submit Pro (SSP) programs are crucial traffic and revenue sources for many search agencies and online retailers. It’s a huge business, and without it, many online retailers would see massive drops in revenue. Essentially, these programs allow you to pay for organic rankings in Yahoo on a pay-per-click basis. You may not know this, but for several years, MSN used Google and  Yahoo for its search. It wasn’t until LiveSearch launched that MSN actually broke away from Yahoo and Google. During the time MSN was using Yahoo for its search platform, Yahoo feeds were showing up in MSN results. But when LiveSearch launched on 9/11/2006, MSN no longer had a feeds program. They didn’t use one for LiveSearch, and there is currently no feeds program for Bing. As Yahoo’s Paid Inclusion and SSP programs are critical components for agencies and retailers alike, it should be a no-brainer to keep the programs active as part of the Microsoft search platform. But I guess we’ll have to see what happens.

    Update: Yahoo Search Submit Pro (SSP) Discontinued Effective Dec. 31, 2009

  • What happens to Yahoo channels such as Yahoo Shopping and Yahoo Travel?
    This is really just an extension to the previous question, but these are huge sources of traffic. Be sure to keep an eye on what happens with these channels. Yahoo Shopping is HUGE. I mean HUGE!!!! I can’t imagine anything happening to it. I can’t even imagine them merging it with Bing Shopping or Bing Cashback. That would be stupid.
  • One less searchbot crawling the internet
    We’ll miss you, Yahoo Slurpbot. You traveled long. You traveled far. You did your job without complaining once. You were a true soldier. RIP, Slurpbot.
  • Rank checkers will have one less engine to check
    Whereas you were probably checking Google, Yahoo and Bing for rankings, now you’ll just have to run your keyword lists across Google and Bing. And honestly, some website owners might be happy with the results, as many sites rank much better in Bing than in Yahoo.
  • Ask.com quietly moves into position as the #3 search engine
    Ha! I still miss Jeeves. He was a trooper. But also be aware that LBi Netrank has some data showing that Ask.com is (sometimes) scraping Google for search results. Are we losing Yahoo and Ask?!?!?!
  • Optimizing for Google and Bing at the same time
    It kinda sucks, but SEOs get accused of only optimizing for Google. It happens all the time, and all we have to do is point to the fact that Google has a 70% market share (and depending on the vertical, it’s sometimes higher). And then clients remind us that Yahoo has 20% and Microsoft Bing has 8%. At that point, we continue to point at Google’s 70% market share. But now, according to comScore, Yahoo’s 20% will combine with Bing’s 8% market share to combine for 28% of the market share. 28% market share is nothing to sneeze at, so we have to focus on both Google and Bing. While Google and Bing both respond to strategic SEO methods, it is worthwhile to note that Google gives more weight to links and Bing gives more weight to a site’s domain name (i.e. You’d better have keywords in your domain name & URL!). In my experience, Google and Bing are a lot closer in terms of how they value traditional SEO methods. Keywords in the title tag, keywords in the domain, organized site structure, updated content with decent keyword density, optimized internal links, inbound link growth – both engines reward these methods, as they are the basic building blocks of an SEO campaign. And while these are common signals for all 3 engines, my experience leads me to believe that Google and Bing reward these methods more quickly and predictably. Furthermore, seeing how Bing is pulling in more content into its search results pages, you may want to pay more attention to how your content is optimized and arranged on your site’s pages.

Well, that’s all for today. We’ll miss you, Yahoo. I’m still upset. I hope you find happiness. I know we can be friends again some day in the future, but please don’t call me now. I need some time to get over you.


  • John Battelle: Questions on the Yahoo Bing Deal (link)
  • SEOmoz: Top 10 Things the Microsoft/Yahoo! Deal Changes for SEO (link)

Hacker Croll Hacks Into Twitter Account Via Password Retrieval

Holy crap. This does not sound good, and Evan Williams (@ev, founder of Twitter) is definitely distressed about the whole thing. There are several news stories popping up all over the place, reporting that Twitter was hacked. However, the more I read about it, the more it seems that user accounts were not necessarily the goal of the hack. In fact, Ev claims that no user accounts were compromised. Rather, it seems that the hacker gained access to an email account. From there, Hacker Croll was able to use password retrieval methods (and social engineering) to gain access to all sorts of other services. Hacker Croll claims to have gotten access to all sorts of stuff – from email accounts to PayPal accounts to Apple accounts to Twitter accounts to Twitter’s domain name account at GoDaddy to phone numbers to time sheets to Twitter financial projections. It’s amazing what Hacker Croll claims to have accessed.

I’ve been running through the headlines. From what I can tell, here’s what happened:

  • In May, an anonymous hacker who goes by the name Hacker Croll hacked into Twitter (PC World)
  • He gained access to the Twitter account of Jason Goldman, a director of product management with Twitter
  • Hacker Croll posted 13 screenshots to a French online discussion forum (Zataz.com – posts have since been removed by Hacker Croll)
  • Twitter co-founder Biz Stone (@biz) confirmed the break-in (Blog.Twitter.com)
  • Hacker Croll claims: “one of the admins has a yahoo account, i’ve reset the password by answering to the secret question. Then, in the mailbox, i have found her twitter password…” (WarezScene.org)
  • Here is a roughly translated list of everything Hacker Croll claims to have gotten access to: Twitter Hacked!
  • Ev confirms an attack, but claims it was not an attack on Twitter and that no Twitter user accounts were compromised (TechCrunch.com)
  • TechCrunch gets a zipped file with 310 Twitter documents (TechCrunch.com)
  • Update: TechCrunch publishes a Twitter financial forecast document from February 2009 (TechCrunch.com)

So there. That’s the story so far. Wow. I just read it again. I’m not sure if this is the work of one hacker or several. The screenshots don’t look shop’d. Either way, I feel very badly for Ev. Having your account hacked is one thing, but his wife’s account was also hacked. It sucks when people target your family. And it looks like Hacker Croll was able to gain all of this access by correctly guessing passwords and security questions for email accounts. Hacker Croll certainly has some skills. From Hacker Croll:

What I would like to say is that even the biggest and the strongest do silly things without realizing it and I hope that my action will help them to realize that nobody is safe on the net. If I did this it’s to educate those people who feel more secure than simple Internet novices. And security starts with simple things like secret questions because many people don’t realise the impact of these question on their life if somebody is able to crack them.

How do you protect against someone being able to socially engineer their way into your account? I guess Ev, his family and the  Twitter employees will have to take extra steps at security for their personal email accounts. It sucks for them, but they’ll come out of this stronger. God luck, Ev. You’ve got my support.

Did Michael Jackson’s Death Fuel June’s Twitter Growth?

Compete.com Reports Twitter.com Unique Visitor Growth in June 2009
Compete.com Reports Twitter.com Unique Visitor Growth in June 2009

Remember Twitter? It was growing by leaps and bounds earlier this year. In May, that growth flattened out. But now, according to Compete.com, Twitter is back in style for unique visitors. (Source)

Personally, I believe some of this growth can be attributed to Michael Jackson’s death. MJ’s death was the most viral social phenomenon we have ever seen. It was setting records for search on Yahoo, and Twitter also reported some amazing stats during the days after the King of Pop’s death. Would it make sense that more people flocked to Twitter for MJ news and messages? Did more people join Twitter just so they could be part of the circus that followed the death of arguably the most famous entertainer in the world? I think so, but I could be wrong. And I’m not saying that MJ’s death contributed to all of this growth, but I do think it’s a big factor in the growth. Just sayin’ is all…

If Facebook Nails This, Twitter is Toast!

Wow. Facebook continues to take on Twitter. Mashable’s post describes the new Profile Fans feature Facebook rolled out recently. Check it out here: Facebook to Emulate Twitter’s Follower Model With Profile Fans

Notice something different? Look closely and you’ll see the new option to receive an email notification whenever another Facebook user “Connects to me as a fan.” In other words, Facebook followers, here we come.

Facebook has a long way to go, but I think they are on track to become the clear winner in the long run. I do not believe that Twitter will completely go away or throw up a white flag. I do believe that Twitter will be around for a while, but by following Twitter’s lead (no pun intended), Facebook may one day have a clear upper hand in the microblog/status feed market.

Michael Jackson Death Sets Search Records on Yahoo

Yahoo’s Corporate Blog announced today that the passing of Michael Jackson led to some new records for Yahoo search (source). Without further ado, here are the main highlights of that post:

  • Yahoo’s front page story ‘Michael Jackson rushed to hospital” received 800,000 clicks within 10 minutes.
  • Yahoo’s news of his death received 560,000 clicks within 10 minutes.
  • The News area on the Yahoo homepage received 5 times the normal amount of traffic it usually gets
  • Yahoo News set a record with 16.4 million unique visitors (breaking the previous record of 15.1 million unique visitors on Election Day 2008)
  • 4 million people visited Yahoo between the hours of 3:00pm-4:00pm PST
  • Yahoo recorded 175 million page views for the day June 25th (placing 4th highest on the all-time behind Inauguration Day 2009, the day after Inauguration Day 2009, and Hurricane Ike)
  • In Yahoo Music, 21,000 people left comments on a blog post about Michael Jackson
  • On Flickr, 4,000 Michael Jackson-related pictures were uploaded

Also, according to Mashable.com, Michael Jackson’s death had a global impact on social media, specifically Twitter (source):

  • In total, at least 30% of Tweets are remarking upon the star’s tragic passing, and that’s likely an underestimate.
  • 22.61% of Tweets currently contain the phrase “Michael Jackson”.
  • 22.61% of Tweets currently contain the phrase “Michael Jackson”.
  • “MJ”, meanwhile, accounts for 9% of Tweets right now.

Granted, Michael Jackson was likely the most famous person in the world, but this event shows you the power of the internet and social media in regards to breaking news.

Google PageRank Update: June 23, 2009

The most recent Google toolbar PR update occurred around May 27th. Last night as I was up to white hat type of stuff, I noticed that many June blogposts already had a toolbar PR > 1. WTF? Had Google already made a PR update again, just one month after the last one? The answer:  Yes. My buddy Frank over at Tech Jaws (a badass SEO and internet security blog) sent me a link to the SEO Round Table PR update post that confirms the update.

After checking it out for a few minutes, it looks like the PR update is affecting internal pages moreso than homepages. There’s no way I can check the entire internet to support this claim, but from just looking at a few sites, that’s what I am seeing. However, I have also seen a several homepage PR changes, and the results look to be split. Some of them are up 1 level, some of them are down 1 level, and most of them just stayed the same.

We all know that toolbar PageRank is nothing to go apeshit over, and we also know that Google updates the real PR quite often. Could it be that Google has decided to frequently publish more of their internal PageRank updates? I guess only time will tell.

Getting to Second Base with Omniture…Not So Fast!

Waiting on Omniture: Your Report is Being Generated
Waiting on Omniture: Your Report is Being Generated

I don’t know about you, but I have to use Omniture on a daily basis. I hate waiting for these reports. Yeah, I’ve got a ton of them scheduled for delivery via ftp and email. But it’s the one-off reports that really get on my nerves. And don’t even try to login in the afternoon. By then, the entire West Coast is also trying to download Omniture reports.

Waiting on Omniture: Your report is loading...
Waiting on Omniture: Your report is loading...

The entire Omniture report process reminds me of dating in middle school. Wait. Who am I kidding? High school. There I was, 14 years old and making out with some girl for like 15 minutes. It was pretty clear that the next step was to make a move (getting to second base, right?). But you’re never sure when the right moment is. If you wait too long, you’re a loser. If you move to fast, you’re in trouble. But we all know what the end result will be: boobage. It’s a waiting game for the sake of waiting. Kind of like waiting for Omniture reports to generate. Well, maybe not. But what can I do here? When I’m waiting for like 45 seconds, my mind starts racing. And this is what you get – a post about my lack of success with girls when I was 14 and how it sucks waiting for stuff. I am Tyler’s lack of patience.

On a side note: I’m not certain of the current baseball setup/analogy for today’s youth. It seems like they have reassigned the bases. I think they might skip first base these days. I don’t know. I just have to hear my aunts and uncles bitch about my cousins who are in high school. Sexting? WTF? I’m old.

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer Admits to Wanting Do-Over on Search

There is an awesome post over at TG Daily (link). At the Executives Club Chicago, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer was asked a question that had everyone on the edge of their seats: “If you could have one do-over, what would it be?”

I would probably say I would start sooner on search,” Ballmer stated to the crowd. Ballmer stressed that the company knew of search the research and effort had been put in, they weren’t sure of the market and that they had no business model. It just wasn’t there. The company lacked in an application for their findings.

Wow. I’m amazed at his honesty. However, I completely agree. I also like how he referred to Bing.com as “the little engine that could.” FYI: Microsoft is marketing Bing.com as a decision engine, not a search engine.