You may have heard about a number of Google products being discontinued recently (Google Reader, Google Alerts); the good news, however, is that Google is releasing a number of new services including the Evernote-beating ‘Google Keep’ and now ‘Google SEO Auditor’, due to be released on May 27th.
‘Google SEO Auditor’ is unusual in that it is designed to help webmasters discover common reasons why their Google search result rankings may be suffering, that do not pertain to the external environment or the quality of the content itself. The new product came out a Google effort to redefine who their customers are: “we have always stressed that we want to provide the best user experience” says Google Webspam team leader Matt Cutts, “but we sometimes almost forget that the content providers are as much our customers as searchers are, and that Google could not function as a search engine without them”. This new approach is where ‘Google SEO Auditor’ was borne.
Note: this article was published as an April fools spoof meant as a critique of Google. The product and interview and everything else are not real.
How the project came to be:
Although the notion of a Google tool to help webmasters figure out how their sites can be more Google friendly will surprise many people, it will not be any sort of panacea that will answer all SEO related questions. Rather, Google has identified several different areas that webmasters – even those who purport to be SEO savvy and give SEO-related advice – frequently trip on. Says Cutts: “there are issues that we see over and over again, that constitute more than 80% of questions that we receive whenever we do a Q&A session, and that do not seem to go away”. He continues “our desire for a tool such as Google SEO Auditor came because we wanted to take the SEO conversation further. There is no reason to keep talking about the same things over and over with highly intelligent people when these subjects should not have been controversial in the first place – the tool can take care of these”.
“The point is”, Cutts continues, “we keep saying that content creators should focus on the content and leave the rest to us, but realistically that is impossible. The aim of ‘Google SEO Auditor’ is to take the burden of having to become SEO experts off the shoulders of writers and bloggers, and free them to do what they do best, which is to create content”.
The audit tool will also have an A/B testing function with respect to site redesign. It will ‘capture’ and keep a snapshot of your site every month and will be able to tell you whether changes to your site and/or site redesign are helping your SEO standing or hindering it – irrespective of any other variables that may be affecting your actual SERP rankings. Says Cutts: “Webmasters see SERP variability and think it is because we changed the rules or because of something they did on the site”. “The truth is, so much of ranking variability has nothing to do with any of that, but rather on changes in the outside environment, such as new articles being published on the topic or a downward trend in searches on certain keywords that is resulting in less search traffic”. “SEO Auditor is designed to give insight on what you can do internally, with respect to site design and structure, so that webmasters know that their site has good SEO optimization, and that if they want to get a higher SERP ranking they need to focus on writing newer, more innovative, or more compelling content”.
SEO Auditor: what it will and will not do
Google SEO Auditor was designed to provide an assessment tool for your site to test it across several parameters. It will provide simple suggestions based on probability, but will not provide any guarantees for SERP ranking performance. Per Cutts: “the tool can make probabilistic inferences, that noindexing taxonomy pages for example has a 1% or 2% probability or what have you on raising your SERP ranking. It does not guarantee any positive changes, because there are other variables as well, but will certainly help webmasters avoid common pitfalls”.
When asked for more examples, Cutts says: “there are things that the tool can do right off the bat. For example, why shouldn’t a webmaster know their links on certain pages are diluting page rank, or that removing this or that link might have a x% likelihood of increasing his/her SERP ranking, or that moving an ad from its current position could have an x% positive effect, or that Google deems certain pages as duplicate content that, if removed, might have a certain probability of increasing search rankings? Why keep people guessing?”
But the tool will also provide some actionable SEO metrics on signals that Google cares about, that you cannot get anywhere else “such as the click-through rate and the bounce rate for each page as calculated by Google, which will make it easy for the tool to suggest improvements and for content creators to identify areas of opportunity right away”.
A/B testing across time: Google SEO Auditor will have an inward focus: you will not be able to compare your sites to other sites, but you will be able to compare your site to previous snapshots of itself across time. “A lot of people report that their spiffy, new site redesign that may have won awards has caused a 20% loss of in search traffic or something like that. SEO Auditor will be able to measure this irrespective of outside variables, and shed light on why it may have happened. One site, for example, had a great looking redesign that inadvertently suppressed all the meta descriptions for their articles, which were previously generating excellent click-through. Things like this the tool will be able to identify easily”.
Rollout: initially, by invitation only
If you can’t wait to get started with “Google SEO Auditor”, you might need to wait, because Google will start rolling it out at the end of May by invitation only. They will start by sending out 500,000 invites via Webmaster central accounts, randomly, to sites across a wide range of verticals. “For the first year our aim is to get 10 million sites using the service, before we open it up completely to everyone”.
There will be restrictions, though: you will only be able to perform an audit once per month. Says Cutts: “this is so as not to overwhelm the API and to finesse the service, but also to limit any potential abusive use. Once we have more data on how people use the tool and where it can best add value, we will increase the number of monthly audits to two or possibly three”.
Will the Audit Tool make Google transparent, less opaque?
When asked if this tool marks a departure for Google from its secretive stance with respect to its search algorithms, Cutts laughs: “not really. This tool is inward focused, designed to help webmasters improve the quality of their sites. There is so much more to SEO than this”.
Most of the issues that the tool will help address are “well known to most good SEOs; there are no real secrets here. Sure, there’s always the risk that the tool will be used by black hat SEOs, but we will always be one or two steps ahead”.
Matt Cutts on Panda, Penguin and his hopes for SEO Auditor
Want to know what Matt Cutts really thinks about the changes brought about by the so-called Panda and Penguin algorithm changes? “It’s been a remarkable success, I think. Look – there are millions of sites that get launched each year, and only 10 placements on that first page of results, so Google pages cannot be sclerotic, the SERPs have to be constantly changing in order to provide the best quality results for searchers”
But Cutts is mindful of the criticisms that are leveled at Panda: “In some cases people point to lower quality pages now being served while better articles have fallen off the page. I have seen many of these, but we consider it as evidence that Panda still has a long way to go”. He goes further: “I will admit there were a lot of unforeseen consequences. We did not set out to favor CPM ads – which can be placed anywhere on the page – over CPC ads, but that is in effect what happened, and it hurt some sites.” Taking this further, we asked Cutts about the idea that sites that already had a lot of traffic ended up with a major advantage over bloggers or smaller sites after Panda, and that Google created an environment where sideboobs and celebrities are what you need to survive on the internet, while serious or independent publishers are suffering. Cutts had the following to say: “what we are trying to do is look at the content first and foremost, not on the viability of a site’s business model. Perhaps that independent blogger shouldn’t have quit his job doing lead-gen marketing or whatever it is to publish his or her blog”.
“People said that Panda was too disruptive, that it was tantamount to doing medical experiments on live patients … that it killed many good sites … all that may be true, but our job is to look at the bigger picture, at how we can better serve our customers. We make mistakes like everyone else and we are not infallible. I am not sure why people don’t realize that in the end we are just a business and a lot of what we do is mere trial and error”.
On his hopes for the SEO Auditor tool, Matt was effusive: “going forward we hope that the tool can provide us with information that we currently don’t have, such as whether it can help shape better quality websites in the long term. But also, we would like it to evolve in such a way that content creators themselves can shape the Google algorithm in a legitimate and value added way. For example, we are not really equipped to know – definitively – whether the articles we serve for any given keyword are the best possible picks. Those who create the content are better placed to make this judgment, and we want to have a mechanism where they can give us this feedback, to say ‘hey, the articles for this keyword are not the best, and my article or other articles are better for the following reasons’. We want our technology to be able to take this feedback, sift through it, and learn from it.”
“Look – we have some of the smartest engineers and number crunchers in the world, but without some sort of legitimate feedback mechanism from both searchers and content creators, there is always the sense that we inhabit some sort of sensory depravation tank that is making us less effective and smart than we could be. There is the sense that our work is solipsistic and self-confirming. SEO Auditor is intended to counter this, to acknowledge that the content creators are our partners, and to provide a way to have a value added and mutually beneficial conversation with them in the future.”