SEOWas the Outrage Over the Links in This Matt Cutts Interview Warranted?

Was the Outrage Over the Links in This Matt Cutts Interview Warranted?

Google's Matt Cutts recently took part in an online interview that was extremely link heavy. The article sparked much debate about affiliate links, paid links, and whether the linking taking place in this type of interview is natural or spammy.

Matt Cutts

Ever been curious about the types of products that Google’s Matt Cutts uses in his day-to-day life? He shared this information last week in an interview with The Setup detailing his day-to-day hardware and software, and his dreams on how to get things done.

As you can imagine, the interview is extremely link heavy. Not surprisingly it sparked a discussion about affiliate links, paid links, and whether the linking in this type of interview is natural.

Suspicious Links?

When you do take a look at the links within the article, while there are a lot of them, there’s nothing suspicious about any of them. They all link to the various company sites for the individual products he mentions. And there were many generic products that weren’t linked at all. None of them were affiliate links within the interview.

Cutts somewhat surprised by the way people reacted to the links he supplied to the site – and yes, he supplied the links, it wasn’t the website adding their own links. And to be fair, if anyone is going to be linking anything with a white hat firmly atop his head, it’s Cutts.

Matt Cutts tweet

In fact, the only link on the entire sites that I could find, including interviews with other people, is the simple affiliate link for the web hosting the footer, something that is still incredibly common these days.

That One Affiliate Link…

Many people also jumped on that affiliate link in the footer – something that was obviously well outside of the scope of Cutts’ interview, but which was a full PageRank passing link.

DigitalOcean link

But Cutts was called out about it. However, on April 7, the link was changed to have a nofollow attribute on it, and the change was made site wide.

DigitalOcean Nofollow link

After the link had been changed, Cutts tweeted that the link was nofollow.

And That Keyword-Rich Anchor Text

In regards to the many links within the interview, the links have great anchor text, and no they aren’t no followed, but in that regards, does Microsoft or Apple really benefit from those links? Even the smaller companies rank first for their company names – which is the keyword or keyword phrase linked – so there is not the benefit directly from anchor text.

There are lots of people talking about how it is a guest post, right on the heels of both Cutts seeing that guest blogging is dead, and the widely publicized penalty recently given to MyBlogGuest. But clearly it’s not a guest post, is simply an interview, which follows the exact same formats as all the other interviews on the site. MyBlogGuest has a very strong and vocal supporter crowd who were trying to use this as an example of why MyBlogGuest shouldn’t be penalized if Cutts could do a “guest blog.”

The fact is that there are also several hundred interviews, all with non-affiliate product links that link to the company page, and no one has had a problem with it before. In fact many Googlers have participated – including those who have had involvement with the Google search in some capacity.

So is Matt Cutts a Hypocrite?

The debate about this one post has pretty interesting to watch on Twitter. Some are arguing that it was a spam guest blog post, others are arguing that nothing to do with link spam because it’s simply linking to products he mentions – products that were the main purpose of the interview in the first place. And then there were some who are commenting about the products themselves.

Cutts seems to firmly practice what he preaches. He has often posted links for his many “what to read” blog posts he has done on his personal blog, and not once has he slipped an affiliate link in, although if he did, he would probably earn enough Amazon affiliate revenue to make even hardened affiliate marketers envious. And yes, the links were links that pass PageRank, but again, a company such as Amazon doesn’t really need to worry about link juice.

But for many in our industry, particularly those who have either been penalized by Google or who live in fear of it, tend to see Cutts as the head of the spam team, and as the sole person to blame for their search ranking woes. And unless you are pretty high on the radar, or openly flaunt Google’s rules, it definitely isn’t personal. But it does mean that Cutts gets scrutinized for everything from any interview he does, tweet he makes, or even the T-shirt he happens to wear at a conference or in a webmaster help video.

Bottom Line

Cutts’ interview, while it certainly looked link heavy at first glance, was not spammy as it linked product names and company names to the company’s own homepage. It followed an identical linking profile as all of the other interviews on the site. The one affiliate link that was outside of the scope of his interview was no-followed a few days later.

Will this be the last time that Cutts does something that will raise the ire of webmasters and SEOs? Certainly not, especially as we know a Google SERP shakeup is coming. But Cutts as the head of the spam team is the perfect target for those looking for a way to fight back at Google and Cutts, even when the accusation is not fair.

It is clearly an interview, not a “Matt Cutts guest blog post” and the links were perfectly legitimate links directed at relevant company sites for products, not “paid links.” And the drama surrounding it was unwarranted, with the slight exception for that affiliate footer link that has since been corrected.


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