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Google+ Hangouts - Office Hours - 26 January 2015

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JOHN MUELLER: OK. Welcome everyone to today's Google Webmaster Central Office Hours Hangout. My name is John Mueller. I'm a Webmaster Trends Analyst from the Zurich office, and I'm currently in the Mountain View office, together with two outreach specialists, Eric--

ERIC: Hey, guys.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: Hi, I think we're not live.

JOHN MUELLER: We're not live yet? No, we're live. It says Live on--


JOHN MUELLER: I think we're live. We should be.



MARY: Hey, guys.

JOHN MUELLER: I have one thing I wanted to announce to you guys and get ready, but I actually didn't get it quite finished yet. But we're going to be doing an alpha preview of a Webmaster Tools feature for a search query datum. And I'll post the link to a forum when you can sign up if you're interested. We'll probably have the forum open for a week or two. So if you're watching this later, you have to be pretty quick. Add your name there. It'll be something neat that we're playing around with, that we're trying out, and we'd love to have as much early feedback as possible. So it' d be great if you guys find time to check it out, sign up. I'll probably have the link there maybe an hour or two after the Hangout. Anyone interested? Yeah. Gotcha.

JOSHUA BERG: Yes, I'd like to try it out.

ARTHUR RADULESCU: Me, too, John. Can you drop the link in the chat also?

JOHN MUELLER: Well, at first, I have to finish the forum. Then I'm-- [LAUGHTER] But that should be ready soon. I am guessing that'll be open for testing around next week. So if you sign up, we should be able to set you up with that. And this is a very early alpha version, so things are going to change. And it's really useful to have your feedback early so that we can change based on your feedback. All right. Does anyone want to ask a first question before we get started?


ARTHUR RADULESCU: It's only me, or does Baruch sound robotic? [LAUGHTER]

ROBB YOUNG: Stephen Hawking.

JOHN MUELLER: Try it again, Baruch.



MARY: Not going to work.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah, maybe we can get back to you afterwards. Anyone else with a first question before we get started?

MALE SPEAKER 1: Yeah, I have a question. So can you guys hear me OK?


ERIC: Yup.

MALE SPEAKER 1: So I work at a company called We do real estate. And traditionally, we built all of our pages in JavaScript, so we'd rendered everything in JavaScript using a framework called Dojo. Recently, we learned about Google's JavaScript crawler and the enhancements that you guys made in this crawler. Some of our pages are being crawled by Google and indexed perfectly, some JavaScript pages. However, some other JavaScript pages, Google's just not indexing the JavaScript content at all. And we're wondering, why is it that some of our pages are being indexed by a JS crawler perfectly, and then others are not at all?

JOHN MUELLER: What I'd do there is try it out with Webmaster Tools, with the Fetch and Render feature, to see if there's anything systematic with those pages-- if maybe individual requests are timing out, if it's taking too long to load all the embedded content, the scripts, those kind of things, you should see some of that in Webmaster Tools.

MALE SPEAKER 1: But the strange thing is when we use the Fetch and Render, the page renders perfectly. But when we try to search for some of the JavaScript content in Google's index, we don't find any of the content. So we don't feel like the JavaScript content's being indexed at all, despite what Fetch and Render shows.

JOHN MUELLER: OK. It might be that we're crawling slightly differently and kind of timing out on some of those requests. Maybe from a technical point of view, we could crawl them, so they're not roboted. But maybe we're timing out with individual requests when we try to get too much. It might also just be that this is still kind of early days for the JavaScript crawling and indexing, that these kind of subtle differences, they'll play a role a little bit in that we might be able to get some of the content in properly and render it really well for a search, and other content we can't completely get in. Maybe we don't have the capacity to crawl your website as much as we might want to. These kind of things could be happening there. So if you're patient, that's something that I assume will get a lot better over time. If you feel that there's something systematic that we're just not picking up certain kinds of pages that you can look at in Webmaster Tools but which don't really show in Search, then if you can send me some sample URLs, that would be great. And we can take a look with the team.

MALE SPEAKER 1: Yeah. How do I actually send you those URLs?

JOHN MUELLER: Just send me a note on Google+, a private note.

MALE SPEAKER 1: Just message it on Google+? OK, sounds good. Thank you.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Hey, John, I have a quick question for you.

JOHN MUELLER: OK, go for it, Josh.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Very recently, Barry has mentioned that he is seeing an uptick in changes in the Google [? Search, ?] as if there was some kind of algorithm release. I'm just wondering if you could-- I know if it's Panda or whatnot, you cannot confirm. But I was just wondering if you could confirm if it was Penguin, and if Google still has plans to run Penguin on a monthly basis, or if those releases will be announced.

JOHN MUELLER: We make a lot of changes in our algorithms, so that's really hard to nail down to something specific. I don't think it's related to Penguin or a Panda update there at the moment.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: But it's some kind of algorithm release? I'm just wondering if you could-- I don't know if it's Panda or--

JOHN MUELLER: We make tons of changes, so it's really tricky. I can take a look at what Barry wrote up, and maybe he has some sample URLs that we can look at and sample queries. But we make hundreds of changes every year, so you're bound to see some fluctuations. Some sites are bound to see these fluctuations a little bit stronger than others. And maybe that's just, like, one of the many updates that we've done this year is something that these specific sites are seeing. But it's really hard to say.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Of course. Can you confirm whether or not Google is committed to announce when Penguin will be released in the future, or are you moving to the monthly non-reported version?

JOHN MUELLER: We're generally moving to a little bit of a faster update cycle there, but I can't say that it'll be monthly. There might be some changes there, some subtle differences with the timing. It should be faster than the last one. So not as juicy as you probably were looking for in the answer there, but we're working on kind of moving that a little bit forward.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: OK. And so just to be clear, it will be announced when it releases, or it will not be announced when it releases in the future?

JOHN MUELLER: I can't promise either one. I think if it takes longer, if there are bigger changes, we'll definitely announce them. If this is just subtle update that happen over time, then we probably won't be announcing them individually.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: OK, thank you.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Let's go through some of these questions on the side. Any here that you guys want to answer?

ERIC: I saw one-- sorry. I saw one question about someone's site who got hacked, and they had malware found. And then there were a lot of back-links appearing for the hack sites, and they're wondering if they should disavow. They're talking a little bit about ranking change because of the hack content. I think that's a really good question. I think a lot of people, when they are hacked, they're trying to figure out what to do. And getting hacked is very disheartening. So the first thing is definitely make sure that everything's cleaned up. And so if you've got everything cleaned up and you file a reconsideration request or after we recall and re-index, you don't see a Hacked script label anymore, then you're probably good to go. The second thing would definitely be to secure your site. You don't want to be re-hacked again, because we see a lot of people get re-hacked. And if you are seeing a lot of these back-links, in general, we're really good at knowing that these back-links are from hacked sites or bad sites. So in general, you don't really have to worry about it. But if you do identify it, you should just probably throw in the Disavow file just in case. I think that's just general good practice. So yeah, if you do identify a lot of those links, go ahead, throw in the Disavow file just to be safe. And in terms of ranking changes, any time something changes on your site, it's going to take a little bit of time for your ranking and everything to get updated again. So it might just take a little time. Just be patient with that. But in general, if the hack content is gone, you should be good to go.

MARY: Yeah. I can take the next one.

JOHN MUELLER: All right.

MARY: So the next question is, do we social signals as a ranking pattern? So social signals are really good for friends or people searching online for certain things, like restaurants. But they're always changing, and they're consistently being updated, with people hustling to find things all the time. And it's changing constantly, daily, or by the minute. So we don't use it as a ranking factor, but it's still very useful for your users or for visitors to your restaurant, to your site, to your blog.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Here's an important one. "Is there any technical border for thin content? For example, 300 words is thin, but 305 isn't. How can we recognize that content is a problem?" Any of you want to handle that? Are we OK with 307?


MARY: 305.

ERIC: 303.125. No. So I've worked on the Search Quality team before. So we do see a lot of these sites. It's not about a specific number that you're looking at. It's in general just looking at your user experience. If a user finds that duplicate content is-- it's not good to look at. If it's very similar to something else, a user probably doesn't want to see duplicate results. So in general, I wouldn't be focusing too much on a hard number or, like, a specific technical specification. If you're really concerned, run it by a couple of your friends and be like, hey, I have this article, and this article, I guess, is similar. Would you take a look and see if it's a good article? Is it significantly different? If you're taking one article and kind of re-spinning it or rewriting it, I think in general, maybe then you have a little bit of a problem. I don't think you should be doing that in the first place. Just make sure that it's content that your users want to see. I wouldn't focus too much on a specific, hard number.

MARY: Yeah, the core of the issue is, are you making the site so that people can just find it on a Google search, or are you just making it for search engines, or are you actually wanting your users to find valuable information? And if that valuable information from the online site will allow you to have separate thin content, that's better.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah, so there's no number. Sorry. But I think that's also useful, because then you can focus on your content itself instead of trying to count the words, because that's not really a good use of your time probably. All right. What do we have? "Is external link data in Webmaster Tools dependent on whether the links have been clicked or not? In other words, do old links suddenly get surface in Webmaster Tools because first-time clicked, and therefore added to the visible pool? Just chasing a logical explanation." No, the link data in Webmaster Tools is really based on the links that we find by crawling. We don't look at whether people actually use these links to go to your website. That's something you could look at in Analytics, for example, to see if these links are actually useful. So if you have an advertisement somewhere, and that's maybe a no-follow link somewhere, and you're wondering if it's worthwhile to keep this kind of advertisement there, then you could look in your Analytics and see if that's actually something where users are going to your site. And perhaps even taking it a step further and seeing if users are actually doing something useful on your site, if they're converting, if they're buying something from you, if they're coming back-- well, maybe not if they're coming back, but how they're going through your website. So from that point of view, I think whether users go through a link to your site is something that's useful for you, as a webmaster, but not necessarily something that we use for finding links on the web. We're pretty good at crawling the web. We've been able to follow links for a really long time now, so we have a lot of experience with looking at HTML pages, pulling the links out, and showing them. OK. "When will we hear if any of these suggestions will be added to Webmaster Tools and linked to the Google Moderator page that we put up?"

MARY: We've been looking at it pretty often.

ERIC: Yeah, we've all been looking at this. There's a lot of really great suggestions.

MARY: And it's not just for the English market. We got a lot of suggestions and feedback from our other markets, too, so we've been looking.

JOHN MUELLER: I think this is something that's really useful for us to do the longer term planning, but it's not something where you'd see us going in there and saying, oh, this is top-wished item here. Therefore, we'll implement it next week. We really have to plan the work with our engineers, with the back-ends that we have to run. So it's not something where you'd see immediate changes, but it's definitely useful for us to understand where you guys see the issues and where you guys think that we could improve Webmaster Tools. And like Mary mentioned, it's really interesting to look at this also across different languages, because some languages have completely different wishes, where they say, well, maybe in English, this is, like, the number one item. But in French or in German or in Russian, it's on page two of all the wishes that they have. So it's going to be interesting to balance all of those things and work with the Webmaster Tools team to find a way to get everything working there.

ERIC: Is that Moderator page still open, or have you closed that?

JOHN MUELLER: Maybe. I don't know.

ERIC: If it's still open, keep on throwing some stuff in there. I've seen some really good ideas, so if you haven't seen that one yet.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Question-- "if a home page without a trailing slash has a canonical with a trailing slash but the canonical is redirecting 301 to the home page again, can that be a problem?" So I think in general, in a case like this, you're giving us inconsistent signals. On the one hand, you're saying that, actually, the URL is like this, with a slash. On the other hand, when we try to crawl that page, you're saying, well, actually, it's a URL without the slash that you want to index. So that doesn't cause any problems in the sense that we won't index the site at all, that we'll demote it in rankings, but it'll make it harder for our algorithms to pick the right URL. So on the one hand, we'll see this URL. On the other hand, we'll see the other one. Maybe we'll fluctuate between the two, depending on when we crawl. But that doesn't change how this content actually ranks. So it's kind of inconsistent in that you don't tell us which URL you want to have shown, but it's not going to cause any problems in the sense that your site's going to drop in rankings or that our algorithms are going to think, well, this webmaster doesn't know what he's doing. Therefore, we're going to ignore his site completely. It's essentially just a choice of URLs that you're giving us confusing information about. It won't cause the rankings to drop. All right.

MARY: Subdomains.

JOHN MUELLER: You want to take one?

MARY: Yeah, I can answer this one. So we're very good about understanding whether your subdomain is related to the domain-- like if you have context that's specifically different. But at the same time, if you are on a free host and the free host has a lot of spammy sites, for example, then we may take manual action on the entire free host. So it depends on what kind of free host you're at. And if you see that the free host has a manual action and it's affecting your site, then you should also probably reach out to the free host, the webmaster, or their contact list to ask them to just clean up the site or clean up the spam on their end. So it could affect you. But at the same time, we're also good at understanding subdomains and that they're related to as separate sites.

ERIC: Yeah. I don't know if this perspective from someone running the free host or just part of the free host. If you're running the free host

MARY: I think they're part of it.

ERIC: OK. If you're running the free host, you should be trying to get rid of that spam as soon as possible, because there's probably just like-- we try to be really granular in our actions. So if there's something wrong and it's affecting the entire site, there's probably just an egregious amount. And if you're part of the free host, I would definitely tell your free host that, really point that out to them. Just be like, there's a lot of bad content, and the people using your service is really being affected negatively.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. There is a very page-specific question. "Would Google consider this to be a quality article?" I'd have to take a look at that, but I don't know if that's something that we'd be able to really tell you that this page is fantastic or 50% OK. That's probably not the level of detail we'd be able to give you information on. I don't know what URL that is. I'll take a look at that later just to make sure we're not missing anything exciting. All right. How about this one? "I have a domain. I have, and I want to move to country code top of the domain. 70% of my users are from the UK with for UK and for the US. I lose all rankings for the UK. Should I use a 301 redirect from .com to UK and a subdomain for the US?" That sounds complicated. So essentially, if you're moving a site from different subdirectories to new domains, then you should really have the 301 redirect on a page-by-page basis from those individual parts of your site. If you're using something like .com, so generic top-level domain for individual countries like the US, like you mentioned here, then make sure you use Webmaster Tools to set the geo-targeting for that domain. If you're using the domain and hosting the US content in a subdirectory, then keep in mind that we can't assign geo-targeting. For that. So we'll see [INAUDIBLE] domain. And we won't actually see that the /us or the US subdomain would be geo-targeted for the US. So that'd probably be a bad combination. But moving it to country code top-level domains is fine. Using subdomains is fine. Using folders on a generic top-level domain is also fine. Essentially, any of those work, and the one that you choose is probably more defined by what you want to do with your website, how you want to present it, than something that I'd say you need to do for web search.

ROBB YOUNG: John, does hreflang also work on those? So you can have .com in the UK and hreflang there. So that's UK and .com. They say US and hreflang there, and that you should get the best of both worlds?

JOHN MUELLER: Sure. You can definitely do that The hreflang markup you'd have to do on a per page basis, though. So it's not that you can do the home page and it'll apply for the whole site. You really have to do that on a per page basis.

ERIC: There's an international targeting tool. I think [? you'll have to ?] watch it six or seven months ago in Webmaster Tools. [INAUDIBLE]. Especially if you're going to do the hreflang markup, it'll tell you if you've made any mistakes. It's pretty easy to make mistakes on that sometimes, so I'd definitely use that international targeting tool.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: Can I ask a question?

JOHN MUELLER: Just a second.

MARY: Oh, yeah, let me just finish this up. If you do switch your domain, for example, just make sure we understand what the change of address to the 301 is. Any other question about ranking there, we pick it up pretty fast. There might be some fluctuations as you're moving your site, but we do understand it really fast if you set it up correctly. Yeah. So did someone have a question?


BARUCH LABUNSKI: Yeah. Hi. Can you hear me?

ERIC: Yep.


BARUCH LABUNSKI: OK, so I have a question about how do you discount links and when do you do that? When does the algorithm decide, hey, you know what, we're going to discount this basically out of the portfolio of the site's links? In what case, for instance, would you do that? When?

JOHN MUELLER: So you mean the links to the site or the links--

BARUCH LABUNSKI: Yeah. So if a site is behaving really bad, when do you decide to go ahead and discount the links or whatever you call it? It's just it hasn't been answered, and I just wanted to know when does it happen?

ERIC: We pick it up as-- if we can identify it as a bad link, we definitely try to take action on it, whether it be manual action or algorithmically. When does it happen? Probably as soon as we can find it and identify it as bad, I guess.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: OK. If sites are really behaving as they're not supposed to, I just wanted to know. Maybe it could take a month, two months, I don't know. That's why I'm asking.

JOHN MUELLER: So I guess, like Eric said, when we pick it up, essentially, that's when that happens. And if there's something that we can pick up algorithmically, then we might be able to pick that up as we crawl those pages, as we find those links. If it's something that is based on a manual action, then, of course, when someone submits a spam report, when we run across that spam issue internally for other reasons and someone from the web spam team looks at that, then they can take manual action on that. And then that'll be usually, I guess maybe a couple of days or something like that.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: But the spam reports are read on a daily basis? I mean, I know you have a large team, but it's not as large for so many websites around the world.

ERIC: So, I mean, we try to look at as many spam reports. I think we do look at most spam reports when they come through, and I can't say that's daily. It's really based off of, like you were saying, resources. But there's also a lot of other ways that we detect badness, so it's not necessarily just dependent on spam reports. So there's a variety of ways we can pick up someone that's trying to manipulate our system through linking.


JOSH BACHYNSKI: When are we going to be done with links? I mean, for example, I just did a really successful campaign for a client, some viral marketing, and good Google shares, a few hundred tweets, maybe 100 Facebook Likes. And they didn't get-- they got three links out of it. And the links that they got were just aggregator sites, social aggregator sites, like or whatever. So they didn't get any links out of doing what I would consider a fairly successful viral marketing campaign. When are we going to be done with links? It's getting pretty difficult to find links, and I think it's well time, in my opinion, that Google is tracking something else other than links, in my personal opinion.

JOHN MUELLER: We have a lot of experience with [INAUDIBLE] crawling, indexing, and ranking. So it's not like you need to have links. And for example, one of our friends back home recently set up a new website for the neighborhood, and they don't have any links at all. And they have, I think, over 300 pages are indexed. They're getting nice rankings. They're getting lots of traffic through Search, enough for them, at least. And they don't have any links at all. So nobody has linked to that site ever. They're submitting site maps. They have an RSS feed, those kind of things. But this website does fairly well without getting links at all. So it's not the case that you absolutely need to have links. Obviously, it's still a part of our ranking factors, but it's not something where I'd say you don't get any links out of something that you do that you failed. Like these viral campaigns that you mentioned, that might be a fantastic way to drive traffic to a website. That might be something where we pick up other signals and use those as well. So from that point of view, I wouldn't say that it's like [INAUDIBLE] to absolutely get the likes, not something that Google always completely relies on.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: But a different search engine somewhere around the world has tried that, and they went ahead and removed it. And I personally don't think the results are that great, based upon they tried it, right? You still need links, right?

JOHN MUELLER: I think links are really important for crawling the web, because that's a great way to discover content that people are pointing at, to discover related pages that are linked around. That's a great way to go from one page to lots of other pages. So from that point of view, I think links is definitely an important part of the web. I believe Yandex removed links from their ranking factors in some specific parts of their search, so it's not the case that it's completely removed. But I think it's important to try these kind of things. And I imagine these are experiments that we run from time to time, as well, to see what would it be like if we didn't look at page rank at all? How would the search results look like? What other factors could we look at? And I think that's something that any search engine has to keep asking itself and keep challenging itself, and saying, hey, just because this is something we've always done doesn't mean it'll always be like this. Maybe at some point, people won't have any links at all. Maybe the web won't be in HTML anymore, but it'll all be in Flash or in apps or something like that. And these things happen. And it's not the case that we can make a decision and say, oh, the web should move to apps or to Flash or whatever. The web does what it wants, and we have to make sure that we use what's happening on the web and provide useful search results to people, so that people still find our services useful, as well.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: But it's not going to happen in a long time, right, like in SMX. Matt Cutts was saying it won't happen for a long time.

JOHN MUELLER: I have no idea. A long time is a very flexible time. If you're looking at the web, something that happens within a year is like a really long time. But if you look at the bigger picture of computers, then maybe a year is a really short time. But I'm not saying that in a year, we'll stop using links, but I know that we're constantly trying to challenge ourselves and figure out what's best for the user, how best to pick this content up. And you're going to see changes over time. So if you're an SEO or webmaster and you're saying, well, I have it all figured out. My website is ranking number one now. I won't touch a thing, and it'll stay ranking number one. Then probably that's not going to happen. Things always change on the web.

ARTHUR RADULESCU: So John, then what other factors you pick up if you don't use social media as a ranking factor, as in your previous comment?

JOHN MUELLER: I don't know. [LAUGHTER] I don't have anything offhand that I'd be comfortable sharing. There are lots of things-- when you look at the content on the web, how it interacts with each other. I don't have anything specific that I'd point at where I'd say, this is a ranking factor, because then you'd all run off and try to gain that figure. And then we wouldn't be able to use it as a ranking factor anymore, because essentially, people are just playing games with it.

ARTHUR RADULESCU: No, no. I didn't want you to specifically say something. It's just for the reason you just mentioned. But generally speaking, that all the traffic from your example earlier-- I mean, from Josh's example-- came from social media. So everything came from social media apart from the links. And you're saying that you're using some factors, and you're looking at other factors. Then it's not links. Then what it is? I mean, just a general idea, if you can. Of course.

JOHN MUELLER: I'd say there are lots of indirect aspects there, too, where maybe you don't get explicit links from this kind of activity, but maybe you get indirect links, where people are saying, well, I'll Bookmark this for later. And then they take that page and they recommend it to their friends on Facebook. And it's not like a link, where you'd say, well, this passes page rank. Therefore, it'll be used for ranking. But your friends will look at the recommendations in Facebook or wherever they're active, and they will follow that, go to that website. And maybe one of these people indirectly will put a normal link on their blog. Maybe a newspaper will write about this. And these are all effects that maybe indirectly we might be able to pick up on. Obviously, we can't track everything, and we can't use all kinds of social media signals for ranking. But there are lots of indirect effects out there that we could try to pick up on and use for ranking.


ROBB YOUNG: If people are coming from social media and they're getting traffic from social media-- visitors, sales-- then it seems-- [INAUDIBLE] wood for the trees. Then why are you looking to Google to help you build links out of that? Why not just get sales, traffic, and customers from social media? Why not treat it as it is, which is another source of traffic and sales?

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Because Google is still the biggest game in town and we have no choice.

JOHN MUELLER: No, I disagree. I think there are lots of chances to get other traffic to your website, and that's not something where people have to put everything into a search. I've seen sites that are really popular that are roboted out completely. They're services that don't even have a real website, that essentially just have an app that maybe we don't even show in Search at all. And they might get a lot of traffic. They might get a lot of customers. It's not the case that everything has to lead to search.

ROBB YOUNG: It totally depends on your business model. There are companies like Zynga that have just built games that people don't search for those. They just find them on Facebook or they share it. I'm not saying my business could rely on it. It absolutely couldn't. But there are plenty of things now that appear on social media which admittedly are generally just clickbait. But they make their money from finding you on social media, getting you onto their site, and getting advertising revenue. It's no good if you're e-commerce necessarily or if you don't have a good idea. But I'm not saying if you run an SEO company or you sell marketing services, that's going to be perfect for social media. But other things certainly are. So it's industry-based.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Oh, I don't know. I don't know if I agree with you guys.

JOHN MUELLER: That's fine. That's fine. We'll still send traffic from Search to your site.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: No, it's just that people are very used to Google, period. They do whatever they need to do, and they do it on Google. It's just that's how it is.

JOHN MUELLER: I'd say the web evolves very quickly. So people are used to Google now. That doesn't mean that we can just lay back and say, well, they're always going to come to our site. Just like if you had a website that you don't change for a couple of years, then people aren't always going to come to your site just by default. Things have to evolve over time. I guess a lot of the practices we recommend also apply to any other kind of users that you drive to your site. If you have a really fantastic website that's useful for your users, then that will work regardless of the kind of traffic that you're getting. It's not the case that you have to build a specific website for social media and a different one for Search. You can make a fantastic website that just works for your users, regardless of how they come.

ERIC: I'm going to sound like a broken record, and I'm sure everybody's heard about this before. But content, quality, and relevance are what's important to us. As a search engine, we want our users to have good content and relevant results. So when we're talking about things like links, they are a signal of good content and relevance. So don't think of links as an end all, be all, like I have to get links, I have to get links. Or don't think of social media, I have to get a whole bunch of clicks and everything. Just think about what your users are looking for. And if you're thinking about, from the perspective of Google, what people are Googling and trying to search for when they're looking for your website. And so going back to signals, I just think about it that way. Don't think about specific signals that you can do or change somehow. Think about, how can I make my content more relevant and the quality better? So I know, broken record. I'm sorry.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: No, no, no, that's good.


JOSH BACHYNSKI: Let's ask it this way. Hold on, Baruch. Let's ask it this way then.


JOSH BACHYNSKI: If you have to choose, what is the better signal for Google-- relevance, directly tracking relevance, or indirectly tracking relevance through [? quality ?] signals? Would Google rather read relevance directly and quality directly, or would they rather tell there is quality and relevance through indirect user signals, whatever they may be?

ERIC: Why not have both?

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Both, of course, is the answer. How good is Google tracking the former opposed to the latter these days? Because it used to be-- the reason why you guys started tracking links in the first place is because that was a really great way of telling what was relevant online, because everyone was linking to it. Now with the technology you might have at your disposal, how comfortable is Google directly looking at relevance and directly looking at quality signals, as opposed to having to rely on third-party information?

JOHN MUELLER: I don't think we have the magic answer for that.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: I'm asking a philosophical question. I'm asking for a philosophical answer. I'm not looking for anything specific.

JOHN MUELLER: I think in general, we try to find things that give us this kind of information, and we try not to rely on just one signal, because sometimes that can be a little bit misleading. And that kind of applies across the board to everything that we're doing here. So if you're saying either this or that, like Eric said, why not have both? I think that's kind of what we'd aim for, to confirm that the signal is the correct thing, that we're picking the right things up. And there's a lot involved there. And these things change over time. It's not really that trivial.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: We just want to basically-- not for Google to be more transparent. We just want to take care of our clients, not to make them number one. It's just to make the web clean at the end of the day. Like, our clients don't have the time to spend on their website. I mean, there's so many things to do. So that's why I asked that question. I just wanted to know, because there's a lot-- when it comes down to competition areas, either contractors or something else, whatever it is, a lot of businesses are trying to manipulate, right? So that's why I asked that question.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. That's always tricky, to find the right one.

MARY: Right.

JOSHUA BERG: John, I have a different question on the topic of quality, content quality. We know from the-- I mean, we've heard about the above-the-fold layout algorithms that ads above the fold are not a good quality signal. Is there a limit that would be-- or even a range that we could say that this is definitely not safe, because I'm thinking of a site that has been quite successful as a forum-type site that gets millions of visitors. But they do have 1/3 of their space above the fold as advertisements, like sometimes running Google ads and stuff like that. Do you think that's too much, or do you think that because they're getting enough other quality signals that that would be overlooked?

JOHN MUELLER: I really kind of take a step back there and look at it from a user's point of view, and not just count pixels and say, 1/3 of this page is covered by this, 1/3 is this. But really try to look at how users would feel when they land on this page from the search results. Do they feel that this answers their query? Do they feel that this is relevant to them? Is this high-quality content that they find when they open that page? Or do they just get lost in a sea of ads? And that's something where it's really not [INAUDIBLE], kind of like with the number of words on a page, to say, well, this specific number of ads is good and anything above that is bad. But you really need to take a step back and look at it from a user's point of view.

JOSHUA BERG: OK. So the user's reaction to that action-reaction may be more important.

JOHN MUELLER: I think that's something you could look at. I mean, if this is your website, you could look at things like in Analytics, how people are going through your website. You have that information. That's something you can interpret really well, because you know your website. You know what you expect users to do. And that doesn't mean that we're going to look at your Analytics, because we're not going to use that for ranking anyway. But that's something that you, as a webmaster, can use as a tool to figure out, am I doing the right thing? Other things you can do there are just, like, traditional user studies. Take a bunch of people that you think might be interested in your website, invite them to your office, and have them complete tasks on your website. And ask them questions about how they respond to your website. And I think that's always really useful. That's not like one-to-one SEO technique, but it really helps you figure out which parts of your site people are responding positively to, which parts of your site they basically get lost in.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: John, to Joshua's question, basically, when quality raters come to the site, just like they do on Google Maps, is there a way that they can add comments in an auto-generated comment in Webmaster Tools, once they were there? I mean, they were there--

JOHN MUELLER: It's not the case that we go to your website and we're like, oh, this is 70% OK. Therefore, we're going to drop it in rankings. These kind of raters, when they look at the search results and they analyze the changes in the search results, they give us general information about the algorithms that we use for them. They're not going to have feedback specifically for you, as a webmaster. So I doubt that they'd have time to submit a feedback form for your website. But this is something where I wouldn't focus on that part of Google, because that's not something where people are going to your website and saying, oh, well, we have to review all websites on the internet so that we can make sure that the search results are OK, because that obviously would never be possible. So really focus on your users. You know your users best. You know your website best. You know what people should be doing there. And that's something where, if you make a fantastic website that works really well for your users, then it would be an error on our side if we don't reflect that in Search in the relevant areas.

JOSHUA BERG: OK. Yeah, thanks. And so one other question about forums that are well-used. If a site occasionally gets some adult content in posts but maybe the site as a whole doesn't want to be tagged or labeled as adult content, then a forum like that, should they need to be very cautious about allowing anything like that, because the whole site or larger portions of it may get affected by that? I mean, the pages can't be individually-- or would you suggest, if some content needs to be individually labeled as such, that it could be?

JOHN MUELLER: I guess first of all, it's important to keep in mind that even if you have user-generated content, it's essentially your website and you're publishing it. And if people are submitting something that you don't want to have published, then you need to find a way to catch that at the right time. So that's essentially not something, from our point of view, where we would say, well, some random person on the internet submitted all this spam to this website, and therefore we shouldn't count it against that website, because some random person on the internet actually did that. But rather, you, as the webmaster, as the site owner, are essentially responsible for the content that you're publishing there. And if we look at your site overall and we see there's a lot of junk here-- maybe there's a lot of adult content on this site. Then that's something our algorithms might say, well, overall, this site here is kind of in this category. And that's regardless of who generated that content and put it on your site. It's essentially you're the person republishing it. So if you don't want that content associated with your website, then make sure that it doesn't get published on your website.

JOSHUA BERG: OK. But I was thinking about a site that maybe it is pretty well-moderated, but there are questions or topics that may be related to medical or medicine that have to do with adult content or something like that. Then, is that something they should still keep a handle on?

JOHN MUELLER: That's kind of up to you. I mean, as a webmaster, you decide how far you want to go, what kind of content you want to have published. In Google, we try to be pretty granular with our algorithms, but if we can't easily recognize which parts of a site are kind of adult content, which parts of a site are not adult content, then it's possible that at some point, our algorithms will say, well, there is some adult content on here. Therefore, we have to be cautious with this website, showing it in Safe Search. So that's kind of a decision that you have to make as a webmaster and say, well, I'm OK with my website being like this. I'll accept what people are publishing there. Or maybe you'll pick a separate part of your website that has the adult content. And you'll say, well, everyone who has questions on these topics should go to this part of the site, something that's either blocked from crawling or indexing or just clearly separated from the rest.

JOSHUA BERG: OK. Yeah. And I was thinking it as a relatively small portion--


JOSHUA BERG: --of the site.

JOHN MUELLER: That's essentially up to you. Let's grab some of the questions that were left here. Do you see any that you want to jump in?

MARY: Yeah. I like the question about the large franchise.

JOHN MUELLER: Which one? This one?

MARY: Yeah. So what are best practices? So ideally, when you're making localized websites, you probably have a product or you have a service in that region, right? So the hours, a map of the location, phone number, just anything that's relevant to the local place. And if they are in different languages, you use the hreflang option, too. And to make sure that it's not duplicate, like if you're making it for local regions, local languages, then you have different hours. You have different locations. You have different phone numbers. People are going to understand that. And I see a lot of good examples of that, a lot of cars sharing start-ups in the Bay Area that's expanding to other countries. They're making a lot of localized websites but on the same domain. But they have different information. They have different prices, too. And if you just look at some good examples online, then that should also give you some good ideas on what to put. Any other suggestions?

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. Sounds good. Do you have one, Eric?

ERIC: We can--

JOHN MUELLER: Let's see what we have.

MALE SPEAKER 2: John, can I just talk real quick on Josh's earlier statement?

JOHN MUELLER: We'll try.

MALE SPEAKER 2: [LAUGHS] All right, thanks. It's more of a general concept of links. I was unable to join last week's last Webmaster Hangout. However, I watched the whole thing, and someone-- they weren't part of the actual Hangout. They were asking the questions on the side, and they asked about getting editorial links for their site. And you seemed to immediately jump on the, well, that sounds like you're doing something that you shouldn't be doing, when isn't editorial links more going out and basically getting links from the value of our content? I mean, isn't that the best way to go about doing it?

JOHN MUELLER: I guess it depends a lot on what specifically you're doing there, because what I see a lot is people saying that they're going to build editorial links. But essentially, what they do is just spam webmasters that happen to have websites with similar topics. And hey, you linked to me. Please, this is really cool stuff. You should link to me. And that very quickly turns into kind of almost like unnatural links, that they wouldn't be there if they're not doing some kind of link exchange or something like that. So that's something where I'd be really cautious. And a lot of times when we see people talk about their links and say, well, I know I have some bad links, but I'm going to build a whole bunch of good links. And essentially, they just go out and spam a lot more. Then you're just digging a deeper hole rather than actually fixing your problems. And if your content isn't attracting those links by itself, then that's something that might be something worth thinking about a little bit more to figure out why this is happening, why people are going to your site but actually they don't want to recommend it to anyone.

MALE SPEAKER 2: So it's not OK emailing other relevant bloggers who are talking about your brand or brands that you're involved in, asking for links?

JOHN MUELLER: I'm not going to make any general statement and say this is always good or it's always bad. I can see it definitely makes sense to sometimes draw attention to something really fantastic that you're doing, if people weren't aware of that. But if you're essentially just emailing random people to ask for links, then that sounds pretty lame. I don't know.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: Basically, if we're going through an election-- the States, the US is going through an election. And if there's a fake vote, it's not counted, right? So it's all about getting real votes, right, John?

JOHN MUELLER: I don't know how the elections are handled in the US. I have no idea.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: It's all about real votes.

JOHN MUELLER: Real votes? I don't know. I don't know how that works.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: They're handled poorly, John, poorly.

JOHN MUELLER: I'm sure that there are good parts there. Let me see. Here's one question about mobile-friendly that I thought we'd get through very briefly. "You said in the future, mobile-friendly factors can affect ranking of mobile Search but maybe not of desktop. Currently, as Google is using many desktop signals from mobile Search, as well, is Google going to index desktop mobile sites separately?" So to some extent, we are picking them up separately already. With rankings, that's something that's been the case since a while now. So I think mid-last year or almost two years ago now, we did a blog post about different factors that could affect your mobile search rankings. And that's something that's been a case for a while. So if you do some of those things that we mentioned on the blog post there, then chances are that users searching on smartphones will see your site on a different ranking than they would on desktop. And that's something that I imagine will be moved forward, as well. In the recent mobile-friendly label blog post that we did, we also said that we're going to experiment on ranking changes there, as well. So if we see that an equivalent site is in a search result equivalent, be relevant, for example, and we notice that the user's on a smartphone and this other site works a lot better on smartphones, then maybe we'll show that one higher in Search. So I definitely expect more changes in that direction going forward.

BARUCH LABUNSKI: Is mobile and Search-- is the mobile in Search different right now, because I'm seeing that it's not the same. Like for instance, a site will be number one in desktop and then number three in mobile. I mean, before, it was all the time, it was--

JOHN MUELLER: It's hard to say. I mean, the search results in general have been different since almost the beginning, where the composition of the search results will change. Sometimes it makes more sense to show big images in desktop, but then it won't in mobile, for example. The ranking generally would be fairly similar. But even on desktop, you'll see changes from day to day, where you'll check on one computer, it'll be ranked like this. You check on a different computer, it'll be ranked different. And it's not that we're specifically targeting that individual computer, but we have experiments that are running all the time. We take personalisation into account as much as possible, and all of that can also play a role on mobile.

ERIC: And if you allow a location on mobile or something, there's a lot of different things that we can look at on mobile.


JOHN MUELLER: All right. "We think we might have been hit by a duplicate content penalty. Once we've resolved the issue, how long will it take for us to regain our rankings?" We have a duplicate content penalty, like a manual action?

ERIC: We do have a manual action that's specifically targeting thin content. So if you file a reconsideration request, after the reconsideration request, it may take some time again with the indexing and re-crawling. And in general, if you have those types of issues and you've identified it, same thing. It's re-crawling, re-indexing. It's going to take us some time to pick up these changes.

MARY: And keep in mind that your ranking before might be inflated because of any behaviors that you did that inflated your ranking. So it's going to allow us to understand where you fall naturally, and that might be lower or higher than before. So work on the content and get rid of that manual action.

JOHN MUELLER: All right.

ROBB YOUNG: Will we have time today to answer my question, or do you want to-- is your email enough to me or do I leave it until next week?

JOHN MUELLER: I think that--

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Oh, the standard question.

ROBB YOUNG: I think it'd be a good learning curve for the other people around, since this seems to be such a complex issue.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I'd probably just leave it to the Google+ post that you send.

ROBB YOUNG: Because I just want to understand how far to distance ourselves, whether you're talking about removing the domain from our ownership, removing any links whatsoever, removing any hosting association, removing any hreflang association. I mean, totally distancing ourselves, or whether we're just talking about ditching the links between this? We're on the hreflang at the moment. We don't 301 or anything. And you told us--

JOHN MUELLER: If you're not redirecting from the old domain to the new one, then that's probably what we're looking for.

ROBB YOUNG: Because we do hreflang to tell people that-- but that was a workaround, in all honesty. It wasn't a-- they're both in the same country, but we were just trying our luck. But then, you know that. We're not--

JOHN MUELLER: I don't think the hreflang there would make a lot of sense, but it shouldn't cause any problems.

ROBB YOUNG: No, but it did give us a short-term boost over a period of six to eight weeks or something, which then seemed to-- you then caught up with us, effectively, and thought, actually, this is the same site. Go away again.

JOHN MUELLER: I don't think that you'd see any problems of [INAUDIBLE]. But essentially, the redirects, like in your case, where you have one domain that has a lot of problems and you set up a new site, then the redirects kind of forward all those problems to the new site. So if you [INAUDIBLE] place, then that's really helpful for us to understand that starting with this new domain. But at the same time, it also means that you have to build up from that domain. It's not something where you can say, well, I'll take the previous standing and build from there. But rather, you're starting over with that new site.

ROBB YOUNG: Right. See, previously, you said 301 would be OK, because it's not a link penalty and there's no penalty associated with that. So feel free to 301. But now you're saying, actually, the domain is so toxic, don't 301.

JOHN MUELLER: I think in your specific case, I'd avoid redirecting now. Yeah.

ROBB YOUNG: All right. So we're basically starting a new 10-year-old business with no--

JOHN MUELLER: I don't know. You still have a lot of things that essentially people know about. People are going to your sites. I think from that point of view, you're not starting exactly at zero. But it's definitely not an easy situation.

ROBB YOUNG: I know. And we have to keep that live, that site. We have no choice, because we're a gift certificate company. So people have that domain to visit within printed literature and have for the last 10 years. And in the US, gift certificates don't expire, so they have to visit it. So we can't not have it there. But how far do we distance ourselves from it in order for it to no longer ever be a problem?

JOHN MUELLER: In general, if you're setting up a new site, if you're not redirecting, then that's a good sign for us that these sites are actually separate.

ROBB YOUNG: So the same owners, same hosting, and same everything else should be fine, as long as there's no links?



JOHN MUELLER: All right. OK. So with that, I think we're out of time. Thank you all for joining. Next week, we'll be-- or maybe two weeks, I guess, we'll be back at the usual times, which don't work so well for California. Sorry. But maybe we'll do some later ones over the course of the year, as well. So thank you all for joining. Thanks for all your questions and comments. And hope to see you guys in one of the future Hangouts.


MALE SPEAKER 2: Thank you.


ARTHUR RADULESCU: Thank you guys for coming.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: As always, we really appreciate it.



ROBB YOUNG: Bye, John. | Copyright 2019