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Google+ Hangouts - Office Hours - 30 December 2014

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JOHN MUELLER: OK. Welcome, everyone, to today's Google Webmaster Central Office Hours Hangout. My name is John Mueller. I am a Webmaster Trends Analysts at Google in Switzerland. And part of my role is to talk with webmasters like you guys and to make sure that we answer your questions and that we take your feedback on board when we work on our products, when we work on our search algorithms. So it looks like there are lots of you here already, even though it's almost a holiday, I guess. The office here is pretty empty. So if one of you wants to go ahead and start with a question, feel free to go ahead.

LYLE ROMER: Hey, John. Real quick on a Webmaster Tools question. I noticed something on the site maps where sometimes where it says how many are indexed out of how many are in the site map, that will seem to fluctuate even though nothing has changed as far as the URLs that are actually in the site map. So I guess a two-part question-- one, would you have any idea what causes that phenomenon, and two, might there be any plans in the future to actually indicate what items from the site map are and are not indexed?

JOHN MUELLER: It's hard to say what could be causing that. My guess is that we're just kind of dropping and re-picking up URLs. I could see that happening, for example, if you have a fairly large site. And sometimes we can pick up a little bit more of that. Sometimes we can't pick up all of that. So those kind of fluctuations are kind of normal as we kind of crawl and index a site. With regards to getting information about the URLs that aren't indexed, I can see that making sense for a smaller site. But for any larger site, there are going to be lots and lots of URLs that aren't indexed. And having those individual URLs isn't really going to help you that much. So what I do there instead is split your site map file up into logical segments and just figure out which parts of your site map file are getting more indexed or which parts aren't getting as indexed, and kind of on an aggregate level, look at it on your site. And say, OK. All the category pages are getting indexed, and that's essentially the most important page for my website. So that's fine. If not, all of the blog posts are getting indexed, and that's something you can live with. If the important pages aren't getting indexed, then that's something you might want to think about what you could change in your site structure in general to kind of make it easier for us to recognize that those pages are really important.


BARRY: John, since nobody's around, could you share with us what fun stuff is coming out in the Search Queries Report in the Webmaster Tools?

JOHN MUELLER: Uh, not really. [LAUGH] I don't really have any details I can share there at the moment. And this is the kind of thing where we're working on something that will probably be interesting and fun to use. But at the same time, we're still in early stages, so we can't really give you too much information on what we're doing there. So we're trying to kind of bring together all the information that we have from the search query point of view there, and make it a little bit easier for you to pick up the parts that are more relevant to your site. I see some wishes already being posted in the chat. Yeah.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: I know we're too l late for Christmas, but, you know.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. Usually we try not to launch new stuff during this holiday time because it ends up being fairly hard to maintain if anything goes wrong. So that's why we try not to push anything new out just before Christmas or just around Christmas, New Year, that time of year. So I don't think you'll see anything happening there before next week, and even then, it's still at a fairly early stage where we're trying to figure out which direction we need to pull this, what we need to improve in the UI. So it's not at the stage where I'd say you're going to see something crazy happening next week.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Did you happen to get my email? I did have one feature request that I thought would be interesting. I thought, why not use Gmail data for extra data space to save our legacy Webmaster Tools search query data? Or what if we could give you FTP information? And we'll gladly store it on our sites. If you need space, we have space, if that's the issue.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. Yeah. I saw that. I don't think that would work from a technical point of view, because the storage has to be quick enough to be queryable directly. So I don't think that would make sense directly. But I did pass that on, and I think that kind of encourages the team to also see what we can do to bring more data there. So I don't know how easily that will be possible, because there are lots of sites out there. But, yeah.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Cool. I did have one quick question. So I guess we're obliged to ask about Penguin and if you have any new information. And if you don't, that's no problem. We can just quickly move on.

JOHN MUELLER: I don't really have anything new to share there, no. Sorry.


JOHN MUELLER: This is also, I guess, one of the areas where the engineers are trying to take a break and see how things go at the moment, so no big changes happening there.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Sweet. Then I had one quick question. Do you know-- does Penguin crawl sites? I know Panda will do a site crawl sometimes. But I was wondering if Penguin was doing a site crawl, because I've been seeing really weird fluctuations in various websites' crawl rates.

JOHN MUELLER: That would probably be completely separate from like an algorithm like Penguin or Panda. That's something where usually there are technical signals that we pick up when we kind of re-crawl a site in a big way. And those are the kind of things where we look at what we've seen from the recent crawls and kind of recognize that something significant has changed. And then we'll say, oh, well, maybe we should check the rest of the site as well. So it's not so much that a quality or a webspam algorithm would say we should re-crawl this website, but it's more like we see significant changes on this website, so we say, OK. Well, let's take a look at what else changed.


JOHN MUELLER: All right. Here we have a question about HTTPS. I checked a few websites that made this change, and I didn't see a boost in their SEO performance or traffic. So why should we move our website to HTTPS if it's not going to help? So I think first off it's important to keep in mind that this is a fairly small change at the moment. So it's not something where you would see a jump from number 10 to number one immediately. And on the other hand, this is also something where I think the long-term trend is just going to be towards HTTPS. So in the long run, it's not going to be something where users will go to a website and say, well, if only this website were available in an unencrypted, insecure way, then I'd love to visit it more often. Because there's really no downside to implementing HTTPS once you have that set up. It's something that helps your users, that helps you-- because you know the content that you put online is the content that the users see. So it's something where I think that the general move is just going to happen more and more in that direction. I imagine over time, you'll see that this factor is something that we can improve on and where we can say, well, it really makes sense to kind of push this a little bit more so that we can perhaps count it a little bit higher in the rankings. So it's something where I imagine over the long run, you'll see a bigger change than you would see immediately at the moment.

BARRY: John, can I ask about my own site?


BARRY: So I assume you've seen some comments I've made or some people have made on the downward trend in traffic on the [INAUDIBLE]. And then somebody was like, what are you doing, what am I doing to improve things on the site to increase the traffic? And I kind of made like a joke that I'm trying to figure out how to become an authority in SEO. I'm trying to write content that people want to hear and people haven't heard other places, and I'm trying to make sure that people enjoy reading the site. So as you know-- I'm pretty sure you know. I mean, it looks like I was hit by Panda. I mean, I don't know if you can confirm that or not.

JOHN MUELLER: I haven't actually looked at your site recently, so I don't really know which part of the trend you're looking at.

BARRY: OK. I mean, I figure it's like, New Year's Eve, so I figure nobody's really watching anyway, if you want to take a look. But I mean, I don't know what to do. Honestly, I don't care about the little technical issues. Do you have old content? Of course I have old content that's dated. It's a news site that's 11, 12 years old. So I'm sure some of the stories that have from 11 years ago about page-writing updates or monthly Google crawls and stuff like that, that's outdated, but yet, it's relevant back then. I'm not going to go ahead and delete historical content because it's dated. It's dated. It has a date on there. It says this is the date. So at the same time, people socially share my stories all the time. I think people think I'm an authority. I do have a Wikipedia page, which gives me some type of minimal credit. So I'm pretty confident I was hit by Panda-- the last big Panda refresh that was supposed to help smaller websites. That's my own thing, as well as other people think I was hit by Panda. And I'm not going to go ahead and say, oh, I have to remove this piece of content because it's no longer relevant. I mean, it has a date on it for that reason. People have to be able to read dates on stories from 10 years ago and say, all right. This is dated from 10 years ago. It might not apply. I don't think the "New York Times" has to do that. I don't think any site has to do that. So--


JOHN MUELLER: So I guess in general I wouldn't worry too much about the dated content, and say, this is-- I don't know. Google made this change five years ago, and it's made 17 changes in that part of the algorithm since then, so it's no longer relevant. I wouldn't worry about it from that point of view. In general, I also wouldn't look at it as too much of a technical issue if you're looking at Panda issues. But instead, I'd look at, I guess, the website overall, the web pages overall. That includes things like the design, where I think your website is actually pretty good compared to a lot of other sites. So from that point of view, I see less of a problem. But it also includes things like the comments. It includes things like the unique and original content that you're putting out on your site that is being added through user-generated content-- all of that as well. So I don't really know exactly what our algorithms are looking at specifically with regards to your website. It's something where sometimes you'll go through the articles. And you'll say, well, there's some useful information in this article that you're sharing here. But there's just a lot of other stuff happening on the bottom of these little posts, where when our algorithms look at these pages in an aggregated way across the whole page, then that's something where they might say, well, this is a lot of content that's unique to this page, but it's not really high-quality content that we'd want to kind of promote in a very visible way. So that's something where I could imagine maybe there's something you could do. Otherwise, it's really tricky, I guess, to look at specific changes that you could do when it comes to things like our quality algorithms.

BARRY: So you're telling me to look at the comments.

JOHN MUELLER: Well, I think you have to look at the pages in an overall way. You shouldn't look at the pages and say-- I mean, we see this a lot in the forums. For example, people will say, well, my text is unique. You can copy and paste it, and it's unique to my website. But that doesn't make this website, this page, a high-quality page. So things like the overall design, how it comes across, how it looks as an authority-- kind of this information that's in general to a web page, to a website, that's something that all comes together, but also things like comments. Where a webmaster might say, well, this is user-generated content. I'm not responsible for what people are posting on my site. When we look at a page overall or when a user looks at a page, they see these comments as a part of the content as well. So it's something that kind of combines all together to generate something that users see, something that our algorithms see overall as a part of the content that you're publishing.


JOSH BACHYNSKI: Hey, John. Sorry. What about the ads? Sometimes I notice there are ads on Barry's site that seem to me to be a little off-topic.

JOHN MUELLER: I hadn't noticed that. At least speaking for myself, personally, it's not something that I noticed. And if these ads are on these pages and they're essentially not in the way, they don't kind of break the user experience of these pages, then I see no real problem with that. It would be a little bit more tricky if these were, for example, adult content ads, where our adult content algorithms would look at this page and say, well, the primary topic isn't adult-oriented, but there are a lot of adult content ads on here. Therefore, we don't really know how to kind of fit this into our SafeSearch filter and say is this adult content or not. But I haven't seen anything like that on Barry's site, so at least from my point of view, that's not something I'd worry about there.

MALE SPEAKER: Hey, John-- just jumping in. I'm in a coffee shop right now, so I apologize for any background noise. I will mute myself as soon as I'm done. Barry's site is one of those trusted sites among SEO communities. I mean, it's just right up there. And how could something that big be suppressed, and to me, I'm obviously a non-Googler. It doesn't look like Panda based on the content he has and all the community he's built around it. Is there anything you can give to Barry that could possibly point him in the right direction of recovering whatever that drop actually was?

JOHN MUELLER: I'd have to take a look at the details of what specifically is happening there. So it's not that I have anything magical where I can just like pop a URL in and say, oh. Well, this line of HTML needs to be changed, and then everything will be back to normal. To some extent, things always change on the web. So you'll always see some fluctuations. I imagine that kind of plays into this as well. But I guess looking at the site overall, I do see that it's a great website. It brings across a lot of really timely and important information. So it's not something where I would say, offhand, this is something that we would see as low-quality content. But sometimes there are elements that are kind of a part of that overall image that also play a role, where we'd see like the primary content is really high quality. Maybe there's another part of the page that isn't that high quality, and that kind of makes it hard for our algorithms to find the right balance and say, OK. Overall, this page is 70% OK, 60% OK, 90% OK-- this kind of stuff. So that's something where it's really hard to find the right balance there, and something where I wouldn't want to say without analyzing it in detail-- this is good or this is bad or this is a specific type of thing that you need to change there.

MALE SPEAKER: Well, I'm just curious for really any website, not just Barry's. I mean, all of us, I believe, except for you, John, are non-Google employees. What access do you and your team have back there to be able to really assess what's going on with the site, good and bad?

JOHN MUELLER: We have a lot of things. I mean, on the one hand, we have to kind of be able to kind of diagnose the search results and see what's happening there. That's something where we have to figure out which teams we have to contact internally to kind of find out more about this, to escalate problems that we see. So we do have quite a big insight into what's happening in search. And we try to kind of refine the information that we have into something that the webmaster can use, something that we can say publicly. So it's also, I guess, important from our point of view that we don't tell you something to focus on that's very specific to a problem that you're looking at now, but rather something where we can say, well, this is the general direction you should be focusing on. And if you focus on this general direction, then that's something that will remain relevant regardless of any algorithmic changes that we make in the meantime. Because if we said, OK, this line of HTML is being picked up by the Panda algorithm as being problematic today, then next week it might be a different line of HTML that the algorithm is focusing on. Whereas if we kind of guided you into the general direction where we say, OK, well, you should be looking at this in general, then that will remain relevant regardless of any algorithmic changes that we make.

MALE SPEAKER: Hi, John. Previously you mentioned in regards to comments that if an article was a considerably long, original article, and then there was relatively few comments, then they may have little to no bearing on the ranking. Whereas a short article, however good the article may be, that has a great deal of comments, may have to be a lot more concerned about that. So that's something about some of Barry's site's articles that are-- they're original and knowledgeable content, but they may be like news flashes about a specific topic, so they are short and have a lot of comments. So do you think that's kind of a potential area that you previously referred to?

JOHN MUELLER: I think that's something you could look at if you wanted to look at it in a specific way like that. But in general, I just see comments as something that's a part of the pages that you're publishing. So if you look at the page overall and you see, well, this is the part that I wrote. This is the part that other people contributed. Then, of course, depending on the size of your page in general, that's something where a large part of the content that you're publishing is either contributed by other people or written by yourself. So it kind of automatically falls into that area that you talked about, where if you have a short article with a lot of comments, of course those comments are going to be a larger part of your page. So that's something we'll pick up, as well. So it's not something where I'd say you have to watch out more for your comments if you have short content. But just generally keep in mind that what you're publishing is a whole page. It's not just that specific article that you have on top, but actually the whole page that you're providing to the search engine.

BARRY: You're not saying that Google doesn't understand the difference between the primary content versus the comments on the content. The algorithm does understand the difference, correct?

JOHN MUELLER: We do try to figure that out. And for some sites it's easier. For some sites it's not that easy. But still it's something that is a part of the content of the page. So it's not that we would say, well, these are comments, therefore we're going to completely ignore them, or these are comments, and therefore we're going to kind of 90% ignore them. They're essentially a part of the page that you're publishing for us.

BARRY: OK. And going back to the comments themselves-- so, at least in my case, I watch the comments. I have Disqus. It does a lot of the filtering of the pure spam stuff. It lets some things through. I have three different queues on how I actually monitor and block spam. I'm pretty good at it. So spam is clearly something that's not there. Maybe there's some that creeps through. There's obviously a lot of people who comment on my site that are impacted by certain algorithms, and either they're upset by it, or they're not-- whatever. They write them fast, just I like I write my stories fast. And sometimes the grammar and the English and stuff like that doesn't really come out that well. I'm not going to go ahead and rewrite their comments. Do you think maybe I should? Should I rewrite people's comments to make it spell better or just sound better? And a lot of these things is like, it's a lot of people helping each other in the comments, like you would in a discussion forum. I could easily quickly block all the comments, which I don't want to do, because it's really part of the whole purpose behind the site. But again, what would you recommend in that case?

JOHN MUELLER: It's hard to say. So I'd kind of have to look at your site in general to kind of figure out what I'd recommend there. I think definitely monitoring the comments for spam is something that should definitely be done. It sounds like you kind of have that covered. How you handle lower quality comments-- I guess it's tricky sometimes. And it's something where I don't have any default answer where I'd say you should do this or you should do that. I think rewriting other people's comments probably doesn't make that much sense. But maybe there are ways that you can kind of bubble up the higher quality comments and kind of not put the lower quality comments in front and center. I realize that sometimes they're really tricky, especially when you're looking at something where people are obviously very emotional about specific changes, for example. That could mean that there's some, let's say, ranty comments out there that are really popular by the people but actually that don't bring a lot of value to the article itself. So finding a balance between bringing them front and center and making sure that the actual high-quality content is front and center from your pages is something where you kind of have to find that balance yourself. And I don't know what possibilities you'd even have with a system like this Disqus or with any of the other commenting systems that are kind of out there.

BARRY: OK. I'm just trying to go by the rule that I tell people-- forget about SEO, per se. Obviously do everything technically right according to the technical requirements and stuff like that. But really, when you build your website, make sure it's something that people want, people want to read it, and make sure that it's something that Google would be embarrassed not to rank well in the search results. And then Google will have to take a look at it and say, what are our algorithms doing maybe wrong or not as well as they should be, and maybe Google's algorithms will adjust for it. So that's what I'm trying to go by. I don't think-- at least in my sense-- that the design could be updated. It's not bad. It's probably 1,000 times better than most websites out there. There is a design update coming in 2015, but I don't think that's an issue. I do think that I let a lot more comments go through than maybe I would at Search Engine Land. But again, it's more about the community versus just readers. So I try to bring more of a community aspect. I won't let pure spam through. I won't let pure hateful comments go through. And I'm sure you see a lot of that come through early. And I delete a lot of that stuff later. So I guess, I don't know. I'm going to just keep with it and see what happens with the Panda algorithm going forward.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I mean, I can definitely pass that onto the team to kind of have them take a look at it as well. But another thing that I've seen some sites do is bring only a part of their comments to the main page, and move the bulk of their comments out to a separate URL, for example. I don't know how much of that would be possible. I don't know how problematic those comments are in general over time. Maybe this is just something that we see when we look at these articles when they're fairly fresh. But I'm happy to kind of take that on to the team as well, to let them take a look as well.

BARRY: You know how it is. With software, I could have what my engineers or coders build an algorithm that says, pluses on comments, minuses on comments. The ones that have the highest pluses stay on the page, the ones that have the lowest go off the page. The question is, should I do that? And if you want to let me know, let me know. If not, I'll just leave it as is. Because I really do think the ones that are plussed higher are the ones that are probably more ranty, so it might not work out that well in terms of the algorithm itself.




MALE SPEAKER: Talking about quality and high-quality content, in the e-commerce space, we are building a [INAUDIBLE], and we work in a very competitive field. So I wanted to know how much weight has the content of your pages, the high-quality content of your pages, and the high quality of your search engine or booking engine, in order if it's different than the others, or bring more quality results for our visitors. I'd like to know if it has some weighted one, or is it only about quality content?

JOHN MUELLER: It kind of comes together. So if the system behind your website doesn't work that well, then essentially it kind of generates low-quality content. So that's something--

MALE SPEAKER: I was talking about the results for the people. If we bring different results of other booking engines, and they are more with more information or more quality information for the user-- not inside our machine. Only talking for the users.

JOHN MUELLER: Well, that's essentially content.


JOHN MUELLER: Whether it comes from your database and your algorithms that you use to compile that information or if that's a page that was manually written, that's essentially content that you're providing on those pages.

MALE SPEAKER: Oh. That's right. And I'd like to know-- if we are doing a lot of more quality content in all of our websites, I'd like to know, if we started today publishing it, how much time I need to wait to have improved our rankings? We work in Spain, much or less.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. There is actually no fixed time for something like that. So we would probably re-crawl it fairly quickly, if you submit it in a site map or with a feed. We would probably show it up in our index within a couple of days, depending on how much content, what kind of site it is. So we would know about it fairly quickly. And from that point of view, we would be able to show it in the search results, then. So I would guess within a couple of days you would see that we would show that in search, but it's hard to say when that content would have an effect overall on your website's ranking. Because that's something that just takes a lot more time to kind of aggregate that information, and to kind of turn that into a general positive signal for your website where we'd say, well, overall, this website has gone from having very little high-quality content to a lot of high-quality content, and that's something where I would imagine you'd be looking at more of a time frame like maybe a half a year, or something like that.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. Thank you. And a little more question. I have a website. It's only a one-page website. And I'd like to merge with other websites in order to keep the backlinks and the content. How could I do this? If I want to merge this one site with one page to the other website, but the page already exists? I don't know if I explain my--

JOHN MUELLER: So you're combining two websites?

MALE SPEAKER: Yeah, but no creating a new web page, but merging it with an existing web page, if it's possible?

JOHN MUELLER: Sure. I mean, one thing you can do is redirect one of the URLs to the other one. And that helps us to combine the signals that we have for those pages. And then we can re-crawl and re-index that new page that you have based on whatever is there. So redirecting pages and combining them like that is something that I think is a normal part of the web. It's something that always happens, where you refine your content. And you say, well, I had five pages, and I combined them into three. Or I combined them into one page, and I make that page much better than those five individual pages. And that's a normal part of the web. So I wouldn't worry about doing that kind of maintenance. I think that's completely fine.

MALE SPEAKER: Thank you very much.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Here we have a question. Does natural links from domains like directories with additional values like a blog forum on the same domain or other websites with many unnatural outbound links can be bad for my rankings? Google flagged bad link, bad pages, or bad domains. So I think this question is can links from bad websites have a negative effect on my website? And in general, that's something where I'd say no. That doesn't have a bad effect on your website. If we know that a website, for example, is selling links, then that's something where we could say, well, we're just going to disregard all of the links from this website. So that's something where, in general, that's not going to cause any problems. On the other hand, if the majority of your links are from sites that we would classify as being problematic, then that can look a bit fishy to our algorithms, where it looks like, well, all of your links are just from directories, and none of your users are recommending your website. Then maybe there is something problematic. Maybe there is something that you need to look at there. So in general, I'd say no. Having individual links from sites like that is not a problem. If you see that all of your links are like that, and especially if you have kind of done this yourself, if you've hired a SEO to create those links, then that's something that you might want to clean up as well. So that's something where cleaning it up with a disavow tool can help. So you could try that, as well.

MALE SPEAKER: Quick question, John.


MALE SPEAKER: Let's take a hypothetical situation where a webmaster doesn't know about the Webmaster Tools disavow tool, and the majority of his links are directories or websites selling links, and is obviously affected by the Penguin penalty. Meanwhile, he goes ahead and gets some good-quality links, and the percentage of low-quality links changes-- gets smaller. But again, he doesn't use a disavow file or anything else. Would this help him-- so if the majority of the links become the quality links, would this help him remove or would Google robot remove the Penguin penalty?

JOHN MUELLER: That would definitely help. Yeah. So, I mean, we look at it on an aggregated level across everything that we have from your website. And if we see that things are picking up and things are going in the right direction, then that's something our algorithms will be able to take into account. So in the hypothetical situation of someone who doesn't know about any of this and they realized they did something wrong in the past and they're working to improve that in the future, then that's something that our algorithms will pick up on and will be able to use as well. Still, if you're in that situation, it wouldn't be that I'd say you should ignore the disavow tool and just focus on moving forward in a good way, but instead really trying to clean up those old issues as well. And it's not something where we'd say that using the disavow tool is a sign that you're a knowledgeable SEO and that you should know better about these links. It's essentially a technical thing on our side, where we don't take those links into account anymore. It doesn't count negatively for your website if you use a disavow tool. It's not something you should be ashamed of using. If you know about this tool, if you know about problematic links to your site, then I just recommend cleaning that up.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. I'm not really in that situation. Again, it was just a hypothetical. I was mainly curious from a technical point of view. I mean, would the penalty actually get removed if the majority of the percentage of low-quality links diminishes? The actual Penguin penalty-- would it be removed?

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. That's something that our algorithms would take into account-- where if they look at the site overall and they see that this is essentially improving, if it looks like things are headed in the right way and the important links are really good links that are recommendations by other people, then they'll be able to take that into account and modify whatever adjustment there was made with that change there on that website. So they would take that into account. I wouldn't say that you have to have more than 50% and then the algorithm will disappear for your website. Let's say there are lots of shades of gray involved there, where the algorithm could say, well, this is looked really bad in the beginning. They worked a lot to kind of improve things overall. Things were improving significantly across the web with lots of good recommendations for this site. So it's kind of headed in the right direction. So it wouldn't be that it disappears completely, but maybe it'll kind of step-by-step improve.

MALE SPEAKER: OK, thank you.

MALE SPEAKER: John, if I can jump in just to follow-up on his last question.


MALE SPEAKER: Regarding the disavow, I've posted a bunch of-- probably Barry's site, as well. People know me as the guy that disavows twice a day. I've been having to-- I do it in the morning and at night, because we're still undergoing a negative SEO attack-- I should say a negative link spam attack on the site. How will we ever know if the disavow tool is actually working? I only ask that because a month after the attack started, our trajectory was going-- let's see if I can do this perspectively right-- straight up, and we are literally just down one month after. And I was disavowing twice a day since day one. We have probably 1,700 domains disavowed. We only have like 800 and some actual domains to our site-- legitimate linking domains. Basically, what should we do, keep disavowing and hope it's going to work?

JOHN MUELLER: You sent me that out on Google+ yesterday, right?


JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. So I looked at your site briefly, and there was really nothing from those problematic links causing any problem. So that's something where if you're seeing negative changes, then they wouldn't be resulting from those bad links that you're seeing there. So either you're handling the disavow properly, or we've been able to kind of ignore those links anyway. So from that point of view, I think you're probably doing the right thing by cleaning up these kind of issues as you see them pop up, but I wouldn't assume that all of the changes you're seeing in search are based on those links. So things like looking at your site overall to see what you can improve in general-- that's something I'd still keep in mind. And that's something I'd still focus on, as well.

MALE SPEAKER: We have disabled comments from day one, so I'm not going to get involved in the comment discussion. Thank you, though.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah, sorry. [LAUGH] I'm never going to hear the end of this one, I guess. All right. Yeah. But I think just focusing on the links would be wrong, but really making sure that the rest of your site is really as good as it possibly can be-- that's something I'd still recommended doing there. But obviously if you're seeing bad links, putting them in a disavow file is fine.


JOHN MUELLER: All right. From where does the Knowledge Graph take its data? Google's not showing the Knowledge Graph of my website. What can I do in order to appear with a Knowledge Graph? For the Knowledge Graph, I think we use a variety of public data that's available. And that's something that we show algorithmically. It's not something that we'd show for every website, for every query. So just because that information is available doesn't mean that we'd always show it for your website, as well. So with that in mind, what I'd recommend doing is just primarily focusing on your website and making sure that people are seeing it as something important, that they're writing about it, that they're talking about your website, that we do have this additional information to back up that it would make sense to actually show a Knowledge Graph entry for that website. How do you explain the extremely small changes in search results in the last three weeks? I don't really know what specifically you're kind of pointing at there, but fluctuations are essentially normal. And these are things that always happen with our algorithms, even if there is nobody manually flipping switches at the moment. So these are the kind of fluctuations that always can happen-- my guess. I don't really know what specifically you're pointing at. Maybe there's also technical issues that are sometimes involved on these websites.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Hey John, can I ask you a question?


JOSH BACHYNSKI: So you said a couple times in the past that in terms of the quality algorithms, the traffic we should be looking at in terms of their satisfaction should be mostly keyword traffic. And you've also said to me before that organic traffic is most important to look at in terms of how satisfied they are. Is that still the case? Should we still be focusing mostly on the keyword-based traffic?

JOHN MUELLER: I'm not really sure what you're referring to there.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Not in terms of I know you guys don't use the Analytics bounce rate or anything in the Analytics package. But in terms of our seeing it from our perspective, what traffic do you think we should focus on there to make sure that they're satisfied? Because you used to say keyword traffic, or organic-based traffic. I was just wondering if we should extend that to all traffic now, or--

JOHN MUELLER: I don't know what I could best recommend there. So my suggestion would be to really take into account anything that you have available to kind of understand how happy users are with your website. So that's something where you can take into account whatever metrics you have available on your side, which could be based on analytics. It could be based on social mentions. It could be things like +1's or thumbs up, thumbs down-- those kinds of things on a site. I wouldn't focus on any specific metric from that point of view. So anything that you can do to figure out which parts of your site are really well-received by your users, where they think this is great content, and which parts of your site are not so well-received by your users, that's the kind of thing where I would focus on. That's the kind of thing where our algorithms should be able to pick that up on, as well. So instead of focusing on specific metrics and saying only people coming through with keyword traffic from organic search results are the ones that we need to make happy-- I'd really think about what you can do overall on your website to find the parts of your site that work really well, improve the parts that don't work so well, and make sure that everyone who kind of comes to your site leaves as a happy user and is willing to kind of recommend your site to other people, as well.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: So it makes more sense to take a broader approach and look at everyone and make sure everyone is satisfied with the content. For example, recently I had a client-- we did a TV spot, and we had a landing page for the TV spot. And we didn't robot it out or anything. Maybe we should have. But we had thousands of people coming to this one landing page, and then they bounced right away. And some went into the site, some didn't. Let's just say it was really low-quality traffic in the sense that they were very uninterested. But we did get thousands of people through. So that wasn't organic traffic, but we don't know what Google's tracking there to manage satisfaction. And we're not sure if we should be worried about that. Should we?

JOHN MUELLER: I wouldn't worry about that from an SEO point of view. I think it helps a lot to understand your users and kind of which parts of your site work well and which parts don't. And indirectly, that's something that we would try to pick up on, as well. But it's not that we primarily look at the users coming to your website and say, oh, these all typed the URL that was in a TV spot. And therefore, they're not as relevant or they're really relevant. It's something where I think internally you get a lot of information out of that, and indirectly, that can lead to us recognizing which parts are relevant on your website. But that's not something where we'd see a direct relationship between the traffic that you drive to your website through a TV spot and how we would be able to rank that, or that site in general, or maybe a related site to that. So a lot of times people have a different domain for a TV campaign because they want something short and memorable that has a specific landing page, and that's not something we'd be able to take into account from search anyway. So if these are things that are outside of search, then that's not something where I'd say there's a primary direct effect available for us to even look at there. But it does always give you more information about how people are looking at your site, and maybe how other people are looking at your site, and which parts you could improve on, which would, then, be something that we'd be able to kind of look into.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: That actually kind of goes back-- dare I say-- to the comments question, because [LAUGH] there's a quality of traffic, right? There's very interested traffic that's going to love your site, or have a better percentage chance of loving your site, and then there's traffic which is at best uninterested and at worst cruel. And so who do we have to cater to? You know what I mean? Sometimes it doesn't make any sense to try to cater to that second group, because they're just a bunch of curmudgeonly people anyway.

JOHN MUELLER: Good question. Yeah. I don't really have a direct answer for that one. Yeah. So I think this is something where it's always a balance between which people we send to your site through search and how you respond to that. And sometimes you might say, well, Google is sending me people who I don't really want on my site because they're all idiots, or because they actually don't like what I'm publishing, and I prefer to have people who kind of like what I'm publishing. And that's something where-- at least at the moment, there's no direct feedback loop where you could say, hey, Google, stop sending me these types of people, and send me more of these types of people. So it's kind of a tricky situation there. But I don't really have any, let's say, direct answer for that.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: That's cool.

MALE SPEAKER: Is that not a content issue, that if you tailor the content around the type of visitors you want-- you could never stop everyone, but it's surely a targeted content issue rather than a Google doesn't choose people.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I mean, if you can kind of target your content and make it easier for Google, for instance, to recognize that this is the type of content, and this matches what these type of people are searching or the type of queries these people are doing, then that's something that obviously helps us there. If it's very generic content, where you don't really know exactly who's going to that page, obviously you'll have a mix of people going to that page. But the better your content matches what you want people to search for or how you want to be found, the more likely we'll be able to show it in the right time. So from that point of view, that's definitely the case.

MALE SPEAKER: John, if I can jump in with one final question, I promise. It's really more about a term that we can use in the webmaster community for a site that is trying feverishly hard on all aspects of breaking into competitive search, undergoing a disavow-- you know, a link attack that we're disavowing-- but we've still not been able to cross that invisible magical threshold to break into competitive search. What would you call a site like that-- suppressed? Not sandboxed, I guess. But is there there any term you could use?

JOHN MUELLER: I'd have to make something randomly up. I don't have anything off-hand, where I'd say--

MALE SPEAKER: Please do.

JOHN MUELLER: --internally we would call a site like this-- I don't know, like some random word. But I don't have any term that we would use for something like that.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. Thank you.


MALE SPEAKER: Hi, John. I have a question about page layout.


MALE SPEAKER: I'd like to know-- I've seen some content organized with tabs with CSS. In order to hide some tabs, and showing only one of them, like the tabs that are seen. Is it a good solution or a bad solution in order to show a lot of content without making a truly big website, web page? What do you think about?

JOHN MUELLER: There are kind of pros and cons there. On the one hand, if the user is searching for something that's in one of the tabs, then they'll be kind of confused if they land on this page. And they'll say, well, I searched for this, but this page is showing me something about something slightly different. So that's something that our algorithms do try to take into account, where they say, well, this is the visible content. And this is additional content on the page that's not immediately visible. So we'll be able to say, well, maybe this content isn't that relevant for this specific page because it's not really visible by default. So for content that's really critical for a page, where you would say users are searching for this and they want to find this, I'd recommend using separate URLs for those specific tabs. If this is just additional content that you're providing on those URLs which just provides a little bit more context, which maybe gives the user a chance to submit a form or something like that, then that's something that I think is perfectly fine to be used in tabs. So kind of think about does it make sense to put this on a separate URL, or is this something that I think users might want to open if they want to kind of get that information but they're not primarily looking for that information. So kind of make a decision based on that.

MALE SPEAKER: Thank you. And I have another one. Now it's very typical having big headers with big images, like that you can see in media websites. And most of the content is below the fold, or mostly below the fold. What do you think about that? Because pretty nice design, but I don't know what Google thinks about that.

JOHN MUELLER: That's usually fine. That's not something where I'd say you have to worry about that. I'd only worry about something like that if the images are really unrelated to the primary content. So if the image is an ad, for example, if it's something from another website, if it's something pointing to other articles on this website, then the user will land on that, and they'll be kind of lost. But if the image is a part of the primary content where you say, going to this page and kind of having this nice header image on top encourages the user to kind of read the rest of the page, and it all matches the same general topic, the primary content, then that's something that is perfectly fine. That's not something I'd discourage.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. Thank you very much, John.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Can you tell us more about what's happening in Webmaster Tools next year? We try not to preannounce too many things, so I don't really have that much more to let you know about that there. I think you'll see more and more happening with mobile. That's something that I believe is a really important topic. That's something that I think a lot of websites still aren't getting completely right. So that's obviously one area that you'll see more happening there. We also talked about the Search Query Report, I believe, in one of the last Hangouts, where we're working on some changes there. So I'd imagine in the course of the year you'd see some changes there. But lots of things can still happen, and depending on the feedback that we get from you guys, obviously we can kind of tailor the future as well and say, well, this is a more important topic than other things, so we should focus more on that. But otherwise, I don't really have anything interesting that I could preannounce for you guys. What I'll try to do where we can do that is to kind of provide beta versions for people if we have something that we'd like users to try out before we make it into a final version. I don't know how easily we'll be able to do that with anything that's immediately coming up, but I think that's something that's always really useful for us. So we'll try to do that where we can.

BARRY: John, at the eight-minute mark, Josh asked you about Googlebot being triggered to crawl more of a site based off of an algorithm. If that's the case-- that Googlebot can be triggered, say, crawl more based off of the Panda algorithm or based off of the Penguin algorithm-- that happens?

JOHN MUELLER: I don't think we do that. I don't think we do that based on those specific algorithms. Obviously, we have lots of algorithms, and some of these are algorithms specifically for crawling and indexing. So if we see, for instance, specific changes on a site, then we might start re-crawling that. And that's obviously something where if you make bigger quality changes on your website, then we'll see that and say, well, lots of things have changed on this website. Maybe we should take a look at it a little bit better. So maybe there is some kind of correlation there that, if you make specific changes on your website, then we'll start crawling more to kind of recognize those changes. But it wouldn't be specific to the quality algorithms where we'd say, well, your site has-- I don't know-- some Panda on it, therefore we'll crawl it more frequently or we'll crawl it less frequently. It's usually more of a technical issue where we say, well, things have changed on this website, therefore we should be crawling it to make sure that we pick up those changes.

BARRY: Thank you.

MALE SPEAKER: John, a quick follow-up on Panda in general. I was actually asking in the group chat, as well. Would Barry's issue be something like a penalty? So would you consider Panda actually a penalty? Or do you see a problem with the website-- like, the website has an issue, so we're going to demote it until the issue is resolved? Or something like the comments change how Google understands the content of the page and says, this page isn't relevant for these keywords anymore. We think it's relevant for something else, so we're going to demote it because of that.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. So we don't see the Panda or the Penguin algorithms as penalties, internally. We see these as essentially part of our search quality algorithms to kind of figure out which pages are relevant to specific queries. So that's not something where we'd say we're penalizing a site for being low quality. But rather, our algorithms are looking at these pages and saying, well, overall, maybe we were ranking this site or these pages in a way that we shouldn't have in the past, and we're kind of adjusting that ranking. Or we're adjusting the ranking so that we can make sure that other pages that we think might be higher quality content are more visible in the search results. So it's not that we would see this as a penalty, but rather as something just a part of our search algorithms that adjust the ranking based on the perceived relevance for these individual queries.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. So basically most are a relevance problem rather than the site is bad, there's something wrong with it, problem.


MALE SPEAKER: Interesting. Thanks.

LYLE ROMER: Hey, John. For the last question of the year-- from me, at least-- if somebody basically is competitive, highly ranking on competitive keywords and getting good natural links along with the other people in the space, and then that site is suppressed by one of the quality algorithms for a year, a year and a half, two years, at which point during that period of time they're not gaining those organic links because they're not able to be found, once they're no longer suppressed and they're back kind of near the top, is it ever possible for that site to kind of catch up with the natural high-quality links of the other sites that were never suppressed?

JOHN MUELLER: Sure. Yeah. I don't see a problem with that. So I mean, things always change on the web. So if you're talking about a period of more than a year, than lots of things will have changed. Sites will have changed. The way these sites function sometimes changes. And if your site is the same as it was five years ago, in an extreme case, then even if we kind of took out a manual action and made the site rank completely organically again, it wouldn't show up in the same place in the search results in the same way as it did five years ago. So over the course of one year, things change quite a bit. Over the course of multiple years, they'll change quite a lot. So obviously things will change during that time. But that doesn't mean that the site is kind of stuck and kind of lost forever. It can become just as relevant as all of the other sites out there. It's just a matter of making sure that it works well, it's something that users want to find, it's something that our algorithms think belong in the search results, and we should show it more prominently.

LYLE ROMER: Thanks, and happy New Year.


MALE SPEAKER: John, since we've just finished on the sites that haven't ranked for 18 months to two years question, is there any chance you can give me an update on what's happening with ours?

JOHN MUELLER: I know some engineers are looking at it.

MALE SPEAKER: We saw a very slight increase in mid December, but we're a gift company. So obviously even if we're suppressed, you'll still have a seasonality for normal customers, because normal customers know us, and they will search for us specifically, our brand. And we've had, over the last 10 years, 100,000 customers. So there's going to be some just coming back anyway, no matter what Google does. But we did see a slight jump in the middle of December in terms of organic visitors and there was a shift, but it's now going back to normal. So I don't know if even you can't tell me if something's shifted, whether you can tell me whether that was seasonal and/or if there was something you can see there as a change. And that was the site with the E rather than the X.

JOHN MUELLER: I'd have to take a look at the details there.

MALE SPEAKER: I can wait.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I don't have anything specific. I know the engineers said they would look into your specific case to see what was happening there. And the last I heard, they were kind of looking at that as something that we need to improve on our side, as well. So from that point of view, I think it's on the right track, but I don't really have an update on how things will change there. So--

MALE SPEAKER: No. It's just-- I mean, because we've now been 18 months into this without any change other than a down trend. I didn't know even if they could give us a time scale, because then at least we can plan our business around it, rather than-- because the business can survive at a certain level if we know that's what the level is going to be from here on in.


MALE SPEAKER: But running a business of 10 people, for example, when, you know that it only actually can support three or four. You kind of need to know where to stop our budgeting for B rather than A.

JOHN MUELLER: Yeah. I don't really have any update on that. Sorry.


JOHN MUELLER: But I can definitely pick up on it in the new year with the engineers again when they're back.

MALE SPEAKER: OK. Well, we'll still be here.


MALE SPEAKER: Thanks John.

JOHN MUELLER: All right. Let's take a break here. I'll still be online for a few minutes afterwards if you guys want to chat. But otherwise, it's been great having you here in a Hangout. And it's been an interesting year with lots of good questions over time. And I hope some of the information that we've provided here that we've talked about has been helpful for webmasters. So with that in mind, let's hope that next year takes up again and we do a bunch more of these Hangouts as well. So thank you all for joining, and hopefully we'll see each other again next year.

JOSH BACHYNSKI: Thank you, John.

MALE SPEAKER: Thanks, John.

JOSHUA BERG: Happy New Year.


MALE SPEAKER: Happy New Year. | Copyright 2019