Matt Cutts mentioned in his blog on Mar 17, 2007, “I still have an email interview with a blogger that I’m trying to finish that started in September 2006”.
So here you go, it’s finished 🙂
In the interview with Matt Cuts about search and SEO in China, Matt and his “top Chinese webspam engineer”, Jianfei，answered my long list of questions with great tips and insights.
It is helpful to all SEOers and online marketers.
Special thanks to Philipp.
Chinese version is here.
Zac: First of all thank you guys for doing this interview with me, I believe it will be very helpful for SEOers and web marketers in China.
There are currently lots of misunderstandings about SEO in China. The first thing that pops up in mind is “spam” when people hear the word SEO. Some say “SEO is shortsighted and is like suicide”. From search engine’s point of view, is that true? Is SEO hated, allowed or encouraged by Google? We’re talking about whitehat SEO here.
Matt: It’s a common mistake to think that search engines don’t like SEO. The fact is that SEO within Google’s quality guidelines is okay. That includes things like making sure that your site is crawlable, thinking of words that users would use when searching and including them naturally within the content of the site, and doing things like making sure that page titles and urls are descriptive.
What Google (and other search engines) don’t like is when someone tries to cheat or take a short cut to show up higher than they should. When a site violates our quality guidelines, Google calls that spam.
Zac: Google announced its official Chinese name “Gu Ge” (Harvest Song) in April 2006 however the majority of Chinese users do not seem like the new name.
According to China Internet Network Information Center, CNNIC, Google is losing market share from 33% last year to current 25.3%.
What do you think of the market share drop?
Jianfei (朱健飞): For the market share, let’s refer the statement from Kaifu Lee, the president of Google China office. “To some extent, the survey could have some errors. Different users have different frequencies of using search engines. People may use search engines 10 times a day, while other people may use search engines once a day. Simple sampling methods may not show the real traffic of different search engines.”
Zac: I noticed there are Chinese employees in Google headquarter. Any idea how many Chinese in Googleplex now? How are they doing? Any advice for Google fans who want to join Google?
Jianfei: We do have many Chinese engineers at the Googleplex. They are doing great. You can visit http://www.googlechinablog.com/ and read some Chinese engineers’ articles about their life at Google.
For Google fans who want to join Google, they can go to http://www.google.cn/jobs/ and check available jobs. If they can not join Google, they still can give us suggestions and ideas. Their support is important to us. For reporting spam sites, they can go to http://www.google.cn/contact/spamreport.html.
Matt: In fact, if you sign up for Google’s Webmaster Central at http://www.google.com/webmasters/ , you can also use the form at
to report spam. In addition, if you don’t want to sign up for Google account, you can also report spam here:
However, I recommend that you use one of the first two links. Google gives more weight to spam reports that are done with our Webmaster Central.
Zac: Let’s talk about duplicate content, which is a hot topic recently.
I see much more content copying on Chinese web sites. Many Chinese webmasters like to “gather” contents from other web sites, either using software or by hand, then publish on their own web sites. Does Google penalize these sites full of contents you can see everywhere? Is there a percentage or threshold, exceeding which penalty is applied?
What should the original author do so that the original is recognized as so?
Jianfei: We have noticed that some Chinese web sites have a lot of duplicate content. Users like to get different search results, so Google is looking at how best to provide diverse results. Our algorithms already have some ways of removing duplicate content, and we will continue to look for ways to improve.
Zac: Some web sites use multiple domains with exactly same content , for example, domain.com and domain.com.cn. Is this risky? What’s the best way to do it?
Matt: If the content is truly the same, I would pick one domain and make the other domains do a redirect to the domain you prefer. For example, google.com could do a permanent (301) redirect to www.google.com, and then we would see that and generally choose the destination of the redirect. Having content from two different domains isn’t risky if they are in different languages (for example, Chinese and English), but if you have the exact same content on two different domains, it’s better to use a permanent redirect from the duplicate domains to a single preferred domain.
If you have mirror pages without a redirect, that can cause issues. It’s better to use 301/permanent redirects, because Google might choose to remove or not to show the copy that you liked the best.
Zac: I have been talking about good original content in my blog and the message is well received by SEOers in China. However the problem is, as many readers ask me, my company sells, say a “glass edge grinding machine”, it’s simply boring, what interesting content can I write about it? Could you give some tips in content development for this type of highly specialized products?
Matt: Don’t forget that creativity can really help. For example, there was a site that made industrial blenders, which sounds like a very boring subject. But now go watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aM94aorYVS4 and you’ll see something amazing. They threw all kinds of different objects into the blender to prove how powerful their machine was.
It’s true that heavy machinery or industrial sites might sound boring at first, but by looking for a creative angle, you can often raise interest in your company. Even things like newsletters, blogs, information about an industry, or other resources can serve as a reason for people to get interested in your site and link to you.
Zac: The highest PR we can find on Chinese web site is PR8. Is there discrimination against Chinese sites in terms of PR? If not, why don’t we see PR9 or even better PR10 Chinese sites? Does PR still matter for ranking in the first place?
Matt: PageRank does depend on the link structure of the web, but I wouldn’t be discouraged if you don’t see PR9 and PR10 sites. For one thing, Chinese sites are usually only ranking against other similar Chinese sites, so the playing ground is level. It’s also important to remember that Google has a finer scale to measure PageRank (not just from 1 to 10), so even two different sites that both have a PR6 in the toolbar can actually have different PageRanks.
The fact is that Google does special work to help measure reputation in non-English languages.
Zac: Is there a significant difference between Chinese site SEO and English site SEO? Are there differences in your algorithm for different languages?
Matt: I think that every country does have some differences in how they do SEO. In Germany, people are more likely to use hyphens in their domain names, for example. Some countries lean more toward monetizing via affiliate programs; other countries may monetize more via cell phones than credit cards, because credit cards aren’t equally common in every country. But there are many common ways that SEOs operate.
Jianfei: One main difference between Chinese site SEO and English site SEO is the set of queries they are working on. For example, “viagra” is one of the most spammy queries for English, while “手机铃声” (ringtone) is a more spammy query for Chinese. Another difference is that almost all mid- or large-sized Chinese domains have blogs, which is not the case for other languages.
Zac: Adwords users in other countries normally sign up for Adwords account directly with Google. However Google takes different approach in China, partnering with Adwords agents, kind of localized way as all PPC providers in China do the same.
Why did Google choose this localized approach and did not stick to your direct relationship with advertisers which has been proven to be successful worldwide? Do you consider your Adwords program in China a success?
Matt: I’m sorry to say that I’m not an AdWords expert, but I do know that Google tries to adapt to each market and present products in the way that works best for every country. I’m proud of the AdWords team, and I think that they’re doing a really good job in China.
Zac: Some SEOs believe that freshness plays an important role in Google ranking. Many think blogs are easier to rank better due to freshness. Yet some SEOs think it’s not a good idea to tweak web pages frequently.
What do you suggest? Update web pages often, or no?
Matt: It depends on the industry that you are in. I would do whatever makes the most sense for your users. Just changing a page more often for the sake of having a page change is probably not very productive. But if you have a blog, then posting more often might attract more users. So for some people it might make sense to change the page less often (a manufacturing company, for example), while for some people it will make sense to change the page often to attract more visitors (e.g. if you are a blogger).
Zac: Is SEO service a reliable business model that you would recommend to SEOers in China? I ask this because there’s very very few established and reputable SEO companies in China. Many companies claim they provide SEO services but what they actually do is spamming forums and blogs.
Ethical individual SEOs are struggling to survive.
I believe you know plenty of successful SEO companies. In China, do we have a future ahead of us in SEO industry? How can we grow, from individual to reputable SEO company?
Jianfei: I think if SEOs can follow Google’s quality guidelines, then that SEO can have great future. Search engine results are important to the industry, and there can be a lot of market demand for an ethical company.
Matt: If you are considering using an SEO, it’s very important to think about the long-term. It doesn’t help to get a spike in users if Google or other search engines will find spam and remove a site. One thing you can do is ask for references or see if a company can provide success stories where the SEO provided stable long-term traffic. http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35291&hl=cn is a good document to read about how to research SEOs. Unfortunately, there are some SEO services that will spam if you hire them, and you should try to avoid them in the first place.
Zac: There’re lots of talk about trusted domain and authority sites. If a site is considered authority, it will be ranked higher in Google, more people find it and more links, then it becomes even stronger.
How should mom-and-pop sites overcome this situation and compete with authority sites? Besides building a great site with tons of useful original contents, is there a shortcut?
Matt: I wouldn’t try to tackle a huge keyword if you’ve just created your small mom-and-pop business. Instead, concentrate on a smaller niche where you can get to be known as an expert. As you get to be more well-known, then you can work from the smaller niche up to bigger and bigger areas. Many successful sites start out small and then build their way up. Also, the more creative or funny or helpful you can be, often that will help people become aware of you faster.
Jianfei: For example, your site http://www.seozac.com/ , is such a site. One year ago, the site was not as well-known. But through your hard work and creative effort, now it ranks well for the query [搜索引擎优化排名] (search engine optimization) which is an impressive feat.
Zac: Have you ever been to China? If you do plan to visit China, there’re thousands of fans who would like to meet you in person. 🙂
Jianfei: I was born in China, in the last year I’ve been to China twice, plus I enjoy working with people at the Google China office.
Matt: I’m sorry to say that I’ve never been to China. My mother has been to China several times, including Yangshuo (Guilin), and my wife has been once, and they both speak a little Chinese even though they’re both American. So clearly I need to work on getting over there; I hear that it’s an amazing country, so I’d love to visit some day.
I won’t be able to make it to SES China this year, but I’m really excited that I think Jianfei or another Google representative will be able to represent Google at SES China. Jianfei is a top-notch member of the webspam team and he’s a much smarter expert on Chinese webspam than I am. 🙂
Zac: Everyday I see link spams in my blog. Will link spam in blogs and forums cause penalty or they are simply ignored by Google therefore have no effects on ranking?
Jianfei: Actually, it can be dangerous to do link spam. If Google finds a company is doing link spam, it may remove the company’s site from our index. Google may not re-include the site unless we don’t see the spam links anymore. In most case, removing links is even more difficult than adding links (e.g., the links posted on blogs, BBS by spamware), so it’s better to stay away from link spam.
Matt: Usually Google is good enough that we just try to ignore link spams. When we can tell that a company did link spams, we can take appropriate action.
Zac: Another topic in all SEO forums and blogs is supplemental result. If more and more pages of a domain are dumped into supplemental result, does it mean the domain is losing trust? Would you worry about supplemental result if your SEOer instead of Googler?
Matt: I wouldn’t worry about supplemental results. If your site has lower PageRank then it may occur in our supplemental index, but that doesn’t mean that the site has a penalty or is losing trust. Usually that just means that if you get a few more high-quality links because your site is good, then we will include more pages from your site in our main web index.
In addition, we have been getting better at refreshing our supplemental index more often and showing those results to more users, so webmasters can often start to see more traffic coming to supplemental results pages now.
Zac: Baidu is your biggest competitor in search market of China. It’s said that they have better search technologies than Google in certain fields such as Chinese word segmentation.
On the other hand, Google has been recruiting top talent in China. I read somewhere that the engineering team at Google China has yet contributed much to the core ranking algorithm. Do you plan to localize the algorithm to better suit Chinese language? What’s your technical advantage compared with Baidu?
Jianfei: As a matter of policy, we don’t comment on specific competitors. We welcome competition that helps deliver useful information to users and expands user choice. Having great competitors is a huge benefit to us and everyone in the search space – it makes us all work harder and at the end of the day our users benefit from that.
Matt: We don’t talk much about our ranking because it’s confidential, but the China office has contributed in several ways to how Google does ranking. In fact, some really nice applications such as http://www.google.cn/rebang/home are seen in China before other places. That’s a brand-new product developed in China.
Zac: If you don’t mind, Matt, are you GoogleGuy at WebmasterWorld as hinted? Google is doing great job communicating with webmasters and we appreciate. Is there any chance that an engineer in Google China team can take similar role to communicate actively with Chinese webmaster community?
Matt: I don’t think we’ve confirmed the official identity of GoogleGuy, and that’s okay because it means that if GoogleGuy ever needs to take a break, someone new can come in to help communicate. The truth is that I get more credit than I deserve. A lot of communication in English happens from a lot of people: Vanessa Fox, Adam Lasnik, and many, many others.
And in Chinese, I’m very lucky to work with a great team of people such as Jianfei, plus other wonderful people in Mountain View (California USA) and Beijing. My guess is that over time, Google will begin to communicate more and more with Chinese webmasters. This joint interview is a good step forward.
Zac: There’re debates in China, what role should SEO play in the bigger picture for web sites? Is SEO an important part of web marketing and ecommerce? Some web marketers think SEO is piece of cake, write title tag, add keywords here and there, things like that.
Do you think nowadays SEO has gone one step further and act as kind of web marketing consultant? In other words, SEOers should help clients streamline online sales process, find target market, content development, user experience, viral marketing, etc. This is the concept I’m trying to spread. In the end, users need a great site, not great code.
Matt: I agree that SEO in many cases is about making a great site, not just getting the web design or the code just right. SEO does include getting the right tags and code in place, but that’s just the first step. If you can come up with a great viral marketing campaign or something that gets people talking about your site with word of mouth, that’s SEO as well, and is a much better way to get links than trying to use spamware programs, for example.
In many ways, SEO is about making sure that users have a great experience, because if you make a great site, that’s going to help a site rank better in search engines naturally.
Zac: Do you foresee big changes in terms of SEO in the coming few years?
Matt: I think personalization and localization are big trends. If we can return different results for the same query because Google knows a little more about you, that may be a really big quality win for users. That will make SEO a little harder, but SEOs who care about long-term value will be quite happy about personalization, because they’ll get visitors who are more interested in their site, and those visitors may convert into buyers.
Jianfei: Of course, Google is also going to continue to pay a lot of attention to quality and SEO. Over time, I think Chinese SEOs will find that it’s easier to make great sites that agree with our quality guidelines, because Google will continue to work hard to stop spam.
Zac: Do you like Chinese food?
Matt: I love Chinese food! I hear that Chinese food in the United States isn’t quite the same though, so maybe some day I’ll get a chance to experience real Chinese food. I’d like to try some Peking duck, for example. Thank you for asking these interesting questions!
Zac: Thank you Matt and Jianfei.
Matt: Thank you! We’d love for people to report Chinese spam at
and to use our webmaster tools as well. There’s also a lot of information for Chinese webmasters at http://www.google.cn/support/webmasters/ . We’ll also continue to listen to Chinese webmasters and try to respond.