Google's webspam head says Pando's reporting "silly," wants you to know Google is totally transparent

By James Robinson , written on May 30, 2014

From The News Desk

Yesterday, Pando reported that one of Nest’s competitors, Vivint, had spent four months in search exile shortly after Google acquired Nest. Following that report the head of Google’s webspam team, Matt Cutts, took to Hacker News on Y Combinator last night to call the suggestion that the two situations were related “silly.”

“It’s a shame that Pando’s inquiry didn’t make it to me,” Cutts writes, insinuating we didn't contact the company for comment.

Pando had in fact reached out to Google’s press team and consulted in detail with the company spokesperson who was quoted in our story.  It is not clear why Google didn't pass on our questions to Cutts.

“As part of a crackdown on a spammy blog posting network, we took action on with hundreds of other sites at the same time that were attempting to spam search results,” Cutts notes. He lists five dubious links to Vivint, before making reference to “25,000+ links from a site with a paid relationship where the links should have been nofollowed.”

Cutts’ assessment of Vivint’s wrongdoing is exactly what we described in our article -- no one is disputing that Vivint violated Google's search rules. We confirmed that wrongdoing with the help of Search Engine Marketing (SEM) expert Mike Templeman of Foxtail Marketing who is quoted at length in our reporting.

For anyone not familiar with SEM-parlance, links coded as “nofollow” don’t show up on Google’s map. All advertising -- such as banner ads -- should be coded as “nofollow” to avoid being classified as a paid link. As Templeman explained, in clearly sloppy fashion someone at Vivint had not correctly coded the company’s banner advertising, making it appear distinctly spammy.

In a slightly simplistic version of events, given the months-long frustration Vivint spoke of in trying to fix the problem, Cutts writes: “When we took webspam action, we alerted Vivint via a notice in Webmaster Tools about unnatural links to their site. And when Vivint had done sufficient work to clean up the spammy links, we granted their reconsideration request. This had nothing whatsoever to do with Nest. The webspam team caught Vivint spamming. We held them (along with many other sites using the same spammy guest post network) accountable until they cleaned the spam up. That's all.”

The point of our reporting is to highlight the unusual severity of the punishment (locked out for months, completely delisted from results until this week) given Vivint’s relationship to a Google-owned company and the lack of transparency Google offers in assisting offending sites. Multiple sources at Vivint told us that the company was told that it had “unnatural links” but was left to guess at what these were, having to repeatedly cut content blindly and ask for reinstatement from Google, until it hit upon the magic recipe.

To these charges, Cutts has no answer. That's a shame.