Matt Cutts, Google's Head of Webspam, is going on indefinite leave. Publishers likely won't miss him

By James Robinson , written on July 3, 2014

From The News Desk

Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, announced on his personal blog today that he is taking at least four months of personal leave. Pando readers will know Cutts as the man who heads the team that, with a single algorithm tweak, can wipe a business off the face of Google search.

“When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years,” Cutts writes. “And now, almost fifteen years later I’d like to be there for my wife more. I know she’d like me to be around more too, and not just physically present while my mind is still on work.”

“I’ve been talking about doing this with my wife for a while now, and it feels like the right time."

Cutts will not check a single work email, he swears. Things on his agenda include taking a cruise, going ballroom dancing, spending time with his in-laws and doing a half ironman. Good for him!

Whether or not this is a gentle push into the night, or a suspension by another name, few people will be mourning a few Cutts-free months. Just yesterday, on a post on Product Hunt, Jason Calacanis accused Cutts personally of killing his startup Mahalo and putting 80 Americans out of work.

“Matt Cutts killing the business really pissed me off as well. he just smiled and told me "you don't have a penalty" with a shit-eating grin.... they targeted us for destruction,” Calacanis wrote.

Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithms, which Cutts’ team controls, monitor for spam content and links. The company won’t even hint at the rules which govern these algorithms or its motive for making changes, while the algorithms have massive commercial impact. Under Cutts, there has been a litany of strange coincidences. As Pando has reported, when Google bought Nest, its competitor Vivint was banished from search and had to spend four months figuring out what it did wrong, and Google hit eBay’s search standing after eBay had published a report critical of the value of Google’s search ads. (Cutts has taken the time in the past to brand our reporting “silly.”)

Conversations I’ve had with web publishers, none of whom would speak on the record for fear of retribution from Cutts’ webspam team, speak to a litany of frustration at a lack of transparency and potential bullying from Google.

“The very fact I’m not able to be candid, that’s a testament to the grotesque power imbalance that’s developed,” the owner of one widely read, critically acclaimed popular website told me after their site ran afoul of Cutts’ last Panda update.

“That guy Cutts, he just gives these vague speeches. It is hermetic. If you’re an ordinary human being, it is designed to be unresponsive. The fact that they won’t explain their rules, won’t offer any methods for redress, they treat people like roadkill.”

Befitting Google’s reputation for being completely impersonal in the face of publisher concerns and enquiry, in his place Cutts directed people to visit a series of company help sites.

Cutts denied in his post that this leave was bought on by any specific event. We've reached out to Google for comment, but its office are closed already for the holiday weekend.

[image via Matt Cutts on Google Plus]