Google Search Engineer Defends SEO On Hacker News

Jun 14, 2013 • 8:57 am | comments (45) by twitter Google+ | Filed Under Google Search Engine Optimization

Google ShieldNormally it is Googlers defending Google on Hacker News but Ryan Moulton, a software engineer at Google since 2006, who I think works on the Google search team, is defending SEO and the SEO business on Hacker News.

In short, a blogger called out an email he received from a link builder asking to buy or get a link from his site. You and I get them all the time. But this blogger called this the destruction of the web.

In which, Ryan Moulton, aka moultano on Hacker News said:

A large part of SEO is just making it obvious what your page is about. This helps both the user and the search engine. A lot of it is just usability, but usability specifically for a user who is coming from a search engine.

Well, he said that in response to a comment where someone said SEO is a "bad thing."

He explains why sites and business should rank on Google later on:

You should read this as shorthand for "build your business the traditional way and the users will come." Don't just count on ranking highly for a competitive query for your business to succeed. Build a brand and customers, and people will seek you out. You will have no difficulty ranking for [the name of your company] and this is where most good sites get most of their traffic from Google.

Matt Cutts also chimed in there a few times, also on some levels defending SEO as a business practice and also defending Google when needed.

Forum discussion at Hacker News.

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06/14/2013 01:04 pm

I've seen that ridiculous anti-SEO hatebait on Inbound already and reported it. Do not link to it, or at least add nofollow to it. In German we call that structural anti-Semitism, as in anti-Semitism without the Jews where the Jews get replaced by another group of people, here the SEOs.


06/14/2013 01:14 pm

Oh Barry, yellow press strategy again ) He didn't defend SEO. He just confirmed, that SEO by Google is not what the most of SEOs do.


06/14/2013 01:21 pm

It's interesting to see how more and more people see SEO by SEOs as the destruction. Good )

Graham Ginsberg

06/14/2013 01:45 pm

Proof that there is no good 'free link' only a paid Google link

Graham Ginsberg

06/14/2013 01:47 pm

Just like Google has the right to make money, so do the link builders have the right to sell links. Anything other than that flow of cash is ANTI, you agree 'Anti-SEO'

Jawad Latif

06/14/2013 01:54 pm

"You will have no difficulty ranking for [the name of your company] and this is where most good sites get most of their traffic from Google."....This is everyone should focus not only building back links will work.

Tyler Elliot Scurti

06/14/2013 02:37 pm

I disagree. Obviously if you have the money you could pay for page 1 placement but there are plenty of good free links out there that have a solid reputation with search engines.

Google is rigged

06/14/2013 03:17 pm

F*ck Google, F*ck you and F*ck other scrooglers. You are a scam based company, rigging search to increase ad clicks and showing only all ads above fold. If it wasn't for scumbags like Barry and Danny Sullivan the truth will get out faster, but it will one day. People don;t want to see ads, one day they will realize that those are ads and not regular search.

Koozai Mike

06/14/2013 04:26 pm

"You will have no difficulty ranking for [the name of your company] and this is where most good sites get most of their traffic from Google." Seriously? What about if people don't know who you are or even that your product exists? What crazy logic. I think he's been looking at too much (not provided) data...


06/14/2013 04:59 pm

Then you should promote your product/service ... same as in any other industry. Search engine is not the promotional machine. You misinterpret things.


06/14/2013 05:02 pm

Three years ago, I compared the number of Google searches for our three biggest competitors -- by name -- and our three best selling items. The competitors were getting 3 million to eight million searches a month. Our best selling items were, at most, about 100,000 searches per month. There is safety, security, and a lot less for customers to worry about when they shop at a store that has built a solid reputation. So, they go toward the reputation. Yes, that usually means they are searching at Google for [store I know the name of] instead of [thing to buy].


06/14/2013 05:52 pm

The company I work for gets thousands of free links with some regularity. A new item or innovation will get us a big bump, but I haven't had to 'build' a single link. So, just drawing on my personal experience, I can tell you that "Proof that there is no good 'free link' only a paid Google link" isn't true.


06/14/2013 05:54 pm

...and then Google has the right to devalue those built links and the right to aggressively target such practices with algorithm updates.


06/14/2013 05:57 pm

Danny Sullivan and Barry are known to a really small segment of the population; it's even a small population of those who use the web. How exactly are they slowing down 'the truth'. "People don;t want to see ads, one day they will realize that those are ads and not regular search." Are you really implying that most people don't think those links in the colored box or on the side of the SERPs are ads?

Graham Ginsberg

06/14/2013 06:14 pm

Tyler Elliot Scurti wrote "there are plenty of good free links out there that have a solid reputation with search engines" - examples pls


06/14/2013 06:32 pm

Example: Somebody likes your site or service and they link to it on their own property.

Tyler Elliot Scurti

06/14/2013 06:44 pm

exactly - or a directory like Avvo would be something valuable for attorneys. Just an example... as there are many niches and there may be certain directories and other links valuable to each site/ campaign.

Graham Ginsberg

06/14/2013 08:15 pm

So you're saying that Google algorithm takes into account 'relationships' - WOW Google knows if you are 'just friends', in a 'serious relationship' or you're doing it for money - AMAZING Folks, you can't make this stuff up! Have a great weekend - Shabbat Shalom Hey!


06/14/2013 08:27 pm

No, but almost every single one of those links is just a link to our homepage without any anchor text. I am reasonably sure that those links are just fine and are acquired in a natural looking manner for our sites link profile. I see your point about the muddiness of 'how does Google know a bad link from a good link', but it seems like you are attempting to make the argument 'totally transparent vs. completely opaque' and that seems incorrect to me.


06/14/2013 11:01 pm

That guy is: a liar or a naive.

Simply Paragon

06/15/2013 04:57 am

Wow! I can't believe that so many people take the time to rant on this site, but many obviously have not taken the time to READ any of the articles here. Where to start? Hmm... Oh, this one's great! "You are a scam based company, rigging search to increase ad clicks and showing only all ads above fold. If it wasn't for scumbags like Barry and Danny Sullivan the truth will get out faster, but it will one day. People don;t want to see ads, one day they will realize that those are ads and not regular search." Obviously this guy isn't the brightest crayon in the box. Could someone show him where "above the fold" actually exists? Maybe point out the text in the ad that says "Ad Related To", And then explain to him that if it weren't for us "scumbags" actively seeking and relaying the truth, most people would believe that people actually click one those ads, when actually over 80% of clicks from search go to first "Organic" or "Non-Paid" Result. Okay, Next... Here's a good one... "You will have no difficulty ranking for [the name of your company] and this is where most good sites get most of their traffic from Google." True that branded search terms are easier rank for in some cases, but this statement is misleading. Many businesses share the same name. For example, in Atlanta do a search for how many businesses start with "Peachtree" and many of them are very similar if not exactly the same. Just like street names, business names are not unique and many times you will have difficulty ranking for your business name because someone else has the same name, and has been around longer. Another Example is Franchisees and licensees. They have a real difficulty ranking for their business name and driving traffic to their individual locations, without us "scumbags". SEO has evolved, but some people have apparently been left behind. What about all the other things we do? Conversion rate optimization, Market Research, Coding, Usability Analysis, and making sure site visitors have a great experience and come back to convert, not to mention reporting, measuring, analyzing, and executing on our findings? We have to wear many hats, and be cross-educated in many fields. At the end of the day the majority of us are up into the late hours educating and helping others to understand what it is we do, and why we do it. I take my hat off to people like Danny Sullivan, Barry Schwartz, and Rand Fishkin, to name a few... The one's who work long hours to answer the "how" and "why" questions so many of us ask... Sorry for the long post, I just had to give my 2 cents... For what it's worth... “Try to analyze situations intelligently, anticipate problems and move swiftly to solve them. However, when you're up to your ears in alligators, it is difficult to remember that the reason you're there is to drain the swamp.”


06/15/2013 07:40 am

The only websites that are getting ranked with no efforts lately are websites that spider/bot other websites like webutation and others like it.


06/15/2013 09:04 am

"most people would believe that people actually click one those ads, when actually over 80% of clicks from search go to first "Organic" or "Non-Paid" Result" If that's true, then Google are offering a poor user experience to 80% of its visitors who routinely have to scroll down to the organic results below the ads. However, you are wrong with your comment that Google aren't giving the majority of its visitors what they want above the fold. Google know what they are doing. It would be a disaster for Google if the majority of its visitors were ignoring those ads. It's simply that your facts are wrong. Ads get twice as many clicks as organic on commercial searches - see here >>


06/15/2013 09:11 am

I have also noticed this one of my blog ranks well in Google SERP's but I have never done any link building for that.


06/15/2013 12:38 pm

First, why do Google engineers hang out on such a lame forum. That forum is definitely not what I consider mainstream and reaches few users. Google, who is concerned about scale, has definitely scaled BS to a whole new level. Defending SEO on one hand and with the other point out that the best SEO is no SEO. The SERPS are penalized to high heaven, users are defecting to other search engines that are reporting major traffic increases and Google is knee deep in the PRISM scandal. I don't know about everyone else, but Google is completely full of BS and can't be trusted. Look at what is ranking now. If they are not Google owned properties (YouTube, Blogspot, etc.), then it's their lobbying group members in the Internet Association that are doing good. If Google takes pride in this, more power to them. But for me, I will take the advice to not worry too much about SEO. But I will worry about how much data Google is collecting and giving to the Feds, so I will be removing what Google products/services I use in an effort to maintain some sort of privacy. On an off note - Happy Fathers Day to all you dads out there!


06/15/2013 06:29 pm

Wow, yes, yes 1000x - The redesign of the underlying algorithms is now overdue. It seems to be a tangled mess of overused 'immature' signals, and makes fairly reckless use of devastatingly wide reaching filters.

Simply Paragon

06/15/2013 06:30 pm

The infographic you linked to represents searches with "high commercial Intent", wheras the information I provided is an overall view of searches performed - Including informational, navigational, local, branded and commercial intent queries. Here is an article I found which breaks down the data reported. Here is a slideshare which shows similar numbers. There are various ways to segment and interpret this data, but in my experience the majority of clicks go to the top 3 organic results, and this varies depending on the nature of the query. (informational, navigational, commercial, etc..) It also varies depending on the device used for search. Then you could take into consideration the copy of each individual result which also has a huge impact on click-through. In my personal experience, the majority of my client conversion paths start with queries that are informational or navigational in nature, although that is interesting information if you are focused only on searches with high commercial intent. I do though, question the validity of that data being that it is totally biased. It was presented by a company who sells PPC/ADWORDS services. It's purpose being to sell more services for Wordstream. Attached is a visual representation from If anyone has any newer data or information I would love to take a look at it. What has your experience been with paid vs. organic clicks from search results? Hope this helps clarify my statement...

David Lewis

06/15/2013 07:57 pm

An exercise in common sense. There is no way that anyone with a business. Onsite or "real life" is ever even going to consider "not promoting" it. And for anyone to intimate that they should is being a tad foolish. Of COURSE you're going to promote your business. That has been vital since the first caveman sold the first roughly hewn rock wheel to his neighbour. But as these guys say, their is promotion and promotion. Using paid link networks and terrible spun content to promote should be seen as what it is - tarnishing the reputation of your site. If you had a nice town centre shop would you fill it with rubbish and then go outside and post poorly made and inappropriately placed billboards everywhere, spoiling other people's shops and their enjoyment of the area in the process and expect to be applauded for it? Expect to profit from it long term? Not if you had any real sense of life and business reality you wouldn't. On that - I was so glad to see this begin to happen yesterday. Links placed on hacked websites - the very lowest form of criminal SEO - has been rife for over a year now. Illegal, immoral and inexplicably successful - and it seems that finally Google are waking up and stopping it. Another nail in the coffin of unprofessional on-line promotion


06/15/2013 10:05 pm

Why did you say my comment talks only of commercial searches when I stated that anyway? Most people here are concerned with commercial searches.

Simply Paragon

06/15/2013 11:36 pm

What I stated was that the link you provided only shows data on searches with "high commercial intent". It doesn't represent the overall range of search types. You stated that my facts were wrong, but you haven't offered anything of substance to back that up, which I would welcome if I indeed I had the wrong information. My facts were based on search queries as a whole, including all the different types of search queries, not just one. In the big picture, the majority of clicks do in fact go to the organic results vs. paid advertisements. The majority of searches are informational or navigational searches, with transactional searches (i.e "commercial") being a significantly smaller percentage of all searches. There are plenty of eye-tracking studies, and other great information on click distribution available, take a look at them. Attached is an example of an eye tracking study on searches with commercial intent (transactional searches) with all the advertisements on the right. (which is why I assume google changed the layout of the serp's) The majority of people didn't even pay attention to the ads, but instead went to the first organic result. User behavior studies consistently show that people are conditioned to skip right past ads. The same as the majority of people - Over 80%- Skip Commercials in video as well.


06/16/2013 12:06 am

Cool, now the sites that used sape links can join white hat sites that are sitting on page 20, 30 or 50 of this serps. This just seems like a George W. Bush "mission accomplished" moment doesn't it? lol


06/16/2013 08:04 am

If you are "right", then Google are providing a very poor user experience for 80% of its visitors. Please don't take offense, but I think Google know what they are doing and providing mostly-ads above the fold for commercial searches means those ads are far more clicked on than the organic links you simply cannot see (as they're below the fold). Like I say, if 80% of users are consistently having to scroll to see content they want to see, that's a really really poor user experience and Google would see their search share drop if the vast majority of its visitors were frustrated. Google's ad revenues having gone up and up consistently would also indicate you are wrong. So who should I believe? Google's decision makers, their consistent search share domination and publicly available ad revenue stats or you? I am inclined to believe the former.

David Lewis

06/16/2013 12:40 pm

I couldn't agree more. Every major named Google update comes with a "hoorah" of "Finally the end of spam, poor websites and trash links winning the SEO battle" It's spoken of as if it were fact. People analyse the changes Google have made and say "Yes this is great" But one look at the search index for commercial search terms shows just how woefully ineffective all these changes are. Google Fritz, Google Dewey, Google, Alice, Google Cassandra, Google "Big Daddy" and so many more.. all preceded "Panda" and "Penguin" all were heralded as "The end of spammy BH SEO"... ...and none even came slightly close to the mark. " Yet to read on the serious SEO journals you'd think Google won every time! The disconnect between this wishful thinking and the hard realities of the actual SERPs reminds me of the "Tale Of The Emperors New Clothes". A willing suspension of disbelief or downright "three wise monkeys" pig-headedness to accept that what you want to be true - isn't true - no matter how much you will it to be.


06/16/2013 04:29 pm

Product / service related searches are the best kind since it normally means the searcher is looking for pricing on a specific item and may be ready to buy. I'd rather rank for those any day over generic brand related searches


06/16/2013 04:37 pm

I guess the key question is are those "good" free links? Links without anchor text send no immediate signal on what the page they are pointing to is all about. The SERP algorithms would have to rely on the content of the page the link is on to try and determine what searches to display your page for. Do you have any sense on whether or not these types of links are helping your rankings for your target keywords? What about the relevance and authority of the linking pages? Do they have any or are they transitory pages that disappear after a while? (i.e. domain home pages vs blog pages)


06/16/2013 04:38 pm

Anyone who says Google is winning against spammers either don't use Google search or is complete nutcase.


06/18/2013 12:11 pm

Google is winning, but what are they winning is the real question. The more businesses and websites they can send to page 20 to 30, the more those sites will need paid advertising. Google is big business and the only thing they care about is $$$, so why not keep changing the search algorithms, all it does is force business to spend money on Adwords. If i was in Google's position, I would too. When do we say enough is enough and all stop using Google?

some webmaster

06/20/2013 01:44 pm

google not care, their self-destruction program is already launched. Yesterday health queries was affected (no competition now, only preselected sites). Similar results for other queries is coming soon. Any google changes in 2012-2013 is not for good, really. Do they really understood what they do???


06/20/2013 01:48 pm

they winning bad reputation and losing in long term. Their search engine looks more and more un-natural and spammy. Webmasters need to robots.txt, user-agent: googlebot disallow / and send press releases what new network closed access for google, so it not a complete search engine now.


06/20/2013 01:52 pm

agree with it. It was nice to see paydayloans from blackhatter mr cutts in google search results. But anyway, health results is now un-natural (only few sites and no real competition anymore). So google become more and more directory on scrapped content.


06/20/2013 02:24 pm

it corporate google logic, it true in their way, but not for small/medium sites. They even really think what if you create some small store everybody will find it and link it in natural way.


06/20/2013 02:26 pm

it about adwords?

Jawad Latif

07/04/2013 09:38 am

No. Organic

Sam Taylor

07/15/2013 01:17 pm

Google will have to move with time even though it is the main trend setter on the SEO horizon. Over the last few months, I have noticed that Bing provides much better and authentic results for videos than results provided by Google. In fact, some files that did not appear in first 100 searches on Google, they showed at the top in Bing for the same keyword. It certainly means that Google has to rethink its basic procedures, at least for ranking of videos.

Spook SEO

01/11/2014 03:14 pm

Hello Barry! I believe that we should not just count on ranking highly for a competitive query for our business to succeed. We really need to build a brand then customers and other people will seek us out.

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