Google’s Matt Cutts Debunks MOZ Mythmaking

Google’s Matt Cutts Debunks MOZ Mythmaking

For as long as Websessive Media has been providing SEO services to Vancouver clients, I’ve tried not to get caught up in the guru chatter and Google gaming tactics too much. I stress the word “try”, because like anyone whose living depends on the success of the job they do, I am occasionally obsessive about what others say is working. I subscribe to SearchEngineWatch, actually read the SearchMetrics Annual Ranking Factors whitepaper, lurk on SEO forums and try to stay current with the ever-changing landscape of SEO and Web marketing. More than not, though, I attend to basics: good on-page SEO, good off-page SEO, well written content and social media activity. Regardless of the latest algorithm-cracking article, these basics keep me—and I’m sure others—sane.

After Page Authority, a URL’s number of Google +1s is more highly correlated with search rankings than any other factor. In fact, the correlation of Google +1s beat out other well known metrics including linking root domains, Facebook shares, and even keyword usage.The MOZ Blog – August 20, 2013

SEO ranking and Google+1s

Recently, I was reminded of just how obsessive Web marketers are about “all things Google”. MOZ published a blog article with the rather bold headline: Amazing Correlation Between Google +1s and Higher Search Rankings. Note that the headline contains no qualifier (e.g. Possible Correlation etc. etc.) and appears as a self-assured statement of fact. The article discusses the results of a MOZ study on Google ranking correlation and asserts that “Google +1s is more highly correlated with ranking than any other factor”. There was great debate and discussion over at the MOZ blog, many disagreeing with the statement, pointing out that assuming causation is false.

Please note the difference between correlation and causation in this case. We do not make any statements about causal effects between factors and rankings, but we analyze correlations: and the coexistence of a factor and rankings indicates some kind of relationship.SearchMetrics announcement of their 2013 ranking factors study.

It’s a basic principle in science that assuming that A causes B because of a perceived correlation between A and B is a logical fallacy. I’m not saying that MOZ is wrong and some of the correlations in their study are similar to those being presented by the recent SearchMetrics Ranking Factors Study, but there is a big difference in the way the respective articles were presented. SearchMetrics was careful (and responsible) to state that there is a danger in making assumptions, pointing out that they are not making any assumptions about causation, but instead are presenting data that shows correlation.

Suffice it to say that I would be very skeptical of anyone who claimed that more +1s led to a higher search ranking in Google’s web resultsMatt Cutts

Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Web Spam team felt strongly enough about the MOZ interpretation of this perceived correlation between +1s and ranking that he posted a fairly clear response debunking the idea.

So what’s the problem?

Many things come to mind when I read articles, particularly the intent of the article. MOZ is a business and like all businesses they are in the business of getting business, being seen as an authority—the go-to site for all things SEO. The folks over at MOZ are intelligent, savvy, and shrewd and I’d bet they aren’t above stirring up some controversy, either.

What’s wrong here, is that MOZ has worshipers. Many (if you read the comments on the announcements page) do think for themselves, but others will take what they read at face value. MOZ has become a bit of a gospel, its influence shaping SEO practices over the past several years.  Interestingly, I recently read an online SEO job description that stated in its experience section, and I’m paraphrasing: “You are a MOZ user (tell us your MOZ username)”, suggesting that ALL serious SEOs are MOZ users and non-MOZzers need not apply. Wow! Someone drank the Kool Aid well dry.

The lesson of this story

We are all information consumers and we have to be aware of assuming the verity of what we read. Does that mean we have to research each and every article? No. It does mean though that we should look for dissenting voices and opposing viewpoints, read what others say about a topic. I like to get my news from several sources. I don’t just tune into to CBC, CNN, or Fox exclusively and nod like a bobble-head at every thing they say. I find out what others have to say and take everything with a grain of salt until I can decide for myself what I think the truth is. Usually, it’s somewhere between extremes.

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