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Source: PR 20/20

Google is valued at $196 billion dollars. They control 65 percent of the U.S. search market, plan to hire more than 6,000 employees in 2011, and their tightly guarded algorithm determines the fate of millions of businesses online.

But Google has a complex and nagging problem — Web spam — which challenges the integrity of its search results, and is creating reputation concerns for a brand that once could do no wrong.

In the middle of the battle for search supremacy is a man who strikes fear into the hearts of black-hat SEO pros, Web spammers and content farmers around the globe — Matt Cutts.

While co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, along with outgoing CEO Eric Schmidt, remain the most recognizable (and most searched) Googlers to the general public, Cutts, who has long been known to the world of webmasters and online marketers, is emerging as a public-relations force.

He is leading the engineering charge to fix search-quality issues caused by Web spam. But, equally as important is his expanding role in elevating the public perception of Google and its search results through his powerful personal brand.

Note: The Google Trends snapshot above compares U.S. search frequency in the last 12 months for Cutts, Schmidt, Page and Brin.

Matt Cutts . . . The PR Pro?

According to his blog, Cutts joined Google in January 2000. He wrote the first version of SafeSearch, Google’s family filter, prior to assuming his current role of head of the Webspam team.

By all accounts, Cutts is a brilliant engineer, and one of the most respected minds in the search industry. But is it possible that his most valuable role at Google today is as a PR person?

Consider the following:

  • Cutts has more than 95,000 Twitter Followers (@mattcutts), and is actively engaged with the community.
  • He regularly appears at industry events on behalf of Google.
  • His Gadgets, Google & SEO blog has an Alexa rank of 4,153.
  • The Google Webmaster Help YouTube Channel, which features Cutts answering user questions, has 24,000+ subscribers and more than 2.3 million channel views.
  • He is frequently featured in mainstream and online media channels. Run a Google News search for “Matt Cutts” and you will find hundreds of articles and blog posts quoting Matt on the issues most important to Google, such as competition, search quality, content farms and link spamming.

And recently, Cutts’ influence seems to be extending more into the mainstream with quotes in articles such as, “The Dirty Little Secrets of Search,” in which the NY Times uncovered an elaborate link-building scam by JCPenney.

What Can PR Pros Learn from Matt Cutts?

So while Cutts continues to battle the spammers by day, he is twilighting as the model for the new prototype PR person.

Here’s a snapshot of what makes Cutts so effective:

  • Maintains a strong personal brand that aligns with the corporate brand and gives it an authentic human voice.
  • Creates tremendous value online through multi-media content (i.e. blog posts, videos), and presents information with a high degree of transparency. This positions him as a thought leader and industry expert.
  • Uses social media to reach, influence and engage with key audiences.
  • Serves as a trusted resource to journalists and bloggers, and builds relationships with influentials online and offline.

Cutts may not fit the traditional definition of a PR pro, but I’d argue that he is one of the most effective and powerful I’ve seen.

Maybe it’s time we start considering that the profession has changed, and open our eyes to what can be learned from the new breed of social-media savvy publishers like Cutts.