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Matt Cutts, a public face of Google, takes leave of absence

A man who brought a human touch to Google's mysterious search algorithms is gone until at least October. Others will fill in to prevent schemes to promote particular sites within search results.

Matt Cutts speaking in 2008
Matt Cutts speaking in 2008 Stephen Shankland/CNET

Matt Cutts, a Google executive who's been almost as much a public face for the company as its co-founders, is taking at least three months off.

Cutts has for years led Google's efforts to keep junky spam websites out of search results and appears in countless videos for helping website operators understand how Google sees their work.

As such, he's interacted directly and indirectly with thousands of people who rely on Google for traffic to their sites. And he's been a figure with tremendous power over the search engine optimization (SEO) industry that seeks to push Web pages as high up Google search results as possible.

Cutts doesn't run the show, but he's brought a human touch to the otherwise mysterious computer algorithms through which Google wields tremendous power over what we find on the Internet.

Cutts said he's taking "a few months of leave" on his blog -- a personal site but one that Web publishers read closely for Cutts' comments on Google search issues like the Penguin update that demoted many sites and the search-ranking disadvantages of guest blogging. He wrote on Thursday:

When I joined Google, my wife and I agreed that I would work for 4-5 years, and then she'd get to see more of me...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.

So we're going to take some time off for a few months. My leave starts next week. Currently I'm scheduled to be gone through October. Thanks to a deep bench of smart engineers and spam fighters, the webspam team is in more-than-capable hands.

Cutts' role, while important, isn't what it once was, though, as Google has expanded dramatically beyond search. Android and Chrome are used by millions, online services like Google Maps and Gmail have become important, and the company is expanding into unusual projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-access balloons.

Cutts has also achieved modest fame for his series of 30-day challenges, which have included using a treadmill desk, stretching, avoiding social media and news, recording a second of video daily, using a Chromebook Pixel as his primary laptop, eating vegan, writing a novel, learning ukelele, and more. The curious can watch Cutts' TED talk on his challenges.