TAMPA, FLORIDA — It was this statement from Matt Cutts that instantly made me perk up and take note: “Normally we don’t…pre-announce changes, but there is something that we’ve been working on…to try to level the playing ground a little bit.”
I heard this during a podcast from SXSW in March, and Cutts, the head of Google’s Web spam team, was talking about SEO techniques that Google views as “over-optimization.” You can listen to the podcast at Search Engine Roundtable.
Earlier in the session, it was explained that all SEO experts weren’t bad; that a good SEO expert was like a coach who helps you figure out how to present yourself better via your website. That’s when Cutts, whose job is to hunt cheaters, showed his hand.
In the coming weeks, Google plans to start identifying sites that are overdoing it when it comes to SEO, compared to the people who are just creating great content and trying to make a fantastic site. This is a particular area to which Cutts’ team continues to pay attention.
“It’s an active area where we’ve got several engineers on my team working right now,” he said. “We want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level. And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the Googlebot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive.”
That way, people who don’t use SEO techniques won’t suffer from having their sites buried in search results by people who abuse SEO- whether they throw too many keywords on the page, they exchange too many links, or whatever else they may do to “go beyond what a normal person would expect,” Cutts said.
There are lots of people who seem to think that Google hates SEO, but that’s not the case, he said. It can be helpful by making a site more easily crawled, which increases the site’s user-friendliness.
Still, there are people who take it too far; black hat SEO techniques that do too well.
“We’ve been working on changes where if you’re a white hat or you’ve been doing very little SEO, that you’re going to not be affected by this change,” Cutts says. “But if you’ve been going beyond the pale, your site may not rank as highly as it did before.”
Google isn’t the only search engine that recognizes the need to address the SEO-on-steroids techniques that some people use. Duane Forrester, senior product manager with Bing’s Webmaster Program, also took part in the SXSW session and reiterated “over-SEO is always a problem.”
Ali Husayni, Millionairium’s CEO, welcomes the change to Google.
“When Matt described an ethical SEO professional who makes sites user-friendly and more crawlable, he could have been describing us,” Husayni said. “We use only white-hat techniques because we understand that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.”
“What’s interesting in Matt’s approach is that he mentioned two of the most common black-hat SEO techniques: keyword stuffing and link-exchange,” Husayni said. “So by over optimization, he means black-hat SEO. Unfortunately, Google has recently lost its handle of such practices as I explained in our recent post. So, Matt is on the right track here.”
Husayni predicted that this next Google change will further weed out bad SEO providers and enhance our clients’ rankings on Google.
“When you’re doing everything above-board, you don’t have anything to worry about,” he said. “But when you’re trying to cheat the system, Matt’s team at Google has shown time and again that they will catch onto you eventually.”