In a recent panel over at SXSW, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team has detailed a new over optimisation penalty that is being fine tuned at the moment and will be rolled out in the coming months to target sites that are heavily SEO’d, or over optimised.
Over Optimisation a’ what now?
If you listen to the recording over on SXSW the exact bit is around a ⅓ of the way in. Matt does not go into any great detail of what shape the penalty will take or what exactly will trigger it but there are some hints in the recording at what constitutes too much SEO:
- too many keywords or on-page optimisation
- too much link exchanging (and likely link building)
- focusing on SEO and not ‘great content’
The idea seems to be to make it easier for ‘great content’ to rank without SEO and levelling the playing field so overly SEO’d content does not crowd out the generally good stuff that has not been SEO’d.
We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter
For me, the most interesting thing here is the statement about making Googlebot more intelligent in the way it identifies great content and determines relevance. Currently, relevancy can be determined (and abused) but the merit of a page is determined primarily by external factors: how much authority does the domain have and what signals do we have indicating the quality of this page? If the algorithm could attempt to determine quality on a page level in addition to these other factors then the results could be further improved.
Quite how they would go about such a task, I can only imagine, there are some kinds of readability tests for content but and there are some big brains at Google HQ so we can only watch and wait.
Same sh1t, different day?
Well, there are already plenty of penalties for sites with weak or duplicate content or that employ manipulative strategies in an attempt to rank and it’s not uncommon to see pages littered with keywords or footer links make pages rank poorly. We can only assume that what is coming is an extension of these types of penalties and an attempt to identify and qualify a natural link and content profile and punish those that go too far in an attempt to manipulate the listings.
Is this a good thing?
Damn straight, this is a good thing. Too many sites rank better than they deserve to based on garbage link building strategies that are hard to recommend as an ethical, white hat SEO looking to build long term success for their clients. That can be a hard pill for some clients to swallow when they see themselves being outranked by crappy strategies but SEO should be a long-term approach to developing better visibility.
Hopefully, if Google gets this right, which they probably won’t at first, well not 100% but they will likely refine it over time it will be a very good thing and hopefully take the emphasis of some of the crappy, hard to recommend strategies that still can work for some people some of the time.
Is this the end of SEO?
Ha, well, it’s bound to be asked so lets just put that straight now: this is not the death of SEO, there is still a lot to do to make most sites the best they can be for search, this is just a move to correct those sites that do too much or go too far.
Are you over optimised?
Well, it’s time for some soul (or code) searching folks. How does your page copy read? Is it good for people or good for search engines? Have you been buying links? What does your link anchor text profile look like? Have you got spammy footer links? If you are really concerned that you will get smacked by this pending over optimisation penalty then head on over to the Google’s SEO Guidelines to get a better idea of what your SEO consultant should and should not be doing!
There is a storm coming
Prevention is always better than a cure so if you are worried, can’t answer the above questions, have been buying SEO and are not really sure what your consultant has been doing then you may have cause for concern and it could be time to review your site and SEO strategy.
These things are generally pretty easy to spot if you know what you are looking for so if you are unsure, then give me a shout in the comments below or on Twitter and I will take a 5-minute look and give you some quick feedback on what your next move should be.
Google gets what Google wants
Google wants to show the best results possible so people keep using it’s wonderful search engine so it can keep selling adverts. If you are cheating your way to the top then you are showing Google up and will make your way onto their (s)hit list. It’s much easier, if not so quick, to work with the search engine and give them what they want and ensure your long-term visibility and that should be the goal of any honest SEO consultant or company for his clients.
If your competition has been throwing in too many low blows and kidney punches and you have been struggling to make gains then lets hope Google gets this right and all those fighting the good fight start to get the results they feel they deserve.
If you have any questions about this over optimisation penalty or anything SEO related then drop a comment below or give me a shout on Twitter. If you know anyone else that may benefit from seeing this article (or just want to do a good dead for the day) then please share it with the social buttons below.