Google’s Matt Cutts recently announced that the search engine will soon be penalizing websites that are “over optimized.” This bombshell was dropped during an SXSW panel where Cutts, along with Bing’s Duane Forrester, were supposed to be doling out advice on how to rank better with Google and Bing. However, about a third of the way into the Q&A session, Cutts surprised the audience by mentioning an upcoming change in Google’s algorithms:
“We don’t normally preannounce changes, but there is something we’ve been working on the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing—for lack of a better word—over optimization or overly SEO, versus those making great content and great sites. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”
The specifics of this change are unknown, as Google has announced they have nothing to say at this present time about the new over optimization penalties. Many are hoping Cutts will elucidate in his upcoming “You&A with Matt” session at SMX Advanced this summer. However, there’s a good chance that the changes to Google will have already happened by that time.
A number of SEO forums are ablaze with speculation over these proposed changes. Even though Cutts specifically mentioned too many keywords and too many links as factors of “over optimization,” some folks have been quick to point out that Google is already fairly proficient at detecting keyword stuffing and superfluous link building. In an article on Search Engine Journal, Ryan Jones suggests that these changes may be focused on “correlation,” or a comparison of various ranking factors to weed out sites with content that is ranking high, but isn’t being tweeted or shared.
“If you’re focusing on making your site add more value for users and doing so in a way that’s easily crawlable and shareable you should have no problems with this change,” writes Jones. “Sadly, many of us often forego usefulness in favor of quick results. That’s probably what this change is designed to catch.”
Some folks are citing Cutts’ announcement as further proof that Google hates SEO, but Cutts has long labored to disabuse folks of that notion. Reputable optimization techniques help a site to be more easily crawled, which increases its user-friendliness. However, there are some folks who still focus on gaming the search engines, rather than providing useful content, and Cutts insists that these “black hats” are the target of this update.
“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. But if you’ve been going beyond the pale, your site may not rank as highly as it did before.”