20th Mar 2012
By Alice Neeson
Last week Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s search spam team, announced that Google has been working on a tweak to its algorithm that will punish sites they consider to be “over-optimised” for SEO.
During the announcement, a recording of which can be heard on Search Engine Land, Cutts explained: “We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimisation or overly SEO – versus those making great content and [a] great site.
“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 too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect.”
The latest algorithm change is part of a huge ongoing effort by the search giant to improve the quality of its index. Previous algorithm changes have targeted low quality “content farms” and pages with too many ads above the fold.
According to Cutt’s announcement, the changes are set to go live in the next few weeks, and website owners and SEOs will be anxious to see how big of an impact these algorithm changes will have.
Is the algorithm change really a new development?
Although this is the first time that Google have specifically talked about a penalty for over-optimisation, SEOs have been cautious about the practice for some time.
It’s long been believed that link swaps can hurt your rankings, as can keyword stuffing, meta tag stuffing and “black hat” tactics like cloaking and hidden texts or links.
However aside from the two factors that Cutts mentioned (keyword stuffing and excessive links), Google have left us guessing about what else they define as over-optimisation.
What will the changes mean for your digital marketing strategy?
If you’re doing your content strategy right, your site content should be driven by what your readers want rather than what you think you will rank well for.
As I argued in a blog post on SEO and content strategy, the most important thing to keep in mind about SEO is that your content should be developed with human users in mind first, search engines second.
Cutts advised: “Make a compelling site. Make a site that’s useful. Make a site that’s interesting. Make a site that’s relevant to people’s interests… We’re always trying to best approximate if a user lands on a page if they are going to be annoyed… All of the changes we make are designed to approximate, if a user lands on your page, just how happy they are going to be with what they’re going to get.”
This reinforces the idea that practical SEO should be worked into your overall content stratgegy. In other words concentrate on producing useful, quality content and then ensure that it is crawlable and accessible so that bots can read and index that content.
*Cartoon by Hubspot @ Flickr