Since last Friday, the SEO community has been discussing Matt Cutts' announcement of the upcoming Google update penalizing over-optimized websites and rewarding sites doing little to no SEO (granted they have good content).
So what's the announced algo change about? Should we, SEOs, worry? Let's have a look.
What Matt Cutts Actually Said
Answering the question "Are you out of luck if you're not optimizing your site yet your site is relevant to something?" Cutts said:
"SEO is like a coach. It's someone who helps you figure out how to present yourself better...
In the ideal world you wouldn't have to think about presenting yourself and whether search engines can crawl your website, cause they're just so good that they can figure it out: how to crawl through the flash, through the forms, through the java script...
What's interesting about your question is that you go deeper and ask: what about people who're optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO?
Normally we don't pre-announce changes, but there's something we've been working on last few months... and in the coming weeks we hope to release it. The idea is basically to level the playing ground a little bit for all those people who've been doing – for the lack of better word – over-optimization as opposed to people who're just making great content and make a fantastic site.
We try to make Google Bot smarter, to add more relevance so that people don't do SEO. And we start looking into people who sort of abuse it: throwing too many keywords on a page or exchanging too many links – if they do beyond what normal person would do in a particular area.
This is where we continue paying attention: we have several engineers in my team working on that right now."
To sum it up, here's what was announced:
Google is working on an update to target over-SEO'ed websites. So far it's not clear how the search engine will decide if a website is over-optimized.
Must-read Responses from Industry Influencers
Almost every blogger in the search niche responded to Matt's announcement – you probably read (or at least saw) multiple discussions on forums, social networks and the blogosphere.
Most experienced search bloggers are unanimous in the opinion that if you do SEO the proper way, there's nothing you should worry about.
But ... if your SEO practices are shady, it's high time to stop.
I think that some site owners should worry. But whether or not you should depends on what you mean by search engine optimization...
Algorithms change hundreds of times a year. Signals differ for individual queries. The goal is always to extract all of the data on the web and show the very best page for searchers. So why not just invest time in making sure all of your content is extractable and are in fact the very best pages?..
This isn't the oft-heralded death of SEO. But it may be the first nail in the coffin of those who go beyond SEO and lose track of creating the best possible content for their audiences.
So, Google wants to do something about over-optimization. That's not saying they want to do something about SEO. As Matt said on that same panel one more time, they have nothing against SEO, they have something against spamming...
Now, stop over-analyzing everything Matt says and get back to work, building good websites for users.
I know this is what you actually want to ask. You want to know how much SEO is too much so that you can identify whether your site is overly SEO’ed. On the other hand, there are those who are over-optimizing their web pages and they know that they are overdoing it. Brace yourself! A site is overly SEO’ed if -
- it repeats keywords in Meta tags
- it has long keyword-stuffed URL stringsit has keyword-stuffed alt tags
- it focuses on SEO content, rather than the visitor
- it has an unnatural backlinks profile
- it has too many anchor-text manipulated hyperlinks on web pages
What Tactics will Google be Using to Track Down the "Bad Guys"?
So one of the questions is: what new tactics Google might use in the new algo?
No one knows for sure.
Black-hat SEO techniques immediately come to mind - spam, doorways, and cloaking, but Google spam team has long been targeting black hatters - nothing new here. So what can it be now? We have at least two ideas:
Stereotyping the web
Google has collected so much data about millions of websites that they can easily reproduce the "standard" lifecycle of a website .
That is, they can imagine how a website should look like when it's one month old, one year old, or 10 years old, taking into account its niche and keywords.
Thus, if there's a new insurance company website (say 2-3 months old) and it already has a diverse backlink profile with hundreds of incoming links, that may look pretty suspicious.
User behavior metrics
Imagine a scenario: a website gets a lot of traffic, it has many backlinks from high PR pages, it's about 5 years old, and it has a dramatically low CTR for SERPs. That's a signal, as well. The traffic can be brought manipulatively to the website, but the content may be of no value for users, so they leave pages very quickly. Can Google consider user behavior in this case to penalize the domain? Sure.
Bounce rate, on the contrary, will hardly become an important factor to indicate the site is over-SEO'ed, and here's why:
- To begin with, a website owner might not have set up a Google Analytics account. Thus, Google simply won't have bounce rate data for all websites, which makes "leveling the playing field" impossible.
- Secondly, there are websites that have high bounce rates naturally. One example is Wikipedia: people pop in to find out what they were querying and leave. Same is true about recipe websites and such: you get your cheese cake know-how and bounce without visiting other pages.
How Not To Over-Optimize Your Website
Whatever tactics Google adopts, here are some tips for you to survive any search engine update.
We often see these mistakes when SEO Crash-Testing sites on our blog – looks like they're really common.
So here's the list to follow to make sure your website is not over-SEO'ed:
- Avoid making a page for each of your keywords with content more or less echoing what was previously said on another page – just for the sake of having a landing page for every keyword.
- Steer clear of unnatural internal linking. One of the common poor SEO practices is to have a link with your main keyword to the home page from every web page.
- Don't make your keywords bold every time you include them into your site copy.
- Make sure you don't have one and the same anchor for your inbound links – make it as diverse as possible.
- Abstain from listing your keywords in your header, footer and side bar just for the sake of SEO.
- Make sure your backlink portfolio is not dominated by links of the same type: forum links, blog comments, links from side bars etc.
- Avoid unnatural link blasts that are not typical for the type and age of your website. If Google really stereotypes the web, it will find it ok if a 10 year old news site updated several times a day gets 10k links in a row. Same will be totally inappropriate for a blogging startup.
How Can SEO PowerSuite Help You Keep Your SEO In Line With Google's New Requirements?
Here are some suggestions how SEO PowerSuite can help you do SEO the right way and avoid over-optimization issues.
WebSite Auditor, for example, will guard you from keyword stuffing by finding proper keyword density for your niche – the keyword density your competitors used, for your keywords, to show up in Google's top 10.
SEO SpyGlass will fetch backlink profiles of your top competitors – thus, you get a chance to study those and understand what inbound links Google favors for your particular niche.
To do SEO right and survive any Google update, get on familiar terms with your search data to better understand your niche and gain insights on SEO practices that work for your top-ranked competitors.
Hope these tips help you make your website more useful for your audience AND play it safe with Google while you are at it.
Over to You Now
Do you think the looming algo change will affect your website?
How do you plan to protect your site from Google's over-optimization penalty? You are welcome to share your tips and opinions in the comments.
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