At South by Southwest (SXSW), on March 10, 2012, there was a session entitled “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!” Questions from the audience were addressed to Matt Cutts of Google and Duane Forrester of Bing. You can find the complete audio here. One of the most interesting questions was what can the Mom & Pop do when everyone is doing SEO? How can they compete? Matt mentioned that they do not usually pre-announce changes to the algorithm but he was doing so then. Within a couple of months or weeks or so there is going to be a change to Google that affects over optimized sites. Google wants to find sites with great content as opposed to sites with great optimization. Matt mentioned problems such as too many keywords and unnatural links as signs of over optimization. These things have been against Googles terms of service for a long time. My interpretation is then that Google must be working on better ways to recognize these problems and maybe other signs of over optimization that Matt did not mention. Google’s goal is always to make a better user experience. Matt mentioned that sites that have too many ads in your face are annoying, so they recently implemented a change that affects sites with that type of advertising.
Duane, from Bing, discussed social media as an important aspect for helping Mom & Pops. You may have a great product but does the rest of the world think you have a great product? You need to be engaged with with your target audience.
What does all this mean? Well, some are going to worry about over optimization. Several years ago, site popularity was all about link popularity and so we all tried to get numerous, quality links to our sites. Unfortunately, we also ended up with some less than quality links, often from scrapers and foreign countries where they could care less about our sites, they were just trying to rank their own sites. Over optimization of keywords may be a worry as well, if you have a site about Halloween costumes, how can you refer to the product without using the word costume over and over. You can say superman outfit but it’s really more effective to say superman costume. It’s going to be interesting to see if the upcoming changes are going to cause problems for sites with many similar products on one page. And I suspect that there will be other over optimization targets that Matt has not mentioned. Can we prepare for them in advance? Probably not. When the search engine changes come, we try to analyze the results and find out what has changed. Until then, the suggestion is always to try to keep making those great websites that users appreciate.