Sometimes all it takes is one great question to change the world. For SEOs, that question came up during a recent Q&A panel with Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester, and moderated by Danny Sullivan of searchengineland.com at this month’s SXSW conference. About fifteen minutes into the session a webmaster approached the mic and simply asked, “What are you guys doing to help mom and pop type websites with quality content compete with inferior websites that are spending thousands (often tens of thousands) a month on SEO?” The reply sent shock waves throughout the industry.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s Search Spam department, immediately jumped in and announced that Google is not only aware of and concerned with the problem, but has been actively working on a solution to penalize what Cutt’s referred to as “overly optimized” sites. Cutts added that this is Google’s direct attempt to level the playing field. Here is the transcript:
What about the people optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO. We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in 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 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 way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.
As you might expect, the news set the industry afire and a large number of my colleagues have spent the past week cursing Google in panic. But if you listen to the rest of the audio transcript (available here) you’ll find out why quality search engine marketers and website owners who have been investing in SEO shouldn’t be afraid.
Here’s my take.
Over-optimization, which I’m going to refer to as Spammy SEO (or SpamEO for short) has never been viewed as a good thing. In theory SEO should be about helping your website to become more accessible, more searchable, and improve the user experience on your page. Good SEO has never been about manipulating your way to the top. Unfortunately, too many SEOs started seeing big paydays in quick shortcuts and the industry largely followed suit to the point that now the bad guys outnumber the good 2 to 1. For a large percentage of webmasters this means you either need to get in line or you’re going to get left behind. Google’s announced algorithm update could help reverse that trend and put the industry back in a position where focusing on your customers experience can, and will, be every internet marketers top priority.
While bad SEO might help drive traffic, it rarely helps increase revenue – largely because bad SEO encourages companies to ignore their human users and focus on manipulating search software instead. Think about it, when’s the last time your SEO agency told you to drop link building until you shore up the content on your page. When’s the last time an SEO ran an A/B split test to measure click thrus and site penetration? Have you ever read a keyword stuffed piece from an article farm and said “Gee that was a good use of my time.”?
If Google gets their update right, focusing on the customer won’t be an afterthought, it will be the endgame. SEOs will be forced to restructure their model focusing more heavily on marketing websites through quality and relevant content and driving the user experience in both the internet and social worlds. And online businesses will see tangible results.
If you don’t believe me, I encourage you to listen to the entire 45 minute transcript. Both Matt Cutts of Google and Duane Forrester of Bing answer several questions by suggesting webmasters focus on relevance, user experience, and what Forrester calls “social engagement” to help improve their traffic rankings and increase the number of visitors to their site. For small businesses that demand a return on every dollar they invest online, this is good news indeed.
If you would like more information on search marketing and user experience shoot me an email or visit my company at http://www.CookWheelwrightGroup.com.
Jayson Bailey is a 12 year marketing veteran and the co-founder and current CMO of CookWheelwright Marketing.