At SXSW there was a session called, "Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!" As previously reported, Matt Cutts was supposed to be there, but couldn't make it due to his wife having foot surgery. He was still able to appear remotely, and during the session, he just happened to mention that Google is working on some things that will "level the playing field" for people who just have good content, and don't focus on much on SEO. Bing's Duane Forrester also participated as Danny Sullivan moderated.
Here's the official description for the session:
If you build it, they might not come, if you haven't thought about how search engines view your web site. Forget testing for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Safari. Search engines are the common browser that everyone uses. The good news is that search engine optimization (SEO) doesn't mean terrible design or some type of black-magic trickery. Rather, there are good, sensible things that everyone should do that pleases both search engines and human visitors. In this session, representatives from Google and Bing provide this type of advice. They'll even get you up to speed on the impact that social media is playing on search results. Even better, it's all Q&A. Bring your top questions about how they rank sites and get answers directly from the source.
During the Q&A, one webmaster asked how a mom and pop doing its own optimization can stand a chance against all of those who are spending thousands of dollars on SEO.
Regarding the people that are optimizing "really hard" and doing a lot of SEO, Matt says, "Normally, we don't sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something we've been working on in the last few months, and hopefully in the next couple months or so, or you know, in the coming weeks, we hope to release it."
"And the idea," he says, "Is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit, so all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, 'over-optimization' or overly doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little more level. So that's the sort of thing where we try to make the website...the Googlebot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive, so the people who don't do SEO, we handle that, and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page or whether they exchange way too many links, or whatever they're doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area. So that is something where we continue to pay attention, and continue to work on it...we have several engineers on my team working on that right now."
Duane Forrester joked that Bing has some hamsters working on this in the back room, spinning some wheels. He suggested having a great product and being engaged socially. These are strong signals for Bing, he said.