Perhaps "anti-SEO" is a little strong, but as previously reported, Google is working on making SEO matter less. At a recent SXSW session, Google's Matt Cutts discussed (without a lot of details) some changes Google is going to be making to "level the playing field" for mom and pops, in terms of how sites can gain visibility in search.
“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,” said Cutts. “And the idea 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," he continued. "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.”
Naturally, many webmasters and SEOs are wondering just what all of this will mean for SEO going forward. Combine that, with a reported strategy of Google's to greatly expand its direct answer results, which could also slow traffic to some sites.
Vanessa Fox, the former Googler who built Webmaster Central, offers some perspective in a blog post.
"A lot of people have asked me what this means for those who include search engine optimization as part of their marketing mix," says Fox in the post. "Some are worried that Google will begin to penalize sites that have implemented search engine optimization techniques. My thoughts? I think that some site owners should worry. But whether or not you should depends on what you mean by search engine optimization."
Interestingly, she compares Google's approach to what the company has been doing with the Panda update, in that it's about "separating high-quality, useful pages from pages that were just a collection of words about a particular topic."
"Matt talked about finding ways to surface smaller sites that may be poorly optimized, if, in fact, those sites have the very best content," Fox says. "This is not anything new from Google. They’ve always had a goal to rank the very best content, regardless of how well optimized or not it may be. And I think that’s the key. If a page is the very best result for a searcher, Google wants to rank it even if the site owner has never heard of title tags. And Google wants to rank it if the site owner has crafted the very best title tag possible. The importance there is that it’s the very best result."
One great point that she brought up is that Cutts was not speaking at a search conference, when he was talking about this. It's a different audience, in which he may not have gotten as specific about certain things with, as he may have at a conference like SMX Advanced.
The way Fox talks about it, it almost sounds like he could have even been talking about Panda-related offerings. Remember how Google has made Panda more a part of "its pipelines" recently. Wouldn't that be part of "making Googlebot smarter," as Matt put it?
Fox tells us, however, she doesn't think what Matt was talking about is part of Panda, though I doubt we're going to get much more out of Google on the subject, other than the usual monthly lists of changes. Either way, it does seem to fit with the greater philosophy behind Panda, which is really just about returning the best content anyway. More on this topic to come.