In a recent webmaster Q&A session at SXSW, Google's Matt Cutts briefly discussed some changes Google is making that will "level the playing field" between smaller, mom and pop sites and "overly optimized" sites, as bigger companies have a lot more money to spend on SEO.
Former Googler Vanessa Fox, who happens to be the creator of Webmaster Central, wrote an interesting blog post about it, which we discussed in another article about how the changes sound like they fall in line with Google's greater philosophy of providing high quality sites (which is what the Panda update was all about).
We reached out to Fox for some additional insight, as hers is particularly unique given her background.
"I don't think this is part of Panda," Fox tells WebProNews. "Google makes hundreds of algorithm changes/introduces new signals/etc. every year. Panda is just one of many. Google just doesn't name each one (and of course, not all of them are as impactful)."
She notes, as she hinted at in her own post, that Cutts may have been simplifying things for a non-search audience (SXSW isn't a search conference like SES or SMX), and says that "it's possible this isn't a new anything, but instead is just tweaking of existing signals that look for things like keyword stuffing and link exchanges."
Last week, Cutts pointed to the audio. Today he points to a full transcript:
If you've listened to or read what was said, you'll notice that the whole thing was in response to a question about mom and pops, which might make you wonder if brand is a significant part of what's at play.
"I don't think it's about just mom and pop vs. big brands," Fox says. "Lots of big brands don't know the first thing about SEO. I think (total guess on my part) the sites that will be negatively impacted are those that focus on algorithms and build content/sites based on the things what they think the algorithms are looking for. The kind of sites where someone didn't say 'I want this page to rank for query X. How can this page best answer what the searcher is asking about X' but instead said 'I want this page to rank for query X. How many times should I repeat X in my title, heading, content on the page, internal links..."
"I think it's still useful (and not negative) to make sure the words that searchers are using are on the page, but some sites go well beyond this and get so caught up in what they think the algorithms are doing that they forget to make sure the content is useful," she adds.
"As far as sites that will see a positive from this, I think it will likely be both small sites (B&B in Napa that titles their home page 'home' vs. an affiliate site that sells wine gift baskets) and large brands (sites that use a lot of Flash)," says Fox. "I think foundational SEO practices (like those I describe in my article) will continue to be beneficial for sites."
When she talks about SEO in her article, by the way, she says she's talking about "using search data to better understand your audience and solve their problems (by creating compelling, high-quality content about relevant topics to your business)" and "understanding how search engine crawl and index sites and ensuring that your site’s technical infrastructure can be comprehensively crawled and indexed."
Whether or not the new changes are directly related to Panda, Google's Panda-related quality guidelines will probably still be something to keep in mind, with regards to what Matt is talking about.