Google's Matt Cutts has been talking about leveling the playing field for sites that don't participate in "over-optimization". Last month at SXSW, Cutts made something of a pre-announcement about such changes, and it looks like a major part of these efforts is now launching.
According to Danny Sullivan, who spoke directly with Cutts, this is indeed the change Cutts was referring to at SXSW, but that Cutts admits "over-optimization" wasn't he best way of putting it, because it's really about webspam, and not white hat SEO techniques.
Cutts himself announced a new algorithm change targeted at webpspam, which he describes as black hat techniques. "We see all sorts of webspam techniques every day, from keyword stuffing to link schemes that attempt to propel sites higher in rankings," he says.
Link schemes are actually something webmasters have been getting messages from Google about already. The company recently de-indexed paid blog/link networks, and notified webmasters about such links.
"The change will decrease rankings for sites that we believe are violating Google’s existing quality guidelines," says Cutts. "We’ve always targeted webspam in our rankings, and this algorithm represents another improvement in our efforts to reduce webspam and promote high quality content. While we can't divulge specific signals because we don't want to give people a way to game our search results and worsen the experience for users, our advice for webmasters is to focus on creating high quality sites that create a good user experience and employ white hat SEO methods instead of engaging in aggressive webspam tactics."
Google has kind of sent webmasters mixed signals about search engine optimization. They recently shared some SEO DOs and DON'Ts, specifically talking about some white hat things webmasters can do to help Google rank their content better. And Cutts' point about not divulging specific signals so people can't game search results is one the company has stood by for ages. But at the same time, Google does divulge algorithm changes it makes via monthly lists, which seem to dare webmasters to play to certain signals. That's not to say they're encouraging the kind of black hat stuff Cutts is talking about here, but doesn't it kind of say, "Hey, these are some things we're focusing on; perhaps you should be thinking about these things with your SEO strategy?" Isn't that encouraging "gaming" to some extent, rather than just telling webmasters not to worry about it?
Of course Google always says not to focus on any one signal, and just focus on making good, quality content. In fact, this new change (as in line with Cutts' comments at SXSW) indicates that sites shouldn't have to worry about SEO at all.
"We want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all) to be free to focus on creating amazing, compelling web sites," Cutts says. Emphasis added.
As far as black hat SEO, it's not as if this is some big change out of the blue. Algorithmically, it's a change, but Google has always targeted this stuff. There's a reason Cutts has been the head of webspam. Google has never been shy about penalizing sites violating its quality guidelines. Google even penalized its own Chrome site when some paid linking by the hands of a marketing agency was unearthed.
If you're engaging in SEO, and Google gets you on black hat tactics, you probably knew what you were doing. You probably knew it was in violation of Google's guidelines. Of course, that's assuming Google's algorithm change does not make any errors. And what are the chances of that happening? Google will be the first to admit that "no algorithm is perfect." As we saw with the Panda update, there were some sites hit hard, that possibly shouldn't have been.
So is that happening this time? It's still early. As far as I can tell, the change hasn't even finished rolling out. But there are plenty of people already commenting about it.
Others are critical of Google's search quality in general:
From the comments on Cutts' announcement:
So far today's search results are worse than they've been for the past month. On one search for a keyword phrase there's a completely unrelated Wikipedia page, a random Twitter account for some company, and a page from an independent search engine from 1997 showing in the top 10 results. Yeah, that's the kind of quality user experience we want to see. Way to knock it out of the park.
well now more rubbish results appearing in search than before. more exact domain name match results and unrelated websites . Google failed once again.
so many .info, .co unrelated domains ranked for respected queries. are you sure no mistake in this update?
Surely, whatever these updates are doing, they are not right. Here's just one example. A search for "ereader comparison chart" brings up "ereadercomparisonchart dot com" on 2nd page of results and it goes "Welcome! This domain was recently registered at namecheap.com. The domain owner may currently be creating a great site for.."
While my site which provided true value to its readers is nowhere to be found.
Please fix this.
there is something wrong with this update . search "viagra" on Google.com 3 edu sites are showing in the first page . is it relevant? matt you failed .
Search Google for a competitive term such as "new shoes" -- look who's #1: Interpretive Simulations - NewShoes - (Intro to Marketing, Marketing Principles). All competitive terms have some youtube videos on the top which aren't of any good quality even. This is not what is expected of google. Please revert.
These are results have to be a complete joke, so much unrelated content is now surfaced to the top it's sickening.
That's just a sampling. There's more in other forums, of course, such as WebmasterWorld. There is some more talk about exact match domains being hit. User Whitey says:
News just in to me that a large network of destination related exact match domains [ probably 1000+], including many premium ones [ probably 50+], ultra optimized with unique content and only average quality backlinks with perhaps overkill on exact match anchor text, has been hit.
A few of the premium one's have escaped. Not sure if the deeper long tail network which were exact match have been effected, but they would have had little traffic.
The sites were built for pure ranking purposes, and although largely white hat, didn't do much beyond what other sites in the category do.
User Haseebnajam says:
Ranking Increase = squidoo, blogspot, forums, subdomains
Ranking Decrease = exact match domains, sites with lots of backlink from spun content sources
User driller41 says:
I am seeing changes in the UK today, most of my affiliate sites are down which is annoying - all are exact match domains btw.
Most of the backlinks are from web2.0 sites with spun content in the downed sites.
One interesting point is that one of the sites which I had built most links to is unafected - the only differnce between this and my downed sites is that I never got around to adding the affiliate outlinks to this website - so google does not know that this site is an affiliate and thus no punishment has been dished out.
We'll keep digging for more on the Google's webmspam update.
Update: More on that viagra thing.
The new algorithm change is launching over the next few days, Cutts says, and it will impact 3.1% of queries in English, "to a degree that a regular user might notice." It affects about 3% of queries in German, Chinese and Arabic, but in "more heavily-spammed languages," he says. "For example, 5% of Polish queries change to a degree that a regular user might notice."