Reaction: Google to penalise sites with too much SEO and offer answers rather than weblink results

Google last week announced changes to its algorithm with the plan on penalising those who overload their search engine optimisation.

Speaking at SXSW last week, Matt Cutts from Google explained; “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.”

Could this be a seachange in the way we see search developing in the future, or is this a further land grab by the search engine giant?

Chris Whitelaw, president of iSpy Marketing welcomes the policy, claiming that it will allow those monitoring search results to better understand them.

“The principles will remain the same from a business point of view in that high quality content, which is well structured and well formatted, will increase the emphasis on quality,” added Whitelaw.

“The phrase ‘overly-optimised’ is an interesting one to try and work out,” commented Gareth Owen, head of SEO at STEAK. "Google spent most of last year rolling out updates to ‘Panda’ which was aimed at sites with shallow or duplicated content that nevertheless ranked well. Perhaps they were ‘over-optimised’, perhaps they weren’t – or alternatively, maybe Panda didn’t work. I would assume that since Panda looked at content on sites, it is fair to assume that the next update will look at sites with obviously ‘SEO’d’ link profiles. Something like too much exact match anchor text would be reasonable way of determining ‘overly-optimised’.”

Owen continued to add that there were legitimate concerns for companies who have ‘overly-optimised’ link profiles and for those with generic brand names, who may be penalised as a result.

"From a business perspective you need to review the main elements of your site and ask the question, is that there for users or for search engines?" explained Epiphany's head of SEO, Dan Peden.

"Google is looking to make its crawler smarter, one change I can see coming is the down-weighting of content hidden in JavaScript boxes. This is a commonly used technique which is currently fully compliment with Google’s guidelines but in the most part it’s used to add additional textual content to pages. As Google becomes better at determining what elements on a page are there purely for search engines it can reduce the impact of these on its algorithm."

Paul Fabretti, head of digital for Brazen, believes the move sees Google attempt to expand its dominance over the search platform, by attempting to become ‘the one-click shop’ in revealing an answer to a query itself, rather than point a user towards a relevant link.

“It also brings into question the whole issue of what role google has to play in search. Traditionally it has largely played the wayfinder, helping guide us to the answer, but this latest move suggests that it will use the pages of content it indexes to determine the answer itself. So what need for websites anymore?” he continues.

Gerry Campbell, business development manager for Equator, adds that the rules will see google move to become all the more knowledgeable about people’s personal information, and aim to catch up with capturing the data currently being submitted to social media sites such as Facebook and myspace.

As to the effect the policy change will have on businesses, he says that they will need to become more intuitive and responsive in their online offering, as companies find the need to “Google plans, or hopes, only to give “one defining answer” (no not about the meaning of life, although if it could, it would). So the big question is then… If there is only one answer to a search request, how do businesses make sure that theirs is the one?” he asks.

Gareth Owen says that having been using search engines since 1996, he still wants a list of websites when using search, rather than one answer.

“If I want an answer to a question, I actually do go to Wolfram Alpha. If Google gets this wrong, it really could start to lose market share to Bing. On the other hand, if it limits the impact of this development to the right types of searches then it will be an attractive addition to the Google suite.”

When google makes a decision the whole world sits up and notices. This announcement surely offers insight into future plans by the company in a bid to continue its dominance of the search engine market, and possible beyond.

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