Google just announced changes to its search algorithm intended to punish websites that use unnatural-sounding search engine optimization (SEO) to increase their page ranking. This evolution of Google search could spell the end of many overly-optimized websites, but it will be a boon to honest content providers who only engage in honest, “white-hat” SEO in an effort to attract customers according to their natural search habits.
Google’s algorithm change is aimed at sites that engage in excessive search targeting. In particular, it will specifically target websites that have too many keywords on a page or keywords placed awkwardly in a sentence, have too many backlinks to their website, and do not have relevant content that solves a problem.
Over-Targeting: Keywords, Backlinks, and Relevant Content
The first two elements are quite straightforward: it is usually very clear to the reader when a site has too many keywords. For example, overly SEO’d sports sites will often say things like: “Jeremy Lin will lead the New York Knicks to victory tonight because Jeremy Lin is the best point guard in the National Basketball Association and he plays for the New York Knicks.” It’s very obvious that there are too many complete, optimized keywords in the sentence and it does not sound like natural human speech.
It’s also easy for Google to tell when a site has too many backlinks: sites often engage in link exchange where they swap links with hundreds or thousands of other websites. If those sites are relatively unrelated to one another, Google’s modified algorithm will identify it as artificial link exchange rather than honest sharing and dock the page ranking of the offending sites.
The last part, punishing sites that do not provide relevant content to solve a problem, is a bit ambiguous. But the new algorithm will address it by ranking sites based more on how directly the content relates to the users’ search than how many backlinks they have to other sites. Links and keywords will remain critically important but Google will aim to make the way the algorithm uses them a bit more nuanced, “smarter” in Google-speak.
“We are trying to make Google Bot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange too many links, or go well beyond what you normally expect,” explained Google engineer Matt Cutts.
Beneficiaries: the Big and the Niche
The new changes will benefit sites that engage only in “white hat” SEO, which includes linking only to relevant pages, putting in just the keywords related to the specific article, and providing readers with the specifically targeted content that they are searching for on the web.
The change will provide particularly helpful to two kinds of sites: very large company sites and content providers and smaller, targeted niche sites.
The large sites will benefit because they never needed to excessively keyword or backlink their sites. But those sites were already at the top of the search rankings, so users will not notice much of a difference. Instead, the most visible result of Google’s changes will be more small, targeted sites high in the page rankings. These sites are often very tailored to a niche group of searchers but used to be overlooked in favor of less relevant sites with more “relevant” keywords and backlinks. Now, because those sites’ content is hyper-relevant and very likely to solve the user’s problem, they will jump in the search rankings. Many of those smaller sites were in danger of extinction and the additional traffic and revenue will help them survive.
So, Google’s search algorithm is getting smarter. Watch your search results and see: you may find sites you have never seen before.