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As we’ve discussed many times, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is essential for colleges and universities looking to make the most out of their marketing and recruitment strategies and online presence. However, what is becoming clear is that the quality of SEO efforts may soon be more important than the “quantity” (substance over style, in other words), at least according to Google’s Matt Cutts.

Cutts spoke at a SXSW panel about search engine optimization and revealed that the company may soon have a new strategy when it comes to determining rank. There is an audio clip available on Search Engine Land, but here is a rough transcription of what Cutts said:

“Normally we don’t pre-announce changes, but there is something we’ve been working in the last few months and hopefully in the coming weeks we hope to release it. The idea is basically to try to level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have 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 are trying to level the playing field a bit.

We try to make the GoogleBot smarter, try to make our relevance more adaptive, so that if people don’t so SEO we handle that. And we are also looking at the people who abuse it, who put too many keywords on a page, exchange way too many links, or whatever else they are doing to go beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

He didn’t mention, however, how Google would decipher quality content from overly optimized sites, nor did he mention how the latter would be punished – one would think, though, that a lower rank would do the trick.

So, does this mean you have to rethink your SEO work? Not exactly. SEO best practices are not set in stone, mostly because search engines will often update the manner in which they crawl sites, and the standards their crawlers are looking for. This means that SEO campaigns are generally long-term affairs, with continuous keyword research and on-page and off-page efforts. Changes, therefore, are par for the course.

Clearly, though, it’s becoming more important for your college or university to produce great content (and to make sure SEO campaigns are well run and properly thought out). We’ll just have to stay tuned to see what Google has in store.

If you’re curious about over-optimization, here is a Google video on the topic:

YouTube video

What do you think about this news?