What Is SEO Over-optimization And How Does It Affect Your Rankings?

The SEO scene has been buzzing lately on Google’s latest announcements about implementing a penalty for over-optimized websites (see coverage here ). It’s well-known to our traditional partners that we take these announcements lightly and try to test a few hypothesis before offering guidance, but this time I felt I should go a little against the habit and comment on the issue of SEOs over-optimizing their sites.

First – super-optimized pages penalty is not something new -  it started with fighting keyword stuffing and watching for abnormal meta elements,  too many H1 titles etc.  In itself I don’t think it is dangerous to have keyword in title, keywords, description or URL – it is though unnatural to have ONLY the keyword there and nothing else. This applies a lot to “local” keywords like “garage doors Portland” for example – while one could use this phrase in a search, a page titled “Garage Doors Portland” carrying the same meta description looks totally artificial. Solution: put keywords in logical sentences, go back to Marketing 101 and make these actionable calls-to-action and you’ll rip not only the benefit of SEO but also higher click-throughs from the actual humans that find it easier to understand what your page is about when it shows in search engine results.

Second – when all backlinks to a website use the same anchor text, again and again, you don’t need Google to tell you the backlink footprint is over-optimized. Not sure if that is the case, especially when websites change owners over time? Simply order one of our business intelligence packages, have us analyze a website’s backlink footprint and generate an anchor text cloud (like a tag cloud) for it. When you only get one keyword sitting there pretty, and nothing else around it (like the normal anchor text noticed on natural backlinks, for example “read more” or the name of the domain referred to), you have an over-optimized site and need to do something about it.

Third, and last – how does this penalty manifest itself? Well, you should probably ask Google about it – but our best guess is it will not hurt the page, because that doesn’t make sense – again, you could hurt a competitor by building crap links to their page etc. But it hurts the authority of a website – you might still get top ranks for a particular keyword, but start losing impressions and ranks on variations, related terms and longtails. One way to look for this is the Google Webmaster console -  look at any changes in the number of impressions as a trend over time. Authority sites get impressions for loads of longtail terms one never optimizes for, simply because they are seen as relevant resources for the topic; when that goes away, the site suffered some sort of penalty on its authority – maybe content is not diverse enough, there are not enough pages Google finds worth presenting as results, and even incoming backlinks tend to go to one particular URL (homepage?) and have an unnatural distribution of anchor text.

Finally, I end up repeating what each and every client of ours has heard from day one of working with us: SEO should be just one component of your website optimization strategy. Like everything else, if you overdo it, it stops working. While Google have their own reasons to make such adjustments to their ranking algorithm, one cannot ignore that striving to isolate excessive optimization goes  a long way towards presenting web punters with sites that are more focused on their core business than they are on deploying the best possible SEO technique to rank on top of search results pages.