March 31, 2012 nitroint

What is Google’s Over-Optimization Penalty and How it Will Affect You

There is a lot of debate over what exactly the so called “over-optimization” penalty will mean for SEO’s. Some say it will be a filter applied to sites that have excessive amounts of the same anchor text, other say it applies more to on-page factors like H1 titles. Google web spam czar Matt Cutts doesn’t normally announce upcoming tweaks to the Google search algorithm, but in this case he has talked about it, and said it should be introduced over the next few weeks.

Here is what Matt Cutts says on the topic of over-optimization:

As with all things Google, it’s up to SEO’s to read the writing on the wall and decide what their own best practices will be. Sure, there are and always should be ways to push the envelope, but when it affects the user experience negatively, it just isn’t worth doing.

When it comes to off-page link building practices, varied anchor text has always been the natural way to build a backlink profile. Still, it has been way too easy over the past years to purchase cheap links in the hundreds of thousands in order to beat out the competition, and it actually has kind of worked. Obviously, Google should penalize this practice and devalue this type of unimaginative linking. The question then becomes, can I link bomb my competitors? After checking the comment streams on some of the top search engine watchdog sites, it’s clear that there is a lot of confusion and fear about link-bombing. This comment taken from a post on reflects a common sentiment:

yeah awesome anyone can send anyone 1 million backlinks to their sites and get them banned. as soon as someone ranks higher than me all I have to do is over optimize their site and they will get penalized.

I have to say I disagree. Negative SEO probably won’t work since the links you’d be sending to your competitor would simply be devalued and ignored. Sending 25,000 Xrumer forum links to the bakery across the street isn’t going to get their website banished. If that were the case I would be switching strategies real fast! Rather, I think what will happen is that we will see poor quality link building getting devalued. So, if you’ve been using some spammy tool or service to repeatedly hit the same keyword over and over again, expect to see your site drop in the next month or two.

So, what about on page SEO? Let’s say you have a client who has a carpet cleaning company in Glendale. You’ve convinced them that they must have a big bold H1 title on their home page (and every other page where a similar keyword is being targeted) that says “Carpet Cleaning Glendale”. Short, sweet, and spammy. Frankly, no one would ever choose that as a title for their page unless it was about keyword stuffing. Does it help the user? Sort of, maybe, or not so much. Instead, a proper title reads normally, and provides a more powerful sales message, something like “Your Friendly Neighborhood Carpet Cleaning Specialists” or “We Specialize in Smoke Damage, Pet Stains and Wine Spills” or whatever. The point is, if you think that it’s still OK to jam your keyword into every title tag and subheading, you are living in a bygone era.

Ultimately, the debate over exactly what Google’s over-optimization penalty will entail is irrelevant is you’ve been doing good quality SEO work. Stuffing titles and building thousands of backlinks with the same anchor text has always been a way to game Google and it has never been about user experience. The answer is simple – vary your anchor text and don’t stuff your keywords in where they don’t belong.

If you are interested in how search engine optimization can help your business, call us at 310 736 1704 for a free 15 minute consultation.


Comment (1)

  1. Fascinating topic for anyone who blogs, whether they have been doing iffy SEO, or keeping it completely natural and organic. Given that there already were penalties in place for certain kinds of “black hat” techniques, it was already possible to undermine one’s competition by making it appear they were inorganic, that is not carbon based. If one were given to paranoia, the latest slap might be interpreted as underhanded competition. But do people really go to that kind of evil effort? My opinion: there will always be SEO, perhaps more restrained/smarter, but most likely still practiced on one’s own site(s).

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