I feel like search engine used to be so black and white. Actually, my work wife, Hannah, blogged about black and white hat SEO yesterday. In the good ol’ days of SEO—before there were penguins, pandas, and penalties—it was fairly easy to know if your SEO tactics were kosher or non-kosher.
But in an effort to reduce web spam and improve search engine user experience, Google’s gone all Robin Thicke on us and blurred the lines. Sure, it’s easy to say that if you want to avoid the dog house, you should just not worry about SEO and focus on improving your site’s user experience, but I know I’m not the only one who thinks Google’s created a lot of grey areas with its algorithm updates.
Don’t believe me? All you need to do is check out all the videos Matt Cutts makes in response to the questions his team gets. Do yourself a favor and check out The Short Cutts version.
While there are many blurred lines we could address, today I’ll focus on the idea of SEO over-optimization: what it is; why it’s a problem; and whether or not you’ll get penalized for it.
What Is SEO Over-Optimization?
Back in March 2012, Matt Cutts reported that Google was working on a search ranking penalty for sites that are “over-optimized” or “overly SEO’ed.”
So what constitutes over-optimization? Some of the SEO practices that look spammy to Google include:
Too Many Links
Google recommends you keep the links on a given page to a reasonable number—fewer than 100. This includes external links and internal links. An internal link is a link from one page of your site to another page on your site.
I love internal linking from a user experience stand-point as it can help direct visitor flow and make for easy on-site navigation. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean you can take a list of your 100 top pages and link to them from every page of your site—especially if they all have identical, keyword-rich anchor text. This can make your site look spammy to Google, as the folks there say too many on-page links overwhelm site visitors.
“Does Google automatically consider a page spam if your page has over 100 links? No, not at all. The ‘100 links’ recommendation is in the ‘Design and content’ guidelines section, and it’s the Quality guidelines that contain the things that we consider webspam (stuff like hidden text, doorway pages, installing malware, etc.). Can pages with over 100 links be spammy? Sure, especially if those links are hidden or keyword-stuffed. But pages with lots of links are not automatically considered spammy by Google,” Matt Cutts reported.
Redundant Anchor Text
When you hyperlink a word or phrase when you write online content, that word or phrase is called the hyperlink’s anchor text.
In the old days of SEO, linking from keyword-optimized anchor text was an easy way to try and increase your rank for that keyword. Like most SEO practices, however, this one got out of hand really fast—especially in off-site items like press releases.
According to Moz, “Too many inbound links to a page with the exact same keyword-rich anchor text may cause Google to scrutinize that site’s link profile more closely; using manipulative methods to acquire keyword–rich anchor text is not recommended.”
Overly optimized anchor text can land you a big ol’ Google penalty (we know from personal experience!). Make sure to vary up your anchor text internally and use branded (your company name) anchor text in off-site items like press releases to avoid getting penalized.
I know it’s almost Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean stuffing is appropriate on your website. Keyword stuffing refers to excessively repeating the same word or phrase in Web content (and sometimes hidden in the HTML of the page) in an attempt to rank for that word or phrase in search engines.
Like most SEO practices that are now considered “over-optimization,” keyword stuffing USED to be a good way to get ranked in search engines. A Web page with 10 mentions of “SEO company Gaithersburg” was considered more relevant than a page with only one mention of the phrase.
Eventually, however, Google realized that this made for unnatural reading, and therefore poor user experience. Nowadays, keyword stuffing can harm your rankings and even get you a manual penalty.
So what should you do instead? Use a wide variety of keyword variations and synonyms. Google uses a process called Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) that recognizes synonymous terms to deem a page relevant to a search query.
If you think about it, over-optimization penalties make sense. Google was worried that sites with high quality content were being overtaken in search results by lower quality content that was simply optimized for search engines better.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again—the future of SEO is not SEO; it’s content marketing. In the past, it wasn’t hard to “trick” the search engines into ranking your page above your competitors with a few well-placed links, anchor-text, and keywords. Now, in order to rank in Google, you actually have to deserve to be there.
The problem with content marketing is that it takes time and resources—which not all small business owners have access to. If you own a business, chances are you have a lot better things to do than sit around writing blogs, case studies, ebooks, white papers, and landing pages for your website. I mean, f*ck, you have a business to run!
Fortunately, at Blue Corona, we’ve taken the pressure off of many business owners to create high quality, compelling content for their websites in order to attract more search engine traffic to their websites and gain more leads and sales from the Web. If you’re interested in our content marketing services, give us a call. If you tell them I sent you, I’ll rewrite your homepage for free.
About The Author: Lexie serves as Blue Corona's Content Marketing Manager. She's also the author of our soon-to-be famous, and someday to be written white paper, "Horse Hat SEO: Giddy-Up Your Google Rankings."
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“I used to get a couple form submissions a year—and it was all spam. Now, we’re getting leads—and they’re qualified! You can find an SEO company anywhere. With Blue Corona, you get an account rep that’s there for you. I know there’s somebody looking out for our website and helping us grow. ”