Tips to Avoid Over Optimisation Penalty

March 24, 2012 // Search Engines, seo

Over optimisation in SEO has always been on the radar in search, it’s by no means a new concept; that Google would look at a site negatively if you implement “too much SEO” and avoid the user’s needs. It is of course now on many people’s and clients list of priorities given Matt Cutt’s recent announcement that Google would be releasing algorithm updates which would look at penalising sites which have over optimisation.

In my opinion this is nothing to worry about if you are an ethical user-centric SEO or use an agency that is well trusted. Google is not going to suddenly start de-indexing websites if they see that your Header tags match your Title tags, why?  – you’ll find that almost all big brands that have online marketing strategies will have a certain level of SEO and there is no way in hell that Google would start penalising these across the board, this would be counter productive in delivering quality search results.

There are however some sites which almost certainly do over optimise their content and layouts, if you think you might be over optimising for SEO then take a look at the tips below which may be able to help:

  1. Don’t worry about keyword density – for a long time people have (and some still do) worry about how many keywords they have on a page, where they are positioned and what format they are in. Google is getting smarter and with their recent announcement about semantic search this should be less of an issue. Google has actually done this for a while i.e. if you search for “holiday insurance” it will display results for “travel insurance” too (you can see the term travel will be highlighted in title tags and descriptions even though you’ve not typed it) – Google understands certain keywords have the same meaning. In theory this means then that you can write about a topic as if keywords were not something you should think about – the words you write should have enough relevancy to your target naturally.
  2. Build your site navigation for users not search engines – When I mention this point I do of course mean the words and labels rather than the technology – It’s certainly my opinion that while internal linking is still important primary and secondary navigations should be more focused on performing an action i.e. if a shoe shop sells 10 different colour shoes do you need to repeat the word “shoes” for every link? Probably not, Google is smart enough to know what the destination page is about from external links + other on-page factors (such as URL, H1 tags).
  3. Think about CTR in Title Tags and Meta data – Earlier this month Google updated their guidelines about meta data which gives some good indications of what you should avoid when building the tags. Avoiding duplicate or boilerplate meta data is something I’ve recommended for a long time, this can be a problem for large retail sites which usually generate tags dynamically – if you do this try and make them as unique as possible, changing 1 or 2 tags might not be enough. While keywords in Title’s and Meta data is something that’s dropped in value over the last few years I still see plenty of sites which repeat keywords multiple times, I would personally only use a target keyword once in the title and description. Think more about how you can influence users and in turn improve the CTR in the SERPS, you can monitor the CTR % in GWT and GA – I’d estimate that this will become as important as the content itself in the tags.
  4. Cut down on long tailed content strategies – This is a tactic which has been used by SEO’s for a long time, building pages of content, extremely similar in themes but targeting different phrases. Think of a retail store that targets “luxury gifts”, a relatively easy way to rank for variations of this term would be to create individual pages targeting each variation (like “luxurious gifts”, “expensive gifts” etc). I believe excessive use of these kind of strategies will constitute as “over optimisation” in the future, an example of this would be 10-15 pages on the same keyword, content writers will have to be smarter when writing about topics.
  5. Ensure your backlink profile has a good split of anchor texts – Exact match anchor text is still a major contributing factor to the value of links (although slightly less in the last 6-12 months) and direct correlation to rankings. It’s important you don’t just build links based around a small number of your “top keywords” but have a good mix of brand, phrase match and nofollow as well.

Of course there are many other elements which could be looked at, such as external links and the ratio within a profile or URL structures, header tags, image markeup or even social signals. If you see any specific changes over the next few weeks please let me know.

Let me know what you think Google might look at in the update in the poll below:

Matt Ridout

About the author

My name is Matt Ridout, I've been working in digital marketing for 9 years; worked for agencies and currently Head of SEO at fashion startup called Farfetch. Try to test my own theories.

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