As marketers, we tend to be obsessed with optimization. After all, it’s our job to make the most of our limited budget to make the biggest impact, creating short-term sales while simultaneously building long-term relationships. But while optimization is a valid strategy, it can also be overdone. That’s why it’s important to know how to spot the warning signs, as well as what to do if your optimization efforts start to falter.
Below are some of the top things that Google looks for when determining if a website is over-optimized for SEO and therefore not for readers. If you’re doing any of the following, it’s important to revert back to more natural practices ASAP.
1. Decreased Rankings
One of the big risks of over-optimising your website is the fact that Google and other search engines don’t take kindly to people who try to game the system. If you notice a drop in rankings despite putting in a lot of effort to optimise your site, you may be being penalised. For instance, if you are stuffing your articles with lots of keywords, it may lead to a temporary spike when it comes to your ranking, but it will hurt your rankings in the long run, since Google’s latest algorithm favors content which provides value.
Sure, relevant keywords are needed, but ultimately, it is about helping the reader and offering high-quality content. Also, there is something known as backlink velocity, which is how many backlinks you have built over a certain period of time. For example, Google will find it hard to believe that you’ve managed to build 150 backlinks in a day, and will suspect foul play and penalize you. Focus on quality of the links instead of quantity and always rely on white hat SEO tactics, because black hat SEO, no matter how effective it may be at times, will come back to haunt you sooner, rather than later.
2. Decreased ROI
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out. Optimisation efforts yield diminishing returns, because after the initial quick wins, it takes a lot of time and effort to make even a minor change. You’ll eventually reach a point at which it’s no longer worth doing – at least, not unless you want to maintain a positive return on investment.
It may sound like a cliche, but optimization is not a sprint. It’s a marathon, which means you should focus on long-term goals and put in the effort which will pay off months from now, or even a full year after. And it won’t necessarily mean it will cost you more. Just be more careful with your choices and concentrate on putting in hard work.
3. Non-relevant keywords
You should never try to rank for keywords that are not relevant to your article. Although a topic may be highly searched, this is not going to help your conversion rate (because once people view your site, they are immediately going to notice that your content is not what they are looking for).
Google takes all of the keywords that you use across the entire domain into consideration when it indexes your site. Therefore, too much content or keywords that are unrelated will detract from the overall strength of the site in the SERPs. You absolutely need to focus on your niche that way you are ranking for the correct topic.
4. Link type
If you have never built a website from the ground up, you may not realize that there are hundreds of different link types that can be built. Unfortunately, many times people focus too heavily on one particular link type over another and this typically leads to an unnatural looking link profile.
You want your website to look as natural as possible, which can happen if you attract a wide range of link types from many different types of sites. A few of these link types include social network links, in-content links form other websites in your industry and links earned from other websites across the web.
5. Non-branded, keyword-dense URLs
Some webmasters choose to hyper-optimize URLs instead of creating a healthy and balanced brand name. While choosing a domain with a ton of keywords sounds smart, it is actually placing you on high alert for an over-optimization.
Do not create a URL simply for its keyword value because your brand name is too important to be compromised by making it a keyword. The best thing to do is to have your brand name in your URL.
6. Keyword-rich anchors for internal links
Internal linking is good; however, internal linking by using keyword-rich anchor text is bad. Anchors that use the exact URL of the destination or anchors that use keywords are a red flag in Google’s eyes. The occasional anchor that matches the URL exactly may contribute to positive SEO, but if you start doing this too much, you’re setting yourself up for penalization.
Ultimately, using keyword-rich anchors begins to ruin your link profile because again, like all of the other items on this list, they are not natural. Your link profile is the most important component of your SEO, so don’t make the easy mistake of keyword rich anchor text.
This practices used to be acceptable, but Google cracked down on anchor text a few years ago and made it clear that keyword rich anchor text is not natural. You can read this article to learn more about Google’s stance on the issue.
7. Pointing all internal or external links to top-level navigation pages
A strong link profile has links pointing to deep internal pages as well as the home page. A healthy ratio is 1:1, or 50% of the links pointing to deep internal links. Over-optimization occurs when webmasters themselves create a ton of links to their homepage or to main navigation pages like “Contact Us,” “About Us” or “Our Services.”
You want to create internal links, but you don’t need to point the links to these pages. You should actually aim to strengthen your link profile by pointing to deep internal links.
8. Backlink velocity
Building too many backlinks too quickly looks suspicious to the search engines, so, slow down! It is far more important to build quality links at a slower rate until your site overcomes Google’s trust barrier. Most experts put the maximum number of links that should be built in a day at no more than 30-100, depending on your site’s industry, audience and traffic levels (and I would recommend even less).
The best thing to do is slow down and re-focus on building quality links over quantity.
9. Keyword-stuffed footer
Website footers are another place where over-optimization occurs. Google devalues footer links and, because of their position, they receive minimal crawler recognition. When you design your footer, do so with the user in mind. Your footer isn’t a sitemap or a place for putting key words. Rather, it may just simply be used as a nice closure to a page – a simple, but navigable spot at the end of a webpage that signals the end.
10. Content creation
I’ve saved the best and most commonly made error for last. When you are creating articles for your blog, you need to be very careful of over-optimization. Do not “write to keywords or bots.” You should do your best to maintain a natural voice, and the only way to rank well in the SERPs is to build content around strict keywords. Thus, write on topics that involve your niche, but do not go out of your way to write specifically to the keyword.
It is true that occasionally this kind of content wins and ranks highly for the keywords it targets. However, before you run out and try creating your own over-optimized keyword-filled content, remember that Google’s job is to provide the best possible search results to its users and that good quality content is always going to win out in that consideration in the long run. So, be sure to write your content to appeal to your visitors and not just the search engines.
In the end Google bots aren’t gaining anything from your content, your visitors are. If you want people to be returning to your site, and to have a high conversion rate, you need to be pleasing your audience with your content.