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A close look at what over optimization really is
brinked




msg:4442236
 1:51 am on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

I will not share my entire story about how I came into the SEO world, but lets just say that in order to have any type of success in this industry, I needed to overcome what turned out to be over optimization penalties.

Since then I have pretty much made a living at buying established sites that suffer from obvious on site over optimization, fixing them up and profiting big time. One site I paid $12,000 for and within 2 weeks it was recovered, making a good $400-$600/day. Thats what type of money people can be missing out on with a simple over optimization penalty.

But what exactly is over optimization? More importantly, what is Google's latest update all about? While I do not have the answer to everyone's questions, I have a lot of experience with over optimization and I think I might just be the most qualified person in the world when dealing with this type of penalty.

I know a lot of people feel vulnerable right now and that is why I am making this post. Looking over on the google help forums, many of the issues I am seeing have blatant over optimization problems on site. One lady had a site that offered free widgets for kids. How do I know this? When I went to her site, "free widgets for kids" was in the domain name, the page title, and every other sentence on the home page. I did not dig any deeper in her site and I am not saying this is the exact cause for her punishment, but I am pretty sure it is. If you read her content, it sounds spammy and unprofessional and I have no idea how this site managed to elude over optimization penalties earlier.

In any case, here is a list of over optimization factors. Some are tried and proven, others are semi proven and some others are just strong theories.


1. Keyword/phrase over usage. Known by seo experts as keyword stuffing. This is also the most commong form of over optimization and also the easiest to recover from. When you are trying to rank for a specific phrase, you want google to find that term. Many webmasters will do this by placing the same term in the page title, url's, meta tags, body text, anchor text, header tags etc etc. It is important NOT to do this. Google will know what the subject of your site is without having to repeat the same phrase over and over. That just gives a poor user experience. Not only that, google will know you're trying to game the system. You could possibly overcome this by strong content and a good backlink profile, but it will likely still hold you back in some way or another.

2. Redirects. I seen a major competitor just lose its number 1 position after holding it steady for 3 years. This site was not only number 1 for this industry, but its also one of the top 500 most popular websites in the USA. It is a huge huge brand and it has just dropped to position #7 after being #1 for 3 years. One thing I noticed about them is they redirect several domains to their main site and they have bought out competitors over the years and just redirected them to their main site. Be careful not to redirect too many sites to your main business, and if you do, make sure to follow recommended procedure as offered by google.

3. Same/similar anchor in back links. This is an oldy but a goody. The best backlink profile is a well rounded, diverse and natural looking profile that has links coming from many types of venues. If all of your links come from blogs, that looks pretty artificial, what are the odds that all of the sites linking to you all happen to be blogs? Top that off with if these blogs link to lots of other unrelated sites, it wont take google's algo too long to detect that. Aggressive reciprocal links can hurt you as well.

4. Same Niche same server - This one I truly believe in, or it could be me just being paranoid. I always believed that having 2 websites on the same server in the same or similar industries will cause 1 or both of them to be punished. For this reason, I leave no trail for google to connect any 2 of my sites together unless they are completely unrelated. I make sure to have different whois info, I never use GA, adsense or any other means for google to connect two similar sites. I have no concrete proof of this one, but its something I feel strongly about.

5. Doorway/thin affiliate - Is the main goal of your site to get people to another site? Then google may just decide to drop your site and favor the source site since that would provide a better user experience. Counter this by offering something truly unique.

6. Link schemes/cheap backlink packages - Quite simply, dont waste your time. This does more harm than good and even if you do get a good ranking fast, it will fade soon enough. Any back link package is truly ridiculous and you are playing with fire. If you see any package that is offering you more than 100 links for less than $10, you should stay far far away. it also goes unmentioned you should stay away from ANY back link building schemes that include gaining mass amounts of backlinks in a short period of time. Links are votes and should be earned.

This list was rushed and not proof read so take it as it is. I hope this insight can help some people. These are just the 6 most common factors that I see webmasters suffering from. Best of luck.

 

CainIV




msg:4444096
 5:34 am on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Nice post brinked, and fantastic contributions on behalf of many of the members.

The only item I would add here which tends, in my mind to "counteract" OOP and reinforce positive rankings - is to think like a brand. You touched on this in usability.

Brands, for the most part, care about the user. They cater to the user. They want to sell. They put the value proposition first. This requires brands to make usability one of the number one keys for success on their prospective websites.

And they send signals to Google that they are real, tangible entities and are therefore a least one "trust" level up in Google's eyes in terms of what they present. Sometimes reversing link penalties can be as simple as aggressively chasing down poor links, and replacing with membership, civic organizations and trusted, accredited sources at the city or topic level within your niche.

Often, improving brand signals alone can completely change the way in which Google perceives not only your website, but your back links as well.

adder




msg:4444136
 8:39 am on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

@brinked a great discussion. What do you think about site navigation over-optimization?

For example, 2 years ago it was easy to improve your rankings if you changed the "HOME" link to "Your Keyword"... looking from today's perspective, it may seem a bit spammy.

Have you had any experiments with this? What do you think?

Shaddows




msg:4444138
 8:41 am on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I'd like to start changing and updating the various pages of the site immediately to address these concerns. Do you think it's risky to do sitewide updates right now or should I implement them more slowly over the next couple weeks? Would at least like to tackle the homepage asap


I would change them at whatever pace it takes to actually do the work- unless it is structural or to the template, where it gets a bit more complicated. (Personally, I would to the structural/template change all in one go- as long as you keep the content exactly the same. Once settled, then work on content. Others will advise you to do batches of pages.)

The most important piece of advice I can give in updating content and/or structure is: DON'T FIDDLE.

Plan what your site will need to look like, and update the content on any given URL as few steps as possible. Ideally one, but necessity may dictate two. Fiddling will cause a ranking drop, regardless of the inherent value of the actual changes.

Title elements are particularly sensitive to fiddling- so if you are making a sitewide change dropping your "branding" from the front of the title, but also rewriting titles, e.g.

"EXAMPLE.COM|We well cheap widgets"
to
"Best value Widgets from Example.com"

Try and do it one step. If you do it in three, and replicate that across every URL, you may find yourself in trouble.

You could do it in three steps per below:
"EXAMPLE.COM|We well cheap widgets"
"We well cheap widgets"
"Best value Widgets"
"Best value Widgets from Example.com"

And you are risking OOP if every title looks like this due to poor execution mid-change
"EXAMPLE.COM|[abc] from Example.com"

Tonearm




msg:4444153
 9:20 am on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

When executing these changes properly, how far and for how long should rankings drop before they settle into their new positions?

In my (somewhat limited compared to yours I imagine) experience, if you have two sites on the same server sharing the same content, you can kiss goodbye to both of them in Google.

Does this usually hold true even when noindex is used on one copy of the two pages sharing content? I've been doing that for quite a while now (on tedster's recommendation I believe) and haven't had any trouble with at least one of the sites.

IngoZ




msg:4444177
 10:39 am on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

Over optimization, they don't penalize you if you buy links, reviews, buying "popularity" isn't over optimization, they penalize you if you never bought a link but others link with the EMD because is the name of the site, we should buy more links to look natural. Very disappointed. As I said many times, want quality, make a +1 search engine. +1 shows the real value of a site not the backlinks bought. All off-site seo is over optimization. When Google talks about seo they talk only about on-site site.

gouri




msg:4444282
 2:33 pm on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I was wondering if the over optimization factors mentioned in this thread and some of the things mentioned that can be done to improve a page that contains over optimization apply to Bing as well.

I think that it is better to ask this question in this thread than to have a thread similar to this one in the Bing section.

chrisv1963




msg:4444366
 6:38 pm on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I have a lot of anchor text on my pages that are most likely triggering over-optimization penalties.


I don't think that is a problem. Wikipedia is doing it and I don't think they are penalized.

brinked




msg:4444367
 6:38 pm on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

gouri,

I can not comment on bing. I see many sites doing well in bing that were hit hard by google. bing and google are completely separate and bing focuses more on backlinks.

Since google is 90%+ of the market, it only makes sense to chase that market and hope bing follows, which it usually does.

@adder, navigation I always 100% build for my visitors. What is the point of trying to game navigation for google if the navigation will confuse visitors and case them to leave?

@CanIV,

I 100% agree. But a big reason why brands rank well is because of their exposure which comes from their marketing budget smaller companies do not have. They can pay for brand awareness which trickles down to people mentioning them in their blogs/personal websites etc and linking back to them using their brand name which is a 100% natural backlink.

realmaverick




msg:4444394
 7:45 pm on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

1. Keyword/phrase over usage. Known by seo experts as keyword stuffing. This is also the most commong form of over optimization and also the easiest to recover from. When you are trying to rank for a specific phrase, you want google to find that term. Many webmasters will do this by placing the same term in the page title, url's, meta tags, body text, anchor text, header tags etc etc. It is important NOT to do this. Google will know what the subject of your site is without having to repeat the same phrase over and over. That just gives a poor user experience. Not only that, google will know you're trying to game the system. You could possibly overcome this by strong content and a good backlink profile, but it will likely still hold you back in some way or another.


Hello Brinked. I agree with most of what you've said, especially in number 1. However, on one of my main websites, because it covers several areas, I feel I have to be quite detailed with the titles, otherwise the lack of context will cause a drop in rankings.

In my case, where we have widgets, didgets and ridgets, without specifically saying "Download orange and green widget", it's kind of difficult for Google to place me, when somebody searches for "Download orange and green". Because there maybe an orange and green didget on my website also, so which would Google give placement too?

Any ideas how you'd tackle this particular case?

MrFlicks




msg:4444454
 11:39 pm on Apr 23, 2012 (gmt 0)

I have multiple sites on same server and, for example, I have say 30 plus sites and for some widget related search terms have nearly all the top 30 links (and more)

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 8:43 am (utc) on Apr 24, 2012]

anand84




msg:4444571
 8:12 am on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Wonderful thread and thanks for this, Brinked.

Let's say I have an exact-match-domain that is also the main targeted keyword for the page. In order to not over optimize, I run the title as natural as it can be without stuffing phrases. However, as has been a hygiene factor with website building, I suffix the website name at the end of the title. (Eg: Big blue widgets for sale - ExactMatchDomain.com)

What would you do in such a case? Would you remove the domain name suffixing at the end of the title ?

netmeg




msg:4444667
 2:19 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@anand84, one of my top clients has same situation as you - exact match domain = company name = primary targeted keyword. For products, I just run product titles, for categories and other pages, and on the home page title, I suffix the company name (mostly for branding reasons) Seems to work well. Must be at the END of the title though, after the Category name. Not at the beginning.

Valleyc




msg:4444698
 3:30 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@netmeg and 84
Some of my domains are exact match and actually less affected by the update.
Thus this suggests there is a difference which can only come from trust rank

If the exact match links come from a million spam directories then this will be a negative
If the links for the exact match come from something with high TR
such as DMOZ yahoo or .edu then this will actually reverse the algo base don what I see with my own sites

1script




msg:4444711
 3:53 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

@anand84:
However, as has been a hygiene factor with website building, I suffix the website name at the end of the title. (Eg: Big blue widgets for sale - ExactMatchDomain.com)
Any chance you could elaborate on that? I've never actually done the suffix although, interestingly, Bing does in fact suffix the site's name to the end of the titles in their SERPs. In any case, what is the hygiene factor you're talking about? In case the page gets copied wholesale? I'd like to learn more about it. Thanks!
anand84




msg:4444737
 4:28 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks Netmeg and Valleyc

@1script

I am not a SEO pro and so have learned this 'hygiene factor' by simply noting how the big boys do it. My understanding is that in the event a search for "blue widgets" lists ten sites with just 'Blue Widgets' in the title, the visitor will need to see where the links are going to. By having the title as 'Blue Widgets - eBay.com', the visitor knows the link is going to take them to a trusted site and so will be more inclined to click. Of course, does not work equally well for my regular joe site, and that is why I consider it a hygiene factor.

BaseballGuy




msg:4444828
 9:35 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)


2. Redirects. I seen a major competitor just lose its number 1 position after holding it steady for 3 years. This site was not only number 1 for this industry, but its also one of the top 500 most popular websites in the USA. It is a huge huge brand and it has just dropped to position #7 after being #1 for 3 years. One thing I noticed about them is they redirect several domains to their main site and they have bought out competitors over the years and just redirected them to their main site. Be careful not to redirect too many sites to your main business, and if you do, make sure to follow recommended procedure as offered by google.



3 years ago I had a colleague suggest I do a bunch of internal 301 redirects.

eg: I had been doing a blog post about green widgets every month for 12 months.

The colleague suggested that I 301 redirect all 11 blog posts, to the oldest blog post.

I just got dinged by the April 1st update......would you guys recommend I de-301 those posts/pages?

The reason I 301'ed in the first place is that I wasn't really giving any new info out on the widgets.....so figured I would direct everyone to the oldest page (that ranked).

Should I de-301 and then delete those (4 year old in some cases) blog posts?


They were being 301'ed to my money making page.

realmaverick




msg:4444857
 10:53 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

You created a website April 6th, and you're frustrated because you're not ranked number 1 for your target keywords?

You've got a lot to learn and a whole lot more frustration to come.

Valleyc




msg:4444861
 10:56 pm on Apr 24, 2012 (gmt 0)

Cripes
I build a site
Leave it and come back in a year to start the real work
Never thought of checking it 3 weeks later :)

mjhunt




msg:4446004
 2:14 pm on Apr 26, 2012 (gmt 0)

if you believe you received a over optimization penalty due to "Same/similar anchor in back links." would you recommend building more generic links to balance it out or to remove over optimized links where possible? Or a little of both?

gouri




msg:4447259
 5:56 pm on Apr 29, 2012 (gmt 0)

@brinked,

I know that this question is specific, but I was wondering if you could tell me what you think.

If you have a website that is about 20 pages and three of them have keyword/over phrase usage and the content of these pages could also be more informative, could that be responsible for changes in rankings from the webspam update.

These pages also contain links to other pages on the site.

varun21




msg:4479985
 1:56 am on Jul 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

@brinked: Do you work for G*****? :)

Apr 24, Penguin struck (I believe) with everything you said. What's your experience post-Penguin?

zoltan




msg:4480010
 6:51 am on Jul 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

Regarding point 1:
1. Keyword/phrase over usage. Known by seo experts as keyword stuffing. This is also the most common form of over optimization and also the easiest to recover from.... (etc)

What is the keyword density that is triggering an over optimization penalty? I just checked one site that was pandalized last year, and I see one 2 words phrase at 5.63%, and another 3 words phrase at 1.55%, these are the 2 phrases where we suffered a big loss in rankings. Are these densities too high?
.

[edited by: Robert_Charlton at 7:06 am (utc) on Jul 30, 2012]
[edit reason] added quote box and edited quote [/edit]

tedster




msg:4480055
 11:22 am on Jul 30, 2012 (gmt 0)

There is no exact density that triggers a penalty. A keyword density tool is only good for a rough check to alert you that a page might be overstuffed (or too thin!) on keyword content.

You're more likely to get a penalty because of the WAY you use keywords - as anchor text, or text that is barely visible to hidden, or artificially jammed into your copy. For some more input, see this video from Google's Matt Cutts: [youtube.com...]

Rickvb




msg:4488259
 2:35 pm on Aug 25, 2012 (gmt 0)

I didn't see a very important factor:

- Excessive/manipulative internal linking
Using internal links with identical anchor texts to the same pages that badly influence user experience. This usually happens within texts where keywords are replaced with identical anchor texts within internal links more than once on the same page.

--

Although, one critical side note: I do wonder why Wikipedia doesn't seem to get that affected from it. Maybe the popularity is overlapping this penalty.

Natedog




msg:4491181
 8:59 am on Sep 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

This subject has taught me a lot. Didn't think I have been over optimising but looking back I might have got a little excited with some keywords and phrases.

Brinked you guru you, your replies to the questions here have been a great help.

backdraft7




msg:4491284
 3:46 pm on Sep 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

Great OP brinked! As far as keywords go, can we safely say that if you haven't already removed the keywords meta tag, it's safe to do so now? I finally did this on my entire site about 3 weeks ago but haven't noticed any real improvement yet. I think this is something that many older webmasters have a hard time dropping, especially if you're still in pretty good standing.

Zivush




msg:4491308
 4:51 pm on Sep 4, 2012 (gmt 0)

@backdraft7
I've seen some brands stuffing keywords in keywords meta tags without being affected.

As far as keywords, what always works for me -
1. Never repeat the same keyword unless it makes sense on the flow of the content.
2. Diversify the keywords to target more search terms and make it keyword-rich.
3. If the content is good, it doesn't matter how many keywords you're targeting, it will find its way up the ranking.

gouri




msg:4491669
 5:49 pm on Sep 5, 2012 (gmt 0)

Can bolding a keyword phrase in the body text of the page that you want to rank for it be considered or cause over optimization?

The phrase also appears in the page's title tag, h1 tag and is the anchor text of an internal link from another page on the site.

Also, if this does cause over optimization, can the effect be on other phrases that the page is trying to rank for and not on the phrase itself?

Zivush




msg:4491750
 4:09 am on Sep 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

@gouri
To my best knowledge, what you described is a bad practice. It is over-optimization with all its consequences (lost ranking, authority and whatever).

An example of optimized page could be -
Say, the page title is "blue widget"
Instead of appearing like a a machine-made content, use variations of the phrase (or sometimes 3rd form):
blue color widget, widget of blue color, the widget, it, this widget, this, that color, blues widgets, blue for xyz widget, blue ABC widget, widget with blue color.

You may also put links to 'other colors' to become the source of information on that widget: red widgets, green widget, etc etc.

It sounds natural for the readers and you targeted dozens more keywords.

tedster




msg:4491752
 4:18 am on Sep 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

what you described is a bad practice. It is over-optimization with all its consequences (lost ranking, authority and whatever).

Unfortunately, I think you're right. I say unfortunately because these very practices used to be REQUIRED if you wanted some strong Google love in a relatively competitive market. This means a lot of "SEO instructions" you can still read online are quite out of date.

It also means a lot of webmasters feel that Google betrayed them because it seems like they changed the rules. Well, they sort of did, but they changed rules that we SEOs had reverse-engineered, not the rules that they actually recommended.

Years ago, I used to recommend some of the practices that now seem to get an over-optimization flags. However, I never recommended that they all be done in every case, or placed in a kind of punch-list for rigid and automatic execution. Doing that would have ignored the first purpose of a website - to actually serve their followers.

[edited by: tedster at 5:53 am (utc) on Sep 6, 2012]

Zivush




msg:4491765
 5:21 am on Sep 6, 2012 (gmt 0)

Correction.
I learned the hard way that this could be perceived as a bad practice for Google - not necessarily for the readers.
Another example –
Sometimes it is impossible to find variations to a term. Especially when:
1. You want to compare term-A to term-B and there’s no other option but to repeat.
2. The term is unique/key term, like health term or financial term.

@tenster
I am not sure the algorithm has yet to tell the difference between keyword stuffing and a decent reuse of keywords.
Hoping they are comparing page A to page B for the same term (keyword).

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