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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.

 

epmaniac




msg:4442387
 11:13 am on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

if i have a biography site..... and on a page i have listed biography of several people lets say 20... and have appended 'biography' after each personality in the link............ so my page would end up having 20 links with biography appended to each link

do u think this is over-optimization?.....

netmeg




msg:4442423
 12:20 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't overlook anchor text, too. Google actually admitted making changes there last month, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're seeing some of the results from that now.

swampdeer




msg:4442506
 2:39 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks brinked for a good summary. It is pretty much how I've approached SEO for the last 8 or 9 years (since Florida)

My main gripe is that over-optimisation is working for many people, it has forced a few good sites that I look after down in the rankings over the last year. Aggressive comment/blog/forum spamming and the buying of links has certainly been working in 2011/2012. I have seen one particular site ranking so highly with such a perfectly unnnatural link profile you just wouldn't believe it if you saw it!

I just hope Google gets these penalties working, I have seen some improvement with today's Panda tweaks, but I don't think it has gone far enough.

Panthro




msg:4442526
 3:29 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Pretty cool that you've been able to buy sites, fix them, then profit.

Thanks for the post, I think it's good and solid general guide. I have to add, though, that while I want to believe in #4, I know from experience that it's not true - at least not in every niche or case.

brinked




msg:4442533
 3:40 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

@epmaniac If you are suffering from ranking loss, then you might want to tweak that. The way I would do it would be to make a section with a nice looking header/divider and label it "Biographies" so that all listings under that header are assumed to be a biography and then you can just list each person's image and name.

@netmeg, I covered links in the keyword stuffing section which is related to aggression SEO as well. Or were you referring to something else?

@swampdeer Yes, you can get away with over optimization as many do, but you will always be one move closer to a penalty. If you have everything else going well for your site, some over optimization will not be a factor. We are starting to see with this update, many websites who have escaped the OOPs (over optimization penalty) over the years finally get caught up in it.

I have ran some tests recently on some websites that I targeted not so competitive terms but I wanted to focus on niche's that didn't have too much competition. I wanted to see if I could rank high in google with these websites by using only a few pages of unique content with a very very spammy backlink profile.

After about a month of getting the sites up, I purchased one of them cheap backlink building packages you can easily find. You know the ones, you pay some so called SEO company and they will spam your link on forum signatures, blog comments etc. Well right now all 3 of these sites are ranking top 3 for phrases which I had links for. I can provide this proof to a forum moderator here to back up my claims if need be.

I was able to conclude that you can in fact rank with a spammy backlink profile. In this case, the sites have 0 quality links, so its not as if the spammy backlinks were just being ignored in place of the quality ones.

I want to point out though, that I put about 3-5 pages of unique content with images and video on each site.

1script




msg:4442535
 3:42 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Sorry for trying to be a stickler, brinked, but what makes you call anything other than your item #1 "over-optimization"?

I can see how over-zealous use of a "target" keyword/phrase can be considered over-optimization. But all the rest of your great points sound like SEO tricks rather than anything "optimization".

Isn't optimization, as well as its evil cousin over-optimization something that has to do with on-site factors, such as use of proper keywords, internal link structure, possibly some no-follow / no-index magic thrown in for a good measure and other internal factors over which you're presumed to have 100% control?

brinked




msg:4442547
 4:19 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

1script,

SEO tricks are over optimization in googles eyes. That is exactly why people over optimize. We try to "trick" google into giving us a higher ranking.

Redirects - Acquiring related websites to redirect to your site would be a method to try to manipulate your search engine rankings. Why else would one do it? The proper thing would probably be to keep that website as its own entity and develop it on its own.

3. Aggressive link building. Why else would someone buy links with the same anchor over and over? They are trying to rank high for that phrase. They are paying money for these high PR links, so why would they waste their money and not use their money term as the anchor text? They are trying to "trick" google into giving them a higher ranking.

We are all trying to trick google in some way. Every single person on this forum is here to try to find out more information so we can better trick google. The person who puts up a website with no page title, no seo friendly URL's, no meta description etc, that's the guy that's building only for his audience.

You can call them what you will...there is no standard set of rules for what qualifies as over optimization. These are potential factors that may cause your website to lose rankings.

There is a fine line between optimizing and over optimizing. Nobody knows where that line is but google. Every time we make a change to our websites, we are optimizing in some way or another.

1script




msg:4442561
 4:51 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Hey brinked, OK, I will be a stickler for today.

There is one important distinction here when you look at the actions, their intended consequences and what we call them:

An optimization would be something that you'd normally do with your pages. Something that's typically a positive thing. Things like adding H1 tag where there was none. Good for users and good for Google. A normal thing but do too much of it and you run foul of the Gods of Google (GoG).

An SEO trick (and I don't stand behind this term, we can call it anything as long as it's not optimization) would be something that you engage in already knowing that its only purpose is to trick GoGs into giving you an otherwise undeserved advantage.

The danger in over-optimization is that you never know exactly where the borderline is. Not only Google is not going to tell you, I imagine it also fluctuates based on some other factors like trust, age, etc.
If you're engaging in SEO tricks, you do understand, at least in principal, that there may be repercussions. It is probably easier to undo SEO tricks, too, because it's easier to tell them apart from "normal" site development.

Anyhow, that distinction between damaging your site unknowingly by doing too much of a generally good thing (a terrifying concept, BTW) versus taking risks by trying to trick GoGs is why I got interested in over-optimization in the first place.

1script




msg:4442569
 5:09 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Redirects - Acquiring related websites to redirect to your site would be a method to try to manipulate your search engine rankings. Why else would one do it? The proper thing would probably be to keep that website as its own entity and develop it on its own.
Terminology apart, the issue of redirects hits close to home for me.
I'm one of those people that never seem to settle on a good name for a site. Most of my sites have moved at least once in their lifetime and some moved more than that. I do still keep old domain names and I do redirect all those to current locations. I'd say it would probably be considered a fairly benign use of redirects if I could be sure Google's quality team has a millisecond to stop and think about it when they consider a site.
Anyhow I see you put redirects like this rather high on your list. At the same time it's one of the most easily fixed issues I can think of. Do you think it makes sense to remove such redirects from old locations?
Cheers!

netmeg




msg:4442573
 5:13 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

Several of my clients have bought out their competitors and we're redirected the old sites to my clients' sites; it's never been a problem. I have two I oversee now and it's still not a problem. This happens quite often in some of the niches where I am active.

brinked




msg:4442701
 11:38 pm on Apr 18, 2012 (gmt 0)

@1script,

The list of 6 factors is not sorted by any type of priority. I was just typing them out as they came to my mind. I literally have hundreds of documents of notes and studies I have ran for the last 6-7 years on over optimization. I am even still finding loose papers from my office stuff of old notes that I could not open up notepad fast enough so I wrote them on physical paper, envelopes or anything I can get a hold of.

With that said, this list is comprised of factors that can hurt you if abused. It goes without saying that redirects for the most part are harmless but there can be instances where it can be abused. There are also many other circumstances that come into play as well such as the reputation of the domain you're redirecting. When you redirect a website to your existing business, you might receive the perks of doing so, but you might also take on any baggage that website might come with.

There is just too much to get into here so I dont want to dig too far into it. Penalties are a broad spectrum. There is no black and white, right or wrong. Most penalties go un noticed. Losing 1 or 2 positions in the SERP's might just be shrugged off as nothing, but it could very well be a minor penalty. Its those 10-30 position drops that make the little sirens go off in our minds.

Every site is different and every redirect is unique, it all depends on the site you're redirecting and the site thats receiving that redirect. It would be too speculative to go any further than saying that if this is abused, you will likely be punished. I have seen it and experienced it many times with redirects.

scooterdude




msg:4442748
 1:28 am on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

If I might ask a question:
If a sites been penalised by Google , is it sometimes best to start afresh on a new domain ?

Plus how does one tell the difference between the effect of lack of links and Google penalty
i.e. I stopped building links altogether more than a year ago after some bizarre outcomes and focussed on tech development and now the required tech is working but the site have very few links other than a few historical directory submissions which had no beneficial result whatsoever :)

brinked




msg:4442779
 3:11 am on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

scooterdude,

I don't recommend starting fresh for a few reasons.

1. In most cases, you can recover from a penalty. It is all about finding out what that penalty is. A lot of people get too caught up on what they read, or get caught up on back links when the issue might be much more simpler than that. I would suggest a site content/design redo before I would suggest starting fresh.

2. We are all set in our ways. We are likely to repeat the same mistakes that we made with the first site. Building up a new site from scratch only to suffer the same fate is debilitating. With enough persistence and effort, you can recover from just about anything if you stick with the fundamentals.

As far as how to tell if backlinks are the culprit of a ranking loss, its hard to say. It depends on the competition for that search phrase as well as on site factors that could be holding you back as well.

McMohan




msg:4442815
 6:38 am on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

brinked, thanks for putting together your experiences. With #4, do you think just the fact that 2 websites are on a same server will suffer or if they tried to benefit from each other, say by interlinking?

brinked




msg:4442816
 6:49 am on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

interlinking probably isnt a good idea in that case. It all really depends as well. Most of my experiences dealt with websites that had very little unique quality content so I dont know how that factors in too well.

Its just not worth it. It's best to have them on separate servers, different whois etc..its not that hard to set up and you get to rule out one possibility for a penalty.

Sgt_Kickaxe




msg:4442894
 9:42 am on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Don't overlook anchor text, too. Google actually admitted making changes there last month, and I wouldn't be surprised if we're seeing some of the results from that now.


Since Google DIDN'T really explain exactly what changed I decided to replace many 'similar pages' links with images that had no text, just the alt tag. Nothing changed in terms of traffic so 'similar pages' links are ignored or whatever was changed didn't apply to my site. Who knows.

On the bright side my bounce rate dropped, people prefer the image links over the text links.

As for over-optimizing: To me that means constantly trying to get an edge by changing things you can control. Since I don't think Google trusts ANYTHING I can control on a site until it has proven itself over the years I'd love to stop but it's all of the changes Google is making that force me to continue. Talk about a run around!

brinked




msg:4443019
 3:07 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

As for over-optimizing: To me that means constantly trying to get an edge by changing things you can control. Since I don't think Google trusts ANYTHING I can control on a site until it has proven itself over the years I'd love to stop but it's all of the changes Google is making that force me to continue. Talk about a run around!


Couldn't have said it any better myself.

Over optimization penalties have been around for a while. This latest update is just tightening the belt on an already existing penalty.

@preeti22 There are many webmasters who do not participate in any so called "black hat" techniques but yet they too are penalized. The terms black hat and white hat would make you believe that its as simple as black and white but that is not true at all.

maddawg




msg:4443047
 3:58 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

You're the man Brinked. Love your business model and thanks for trying to help out people with this post.Totally agree that this just a tightening of the belt of an old penalty.

Got a question: I have a site that was hit by a penalty previously. I redesigned it and the new design is great. Slowly it regained its ranking.

Then Google tightened its belt again and it lost 90% of its traffic. Is my best bet to redesign it? The design it has is actually very user-friendly, it has useful tools, and the content is one of the best in its niche. The penalty is 100% about links (anchor text, lack of link diversity, and rate of acquisition).

Am I better off just focusing on getting high quality? What about just doing nothing? Should I do a reconsideration request?

brinked




msg:4443049
 4:03 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

maddawg,

If you're certain its about links I would go about getting the questionable links removed. Did you receive a message in your webmaster account regarding un-natural links? I have heard other webmasters are receiving this message.

I am not a big fan of submitting reconsideration requests. If you do resolve an issue, google seems to detect it pretty quickly and restores rankings automatically. This would probably a last resort type of thing after you have taken many steps to resolve your issues, then you at least have something to show google why you should be reconsidered.

maddawg




msg:4443055
 4:30 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Thanks, Brinked. It's definitely about links, but I didn't receive a message and it's tough to go back and remove most of them. They were manually built, and I don't have control over the websites they are on.

I was hoping getting high quality in-bound links would do the trick, but it seems like that's not the case?

brinked




msg:4443068
 4:54 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

No, I would not go getting more links right now. I would focus on the highest PR links you have that have the "money term" in the anchor and have them removed, especially the ones that look paid/artificial.

If its a legit link that someone gave you on their own, skip those.

Think of how google looks at it. Iits highly unlikely a competitor will go out and buy high PR links for you, since the higher the PR, generally the more money it will require, at risk of helping the competition. Sabotaging anothers website usually would probably consist of a competitor buying a cheap low quality backlink package with mass amounts of links. I think google realizes this and just discredits the low quality backlinks so that they cant do any hard. Otherwise, it would just be too easy for competition to sabotage. That is just my opinion though.

maddawg




msg:4443097
 5:48 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Ok I agree with your logic. The results match with it too - I've gotten a lot of high quality, truly editorial backlinks since the fall and my site just seems to lose more ranking.

Thanks for the advice. Hope you get lots of good karma for this!

gouri




msg:4443119
 6:46 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Brinked,

I first wanted to say thank you for your list of over optimization factors.

I had a question about the first factor in your OP.

Say that there is Keyword/Phrase over usage in the body text but not in the other parts of a page. Could adding more content to the body text so that there is no over usage afterwards help in the rankings?

crobb305




msg:4443122
 7:08 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)


No, I would not go getting more links right now. I would focus on the highest PR links you have that have the "money term" in the anchor and have them removed, especially the ones that look paid/artificial.


Great post Brinked. I am wondering if any penalties associated with unnatural links that were algorithmically applied will be removed algorithmically without ever sending a reconsideration request (once those links have been deleted). I'm also taking a look at my internal link structure and anchor text; but, I have learned to make on-site changes (especially navigational changes) very gradually and methodically.

maddawg




msg:4443125
 7:21 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Gouri - I had this problem in the past and adding more text helped. I didn't add a block of text at the bottom of my content, but I actually add a few more phrases and sentences throughout the existing body. I also added links to fresh content without the keyword and that helped. In my case it was corrected almost immediately.

gouri




msg:4443128
 7:42 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Maddawg,

That's helpful information.

Did the addition of body text help for keywords that particular page is trying to rank for and other pages?

Tonearm




msg:4443133
 7:55 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

I do have a lot of keyword usage on my pages. The most obvious is probably anchor text because I have up to 30 links on many of my pages such as "Red Widgets, Circular Widgets, Furry Widgets, etc". Should I do nothing, remove the links from "Widgets" only, or remove the links from all of the text and leave only the image linked?

I would hate to de-optimize and end up worse off. How can I tell if a minor over-optimization penalty is affecting my site?

maddawg




msg:4443153
 9:03 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

No problem, Gouri. Yes, I had a site that was ranked for a few months on page 1. Then it disappeared (page 9 or so). I did nothing for several months, and then one day I added more text without using the keyword and it came back ranked higher than before in a week or so. I would add that this website may have been a Panda victim. It had very little text in the first place so that may have been what caused it to drop out of first 8 pages. If your page is short on content, but uses the keyword in abundance I would definitely take my advice.

Tonearm, I don't want to jump to conclusions because I have not seen your website. That said, what you're describing sounds like classic over-optimization, particularly if you've been engaging in linkbuilding to the homepage for the term, "widget" and dropped back significantly. If that's the case, I would take out "widget" from the anchor text of your links, but ultimately just do whatever you think is best from a usability standpoint.

brinked




msg:4443171
 9:46 pm on Apr 19, 2012 (gmt 0)

Say that there is Keyword/Phrase over usage in the body text but not in the other parts of a page. Could adding more content to the body text so that there is no over usage afterwards help in the rankings?


Adding more content to dilute the over usage of your terms. You can also remove some of the keyword instances from your existing text and other places of the page. A lot of people are hesitant to do this because they feel "oh no if I remove my prize term from my page I will lose rankings". That is not the case at all. I have had a saying for the last 3-4 years now and its "De-optimization is the new optimization" and that is starting to hold true more so today than ever before.

Great post Brinked. I am wondering if any penalties associated with unnatural links that were algorithmically applied will be removed algorithmically without ever sending a reconsideration request (once those links have been deleted). I'm also taking a look at my internal link structure and anchor text; but, I have learned to make on-site changes (especially navigational changes) very gradually and methodically.


I have been in this situation at least a dozen times for myself, not even counting clients I have worked with. Everytime I removed backlinks, I recovered. Now there were a few instances where I didn't recover, but it turned out to be an on site issue, nothing to do with links.

I remember when I was new and still learning SEO, I signed up to one of them text link networks that placed massive amounts of backlinks for you and it was really cheap. I used this and was dropped a week after. I finally just removed the backlinks and I kid you not, 2 days after my rankings were restored.

I do have a lot of keyword usage on my pages. The most obvious is probably anchor text because I have up to 30 links on many of my pages such as "Red Widgets, Circular Widgets, Furry Widgets, etc". Should I do nothing, remove the links from "Widgets" only, or remove the links from all of the text and leave only the image linked?

I would hate to de-optimize and end up worse off. How can I tell if a minor over-optimization penalty is affecting my site?


That sounds like a redundancy issue. What I like to do for a list of links such as this is put a header bar labeled "Widgets". This way, all items listed under that bar will be types of widgets, something every user will be able to understand.

This way you can remove the word widget from each link and still be useful to your users, and probably google as well. This method is also much more efficient as well.

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