brinked - 6:12 pm on Apr 21, 2012 (gmt 0)
How do you know you have an over optimization penalty? Most of the time for the average webmaster, you will never know. It is something I have great amount of experience with and can get a pretty good idea from looking at a website if it can be considered over optimized by google.
With that said, my suspicions are never truly confirmed until I de optimize and see a recovery.
Most websites are over optimized from the birth of it so you never really experience a ranking loss because that's the ranking it has had all along. You might just think that is where you should be ranking but sometimes there is something holding your site back (not always related to over optimization).
Just to give everyone an idea. I had a severely punished website, it was something I bought a few years ago for its rankings and it did well until the panda updates were rolled out. In any case, I had just given up and 301'd it to my main site. Just recently I removed the 301 and its just 1 single page with 1 sentence of text and a simple page title. A day later it was ranking high for its targeted keywords...2 of some of the toughest searches to rank for it ranks #12 with no content...That tells me that although its not ranking as high as it could be if google saw in its eyes "quality content" but there is no content, so there is nothing to really be penalized for.
My theory is that every site is being held back by something. Google's ranking factors work both ways and its important to have the positive factors outweigh the negative factors.
What does a over optimized site look like? There are different levels obviously...I am sure we have all seen some blatant over optimization with keyword stuffing, but other times it might not be so obvious.
I am sorry I dont have a sufficient answer for this, but nobody does except for google. Its all about experimenting and trial and error. If something is not working, scrap it and do something different, analyze high ranking competitors, see whats working for them, take some risks and change up your content a little bit, a lot of people are afraid to do this. I have never been hurt by changing my homepage content. Make it better, make it head and shoulders more informative and diverse than your competition. Offer some stats, survey results, a video, unique images only your website has, an argument comparing free widgets vs paid widgets, be creative, google looks at a lot of things, who knows what you might add that will make google fall in love with your content.