Over-Optimization Penalties and Too Much SEO: What Could It Mean?
Back to Mingle

“Over-Optimization” Penalties and Too Much SEO: What Could It Mean?

Posted in Search & Social — March 20, 2012

I’ve written before about the misconception that You Don’t Need SEO, or need to Build Something Excellent.

How timely. Because over the past few days, online marketers have been all abuzz about Matt Cutts’ recent statements at a SXSW panel. These statements were in response to a question, “What about all the people who are sort of optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO?”

Normally we don’t sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something that we’ve been working on in the last few months…

And the idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.

So that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the Google Bot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO—we handle that—and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page, or whatever they exchange way too many links, or whatever they are doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area.

Let me get this straight – all the people who are making great content and trying to make a fantastic site soon won’t need SEO, Google can handle that?

what is over optimization?1. Please don’t make sweeping statements like that.

Basically, we have no idea how to interpret these well-intended comments for a newbie audience. It only contributes to a semantical nightmare in a fractured industry with a serious image problem. An industry where the legitimate marketers fight for a place amongst the spammers, and where the outside world can rarely tell the difference between an ethical marketer or a spammer in the first place.

In an environment where no one can even agree on what SEO is anymore (Haven’t you heard? SEO is dead. Oh wait, it’s not.), it’s certain that we also cannot agree on what what constitutes “over optimization” or “leveling the playing field”.

2. Haven’t you already been targeting this type of black-hat behavior for years?

I would hope so. In fact, I was already under the impression this was very important to you! This is why you ask us to report on webspam. This is why you ask us to report on paid links. This is why your webmaster guidelines advise against keyword stuffing, linking schemes, and a host of other tactics that attempt to unfairly and unethically game Google.

We know that SERPs need to improve. Ethical SEOs continue to struggle against garbage ranking in Google, lamenting that how the good guys in SEO are made out to be liars.

3. What do you mean by over-optimization?

Google, I hope you do know who the good guys are. I believe that targeting spam and manipulative abuse of search engines is one thing. But webmasters that implement search-friendly tactics in a thoughtful and ethical manner deserve to be rewarded for this, not lumped in with spammers.

I BELIEVE SOME DESERVE TO HAVE AN EDGE ON THE PLAYING FIELD. I believe that sites with quality content deserve to have a further edge if they implement ethical SEO tactics like:

  • Implementing 301 redirects in 850 pages after a redesign. (Do you know how much work that is?!)
  • Adding descriptive alt text on images.
  • Hand-writing custom Title Tags for 250 different pages
  • Creating a linking structure that doesn’t bury important pages too deep.
  • Marking up website data to work with Google Rich Snippets.
  • Gracefully incorporating target keywords into amazing content that users love to read.
  • Implementing pagination tags.

What worries me here is that Google seems to be saying that they’d like webmasters to only focus on content, not SEO.

I disagree. I think you need to focus on both quality content and SEO. I think Google is on the same page here, otherwise they wouldn’t even have a section inside Google Analytics called Search Engine Optimization. I’m just confused about the mixed messages, and curious to see what this next round of updates brings. Can you pleeeze, for example, kill those ridiculous exact-match domain names created to only rank for one keyword!? I digress…

On a separate note, I’m sure this is why Google doesn’t normally talk about algo updates in advance. Look at how we all freak out! Sorry Matt. 🙂

Written by .


  1. Sounds to me like a testing of the algorithm. It is just going to be new SEO tactics to learn. Keep in mind it will be a math equation making the decisioms. We will just have to find the rigjt mix of optimization and good websites. I am all for just making a good website without having to worry about the SERPS needing it to be SEO’ed. I just dont think its possible without some sort of calculation. Time to re-calculate! Matts always ambiguous and for good reason. Imagine if you didnt know that backlinks helped you rank.

    Posted by Jake Belfry, March 21, 2012 | Reply

    • Thanks for the thoughts Jake. I agree, it would be dreamy if Google could just help the right stuff rank, and if the best content would just win. But it doesn’t. Sigh. Bad content positions over good content, all the time, as a result of spam and also because good sites often need to be more search-friendly. It’s truly a monumental task for Google to sort through and correctly position SERPs!

      Posted by Sarah, March 21, 2012 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *