Search engine optimization is so named because it requires specific efforts from webmasters—in the form of onsite and offsite “optimization”—that foster an authoritative web presence that Google favors in its search rankings. However, effective SEO requires a delicate balance between implementing these optimization tactics and improving online user experience, and many webmasters make the mistake of over-optimizing their sites.
Avoid these over-optimization mistakes to keep your users—and Google—happy:
It’s an easy mistake to make if you’re focused on specific keywords. In the early days of the search engine age, keyword frequency was straightforward; the more keywords you had on a given page, the more likely it was you would rank for those keywords. Then, it was deemed that keywords should only represent three to five percent of your total content. Now, any unnatural use of keywords can be detected—so keep your selected keywords to a minimum and focus on quality content.
Along similar lines, don’t try and artificially stuff keywords into your title tags. At most, a title tag should have one strong keyword, and that keyword should be the one most relevant to your business, not the one with the highest competitive advantage. Describe your company in less than five words, and use that as your primary keyword phrase. Any other keywords you try to shoehorn in will be irrelevant or counterproductive.
Blog strategies used to be solely dependent on keyword strategy. You would select a handful of keywords, and write a blog post around each of them. Nowadays, specific keyword frequency is antiquated and unnecessary. Instead, focus on writing high-quality content about a specific topic. That will give you the highest chance of ranking for keywords relevant to that topic because they appear naturally in the body of your blogs.
Too many webmasters focus on writing a specific number of blog posts or a specific number of new pages on a regular basis in order to maintain a high authority with search engines. It’s not a viable strategy. Posting great content on a regular basis is important, but remember, it’s better to have a smaller number of better blogs than a larger number of weak ones.
Old search engine marketers used new page creation as an easy way to build traffic for a specific keyword. For example, if the keyword in question was “strawberry ice cream,” they would create a page called “strawberry ice cream” with “strawberry ice cream” in the title tag and in the body of the page several times. Today, it’s a form of over-optimization, and should be avoided unless it truly adds value to the user.
Google hates to see duplicate content on the Internet. Even if you take a piece of content and spin a few words so it’s not an exact copy, Google can still take notice. Too many webmasters think they can get away with this kind of content spinning, but it’s an unnatural form of over-optimization, and if Google catches you doing it, you could be penalized.
Some keyword phrases are simply unnatural in any context. For example, try working the phrase “beaches Cleveland oh” into a natural sentences. It’s practically impossible. Google can detect the unnatural use of language, so if you attempt to slip these into a blog post, you’ll be noticed as an over-optimizer. Instead, focus on the topic of the keyword phrase and write naturally.
Guest blogging is still a great strategy for SEO and for brand building, but you need to be careful with the backlinks you include in the body of the post. If you over-optimize the text with too many links pointing back to your site, you could get penalized for over-optimization; to avoid this, use the rel=nofollow tag to mask the existence of your links to search engine algorithms while preserving them for your readers to click.
It’s hard to find great sources to use for backlink building, so when you do find a source that works, it’s tempting to rely on it for your strategy. However, building too many backlinks on one source can be considered over-optimization, and can get you negative attention from Google. Instead, diversify your sources and spread your links throughout them.
Backlinks need to appear natural, and if you build too many in one day, there’s no way they’ll look natural. There’s no specific number that warrants a red flag of over-optimization, but don’t make it point to hit a certain number every day. If you’re running a small site and building more than 20 backlinks in one day, you might want to consider scaling back your strategy.
Backlinks aren’t the only factor that Google considers when evaluating a site’s authority. Brand mentions, with or without a link, are becoming increasingly important as well. Use a combination of pure backlinks, brand mentions with backlinks, and brand mentions without backlinks as equal parts of your overall strategy. Otherwise, you could be penalized for over-optimizing offsite.
Similarly, if you only link back to your homepage, you’re asking for trouble. Google wants online users to have a great, relevant online experience, and that means your links need to be valuable and appropriate for the average web user. Direct users to specific pages within your site that are relevant to the conversation instead of funneling all your traffic to the homepage.
Anchor text is the content that supports your link. If you use a specific keyword phrase as your anchor text in the hopes of increasing your rank for that keyword, be careful. Using the same anchor text multiple times is a form of offsite over-optimization, and can earn you a penalty.
We all know Google is well on its way to becoming omnipotent, but even now it can tell when your links are relevant to their environment and when they are not. If you post a link in a forum thread that has nothing to do with your industry, you’ll be considered an over-optimizer, and you could be penalized accordingly. Make sure your links are all appropriate by naturally replying to the conversation and establishing a context for your link.
The biggest mistake is one that applies to both offsite and onsite optimization, and every webmaster is guilty of this at one point or another. If you focus on quantitative tasks and efforts, such as hitting a certain number of blog posts or external links, instead of the qualitative experience of your readers and followers, eventually you’ll over-optimize.
The best way to avoid over-optimizing your site is to focus on giving your users the best possible online experience, and forget about the numbers. After all, high-quality online experience is Google’s ultimate goal. The better experience you give your users, both onsite and offsite, the more likely they are to come back and the more likely Google will be to favor you in its ranks.