Internet Marketers Guide To Google’s Over Optimization Penalty

Following on from the private blog network massacre, Google recently announced the “over optimization” penalty aimed towards penalizing sites using aggressive SEO tactics to rank higher in the search results.

Some of these aggressive tactics are commonly classified as “Grey and black hat SEO” and often encompass techniques such as excessive, premeditated use of keywords in specific sections of the content. This may include title, description and header tags and also using keywords to link to internal or external sources and also image alt tags.

These techniques also extend to what we describe as “link building” and excessive use of keywords as exact match anchor text to boost relevancy of inbound links. This includes a high number of one way links from just one or two types of sources, in most cases private blog networks.

All of these tactics can be highly effective in helping your site climb up the search rankings by “fooling” the search engines to believe that your content is important and deserves more visitor attention. This style of SEO also has the ability to deliver truly spectacular results by outranking no name sites against big, established brands for highly competitive keywords. One such case study was recently presented by Eppie Vojt over at the SEOMoz blog which attracted in excess of 150 comments.

Great, but what about the guy who is just focused on creating great content and is not aggressively employing these tactics to climb up the rankings? Well, according to Google, the latest changes are specifically designed to level the playing field between SEO’ers and legitimate content creators who often get outranked by low quality sites.

Instead of simply repeating what has already been extensively debated on many other blogs I will demonstrate some case studies of the kind of pages that are can be classified as “over-optimized” and are likely to be the target of the latest penalty from Google.

Let’s start with the on page optimization factors. For this example I chose to analyze what appears to be a price comparison business website offering “cheap gas and electricity suppliers” and yet demonstrates a pattern common with affiliate and Adsense sites.

google over optimization penalty

This example can also be described as what we call a “doorway page”, or a page primarily targeted towards search engines and are often used for enticing visitors into the site and re-directing them to a sales or an affiliate link.

What about content readability? It is quite obvious from this example that human readability wasn’t the primary motive here and was written for the search engines. It is also important to note that Google’s upcoming “semantic web search” features will focus heavily on human readability of content and less on keywords.

Here is a quick tool to measure the human readability index of your content using the Flesch reading ease formula. The idea here is to score as high as possible on the readability score. A low score is often a good indication of poorly written content or excessive use of keywords.

The second factor that is likely to affect over optimized sites is the excessive use of keyword as the exact anchor text in inbound links. I have talked about this factor in my earlier post which extensively covers the topic of link building using article submission services like “my article network” and “unique article wizard”.

As a rule of thumb I recommend using about 20-30% exact, 40% phrase and about 30% random anchor text in all your link building campaigns to avoid getting scrutinized by Google.

The third factor that is likely to affect sites is the lack of link diversity. Aggressive link building campaigns often rely on private blog networks like Build My Rank (which was recently shut down) to build a large number of links in a short space of time to climb up the search rankings.

Google’s latest changes seem like just another step in their never ending quest to quickly detect such link patterns, social signals and content freshness to prevent low quality sites from climbing up the search rankings.

To demonstrate this, we can use the latest features in the SEO quake toolbar to get a snapshot of how much content from a website has been shared on Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Unusually high number of links without significant social share signals is likely to raise alarm bells with Google.

google over optimization penalty

All of the points mentioned above are of course still somewhat speculative as no one except Google really knows the exact nature of this penalty, however, the points mentioned above should still serve as an accurate guide to changes you may need to implement as an internet marketer.

Just to finish off I want to share an interesting post on Marketing Land describing the the latest series of changes and penalties from Google as a “jump the shark moment” and also an excellent post on over optimization from the Cyrus Shepherd over at SEOMoz.

What do you think? Are these latest penalties going too far? Are they really going to improve visitor experience? How will it affect your business? Please share your thoughts below.


  1. Paul Simms April 7, 2012 at 2:18 am #

    It’s good to see Google is improving and shifting things around in 2012. It’s great; I’m all for new, unique and well-written content. I can do that.

    In an ideal world, all website owners would be fully invested in hearty content creation- but a lot of them consider websites serious business– seo optimization is the ‘status quo’ and no doubt today’s SERPS experts think it will be around forever.

    But, in my opinion, the bigger changes coming up from Google Search will likely be EXTREMELY high on user-friendliness (for beginner-site owners and search users)…

    –I have a very small understanding of how Google’s system works–but I have seen Watson by IBM and I have an understanding of what’s currently implemented in some state of the art Technology companies.

    It’s probably safe to assume, Google’s on their way to implementing AI which can plainly UNDERSTAND RELATIONSHIPS — that is, extract actual meaning from words on a given website.

    Do you think this is where Google’s Search is headed? If so, how different will “web search optimization” be ?


    • Anshul April 7, 2012 at 7:47 am #

      Paul, I agree 100% that if you want to make money from your website you have to do SEO in some form, otherwise the growth from just writing great content for an average person will just be too slow to be able to build a successful business.

      Google’s semantic web search is definitely a step towards what you are describing. Providing intelligent answers to users for every search query rather than just search results.


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