Is there such a thing as over optimized? Can there be too much of a good thing in link building? Well just like eating 100 of the worlds best canolis will make you nauseous, having too much of any good keyword can make your site sick.
What is it?
There are plenty of ways to over optimize on-site for a specific set of keywords. Spammy keyword stuffed title tags, content with obscene levels of keyword density and hidden text or links, all fall into this category. As Matt Cutts himself says, there’s no real “penalty” for this sort of thing, but it isn’t exactly user-friendly either. And it may make your competitors laugh at you.
There are a few different ways links can be over optimized. It can happen from unnatural link spikes or unwarranted links to unworthy content. But a lot of the time, over optimization is primarily an over-saturation of one particular phrase in a back link profile. If 75% of your back links use the same anchor-text, to the same page you might be over optimized. And I mean “might” in the same way Jeff Foxworthy means you “might” be a redneck.
When it’s a Problem
When a site’s back links are “natural” they are comprised of a number of different anchor texts. Sure there may be some keywords in there, but there are also brand names, long-tails, random text and URLs. So when a site’s back links all have the same keyword phrase or even slight deviation on a root phrase, that’s just not normal. A solid back link analysis will tell you when you’ve got a problem, and a moratorium on links with the offending anchor text will help. But it may not fix the underlying problem.
I think this kind of thing happens most often because a site wants so badly to rank for one particular phrase that they believe hammering it repeatedly will make it happen. It seems logical, I suppose. But even though the shortest distance between point A and point B is usually a straight line, with search engines it’s not always that simple. It would be nice to think that everybody is aware enough of what’s “normal” to take care to mix it up now and then. But if that were true the terms SEO and link building wouldn’t have such a bad rap. Of course, even with the best of intentions, plenty of variation and complete cognizance of our patterns; we spend so much time trying to create reasonable facsimiles of what “looks” natural we miss out on cultivating conditions that will actually result in natural links.
In a conversation about over-optimization not too long ago, someone asked me, “So how often should a link builder use non-keyword anchor text to avoid over-optimization?”
Well, my short answer is; you shouldn’t have to.
Ok, I know that sounds weird. But let me explain. See I operate on the theory that active link building, the kind where you actually do affect the anchor text on the link or the deep page being linked to should focus on major keywords. A broad and relevant set of keywords, but target phrases nonetheless. But that is only one part of the over-all link building equation.
I also believe that link building, involves creating valuable content, building networks and participating in communities, social media, blogs and even real physical communities. These are all, in their own ways, passive forms of link building. Because site promotion, and building awareness may not result in immediate links but they create circumstances in which your content might be linked to freely in the future.
When you take the time to make your site an educational authority, or a unique destination within your niche you can and will attract links that you don’t have to ask for. And that notion brings us full circle back to over-optimization. The point is, you shouldn’t HAVE to worry about asking someone to use the words “click here” as anchor text because if you’ve put the time and effort into the value aspects of your site then someone already should be doing that without you HAVING to ask.
Avoiding over-optimization is really a matter of creating a site that will gather links on its own momentum and using a balanced hand with the links you do actively obtain. It doesn’t need to be yet another thing that link builders have to be afraid of, as long as they aren’t being lazy and cutting corners. But if you’re more concerned with speed and quantity with a lack of attention to detail, ok, then maybe you should worry.
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