Don’t Underestimate Over-Optimization

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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?

On- Site:

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.

Creating Diversity

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.

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne

Jennifer Van Iderstyne is an SEO Specialist at Internet Marketing Ninjas, formerly WeBuildPages. Internet Marketing Ninjas is a full service internet marketing company based out of sunny Clifton Park, NY. You can follow her on Twitter but if you come to the office you won’t be able to find her, because Ninjas are invisible.
Jennifer Van Iderstyne

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  • David SEO

    In nature, the shortest distance between point A and point B is never a straight line. Try hiking across hill and dale, streams and rocks without deviating from the straight line. It’s just not natural. Google knows when something isn’t natural, too.

    • Todd Heim

      I like that analogy!

    • dissertation writing

      completely agree. sometimes it is such a feeling that google knows everything about everything… don’t you think so? it changes all the time which is good but we all understand that in some reasons it is a disaster!!

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Not only will over-optimization throw up a red flag with the search engines, it will also severely impact your user-experience. Website visitors are smart, and they can tell when a site has been written purely from an SEO standpoint. That’s why the number one rule of content is that it has to be written for users! Ranking well doesn’t mean anything if you drive visitors away with keyword-stuffed content.

  • Zippy Cart

    @Nick – good point about user experience. Optimized search results that lead users to spammy pages that can’t use will totally turn them off and demolish your rep.

    User experience and quality content are top priority. If you are an authority in your field, it’ll come off there.

  • Cctv installation

    That makes perfect sense to me, I used to over optimise, which I am sure had a negative effect on my ranking.

  • MrVen

    Simply, too much of anything is for nothing 🙂

  • alanbleiweiss

    Over optimization is one of the most consistent issues I find with many site owners who think they understand SEO. Not as bad as under-optimization problems I find, but nearly there. Mostly it’s trying to get a page found for eight phrases in the page title 🙂

  • Dhirenddra

    You should avoid over optimization, optimized website in a natural way.

  • FawltyTower

    Ok, then I’ll buy 10,000 spammy links and point them to searchenginejournal just for a laugh 🙂 Google will come and ban you (I’m joking, I’m joking – only trying to make a point here)

  • Geebster

    Good points but the thing is in certain markets – let’s give the job market as an example, you still see over optimized sites doing well in the SERPs. As long as you can still stick it in your pipe and smoke it, it’ll get smoked!

  • Amit Alyssa

    Hi Jennifer, I just love your view of search engine marketing just because you look so cute in search engine world…. 🙂