Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This is true in life and in search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is awesome, but too much SEO can cause over-optimization.
Search engine over-optimization is the practice of creating too many SEO improvements to the point that the improvements begin to ruin the website’s ability to rank. You’re doing all the typical SEO good stuff, but then you jack it up too far. Things go downhill.
First, here’s everything you need to know about the history of over-optimization.
1. Over-optimization used to work.
Back in the Wild West days of SEO, over-optimization was the way that sites gained rank. Stuffing a site with tons of keywords or sending thousands of spammy links to a site was the quick-and-easy way to boost a site in the SERPs.
2. Over-optimization doesn’t work anymore.
It definitely doesn’t work that way anymore. Today’s SEOs know that keyword stuffing and link spamming is SEO suicide. In April of 2012, Google leveled the over-optimization penalty, which completely deindexed sites that were still playing the link stuffing and link spamming game. A bunch of SEO techniques went black hat, and SEOs became wiser about the ways of Google.
3. Over-optimization isn’t what it used to be.
Today, many SEOs glibly assure themselves, “I’m not over-optimizing!”
Why do they say this?
Because they’re not keyword stuffing.
But today, over-optimization is more than just keyword stuffing. SEO is in a constant state of evolution. Google gets smarter, searches get smarter, SEOs get smarter, and then Google’s webspam team gets smart, too — and the playing field gets disrupted yet again.
Enough SEOs know and heed the over-optimization perils of 2012. But that was years ago. Today, we need a new guide to over-optimization that will keep us from doing too much of a good thing — and bringing our SEO to a tragic end.
7 Signs that you might be over-optimizing your site
1. Keyword-rich anchors for internal links
Internal linking is good. Internal linking by using keyword-rich anchor text is bad.
If I had to pick the single biggest oversight in over-optimization, this would be it. Here’s an example:
Check out our awesome new blue widget page for more information:
(Links to: example.com/awesome-new-blue-widget.htm)
Here is another example:
We sell top-rated cheap blue widgets.
(Links to: example.com/top-rated-cheap-blue-widget.htm)
Anchors that use the exact URL of the destination or anchors that use keywords are bad.
I know what you’re thinking: “But those kinds of links are good!” Remember, though, we’re talking about over-optimization. Sure, the occasional anchor that matches the URL exactly could contribute to positive SEO. But if you start doing this too much, you’re setting yourself up for penalization.
Using keyword-rich anchors too much begins to ruin your link profile. Your link profile is the most important component of your SEO. Don’t ruin it.
The healthy alternative to using keyword-rich or over-optimized anchors is to spread your anchor text across a sentence fragment like I did in the above link. See how the anchor covers ten words? By creating a long anchor, I have diluted the keywords within the anchor (“link profile…SEO”) and created a softer and risk-free link to Quicksprout.com.
The one notable exception to keyword-dense anchor is using anchors that are the same as the root domain URL.
Here are some examples:
In both of those examples, the anchor is the same as the URL. That’s fine.
2. Non-relevant keywords
Don’t try to gain traffic for keywords that are not relevant to your site.
In the old days of SEO, some webmaster would place adult-themed keywords in their content in order to gain some of the search traffic for those queries.
Obviously, anyone with a penchant for adult-themed content is probably not going to convert on a page that is not adult-themed. Don’t expect the conversion rate to go up.
This is an example of over-optimizing off-niche with nonrelevant keywords. If you have a conversion optimization website, then don’t write articles on the healthiest ingredients to feed your pet parakeet.
As Google indexes your site, it will take into consideration all the keywords that you use across the entire domain, then rank your site for relevant queries. Too much content or keywords that are unrelated will detract from the overall strength of the site in the search engine results pages (SERPs).
I recommend having a laser-like focus on your niche, and your niche only. Yes, you can find plenty of topics to write about in your niche. Just stay within your niche.
3. Pointing all internal or external links to top-level navigation pages
A healthy link profile has links pointing to deep internal pages as well as the home page. Most of the time, however, the majority of a site’s links point to the homepage or to top-level navigational pages.
For these sites, the ratio of home page links to internal links is pretty high. Here’s a typical example, which isn’t too bad:
Notice how the majority of the links (dark orange) point to the homepage. It’s normal to have most links point to the start page, but it tends to weaken the link profile. The strongest link profile has links pointing to deep internal pages. A healthy ratio is 1:1, or 50% of the links pointing to deep internal links.
A strong content marketing campaign will draw deep internal links. People love your content, and they want to link to it. So they create a link to your article (not to your homepage). Voila! You just gained another deep internal link.
The over-optimization problem occurs when webmasters create a ton of links to their homepage or to main navigation pages like “Contact Us,” “About Us,” or “Our Services.” You want to create internal links, but you don’t need to point the links to these pages. Those pages get plenty of links as it is. Rather, strengthen your link profile by pointing to deep internal links.
4. Using multiple H1s on a page
An H1 header is for a page’s main heading. Unfortunately, some webmasters think that awesome SEO means using a bunch of H1 text. This is simply not true. Using more than one H1 tag on a page is over-optimization.
Remember this rule of thumb: Just 1 H1.
It’s fine to use several H2s, H3s, and H4s, but there should only be one H1.
5. Linking to toxic sites
The sites that you link to are almost as important as the sites that link to you.
Many webmasters are ignorant of the peril of linking to toxic, low-DA (domain authority), or spammy sites. Link juice flows both ways.
If your site links to a toxic spam site, then your site may receive negative SEO repercussions.
If you’re trying to win reciprocal linkbacks by linking to other sites, be careful. The more outbound links you have to low-DA sites, the greater likelihood you have of placing your own site in this low-DA neighborhood.
Sites that languish in a sub-20 DA range are usually in that range for a reason. Maybe they have over-optimization issues, or an algorithm penalty, or some other barrier to growth. Don’t waste your time sending your outbound links to such sites. Instead, focus on associating with or linking to healthy sites in your niche — sites that have strong DAs and a strong reputation.
6. Keyword-stuffed footer
Ah, the footer! How many over-optimization sins have been committed in website footers.
Over-optimizing your website footer is a great way to shoot your SEO in the foot. The only type of footer optimization that you should do is not to do it.
Evidence shows that Google devalues footer links. Besides, due to their position at the bottom of a page’s content, they receive minimal crawler recognition. Their click-through rate (CTR) is a bunch of zeros followed by some abysmally low number, and they simply don’t add any SEO value to a page. If you insist on adding a bunch of keywords to your footer, you are risking over-optimization.
The most common footer optimization mistake is with local SEO. Now, let me point out before proceeding that you can have your NAP (name, address, and phone) in your footer. That’s no problem. Here’s the problem: Adding geo-specific keywords and links in the footer.
If a company serves multiple cities, for example, they may be tempted to list all these dozens of locations in the footer. If there is decent organization, then this may not be a bad thing. However, simply placing raw lists of keyword-rich links in an anchor is plain over-optimization. And it’s risky.
When you design your footer, do so with the user in mind. Your footer isn’t a sitemap. It’s not a place for graphics. It’s not a garbage can for dumping all the elements of a site that don’t fit anywhere else. It’s not a place for putting keywords.
It’s supposed to be a nice closure to a page — a simple, navigable spot at the end of a webpage that signals the end.
7. Non-branded, keyword-dense URLs
In the pursuit of a powerful URL, some webmasters went crazy with their URLs. They chose hyper-optimized URLs instead of a healthy and balanced brand name.
Picking the URL “supercheapcellphones.com” may sound smart, but it’s placing you on high alert for over-optimization. If your company name is Super Cheap Cell Phones, then it could make sense to have that URL. The point is, you should not create a URL simply for its keyword value.
Your brand name is too important to be compromised by making it a keyword. Besides, if you want to rank for branded traffic, you need to have something different in your brand name — not just keywords.
My website, Quicksprout.com, doesn’t have any keywords in the root URL: No “SEO,” “content,” “traffic,” “search,” no nothing. But I consistently rank on the first page of Google for all my targeted queries and keywords. Why? Because I know that at the end of the day, it’s content that wins, not keyword-heavy URLs.
Your brand name should be your URL. That’s it.
Conclusion: Are you focusing on technical SEO more than content marketing?
There’s an underlying problem with over-optimization. It’s this. Over-optimization happens when we focus too much on technical SEO. It’s technical SEO navel-gazing. And it’s not healthy.
SEO is fine and good. But if you focus too much on the nitty-gritty technical details of SEO, you lose sight of the bigger picture. There’s only so much jiggering and finessing you can do with your technical SEO. Once the nuts and bolts are in place, get out there and start making awesome content.
You’ll really see your SEO take off when you launch into the world of content marketing. Creating a site with perfect technical SEO is to create a site that shines.
You want to shine.
And you can. Content marketing takes you there.