Google “Over Optimization” Penalty Launches – What You Need to Know Now!

| April 27, 2012 | Comments (0)
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The “Webspam Update” has been released by Google’s Matt Cutts, head of the webspam team at Google, made at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin. Essentially, he commented that Google will soon be rolling out a new over-optimization penalty in their ranking algorithm. This update has supposedly gone live already according to some, but Google said “in the next few days” 36 hours ago. Regardless, there’s no shortage of speculation. Here’s some of what he said:

“Normally we don’t sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something that we’ve been working on in the last few months. And hopefully, in the next couple months or so, in the coming weeks, we hope to release it. … So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.”

I have been hearing from LOTS of people that they have seen major movements in their search engine rankings over the past day or so.

First, I want to briefly discuss what this penalty is and then how my own sites are doing.  First, Matt Cutts says in the announcement that they are essentially targeting sites that they feel are gaming the system through link schemes and keyword stuffing. Overall, this is effecting about 3.1% of queries in English.  So, it effecting quite a few sites.  In addition, this recent announcement essentially follows up with the previous Panda updates that are trying to help higher quality sites rank better, and lower quality sites to rank worse.

However, from the discussion I am seeing all over the place, it appears that more than 3% of sites were affected.  Did Google go overboard?

As always Google is not saying exactly what triggers the algorithm, but they did give us a couple of examples of pages that are considered spammy,

  • Overspun articles... they just don’t make sense to humans with a functioning brain.
  • Spammy Page Titles…This includes titles that are consistently too long (over 64 characters), that include multiple different keywords, or use the same keyword more than twice. Essentially titles that are clearly spammy looking and don’t read well. An example of a bad title would be “Buy Blue Widgets | Blue Widget Distributor | Wholesale Discount Blue Widgets – Acme, Inc” The ranking strength that titles give makes it a likely target for over-optimization and webspam.
  • Meta Keyword Tag Stuffing…The meta keyword tag no longer provides any SEO benefit to rankings; however, many of the spammiest sites still stuff this outdated tag with dozens of keywords, and sometimes the same dozens on every page of the site. This behavior is a pretty safe indication of over-SEO’d sites. There’s nothing wrong with using the meta keywords tag, but it should hold no more than 5 or so keywords, and the keyword selection should be different from page to page. It is also completely safe to not use this tag at all, as it does not help rankings.
  • Content Keyword Stuffing…Excessive keyword use in the body text of a page is one of the clearest overly-optimized signals on a page. There is a fine line between being sure to use your keywords often (which is good) and using them too often. In general once the text starts to read poorly it is too much. An example of this would be “Buy your blue widgets here at Acme, Inc and get the blue widget that you want, and have your blue widget shipped out the same day. All of our blue widgets meet this highest widget standards, and are as blue as you can imagine any blue widget being.” Keep in mind image alt text is included in the keyword density, and excessive bolding is a possible spam signal as well.
  • Reciprocal Link Pages…If you have link pages – sometimes called resource pages – that link out to a bunch of other sites that in turn link to you, this is an over-optimization signal and once that Matt Cutts specifically mentioned. You can link out to other useful sites, but if they’re also linking back to your site somewhere, you’re probably better off not doing so. Reciprocal links are against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Again, there are exceptions, and these are usually found in specific niches in which all the authoritative sites in the niches link to each other as a matter of culture (usually this is blog niches, and those links are the name of the site they’re linking to, not anchor text).
  • Excessive Footer links… Too many footer links, and in particular abnormal types of footer links, is another likely signal. Most users never look at a site’s footer, so it’s become a popular place to stuff links just for the search engines. It’s normal to have links to locations, contact pages, sitemaps, privacy policies and credits in the footer. It’s not normal to repeat large sections of the site’s navigation in the footer, or to place the site’s navigation in the footer or link to dozens of pages, internal or external.
  • Excessive Anchor Text in Backlinks… One of the purest signals of over-optimization or spam is very large numbers of backlinks that use exact match or partial exact match anchor text. This means that large percentages of backlinks from other sites are using link text like “Blue Widgets” or “Buy Blue Widgets” rather than the more common way of linking using the site’s name or URL. As a broad rule of thumb, most sites with a natural link profile have over 50% of their links using the site’s name or URL, and no other single anchor text accounts for more than 10% of the backlinks. This signal basically represents sites accumulating large numbers of paid links, and it’s very likely that this signal will only trigger in combination with another on-site signal.
  • Excessive or Unnatural Internal Linking…Excessive inter-linking within the body content of your pages is another spam signal, especially when the same page or same anchor text is linked repeatedly. As a broad rule of thumb you usually don’t want to link more than twice in the content of your typical page (to different pages), and no inter-linking is just fine. Keep in mind that Google only pays attention to the first anchor text of any given link, so if you’re linking to a page already linked in the global navigation, you’re probably giving minimal benefit anyway. If you have the occasional page with a legitimate need to link out a lot, that’s not going to be a problem. But if you do so all the time or in ways that seem like you’re just spamming links, then you could be in trouble. If you really feel the need for this much inner linking on most pages, then you may want to reexamine your site’s navigation and find out why that isn’t serving the navigation needs of users.

In essence, Google wants (and always wanted) high quality and high PR back-links on your website through legitimate marketing and social channels. While authority links are certainly harder to come by, this is precisely what makes them so valuable and why sites with smaller numbers of links pointing to them can easily outrank their competitors.

It goes something like this:

1st tier: High PR + High Authority = High Quality
2nd tiers and beyond: Variable Quality + Quantity

This formula has proven itself for us, and has always been the case before the previous Panda changes took effect. This current change is basically dealing with the subject of a backlink over optimization penalty … simply more fuel for the fire as to why we stress that ‘organic’ is the only way to go:)

You can read more about the latest right here:



Category: SEO

About Lane A. Houk: View author profile.

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