Top 5 Over-Optimization Mistakes to Avoid

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We all know that performing proper search engine optimization is vitally important for getting your website ranked in the search engine results pages for the best possible keywords.  However, it’s also true that you can have too much of a good thing.  In fact, over-optimizing your sites has been known to trigger penalties that could cause your sites to drop significantly in the SERPS – or worse, be eliminated from the index altogether.

So to take advantage of the power of SEO without triggering an over-optimization penalty, consider the following tips for maximizing your on-page and off-page SEO:

On-Page Over-Optimization

On-page optimization refers to the SEO activities that take place within your website, including traditional SEO activities like meta tag optimization and keyword inclusion (as measured by the instances of your keyword found in your body content).  While the standard best practices of on-page SEO are widely accepted, there are still a few things you’ll want to keep in mind when optimizing your website.

Keyword Inclusion

Yes, the search engines *will* notice if every single page on your site is optimized the exact same way.  While there’s value in including your target keywords in prime locations, it’s also possible to make your pages so unnatural looking that they trigger over-optimization penalties.  For example, if every page on your site includes the exact same tag structure and keyword inclusion percentage, there’s a chance the search engines will issue a penalty.

So how can you prevent this penalty from occurring while still maximizing your on-page SEO?  Simple – think “natural” first.  Imagine for a second that you were building a natural website without any ulterior SEO motives in mind.  How often would you include your target keyword phrase and where would it make sense to do so?  How would your site look if you weren’t trying to wedge in your keywords a certain number of times?

Once you have an idea of what a more natural site would look like, try to incorporate some of its attributes into your own site.  Add your keywords in areas that have a demonstrated SEO impact, but do it in a way that feels natural to both your readers and the search engines.

Content Creation

Similarly, when drafting the articles you’ll use on your website, be careful to maintain a natural voice instead of “writing to the keyword.”  For example, just because the keyword, “national park pa forest” has good potential doesn’t mean that you should write an article around this unnatural keyword.  Consider the following sample text to see why:

“National Park PA Forest: The Best National Forest Park in PA”

Visitors everywhere are flocking to national park PA forest for its stunning natural features.  You should go to national park PA forest to see these features for yourself.  To learn more about national park PA forest, click on the link below.

Sound goofy?  Although this might seem like an exaggeration, this type of content – and worse – plagues the internet due to mostly well-meaning SEOs who believe that the only way to rank well in the SERPs is to build content around strict keywords.

And yes, sometimes this content wins and ranks highly for the keywords it targets.  However, before you run out and start creating your own keyword-stuffed articles, consider that Google’s primary goal is to provide the best possible search results to its users and that good quality content is always going to win out in that consideration in the long run.  Google Panda provided plenty of evidence that content quality will be a major focus going forward, so be sure to write your content to appeal to your visitors – not just the search engines.

Off-Page Over-Optimization

While on-page optimization refers to the way you build your website to appeal to the search engines, off-page optimization includes the activities you engage in on other sites to improve your rankings.  For most webmasters, backlinking remains the primary off-page optimization activity, but just like with on-page SEO, there are a few things you’ll want to be careful about when creating inbound backlinks in order to avoid penalties.

Backlink Velocity

Although backlinks are incredibly valuable in helping to improve your search engine rankings, building too many – too quickly – looks suspicious to the search engines.  For this reason, it’s important to build quality links using a slow link velocity at first until your site overcomes Google’s trust barrier.

But how many links is too many links?  That’s tough to say, and realistically, the answer will never truly be known as long as Google keeps its lips shut about specific algorithm ranking factors.  However, most experts put the maximum number of links that should be built in a day at no more than 30-100, depending on your site’s industry, audience and traffic levels.  When in doubt, slow down and re-focus on building quality links over quantity.

Anchor Text Creation

Besides the rate at which you build links, it’s also important to consider the structure of the links themselves.  Using the same anchor text for each link you create looks suspicious as well, so be sure to vary your anchor text to create a natural looking link profile.

But not only can varying your anchor text phrases help you to avoid an over-optimization penalty, it can also help you to get your site ranked in the SERPs for different, but related keyword phrases, thus expanding your market penetration and increasing traffic.  To find out which additional keywords Google feels are substantially related to your main target phrase, enter your target keyword into Google and then click on the “Related searches” option in the left-hand sidebar.  This should display a number of related keywords to use as anchor text phrases in your link building efforts:

Link Type

Anyone who’s ever built a website knows that there are dozens or hundreds of different link types that can be built.  From spammy profile backlinks to links from high quality directories like DMOZ, there are tons of different ways to create links, each with its own set of advantages and benefits.  Unfortunately, many website owners focus too heavily on one particular link type over another (typically determined by whatever latest method the “gurus” are preaching), which leads to an unnatural looking link profile.

Again, it’s important to consider what your site would look like if it grew entirely organically.  Chances are – as long as you put out good quality content – you’d attract a wide range of link types from many different types of sites, including social networking links, in-content links from other sites in your industry and others.  When building links, try to mimic this diversity, as building a single type of link or creating links in a single, tightly-defined neighborhood reflects poorly on your site.

So finally, when considering good SEO and how to avoid over-optimization penalties, the general rule of thumb is this – create high quality, natural-looking content and backlinks, and your site is sure to win in the long run.

Image: Mitchell Bartlett

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