What’s the first word you think of when you see the term search engine optimization (SEO)?
Is it keywords? Traffic? Link-building? Ranking?
If words like these come to mind, set them all aside for a minute. The single most important SEO term is connection.
Your goal as a digital marketer or website owner is to connect your content to the readers who need it most.
SEO is the toolbox of strategies that help you bring the reader and the content together. But if you overdo it, you might start to see a steady decline in traffic. Or worse, a manual penalty.
But how can doing too much SEO make things worse?
Over-optimization, that’s how.
What is SEO Over-Optimization?
Over-optimization is when you go over the top with your SEO efforts and search engines penalize you for it.
Remember how we said that SEO is all about connection? The goal of a search engine is to connect website users with the content they’re looking for.
That’s where things like keywords, links, and page rankings come in. These SEO elements help users find content with a high chance of bringing them value.
Once they click a link and scan the page, they have to connect with the content. Or else they’ll leave the page and keep looking for a better match.
Signs that You Are Guilty of Over-Optimization
It’s easy to get carried away with the shiny tools in your SEO toolkit. You might be asking yourself, “Why is over-optimizing bad?” Isn’t it what helps your target audience find you?
Yes and no. Good SEO practices do just that. But over-optimizing your content can drive that same target audience away.
Here are some of the most common things people do when they get carried away with search engine optimization.
Keywords and keyphrases are the terms that bring the right readers straight to your website. A basic tenet of SEO is that you should place relevant keywords throughout your blogs and web copy.
But there’s a fine line between weaving enough keywords through your content to get noticed and stuffing your content so full that the keywords practically scream look at me!!!
You don’t want that. It turns people off. And because of that, it turns Google off too.
The digital world is focused on user experience. So instead of keyword stuffing, think about how your words can add value to your users once they land on your site.
Anchor Text Over-Optimization
Anchor text seems like a great place to put keywords. After all, SEO know-how tells us to avoid phrases like click here or read more when we’re linking to other pages. So why not create rich anchor text instead?
Because a lot of the time, it feels forced.
If it makes sense to use a keyword for anchor text, then do it—sparingly. Otherwise, the all-knowing algorithm will think you’re keyword stuffing.
Try to make your anchor text informative. Ask yourself one question: does this anchor text give the reader a good idea of what they’ll see when they click the link?
If the answer is yes, then use it!
Unnatural Link Building
A high-quality backlink is like a gold star. It lets Google and other search engines know that your website is a trusted resource.
From guest posting on other sites in your niche to writing content that people want to share with others, there are a few ways to get a good backlink.
But bad backlinks from spam sites and those that promote illegal activities can hurt you.
Instead of wasting time trying to build links quickly, slow down. Pitch guest posts to other sites in your industry. Create articles, videos, graphs, charts, and unique images people want to link back to.
Penalties and Consequences
The most common type of penalty is a dip in traffic. This is usually a result of your page failing to pass muster after a core Google algorithm update.
Let’s take a look.
Google Algorithm Updates
Google updates its algorithm all the time. The most impactful updates are often given quirky names. Like Florida, which Google unveiled in 2003 to allegedly crack down on spammy links.
Or the famous 2011 Panda update that fought back against junky content mill articles that crept into top spots on results pages. And let’s not forget 2015’s Mobilegeddon update, which penalized anyone without a mobile-friendly website.
Google doesn’t update its algorithm to punish businesses and website owners. But each time the algorithm gets modified, websites that practice SEO over-optimization will suffer.
That’s because tactics like these aim to serve the website owner, not the website user. And Google is all about bringing value to the people who use its search engine.
Impact on Search Engine Ranking
Maybe a new update has just rolled out and you’ve noticed a drop in your search engine rankings. Or maybe there’s no core update but you’re not seeing the traffic you once did.
Take a close look at your website stats. Which pages are taking a hit? Which ones aren’t? What are the differences between those two pages?
Do a full audit. Check for keyword stuffing, bad backlinks, and other signs of over-optimization. Use SEO best practices to fix everything you can think of.
Dealing with Google Penalties
Google employees hand out manual penalties when a website violates the guidelines outlined in the Google Search Essentials.
At best, a manual penalty suppresses your page in the SERPs. At worst, your page is removed from Google’s search index altogether.
Google will notify you when you receive a manual action.
The good news is that with a manual action comes a blueprint for how to fix the affected pages on your site. Your job is to follow these instructions to the letter and submit a reconsideration review when you’re done.
Why is over-optimizing bad?
Because it makes your web content less user-friendly. Google wants your copy to be fresh, engaging, and person-oriented. It wants content that radiates Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).
Is over-optimization related to Google penalties?
Yes—especially if your site is full of spammy backlinks or clogged with irrelevant keywords. If you over-optimize, you might notice a drop in traffic since Google’s algorithm doesn’t see your site as valuable to the user. Or, you could get a manual penalty.
How can I check for over-optimization on my website?
Use a tool like Semrush’s backlink checker to see if quality sites are linking to your content. Finally, run your content through a keyword density checker. If your pages have more than 1-2% keyword density for any one keyword, it’s time to do some trimming.
How can over-optimization affect my website’s ranking?
Google’s web crawlers can see more than the human eye can, which means they’ll notice when you’re getting too enthusiastic with your SEO efforts. The algorithm will start to make it harder for people to find your website, which means a lower SERP ranking and less traffic.