SEO Optimization in The Age of Over-Optimisation

Google’s influence over SEO optimization has forced consideration of over-optimisation issues. They set about eliminating any competitive advantages other than the quality of the on-page content itself… They seem intent on levelling the playing field to the point that those who previously had aces up their sleeves now gain no advantage whatsoever. Moreover, playing an ace from a sleeve may now result in a salvo of punitive measures…

The increasing emphasis on using the E-E-A-T concept to evaluate the website and its content author’s credibility as part of rankings is also “a good thing” in my personal experience. 2023 is revealing itself to be a SERPs transition:

  • From urging content creators to “write for readers and not for search engines”
  • To implement the “Helpful Content” algorithm that rewards content producers for producing original and authentic content that satisfies a searcher’s quest for information.

Some might say that this approach flies somewhat in the face of the irrepressible human spirit of competition. However, it’s equally fair to say that it is often the laziest amongst us who can’t or won’t create unique and original content. There is general agreement that the best and most helpful content ought to appear first, rather than thin content, artificially promoted by an SEO specialist‘s smoke and mirrors or an AI app regurgitating ‘old’ stuff in a new guise. I’m all for that – it’s fair and equitable

SEO Optimization Became De-Optimisation

Search engine de-optimisation (SED) ought now to be an important consideration. Basically, every manipulative technique previously used to support the magic of SEO has been negated in recent years. Google’s ability to detect good content from the mediocre, and filter out the smoke haze that SEO often employs to make the ordinary appear extraordinary, has advanced dramatically.

Almost every little possibility to improve our performance over and above the competition has not only been neutralised, it seems to have been turned back upon us… In fact, there seem to have been assaults on the old methodologies from multiple directions…

Remedies to a now ‘disapproved’ aspect may have improved the score sheet momentarily. Before there’s been time to take a break, along comes the next tsunami wave of change and subsequent penalties to ‘old school’ methods of improving ranking. Virtually all of the things that once worked to improve a site’s position in SERPs are now historical footnotes to the evolution of website ranking methodology.

If in the past you’ve employed someone to improve your website’s SERP positions, it is almost certain that some of those efforts crossed the threshold of that which is not now approved.  De-optimisation is required to deactivate the potential impediments to achieving a site’s full potential.

Google Penalties – Individually Small but Cumulatively Damaging

Reduce the risk of an “over-optimisation” penalty on your site’s content. The first thing any best SEO company would do is skim through the content on every page, revising any elements that could potentially be seen as over-optimisation. There’s a growing consensus that the following items may create a cumulative impediment to top rankings;

  • Hyperlink Titles – use of the title=”” element in links containing text with exact-match keywords/sentences. Use link titles with caution, apparently, it’s indicative of over-optimisation and Google may penalise you for it.
  • Internal Links – avoid overdoing the exact-match keyword phrases in internal links, it may also signal over-optimisation. Consider the occasional replacement with the natural Read more, More info, Click here etc.
  • Image Alt Tag – adding concise text pertinent to the image is permissible. Adding multiple targeted exact-match keywords, promotional texts, sentences or sales pitches is not.
  • Bold emphasis on keywords – restrain the use of this technique and only apply it where it makes sense to emphasize a point, not to promote a targeted keyword phrase.
  • Keywords Tag – not used by Google et al any more, and its presence may potentially be seen as an indicator of over-optimisation efforts.
  • Description Tag – zero SEO traction. In some cases, Google says that not generating descriptions on the page may actually deliver a better SERP outcome. That’s because the description Google displays will vary and highlight the keywords in the searcher’s query. If comprehensive and well-written, the same post may rank for multiple terms, thus variable descriptions may increase click-through…

I think that as a website promotional tool, link quantity is done for. Links need to be squeaky clean and sourced only from reputable and trustworthy sources. Google actively and severely penalises low-quality link acquisition schemes. At the same time, it appears to be reducing its previous dependence on links as a quality indicator. The age of enthusiastically generating links with the expectation of increasing good rankings is long past!

If you have employed SEO contractors to actively build links month by month over a long period of time, you are bound to have issues to resolve. How to fix a Google Penguin penalty?

What was somewhat unexpected was the active practice of applying penalties where links are viewed as inappropriate. To many people, that seems unfair in the sense that a site owner has no control over who links to them. Thus, a competitor can potentially generate harmful links to your site, and reap rewards from what is now referred to as negative SEO.

Equally, the poor links may have been generated many years ago, when there were no concerns about; link quality, relevance to genre or over-optimisation of link titles. They may also have been created by over-enthusiastic staff, or contractors taking “shortcuts” as part of efforts to help the site owner improve rankings. In many cases, a listing on one directory may lead to cloned listings on multiple directories in an expanding network.

The practice of “cloning” directories has been practised by Google itself, with the Open Directory Project. Equally, hundreds of other sites cloned the Open Directory at one point, so an old site with a DMOZ link might easily have dozens of duplicated links across the internet.

Given the apparent move from links as a major ranking signal, the punitive approach to a very old links problem seems spiteful, ruthless and unworthy of a company with the power Google wields.  It’s also an extremely difficult problem to resolve and in severe cases, the most cost-effective option is to migrate the website to another domain!

Link penalties appear to be happening on multiple fronts, including;

  • Quality of the linking site
  • Link acquisition rate – too many links acquired too quickly
  • Linking site is relevant to your site’s genre
  • Degree of optimisation of the anchor text title
  • The percentage of deep links to internal pages

Not unlike the old photo vs. text analogy, a good link is worth 10,000 low-quality links. The important distinction is that even a small number of poor-quality links with exact match keywords in link titles will do your rankings significant damage.

The fundamental issue is that Google is dedicated and ruthless about nuking link schemes designed to manipulate rankings…

  • – it is a clear and unequivocal breach of Webmaster guidelines and terms of service. 
  • – and that the Link Spam algorithm is still working 24/7

In my opinion, the safest way to build links is to build citation links specifically aimed at supporting Local Search / Maps 3 Pack optimisation efforts. 

  • NAP data: Name, Address, Phone 
  • The link is to the website domain name (no keywords, no internal pages)
  • Brief description
  • May list the Social Media Profiles too
  • Each link is “editorial” and requires review and approval 
  • EVERY link is editable/removable as/if required. 

That’s the only link-building I suggest and do myself:

– I write all the content and then handpick the sites and manage the process for clients. 

The basic objective is to ensure that the NAP data on the website and Google Business Profile is underpinned by matching business listings on other reputable sites.

  • It’s specifically NOT about increasing Page Rank as a ranking improvement scheme
  • There is a mix of Dofollow, Nofollow and no actual link at all, just a text-based citation reference for the website

In my opinion, that is the lowest-risk link acquisition strategy.

The most harmful factor seems to be the presence of over-optimised anchor text (link titles). A cluster of links with exact-match, high-volume keyword search phrases in anchor text seems to be far more toxic than an array of links from irrelevant/low-quality sites. Combine all three factors in a group of links and you are in deep doo-doo indeed!

As in the Open Directory cloning aspect previously mentioned… If you had the explicit link title containing keywords, you might easily have multiple iterations of that over-optimised anchor text across a number of directories.

Worse, it was common practice for “local” business directories to auto-populate themselves with content with a view to eventually enticing you to pay for a featured listing. Some of those used your website’s home page title verbatim, potentially contributing to a Google interpretation of “over-optimised” anchor text…

    Mobile Responsive Website Design

    Another piece of the natural organic SEO services jigsaw is Google’s recent statement that it will reward websites using a “mobile responsive” design. This is a logical step, given the rapid expansion of mobile device internet access.

    This is all about ensuring that your site does its best to deliver viewable, easily navigable pages regardless of the device it’s being viewed on. Mobile responsive designs automatically adjust screen size and rearrange content blocks for optimal display on desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. While on the trail of potential ranking impediments, it makes perfect sense. Get this aspect of your site’s public access squared away and it will stand you in good stead.


    Page last updated on Wednesday, October 11, 2023 by the author Ben Kemp

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