Google’s Matt Cutts let the cat out of the bag at SXSW this year and explained that Google would be rolling out a change to their algorithm that actually penalized overly optimized websites. While he didn’t say what Google was considering “overly optimized”, there has been some speculation as to what it could be.
"Stop trying to game the system...write better stuff"
First things first – Too Much Onsite SEO
This will actually be a pretty common find once Google rolls out the change. For years, people have been taught to put their top priority keywords in the title tags of the pages. This wasn’t (and still isn’t) a “spammy” tactic, so hopefully the penalty here won’t be too harsh. The thought process here, however, is that a title tag that is full of keywords isn’t exactly conversational, and therefore hurts the overall usability of the site. For instance, which one of these sounds better to a searcher:
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Personally, I’d click through on #2, and I’d be willing to bet I’m not the only one. However, traditional onsite SEO (at least the past 5 years of it) would laugh at that title tag. Using words like “the” “damn” and “available” would be an amateur mistake. These words are filler words that don’t help my keyword strategy.
Other onsite items to review once the change goes live are things like internal links that all utilize the same anchor text, page structure that doesn’t make sense other than to create more places for keywords, and snippets of text that appeal more to search engines rather than users.
Next – Too Much Offsite SEO
If you’ve contracted with an external search engine optimization firm, there is a good chance that they have built links to your site to boost rankings. While there has already been a decrease in the importance of links in the overall ranking algorithm, sites with unnatural link profiles may be penalized even further with this update. I’d be willing to guess that 999 times out of 1000, sites with unnatural link profiles have contracted out and bought links (either directly or indirectly), which is technically against the Google Terms of Service, so it’s only fair to get penalized.
The thought process here is a natural one. Google’s goal is to deliver the most relevant content for a search query. The most relevant content isn’t always delivered because other, less relevant sites may be optimized to rank better. Removing links from the algorithm and replacing them with other signals might help Google finally achieve what they are trying to do – rank content based on quality, not technical SEO.
Whether or not you agree that sites that are overly optimized should be penalized (we’ve had that argument internally), the change is coming. The best thing you can do at this moment for your site’s well-being hasn’t changed, however. Keep an eye on the changes as they are rolled out, read some blogs about those changes, and modify your strategy accordingly. The heart of your strategy will remain constant, focusing on good content creation and marketing