If you are looking for the short answer to this question then the answer is a definite yes – Google does hate over optimized websites. However, it’s not quite so simple as to say that Google hates such sites because the question is, what exactly is an over-optimized website anyway? Here’s what you need to know to avoid the dreaded Penguin:
Just What Is Over Optimization Anyway?
Those who follow this blog regularly know that my favorite analogy of how SEO works is that it’s kind of like being in high school and trying to climb the social ladder. Very briefly, when you were in high school and didn’t know a soul, you probably wanted to figure out how to become the “cool kid” in the school.
There were really two ways to accomplish this. The first was to find an “in” with the kids who were already popular for whatever reason. This might be that you have an older brother who is popular or it might be that you join the football team or the cheerleading squad and then make friends with the head cheerleader or the captain of the football team.
The other way that you might have become popular in high school was by building a kind of grassroots organization where you basically meet lots of other kids and slowly build your popularity by getting everyone to know who you are that you’re “cool.”
SEO is basically the same sort of thing as that – you either get links from really popular websites or you get them from sites which are not as popular but you get lots and lots of them. Those links then become a measure of how “cool” you are by whom you are associated with.
Okay, so what does this have to do with over optimization? Think back to high school and remember the kid who just tried too hard to become “cool.” He or she was what my generation might call a “spaz.” Back in the 1980s, he might have greased his hair and started being a jerk to girls because he though that’s what being cool meant.
Over optimizing your website is kind of the same thing – you’re just trying way too hard and Google doesn’t like that. Of course, they don’t care whether you really are “cool” or not. All they care about is that it looks like you’re doing too much to try and game the system. Now, there are two basic ways that this happens. One is with on site over optimization and the other way is with off site over optimization.
On Site Over Optimization
Let’s stick with the high school analogy for just a bit longer. Our “spaz” kid who is desperately trying to too hard to become accepted by the cool kids might do some weird things to himself in order to try to be accepted.
For example, he might decide to slick his hair back and wear a leather jacket (usually a cheap knockoff though). He also might have gone for a Mohawk (I grew up in the 1980s when Mr. T was really popular) and or for various piercings. Colored hair was also a popular way for kids who didn’t know better to try to act like they were cool.
If all of these things seem obvious to you as ways to act like an idiot instead of a “cool” kid that’s because they are. However, while there were only a handful of kids when we grew up who tried too hard, there are a much larger number of people who create websites and try too hard to get themselves noticed by Google. Ultimately, they end up getting themselves into trouble.
Some very obvious ways to over optimize your site include things like keyword stuffing (for example, you write a sentence like this: keyword stuffing means stuffing keywords throughout your article so that the keyword stuffing will stick out for Google and make your keyword stuffing noticeable so that the keyword stuffed website will get picked up for your keyword because of your keyword stuffing).
The above is obviously a very bad way to write a sentence because it makes very little sense however it does show you what keyword stuffing is. This is something that Google hates and just like our kid who is trying too hard, your site will ultimately find itself on the “outs.” Google tends to be pretty humorless about these things and will de-index you quickly.
Another good example of on site over optimization which is less obvious to some people would be to put in tons and tons of PLR content with your keywords without bothering to put in any of your own original content. PLR stands for Private Label Rights and basically it’s content you can buy and use on your site, putting your own name on it.
I like to explain it by noting the store brand products at your local supermarket – they’re not actually made by Kroeger or Giant Eagle or whomever your local major chain is. They’re made by a different company and those supermarkets just slap their labels onto those products.
Now mind you, PLR has its place. As long as it’s high quality content which is well written, you can use some PLR on your website and you should be fine. However, if 95% of your site is PLR, that’s another no no and another example of over optimization. In essence, you’re trying to use a shortcut to get Google to notice you.
To understand what this might be like, think of a supermarket where all you see is shelf after shelf of the local store brand. It would seem like something out of the old Soviet Union and you’d almost be asking where the bread line (for those who have no clue what I’m talking about by the way, you are probably too young to remember it – see Robin Williams in Moscow On the Hudson).
All of these techniques are what is known as black hat SEO. They’re techniques which are well known and which Google’s engineers have figured out ways of detecting. In essence, try too hard to make your site look good to Google and they’ll punish you for it just as surely as the kid with blue hair and a goth look was also ridiculed in high school.
Off Site Over Optimization
If you’ll indulge me for a bit longer, let’s look one more time at our hapless high school kid who is trying too hard to get “in” with the popular kids. In addition to dressing up in a way that seems cool to him but is comical and or weird to most others, he may well try to do some other things to get noticed.
One of the classic jokes of the boy who desperately wants to be cool is that he goes and writes a note in the boy’s bathroom about how he’s so “hot.” This obviously does nothing to improve his reputation because he needs to get it into the girl’s bathroom but he’s so clueless he doesn’t get it and he thinks he’s done something good. Of course, these days, he might attract a boyfriend, but that’s another discussion entirely…
Off site over optimization is pretty much the same kind of thing – you create lots of links on spammy, junky websites which you really shouldn’t be looking for links from. Where once those kinds of links were just ignored by Google, now they can be weighed against you if there are too many of them and too few of the good kinds of links.
So what you want is to go after quality websites and to vary your links. All web 2.0 properties is no good nor is all wiki properties or all forum backlinks. You want variety and you want them on quality sites which actually are not going to look super spammy to Google.
This is known as Google Bowling and in essence, the idea is to trash your competition by creating lots of spammy links on junk sites which will make your website look over optimized. This is one of the big complaints regarding the Penguin update – that Google bowling could become rampant.
I wrote a piece on this a while back where I discussed the issue and explained how and why this sort of thing may be done but the jury is still out as to whether or not a competitor can Google bowl you (the question is, do you have quality links too or exclusively spammy links?).
However, if you are worried about it, it’s possible to actually look up any links to your site which are not good and then “disavow” them with the Google Disavow tool.
There’s also currently a pretty cool program available which helps you find the links to disavow. Supposedly, the offer ends in two days so it’s best to hurry if you want a copy (I find that many of these “closing soon” things really mean we’ll close and open a week or two later but you never know). It’s called SEO Resurrection.
The bottom line is that yes, Google hates over optimized websites. However, if you do your SEO correctly, you will never have to worry about your site being considered to be “over optimized.”