Google’s over-optimization penalty AKA Google messing with the minds of SEOs

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Can’t you just picture it, the Google spam team is sitting around in one of their meetings  and the topic comes up about how they could really mess with SEOs minds.  Then someone pipes up “I’ve got it, let’s make up a penalty that makes being optimized a bad thing!”  (Oh to be a fly on that wall!)

SEOs have a love/hate relationship with Google.  On the one hand, we love the traffic, exposure and of course who can forget the Adsense checks and cheap Adwords traffic.  On the other hand, there are many pretty vocal SEOs who take every chance they get to slam, criticize and crucify anything and everything Google does, and I am sure everyone knows who those SEOs are.  In fact, many SEOs consider it a sport :)

Then Google announces one thing that makes all good SEOs shudder…

Yes, you know, the so called “over-optimization penalty”?  Talk about brilliant (from Google’s point of view anyways).  Because now, Google is really toying with all the SEOs who have strived for perfection on every single website they have ever worked on, whether for themselves or for clients.  And now that perfectionism is looking more like debilitating OCD that hurts more than it helps.

And really, perfectionist SEO goes against what Google wants to see in its index, as much as we hate to admit it.  Google wants to make SEOs job one where we have to give them what they really want to see in the index, great quality content.  If Google is having problems fighting the spam war because crappy sites can still be perfectly optimized to rank, why not make over-optimization a penalty?

Who hasn’t tried to go with the easy money and created (or more likely, pressed a button to spin one) a spam site because it is easier to do than hiring people to write original well-written articles for a site.  It is a hell of a lot easier to optimize a slew of bad spam sites than it is to think up each article title, find writers, ensure the content is original and then actually shelling out money to pay for that content. True, you will burn a lot more sites this way as they get picked off in the results, making the need for an unending cycle of spam sites, but let’s face it, most SEOs are lazy and want to rake in the cash with the least amount of work possible.  And unfortunately/fortunately, depending on which side of the quality content fence you are on, spammy content sites with perfect SEO still can win the ranking war – at least temporarily – versus someone’s hobby site with spectacular content but that has pathetic or non-existent SEO skills.

So all Google has to do is throw the thing that makes SEOs cringe, an over-optimization penalty, and suddenly you have a lot of SEOs trying to figure out how to un-optimize sites (and by just how much), both spammy and quality, while still ensuring they rank.  Unfortunately, we know that the penalty is a reality, for those hoping it was just a threat.

Or they could just want all those SEOs to start spending more money on AdWords :)  Regardless—

Well played Google, well played.

About seobitch

Seobitch is a pen name for a well known female expert in the SEO industry that most of you likely already follow. She has more than a dozen years experience and is a very respected expert in the field. Seobitch can be controversial but writes about issues that most people are afraid to talk about due to their employers, clients or friends. She also loves to tackle industry issues from a different point of view than what you normally see the "complainers" of the industry complaining about. She is also open to suggestions for future topics you would like to see the SEObitch tackle.

57 thoughts on “Google’s over-optimization penalty AKA Google messing with the minds of SEOs

  1. Purple Trout

    Interesting. I am certain most SEOs lost some sleep, poured over web page content, reviewed back links (maybe even tried to get some back links removed), yada, yada, yada. Perhaps, Google didn’t really do anything at all. It says “jump” and we all reply “how high?”

  2. Jennifer

    Well played indeed! And I think you’re at least partly right about AdWords… that’s the only way to fix the (not provided) problem too! Oh, Google, always making our lives difficult. (have you seen any sites affected yet? And do you have an opinion as to whether the sites will be completely dropped from the index, or just knocked back a few pages?)

    1. Valeriy

      I have to agree. SEOs have had this constant push/pull struggle going on with google for many years. We always try to be one step ahead, but then google introduces something like over-seo penality. On top of that there is stats stating that if over 50% of your backlinks are one keyword, then you are nuked. :/

  3. Nebraska SEO

    “Don’t hate me because I’m too pretty.”

    Black/Gray/Purple Hat aside, the key to good SEO has always been to make the page/site look as natural and relevant as possible. These spammy sites have always just been asking for trouble.

    1. Lewis

      Yeah, I definately agree with that – natural is good. HOWEVER in some industries you can’t cope without working your SEO so it has the optimum percentage of keywords, etc… because everyone else is doing it, so if you don’t, you don’t stand a chance in the rankings

  4. Edgar

    It sucks that Google is THE Major player of search engines that we have to follow there rules.

    You never hear about Yahoo or MSN.

    1. Derek

      MSN been gone for years. Bing and Yahoo have a deal with combined search results and they not that big on algorithm updates. Google can still make or break a website by either slapping your with a penalty or de-indexing your website. This has killed business and the small ma and pa websites.

      I suspect Google will make a few tweaks over the next week or two to correct some bad updates they made that might of effected good sites.

  5. Tegs

    My opinion is that penalties like this are the result of “push button” SEO like SENuke. Once the waters get muddy with supper optimized crappy websites Google has to do something.

    1. Jacob

      Yea but right now it seems like the Algo change has made it too easy to get a site penalized. It’s terrible to think Someone could SENuke spam the crap out of a site and purposely get it slapped or deindexed. This goes against the foundation Google is built on…

  6. Ashley, cutey

    The question is, can these site rank again and get their authority back? If it’s spammy links, then I don’t think they can since removing 10000s of links just can’t be done.

  7. Steve Howell

    I would have to agree with Google on this one. It is irritating to see a site that has very little content on it get a high ranking just because of some SEO trick.

  8. sean

    those are some hilarious examples they give and obviously on the extreme. I wonder how far up the stack they will really go with this…meaning are they going to go after not so obvious seo?

  9. Pawel Reszka

    SEO Bitch, actually that penalty makes no sense. So basically if I unoptimize my sites it means I am now optimizing again for the new algo lol

    But, here is the thing. When a user makes a search on Google they actually do want to find relevant sites optimized for the keywords they are interested in. When I make a search for “information about green widgets” I expect to find sites with titles “information about green widgets” and content about green widgets.

    I don’t want to find pages that don’t really target that specific phrase and have information about red widgets or about widgets in general.

    The results speak for themselves. In some verticals we now have more spam ranking than before or some totally unrelevant pages passing the filter (that haven’t been updated in years) simply because they never did any SEO.

    Now more than ever Google wants us to optimize for the Googlebot and not for the user.

    I optimize for the user, so when they search for a keyword they will find the exact information they are looking for.

    Anyway, yesterday’s update shows that Google doesn’t really know how to handle spam, or did they realize that poor quality results drive more Adwords clicks?

    1. ania

      You just said what I was thinking. Why don’t you forward this message to idiot Matt Cutts? Sometimes I feel he has been bribed by someone to destroy Google. Look at the search results today. They are all spams.

      1. Lewis

        Whenever I search for stuff, unless it’s long keyword chains, it’s all Wikipedia, which doesn’t seem right to get all the worlds traffic

    2. Lewis

      “…actually that penalty makes no sense. So basically if I unoptimize my sites it means I am now optimizing again for the new algo…” This is exactly the way I see it. it’s not unoptimizing, it’s just a new algorithm

  10. John

    This is an old problem, Google and SEO’s
    I think at some point is right to penalize sites with excess trash or optimization, but I’m seeing very nice places down position and at that point I do not understand Google.

  11. Takeshi

    Google (and Cutts) has clarified that this update will be mainly to combat webspam and shady linkbuilding practices, not “overoptimized” sites.

    1. Paul B

      “we want people doing white hat search engine optimization (or even no search engine optimization at all)”

      Link building is only part of the optimization penalty, it’s also very much about people who have tried to build their site around what Google previously wanted. For every mass spammer this catches there will be 100 legitimate brick and mortar businesses negatively impacted – because to play the game with Google last week they had to optimize, but now the game has been turned on its head. The end result, the same as it has been for every Google algo update over the past couple of years, will be more people spending more money on Adwords. Just at Googles latest set of results, none of this is about better search, it’s about bigger bottom line.

      1. steve

        Good call. This was so prevalent on the Google groups forums. Though I’m not sure if it’s about the Adwords part there were loads and loads of people who had never done any linkbuilding at all. Wait till the dust settles on this one

  12. Sha

    There’s obviously nothing wrong with optimizing sites, but the fact is a lot of people went overboard with it & tried to play Google. Now they’re paying the price.

    You play, you pay.

  13. Ramon

    Examples Google uses for explaining what over optimizing is….. its horrible….

    I wonder why they couldn’t detect this earlier

  14. quadri moderni

    I think it’s a little too soon to know if the results of this update are going to be this way for a longer time than a couple of days – Google is going to be aware of the damage of it ( eventually ). Now we have shitty-looking sites in the first posistions and the serious ones, on God-knows-what-positions… this is just non sense. Goggle, are you trying to earn some more money on the ad sense???

  15. Jade

    So does this mean we enter the world of negative SEO? People now pay to spam competition to bring them down.. sounds like it could get messier than before.

  16. John Caskboy

    3.1% of the websites are affected by this update, if I am right.

    Are there really just 3.1% spam sites?

  17. Real Time Affiliate Marketing

    This is getting to be kind of old news now… Webmasters just need to do their job and keep driving their content. The world is not over…

    I will not lose any sleep if any SEO firms go out of business because of this… Time for them to work for a living again.

    1. Lewis

      Ouch! Dude, I operate an SEO firm and I work damn hard for my money! I’m constantly trying to break the ever changing Google algorithm to word out the correct keyword desnity and ideal combination of header text, bold text, etc… and the fastest rate you can generate links to a site without being penalized, etc…

      A SEO professional who is bad doesn’t work for their money, they just generate sloppy links and sell them. A GOOD SEO professional works VERY hard and in a painstaking industry. As (what I consider myself to be) a good SEO professional, it’s not nice to hear this kind of comment :(

  18. Online Ventures

    I know exactly which side of the fence that I’m on, I always have done, great content all the way! Although I know that the penalty is real, I don’t believe that onsite SEO is really a defining factor in a website’s success and rankings. You could have the best content in the world but if it isn’t linked, it won’t succeed in any remotely competitive market.

    The search engines are getting smarter by the day and the one thing that I am certain of is that it will not be long before the only way, is the right way.

  19. Brian

    Google has to do something. I believe it is a scare tactic. But we will see. I mean Panda was a slap for some. I guess we will see how they do this.

  20. Chris

    This over-opt penalty is not even about good content from what I can see. It’s affecting sites with really top quality content and link profiles, as well as complete junk sites. However the SERP results are the worst we’ve seen in years. There’s more crap on the first page than ever before. Quality sites have been penalized and the spam they were trying to get rid of has risen to the top. I have sites that dropped of the map and some that are doing better, but there’s no rhyme or reason that I can see as to why at this point. It’s too early to see how this will shake out, but I’m willing to bet this algo will need more further tweaking than any before it. Then again, Google is just an advertising platform, so why should they care about quality search results. Keeping the shareholders happy with increased dividends is the name of the game these days.

  21. Dennis @ Brochure Boxes

    I can’t help but notice your remarkably pundant pen name. So is it me or does anyone else picture Google sometimes as Doctor Evil type characters laughing at SEOs like they thwarted our plans. I appreciate the quality standard they are setting and the changes are for the better but it can be frustrating. We just have to ride it out as always. Cheers.

  22. Darryl

    My feeling is that this is a misstep for Google. This update makes it super easy to mess-up some else’s web site. For five bucks on Fiverr a person can spam someone else’s site with bad, over-optimized links. Once that catches on, what is Google to do?

  23. Jacob

    Lately it seems like the SEO world has been turned upside down. Over optimization?? That just sounds so ridiculous. It was definitely effective in giving many SEOs quite the gut check, myself included but I think things will continue to shift in the coming months. It’s tough to make sense of all this which seems to be Googles intention. But for everyone to up and change the sound fundamentals of on-page SEO, my advice is to hold off.

    Over optimization isnt explained very clearly also. Keyword stuffing and lack of variation in backlink anchor text would cause penalties before the recent updates and these are the things I think of when the term “over optimization” comes up.

    The idea of having your target keyword in the title, keywords, and content causing a red flag doesn’t make sense.

    To conclude, data has shown that domain age/authority and backlink source diversity and anchor text variation have just gained much more importance. Hang tight everyone, make adjustments, and keep on chuggin!

  24. Pingback: Google unleashes “Overoptimised SEO” penalty – blog post roundup — Internet Marketing Gourmet

  25. Surya

    I wish facebook comes with competitive search engine to Google and also Microsoft should improve Bing Search Engine.

  26. ofis mobilyaları

    While Google never sells better ranking in our search results, several other search engines combine pay-per-click or pay-for-inclusion results with their regular web search results. Some SEOs will promise to rank you highly in search engines, but place you in the advertising section rather than in the search results. A few SEOs will even change their bid prices in real time to create the illusion that they “control” other search engines and can place themselves in the slot of their choice. This scam doesn’t work with Google because our advertising is clearly labeled and separated from our search results, but be sure to ask any SEO you’re considering which fees go toward permanent inclusion and which apply toward temporary advertising.

  27. Rich

    If your business model depends on Google for traffic then I guess that you just have to suck it in.

    Personally, I see this constant moving of the goal posts as an opportunity to sell updated SEO guides!

  28. Frank

    Well.. I just was going really goog you know. After a couple years speanding a hole lot a time linking with other websites, some not really relevant eiither. And now.. My site has gone. It has disapeared. I looked just after twelve on 24 april 2012… i tought ?? Wow.. Where;s my website? I checked my backlinks and saw more links linking to my website then i had linked with.. weird website pointing links and even had complete articles from my website whit link also pointing to mine.. I asked Google how come and if it was possible that anyone could do this to me.. I goot no ansers from Google. So i ve searched.. and the conclusions was simple. Yes they can. They even can steal your backlinks and put it that that Google algoriithem thinks your backlinks are theres.. Think i got to find a job or something. This has cost me to much energy and i don’t think i can do all the work again.

    Tears man! Tears!

    Greets Frank from Holland

  29. Aditi Datta

    Truly said SEO Ditch.. This is true and it can also be seen after the Google’s penguin update. Thanks for sharing this informative post!!

  30. Tech84

    And then next year they will roll out a new update fishing out those sites that did not SEO their sites to perfection.

    And then the next year, roll out another update fishing out those sites that had been SEO’d to perfection.

    ah, what a vicious cycle. lol

  31. Marty Rogers

    Well said, SEO Bitch.

    It’s funny watching all of the trashy webmaster forums explode into a deep state of panic each time an update is unleashed.

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