Understanding SEO and The New Over-Optimization Penalty
In his best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey lists habit number 5 as: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.
This is a great habit to employ and it serves us especially well when we have to evaluate Google algorithm updates that effect SEO.
We have to ask why Google implements particular updates! I know that, for many people who have been slammed by the latest Google algorithm update (which in various forms people are calling Panda, Penguin, and/or Webspam), seeking to understand is the last thing on their mind. They want Google to understand them and this is understandable.
Witness this statement from an individual that I wrote about in the article entitled Google Panda Webspam and Exact Match Domain Searches:
Title: Being Ruined.
Not that it will make any difference or even get noticed but the recent update is ruining me.
I work hard to build good sites, with unique content, and the result is being dropped behind lesser sites. After all, haven’t we been taught SEO all these years as a way for people to find us based on relevancy?
I have two small boys and a wife with a brain tumor, so this is really the last thing we need, to be ruined this way without seemingly having done anything wrong. In fact, doing what we were TOLD to do!
Again, I understand this is a worthless exercise here, more for my own therapy as I try to deal with this development.
There is no question so no comments are needed.
Many more situations exactly like this author experienced can be found on this Google WebMaster Forum.
The New Panda Updates: Rationally Understanding Google
Though it is difficult to take a rational approach if you have been adversely affected by Google Panda, it is the only choice you have.
In seeking to understand, we know this. Google wants to provide the best results–they still make nearly all of their money from search results. People who manipulate the search engines to get their websites to the top often provide weak, thin, inappropriate, and, for lack of a better word, “crappy” content. With these folks, the content is crappy, but they optimize the SEO on the site so it gets to the top. Google wants to identify and eliminate these sites from their results!
Right now, many of you are saying, “Yes, I know, but I have great content.”
It is true that many good sites are being lost in the mix–for now! But, let’s said aside these personal assessments for just a moment. We have to be objective if we can truly understand.
The SEO System and Google Panda
Before I evaluate what others are saying about the SEO Over-Optimization penalty, I am going to present to you some things that I have confirmed from the user base of The SEO System, a group who remains unaffected by the latest Penguin/Webspam update.
Unlike many SEO solutions, The SEO System isn’t a massive SEO link building scheme. It is a real product that gives you manual “to-dos” each day to get to the top of the search engines.
These “to-dos” result in an inbound link portfolio with several essential ingredients that offset an SEO Optimization Penalty:
Varied Inbound Anchor Text
After you have written a page on your web site, you enter that URL into The SEO System. After entering the URL, you are prompted to enter 4 or more keywords that will be used as your anchor text for inbound links to your web page. Then, in your daily task list, you are given inbound links assignments and the system randomizes the anchor text.
Thus, all of your inbound links have varied anchor text.
I suspect that one group of “over-optimizers” who have been penalized are those that use the same inbound anchor text nearly 100% of the time.
Quick Note: Don’t Forget To Use Your Company Name in Inbound Links
After reading about SEO, many people stop creating inbound links with their company name. For example, John, who owns John’s Electronics, may have stopped creating inbound links for the term “Johns Electronics” because he wants to optimize for “best LCD TV”. If all links to Johns Electronics say “best LCD TV”, John will get red-flagged and possibly penalized.
Varied Inbound Link Portfolio With The SEO System
The second ingredient? The SEO System users have also been immune to Panda affects because of the nature of how it works. The daily task list for every user of The SEO System results in a varied inbound link portfolio. This means that inbound links not only have varied anchor text but they come from a vast variety of sources over a long period. This is natural.
Solid Link Relevancy and Latent Semantic Indexing
You might ask what heck is Latent Semantic Indexing? You may want to read my article about it here.
Essentially, the idea is relevant links. The task list on The SEO System embraces the concept of LSI and, generally, nearly all of your inbound links will come from similarly themed content.
Here is where you can go wrong with this concept: If your site is about pets, it is reasonable that a majority of your inbound links would come from articles about pets. However, if many of your links come from a casino site, this would be a big red flag for over-optimization and bogus inbound links.
Many bogus search engine optimization companies that purport to give you lots of inbound links will place them on non-relevant sites. These companies have caused endless headaches with web content owners who thought they were doing a positive thing and have now ben de-indexed.
My Other Suspicions About Over-Optimization
Here are some other factors that I would assume Google has woven into the lovable Penguin.
Continuing the process of seeking to understand Google, I would suspect that they are hardening their Keyword density algorithm.
In the old days, you use to be able to create a reasonably solid article, liberally use your keyword phrase, implement solid SEO, and you could get to the top. But it’s not the old days anymore. We are in the error of advanced SEO!
The question that you need to ask yourself is: How many times are you using the exact phrase that you are trying to optimize for?
You should keep this low. Conventional SEO wisdom has put this number between 2-4%. You might want to stay on the low end of this equation.
Here is a good Keyword Density Analyzer tool to test the keyword density of your articles.
Exact Match Domains
Several exact match domains have been hit by the latest Google algorithm release. The most prominent victim has been Viagra, who for awhile (and still on the data center that I am hitting) no longer placed for the term “viagra”.
This is an exact match domain situation. Their domain name, and the search term that they want to place for, are the exact same.
Google has penalized this situation because many people buy the domain name of the exact search term that they want to optimize for. Often, the content is terrible but they were “winning” because of the domain name. Google has clearly lowered domain name in importance and placed some sort of penalty on exact match domains.
Let’s look at one more example. One site that I have often written about who does solid on-page SEO is http://digital-picture-frame-reviews.com/. The site obviously tries to optimize for the term “digital picture frame reviews” and then they make money selling all of the frames that they review, probably earning a healthy profit in the process. However, they have an exact match domain.
So, were they penalized for their exact match? Well, today, they still appear on page one but at the bottom. Previously, they always ranked between 1-5 for this term.
Update: January 10th, 2013: On this day, this site has completed disappeared from the top 10 pages of Google search results.
Further Questions Regarding The SEO Over-Optimization Penalty
Though I think that I have pointed out the likeliest causes of this Penguinian Penalty, I do think that there are questions that Google should answer despite the treasured secret of the algorithm.
These are sacred SEO tenants that everyone follows and, if they no longer apply, Google should say so.
For example, should the keywords still be in the URL? We already know that some sites are penalized for “exact-match” domains. Will they also be penalized for exact match URLs in naming web pages? Is it still beneficial to put keywords in image “alt” tags? Keywords in heading tags?
These are just some sample questions that I think it would be fair of Google to answer. While it is right to try to weed out the people who have over-optimized marginal content, it is wrong to eliminate those who have always endeavored to create outstanding content.
And Google, they are your customers too, not just “the searchers“. You would have no content to be searched if it wasn’t for the people who created it!
So, Google, the final question is this: As we seek to understand you, is it unreasonable of us to ask the same in return?
Appendix: What Others Are Saying About The Over-Optimization Penalty
Google’s Over-Optimization Penalty an Evolution, Not Revolution: Author Jill Kocher agrees with many of my findings of diversity of inbound link locations and anchor text and gives solid methods to determine whether you were affected by the latest Panda or Webspam releases.
The Google Penguin Update: Over-Optimization, Webspam, & High Quality Empty Content Pages: This is a great article from Aaron Wall on SEOBOOK with this quote about future SEO: “Now more than ever SEO requires threading the needle: being sufficiently aggressive to see results, but not so aggressive that you get clipped for it (and hopefully building enough protection that makes it harder for others to clip you).” This article also highlights many of the deficiencies of the algorithm and shows you where to complain if you were hit!
What Google’s “Over-Optimization” Penalty Really Means: Chad Pollitt writes this article and points out…”Don’t put too much stock in the speculation flying around the internet about what specific attributes the update will target. Matt Cutts and his spam team are the only ones that really know no matter what the industry bigs are saying.” Aside from the salient points, most what you read is just speculation. I have read quotes like “well, if you didn’t have that one link there, your site would not have been hit.” It’s much more than that folks.
The Google SEO Over-Optimization Penalty is Here. What Can You do to Save Your Sites from it?: The author articulates many points worth consideration as you consider how to prepare your site for the future.
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