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Ask An SEO Expert – Over-Optimization

by Emily Burgett

In April, Google launched an algorithm update known as Penguin, which penalized websites that were “overly-optimized”. SEOs everywhere scrambled to figure out why sites were penalized and how those sites could find new life after Penguin. This has left many webmasters to wonder, “How do you optimize without over doing it?”

Here at Slingshot SEO, we’ve launched a video series called Ask An SEO Expert where one of our experts answers your search media questions and keeps you up to date with industry developments.

In this Monday feature, Jesse Laffen, Director of SEO Performance at Slingshot SEO, answers the question, “What are you going to do now that Google is working to penalize “overly-optimized” sites?” and offers tips on how you can “future-proof” your website to be better prepared to tackle further algorithm updates.

Do you have an SEO question that you would like to have answered? Simply submit your question on our website or via Twitter by using the hashtag #AskAnSEOExpert.

Video Transcription

This question is: “what are you going to do now that Google is working to penalize overly optimized websites?” A follow-up to that, a separate question was, “how do you optimize without overdoing it?”

This is actually something that we’ve been kind of working with and trying to tackle for a really, really long time. If this is your website, and this is your web page, and each one of these boxes are little things that Google can measure or things that Google can read, or Bing or any other search engine… Back in the early days there were only maybe only certain things that Google could actually measure. Let’s say two of those 12 signals.

As they got better and better at reading signals, it became more, right? It became three, and then four. Then each step along the way – we’re talking like mid 2000s at this point – SEOs were kind of in the mode or the mindset of, “Well, okay. I’m going to look for each of these little signals, each of those four things. Then, I’m just going to do those a little bit better than my competition.”

Eventually, though, since 2009, 10, 11, and especially today, Google’s actually looking, and Bing are actually looking at so many of these signals. They’re so good at dissecting exactly what you’re trying to tell your audience. Now, it’s not just one of these four things. It’s one of these 200, 300, 400 things.

Let’s say about three or four years ago, us as a company, and especially me personally, started thinking, all right, well I’m not going to worry so much about each of those four things anymore. What I’m going to try to do is do all of these things right. Even it’s not necessarily a ranking signal today. It’s the right thing to do for my user.

Eventually, as they progress and do more web span filters, and more updates and things like that, I’m actually future-proofing my SEO campaign. I’m not going to worry about Panda, or Penguin, or Polar Bear, or Parakeet, or whatever comes next, because I’m doing right by my user. I’m producing a really, really valuable asset.

Even though Google and Matt Cutts have been kind of talking about that since the beginning of time, it’s truer today than it’s ever been. It’s really not a system that you can game anymore. You just have to do it well. You have to market well. You have to talk to your consumers well. You have to talk to your prospects well. You have to create a website that people actually want to interact with.

That’s really the best way to optimize a website, is just create a great user experience. Go out and get those natural signals that you should be getting. Produce that effort to go find those relevant third-party signals pointing back to your site, but don’t try to game them. Don’t try to just say, “Well, I think today it’s this one, and this one, and this one. I’m just going to get this person an edge of anchor text, or that person an edge of .edu links, because none of that really matters.

Even if it does today, it probably won’t tomorrow. All you have to do is look back at 2011, and then 2012 with Penguin update to actually get an idea of kind of why that is, and where the future is that Google’s trying to go. That’s how you optimize without overdoing it. That’s how we kind of future-proof ourselves from over optimization or future penalties.

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