In the prehistoric days of the early internet, search engines were naive and their algorithms extremely limited. It seems incredible to believe, but back in 1992, there were only 10 websites online compared to the 2 billion we have to choose from today.
Getting noticed in this congested field is becomingly increasingly difficult and driving reliable, quality traffic to your website is no mean feat. SEO has advanced a great deal from those early days, and it is more tempting than ever to stuff websites with keywords, crammed footers, and a myriad of links. While SEO remains highly effective and undoubtedly the best way to bring traffic to your website, over-optimization has many perils.
SEO might be viewed as cyclical. Go too far, and you will arrive back at the start, with your website ranking low in searches and suffering from decreased traffic. Over-optimization leads those all-knowing Google bots to flag your content as overly spammy or delivering little value to the reader.
If you are concerned that you may have over-optimized your site, ask yourself the following questions. If the answer to some or even all of them is yes, then it is not difficult to act and stop the rot before it sets in too deeply.
Are you using too many keywords?
Keyword cramming has long ranked as one of the top crimes that will see your website deprioritized in search engine results. Keyword cramming is the practice of overloading content with as many high-ranking keywords as possible.
Once upon a time, this did work, but those days have long since vanished. Google bots are smart. Overloading content with the same keywords or repeated short phrases will stand out and see your traffic plummet. This is a mistake that a lot of people make, especially early in their careers.
There is no sure and fast rule about what is considered keyword stuffing but applying simple common sense can help. If you find that you are repeating the same words or using words out of context simply so that you can include them, you are probably venturing into the realms of keyword stuffing. Similarly, excessive use of copy and paste and repeated phrases are clear indicators that your content is overburdened with keywords.
It is advisable to let the content guide the keywords rather than vice versa. Write clearly and informatively on a given topic and weave the keywords subtly. The best way to avoid keyword stuffing is to focus on the crux of the article and try to provide value to your readers. That, after all, is the core aim of any website and the reason that users visit. It is also what Google wants from its search results.
Effective SEO optimization can sometimes feel like a battle of statistics vs computer science, but a good strategy demands an understanding of both. It is possible to apply a statistical, content-by-content analysis of how keyword frequency affects traffic, but it is also important to understand the science underpinning this relationship. It is simpler than you might imagine.
Google search priorities content that is not spammy is hyper-relevant within its niche and delivers value to readers within that nice. Consider keywords as a way of demonstrating that your website ticks all those boxes.
Are your keywords relevant?
Relevancy is just as important as frequency. Even if you are not actively keyword stuffing, including irrelevant keywords in your content will set Google bot alarm bells ringing. Not only are irrelevant keywords suggestive of spam, but they indicate that your content is giving less value to readers. Google favors laser-focused content that knows its niche, its target audience and works within those areas.
A good way to keep your keywords relevant is to establish a ‘primary keyword’ for individual pieces of content. From there, it is easy to find other keywords linked to the primary word. Not only will this help you avoid over-optimization, but it will give you a better idea of your niche. By exploring a limited set of linked keywords, you can maintain that laser-like focus on the question you are trying to answer and the value you are trying to provide to your readers.
Problems only occur when you (intentionally or otherwise) veer from that niche. By including irrelevant keywords, you muddy the waters. Google struggles to establish what your content is supposed to be about. That means that it does not know your target audience, does not know which search results to include you in, and eventually deprioritizes your website altogether.
Consider the core aims of the Google search. Does your keyword usage clearly highlight your niche? Is it suggestive of value to readers? Does it make your site easy to categorize? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then the chances are you have included at least some irrelevant keywords.
Are you linking to the wrong places?
A healthy linking profile is a vital part of SEO. Maintaining a web of high-quality links will help you rank higher in searches, but bad links can have the opposite effect. Linking to top levels domains is the most common mistake but easily remedied with a few tweaks. Your links should be deep and not pointed at homepages. Top-level domain links suggest a more generalized focus than the highly relevant, niche-aware content that Google prioritizes in its search results.
Good linking profiles are about more than just avoiding top-level domains, though. Some websites go so far with SEO that even their URLs are over-optimized. A good example of this might be a site with an URL like www.amazingdealsoncheaplaptops.com. Hyperbolic claims within the URL are a sure sign that it has been over-optimized. Linking to even one site with a so-called ‘toxic’ web address can be the bad apple that poisons your whole linking profile.
Web designers and content creators forget that link health flows in two directions. Including deep links to relevant sources boosts your website’s health, but the toxicity of bad links feeds back too. If you connect your site to spammy-sounding or over-optimized content, Google will inevitably put you in the same bracket.
Is your content original?
Original content is an existential issue when it comes to SEO optimization. It should go without saying that Google wants original, freshly written material that is highly relevant. Of course, with so many websites online there will inevitably be some crossover between sites, but recycling content is a sure-fire way to rank low in search engine results.
People do this for several reasons. If something has been popular and generated a lot of interest once, then it is reasonable to presume that it will do so again. Recycling popular content with the same set of keywords and similar links is a common tactic, but it is one that Google got wise to years ago. The old adage remains true with a minor addition: original content is king. There is no easy way around this. A well-optimized site simply posts a great deal of fresh content. An over-optimized one recycles successful content in the vain hope that it will be again.
Most importantly of all, do not use content respinning software. These programs are growing increasingly popular as a way to reword and rework existing content for SEO. However, they are a shortcut to destroying your traffic and undermining your good SEO work elsewhere on the site. It can be time-consuming to regularly produce new content, but it is the only way to properly optimize your site.
How is your footer?
Footers can sometimes feel like an afterthought. They sit at the bottom of the page and serve little purpose other than to round off a piece of content. It makes sense for web designers to cram footers with SEO elements and keywords, but this will invariably get your website flagged as spammy or over promotional.
There is precious little to be gained from doing any kind of optimization in your footer. Residing at the bottom of the page, any links will receive low levels of click-through, and keywords will largely go unnoticed. Unfortunately, the downsides of trying to optimize in this area are disproportionately high, so much so that many developers ruin a perfectly functioning site by needlessly tinkering with its footer.
Cramming keywords or links into the footer is pure spam, in part because few people will read them, in part because they add no value to the main page’s content. Duplicating the same crammed footer across multiple pages can have a devastating effect on your search ranking. It reeks not just of spam but of worthless information, both of which rank poorly in the eyes of the Google bots.
Optimizing footers are all downside with no reward, so they are better left as basic as possible. Save them for something simple like a company name or contact details. As with all SEO elements, prioritize the reader. Few visitors to your website will look to the footer for additional content or any information beyond basic contact details.