I mentioned in a recent blog post that Google’s spokesperson, Matt Cutts, recently revealed that Google was about to crack down heavily on over optimisation. Whilst Google has not released any definite guidelines or advice in relation to this idea, it is worth starting to think now about what could be construed as over optimisation, and what tactics you should begin to reel in, or even eliminate altogether, as well as considering tactics which perhaps should be increased or emphasised.

The only real advice or clue offered by Matt Cutts at this stage is that Google will no longer be tolerating optimisation which goes beyond the level which might reasonably expected from an average individual or business. So what we need to consider is what Google might expect the average person to do, and what many people do which goes beyond that, and which might therefore result in a penalty.

Don't fall foul of Google's new SEO penalty
(Image Credit Bowlerhat)

Generally speaking most people who create and develop an online presence start by building a website. The next thing they may do is to create some back links to this website, and then perhaps go on to promote it through social media. Over time most of the tweaks are going to be just that, fairly minor changes to things such as title tags, meta descriptions, and minor changes here and there.

The result of this is often that there will be an initial climb where measurable progress is seen, with a website rising up the search engine results pages, and increasing traffic. But eventually this progress will reach a plateau. For some people this will be as a perfectly acceptable level, but of course many people wish to go beyond this, and this is where many of the over optimisation techniques can creep in. So what techniques are often employed at this stage which may be no longer advisable?

Backlink Generation

The average person might be expected to generate a handful of links every so often, perhaps as a result of article marketing, blog posts being shared or a few directory listings. The problem is though that generating backlinks can be overdone.

Although nobody has any guaranteed answers at this stage it is safe to assume that Google is likely to become very suspicious if it sees hundreds or even thousands of backlinks generated in a very short space of time. It is unreasonable to expect the average person to be able to write and publish hundreds of articles per week.

It is therefore appropriate that at this stage you do not overdo your backlink generation. Throughout this blog I have frequently commented on the need to focus much more on quality than quantity, and I think that it is highly probable such an approach will be vital to avoid any potential penalties which Google’s new policy on over optimisation might enforce.

Duplicate Anchor Link Text

One of the clues which Google can use to identify spam link generation is duplicate anchor link text. If an article is published manually on a one by one basis then it is perfectly possible to alter the anchor link text each time. If you are still using inadvisable software which automatically submits, or rather spams, your articles to hundreds or thousands of directories then the result of this is likely to be a sudden influx of identical backlinks.

But quite apart from the fact that this offers a clue to Google that you could be overdoing your optimisation, it isn’t good SEO practice anyway. Make sure that you vary the anchor link text as much as possible, and don’t always assume that it is essential to have your keyword or key phrase links exactly the same way every time.

Limited Target Page Links

All too often SEO strategies can focus on promoting the home page of a website, yet this is another clue Google may well use in determining whether a website is over optimised or not. If the back links which Google finds link to a variety of different pages within your site then not only does this give a broader and more realistic impression of manual back linking and optimisation, but it also lends more weight to more of your website.

Let’s face it, your homepage is almost certainly one of the least important pages in your website. Yes, you did read that correctly. Although there are always exceptions, in many cases it is not the home page which provides detailed information, prices, order forms, contact pages, signup forms and other content which is likely to result in sales.

Make sure therefore that when you are generating links back to your website you include a variety of targets pages, and perhaps reduce the number of back links to the homepage.

If it helps, you can think of it a bit like this: if you were genuinely linking to somebody else’s website then it is more probable that you would be linking to a page which includes specific information, to which you may be referring, rather than simply directing people to the top level domain and hoping they’ll find their way from there.

Sudden Bursts

One of the biggest giveaways as far as over optimisation is concerned is the sudden appearance of massive bursts of activity, content or backlinks. The ordinary, average individual might well produce modest bursts of activity during the week, with a few posts, a handful of articles, and a sprinkling of back links.

But it isn’t reasonable to expect the average person to be able to generate hundreds or thousands of back links in a matter of days. Having said that there are always exceptions, and producing content which goes viral and is of course one of those exceptions. But Google is extremely good at telling the difference between content which has gone viral, and content which is simply being blasted out automatically in the form of spam.

It is therefore more appropriate perhaps to think about producing a steady stream of content and links rather than blasting out a massive amount every so often.

Rather than signing up with an SEO company which is able to generate hundreds or thousands of back links in a short space of time, think about working with SEO strategists who are able to produce a long-term consistent stream of content and links. This is a much better use of your money, and appears much more natural, making sure that you are not penalised for over optimising.

Minimal Social Media Activity

There is often a very good reason why many SEO service providers do not place a significant emphasis on social media. The reason is simply that this takes time, and it is very hard to automate in a way which appears natural. This is why many of the less advisable SEO companies pay scant attention to social media, placing the emphasis almost entirely on generating links through other means, from article marketing, forum posting, blog posting, blog commenting and directory listings.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with any of these forms of marketing, it is important today to think about making sure you deliver the right balance. Google has made it clear already that they are placing much more weight on the signals generated through social media than they ever have done before, and for this reason I would strongly advise that you decrease your other forms of marketing and address the balance if your use of social media marketing has been relatively poor.

Greater Emphasis On Promotion Than Development

Almost certainly one of the biggest factors which Google will be able to use when determining if someone is over optimising their content is whether the emphasis is on the promotion of existing content, rather than on the development of new content.

A lot of the signals given by Google in recent times seem to strongly suggest that the development of new content and new resources is much more important than the promotion of existing content which has already been crawled, seen and listed. I would suggest that now is the time to reduce your promotion of existing content.

Instead of spending an hour a day promoting your existing content, do this just once a week. Spend around half of the time each week developing new content, either web pages, resources, E books, infographics or blog posts, and spend all of the remaining time sharing, commenting and engaging in social media.

Of course, there is absolutely no reason why you still can’t promote existing content whilst at the same time developing new content. For example, it may be the case that whilst writing a new, fresh blog post it is appropriate and relevant to refer to (via a link!) a previous blog post you may have written some time ago.

That is absolutely fine, and not only does it help link to existing content, but it also tells Google that the old content is still relevant and important. After all, if you never feel the need to refer to your old content whilst developing new content, does that not imply that the old content is no longer relevant? Don’t overdo this of course, but it is a tactic which I believe important to include where appropriate.

Of course all of these strategies and recommendations are based on my own personal feeling after carrying out a good deal of research and engaging with other SEO professionals. I must make it clear at this stage that Google has not released any specific advice, recommendations or warnings, nor have they given any indication when, or even if they ever will.

But having said that all of these strategies are highly advisable given the updates we are already aware of. Incorporating these strategies and making these adaptations to your existing SEO strategy is likely to give your site the best chance of being discovered, promoted up the search results, and receiving high levels of targeted traffic.

But finally I would also offer this one caveat: never, ever optimise exclusively for what you believe the search engines are after. Remember, the search engines are only there to serve. Your content should be always targeted directly at the needs of your intended audience. Put your efforts into generating valuable content that your target audience actually wants, and you’re most of the way towards success with the search engines as well.

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