Over-optimization Is Like Being a Little Bit Pregnant

100% Organic - A Column From Search Engine Land Here’s a quick test for you. Don’t worry, it’s only one question. True or false: Today’s SEO techniques could be tomorrow’s search engine spam with one turn of the algo crank.

What do you think? Is what you do to optimize your site going to be considered search engine spam one day because of a change in the search engines’ magic formula?

Search engine spam takes many forms

If you answered “true,” you may need to seriously examine your SEO practices. Good, professional SEO that puts users first while keeping search engines in mind would never be considered spam by any stretch of a search engineer’s imagination. Search engine spam takes a concerted effort and is done in an attempt to misrepresent any given page of your website. It can take the form of showing one thing to the engines and something else to the typical website user, i.e., cloaking or hidden text. But that’s not the only thing that might be considered spam.

Search engine spam can be perfectly visible to the typical user as well. Keyword stuffing in all its forms—be it the copy, the title tags, within image alt attributes, or in anchor text—is search engine spam, as it’s only there to try to increase rankings. Which is why those “techniques” rarely work for very long.

You can’t OVER optimize anything

You may have heard some people talk about an “over-optimization” penalty. They say this can happen to a page that has too much optimization. Huh? How can a page be over-optimized? That’s like being “a little bit pregnant”! By its very nature the word “optimize” means “to make as effective, perfect, or useful as possible” (according to Dictionary.com).

Over-optimization isn’t optimization at all; it’s search engine spam, clear and simple. Just because your spam increased your rankings for awhile doesn’t mean that it wasn’t spam. And that’s what confuses people.

Search engine spam does work

It certainly is frustrating to review many top-ranking websites only to find them using all sorts of deceptive techniques that go unnoticed but are seemingly rewarded by the search engines. This in turn makes people assume that’s what you’re supposed to do on your website in order to get high rankings. They believe what they saw others doing must be a legitimate SEO technique. As far as I know, “everyone else is doing it” is not a legitimate defense in the courtroom, nor is it to the search engines when they decide to change their algorithm.

A constant battle

Let’s face it, algorithm changes aren’t made because search engineers have nothing better to do with their time. They change formulas in order to preserve the integrity of the search results. If people weren’t out there vying for position at all costs, there would be a lot fewer algo tweaks being made. Unfortunately, our world seems to be made up of a large group of people that will take any system and exploit it for their own gain. Because of that, there’s a constant battle between search engines and search engine spammers. (Notice that I don’t call them SEOs, because what they do has nothing to do with SEO.)

Which brings us back to my original question. The answer, of course, is false. No legitimate SEO technique will ever be considered search engine spam because real SEO enhances a site overall. If your pages get booted after a big algo change, revisit the techniques you used that you thought were good SEO practices. Were they really good? Did they enhance your site for all its audiences? Or were they done just because you assumed it was what you were supposed to do?

Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is a pioneer in SEO, beginning in the field in the early 1990s and founding High Rankings in 1995. If you enjoy Jill's articles at Search Engine Land, be sure to subscribe to her High Rankings Advisor Search Marketing Newsletter for SEO articles, SEM advice and discounts on industry events and products.

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  • http://www.smallbusinessonline.net rogerthedodger

    You make a lot of sense Jill. But how would you handle this situation? I have a site that is an informational site, and the business model is advertising driven, just like a magazine. Great site, lots of great content. A key SEO goal is to get as many visitors as possible, because that is the model. Sales and conversions do not apply here. Now, many slots in the top two pages of Google for the top key phrase are taken by spam artists, primarily through paid links (I have verified this), and, in one egregious case, through a recip links scam that creates the appearance, to search engines, of a bunch of one way links pointing to the cheating site. I do well in the long tail, but the top phrase is a real prize, and the cheaters are getting the rewards by cheating. I have reported the offenders to Google, but I don’t see much happening. By the time the engines fix this, the time for this site to succeed may well have passed, economically. I can’t keep putting hours in for ever, without appropriate recompense. So the spammers will have won, the consumer, and the quality site, will have lost.

    I am starting to believe that Google’s bluster about cracking down on paid links is just that — bluster. I see it being done everywhere in this niche I am talking about, with impunity. Sites I have reported, where the “paid link” factor is expressly noted on the webpage, are still doing great!

    It’s my personal feeling that the spammers are actually enjoying the upper hand right now in many niches, through a variety of techniques.

  • http://www.highrankings.com/ Jill

    Roger, you make some good points.

    Personally, I don’t consider paid links to be spam, they are advertisements. How the search engines treat them is up to them, of course.

    As to having a site such as yours that is only after traffic, I don’t know what to tell you there. I really don’t like working with those types of site myself, because I am not comfortable with the goal simply being traffic. It definitely puts you in a weird position.

    Good luck with it!

  • Kwyjibo

    “Unfortunately, our world seems to be made up of a large group of people that will take any system and exploit it for their own gain.”

    It’s a shame that some people just don’t understand the simple concept – We all do better, when we ALL do better.

    And it sucks to be the collateral damage of an algo tweak to bump spammers, which does happen on occasion.

  • http://www.seo4fun.com/blog/ Halfdeck

    “I don’t consider paid links to be spam, they are advertisements.”

    Spam is advertising. Spam pages generate traffic to products you’re selling, just like paid links generate traffic and to the link buyer and increase his site’s visibility in search engines.

    Paid links aren’t necessarily manipulative if the buyer pays for traffic and brand awareness, and don’t mind the nofollow. If the purpose of the link is also to nudge your position in Google SERPs, then the “paid link = advertising” argument is self-delusional, like Bill Clinton saying he didn’t have “sexual relations” with Monica Lewinski because he doesn’t consider blow jobs to be sex, they are like shaking hands or giving a foot massage.

    If you gotta cheat, either have the balls to admit it when you get caught, or do it so no one will ever know.

    What kind of bank robber wastes his time trying to convince the cops robbing banks don’t hurt anyone (money is FDIC insured)? Just rob the bank, get in your car, and drive away.

  • Avinash Kumar

    thanks mam…

  • http://www.triharyadi.web.id/ Tri Haryadi

    you’ve made a great conclusion halfdeck


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