Too Much SEO? Google’s Working On An “Over-Optimization” Penalty For That

Google’s Matt Cutts announced that Google is working on a search ranking penalty for sites that are “over-optimized” or “overly SEO’ed.”

Matt announced this during a panel Search Engine Land’s Editor-In-Chief, Danny Sullivan and Microsoft’s Senior Product Marketing Manager of Bing at SXSW named Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!. The audio for the session has been published where I learned that Google has been working on a new penalty that targets site’s that overly optimize for search engines for the past few months.

Matt Cutts said the new over optimization penalty will be introduced into the search results in the upcoming month or next few weeks. The purpose is to “level the playing field,” Cutts said. To give sites that have great content a better shot at ranking above sites that have content that is not as great but do a better job with SEO.

Here is the audio clip, you can find Matt saying this about 1/3rd the way in. (Note: We’ve expanded it from what we originally posted,

Here is the transcription (note: we’ve expanded this from what we originally posted, based on Rob Snell’s transcription of the entire session):

The way that I often think about SEO is that it’s like a coach. It’s someone who helps you figure out how to present yourself better. In an ideal world, though, you wouldn’t have to think about presenting yourself and whether search engines can crawl your website, because they’d just be so good that they can figure out how to call through the Flash, how to crawl through the forums, how to crawl through the JavaScript, how to crawl through whatever it is.

And, for the most part, most search engines have made a lot of progress on being able to crawl though that richer content.

Now, what’s interesting about your question is you went a little bit deeper and you said, “Well, what about all the people who are sort of optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO?” And, uh, normally we don’t sort of pre-announce changes, but there is something that we’ve been working on in the last few months. And hopefully, in the next couple months or so, in the coming weeks, we hope to release it.

And the idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.

And so that’s the sort of thing where we try to make the web site, uh Google Bot smarter, we try to make our relevance more adaptive so that people don’t do SEO, we handle that, and then we also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page, or whether they exchange way too many links, or whatever they are doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area. So that is something where we continue to pay attention and we continue to work on it, and it is an active area where we’ve got several engineers on my team working on that right now.

In 2009, Matt did a video on over optimization penalties saying there was no such thing. Here is that video:

This is the latest penalty related algorithm Google is working on since releasing the Pages With Too Many Ads “Above The Fold” Now Penalized By Google’s “Page Layout” Algorithm.

We reached out to Google about the new over optimization penalty but Google told us they have nothing to say at this present time. Maybe we’ll hear more when Cutts speaks during the “You&A With Matt” session at our upcoming SMX Advanced show in Seattle this June.

Postscript From Danny Sullivan: See my follow-up analysis on the news here, Is Google’s “Over Optimization Penalty” Its “Jump The Shark” Moment In Web Search?

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Kalen’s Internet Resources

    They might not be changing the rules that much. Link exchanges, keyword stuffing, etc. have all been penalized for quite some time. They might just be improving their ability to know the sites doing those things. Maybe they are changing the rules a bit, but that isn’t what it sounds like to me. People need to realize that 

  • Kalen’s Internet Resources

    Seriously. Also, people who talk about buying links to competitor sites to get them off of Google may end up facing legal challenges. I think a good attorney could even say this was a RICO violation.

  • devendra saxena

    LOL….you must be kidding.

  • Jeff Belonger

    I didn’t get a chance to read the comments… but here is my comment regarding this statement…

     ”whether they throw too many keywords on the page” – how many is “many”? The rule of thumb use to be like 3% key word density. What should one not over-do?

  • Jeff Belonger

    I didn’t get a chance to read the comments… but here is my comment regarding this statement…

    “whether they throw too many keywords on the page” – how many is “many”? The rule of thumb use to be like 3% key word density. What should one not over-do?

  • Quit Smoking

    i not used on page seo so much few years ago  (i mean bold/italic/underline, h3), mostly correct title/descr and keywords few times at unique article with facts. But added few sites to gwt and GWT show me for cancer site what my most popular keyword is breast and vulvar. My site have explanation of every type of cancer with facts, and this words used only in combination such as ‘breast cancer’, etc. It just show how their ‘no-seo’ keyword detection code works. You have idea which the bounce ratios for that ‘keywords’ for cancer site?  
    And that guys want to ‘penalize for over optimization’. Better them work on improving their keywords detection engine from article text.

  • Quit Smoking

    not true, it combination of onpage seo and offpage seo. just a quick idea – find most popular keyword on target page and link it with same anchor. even with click here. 

  • Quit Smoking

    any link building is black hat by google version. backlinks can create only end-users

  • Fede Einhorn


  • Manoj Pallai

    Yeah, That’s exactly just some days ago I had marked one of my clients website. I had build 3000 back links over a month and there was low content (I’m not a content writer :) ) Sudden dropped the keywords ranking. Now sure there was my over optimization.
    Thanks Matt for sharing a awesome article.  

  • Trung Nguyen

    I also thought like you, Google has changed the way to index the site, and we have to change the way to do SEO, LOL

  • 路 木子

    Website how is kind of over-optimization

  • Lotus Marketing

    The hammer ban is coming! 

    White hat SEO is the way to go.. slower progression, but no regression guaranteed!!

  • Godivs Inernational Branding

    Certain people who does seo do keyword stuffing. They repeat and write too many keywords in the title tag, meta description and meta keywords(which is still important). Let it be Google or Bing, it is a bad idea to tell someone repeatedly we do this thing or that thing. Isn’t It. Thats why over search engine optimization is harmful. 

  • Covetus Brown

    Anyone tell me how can promote for my web site, If all type of SEO techniques are consider as spamming. I want to ask Mr Cutts that how can i get traffic on my business site.


    Google has given my site a big penalty and my traffic has fallen over 50%

  • SeanySeanySeany

    Im not so sure I would want Matt Cutts looking at my backlink profile. The guy from Zoc Doc did and I am now curious if they have been penalised. Their PR is now zero though Seomoz DA is 77?

  • gbfhsghtr

    The Louis Vuitton Handbags are sold with higher price in china that other countries, because china has the very high inprot taxes of handbags,so many chinese always 
    want to buy a Cheap Louis Vuitton Handbags and they will go aboard and buy cheap items from Louis Vuitton Outlet Store ,buy the others who can’t go aborad will 
    find a Louis Vuitton Handags On Sale out.

  • pavda

    Wow, I optimized seo for my site, using h1/h2 tags, image file names,alt names, bold keywords, and trying to get keywords density above 5%.. and random other stuff etc.. . guess what happened, i dropped from page 5 to page 10.. How the f am i supposed to figure out how to build my site to rank high in google search.. People that know what the f their doing should rank higher than random fin websites.. I love how superpages/yellowbook, and random companies like them can always rank higher than local website that are actually related to the search, and just not some huge company with random pages ranking at the top.. Google needs to reign in their bs..

  • Webstats Art

    I agree with Deb. There is a wide move among professionals now to exist without google. Why pay google or waste time paying people to make sure that you are following their ever changing rules, when the same money can go into direct marketing and sales. The move is to let google do whatever they want but for people to pull out from them, stop giving content to them e.g. google plus, stop using adwords, stop using google services and use services that charge us but promise not to put competitor ads in the future. The internet is beginning to change and google is becoming more and more unpopular with the business and tech community. Of course they will keep on doing seo but their efforts and money will start to go elsewhere.

  • Steve Schadt

    I once met a writer in 2002 that said “If SEO was a dude I’d punch him in the face” I think this is why the over optimization penalty was created. Writing for SEO sucks because you’re always talking about “austin,TX prada shoes” or some other geo located stupidness that ruins the writing.

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