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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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 this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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