Google and over optimization penalty

Google Sign in Colors

via Robert Scoble

Although I optimize web sites for a living (among other things), I for one am extremely happy to hear that Google is going to start penalizing for “over optimizing” web pages. What’s this mean in layman’s terms? If you have been writing your content in order to rank well in search, and pretty much thats the only thing you’re writing it for, then you can expect to incur a penalty to your search rankings

To this, I say hell to the yeah.

Upon hearing of this change, I was immediately brought back to one of my numerous visits to Google’s campus when I was a “hot shit” Google AdWords customer. They used to like to fly me and my coworkers out once a quarter to take in the cafeteria, as well as get some face time with Google engineers. It was on one of these occasions where I pressed a member of the Google Bot team for any information he could give me to get a leg up on natural search.

“So, what do I need to do to get a top ranking for “career college?”

He sighed. “Just make a great web site. Write great content, provide a great user experience. It is our job to find the great sites out there, the ones that are the most relevant.”

No really. That’s pretty much all he’d give me. I left a little angry. We spent millions a month on paid search. Surely, there is more to it than just making a great web site with well-written, relevant content.

Turns out that there was much more to ranking well in Google search. It involved begging for (or buying) links from other sites, churning out thousands of pages of content with very specific keyword density, modifying urls and much more. In the end, it meant writing content for Google and not so much for people.

Of course, great search engine marketers found a balance of the two – writing for people and writing for Google. But it became a real bummer to do that because it was infinitely more difficult.

Trash in the pacific ocean

Overly optimized pages are like trash in the ocean

And the web suffered.

Great web sites that had really killer content are hard to find these days. They are literally drowning in a sea of garbage much, much larger than the size of Texas. Search engine optimized pages that have gone well beyond fundamental SEO principles, or “overly optimized” pages, now are the norm.

Google has recognized this and preparing an over optimization penalty, one that will be greeted with enthusiastically open arms from people like myself who try to go about internet marketing and search the right way.

Here are two really interesting quotes from Google’s Matt Cuts on the topic of “over optimization”

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.


Obviously this should send chills through the spine of some professional search engine optimizers in so much as that Google really wants people to focus much less on the process of selling their content to search engines, and instead, redirect that energy to selling great content. I do think that SEO should be used as a best practice for creating that aforementioned great content, but unfortunately it often times is not. I say some because honestly, I think we all would rather work with great content and not be forced to try to stay ahead of Google’s ever changing algorithms. Really, it isn’t very fun.

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.


My hope is that Google goes all the way with this. Yeah, it will affect me and a whole lot of others but it will be great for the health of the web. We might start to see more long form, researched and relevant content. Maybe we’ll see people stick around on web sites longer, and we’ll see a new focus on user experience. Maybe old SEO’s will become new content strategists?

Leveling the playing field feels like a way to soften the blow though and I don’t like that language. The playing field should be tipped to the side of content producers. I really think that Google needs to take dramatic action to clean up a mess that they are partly to blame for creating.

The writing is on the wall – the Facebook wall. Google definitely is being challenged by other sites, specifically Facebook and Twitter, as the primary destination for finding things online. Forcing us to up our game and create worthwhile web sites will go a long way in helping Google in the upcoming war.