BrightHaus Digital Marketing Agency

Google’s Over SEO Penalty: What Good Sites Have & Don’t Have

March 22, 2012

At the South By Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas during an open panel entitled “Dear Google & Bing: Help Me Rank Better!” Google’s engineer Matt Cutts hinted at a new Over SEO penalty (at the 16:09 mark) that (if not already) will be implemented into their algorithm VERY soon. He called it “leveling the playing field“. The upcoming over-optimization penalty would theoretically change the playing field so that sites with great content and higher user value rank above sites with excessive SEO.

We all know that there are sites ranking for terms that shouldn’t be ranking at all, and Google knows this as well. As always, Google wants to make sure all the top ranking site on their search engine are not only legit, but deserves to be there. He mentioned various optimization factors good sites possess, as well as what “cheating” sites tend to do. They are trying to get rid of sites that put more effort into their SEO than into making their sites user friendly.

Here is a list of what over optimized websites have:

  • Over optimized title tags
  • Strictly keyword-rich internal links
  • Keywords listed on website
  • Ugly site design
  • Weak content
  • Low value proposition
  • Obvious that they are only ranking because of SEO
  • Too many keywords within a given area
  • Changed “Home” links’ anchor text to top keyword
  • Domain name is keyword

There could be more factors or the same ‘ole ones. Google will either ratchet up the amount of penalty or dampening that those spam signals merit algorithmically or they will have new over-optimization signals implemented as well.

Here is a list of what the top ranking sites will possess:

  • Great design
  • Answers to all types of queriers’ questions
  • Resourceful
  • Contextual/LSI content to support target keywords
  • Links from other sites ranking in top 100 of niche keyword terms
  • Encourages users to visit multiple pages
  • Low bounce rates
  • High average time on site

As you can see, website quality is better than too much SEO.

If you are a client, hopefully you take these considerations into account. Because, even if we continue to do the best SEO in the world, Google wont give you a chance if your websites isn’t meeting their quality guidelines. If you want to know more about Google’s Website Guidelines, you can check them out here.


  • Michael Dorf says:

    Makes a lot of sense! People tend to over-optimize theirs sites these days, sacrificing the quality of content in the process.

  • It is going to be really interesting to see if Google actually penalizes sites for over optimization, or if they just allow less optimized sites to rank higher. What is tough, is that in the past Google actually wanted you to do these type of things. Not in a spammy way of course but to a degree. This is a great post, we will be keeping an eye on the over optimization penalty. It is so important for the industry. Thanks!

  • JWAL says:

    Google talks about these changes fairly often, but as a web designer who focuses on quality design and quality content, I’ve yet to see Google reward those efforts. For one niche I write for, I’ve compiled 133 hand-written, unique, helpful posts and a site with 2 “spun” articles and regurgitated content outranks me. Cheap tactics prevail even after Google updates its SEO rules.


    • haha, sometimes I feel the same way, like all these changes are all talk. But when managing 100’s of clients, you can see some of these talks be true. I think the sites winning are just doing a good job keeping people on their website longer than the rest or finding ways t get people to talk about them (buzz)

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