[HOW TO] Survive Google’s Over Optimisation Penalty

Matt Cutts recently announced an  “over-optimisation penalty” coming in the next few weeks. This is the latest chapter in a year long crusade by Google to fight spam, codenamed Panda.

Matt’s exact words:

“We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit.

All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site.

We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect.

We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.”

What is Over Optimisation?

To get a better idea of what Matt meant by”over optimsation”, watch this somewhat contradictory video from 2009:

Over optimization in this context can fall under 2 distinct categories:

  • Page-level: Keyword stuffing, cloaking, exact match internal/external links pointing to the page
  • Domain level: Doorway pages/domain re-directs and exact match anchor text from low quality sites

How to safeguard against an over optimisation penalty?

  1. Check your webmaster tools console to see if you received a warning from Google.
  2. Don’t panic if you have, but even if you haven’t…
  3. Check the “Intelligence Events” section of your Google analytics to spot any abnormal activity such as drops in traffic to certain sections of your site.
  4. Check your rankings reports (if applicable) to determine specific pages that have dropped in rankings.
  5. Don’t panic
  6. If you’re identified the affected pages, check to see who’s now ranking for your keywords. Use this tool to check for keyword density and ensure you’re within the limits.
  7. Use SEOMoz’ Open site explorer to check the backlinks to both domain and page.  If you find any links that appear unnatural, contact the website owner and ask that they be removed.
  8. Remove any site-wide exact anchor text links you may have in your footer.
  9. Go back to Google Webmaster tools and submit a reconsideration request. Beg and Grovel!
  10. Focus on writing good quality content that your visitors will want to share and that other sites will want to freely link to.

Have you been affected by the “over optimization penalty”? Share your experience below…

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Omar Kattan is Chief Strategy Officer at Sandstorm Digital, the MENA region's first specialist content marketing agency headquartered in Dubai. His experience includes 10 years in traditional marketing and advertising in the Middle East and a further 10 years at two of the largest media agencies in the UK. Follow Omar on Twitter for updates on the latest in digital, branding, advertising and marketing.

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