Your Software and Your SEO Could Be Giving Google a Bad Impression

Has your search engine optimizer gone bananas and done a machine-like optimization of your website? Well, it could be the reason your rankings and traffic are suffering.

We’re all told that more is better, but Google doesn’t seem to like it. The overoptimization mindset may have so many negatives, it could be bringing your web marketing to a crawl. Good optimization is sophisticated, and respects Google’s anti spam filters. What Google considers spam might not be what is believed by many.

Meet Google’s Spam Warrior – Gary Illyes

Google’s Chief Spam Assassin, Gary Illyes, donning his black hat in jest. Pic courtesy of

Most SEOs know that Google doesn’t really care for search engine optimization. If you’ve heard Google’s chief Spam engineer, Gary Illyes speak, the disdain is loud and clear. Kind of reminds me of a KGB agent fielding questions from the tabloid media.

He superseded Matt Cutts who was the champion of the over-optimization penalty.

Google’s engineers believe SEOs game their ranking system using endless, ineffective, and obnoxious “relevancy cues.” You can’t blame them considering how people think about SEO and how they expect it should be done.

However, the whole point to Google’s new, modern indexing system is to look beyond obvious SEO factors such as keywords and tags. Instead they’re using semantics, engagement metrics, authority ratings, social cues, natural language and more to determine whether the content is worthy and legitimate.

Yo SEO Ain’t Workin No Mo

Does that mean your old obvious techniques don’t work? Yes. Google’s basically cancelling out the obvious and common SEO tactics and indexing in a completely different way. That’s what RankBrain orchestrates.

SEO Content Strategy Guide by Gord Collins

So please, take more care with your optimization and elevate it to the sophisticated level Google is using. My new book gives you insight into RankBrain and the subalgorithms and how to match a machine based spidering/processing system. By doing this, you could stay clear of over-optimization filters and actually improve your visitor’s content experience. Human visitors too, see the redundant language and cues and it may cause them to bounce.

Googlebot image courtesy of Google

It takes time and effort not to over-optimize. It means varying all of the cues you present to Google’s robot so that it believes your site is naturally built. In an era of WordPress-generated over-optimization, it’s even more important to de-optimize where you can.

The point is, that this is deliberate, thoughtful de-optimization, not just forgetting some stuff or being moderate.  Remember, you’re still doing OPTIMIZATION.

Google is Sophisticated in Detecting and Downranking SEO

Yes, your SEO is talented, but Google knows when you’re playing the Spam guitar.

Google uses artificial intelligence to help them learn how to find the highest quality, non spammy content that people actually like. And their AI system (RankBrain) can learn what is spam and where it will show up next (predictive analytics). And over-optimization is only one cue they look for in spam.

Continuing with a low level SEO process such as using keywords in every image alt text tag, h1 heading, and obvious exact match keyword phrases means Google’s filters are popping red flags galore and it won’t show up in your Google Webmaster console either.

I’ve over-optimized websites in the past and their performance suffered until I toned it down. Over-optimization happens when we’re trying too hard, to do too much with too little — when there is something wrong at a higher level.

Spamming means your value proposition, time and budget, outreach efforts, and content quality are not competitive.

Obsessing with technical SEO and micro-optimization can actually cause Google to downgrade the excellent content you have. If your site has huge domain authority, trustrank, and pagerank, well you may not have to worry as much. But on weak sites, these filters might be in full detection and punitive mode.

Big Picture Search Engine Optimization

Where the big wins in SEO are now is with improving visitor engagement, content paths, keyword semantics and topic themes where Google’s system is allowed to make its own judgements. When all is well at the macro-level, your sprinkling of optimization can work well.

Of course as content optimizers, we’re actually setting the path for Googlebot. Because Google’s not as smart as it thinks it is. If its robot-based ranking system was that smart, they wouldn’t need engagement metrics to know which content is good. An artificial intelligence system doesn’t compare to a human mind and it can never really know what a searcher wants. But over-optimizing might seem insulting to Googlebot!

How to Stop Over-Optimizing

When you realize how much traffic, leads and revenue you’re killing by over-optimizing, and how much staff time you’re wasting by doing things wrong, then you’ll stop. Over-optimization really is a thing. Google has announced it.

First thing we must do is understand we have a problem that’s killing rankings and wasting our time. Now we can take a big picture, macro-level, executive look at SEO and adopt a topic theme perspective of how we want Googlebot to experience our website.  Try these tactics:

  • use your content engagement strategy to guide your SEO strategy
  • focus on the top 6 on-site ranking factors and note how you’ll optimize them
  • vary how you optimize each page and internal linking
  • be more creative and imaginative and innovative
  • tone down the buzzwords, keyword stuffing, and redundant content
  • examine how WordPress plug-ins such as Yoast SEO are optimizing your content
  • vary the linking paths Googlebot takes through your content
  • don’t rely on navigation menu links (repetitive links)
  • use unique phrases and longer phrases
  • use semantically related keywords and create some semantically related content even though human visitors aren’t all that interested in it (in WordPress, you can backdate it and therefore make it less intrusive to customers)
  • link to content using branded keywords and domain names every once in a while
  • use longtail phrases more often
  • be more creative in your headings and title tags — make more impact
  • be careful using head phrases in your navigation menus
  • don’t use important keyword phrases in your footers (repeated on every page)
  • encourage those who link to your site with different messages so they don’t all use the same anchor text

These tips should help you turn down your over-optimization and get you back to big picture thinking. You’ll also become more time efficient in optimization tasks.

The key to avoiding over-optimization filters and penalties is to make your search engine optimization and your content more natural. It’s easier said than done however, so hiring an advanced level SEO consultant is a smart choice.

Further advanced strategies and techniques for SEO on

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