Over-optimization penalty is a term used in reference to a Google search engine algorithm change, as a result of which websites may be penalized for excessive SEO measures including being downgraded in the rankings or even being excluded from the organic search engine index. This poses a risk of traffic loss that is generated by search engines.
The Penguin update which was intended to penalize over-optimization was rolled out by Google on April 24, 2012.
Penalties through algorithm changes
In recent years, the search engine Google has repeatedly updated its website ranking algorithm to remove sites from its index which are of little relevance to users and/or low quality. Thus websites which contained spam or had content which was hidden from the user’s view were banned from the index in the past. Examples of such algorithm changes by Google were the Florida update and the Vince Update.
What is over-optimization?
In connection with the Penguin update, over-optimization refers to the excessive use of certain on- and/or off-page optimization measures. With the excessive use of certain SEO techniques, the search engine becomes aware of the website and imposes a penalty on it.
The following examples of SEO optimization measures could be a reason for a penalty:
For years, some webmasters have been using keyword density as a yardstick to measure page optimization for specific search terms (keywords). According to keyword density logic, the more keywords placed on a page, the better it would be placed in the search engine results for that keyword. For Google, however, hyperlinks played a greater role, so that keyword density gradually diminished in importance and now represents an irrelevant metric for search engine optimization. If you place too many keywords on your website nowadays, you can be expected to get excluded from the Google ranking because of over-optimization. Instead, Google relies on valuable content which is of particular relevance to the reader.
Link exchange has become one of the most popular link building tactics in recent years. This is simply an exchange of links after agreement by two or more webmasters. This technique has been increasingly used in search engine optimization and had some far-reaching consequences. Massive link networks were built to support artificial link building. An over-optimization in the area of link building through link exchange can be a reason for a penalty. Google warns about unnatural links from link networks and keyword anchor text and is increasingly focusing on brands, because brands always get new mentions and thus backlinks.
To avoid penalties through Google algorithm updates, it is recommended for any webmaster to focus on their users, and not to seek to just artificially manufacture the visibility of your website. Measures such as conversion optimization, content marketing or checking usability can improve the quality of webpages significantly. It is best to dispense with prohibited techniques and spam attempts. The SEO techniques which are allowed can be found in Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.