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On-Page Optimization Pitfalls And Myths

Over Optimization

On-page over optimization is the application of too much SEO efforts on a page or site, resulting in a significant drop in rankings. This typically happens at a page level and can be reversed by de-optimizing the page to an acceptable level.

A good way to think about this is that when Google analyzes a page for over optimization, Google goes through a checklist of things that make a page look “SEO’d”; an over optimization penalty is applied when the number of items found on a page pass a certain threshold.

Examples of things that constitute, or count towards, over optimization are:

  • Simply listing keywords in the page title (separated by commas, pipes, or dashes)
  • Over using keyword phrases
  • Long URLs with extensive keyword use

When these items are corrected, and Google re-crawls the page, Google will remove the over optimization penalty.

Note: An over optimization penalty usually accompanies on-page over optimization in conjunction with a black hat or low quality back link profile (such as obvious paid links, sidebar links, overly targeted anchor text, etc). Removing these off-site elements can sometimes have an impact on lifting an over optimization penalty.

Myth: Duplicate Content Penalty

It is best practice to avoid duplicate content both on your site and on external sites. Duplicate content on one site has the potential to dilute link equity, needlessly exhaust a site’s crawl budget, and create confusion with search engines and users. Additionally, using the same content on multiple pages is often a missed opportunity to target additional terms and add value to customers.

However, content that is duplicated between your site and another site will not, contrary to a common myth, cause a “duplicate content penalty,” but Google will often filter out sites with the same content. Consider, for example, an e-commerce site where product descriptions are provided by the manufacturer to retailers. If both your small site and Amazon use the same product description text, Amazon is probably going to be the one selected by Google (as it is a stronger domain), and your duplicate content will be filtered out.

Myth: You Can Use Syndicated Content

To take the manufacturer example from above one step further, many e-commerce site owners will use content given to them by the manufacturer, or take the manufacturers’ product description from their website rather than writing their own content. All this does is create duplicate content (think of how many other sellers are using this content – why should Google rank you higher than everyone else with the same content?).

To be effective, you need to have unique content for your product descriptions; this means everything from the description to product specifications should be re-written to be unique for your site. If you are not doing this, you are forcing yourself to compete with all the other retailers using the exact same content. Instead fight for the same terms, but use unique content to give yourself a leg up.

These same principals apply to blog content – There are many sites that simply repost other sites’ blog content.

This shouldn’t be used as your content strategy, as Google will identify the content as belonging to someone else, and rank them higher for it.

If a site that aggregates blogs approaches you asking for permission to repost your content, you should say no. While in most cases they will be filtered out, in some situations (often when the site has a very high domain authority) Google will rank the aggregate site higher than yours.

The Optimized Content Trap

“Optimizing” content used to be very effective in getting content ranked. The means to do this typically consisted of excessively repeating keywords, bolding keywords, using keyword variations. The end result of this was content that was not easy for a user to read, but ranked well. This largely helped to perpetuate the keyword density myth that persists today.

Today, much of this content would fall under the over optimization classification, and therefore be prevented from ranking. Further, if this content does rank, users will be driven away from your site. Instead of writing your content around keyword phrases, write your content for users. Then go back and ensure that your primary keyword phrase is used (once or twice for shorter content – less than 500 words – or three to four times for longer content). It is critical to make sure that the content reads well and doesn’t feel forced.

Keyword Stuffed Title Tags

Putting a lot of keywords into the page title used to be effective, but now it is largely indicative of over optimization or spam. As such this practice should be avoided. The following is an example of a keyword stuffed page title:

“Car Parts, Cheap Car Parts, Best Car Parts, Buy Car Parts | Shady Car Parts”

Instead title tags should target the primary keyword phrase and should look interesting to a user. The above title tag could be written as:

“Buy The Best Car Parts at Cheap Prices | Randy’s Auto Parts”

Myth: You Can Show Google and Users Different Content

Some site owners want to show Google different content than they show users (cloaking). When this is done, the content shown to Google is usually over-optimized content, while the content shown to users is much lighter and provides a better experience. This violates Google’s Terms of Use and will get you banned from Google if you are caught.

Another older version of this tactic is to hide text. This was frequently done a couple different ways. The first tactic was to simply put a large block of text at the bottom of the page where no user would find it. This isn’t very valuable as Google has gotten good at understanding what a page looks like. As such, Google recognizes that an out of place paragraph at the bottom of the page is really just there for SEO purposes and largely discounts the value of this content, while giving added weight to content that is above the fold.

Another way text was hidden was to make the “SEO copy” the same color as the background (such as white text on a white background). Google is pretty good at spotting this and will penalize you for this.


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