Google’s Search Quality Group, which specializes in search engine optimization (SEO), has already expressed its support for clean or “white hat” SEO strategies. That’s why the considerable surprise (and probably even panic) that swept the SEO industry is quite understandable when the group’s head, Matt Cutts, announced an impending “over-optimization” update and subsequent penalties.
While several Internet users from all over the world — SEO practitioners or not — are scrambling to get their acts cleaned up to get through this supposed policing, we will focus on understanding what Google most likely meant by “over-optimization,” and discuss measures to be safe from penalties from future updates of this kind.
Risky SEO Tricks
Matt Cutts has already provided hints on what he and the other Google engineers had in mind, including a number of risky SEO tricks that are up for some evaluation. The following are some of the issues he mentioned:
1. Exchange of Links
I link to you, you link to me. This has been one of the most prevalent link building strategies, and it is undeniable that it still works to this day. However, with some practitioners abusing this technique with automated link networks and reciprocal links, Google had to step up and do something about it. But people again found some ways out, such as using three-way link exchanges. So Google has to step in again.
There are a couple of things that Google could still look closer into, such as:
- unnatural links, or those that match too exactly with the anchor text, don’t appear naturally in the article, or look suspicious on the web;
- contrasting brands; and
- too many links added within a short period of time.
2. Keyword Stuffing
Even casual browsers or someone doing Internet research are probably annoyed with them — those articles stuffed with keywords in almost every sentence just for the sake of getting a good rank in search engines. While an effective use of keyword density used to be one of the most efficient SEO strategies, it has to be noted that these days it is outdated and ineffective.
Site optimization is no longer measured by the number of times a keyword is mentioned in a web page. Google happened, and the scene underwent a dramatic change. The importance of links surfaced, and keyword count in a page was totally disregarded.
Google has been penalizing keyword-abusive pages for a couple of years now, and it probably plans to up its efforts by checking out page titles, where some SEOs insert their keywords or keyphrases to the detriment of actually telling you what the page is about.
Staying on the Clean and Safer Side
There are most probably some other things that Matt Cutts and his team intend to look into, and the question is how to free yourself of the worries of being penalized by using legitimate and effective SEO tactics.
The key is to think of people — the searchers — and not search engines. Day by day, Google gets smarter and smarter, becoming closer to how search engine users look for info and want their search results to be. Google’s goal is to be able to give searchers the most appropriate results, and how Google or search engines do it is where you have to start. Think about — How do people search? What do they want to find? How do search engines try to give them what they’re looking for? These are the three things you should begin anchoring your strategies on, not on search spiders.
So, how do we stay optimized while keeping safe from recurring optimization updates? Here are some ways:
- Take user intent into account — It pays to think of the users while doing SEO. Usually, search engine users go online for three common reasons: information, transaction, or navigation. Make sure to create content that provides for these three reasons: make your content educational, helpful, and easy to understand. Give them a glossary to show them the information that you have, add an FAQ page that they can go to for fast inquiries, and provide appropriate links to the service or product that they need.
- Focus on great content on a great site — Yes, how Google ranks pages still remains an SEO mystery, but there’s never any harm in producing well-written content with substantial information and correct grammar posted on a trusted and reputable site.
- Combine SEO with other methods such as user experience design and conversion optimization (CRO) — Make your site primarily user-friendly and not just search-engine-friendly. Give users what they want or expect to find, provide them with easy-to-read content, and add calls to action to facilitate conversion. Use various tests (e.g., user testing, A/B testing) and landing page optimization to ensure user-friendliness.
- Create social-media-friendly content — As part of prioritizing the users instead of search engines, write or create web content that can be shared, spread, and found in social media networks. Don’t limit yourself to keywords and title tags. Use headlines and content that invite even those who aren’t really searching for anything in particular, or those who are looking for something without a specific keyword in mind.
Again and again and again – focus on people, not on search engines. Optimize your site like there’s no Google to think about. Focus on what users need and what they’re looking for. Give them that — clean and simple — and no matter how many optimization updates Google or any other search engine does, you’re safe and free to keep on going.