How to write for Google’s over-optimization penalty
Greetings and welcome back! Today, Heather addresses a collective, anxious concern about writing SEO copy given Google’s latest Panda slap, the “over-optimization” penalty: Help! Is my Web content over-optimized?
While it is true that Google has made a lot of changes and is cracking down on content, the upshot is: don’t freak out! It will be okay, if you follow the three basic guidelines laid out for you in today’s SEO copywriting video post.
It’s unfortunate that this latest Panda update has DIY Web writers afraid of the “Big G,” and wary of optimizing their Web content. Either you’re worried about what you may be doing wrong now, or that Google will tweak yet something else and what’s okay today may not be tomorrow, then your current ranking will plummet, etc., ad nauseum. So you freeze and do nothing, which is not helping your conversions.
In an effort to calm your fears and help you relax, Heather brings some perspective to Google’s over-optimization penalty. Tune in as she discusses the three “over-optimization” questions to ask yourself if you’re concerned that you may have crossed the line…
Over-Optimization Question #1: Have I used “too many” keyphrases?
There are three things to look at when considering this question:
- How does the copy sound when you read it out loud?
- Did you try to match a (mythical) keyphrase density?
- Did you write 1,000 words of content “for Google”?
First, how does the copy sound when you read it out loud?
As Heather has discussed in previous posts, one of the easiest ways to figure out if you’ve used too many keyphrases in your Web content it to simply print off the page and read it aloud.
If you hear yourself tripping over a keyphrase every third word or so, then yeah – you’ve probably pushed that optimization envelope a little bit too far. Time to scale back your keyphrase use until it sounds easy and natural to the ear.
Second, did you try to match a (mythical) keyphrase density?
Again, as Heather has pointed out before (as well as Google’s spam-master, Matt Cutts) there is no such thing as “the (perfect or magical) keyphrase density for Google.” Period.
If you’ve been trying for such a mythical goal, then you most likely have pushed the optimization envelope too far with overuse of keyphrases in your Web content. Repeat the exercise, above.
Third, did you write 1,000 words of content “for Google”?
If you have a super-long Web page where you wrote on for 1,000 words – and you really didn’t need that many – be honest with yourself: did you extend your copy beyond its usefulness thinking that’s what Google wants in terms of word count or page length? Think again.
The simple solution? Dial it back.
Slicing the word count and tightening your message will not only serve your conversions better, but it will also save you from the Google Panda slap. Get in there and try to figure out if the copy you wrote is targeted to your readers: is it what they would want to know? Or have you added some keyphrase-laden fluff that detracts from the user experience?
Over-Optimization Question #2: Is my bolding and linking out of control?
This occurs a lot on small business sites, where the DIY site owner thinks: “Okay, so if I bold all of my keyphrases and link to everything I can possibly think of, that will help me with Google.”
And it really doesn’t.
Here are three things to keep in mind when using bold font and links:
- Hyperlinking to related pages = good.
- Bolding headlines/subheadlines = good.
- Linking or bolding every third word = bad.
If your linking or bolding is really overdone – and your reader is confronted with links all over the place and all this copy bolded that really doesn’t need to be – it’s not helping her or your Google ranking.
- Ask yourself: What makes sense to your reader?
Forget about Google for a minute…strictly from the reader perspective, is copy riddled with bold font and links inserted in every other sentence really going to help her convert?
No. Just like the previous example of having too many keyphrases stuffed in your Web content, you want to focus on what makes for a good reader experience.
- If you keep your reader’s needs in mind, then the way you bold copy in your text and the way you hyperlink to other pages will be much more natural.
Over-Optimization Question #3: Are my Titles written for readers? Or Google?
As we know, page Titles are those clickable links on the search engine results page. It follows that your page Title should be written like a compelling headline.
- Remember that the search engine results page is your first opportunity for conversion.
- Shoving every keyphrase you can think of in the Title tag won’t help you.
A solid, optimized page Title should have keyphrases, of course. But it should not read like a string of keyphrases separated by commas.
Outside of the fact that a page Title of “keyphrase, keyphrase, keyphrase” (or “keyphrase|keyphrase|keyphrase”) is pretty spammy, it is not going to help you with that first, crucial conversion. If someone encounters that listing on the search engine results page, chances are they’re going to click on another Title.
As with the previous two questions to consider when judging if you’ve over-optimized your Web content, if you focus your efforts on the reader – in this instance by asking yourself “what will make the reader click on my listing over the nine others?” – then you will be on the right track with both your readers and Google.
Thanks for joining us for this week’s SEO copywriting video how-to! Do you have an SEO copywriting question or topic suggestion for Heather? Love it! Send it on over to her [at] firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her [at] @heatherlloyd. See you next Monday!
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photo thanks to me’nthedogs (Mark Robinson)
Great points. Google wants to provide the best possible results/experience to its users. So, focus on the people- actual target audience members instead of focusing so much on the search engines. If people like it, Google will too.
Absolutely, Nick! There is no reason to fear any Panda-slap from the big G if you are focused on your readers. Thanks for your comment!
A very well-written piece, thank you. I always tell my clients never to just write for Google and that customers always come first. More power to the Panda!
Thanks, Peter! Here’s to Panda-power! :)
I feel that if you write for search engines rather than human beings, you’ve already gone way off the track.
I’ve used the tactic of reading my work out loud, and have caught some instances of artificial, forced-sounding keywords.
I have to disagree with number 3. I got hit. However, all my articles which have 1000 words and more are ranking quite well.
Thanks for your comment!
The main thing is, “Did you write 1,000 words just for SEO purposes.” I’ll often write super-long blog posts – and that’s OK. What pushes the envelope is if the article is fluffy or spammy…and you’re trying to meet a mythical word count. :)