It is somewhat unclear what if anything Google will be doing differently when they implement their so-called “new” over-optimization penalty in April of 2012. I for one am of the opinion that they have been penalizing over-optimized web sites for some time, so this is nothing new. However, if they are announcing that they are changing the algorithm with the focus on penalizing sites that are over-optimized, odds are they will be doing something different. The question is what specifically will it be?
I believe that existing over-optimization penalties are already applied to sites that meet some algorithmic combination of attributes. My belief is that they will be continuing to penalize sites that meet some combination of the factors listed below, but that they will possibly adjust the algorithm with which they enforce it. It will be interesting to watch how different sites are affected once this comes into play:
Factors that may lead to over-optimization penalty likely include:
1. Too high a proportion of links from low quality sites – This is pretty simple. If you have a bunch of links, but they are all or almost all from poor, non-authority sites, this could be one factor in a trigger that could get your site penalized.
2. Too many links with unnatural text in the link compared to the overall link portfolio – Natural link text generally falls into three categories; url, site or company name. Unnatural link text would be links pointing to a site with specific high target keywords in the text. I believe Google determines what is a high target keyword based on some factors they pull from their CPC data.
3. Too high a percentage of links from an identifiable link network – These can range from the current trend of identifiable blog networks to subpar article directories.
4. Too high a percentage of outgoing links to sites that also have links coming back into the site. This is also known as reciprocal linking.
5. An unnaturally high proportion of links only going to certain pages of a site or even worse only to one page. In the real world, natural links get pointed to many pages of a popular site, not just one or a few.
6. Overdone on-page optimization – Too high of a proportion of specific highly targeted keywords in too many places within the html: In such a case, you might see the same high target word in the title tag, the meta description, numerous times in the body text, in link text, in alt text, etc… You get the point. In such a case it is obvious that someone is really trying to make a page rank for a certain keyword or phrase.
7. A complete lack of social activity to match the site popularity. While I believe this to be a newer determination, I am of the opinion that Google will be looking at social activity to determine if it matches up with apparent link popularity. If one is really high, but the other is not, there is reason to be suspicious.
One big concern many people have had with Google’s recent over optimization penalty announcement is that it could make it easy for competitors to go in and get a site penalized that is not their’s. I will be looking into this more in my next article, but for now my initial thought is that sites with a long history and very high quality existing links are at little risk, while new sites or sites without a lot of existing history could be at great risk. It will be interesting to see how Google handles this if it becomes an epidemic.
Chris Powell has been an expert in the search engine optimization industry since its inception in the mid 1990s. For information on SEO services, for SEO resources or for a free site evaluation you can visit his site at http://www.chrispowell.net