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How to Avoid Over-Optimizing Your Website

Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. This is true in life, and in SEO. SEO is awesome, but too much SEO can cause over-optimization.

Search engine over-optimization is the practice of creating too many SEO improvements, to the point that the improvements begin to ruin the website’s ability to rank. You’re doing all the typical SEO good stuff, but then you jack it up too far. Things go downhill.

First, here’s everything you need to know about the history of over-optimization.

1. Over-optimization used to work.

Back in the Wild West days of SEO, over-optimization was the way that sites gained rank. Stuffing a site with tons of keywords, or sending thousands of spammy links to a site was the quick-and-easy way to boost a site in the SERPs.

2. Over-optimization doesn’t work anymore.

It definitely doesn’t work that way anymore. Today’s SEO’s know that keyword stuffing and linkspamming is SEO suicide. In April of 2012, Google leveled the over-optimization penalty, which completely deindexed sites that were still playing the linkstuffing and linkspamming game. A bunch of SEO techniques went black hat, and SEOs became wiser about the ways of Google.

3. Over-optimization isn’t what it used to be.

Today, many SEOs glibly assure themselves, “I’m not over-optimizing!”

Why do they say this?

Because they’re not keyword stuffing.

But today, over-optimization is more than just keyword stuffing. SEO is in a constant state of evolution. Google the search engine gets smarter, searches get smarter, SEOs get smarter, and then Google’s webspam team gets smart, too — and the playing field gets disrupted yet again.

Enough SEOs know and heed the over-optimization perils of 2012. But that was years ago. Today, we need a new guide to over-optimization that will keep us from doing too much of a good thing — and bringing our SEO to a tragic end.

7 Signs That You Might Be Over-Optimizing Your Site

1. Keyword-rich anchors for internal links.

Internal linking is good. Internal linking by using keyword-rich anchor text is bad.

If I had to pick the single biggest oversight in over-optimization, this would be it. Here’s an example:

Check out our awesome new blue widget page for more information:

(Links to: example.com/awesome-new-blue-widget.htm)

Here is another example:

We sell top-rated cheap blue widgets.

(Links to: example.com/awesome-new-blue-widget.htm)

Anchors that use the exact URL of the destination or anchors that use keywords are bad.

I know what you’re thinking: “But those kinds of links are good!” Remember, though, we’re talking about over-optimization. Sure, the occasional anchor that matches the URL exactly could contribute to positive SEO. But if you start doing this too much, you’re setting yourself up for penalization.

Using keyword-rich anchors too much begins to ruin your link profile. Your link profile is the most important component of your SEO. Don’t ruin it.

The healthy alternative to using keyword-rich or overoptimized anchors is to spread your anchor text across a sentence fragment like I did in the above link. See how the anchor covers ten words? By creating a long anchor, I have diluted the keywords within the anchor (“link profile…SEO”) and created a softer and risk-free link to Quicksprout.com.

The one notable exception to keyword-dense anchor is using anchors that are the same as the root domain URL.

Here are some examples:

Visit my site Quicksprout, for SEO advice.
Schedule your consultation at Neilpatel.com.

In both of those examples, the anchor is the same as the URL. That’s fine.

2. Non-relevant keywords.

Don’t try to gain traffic for keywords that are not relevant to your site.

In the old days of SEO, some webmaster would place adult-themed keywords in their content in order to gain some of the search traffic for those queries.

Obviously, anyone with a penchant for adult-themed content is probably not going to convert on a page that is not adult-themed. Don’t expect the conversion rate to go up.

This is an example of over-optimizing off-niche with non-relevant keywords. If you have a conversion optimization website, then don’t write articles on the healthiest ingredients to feed your pet parakeet.

As Google indexes your site, it will take into consideration all the keywords that you use across the entire domain, then rank your site for relevant queries. Too much content or keywords that are unrelated will detract from the overall strength of the site in the SERPs.

I recommend having a laser-like focus on your niche, and your niche only. Yes, you can find plenty of topics to write about in your niche. Just stay within your niche.

3. Pointing all internal or external links to top-level navigation pages.

A healthy link profile has links pointing to deep internal pages as well as the home page. Most of the time, however, the majority of a site’s links point to the homepage or to top-level navigational pages.

For these sites, the ratio of home page links to internal links is pretty high. Here’s a typical example, which isn’t too bad:

ratio of home page links to internal links

Notice how the majority of the links (dark orange) point to homepage. It’s normal to have most links point to the start page, but it tends to weaken the link profile. The strongest link profile has links pointing to deep internal pages. A healthy ratio is 1:1, or 50% of the links pointing to deep internal links.

A strong content marketing campaign will draw deep internal links. People love your content, and they want to link to it. So, they create a link to your article (not to your homepage). Voila! You just gained another deep internal link.

The over-optimization problem occurs when webmasters themselves create a ton of links to their homepage or to main navigation pages like “Contact Us,” “About Us,” or “Our Services.” You want to create internal links, but you don’t need to point the links to these pages. Those pages get plenty of links as it is. Rather, strengthen your link profile by pointing to deep internal links.

4. Using multiple H1s on a page.

An H1 header is for a page’s main heading. Unfortunately, some webmasters think that awesome SEO means using a bunch of H1 text. This is simply not true. Using more than one H1 tag on a page is over-optimization.

Remember this rule of thumb: Just 1 H1.

It’s fine to use several H2s, 3s, and 4s, but there should only be one H1.

5. Linking to toxic sites.

The sites that you link to are almost as important as the sites that link to you.

Many webmasters are ignorant of the peril of linking to toxic, low-DA, or spammy sites. Link juice flows both ways.

If your site links to a toxic spam site, then your site may receive negative SEO repercussions.

If you’re trying to win reciprocal linkbacks by linking to other sites, be careful. The more outbound links you have to low-DA sites, the greater likelihood you have of placing your own site in this low-DA neighborhood.

Sites that languish in a sub-20 DA range are usually in that range for a reason. Maybe they have over-optimization issues, or an algo penalty, or some other barrier to growth. Don’t waste your time sending your outbound links to such sites. Instead, focus on associating with or linking to healthy sites in your niche — sites that have strong DAs and a strong reputation.

6. Keyword-stuffed footer.

Ah, the footer! How many over-optimization sins have been committed in website footers.

Over-optimizing your website footer is a great way to shoot your SEO in the foot. The only type of footer optimization that you should do is not to do it.

Evidence shows that Google devalues footer links. Besides, due to their position at the bottom of a page’s content, they receive minimal crawler recognition. Their CTR is a bunch of zeros followed by some abysmally low number, and they simply don’t add any SEO value to a page. If you insist on adding a bunch of keywords to your footer, you are risking over-optimization.

The most common footer optimization mistake is with local SEO. Now, let me point out before proceeding that you can have your NAP (name, address, and phone) in your footer. That’s no problem. Here’s the problem: Adding geospecific keywords and links in the footer.

If a company serves multiple cities, for example, they may be tempted to list all these dozens of locations in the footer. If there is decent organization, then this may not be a bad thing. However, simply placing raw lists of keyword-rich links in an anchor is plain over-optimization. And it’s risky.

When you design your footer, do so with the user in mind. Your footer isn’t a sitemap. It’s not a place for graphics. It’s not garbage can for dumping all the elements of a site that don’t fit anywhere else. It’s not a place for putting keywords.

It’s supposed to be a nice closure to a page — a simple, navigable spot at the end of a webpage that signals the end.

7. Non-branded, keyword-dense URLs.

In the pursuit of a powerful URL, some webmasters went crazy with their URLs. They chose hyper-optimized URLs instead of a healthy and balanced brand name.

Picking the URL “supercheapcellphones.com” may sound smart, but it’s placing you on high alert for an over-optimization. If your company name is Super Cheap Cell Phones, then it could make sense to have that URL. The point is, you should not create a URL simply for its keyword value.

Your brand name is too important to be compromised by making it a keyword. Besides, if you want to rank for branded traffic, you need to have something different in your brand name — not just keywords. Sorry, but the site cheapcellphones.com only ranks on the third page of Google, which isn’t all that great. That hyper-optimized URL isn’t helping them. It’s hurting them.

My website, Quicksprout.com doesn’t have any keywords in the root URL: No “SEO,” “content,” “traffic,” “search,” no nothing. But I consistently rank on the first page of Google for all my targeted queries and keywords. Why? Because I know that at the end of the day, it’s content that wins, not keywordy URLs.

Your brand name should be your URL. That’s it.

Conclusion: Are you focusing on technical SEO more than content marketing?

There’s an underlying problem with over-optimization. It’s this. Over-optimization happens when we focus too much on technical SEO. It’s technical SEO navel-gazing. And it’s not healthy.

SEO is fine and good. But if you focus too much on the nitty-gritty technical details of SEO, you lose sight of the bigger picture. There’s only so much jiggering and finessing you can do with your technical SEO. Once the nuts and bolts are in place, get out there and start making awesome content.

You’ll really see your SEO take off when you launch into the world of content marketing. Creating a site with perfect technical SEO is to create a site that doesn’t suck.

You don’t want to not suck. You want to rock.

And you can. Content marketing takes you there.

About the Author: is the Chief Evangelist of KISSmetrics and blogs at Quick Sprout.

  1. Anne Thornewell Aug 12, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I’m a novice when it comes to SEO, so it was no surprise that the penguin update hit my site badly. I tend to over stuff keywords and have probably been guilty of duplicate pages on more than one occasion.

    Now I’m learning more about what Google are looking for, I’m altering my sites and am seeing a nice climb back up the traffic ladder.

  2. Anne, be sure to read our SEO category: https://blog.kissmetrics.com/topics/seo/ – Neil and other SEO experts have plenty of information for you to hone your skills!

  3. Gaurav Sahota Aug 12, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Hi, Your information is awesome but can you put some more light on Non-relevant keywords?? Like what if i am optimizing my home page for more than 5 keywords & should I avoid optimizing other queries for which google is listing me in on result pages?.

    • Gaurav, that is definitely a strategy that has worked for sites in the past. The key is to not over-do it with keywords. Focus on a couple and go from there.

  4. Good post, Its good to see SEO evolving every passing day and hope it keeps improving. Please do share some light on internal link and anchor text! Is keeping a keyword as anchor text with grammatical prefix or suffix is good?

  5. Good post Neil. It’s amazing to still hear about people focusing on very specific onsite and technical optimizations to the point of over doing it. I honestly don’t think we can have enough of these types of post the explain things in a very succinct and straightforward manner.

    I still constantly come across SEO’s who will argue that these things still need to be heavily optimized. I think if someone really pays attention to what you have done with content marketing, they may start to see the light. Keeping in mind that basic onsite optimization is still recommended by Google and they even have several videos and posts on exactly what to focus on. Google’s algorithms are very smart and trying to trick them is very much a thing of the past, like you mention.

    One great point here, SEO’s think they are not over-optimizing because they don’t keyword stuff. I have heard this over and over. At the end of the day, focus on great content and your content will be shared over and over again. Thanks for sharing these SEO to do’s that are imperative for every marketer to be implementing (and not over optimizing) today.

    • Jeremy, couldn’t have said it better myself.
      It’s all about the promotion of quality content. Everything else really comes secondary. Looking forward to hearing more from you :)

  6. Darragh McCurragh Aug 14, 2014 at 6:52 am

    “Anchors that use the exact URL of the destination or anchors that use keywords are bad.” Yes, that may seem so. But sometimes we have the problem of “for want of a better word”. If a company has just discovered (and maybe patented) a new process that goes by a certain (scientific, not brand) name, then Google I’m sure must grant some leeway or else it drives people to use false synonyms which later cripples Google’s attempts to learn semantically from how certain URLs are named in links to them. “It’s normal to have most links point to the start page” I am not sure if this is really normal or comes from the fact that in commenting for example you are well advised not to use deep links in the “URL” field (or keywords in the name field). But if you are commenting a lot then I assume Google once again has an algorithm where it filters for the origin of top-level links and would not penalize the percentage that came from bona-fide comments from well-respected sites. These should actually be a quality signal. “Remember this rule of thumb: Just 1 H1″ “If your site links to a toxic spam site”. Only too true. However, I always advise clients to look at the HTML page source of their published content. Depending on the CMS they use, the title may already be a H1, so the rule then must be modified to say “NEVER use a H1, begin with H2″. WordPress uses a H1 as a rule (maybe it is theme-specific, but all the published WP HTML code that I checked the source code for in my browsers had a H1 tag for the post’s title).

    • Darragh, thanks for the great insights. Sounds like a good strategy. Looking forward to hearing more tips like this from you.

  7. Hi Neil, Its really great article about over optimizing and it gives me clear way what i want to do for my business and what i won’t. thanks for this useful article.

  8. Konstantin Kovshenin Aug 16, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Using multiple H1s on a page.

    This is irrelevant with HTML5 markup, where every section item and every article item (and others) are recommended to have an h1 title.

  9. question about H1 tags, I just ran into this the other day doing webmaster tool diagnostics on a new webby, and I am still pretty green to website building. The diagnostic is coming back telling me I have 3 h1 tags running. 1. the site title which I have blank in an attempt to not have anything in there, as I have run into that before with duplicate h1. the next one seems to be in my nav menu. and then of course the default post/page title that I had intended to be my only h1.

    so, is there a problem with theme placed mulitiple h1s like this? is leaving the site title blank enough to not have that one “count”? and should I be concerned with the one coming from my nav menu enough to figure out how to edit the code and change it from theme default? I tried to look into it a bit, and saw some theme devs saying such and such format is ok to have multiple h1’s? still a bit confused on this one, where some Themes seem to come with multiple h1s off the bat and then everything I read says only 1 h1.

    great article, had me double checking a couple things on my new site.

  10. Very good article, I was particularly interested in the section on internal vs deep links. I have never thought of it like that, but it makes perfect sense. I will work on spicing things up in future.

  11. Yes, I agree that SEO is changing day bvy day and this time brand promotion is the best activity to increase your ranking as well as building strong reputation.

  12. Roger Bensont Oct 10, 2014 at 5:14 am

    Great article Neil! I been finding your articles on google as I research all things SEO. I can see why goolge ranks you so high.

    I had a question about internal links – lets say I have a new car search website. And I want to create a page specific to each state where I have car dealers in my network. On each state page, I want to create internal links to each city that has dealers in it? Can the anchor text for each city (internal) link be something like
    a) car dealers Los Angeles, CA
    b) car dealers San Francisco, CA
    c) car dealers San Jose, CA

    Needless to say, “car dealers” is be a prime keyword for this website. I have seen websites where there are 100s of these links on a page – one for each city. They are all legit internal links but the question is would this be considered over-optimization of internal-link?

    One option would be to have the anchor text simply state the name of the city and put the keyword in title – but that doesn’t help SEO much right?
    a) Los Angeles, CA
    b) San Francisco, CA
    c) San Jose, CA

    What is the best approach in this case?

    Thanks
    Roger

  13. Interesting post, I’m unsure if a keyword rich URL actually hurts you? Do you have any evidence to back this up?

    From my own experience a direct match URL doesn’t hurt your site and assuming all else is equal (content, age, backlinks ect) it actually helps rankings dramatically.

  14. Renjith Kumar Feb 19, 2015 at 1:27 am

    Quick query – My website (honeymoontourskerala dot com) has disappeared from the searches for a particular keyword day before yesterday. One of the primary keyword “Kerala Honeymoon Packages” search, site is not appearing in google. For all other keywords we are in 1st, 2nd & 3rd page. What could be the reason for this? Webmaster says we are in 41st position for above keyword, but why it’s not finding in google. If the whole site disappears, there should be some serious problem, I believe. What could be the reason of disappearing for just 1 keyword. How can it be resolved immediately?

  15. Thank you Neil for this excellent article. You pretty much nailed it for me – If your content sucks don’t start with SEO.

  16. You shouldn’t be writing about this stuff Neil, you don’t know what you are talking about. I’m sure you are aware that I’m not the first person to call you out this week over the perpetuation of junk.

  17. Savas Papadopoulos Apr 24, 2015 at 9:11 am

    Sometimes wordpress themes add more than one h1 tag to a page. That’s very annoying because the styling of the page may not reveal what kind of tags are being used; you would need to inspect the html code
    Also having too many h2 tags may also be a problem for shorter content

  18. Hello Neil
    sometime its seem that you are perfect practiser doctor of SEO. I have read your many of blogs on quicksprout. You mentioned that you do not use keyword on your quiksprout blog site but my question is your site is kind of blogging site focused on content but if i provide web development service on my website than how can i optimise my website only with content atleast i have to focus on keywords.
    Sorry if could not make you understand my exact question. i wrote whatever my mind is floating with question.

  19. Am enjoying this article… i am trying to figure out where exactly am getting SEO wrong… Thanks for sharing

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