Can a web site be over-optimized?

Matt Cutts

Matt Cutts (Photo credit: Thomas Hawk)

As it turns out, yes. Even though it was just in 2010 that Google’s Matt Cutts said otherwise.

The good news is that Google’s recent announcement that a web site can be “overly SEO’d” is all part of a bigger plan to keep the web the democracy that it is. Over the next few weeks and months, we can expect to see more Google efforts to “level the playing field,” so that great content can still triumph over great content that’s been SEO’d to heck and back.

Here are some of Matt Cutts’ comments:What about the people optimizing really hard and doing a lot of SEO. We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there is something we are working in the last few months and hope to release it in the next months or few weeks. We are trying to level the playing field a bit. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or overly SEO – versus those making great content and great site. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance better, and we are also looking for those who abuse it, like too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.

You can listen to the session at South by Southwest.

What are the signs of over-optimization? No one’s sure yet. What are the penalties? We’ll get back to you.

For now, the standard for penalty appears to be for those who “throw too many keywords on the page, exchange way too many links, whatever they’re doing to go beyond what a normal person would expect.”

Said Cutts on last week’s panel at SXSW:

“Make a compelling site. Make a site that’s useful. Make a site that’s interesting. Make a site that’s relevant to people’s interests…We’re always trying to best approximate if a user lands on a page if they are going to be annoyed…All of the changes we make are designed to approximate, if a user lands on your page, just how happy they are going to be with what they’re going to get.”

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