Can You Over-SEO Your Website?

Matt Cutts, the Google employee who regularly speaks on SEO and the Google algorithm, has released yet another Youtube video answering questions from the public.

The question was basically – can you over-optimise a website? The example the questioner gave was excessive use of No-follow tags.

I thought the question of over-optimising was a great one, and was excited to hear Matt’s response. But like many of his video’s before, the answers were vague, not giving away corporate secrets, which is of course understandable, but didn’t satisfy my curiosity.

His one concrete statement was that you can put as many no-follow tags on your own site as you want – this will incur no penalty.

As for other SEO practices, he only seemed to discuss a couple.

The first was keyword stuffing – which is certainly an SEO strategy, but not a highly regarded one. Keywords are almost a necessity on a page, if you want it to rank highly. Some people take this to the extreme, and ‘stuff’ their keywords on there. Which means, that they put excessive amounts in – more than necessary for a human reader. As Matt said in his video, this can render a page spammy, make it unreadable or unpleasant to read, and does not make for a good user experience. He did not say though, that Google will penalise a site with keyword stuffing.

The other strategy, which is related to keyword stuffing, is to cloak keywords, or make them the same colour as the background. This means that human readers can’t see the keywords (and therefore their user experience isn’t affected by them), but the Google robot can. Surprisingly, Matt didn’t dwell on this for more than a second and didn’t say that it was a bad thing to do. Which is so wierd, because it is widely considered a black hat technique.

There was zero discussion of offsite SEO or structural SEO in his answer. Offsite SEO in particular is a huge one, and there are so many pitfalls, and ways in which you CAN over-optimise, that I actually thought this would be an obvious part of the answer.

Matt’s discussion seemed concerned solely with the user experience, insinuating that we webmasters could do whatever we liked to the site as long as the user wouldn’t be adversely affected. SEO practitioners would know that this hasn’t seemed to be true in the past, with black hat SEO techniques occassionaly being punished.

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