The wolves are attacking Google again over its search quality. Last year, they were fed the Panda Update to fend them off. This year, Google may throw an Over Optimization Penalty to the pack. No, that doesn’t mean SEO is dead once again. But it may sadly confuse SEO with spam. It also doesn’t mean the penalty will improve Google’s results. Google already has problems enforcing all the other penalties it has rolled out over the years.

Jumping The Shark

“Jump the shark” is a reference to a Happy Days episode where The Fonz did a water ski jump over a shark. It was later seen as a milestone of when the television series had done all that it could do and so was resorting to crazy plots.

When Google said recently that an over-optimization penalty was coming, I felt like we’d reached a jump-the-shark moment in how the company is trying to improve the quality of its search results through penalties and filters. It’s getting crazy now.

From No Spam To Rules, Rules, Rules

In 1999, Google cofounder Sergey Brin famously declared that there was no search engine spam, saying on a panel:

Google’s slightly different in that we never ban anybody, and we don’t really believe in spam in the sense that there’s no mechanism for removing people from our index. The fundamental concept we use is, you know, is this page relevant to the search? And, you know, some pages which, you know, they may almost never appear on the search results page because they’re just not that relevant.

Today, Google has an entire page of things considered to be spam. Each thing listed is like a patch designed to plug a hole in Google’s ranking algorithm. Google keeps slapping on these patches, rather than doing what seems really necessarily, completely overhauling its infrastructure.

Rules & Unintended Consequences

Some spam patches focus on design issues and seem to make sense, when you understand their origins. For example, ”hidden text” on a web page is bad, because it was often used as a way by publishers to load their pages up with words that might make them seem more relevant for a search topic than they really are.

Unfortunately, Google has long focused on the technicality of an error rather than the intent. A publisher with a page that’s full of images might replicate all the words in those images in hidden text, since search engines can’t read inside images. That publisher potentially could be banned from Google from doing this, even though the intent wasn’t to be harmful.

Other spam patches are more about behavior, which can also seem to make sense at first. For example, buying and selling links can get you in trouble, because to Google, links are like votes. It doesn’t want someone buying their way to win the Google ranking “election.”

Again, unfortunately, you can then have confusion. If someone writes about a product they’ve been given, is that a “bought” link? If so, does the link have to be blocked forever by that person, or only in a particular article? What about affiliate links? Google’s said that it catches these already and discounts them for major programs like Amazon. But it doesn’t for others. How do you know which ones, to be safe?

Penalized For Not Being Good Enough

Now matters are getting even more confusing, as Google unleashes penalties not for being overtly “bad” but for not being “good enough.”

Last year’s Panda Update was an excellent example of this. Suddenly, pages that were ranking well disappeared, because Google used a new system to decide if a publisher seemed to have “low quality” content overall. What was low-quality? Google gave a list of 23 questions for people to ask themselves, but the answer is largely “Google knows poor quality when it sees it.”

That would be great if publishers could see with Google’s eyes. But they can’t. Now they likely to have even more guesswork, to figure out if they’ve “over optimized” their web sites.

Too Much SEO?

No one factor ensures a top search engine ranking. Rather, Google uses a multitude of factors for each and every search to determine what should rank well. The Periodic Table Of SEO Ranking Factors from our sister-site Search Engine Land explains this in more depth. Some factors do carry more weight than others, but they are still supposed to work in combination.

Indeed, it’s this combination of factors that Google has long argued prevents it from making mistakes. What if someone buys a bunch of links and points them at your site, as an attempt to sabotage you? Google’s response has often been that it would see many other factors that would indicate quality, so that you wouldn’t be harmed.

But now, it’ll sound like to some people that doing a combination of things — things Google itself has advised and compiled into a PDF guide – might get you into trouble. As Google’s spam chief Matt Cutts said earlier this month:

All those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.

What’s overly doing your SEO? Who knows? That’s undefined. If you pay attention to multiple SEO factors, could that cross a line? Heck, is it better to do no SEO at all?

It’s easy to fear-monger here, if you want make Cutts as sounding anti-SEO. It’s easy also, if you don’t know what best practices SEO are about, to assume that Cutts is anti-SEO.

However, if you read the rest of what Cutts said with a knowledge of SEO (such as Vanessa Fox does in Google’s Upcoming Algorithm Change: “Overly-Optimized Sites”), you get the impression Google’s simply looking at some type of super-spam penalty, not going after those doing SEO as Google itself advises:

We also start to look at the people who sort of abuse it, whether they throw too many keywords on the page, or whether they exchange way too many links, or whatever they are doing to sort of go beyond what a normal person would expect in a particular area.

It sounds like going right up to the line of acceptability in multiple areas of SEO might cause problems, not just doing a variety of acceptable SEO techniques themselves.

Why Did SEO Have To Get Mixed Up With Spam?

We’ll see what really happens. But what’s disheartening is that talk of the forthcoming penalty will likely cause some people question any type of SEO at all. Until now, I’d say Google has been very careful not to equate SEO with spam. They are two different things, such as email marketing being distinct from spam mail. But talking about an “over optimization” penalty confuses the two.

Cutts talks about the move as a means of “making that playing field a little bit more level.” But there is no level playing field. Some great sites get found without doing any overt SEO. Some great sites don’t get found because they fail to follow SEO best practices. Both are true for poor quality sites, also.

But by suggesting that SEO is somehow messing with the “level playing field,” I feel like Google tosses the entire SEO space itself to the wolves. That’s an odd thing to do, given it just defended SEO last year in a video as something publishers should consider:

YouTube Preview Image

PR Game?

My fear is that talking about “over optimization” is Google trying to cater to the anti-SEO crowd, which blames any bad results on SEO, rather than Google itself not keeping up with the challenges of ranking. Heck, we even saw a reference to this on Dexter last year:

YouTube Preview Image

If that’s the strategy, it’s a well worn path Google’s walked before.

People upset about comment spam in 2004? Roll out the nofollow attribute in 2005, saying it’s a way site owners can prevent credit from being passed. As a PR exercise, it largely solved Google being blamed for comment spam. But it sure didn’t solve comment spam, both as an annoyance for site owners nor as a way people spam links to manipulate Google.

People upset about content farms? Give them the Panda Update, with metrics saying 12% of search queries were impacted. That gives the impression that the content farm monster has been slain, plus the impression results have improved 12%. In reality, we literally have no idea if Google’s Panda Update made things better or worse. There are no independent metrics about this. None.

Postscript: Actually, one survey tried to assess this last December and said gains were made. But they were made by both Google & Bing, the latter which had no big “Panda Update” news of its own. There have also been plenty of winner/loser assessments. But there remains no long-term, independent metrics on overall search quality. We have no “relevancy figure,” as I’ve written about before, those surveys do find general satisfaction by searchers.

People still worried about the quality of search results, especially complaining that Search Plus Your World has made things worse? Maybe you give them the Over Optimization Penality. No doubt when it rolls out, we’ll be told that some set percentage of queries will have changed, again giving the impression of improvement.

How About Enforcing The Existing Laws?

But here’s the thing. I can search for “SEO” on Google and still find companies showing up in the top results because of links they’ve dropped into blog templates or client sites or forums.

I demonstrated this to Google’s search quality team back in January 2010, then further explained it for the public in How The “Focus On First” Helps Hide Google’s Relevancy Problems, in October 2010. Despite this, it still works.

This is search quality 101, something that Google should easily be detecting and preventing from being effective. If Google fails to catch it for something it should be watching like a hawk, results for “SEO,” why are we to believe it’ll be better at using yet another penalty?

Missing this type of basic quality problem isn’t even unusual. Every month this year, I’ve read a different article of someone highlighting issues related to link spam:

That middle story about Google making liars about of “good guys” in SEO especially resonates with me. Written last February, it reminded me of Jill Whalen’s story from 2010, Dear Google…Stop Making Me Look Like a Fool! From the same year, Rand Fishkin wrote about spam getting through but still warning that people shouldn’t be enticed by this to go the spam route.

Imagine that. SEOs sounding the alarm about spam. That’s a story you rarely hear in the general press, which is a pity, because those same SEOs see problems with the quality of search results long before the mainstream press does.

I agree with all of this. I think you should focus on quality content, a great user experience and enhance that with commonly accepted SEO practices. I dislike attitudes like “all SEO is manipulation” being used as an excuse to do anything to rank. I don’t want Google’s own flaws being used to justify spam.

We do need some penalties. We do need Google and Bing (which has all the same problems that Google has) finding ways to reward good pages and not to reward crappy content. I loved the general concept of Google’s penalty for pages top-heavy with ads, given how often these type of sites pollute my own search results.

But rather than yet another penalty being trotted out, maybe Google could police the things it supposed to already catch. Perhaps it could think more fully about the mess it creates when it confuses SEO with spam by talking about “over optimization.” More than anything else, maybe it could fundamentally improve the ranking system, rather than patching it up.

Search Plus Your World has taken heat in some corners, yet it represents the type of fundamental shift that is needed. Let’s hope Google and Bing both figure out the right mix of personal and social signals.

Now go watch Fonzie jump that shark:

YouTube Preview Image

Postscript: As it turns out, Google has rolled out the penalty but clarified that it’s about catching spam. See Google Launches “Penguin Update” Targeting Webspam In Search Results.

Related Articles

Related Topics: Channel: Search Marketing | Google: SEO | Search Marketing | Search Marketing Column

Sponsored


About The Author: is Founding Editor of Marketing Land. He’s a widely cited authority on search marketing and internet marketing issues, who has covered the space since 1996. Danny also serves as Chief Content Officer for Third Door Media, which publishes Search Engine Land and produces the SMX: Search Marketing Expo conference series. He has a personal blog called Daggle (and keeps his disclosures page there). He can be found on Facebook, Google + and microblogs on Twitter as @dannysullivan.



Sign Up To Get This Newsletter Via Email:  


Share

Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • http://twitter.com/NickStamoulis Nick Stamoulis

    “What’s overly doing your SEO? Who knows? That’s undefined.”

    I think that is exactly why the fear sets in among website owners and SEO professionals. Google’s guidelines are far from specific and operate under the “I know it when I see it” principle. This doesn’t make it easy for the rest of us and just leads to more and more speculation about where Google’s line in the sand is.

  • Anonymous

    Primarily a lack of focus on true root cause.

  • http://www.seoskeptic.com/ Aaron Bradley

    While I do appreciate that the looming “over optimization” penalty is yet another addition to Google’s growing collection of vaguely-defined punishable offenses, it doesn’t logically follow from this that Google should be “completely overhauling its infrastructure” or turn it’s attention to “fundamentally improve the ranking system, rather than patching it up.”

    Google’s search ranking algorithm is rather famously not monolithic, but rather a complex matrix of ranking factors that are being continually tweaked, added to and removed.  And, of course, it is this exactly this patchwork algorithm and incremental changes to it – big and small – that have resulted in Google maintaining its dominant market share and providing to users what most regard to be pretty good results.

    So how does this latest cryptic missive from Matt Cutts demonstrate that Google needs fundamentally change its successful formula of making incremental changes to its ranking algorithm?  It doesn’t.  It demonstrates that search marketers are becoming increasingly and understandably irked at the patchwork of suggestions and admonishments for publishers that are vying for better visibility in search results.

    In its explanation of the “jumping the shark” reference Wikipedia describes it as an analogy for the point where a television series “begins a decline in quality that is beyond recovery.”  Does the introduction of an “over optimization” penalty mark that point?  Time will tell, but it’s obviously, like all of those other incremental changes Google has made to its algorithm, aimed at improving rather than destroying the quality of its search results.

    A more apt analogy for the SEO industry may be that this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back, whereby search marketers have become so fed up with Google’s patchwork of hints and threats that they….  Well, switch careers, or do what they’ve always done:  growl and try to do their best as yet another “rule” is imposed by the gods of Mountainview.  And, of course, ineffectually rail against this patchwork of rules, and call for an grand overhaul of Google’s successful search algorithm.

    Google may indeed be guilty of fostering increasingly frosty relations between itself and search marketers as a result of its approach to SEO.  But the “over optimization” penalty is irrelvant for the 99% of Google search users that need the acronym “SEO” spelled out and explained, their concerns rightfully focused on the quality and relevance of Google’s search results.  And where those users’ concerns about the quality of search results go head to head with search marketers’ concerns about how difficult their job has become, Google will always favor the former.

  • http://twitter.com/agileburke Kevin Burke

    “”Over-optimization” is the dumbest term I have heard since “a little bit  pregnant”. Actually it is dumber. What is the new SEO battle cry now…..”Too Smart is Dumb?” The term itself is defiend as “the process of making something as fully perfect as possible”. So now Google says if you are too good, we will devalue you. Now THAT is perfect. Perfectly ridiculous.

    So we are warned. Don’t be too good. Not on purpose. You can only be good by accident…by default…..but not by design.

    Wow. We really have jumped the Shark.

  • http://www.pixelrage.net Pixelrage

    Google is making life miserable on entrepreneurs and startups with their ridiculous algorithmic updates. Panda was a disgrace…and what did we get, anyway? — tons of garbage and 2004-ish looking websites on page 1 results.

    Over optimization: another subjective term that the wizard behind the curtain will use to punish both cheaters and innocent webmasters.

  • http://www.scismmarketing.com/ Eric Scism

    I understand Google trying to make search results better. They’re trying to innovate everytime you change something it’s going to be met with resistance. I don’t think Google is the problem. I think the SEO industry is the problem. I feel like the Google search engine has changed from a search engine / tool into a regulatory committee for the web. Essentially the FDA or EPA of the web. They feel like they are the gate keepers and they only want to let stuff through that’s not harmful to you. While in doing that some things get through and they get hell for it.

    I think we as internet users should become more intelligent searchers instead of google trying to provide us the answers. Does it really take that much time to read through a few posts to find what you need? I love the process of discovery by reading things. That’s just me though.

  • Craig Wilcox

    Google is absolutely stuck.  The thing that made them billions initially is the exact thing that makes it suck: links.  If the goal is to make the user experience best for each query, then Google’s goal has to be to make SEO irrelevant.  Good Content/UX should not lose to Good Content/UX + SEO.  

    So the goal is not just to eliminate spam results…it’s to eliminate the need for a valet to attend to good content.  That goal must be pursued on many fronts instead of serially.  

    But yes…let’s please pressure them to eliminate spam results faster!           

  • http://www.thewayoftheweb.net Dan Thornton

    Totally agree that it’s more of a response to the non-SEO crowd considering how many legal threats etc Google is facing, particularly at a government level. If some anti-SEO PR measures get you some favour, then you’re bound to do it, even if in reality, you’re still targetting the same slightly nefarious techniques, and just tightening up on it a bit…

  • Takeshi Young

    Google may have jumped the shark, but are they wearing Daisy Dukes?

  • Anonymous

    I believe that Google is indirectly hinting that businesses should use paid search, i.e. Adwords. If SEO companies cannot deliver the results that companies need, then paid traffic is the obvious alternative.  

    Adwords is the revenue engine for Google.  They want to grow that pie.  The company now has teams to help businesses with their Adwords campaigns.

    Regardless of traffic sources, IMO the ultimate goal for everyone is to generate the best quality content possible, promote it to traffic clusters and targeted markets to the level of time & ad budget you have, and gain viral attention as it happens.  Fundamental marketing tenants will stay the same whatever Google decides to do.

  • http://tommy.ismy.name Tommy is my name

    Interesting perspective that Google is jumping the shark with over optimization. 

    It’s like when a person builds a house, and eventually that house needs repairs, but instead the owner decides to go the more economical route and add a new bracer joint here, or a little bit of concrete fill there. 

    At some point, the house is more patchwork than it is house. 

    Google has a long history of just tacking things on to their system. So the question would be at what point does the system just become bits of conflicting code that doesn’t fully understand what it’s trying to do? 

    It sounds like what they really need to do is revamp the entire algorithm to fully utilize everything that it’s capable of. 

    Cutts saying that the Googlebot isn’t that smart is garbage. If it can recognize faces, colors, symantic text among other things that are just plain scary. 

    @Edward_Niu:disqus makes an interesting point that Google may be pushing more people towards adwords. It wouldn’t be at all surprising, and given their bullying people into using their social products, may become the only reliable way to get top placement. 

    Yes, we need to focus on creating more quality content, there’s no doubt about that. 

    And if your stuff is supposed to be the highest quality, then why shouldn’t you be willing to pay for better placement? 

    That way they have the money to fix their broken Google Bot. 

  • Anonymous

    From everything I’ve read on this subject over the past few days, I think the knee-jerk reaction that our entire industry is having now could have been prevented if Google had placed a little emphasis on carefully selecting their terminology for this ‘looming’ update. 

  • http://twitter.com/incrediblehelp Jaan Kanellis

    Pretty hypocritical from Google.  We stay the same and YOU change your site to improve OUR results.  I mean anything from the nofollow, canonical tag to rich snippets is benefiting Google in the end.  And we just implement and hope that it will drive more traffic.

  • http://www.liquid-silver-marketing.co.uk/ Farky Rafiq

    excellent article very well researched!

  • Fran Irwin

    My interpretation at least in this specific case of “over optimized” is “in existence solely to rank well for some other purpose than serving the User”. 

    I’m almost sure it’s going to be another case of “Google knows it when it sees it”, too. Ever had a client ask you to spin out the same piece of content for 40 different geographical areas, so that the articles/pages/URLs are maybe only 1 or 2% different from each other? This is gonna sting sites like that, I think.

  • http://www.bdknowledge24.com/ vox

    I didn’t understand 

  • Stuart Kaufman

    People, People, People… All Google want’s is for people to “Keep it Real”

    Keep it real, focus on the user and write as if you’re helping a friend and you’ll be just fine.

    Great article Danny!!

  • http://twitter.com/JacobPuhl Jacob Puhl

    @ Kevin – LOL. Exactly right… The term “Over Optimize” doesn’t make sense, but definition.  Not logical to “overly” perform the process to make something perfect.” Its just the definition of “perfect” has changed.

    All that has happened is the lever on the spectrum of crafting your website, linking, etc has moved away from all the traditional techniques just a bit. This is the new “Optimized” or “perfect”… just hitting this moving target which is now in a different spot. 
    Given the nature of an algorithm, there will always be a target… someone/thing will always be ranking #1 for every term, so SOMEONE is hitting that target closely. Totally agree companies will be pushed towards adwords, especially as keyword referrer data becomes less available (see Firefox’s move and Chrome likely to follow).  Eventually the only way to get user data on keywords will be through adwords.  It won’t be long that we must run PPC campaigns along with SEO to get that information, every time.  

  • http://twitter.com/TheGodofSEO The God of SEO™

    Great post Danny. Ultimately, it’s all about driving profits to Google. With these “updates”, what Google is really saying is, “give us PPC money, it’s safe here”.  If anyone believes that this is about “quality of search” you are sorely mistaken.  The last few months have brought nothing but horrific first-page results to most geos/queries, so whatever Google is doing, it needs to stop, despite what Rand and others are touting.  If, in fact, I can “over optimize” a site, and it gets “de-ranked/sandboxed/whatever” as a result of over-optimization, does that mean I can take out my entire competition by just throwing junk links at it? How does that make sense?  Ultimately, what’s going to have to happen is that you’ll HAVE to run PPC campaigns in order to be on page 1 of organic, mark my words.  Google is responsible to one and only one party…Google.

  • Pat Grady

    G tells us a lot — we complain specifically, point out unjust cases.  G tells us nothing — we generate conspiracy theories and invent unproven imagined gurus.  G tells us the generalities with few specifics — we’re frustrated in between the two worlds of knowing and not, like a tank full of weird angled stories, under great pressure, a small leak opens now and then, and out sprays the Fonz.  The shark jump is near the end, today smells more like Chachi… or should I say Chachi-ng.

  • http://feeds.feedburner.com/reelseo Mark Robertson

    Add to that what they’re doing with G+ and I think the backlash is just going to continue and get worse.  Not sure if this is “Jump the Shark” but if they havent yet, this certainly wont help.

  • Anonymous

    The Google Cycle:

    1. Google ever-so-loosely defines proper SEO — SEOs go out and figure out what Google is actually saying tempered with the realities of what the search engine actually does, thereby implementing what works (Read: what ranks websites).

    2.) Google makes another largely nebulous announcement about how they then define proper SEO — SEOs again translate and implement the translation after much hand-wringing, sweat and smashed keyboards…. relative to what the search engine actually does.

    3.) Google issues novel penalties and link devaluations to websites because SEOs followed what Google originally said to do, relative to what the search engine actually does.

    I’ll tell ya, I gotta get me an algorithm. I’ll name it Buck Passing. 

    (Great article, by the way)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Wayne-Schulz/531173044 Wayne Schulz

    Google’s Jump The Shark moment = Google Doodle 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Bramwell/530421610 Alex Bramwell

    Surely “penalties not for being overtly “bad” but for not being “good enough” is what search engines do by default. Google isn’t penalizing anyone. It is just rewarding sites that get traffic by offering value to the people who visit. Sites that get traffic but have high bounce rates, or low engagement, are not good value and will drop compared to sites that put the web surfer first.

  • Anand Kulkarni

    Conceptually – Has Google really ever been in a position to decide which pages to show and find the best sites for search queries? It has always been the other way – Sites have been deciding how prominently Google should see them and Google then displays those sites. 

    Here is what i wrote to Google way back in 2008;

    This one is in response to Udi Manber’s (VP Engineering, Search Quality) post on Introduction to Google Search Quality. 

    “…..A few hundreds of millions of times a day people will ask Google questions, and within a fraction of a second Google needs to decide which among the billions of pages on the web to show them — and in what order…..”

    Does Google really decide which pages to show and find the best sites for it’s results? Isn’t it the other way – Sites decides how prominently Google should see them and Google then finds those sites. SEO is the name of the game.

    Should a website struggle to be found by search engines OR should the search engines struggle to find best websites? Is an algorithm that finds only what’s being fed to it really an intelligent algorithm or should the best algorithms be able to see beyond what’s being shown to them?

    Each of the three involved parties – Websites, Search engines and Users have different core objectives;
    Websites         : Produce content that’s useful to its users.
    Users              : Consume content that best satisfies their requirements.
    Search Engines : Hunt maniacally for the best possible content produced for a user to consume..

    If user centricity is a true objective, the search engines must proactively hunt for best matching content and not just confine to return what comes across first – the SEO’d sites. This is not to say that the search engines do not at all return the good but non-optimized sites. They do, on result pages where no user would ever reach. Truly great but non-optimized site appearing on page 3 of the search results is as good as burying some useful content that could have been most useful for a user.

    To be found by search engines is not the core business of websites but finding best websites is THE reason for existence of search engines.

    Is it not more logical that Search Engines work towards ‘Web Site Optimization’ (WSO) rather than Websites working towards ‘Search Engine Optimization’ (SEO) ?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JL7JZ373MS6TSA3CSBZYMDPTNA Jasan

    This is a great topic with many fantastic comments.

    It’s great to share ideas and opinions.
    Anyone who wants the simple answer refer to
    “Edward_Niu” and “The God of SEO” comments

    They’re exactly right!!
    This is all about showing an increase of revenue to googles share holders.

    You really think its about anything other than MONEY?

    adwords is googles cash cow

    the whole principle behind showing relevant content is to have more people using google which will create more traffic and in return will increase their adwords revenues

    If you’ve been following google you’ll have notice them pushing adwords. they have dedicated teams to help set up adwords accounts, they offer ads in google places and at the end of the day all that matters is showing an increase in profits to their share holders

    Penalizing over optimized sites is a sure way to increase adwords accounts and profits.

    I don’t see google penalizing or banning adwords accounts if they have been given any sort of organic search result penalties.
    But yet I thought they are focused on great content?

    So why allow them in adwords? I know of adwords campaigns that have penalties and yet the adwords campaigns are stronger than ever

    I also see a lot of low quality web content on adwords but yet they maintain great positions based on the money they spend.

    Google is all about Google making money.
    You really think its all about something other than money?

  • http://www.resg.info Anton Stetner

    this is about money and thier decreasing search quality

  • http://profiles.google.com/tonvour antonis vourtsis

    Im wondering   when will make  a new  better search  engine than google 

  • http://www.facebook.com/sammyjayjayjay Sammy JayJay

     This is the first time I have read anything from Danny Sullivan and I must say, I have been missing out on the best. This is so real and apt, such a wide perspective, he really looks at the big picture. Danny you are the knowledge. I will be reading a lot more of your stuff from now on, that’s for sure. SEO gets such a bad rap, we need people like you to tell it like it is.

  • http://robertclarkmtfs.com/ Robert Clark

    Great writeup! The more things change with Google’s algorithim’s it seems like the more things stay the same. SEO right now is almost back to a pre panda state with spam ruling the airwaves once again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=626071687 Wendy Boswell

    “But rather than yet another penalty being trotted out, maybe Google
    could police the things it supposed to already catch. Perhaps it could
    think more fully about the mess it creates when it confuses SEO with
    spam by talking about “over optimization.” More than anything else,
    maybe it could fundamentally improve the ranking system, rather than
    patching it up.”

    THIS. None of these so called “improvements” have done anything to make search results better. Seriously, Google’s results are just godawful.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=63600215 Stephen R Stone

    Overuse of SEO may be subjective, but I think most of us can administer an eyeball test that will resemble whatever Google does. Anyone creating content for professional purposes should know the difference between integrating SEO practices into content and building content around SEO. As long as you do the former, I’m sure you’ll be fine. 

  • http://twitter.com/niall_flynn Niall Flynn

    I declare total BS on this, just wrote a short post for the Irish SME community http://www.niallflynn.com/seo-news/google-over-optimisation-penalties/

  • David W

    The thing that is really killing me about this stuff is that it makes it impossible to invest in your online marketing in anything besides PPC. The lack of consistency makes it difficult for any company to put their money into a content based organic SEO strategy because the rules may change a week later and every goes topsy turvey. I suppose at the end of the day that this is what google wants. Less money spent on SEO means more money spent on PPC advertising.

    I agree that building a box around the algorithm with rules is not the answer. Laws have unintended consequences no matter what. We just have to hold on for the ride.

  • Michael Smith

    “Google keeps slapping on these patches, rather than doing what seems really necessarily, completely overhauling its infrastructure.” – any suggestions to how a better ranking algorithm should work?

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NSTKMBGLGWKFLJIVJXEUH5R2BI Billy

    Yes.  Within the BCS (Division I College Football), you have three buckets providing information on which teams should play for the National Championship Program, the AP Poll, the Coaches Poll, and the Computer Algorithm.  In other terms, you have the people who don’t know as much about football but watch the games, the people who know a ton about football but hardly watch the games, and the computers.  They had to move to a 3 bucket system because selecting two teams to play always seemed to end up being a mess.  It still is, but at least it’s pretty close now.  

    Google has essentially crushed a bucket by killing off Paid Links.  Some examples of paid links include directory submissions.  There are two types of directories, unpaid or volunteer directories, and paid directories.  Focus on paid directories.  With a paid directory, the directory could afford to manually review a site, because it would have the funds to do so.  If Google could harness these directories, they could add a manual review element to their algorithms.  This would keep sites very honest.  My thought is, if there were a list of 50 or so Google approved manual review directories (they would get a cool emblem of course), the directories could do Google’s legwork for them, and all Google would have to do is hire a team of 5 or 6 people to perform quality control checks on the directories.   If a directory didn’t meet standard, they would get booted and lose their Google Approval stamp.  A webmaster could submit to as many or as few of the paid directories as they wished, and Google would take an average of the scores of all of the reviews.  This way, if a webmaster felt that they had received too low of a score from a given directory, they could submit to another.  Part of being in Google’s approved group of directories is that there would be a standard payment required in order to submit, like $49.95 for every submission.  This way, rich people would not get an advantage over poor people.  With manual review included, stagnant sites would receive low scores, which would allow for innovative sites to climb.

    However, the scary part for Google is that they would actually empower somebody besides themselves (ooooo scary) and the directories might actually be useful again (gasp!)  Since money would be going somewhere besides Google’s shareholders’ pockets, you can see this solution will never, ever, be implemented.    

  • Christian Waijers

    Funny that I just read this article, as I recently wrote a comment on an article SEOmoz blog that adresses the same issue.

    First things first:

    @Aaron Bradley: You say: “ And where those users’ concerns about the quality of search results go head to head with search marketers’ concerns about how difficult their job has become, Google will always favor the former” 

    With your last alinea I would say that you are actually making the same point as Danny is with his article.

    Google should focus on giving SE users relevant, high quality results. Picking at SEO’s, applying all sorts of filters and, especially triggering SEO’s with the name ‘Over-optimization’ penalty’ should not be a part of this.

    It’s, as Danny says, like a ‘patch’ on the infrastructure. And the ‘infrastructure’ is meant to be a coherent well-thought system, not a pile of patches.

    @Jenksy 
    “Repeat Ad Infinitum.”Exactly, it’s a cat chasing it’s own tail, just as I stated in my comment at SEOmoz.
    Actually, I’d like to post my comment below, since I really feel it adds something to this discussion. I still assume that this update is more a PR stunt and to scare SEO’s (with the actual update mostly intended to fight clear spam) then a real effort to fight ‘Over-SEO’. In any case, I do hope Google won’t proceed in this direction.comment on: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/6-changes-every-seo-should-make-before-the-over-optimization-penalty-hits-whiteboard-fridayQuestion: What is the difference between an over-optimized site and a low quality site?I would say the two are inextricably related.An over optimized site, one that would trigger this questionable and (as always) mysterious, over-optimization penalty, is per definition a low quality site. Since, if it would be a quality site, there would be no reason to penalize it.In that perspective, hasn’t it been Google’s primary efforts for the last many years, to let quality sites rank high and to keep low quality sites at the bottom of the rankings (or even penalize them when they violate the webmaster guidelines)? Therefore I don’t really get what all the fuzz is about with this ‘optimization penalty’. Striving for quality content will still be the primary objective for Google. Excessive SEO is an indication for low quality content (one of the many), but should never be the ‘target’ itself.As for the guidelines in this post:1-3: Titles that don’t make sense, keyword stuffed blocks/pages, spammy-looking internal (footer) links, etc. are all indications of low quality content. If i.e. Google has found some new way to interpret whether a title phrase is naturally build or not, it would be likely that they would use this to improve their search algorithms instead of using it to penalize over-optimized websites.4-6: Incoming links from spammy/penalized/low-value sites: Don’t we already know that Google doesn’t pay much respect to these kinds of links or even completely disregards them? Trying to distinct genuine, respectful links from the ones mentioned above should be Google’s primary objective. Let’s say if ‘in the ideal world’ Google would have a way to flawlessly valuate links. Would there be any need to penalize websites for link manipulation? No, because those sites will have little or no benefit from those links anyway.7: Different pages for basically the same content/set of keywords. Again, the misuse of keywords/on-page optimization should not be Google’s concern. Google’s concern is to make sure that they can identify user-intent as best as possible and deliver the best matching search results accordingly. When someone searches for ‘online shop’ the results should be nearly identical as when he or she searches for ‘online store’ IF Google identifies that the user-intend is the same for both queries.Obviously, the examples mentioned above are a bit oversimplified, but I do believe that Google’s emphasis does not (and should never) lie on recognizing/penalizing over-optimization. In the long run such a strategy could never work, it is like a cat chasing it’s own tail.

  • Christian Waijers

    Funny that I just read this article, as I recently wrote a comment on an article SEOmoz blog that adresses the same issue.

    First things first:

    At Aaron Bradley: You say: ” And where those users’ concerns about the quality of search results go head to head with search marketers’ concerns about how difficult their job has become, Google will always favor the former” 

    With your last alinea I would say that you are actually making the same point as Danny is with his article.

    Google should focus on giving SE users relevant, high quality results. Picking at SEO’s, applying all sorts of filters and, especially triggering SEO’s with the name ‘Over-optimization’ penalty’ should not be a part of this.

    It’s, as Danny says, like a ‘patch’ on the infrastructure. And the ‘infrastructure’ is meant to be a coherent well-thought system, not a pile of patches.

    At Jenksy 
    “Repeat Ad Infinitum.”Exactly, it’s a cat chasing it’s own tail, just as I stated in my comment at SEOmoz.

    Actually, I’d like to post my comment below, since I really feel it adds something to this discussion. I still assume that this update is more a PR stunt and to scare SEO’s (with the actual update mostly intended to fight clear spam) then a real effort to fight ‘Over-SEO’. In any case, I do hope Google won’t proceed in this direction.comment on: 

    —-
    http://www.seomoz.org/blog/6-changes-every-seo-should-make-before-the-over-optimization-penalty-hits-whiteboard-friday

    Question: What is the difference between an over-optimized site and a low quality site?

    I would say the two are inextricably related.An over optimized site, one that would trigger this questionable and (as always) mysterious, over-optimization penalty, is per definition a low quality site. Since, if it would be a quality site, there would be no reason to penalize it.

    In that perspective, hasn’t it been Google’s primary efforts for the last many years, to let quality sites rank high and to keep low quality sites at the bottom of the rankings (or even penalize them when they violate the webmaster guidelines)? 

    Therefore I don’t really get what all the fuzz is about with this ‘optimization penalty’. Striving for quality content will still be the primary objective for Google. Excessive SEO is an indication for low quality content (one of the many), but should never be the ‘target’ itself.

    As for the guidelines in this post:1-3: 
    Titles that don’t make sense, keyword stuffed blocks/pages, spammy-looking internal (footer) links, etc. are all indications of low quality content. If i.e. Google has found some new way to interpret whether a title phrase is naturally build or not, it would be likely that they would use this to improve their search algorithms instead of using it to penalize over-optimized websites.

    4-6: Incoming links from spammy/penalized/low-value sites:
     Don’t we already know that Google doesn’t pay much respect to these kinds of links or even completely disregards them? Trying to distinct genuine, respectful links from the ones mentioned above should be Google’s primary objective. Let’s say if ‘in the ideal world’ Google would have a way to flawlessly valuate links. Would there be any need to penalize websites for link manipulation? No, because those sites will have little or no benefit from those links anyway.

    7: Different pages for basically the same content/set of keywords. 
    Again, the misuse of keywords/on-page optimization should not be Google’s concern. Google’s concern is to make sure that they can identify user-intent as best as possible and deliver the best matching search results accordingly. When someone searches for ‘online shop’ the results should be nearly identical as when he or she searches for ‘online store’ IF Google identifies that the user-intend is the same for both queries.

    Obviously, the examples mentioned above are a bit oversimplified, but I do believe that Google’s emphasis does not (and should never) lie on recognizing/penalizing over-optimization. In the long run such a strategy could never work, it is like a cat chasing it’s own tail.

    At Danny: Great article by the way!

  • Christian Waijers

    “And where those users’ concerns about the quality of search results go head to head with search marketers’ concerns about how difficult their job has become, Google will always favor the former” 

    With your last alinea I would say that you are actually making the same point as Danny is with his article.

    Google should focus on giving SE users relevant, high quality results. Picking at SEO’s, applying all sorts of filters and, especially triggering SEO’s with the name ‘Over-optimization’ penalty’ should not be a part of this.

    It’s, as Danny says, like a ‘patch’ on the infrastructure. And the ‘infrastructure’ is meant to be a coherent well-thought system, not a pile of patches.

    If interested, see my complete comment at the bottom of this page.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Felicia-Corrine/100003738724266 Felicia Corrine

    The SEOs have grown by large these days. And many people for
    the sake of building links to the websites are creating duplicate content worth
    nothing. So Google has set up standards for ranking a page to find out the
    spammers. I don’t think there is any other search engine better than Google.
    Google rocks!
     

 

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Marketing Land on Twitter @marketingland Like Marketing Land on Facebook Follow Marketing Land on Google+ Subscribe to Our Feed! Join our LinkedIn Group Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest

 
 

Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States

Europe

Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech


Free Daily Marketing News!

Marketing Day is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!