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April 9, 2012
Over-Optimization: It's Not Your Mother's SEO Anymore!
I've written previously here about Google's "Panda Updates" and what they mean to website marketing and SEO. But more recently Google's ultimate web spam Czar, Matt Cutts, mentioned in passing at a conference that Google will be getting even more aggressive towards sites that are pushing the envelope with their SEO efforts. This of course has got some SEO types in a tizzy.
Who Should Worry?
If you've been listening to my Mantra all these years about what SEO is, i.e., making your website the best it can be for the search engines and your site visitors, you have nothing to worry about.
However, if you've been wasting your time doing all those things that you've read about elsewhere, which in reality have no effect on your bottom line, you'll have even less chance of getting ahead now.
But the ones who should really be scared are those that did manage to do well with their SEO, simply by knowing some basic rules.
Up until recently, thriving websites could easily be built that followed a simple SEO process:
  • Buy a domain that included their main keywords.
  • Create a basic website around it.
  • Use keywords in the anchor text that pointed from page to page.
  • Use keywords in Title tags and Hx tags.
  • Find free places to add the website URL, such as directories, blog and forum comments, etc.
For many specific niches, this basic SEO formula enabled nearly instant success with Google. Do the same thing with hundreds of websites and multiple product types, and start rolling in the dough!
Today, many of those previously successful companies are the ones crying the loudest over Google's latest changes. Suddenly, sites that had ranked very highly in Google's search results (and reaping the monetary benefits) are either nowhere to be found or only showing up for some minor keywords. Huge chunks of income have been taken away overnight.
What Happened?
Google has finally decided that just because you know some SEO basics doesn't mean that your website is truly the best one for them to show. While on the surface your website may appear to be relevant for the keywords that are in all the "right" places, the websites themselves offer very little value over the thousands of others that are selling the same thing.
After all, why should one site do better than another just because they read up on how to do SEO and knew the best places to stick their keywords? By allowing that to happen, Google was enabling highly SEOd sites (which some people call "over-optimized" sites) to beat out potentially higher quality ones. That goes totally against Google's own mission to provide their searchers with the best sites for the search query at hand.
The tricky part with all of this is that the people doing this type of SEO weren't doing anything wrong, per se. They were simply giving Google what they wanted (as evidenced by how well it worked). You can't blame them for that. The problem now, however, is that because this formula type of SEO worked so well, there was no reason to go above and beyond it.
Building For Search Engines, Not Users
By using keyword-rich domains, they outsmarted Google, who put so much weight on that. Unfortunately, they did that at the expense of building a brand. Real companies/brands have their company name in their URL, not some product words. And real companies and brands do other forms of marketing aside from just SEO so that people recognize their name. This leads people to search for them at Google by brand name. Google knows exactly how many people are seeking out a company by name, and it makes perfect sense that this data could and should be factored into them deciding which companies are the best.
The ease of getting rankings and traffic also made it unnecessary for these website owners to go above and beyond the products they sold. Why spend time becoming an expert in your industry and educating your target market on the intricacies of your products when you could write low-quality articles and submit them to article directory sites instead?
Where To Go From Here
To be successful with SEO today, you have to think beyond SEO. At least beyond SEO the way your mother did it. Today's SEO has to encompass a real marketing plan as well as a budget to implement it.
You need to seriously rethink your online strategy and get past the fact that what you're doing always worked before. You need to build a brand and you need to market it. If you have a lot of keyword-rich domains, consider creating one brand that can encompass them all. (Think Amazon.) And for heaven's sake, if you haven't already, get going with some professional social media marketing. Just creating social media profiles isn't going to be helpful. You need to reach out to your satisfied customers and see how they can help you. See if they'll write some online reviews about your products, blog about them, or just simply tell all their friends. And make sure you have lots of different ways to get in touch with them regularly such as via an email newsletter, Twitter, or Facebook.
Those are the sorts of things that will help you over time much more than trying to tweak your HTML tags. Certainly, if you've keyword stuffed the heck out of your website, you should fix that. And you should always make sure that your website is technically search engine friendly. But you've got to start putting much more emphasis onto your users. Sure, none of this is going to be a quick fix, but if you're serious about your business and websites, it's something that is necessary if you want to survive in today's Google.  

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As an SEO Consultant, Jill Whalen has been providing her no-nonsense, practical SEO advice since 1995. If you learned from this article be sure to sign up for Jill's popular High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter to keep up with the latest information in the ever-changing world of SEO. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen, "Like" her at Facebook, and "Circle" her on Google+.

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