Google plans to penalize 'overly optimized' sites

Given the state of SEO I can imagine this being quite effective, and if marketed correctly by Google’s spam team could weed out a LOT of the typical SEO industry types, especially the cheap outsource options within India and Eastern Europe.

So, the work that some of you may be doing right now could be what ruins your site? What do you make of this news? Are you going to give up the SEO game and just work on building a good site? Are you going to rejig the way you do SEO to not get caught?

I see your point. However, I think the most significant point in this story is not about weeding out “over-optimized sites”, but the shift towards Google answering questions directly, rather than finding websites that provide the information the searcher needs. This is all part of the same focus on “semantic search” that Google is moving towards.

So, for example, if someone searches for “how far is it from Bristol to Edinburgh?”, Google will simply display the distance, rather than show the sites that contain that information. So the sites in question will inevitably suffer a drop in traffic.

Clearly, this is going to have an effect on a lot of sites. It’s something to keep an eye on.


It never mentioned any form of cheating the system, just those who over-optimise their sites. This probably means that much of what people call “white hat” is also at risk, merely because it is often done without the users’ best interests in mind.

Google’s ultimate aim is to show the best results, and SEO by its very definition goes against this.

It’s a worrying time for Google fans. The company under Page is becoming less about its hacker roots and more about being a large advertising corporation that cares about its bottom line. Recent moves like hiring Kevin Rose (if the stories are true) and the failure of Google+ are additional moves that have raised eyebrows regarding Google’s ability to do anything outside of its core business.

As a result, I can see Page wanting people to stay on Google if at all possible and to potentially start weeding out some of the top search results as well as the smaller spam-filled searches. I’d expect Google to follow the likes of DuckDuckGo and to start serving Wikipedia articles in-page and to parse questions to form valid answers from results.

Logically, it’s a good idea, but outside of Gmail Google really hasn’t produced anything world-beating. Their recent attempts at social have been terrible and users are increasingly frustrated at the quality of search results. If they do go down this route it could be make or break for Google, and as a result worrying for SEO guys.

It’s a worrying time for Google fans. The company under Page is becoming less about its hacker roots and more about being a large advertising corporation that cares about its bottom line. Recent moves like hiring Kevin Rose (if the stories are true) and the failure of Google+ are additional moves that have raised eyebrows regarding Google’s ability to do anything outside of its core business.

Well, I could argue that any company that wants to survive has to worry about its bottom line. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

But you might be right about “Google’s ability to do anything outside of its core business”. I think part of the problem is that they are too successful. They have so much money to spend, and have put a lot of effort into finding new things to spend it on. Some of those new things pay off (like GMail and Google Maps). But most of them come and go, and fail to make an impression (Google Wave comes to mind).

Personally, I am finding Google Search less and less relevant. Increasingly, in my own work, when I search on Google, the first page no longer shows results that answer my query. I often try the same query on Bing, with much better results. (I’m not saying that Google Search as a whole no longer works. Obviously that’s not the case. But it does fail to deliver useful results in the particular searches that I do most often.)


Another point …

You mentioned the “failure of Google+”. Do you mean that literally? I wasn’t aware that Google+ was considered a failure - at least, not yet. (But it wouldn’t surprise me if it was.)


Not to hijack the discussion, but last week, James Whittaker, the former head of the engineering team for Google+, basically called it a failure in a blog post last week.

I don’t believe we can post links, but his blog is up on MSDN (where he now interestingly works) and shouldn’t be that hard to find. Direct from the horse’s mouth:

"I worked on Google+ as a development director and shipped a bunch of code. But the world never changed; sharing never changed. It’s arguable that we made Facebook better, but all I had to show for it was higher review scores.

As it turned out, sharing was not broken. Sharing was working fine and dandy, Google just wasn’t part of it. People were sharing all around us and seemed quite happy. A user exodus from Facebook never materialized. I couldn’t even get my own teenage daughter to look at Google+ twice…"

It’s a very interesting read…and also a strong indication of why Google is making significant changes to its search engine as it now wants to be more like Bing. They’re not innovating anymore, they’re just reacting.

Just the title of the news worries me because this is going to affect the white hats as well. About the term “over optimization,” I wonder when they’re going to tell what’s the ideal optimization that one could do for a site, just so that people would have some sort of a reference as to how much optimization can be done.

You certainly can post relevant links. :slight_smile:

I think this is what you are referring to:

Thanks for that, Tommy. It’s fair to point out that James Whittaker is not exactly a disinterested observer. But it makes interesting reading nevertheless.


The entire point is that white hat SEO doesn’t exist. If you are optimising your site for search engines at the potential expense of your content or your users Google wants you to fail. As rightly said above Google is reacting to the market, rather than leading it as it once did. This means that we could see some possibly dangerous changes from Google in the future, and not just directed towards the social market or the design of their core products.

In short, Google knows it has a quality problem and that it’s struggling to produce results, so the next target could possibly be SEO.

Not quite sure I would agree with that. “White hat SEO” could be said to count as ensuring optimal use of <title>, <link> and <meta> tags, and appropriate semantic markup (although the latter should be done as a matter of course!). Those are still perfectly appropriate and desirable things for you to do to optimise your website for search engines – arguably they are the only activities that could legitimately count as “optimising” your site.

Well, this side of optimisation is just good practice. I doubt Google could ever punish someone who writes their code correctly or makes conscious decisions in relation to the architecture of their site, but then again I would never call those decisions SEO.

I guess that the forthcoming update would cause much laugh around the net. I’d really see which major sites are goin’ down after that.

I doubt we’ll notice any difference. This particular change will come in gradually, and could take several months to work its way through. Given all the other variables that affect a site’s ranking, you’d have to monitor it very closely to notice an effect.


I doubt any major sites will, because major sites aren’t generally the ones responsible for link spam or keyword stuffing, which are the main things Google is trying to get round. It’s smaller and less reputable sites that cause this pox on our houses.

This article goes into further detail about Matt’s comments, and if you are unfamiliar with the author Vanessa Fox, she used to work for Google so I personally listen to her insight closely. She posts more of the transcript which helps to put it in better perspective.

[I][And later after talking about the positives of SEO] “Absolutely there are some people who take it too far. What we’re mindful of is when someone says, “We’re White Hat. We continue to do the right thing, and we see the Black Hats who are over optimizing or going too far, and they seem to be doing too well.” So we’ve been working on changes to try to make sure that if you are a White Hat or if you’ve been doing very little SEO that you are going to not be affected by this change. But if you’ve been going way far beyond the pale, then that’s the sort of thing where your site might not rank as highly as it did before.”

[/I][INDENT][I]“The way that I often think about SEO is that it’s like a coach. It’s someone who helps you figure out how to present yourself better. In an ideal world, though, you wouldn’t have to think about presenting yourself and whether search engines can crawl your website. Because they’d just be so good that they can figure out how to call through the Flash, how to crawl through the forums, how to crawl through the JavaScript, how to crawl through whatever it is…


[I]A lot of people seem to think that Google hates SEO. That’s definitely not the case…


[I] We even made a video about this. If you do a search for webmaster videos, we’ve made something like 400 videos. And we made one specifically to say Google does not hate SEO, because SEO can often be very helpful. It can make a site more crawlable. It can make a site more accessible. It can think about the words that users are going to type whenever they come to a search engine and make sure that those words are on the page, which just makes the site more user-friendly.


So the same sorts of things you do to optimize your return on investment and how well something spreads virally or socially is the exact same sort of stuff that often works well from a search engine perspective. So there is a ton of stuff that is fantastic to do as an SEO, it just makes your content more crawlable and more accessible.


Can anyone specify what over-optimized is.

You seem to be damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

If you want to optimize something, surely you should optimize the the Nth degree, now your are getting punished for it. I’m not talking black hat, I am talking proper white hat on-page optimization

That link was quite interesting, but in my experiences on this forum people tend to be differing opinions on what “white hat” actually is. I’d hardly be surprised if half of the people on here going on about white hat SEO will actually be doing their sites harm in the long run, especially if Google starts to come down hard on spammers.

In an ideal world, Google will eventually condense SEO down to a bunch of set principles and nothing more, moving SEO as a small subset into online marketing.

Why should you optimise beyond what you need? As Donald Knuth states when talking about software “premature optimization is the root of all evil”. I believe the same is true for SEO.

In my mind, if you’re optimising for search engines at the expense of the user experience then you’re over-optimising. Anything else that adds to the site is fair game.

Well put, and I think that summarizes the discussion very well. User experience is becoming the most important thing and should be at the forefront for anyone designing or marketing a website.

I like the sound of this. When you’re doing optimization for anything, it’s not like some TV shopping offer where in you give people the “but wait, there’s more” bit besides all that content that you already have for your space – in the case of SEO, that space would be your website. When you fill up a glass of water, you don’t fill it up 'til it’s completely full. You only fill it up to a point where the water won’t spill when you carry it around.