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How to Avoid SEO Over Optimisation (8 Ways)

Wasting time over-optimising can seriously damage your search engine rankings and website performance. Learn more here.
graph showing the diminishing returns of over optimising a website's SEO

Too Much SEO Is A Bad Thing

I bet you thought you’d never hear an SEO creative studio tell you that, but it’s true.

Too much SEO can be a bad thing for your online presence – especially when it’s done with spammy, black-hat techniques.

But what is SEO over-optimisation?

Website over-optimisation is the excessive use of SEO techniques in order to manipulate search engine rankings and achieve higher organic traffic.

These can range from stuffing keywords to creating low-quality backlinks – but we’ll explore these later on in this post.


Table of Contents


How Can Over-Optimisation Hurt Your SERP Rankings?

Over-optimising for search engines can damage your website’s performance in more ways than one.

To start, it can result in seriously lower rankings. Search engines have become smart enough to recognise when websites are using manipulative SEO techniques to boost SERP rankings, even if the author isn’t totally aware they’re doing it themselves.

These lower rankings will often result in your website being flagged for spam and potentially even removed from the search engine index altogether.

In addition, over-optimisation can also lead to a poor user experience. When your website is overloaded with keywords, irrelevant content and spammy links, it becomes difficult for users to find what they are looking for. This can result in a high bounce rate and lower conversions.

All in all, SEO over-optimisation can have detrimental effects on your website’s visibility, credibility and user experience – all of which play a key part in a world dominated by E-E-A-T.

And it’s not like over-optimising is a quick and easy process.

It’s often done by inexperienced SEOs thinking they’re doing the right thing when in actual fact they’re investing their time into a process that will receive diminishing returns and harm their website in the long run.

For us, over-optimisation is a key reason why you should never go at it alone on an SEO strategy – because the consequences can be dire.


How To Spot Over-Optimisation

Over-optimising is surprisingly easy to do if you’re not careful.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re wondering whether something is over-optimised, it probably is.

That’s why we spoke to our in-house specialists to gather a list of the top 8 ways to spot over-optimisation in 2024.


1) Keyword Stuffing

There’s a big difference between keyword targeting and keyword stuffing.

Keyword targeting involves strategically using keywords throughout your content in a natural and relevant manner.

Keyword stuffing, on the other hand, is the classic telltale sign of over-optimisation. This is the process of cramming a bunch of keywords into your content in an attempt to rank higher for those terms.

Not only does keyword stuffing make your content low-quality (a big no-no in Google’s ranking guidelines), but it also makes for a poor user experience.

Keyword stuffing doesn’t just apply to your body text, it includes everything from your H tags and URLs to footers and meta descriptions.

We feel that some leading SEO writing tools encourage keyword stuffing, but gaining an understanding of the correct keyword density is crucial for any content writer. This is something that takes time and practice.

Some people in the sector report that you should use your primary keyword once every 100-150 words, but we think that is too much – especially when you’re writing long-form content with 2,000+ words.

Instead, we’d recommend using your primary keyword once every 200 words – if that!

Google’s bots are much smarter than they used to be and can identify how relevant your content is to the target keyword without the need for excessive repetition.

Rather than focusing on repeating the same keywords over and over again, find new semantic phrases and related terms to include in your content.

This will not only make your content more engaging for users, but it also shows search engines that you’re providing valuable and relevant information.


2) Exact-Match Anchor Text

An often overlooked part of over-optimisation is exact match anchor text – especially for internal links.

I’m sure you know what anchor text is, the clickable text in a hyperlink.

It’s important to use varied and natural anchor text, as having too many exact-match keywords can be seen as manipulative by search engines.

That’s not to say you can’t write the anchor text as the target keyword for the page you’re linking to as a one-off.

The issue is when every page on your site linking to that page uses the same exact match anchor text.

Or even worse, when the entire title tag or URL for the post you’re linking to is used as anchor text.

Search engines will simply flag this as over-optimisation.


While we’re on the topic of links, let’s explore why too many links are bad for your site’s SEO.

Excessive linking can make your content seem spammy and manipulative – both of which are frowned upon by search engines.

We get it, you want your readers to have all the information they need at their fingertips and if there’s an opportunity to link to another post on your site you’re going to want to take it.

But flooding your content with links can damage your website’s user experience as it can be distracting and overwhelming for readers.

Instead, by aiming for 5 to 10 internal links for every 2,000 words, you’re landing in the sweet spot.

That’s not to say you should link to the same page three times in one post, though.

Doing that is arguably worse than linking to 20+ pages in the same post as it’s seen as a blatant attempt to manipulate your website’s internal linking structure.

Be mindful and selective about where you link to. Try to find unique opportunities to link to pages deep in your website’s structure, rather than the same old top-level pages.


4) Linking to Sites With Bad SEO

It’s not just internal links that can ruin your SEO presence, it’s external links too.

Linking to pages with a high spam score, low-quality content or poor SEO practices can negatively impact your own website’s ranking.

Google wants to see high-quality, relevant and trustworthy links on your site. If you’re linking to spammy or low-quality sites, you’ll be seen as associating yourself with bad neighbourhoods.

If the site you’re linking to has been penalised by Google, this can also affect your own rankings and reputation.

Google doesn’t care that you’re linking to a business closely related to your own, whether it be part of the same group or a client of yours.

If that website has poor SEO, all its bots see is that you’re linking to a bad site.

You can check a page’s SEO performance by running it through one of the many tools on leading SEO software, such as SE Ranking.

These tools will tell you the domain trust, traffic and rankings of the specific page you’re linking to – essentially letting you know if it’s worth including in your content or not.


5) Targeting Irrelevant Keywords

A key part of search engine optimisation is improving your online visibility for search queries directly related to your business, service and industry.

So, if you’re a law firm, why would you try to rank for keywords relating to government-funded solar panel installations?

Unless it’s hyper-relevant to the legal services you provide, of course.

Simply put, you should not try to generate traffic from keywords that are irrelevant to your website.

When Google indexes your site, its bots will consider every keyword your domain uses and will rank accordingly.


7) Optimising Multiple Pages For The Same Keyword

As bad as ranking for irrelevant keywords is, that isn’t the only keyword-related mistake that can hurt your site’s ranking.

Optimising multiple pages for the same keyword is a classic example of over-optimisation.

Having three different pages all competing for the exact same search query will only confuse Google’s bots when trying to determine which page is most relevant to that keyword.

This can result in all three pages being ranked lower than they would have been had you targeted different keywords or just not ranking altogether.

You may think there is a clear distinction between these posts (because you’ve written them), but on the surface level, this might not be so clear.

Instead, focus on targeting different keywords on each page of your site. This allows Google to see the full range of topics you cover and also provides more opportunities for your site to rank for different terms.

What’s more, updating old content will always be more effective than creating a new post that covers the same topic, just with slightly more up-to-date information.


7) Multiple H1s

This one is easy to spot. A H1 tag, for those who don’t know, is the title of your page.

This is typically what you’ll see at the top of an article or blog post and it’s usually the first thing a reader sees when they land on your page.

There should only ever be one H1 tag per page, as it’s meant to clearly indicate the main topic or focus of that page.

Having multiple H1 tags can confuse search engines and lead them to think your content is disorganised and not focused on a single topic.

Instead, use sub-headers, such as H2, H3 and H4, to structure your content – but use them correctly!


The last way to detect website over-optimisation is by looking at backlinks.

True, this one is harder to spot without an SEO tool, but if you’re actively engaging in a backlink strategy, you should be aware of where your backlinks are coming from and how many you’re gaining over time.

A sudden spike in backlinks could be considered unnatural and could raise red flags for search engines. This is especially true if those backlinks are all coming from the same source or using exact match anchor text.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim to create high-quality content that pages will want to link to. In fact, that should always be a priority.

Instead, aim for a steady, natural increase in backlinks over time. Focus your off-page SEO strategy on earning high-quality links from reputable sources, rather than trying to manipulate the system with a sudden influx of backlinks.


How to Waste Time Over-Optimising

If you’ve checked your pages for all 8 of the above mistakes and found you’re not guilty of any, congratulations!

But if you still feel like you want to spend your time over-optimising, there are five surefire ways to waste your time optimising your website, each of which delivers diminishing returns.

Let’s get into them.


Getting a Perfect Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are a vital part of SEO (pardon the pun).

These are metrics used to measure the user experience and speed of a website page, with the overall score being a crucial part of where your domain ranks on SERPs.

The performance of your page will be scored one of three things: Poor, Needs Improvement or Good.

Obviously, you want your site to have a Good score, which typically means your site loads in 2.5 seconds or less.

However, spending hours trying to perfect your Core Web Vitals score by tweaking every aspect of your site’s performance may not be worth the time and effort.

While a good Core Web Vitals score is important, it’s only one factor out of many that Google considers when ranking a website.

What’s more, getting a perfect Core Web Vitals score is nigh-on-impossible.

Again, that’s not to say you should ignore Core Web Vitals. You definitely shouldn’t do that.

But trying to get a perfect score? You might be wasting your time.


Optimising Every Meta Title and Description

Another time-consuming process is optimising every piece of metadata across your website.

For us, this is a process we do as we go. As a page is created, optimised or updated, we check the meta title and description, making edits as necessary.

When you consider that Google will change a page’s metadata a staggering 62.78% of the time,  you understand the futility of trying to create a “perfect” meta description or meta title.

As long as your metadata is relevant, below 155 characters and accurately describes what users will find on the page, you’re good to go.


Manually Fixing Every Redirect Chain

There is no denying that too many redirections can negatively affect your website’s speed, user experience and SEO.

But that doesn’t mean you should spend hours manually fixing every single redirect chain on your site.

Recent updates to Google’s algorithm mean their bots can technically follow a string of 10 redirects before registering an error.

Should you let it get to this point? Probably not.

But knowing the safety net is there allows you to focus on other key factors first, rather than potential errors with redirect chains that might not even be impacting your site’s performance.


Focusing Excessively on Image Alt Text for Every Minor Image

Should your alt-text have descriptive keywords, so search engines know what your images are?


But should you spend hours going through every image on your site, making sure they all have perfectly optimised alt text?

Maybe not.

While it’s important to have relevant alt text for images, it’s not an absolute make-or-break factor for SEO the way site load speed is.

That being said, your images should have alt-text that is descriptive and relevant to the image, but it doesn’t need to be perfectly crafted for every image on your site.

The alt text also shouldn’t be thin or just the target keyword for your post.

It’s all about finding that healthy middle ground where you can quickly get it done and move onto the next job, rather than getting caught in the weeds.


Obsessing Over Minor Rankings Fluctuations

Search engine rankings change. That is the nature of SEO.

In many ways, SERPs are the wild west. They can be unpredictable and ever-changing.

So, while it’s important to monitor your site’s rankings and track any fluctuations, obsessing over minor changes is not productive.

Not only does this waste time that could be spent on more meaningful SEO strategies, but it also adds unnecessary stress and anxiety.

If your page rankings start to continually drop or fail to return to the top spot, then sure it’s time to go back to the drawing board and think of ways to improve your content.

But don’t mask rash decisions based on minor ranking fluctuations.

Instead, focus on the bigger picture and make adjustments to your SEO strategy as needed.


Conclusion: It’s Not Too Late to Get Your SEO Strategy Back on Track

If you’re worried about whether you’ve over-optimised your content, then chances are you’re already on the right track.

There is no shortcut to great SEO, despite what some SEO agencies might tell you.

And believe us, if we knew about one we’d use it!

SEO is a marathon, not a sprint, and doping with over-optimisation will only result in costly penalties that could cost you significantly in the long run.

Sometimes, you need to ask yourself the hard questions about your website and SEO strategy.

If you think you’ve fallen victim to over-optimisation, it’s not too late to recover your website from that fate.

It might be a time-consuming process, but it will be worth it in the long run for your website’s success and credibility.


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