Feature Article (Pub:September 04) How much is too much, can you over-optimise? by Paul Rudman

Search Engine Optimisation is the art of increasing the ranking of a website. There are various methods achieved to do this, and a common question asked is "Can I over-optimise my website?" and thus risked getting banned?

There is no simple answer to this question because if you were to follow conventional SEO logic then every website would be banned that adopted so-called "black hat" Search engine tactics. An example of this is putting text on the page that is the same colour as the background so it does not appear on the page to the user, but the spiders index it. This would allow highly optimised text to be on the page without affecting the look and feel of the page. This tactic is widely regarded as a no-no within the SEO industry as Spiders get more and more clued up as to suspicious activities designed to artificially enhance the ranking of a website.

But if this was the case then how do we always manage to find a website that has same colour text within it and often through the rankings of Google itself? Surely they should have been banned for trying to "spam" the spider and dilute the quality of the search results?

It is this point, and how frequently cloaked pages occur within Google search results, that leads me to believe that the spiders are not as all-seeing as the Search Engines make out. Of course, what tends to keep optimisation attempts within "reason" is the potential of being banned - and how that could negatively affect web traffic as a result.

Are you prepared to risk being banned from Google for trying to take a short cut to the top? There will always be those that do, but remember, your website is your business, and if someone was to put a padlock on the door to your office in the High Street you would lose customers, a lot of customers.

There are aspects of optimisation that you should be positively encouraged to accomplish as much of as you can, and that is link-building. You can't have enough links into your websites, just always make sure they are from relevant websites to your own. There are rumours about bad link neighbourhoods - and that being linked from one of these sites can drag your own ranking down - but surely you cannot control who decides to link to your website? Then all a competitor of yours would need to do was create a deliberately bad neighbourhood website and then add multiple links to your site from it to decrease your rankings with Google.

No-one outside the company can answer this question and this will remain speculation, but my instinct is that any negative impact from a bad neighbourhood website would be negligible and also very difficult to isolate factors.

So back to the question, can you over-optimise? The simple and safe answer is yes you can. You can push and push against the engines policies to see what you can get away with and maybe increase your rankings a little bit, but you can also risk getting banned and once you are banned it is very unlikely you will be added to the rankings again. After all there are millions of websites out there, so why should yours be so important?

Stick with safe tactics, tried and tested methods of achieving a higher ranking, and remember that the cream always rises to the top so focus on quality content that is genuinely of interest to people, and make sure any search engine company and campaign you get involved with has an ethical policy and structure to protect and improve your placements, not get you banned and therefore losing you a very rich source of online traffic.


Paul Rudman is the director and head of optimisation at CommerceTuned, he's been involved in developing search strategies and search engine optimisation for 7 years.

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