If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years in engineering content that goes beyond the written word, it’s that there is definitely such a thing as too much SEO. At first it was easy:


Do a little keyword research, stuff a mess of keywords into your content, and create a massive network of incoming and outgoing links to your pages – done. Your page showed up, and regardless of the quality of your content, you ranked – you ruled.


These days, Google is smarter than ever, and true to the nature of their quality control practices, they’re working hard to ensure that searchers are getting the results they want. That means content created for humans, and pages with actual value to lend to their readers.


The past several years has seen a massive shift in just how much SEO Google is willing to tolerate before it penalizes sites, so the question is now, how much is too much SEO?


Keyword Density


While it’s important to optimize your content for target keywords, it’s important to remember that density isn’t everything, and that over-enriching your content with keywords will send Google’s algorithms a red flag that you’re trying to rig the game.


Don’t focus too much on how many times your keyword is appearing in your content – usually between four and six times per 1,000 words is more than sufficient. Focus instead on ensuring those target keywords have relevance, and put them in the places that weigh heavily on your page’s ranking, including your H1 text and meta descriptions.


Keyword Stuffing


Let’s get this clear from the start – Google hates keyword stuffing, and it will absolutely penalize you for doing it to try to outrank your competitors. Sure, you want to reach a broad audience, and you want a lot of searches to pull up your page, but over-optimizing your content with blatant keyword stuffing not only dilutes the relevance of your copy, but sets off alarms to Google that your content is engineered for SEO, not people.


By all means, use handy tools like Text Tools to identify semantically related keywords for your topics, and make your content relevant and indexable, but don’t let the focus of your content be on keyword optimization – always make it about the reader.


Anchor Text Over-Optimization


While putting some thought into your anchor text certainly makes sense from the user-end of things, it can also hurt your rankings to over-optimize it. Branded link anchor text is generally safe to optimize like crazy, but it makes more sense to keep your anchor text more topically relevant than keyword-focused for better rankings.


Moz recommends a 7:3 ratio of non-targeted:targeted anchor text, with the majority of the anchor text you use being selected based on concepts rather than keywords. Google will love you for it, and your readers won’t feel bombarded by what is obviously SEO-focused, link-heavy content.


‘Bad Neighborhood’ Linking


black hat link building SEO practices

This is a rather interesting concept, but one that makes a lot of sense when you think of it like you would in real-life relationships. Just as you can be penalized in life for consorting with unsavory characters, such is the same for link-building.


If spammy sites are the source of many of your incoming and outgoing links, it can and will affect your rankings, and Google’s algorithms will punish you accordingly. Sites that are blatant link-farms, or are using unethical SEO practices are going to negatively affect you, so make sure that every link you build is on a site you’re happy to associate with.


Likewise, make sure you’re a good influence friend to have around. Keep your link-building strategies ethical and productive for the sake of your content – not just your link profile.


Stop Posting Fluff – Publish Real, Valuable Content


Content frequency is a big part of keeping your site relevant and ranked, but a lot of site owners take this one too far, publishing content as frequently as possible, regardless of its topical relevance or value.


The problem with this is, you wind up with a lot of really short, keyword dense articles that are low on information, and more often than not, your bounce rate goes up. Aside from it just being a negative experience for your user, Google also takes note of excessive, light content, and takes it as a red flag that you’re just trying to populate your site, and not deliver valuable content to your audience.


If you’re running out of ideas, don’t publish fluff that’s devoid of valuable information. Instead, focus on optimizing the content you already have in place, and use advanced keyword tools to create content that’s more relevant to your target audience. You’ll build traffic to those pages, and ultimately rank higher for your target keywords.


Don’t Create an Army of Sites Just to Link to Yourself


This is generally pretty common knowledge among some of the worst things you can do for your own SEO, and for good reason. Building links between sites is time-consuming enough, without having to own and manage them all yourself.


Aside from the time input from this kind of link-building, it’s also deeply frowned upon by Google, and you absolutely will be penalized for it.


Not only is it unethical, but it’s ineffectual as well. Since most of these sites are created around the same time, the sites themselves aren’t old enough to be valuable sources of backlinks anyway. The age of sites plays a huge role in the trust they’ve garnered with Google, and if you have a bunch of backlinks from several young sites, it’s not going to do much to boost your rankings or traffic anyway.


The golden rule of SEO? Craft sites and content for people, not SEO. Remember folks, it’s search engine OPTIMIZATION, not search engine manipulation. Google is smarter than you, I promise, and you will absolutely feel the sting if you decide to try to engineer your way to the top of the SERPs, instead of earning your spot there with organically ranking content.


Make it relevant, make it authentic, and don’t count on the SEO shortcuts to make your traffic increase on its own.