This way you avoid over-optimizing your search
7 mins read

This way you avoid over-optimizing your search

Search optimization is generally a good thing. When you create something useful – an article, a product page, or even a free tool – it helps ensure that people can find it through search.

But can you go too far? Can you above-optimize?

Google says yes in two ways.

Harmful over-optimization

Harmful over-optimization is, as Google’s Gary Ilyes puts it: “Literally optimizing so much that at some point it hurts.” It’s possible that you’re putting so much effort into ranking that your pages end up in spam territory – and Google may lower your content’s rank or choose not to rank everything.

Graphic showing harmful over-optimization that significantly reduces a website's search visibility

Google today is generally very good at detecting and ignoring many types of over-optimization. However, there are some tactics that still carry the risk of incurring manual penalties.

1. Keyword stuffing

Keyword stuffing involves stuffing a page with keywords in order to rank higher for those keywords.

You’ll know keyword stuffing when you see it: Keywords and their synonyms are repeated over and over again, in sentences and paragraphs that don’t really make sense.

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It’s a good idea to include keywords in relevant places, such as titles or meta descriptions: they signal to robots and humans alike that your site focuses on a specific topic.

But while keyword targeting helps pages appear in search results for relevant searches, keyword stuffing can have the opposite effect, turning helpful content into spam.

For Google, more keywords aren’t always better – and some pages even rank for keywords they don’t mention. Our blog post about canonical tags took first place for the keyword “canonical tagging”:

The organic keywords report in Ahrefs shows a top ranking for the keyword "Canonical tagging"

Despite the fact that “canonical tagging” is not mentioned anywhere on the page:

Screenshot showing an article about canonical tags that does not contain the phrase "Canonical tagging"

You don’t have to stuff every inch of your article with keywords. Write extensively about your topic and create clear, relevant titles and headings. This will help you mention numerous keywords without any extra effort.

2. Create links with exact match anchor text

Anchor text refers to the clickable words in a link to your website. For example, this link has the anchor text “Google Rankings”:

Screenshot showing an example of anchor text in a blog post

If this anchor text matches the target keyword of the page it links to, it will be viewed exact match Anchor text.

This can be helpful: Google looks at the anchor text of your backlinks to understand what the page is about (and what it should rank for). But lots of backlinks with exact match keyword anchors can be a clear sign to Google that links are being bought or influenced: something that blatantly violates Google’s spam policies.

Natural backlink profiles contain a mix of different types of anchor text: some exact match keywords, but usually many more partial match keywords, brand references, naked URLs, image links, and random words.

Here is an example of a natural backlink profile:

Anchor report in Ahrefs with different types of anchor text including quote, empty anchor, brand and naked URL

Link building is a central part of SEO, but obsessing over the anchor text of each URL isn’t helpful. Focus your energy on getting links first and leave the anchor text to the person linking to your site.

Time-wasting over-optimization

Other types of optimization suffer from a different problem: diminishing returns. At a certain point, your continued use will have less and less impact on search visibility. As Google’s John Mueller puts it: “We focus on all the little details that make tiny, tiny differences.”

Diagram showing time-consuming over-optimization that requires a lot of effort without improving a website's search visibility

Here some examples.

1. Pursuit of Perfection at Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals are metrics that measure the speed and user experience of a website page. They are part of Google’s calculations for ranking pages.

Core Web Vitals measure your site’s performance in three different tests. The performance of the site is evaluated as follows Bad, needs improvement, or Good. For pages for which data is available, you can see these scores in the Site Audit performance report:

Screenshot showing Ahrefs Site Audit tool's Core Web Vitals report

Switching from one category to another is good for your users – pages load faster and more consistently – and can even lead to a small improvement in search rankings.

But while each improvement to your Core Web Vitals serves to make your website a little better, the effort and effort required to make further improvements increases. At a certain point, there may be no additional benefit to search performance.

This is where over-optimization comes in: it could be that the time and effort required to reduce your LCP (one of the Core Web Vitals metrics) from 2.5 seconds to 2 seconds could be better spent elsewhere , for optimizations that would have a greater impact on your overall search visibility.

2. Fix every single redirect chain

A redirect occurs when a visitor to a website is redirected to another page – a redirect Chain happens when several of these redirects occur one after the other.

Example: A visitor to a now-deleted blog post might be redirected to a newer blog post. If this post is deleted, you may be redirected to the blog homepage.

These redirection chains can easily grow large, and it’s tempting to invest energy in shortening them – but that’s probably hardly necessary. Google can technically track up to 10 redirects before throwing an error. Therefore, most of your redirect chains are probably fine as is. If you want to be on the safe side, follow John Mueller’s advice: fix redirect chains with five or more hops.

You can detect these using Site Audit. After performing a website crawl, go to the “All Issues” report and you will see a variety of potential redirect issues, including “Redirect chain too long”:

Screenshot showing the Ahrefs Site Audit tool's Redirect Issues report

3. Optimize every single meta description and title tag

Meta descriptions and title tags help articles stand out in search results and encourage searchers to click on your article.

With extra clicks down the line, it might be tempting to write or rewrite every meta description and title tag you can get your hands on – but that would mean a lot of wasted effort. Even on healthy websites, many pages receive little to no traffic from Google, so you would be changing content that no one would see.

If you want to optimize meta descriptions and title tags, you need to prioritize. Site Audit works well: Open the Page Explorer report and set the filters to show indexable pages that receive organic traffic:

Screenshot showing custom filters in Page Explorer report in Ahrefs Site Audit tool

Then sort your results from high to low by estimated organic traffic (you can even use the Columns menu to add columns that show the current meta description and length of each page).

Screenshot showing how pages are sorted by organic traffic in the Page Explorer report in the Ahrefs Site Audit tool

You’ll see a list of your most trafficked pages along with their current meta descriptions, making it easy to see if any would benefit from an update.

Final thoughts

If you’re worried about over-optimization, your intuition is probably a good guide. If you feel like you’re doing something that Google (or your users) don’t like, or you’re focusing on small improvements in areas that are already working well, then yes, you’ve probably over-optimized.