Over the past few weeks, I've been reviewing optimization work performed by my team as well as many of our client's competitors. I've been studying the quality of the optimization work performed, both as a measure of comparison, and to simply get a feel for what other people are doing that perhaps we are not. What I found was pretty eye opening.

In many cases, as I peruse through the text and code, I can hardly tell where any "optimization" has occurred. It's like knowing that surgery was performed but not being able to see the scar. Yet in some instances the on-page optimization looked like surgery performed by Leatherface of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. This is what I call "SEO Bloat".

seo bloat SEO bloat happens when one or more of the following things occur:

  • using keyword density as a measure
  • continuously adding keywords into page, attempting to push rankings up
  • having too many hands in the pot (copywriter, seo, manager, etc.), all tweaking text for their purposes
  • no one keeping an eye on the "big picture" that keeps all of these things in control

Rarely does SEO bloat happen all at once, but it's usually an accumulation of edits and tweaks made over the course of several months or even years. This is what makes it particularly damaging to your marketing efforts. A once-stellar page can slowly, over time, become a piece of bloated garbage that consumes resources and provides little value to your visitors. Page after page can be rendered ineffective if there is constant tweaking but no follow through on monitoring the net result of those changes, beyond the gratuitous search engine ranking check. SEO should add-to, not detract from, your other marketing efforts and your website's total effectiveness.

Here are a five ways you can prevent nasty SEO bloat from overcrowding your marketing campaign:

Choose keywords wisely: Keyword selection really has the ability to steer a campaign off course. I've written a free white paper on keyword research and selection (which could use some updating) that stresses the importance of not just researching, but actually selecting keywords for your campaign. For any page or product being optimized, you have to select keywords that are not only relevant for a particular page, but that will also work together on the page. This last point is pretty crucial. Too often keywords are forced onto a page where they simply don't work.

Eliminate mis-fire keywords: Your keyword research shouldn't be a one-time event. It should be fluid and adaptable to the needs of your campaign. If you find that some keywords don't work as well as you thought, don't be afraid to cut them out or ship them off to another page. You can find dozens of keywords that are a natural fit for any one page, but not all of them are going to work together. What people often do is compensate by adding more and more text. That can be okay if you're optimizing a page that requires a lot of content, but don't get caught over bloating your pages with content that it doesn't need, or worse, doesn't help make the sale. You'll only cause confusion.

Don't be afraid to reword: Sometimes we can get so caught up trying to get keywords on a page that the writing style is sacrificed. This happens most often when looking for places where you can insert additional uses of a keyword. What happens is the inserted keyword breaks the flow of the copy. Sometimes it creates an unnecessary redundancy or produces an otherwise awkward sentence. Instead of looking for places to insert keywords wherever possible, take the time to make sure they are used in the best way possible. This may require rewriting sentences, or even creative restructuring of paragraphs, but it's well worth the effort.

Implement regular oversight: Having a single person responsible for reviewing edits can be a great way to catch errors, inconsistencies and other problems caused by SEO bloat. A single person should be responsible for reviewing a page any time edits are made. This person shouldn't be responsible for anything other than quality control. Rankings are not their business, nor are sales or conversions. Their job is to, as much as possible, take a birds-eye view of the page to make sure it functions on the visitor's level.

Check your stats: No, I don't mean "check your rankings," those are not the stats I'm referring to. After any change is made to a page, for SEO or any other purposes, you should closely monitor your analytics. Check your traffic volume, bounce rates, click through rates and conversion rates. Often times you may see traffic volume increase, but decreases in the other areas. While the increase in traffic may make you feel good, if fewer people are staying and/or converting, then your changes are producing a net negative effect. Each change should be monitored and kept only if there is no decline in page performance. And again, I'm not talking about ranking performance!

SEO bloat accumulation is difficult to control if your SEO campaign is too rigid or unadaptable, and regular checks are not in place early on. Following the five steps above can help ensure that your SEO campaign enhances, rather than detracts from, the overall marketing efforts you have in place.

Good optimization should not leave a discernible trail on a page. It should be seamless to the naked eye. That's not to say that no one should be able to tell that a page has been optimized, or what keywords were targeted, only that it shouldn't be obvious to anyone not looking for it. If the average visitor feels that there is something funky with the page, then you've likely got a case of growing, or perhaps full-fledged SEO bloat. If that's the case, the only course of action is a hard-core re-evaluation of the page and implementing a rigid bloat loss strategy.

April 2, 2008

Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.

If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.

Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.


Another useful post, Stoney. I'm a copywriter, so I look at the copy I write from a marketing perspective and an SEO perspective. There's one person you omitted from the list of hands that contribute to over-edited text: the client.

I'm trying to hammer out a post that riffs on this post...I'll be sure to include a link. It's good advice for anyone involved in marketing, from the client to the copywriter and programmer to the project manager.

BTW, have you done any posts explaining why you prefer Sphinn and FetchIt over other tools?

Thanks for the kind words Scott. I subscribed to your blog so I won't miss your post. As to your question of Sphinn and Fetch I don't really have an answer. I'm not big on social media, though I fully understand it's usefulness. These two were simply the default places to go. Well, that's not entirely true. I love the people at Fetch so that's why I keep coming back!

great post, quite relevant. Thanks Stoney.

Another awesome post.. Thanks for the great read and I look forward to more..


Thanks Stoney -- particularly for your emphasis on stats as different from rankings. This could warrant an entire post all together, as I am observing a frightening fixation on rankings in my little corner of the Earth. Well played overall.

I don't agree with elimination of keywords. If you find that a certain keyword has a low volume or low conversion rate you should stop spending money on optimizing for this certain phrase. But why drop it? It might still generate some (longtail) traffic and in letting it stay on your page there is no disadvantage (like costs or anything).
Maybe you don't need it on your main-page but there should be a place on your website somewhere for every keyword that is only slightly relevant to your niche.

Thanks for your note malte, though I think you took what I was saying incorrectly. I wasn't speaking about low volume or low conversion keywords, although that can still apply. Specifically, however, I was talking about keywords that simply don't fit within the context of the page as hoped. this happens pretty frequenlty, especially when going after long-tail keywords. Maybe it's a qualifier such as the word "pink" or "cheap", or something else along those lines. Sometimes trying to force those keywords in just doesn't do you any good with improving the readability of the site.

Another aspect are keywords that are more difficult to rank for than originally thought. These can be moved off to another page where more dedication and focus can be applied.

As for low-volume or low-converting terms, you're right. No need to eliminate those if they are ranking and working well in the content. The only time I'd remove those if it got to a point where those keywords were overcrowding other important keywords and getting in the way of the message.

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