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Every couple of months, someone proclaims that SEO is dead or sets off a number of anti-SEO threads, based on the continuous changing scenery in the search industry. It goes without saying that the landscape is different from what it used to be a couple of years before but from “different” to “nonexistent” is a wide range of tones. One might say: “Nothing has really changed. It’s simple: focus on your visitors and pretend Google doesn’t exist!”  That is indeed a very good piece of advice but Google does exist and, at the end of the day, it is its yard we are playing in. Let’s take a peek at the current SEO context and see what optimization looks like nowadays.

Unoptimized is the New Optimized SEO

Google’s Message to SEO Professionals

In short, Google’s message is pretty clear: Optimize too much and you will get penalized. Yet this statement raises so many questions: what does “too much” mean? Why is optimization Google’s enemy? Should I unoptimize my website to avoid a penalty?

Undoubtedly, the search industry changed a lot lately and SEO was forced to constantly adapt to these never-ending changes.

Techniques that used to be SEO’s no.1 weapons now seem rudimentary and wasteful.

If in 2009, Matt Cutts said that “there is no such thing as Google over-optimization penalty“,  in 2012 the same Matt Cutts is telling us that all those who have been doing over-optimization or overly doing their SEO compared to the webmasters that just make good content can be the subject of a penalty. Apparently, over optimization is an active area the big G’ engineers are working on. Google is trying to make their bot smarter, the relevance criteria more adaptive and they try to punish the site owners that are sort of abusing optimization.

Google Penguin SEO

What exactly does it mean to “abuse optimization” or to “over-optimize”?

The same Matt Cutts tries to answer this question (or rather raises even more questions). The head of the spam department from Google tells us that keyword stuffing, too many links exchanges or “whatever you are doing that goes beyond a normal person would expect in a particular area” can be translated into over optimization and thereby, into a penalty.

Let’s see if we got this right: Google started penalizing websites for keyword stuffing and link exchanges from back in 2007 or maybe earlier. So, from this point of view, over optimization is just a euphemism for a shady website profile. But what exactly does “whatever you are doing that goes beyond a normal person would expect in a particular area” mean? As much as I’d want to find an enlightening explanation for this phrase, I get hit by a mountain of confusion. It’s clear that Google is trying to make that playing field a little more leveled but it would surely be in hand to make it a little more transparent as well.

On-Page Optimization vs Off-Page Optimization

Although nowadays optimization requires an integrated approach, SEO was traditionally divided into two main areas:

  • on-page optimization – covers the actions that can be done on the pages of the website itself, factors that are controlled by you or by coding on your page. Examples of on-page optimization include actual HTML code, meta tags, keyword placement or keyword density.
  • off-page optimization – covers the activity that is off-site and is not controlled by you or the coding on your page. Examples of off-page optimization include things such as link building, link popularity or link authority.

When it comes to optimization, Google says NO to off-page optimization and YES to on-page optimization. By this, Google is telling us that one should not try to alter the rankings by manipulating the external metrics of the site. Theoretically, on-page you are free to do anything you can in order to grow your ranking organically… anything as long as it doesn’t imply excessive keyword repetition, duplicate content or hidden links.

Off-page optimization, on the other hand, is not something Google agrees with. This happens because the big search engine doesn’t like it when people are trying to alter its results.These manipulation attempts are “rewarded” with big penalties most of the time. Lots of sites, big and small, were penalized publicly to set an example. From famous banks to flower shops, from travel agencies to online clothing, they were all given a harsh lesson about the rules of the game.

The aim of all these measures is not to make the SEO industry disappear, but to redefine the SEO industry’s behavior.

In this new “unoptimized optimization” process it might be better for webmasters to focus more on strategic growth strategies and not on technical off-page SEO.

How to Approach Unoptimized SEO?

Although it may sound like a paradox, “unoptimized optimization” is a reality we must cope with.
I am not here to tell you that you shouldn’t optimize your website. But I am saying that is better to adapt to the actual SEO context, than fight with the windmills. Optimization, in whatever form, shouldn’t distract you from the most important asset: visitors, customers, readers, etc. In the long run, they are the one that matters the most. If you focus your actions on your audience, everything else falls in line behind that.

The Evolution of SEO

In the traditional SEO, success was measured according to the number of backlinks obtained or the authority of the pages that linked to a website. Unoptimized SEO changes the rules of the game, and therefore, the metrics for measuring success.

Unoptimized SEO by Link Earning

It might be the time to forget about link building and start earning links. The concept of link earning puts together all the qualitative efforts that a webmaster does in order to gain organic links. These efforts don’t resume to outdated link building methods, such as link exchange, commenting on blog posts or submitting your site to low-quality web site directories. Link earning is about sharing your knowledge, generating original information and being active in social media. Creating engaging, helpful content that users want and need can be more useful than a pile of backlinks.

One shouldn’t create content just for the sake of an editorial calendar but one should offer something that its audience can benefit from, something that people would genuinely want to click on.

What Are The Most Important Metrics for Unoptimized SEO?

Content Metrics

In order to make use of the content metrics correctly, you need to identify what is the specific behavior you want your consumer to have and build and monitor the content that creates a predisposition towards those actions.

You need to know what exactly you want to measure first of all:

  • shares
  • traffic
  • conversion rate
  • the return on investment

Depending on what exactly it is that you want to measure, you can have:

  • sharing metrics
  • consumption metrics
  • sales metrics

 Creativity is Hard to Measure

Sharing Metrics

These metrics are about monitoring the gross amount of likes, shares, comments, mentions, tweets, re-tweets, etc. By tracking how many times readers share your content through different social media channels, you get a good picture of how many readers are intrigued enough by your content to recommend it to others. But analyzing only the quantity of social signals might not be enough. You also need to monitor your social activity in order to see what content was best received, on what platform and by what audience.

All social signals should have an impact on your business as a whole. You need to accurately find out which social channel triggered what action. For instance, you need to correlate the growth of unique visitors on your website, to your social media activity and integrate that activity into your marketing efforts overall. This might be very helpful in correctly identifying what are the social signals that work best for you and on what social platform you should focus on.

Consumption Metrics

You need to ask yourself: How many people “consumed” my content in terms of traffic, views or downloads? You create content with the expectancy that it will drive traffic to your website, as high traffic might indicate the fact that your content was engaging enough to bring people to your website. And although downloads, views or traffic themselves are not the things that pay your bills, they are important signs for understanding what your audience is looking for. Monitor the spikes in your traffic and always keep an eye on what your type of content your audience is “consuming” most.

Sales Metrics

Finally, you want to transform your “consumers”, the people who read your content, into customers. In the end, the number of sales is an important metric in defining the success of your digital campaign and of your whole business. Yet, not only the commercial transactions between you and your customers need to be followed, but also the conversion rate. In short, conversion rate refers to the number of potential online visitors that become “buyers” on your website. “Buyers” can mean actually buying a product, filling out a form or subscribe to something on a site, depending on the web page’s goal. Conversions can occur across many touch points in the consumer marketplace and it is your job to capitalize on all those experiences. Monitor the content’s impact on your conversions so you get the best picture of the directions you need to follow.

Rank Tracking Metrics

Tracking the most important keywords in Google will help you not only understand your overall SEO visibility but also what visitors are looking for on your site and what your target needs and wants. You might not have built-in the right keywords for your website from the start, but a long time monitoring can tell you how your keywords are performing and what other keywords you should focus on in the future.

Keyword tracking implies figuring out which keywords generate what type of traffic and which ones bring you the greatest profit. Google Analytics can also tell you the revenue that each keyword is generating if the keywords are provided, and how much time a visitor has spent on your site.

Keyword Search Cartoon


Is Google militating for an unoptimized SEO concept? We cannot know that for sure but we do know that Google keeps on reminding us every time it has the opportunity that content is the one we should focus on. Matt Cutts claimed several times that good content is more important than SEO, but isn’t content part of search engine optimization?

The measure of intelligence is the ability to change, so if the new SEO implies unoptimization, webmasters will have no other choice but to up their game and go along with the new rules.

SEO should be full of meaning but shapeless, just like water!

When you pour water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. The water properties itself are unchanged but the shapes it takes in order to fit several recipients are always different.

So, what do you think? Is unoptimized SEO the way to go from now on?

Photo credits: 1 2 3 4
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