A tale of over-optimisation

As explained in my previous blog post, I’ve suddenly noticed that my newly created page was in competition with spam for terms strangely related to “Horsforth Restaurant Guide”. Worse my own page had disappeared from Google result page for the query rhinalnesc!

Rhinalnesc Google SERP
Google SERP for Rhinalnesc taken on 1st March 2016

I was really baffled and I tried to make sense of this situation. Then I went back to basis: what can a search engine’s robot see in the back-end of this page? That’s when I discovered that I was as bad as the spammers, I was spamming my own page by stuffing keywords inadvertently!

A simple “search and find” in the source code, found more than 130 occurrences of the keyword! It was a clear case of over-optimisation. Out of interest, I checked what the over spammers were doing and counted the number of time the keyword appeared on-page:

  • sean-challenge.com = 18 occurrences
  • danny-challenge.com = 18 occurrences
  • mark-challenge.com = 4 occurrences

This suggested that I needed to de-optimise my page. The problem was that I didn’t over-optimised on purpose, instead I found out that the culprits were plugins and bad judgement from my part. Here are the areas which needed improvement:

Images: I had named all the filenames and alt attribute with the keyword but unfortunately the lazy-load plugin was repeating the filenames and alt more than 5 times sometime – using srcset attribute! There are 9 such images, so the keyword could be found about 45 times. By simply renaming the filenames and removing the keywords from both alt attribute and filenames, I managed to de-optimise that part.

OpenGraph and Twitter Card: this is partly linked to the above. Yoast SEO plugin allows the creation of Facebook’s OpenGraph and Twitter Card meta. Unfortunately every single images was recoded for OpenGraph with filename and alt attribute! Plus the normal meta data is also used for both OpenGraph and Twitter Card meta. There were about 30 occurrences of the keyword just for that part! It is actually possible to customise both OpenGraph and Twitter Card meta in Yoast SEO. So I was able to de-optimise everything without compromising UX for people who wanted to share my content on Facebook and Twitter.

Headers: this was a real bad call. All my <h2> headers contained the keyword. There were 10 such headers on my page. So I simply removed them. I believe this would have been a real negative signal and send red alerts to Google!

Social share buttons: I use a plugin call “Social Media Feather” to display the share buttons. What I came to realise is that the page’s URL is repeated on every single button. At first I had left the default setting with 7 buttons both on top and bottom of the page, so 14 occurrences of the keyword. I removed three buttons and only kept the bottom ones.

So here you go, I’ve managed to remove almost 100 occurrences and the page now contains the keyword 30 times! Just hoping that the rankings will now come back.

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