Why ‘Over-Optimizing’ Your Links Can Backfire

Sometimes you can do a job too well. Such is the case with customizing your links and keywords to improve your site’s Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It’s actually possible to ‘over-optimize’ your site, which can lead Google to penalize it by lowering your rankings.

To avoid over-optimizing your links, you’ll first need to understand what kinds of tweaks are likely to cause problems. Fortunately, even if you have already gone too far in optimizing your site, it is still possible to fix it (especially if you have the right tools at your disposal).

In this article, we’ll discuss what over-optimization means and how you can avoid it. Let’s get started!

What ‘Over-Optimization’ Is (And Why It Can Harm Your Site)

Before we go any further, we should make it clear that you should absolutely be optimizing your site's links. Link optimization helps you inform Google and other search engines about your website's structure, and plays an important role in how early your site appears in search results.

This type of optimization is often accomplished by adding specific keywords as the anchor text for your links. However, that method is no longer a viable method for Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In fact, Google is well aware of this technique, and now penalizes sites that ‘over-optimize' their links.

As you can imagine, this is a significant concern, even if you haven't been applying this strategy on purpose. In fact, you may have accidentally over-optimized your site simply by doing too good a job adding keywords to your links. However, it is perfectly possible to both avoid and fix this issue, especially if you have Pretty Links to help you out.

4 Ways You Can Avoid Over-Optimizing Your Links

Throughout the next few sections, we're going to cover a few of the most important techniques you can use to avoid over-optimizing your links (or fix any damage that's already been done). Let's go!

1. Diversify Your Anchor Text

The biggest cause of over-optimization is reusing the same keywords as anchor text for your links. This seems like a sound idea in theory – after all, you're trying to optimize your content for that phrase. If you add your keyword in too frequently, however, Google will perceive you as trying to ‘game the system'.

As such, you should avoid using the same anchor text more than once per post. It's also important that you don't always use anchor text that exactly matches the URL of the linked post. For example, if you're linking to https://example.com/cheap-tennis-shoes/, don't always use the anchor text “cheap tennis shoes”.

Instead, vary your anchor text, and use natural language throughout your content. Pretty Links has a great tool to help you do this, in the form of the Replacements feature. This lets you automatically add and replace links for specific keywords, enabling you to cut down on overused anchor text across your site in a matter of seconds.

2. Use Relevant Keywords

Google places a lot of importance on your content's quality and relevancy. It ranks sites in large part based on which pages are most relevant to specific keywords. As such, you should never try to rank your site for keywords that aren't connected to its content.

Targeting a wide range of terms might seem like an efficient way of bringing in a more diverse audience, by appealing to niches that don't match your own. In practice, however, you are likely to annoy your visitors and get penalized in Google's rankings. As such, you'll want to stick with links, keywords, and anchor text that are actually relevant to your content at all times.

3. Only Link to Trusted Sites

When you link to an external site, you're creating a connection between that site and yours. Google pays attention to those connections. If you link to spammy, toxic, or untrustworthy sites, Google will start to perceive your site more poorly.

The easiest way to avoid this scenario is to make sure that you only link to high-quality, authoritative sites. If you're using Pretty Links, you can perform a link audit to ensure that you don't link to sites with low domain authority. If you find that you are linking to undesirable sites, you can simply replace them with more trustworthy alternatives.

4. Don’t Link to Top-Level Navigation Pages

Of course, it's important not to forget about internal links (as in, links to other pages on your own site). Naturally, you'll be tempted to link a lot to top-level content, such as your home page and landing pages. However, overdoing this can come back to haunt you.

If the majority of your internal links point to top-level navigation pages like these, you can actually harm your site's link profile, which is likely to result in poorer rankings. The same fact applies to external links as well. If you only link to top-level content, Google will lower your link profile and perceive your site as less authoritative and useful.

To solve this problem, simply aim to link to more ‘deep content'. In other words, you'll want to link to lots of ordinary pages and posts. Ideally, you should aim to have a 50/50 split between top-level and deep links on your site.


It used to be possible to stuff your site with keywords and spam the same anchor text to gain favor in Google's search results. Those days are long gone, and search engines will now penalize this type of behavior. Instead, you need to actively avoid over-optimizing your links, so you don’t inadvertently harm your site. This is a lot easier with a dedicated tool such as Pretty Links.

In this article, we’ve discussed the best ways to keep your SEO efforts in check. You'll want to:

  1. Diversify your anchor text.
  2. Use relevant keywords.
  3. Only link to trusted sites.
  4. Avoid linking to top-level navigation pages.

Do you have any questions about combating over-optimization in your links? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Categories: SEO
About John Hughes

John is a blogging addict, WordPress fanatic, and staff writer.