I have several clients whose previous SEO companies had routinely over-optimized content on their sites. In looking around at other sites, there are plenty more who have done something similar.
Now, I certainly don't claim to be an SEO guru or hold the secrets to the search engine gods (or my prices would be MUCH higher), but I do know a thing or two that works and what can work against you. In many cases, over-optimized sites can be even more damaging than ones with none at all.
The obvious examples include awkwardly heavy use of keywords and phrases. Often called "keyword stuffing," this has been a big no-no for a long time, yet people still do it intentionally. Despite what some guides may claim, there really isn't a perfect level of keyword usage. A good measurement tool to find out if it is too much is to read it back to yourself out loud. If it doesn't sound natural and you find yourself saying words and phrases over and over again when a whole list of other words would be appropriate, then it's probably overdone and could be drawn back a bit.
Another example is excessive use of headers. Let's say you only have 300 words of content but there are five headers used, all stuffed with keywords. Well, this usually even looks overdone and doesn't even need to be read. One or two would be perfectly sufficient to drive the point home and your content should back them up.
An equally annoying one is when too much bold text is used. This is another one that just looks odd and is not only excessive for search engines but is also a turn-off for readers. I don't know about you, but when I'm trying to read content on someone's site, I usually click away when I see multiple sections of bold text on every page. They're simply trying too hard. It's kind of like when a soccer player takes a dive, rolls around holding his shin pretending to be in agony to try and draw a penalty on the other team - overly and unnecessarily dramatic.
The last main point is when people use a bunch of keywords in their page names (also called file names or URL extensions). This typically involves several synonyms. An example might be yousiteaboutkitchens.com/how-to-clean-pans-fryingpans-bakingpans-nonstickpans-muffinpans-pizzapans-roastingpans. We get it, you want to mention a lot of pans. No need to put every kind of pan you can think of in the file name.
There are other ways that pages and sites can be over-optimized, but those cover the most blatant ones that I've seen. Keep in mind that what the #1 search engine really wants is a truly user-focused experience. When your content becomes too focused toward search engines and not enough toward your readers, then you're going to lose out eventually. Quality is key here.
Contact Catton Communications today for a free website evaluation. We don't over-sell, over-promise or over-optimize, and we have a good track record of results.