SEO has a lot of do’s and don’t’s associated with it, especially if you’re just starting out. And even if you know it pretty well, it changes frequently enough to keep you on your toes.
On the plus side, that means SEO is never boring. On the down side, that means you have to keep up with all the changes while still maintaining a grip on best practices for your industry. It’s not easy — especially if you’re running a marketing department or building a business from the ground up.
And that’s why you have to make sure you’re doing it the right way the first time.
1. Keyword and content gaps
Gaps in your keyword and content strategies mean that you’re not taking advantage of all of the marketing opportunities you have online. These “gaps” are different keywords that your competition is targeting, but you’re not, which leaves you at a disadvantage when it comes to ranking.
The reason this is such a problem is because the longer you wait to fill those gaps, the more authority your competitors build over time. So if they’re ranking well for a high-value keyword — and if they also have paid ads running next to it — you’re fighting an uphill battle for ranking and visibility.
But how do you fill gaps in your keyword and content strategies when you don’t know what you’re missing in the first place?
The best way to find the gaps in your content and keyword strategies is to use services like SEMrush or SpyFu. These services show you what your competition is doing so you can take your strategy to offense instead of defense.
On top of that, you can also use Moz’s Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to find pages on your competitors’ sites that get a lot of links. Then, you can look through those pages and get some new content ideas.
It’s not a smart idea to straight-up steal from your competition. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use their successes as guidelines and inspiration for the future of your content strategies. In fact, they’re probably doing the same to you right now.
For a more in-depth look in how to use SEMrush, Open Site Explorer, and other tools like them, you can read about how to keep an eye on your company’s competition.
2. Focusing on traffic
Earning more traffic is just one part of SEO, but there are a lot of people out there who think it’s the only one that matters, especially in business and marketing positions.
But that’s not true. SEO may be geared toward showing up in SERPs for valuable keywords, but it’s also about user experience, conversions, and generally growing your business. With that in mind, you don’t need a million visitors to your site if you have a handful of them who enjoy what you’ve made and convert into customers.
CRO is just as important as attracting traffic since conversions are ultimately what help you expand your business. There’s also content marketing, which revolves around offering users helpful information about key concepts, questions, and issues surrounding your industry. And there’s also social media, which typically acts as the face and personality of your business online.
So while raw traffic stats are still valuable, they’re not the end-all-be-all of an SEO campaign. The “O” in SEO stands for “optimization,” and that’s what you need to achieve to be successful. You need to get the most out of every page on your site so you have the best possible chance of converting customers to sustain and grow your business. You should continually aim and plan for the best.
If you want to truly optimize your site for search engines and conversions, you need to take an in-depth look at your site and try some different ideas that you may not have tried before. That means taking a risk on a strategy that you wouldn’t have tried otherwise, which can help you narrow down what works for your business.
You can start with SEO. Audit your site to make sure you’re using unique keywords on the pages that you want to rank in search engines, and watch out for any dead links you may have built up over time.
Next, create calls to action on every page — even your homepage and “About Us” pages can include them to encourage conversions. After you’ve done that, expand by launching a content marketing campaign to create new pages based on targeted keywords that’ll get more traffic and conversions.
It’s also important to set up social media profiles on networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. These sites are helpful for engaging your customer base with conversations and new content to encourage conversions.
It’s also critical that you’re signed up for Google My Business and Google+ Business to show up on Google Maps and local search results that help people in your area find you more easily.
While that might sound like a lot, you can at least get it all started in a short amount of time. Working out all of the details might take time — but in the end, it’ll be worthwhile.
3. Inconsistent URL formatting
Links carry a lot of power. Whether someone’s linking to you or you’re linking to a page on your own domain, search engines are learning something about your website.
Unfortunately, search engines can learn the wrong thing, depending on how you type your URLs.
The main reason this is such a big deal is because when search engines see two differently-formatted links going to the same page (like http://www.yoursite.com and yoursite.com), they interpret it as two different pages. Then, they see that those pages have duplicate content (which we’ll cover later), and they’re not sure which one is the right page. Plus, the link equity that you spend on each link goes to two different addresses, making it hard for either one to rank in SERPs.
Basically, using inconsistent URLs confuses search engines and makes it harder for you to rank for relevant keywords.
There are tons of different ways to format URLs, but when you choose a system, the best thing you can do for your site is just to stick to what you’ve chosen. So if you link to your homepage with http://www.yoursite.com, stick with that format. Or if you chose www.yoursite.com, stick with that. Or if you just do yoursite.com, then stick with that. There’s no advantage to one style over another — you just have to stay consistent.
If you have a site full of inconsistent links, choose a style (http://www.yoursite.com is considered best practice) and change all of the links on your site to match. Afterward, it’ll take some time for search engines to catch up to what you’ve done, but you’ll start showing stronger results once they find your new links.
Most importantly, after you decide on a format for your links, tell everyone who works on your site about it. Even if you only employ two or three other people, everyone in your business should know the preferred format for linking to pages, both internally and externally. The best way to do this is to create a style guide, or an umbrella document that covers how you format everything your company writes, including headings, blogs, links, numbers, and more. For inspiration, you can check out the AP Stylebook, one of the largest and most frequently-used style guides in the world.
4. Thin content
Thin content is anything that’s short, unhelpful, or oversimplified that also provides a poor user experience. And as content marketers in all industries are ramping up the length and quality of their blog posts and articles, it’s getting harder and harder to produce content that isn’t considered “thin.”
But you have to. Thin content is a surefire way to have your website demoted in search results. Google is all about providing a positive experience to its users, and if your site doesn’t help them, then Google won’t vouch for you anymore.
It’s the same idea as a friend vouching for you in a job interview. If you do well, it makes your friend look good. If you do poorly, it makes them look bad. And if you do poorly, you can bet that friend won’t recommend you for another job, and that employer won’t give you another chance.
In that regard, Google is your well-meaning friend who wants you to succeed, and the employer is the user. Google wants you to do well so that its algorithm can continue to recommend you to other users, but thin content shows them that you’re not really trying. If you want to get back into Google’s good graces, you have to prove you’re worth a recommendation.
Keep in mind that competition is stiff for Google’s recommendation, too. If you’re going up against long-standing online companies, you have to prove to Google that you’re more worth users’ time than someone they already trust. That’s no easy task, especially when they have more content, established practices, and a regular update schedule.
If you want to break that cycle and earn Google’s recommendation, you have to step up your game.
To get results on search engines, you need to produce helpful and well-written content that’ll give readers the information that they want.
But that’s easier said than done, especially if writing isn’t in your wheelhouse.
To start, you should follow some of the standard principles of SEO: Research the keywords in your industry, identify the high-value targets, and write about them in detail. Incorporate your expertise and draw on the knowledge you’ve gained from all your years in your industry, and share that with people who want to know more about those topics.
Next, set a schedule to publish that content, whether you use a blog or create individual site pages, so they can start ranking for keywords in Google searches. You can also promote your new content on social media and use hashtags in your posts to make sure people can find it.
Then, continue. Once you’re done with one batch of content, start on the next. Include photos and videos where they make sense, and include a call to action at the end of every page.
It might sound crazy to give information away without getting anything in return — after all, if you’re good at something, why would you ever do it for free? But it pays in a big way. You show that you’re an authority in your industry, you’re willing to help people, and you’re an active company online. It may not sound like much, but those three factors lay the foundation for expanding your online reputation.
5. Duplicate content
When you create content, you might find that you hit your stride and you can write a lot of similar information to answer different questions. Instead of writing unique content, you could just copy and paste it to save yourself a lot of time.
But that’s a huge mistake. Duplicate content creates a lot of problems for search engines since it shows the exact same thing on two different pages. That makes it a lot harder for Google to contextualize each page, and it won’t know which page to recommend to users.
So instead of recommending both, Google most likely won’t recommend either.
For you, that means that all of your hard work and your attempt to save a little time just hindered your website’s growth. Now, instead of having one really strong page that stood a chance against your competition, you’re stuck with two weak pages that’ll have to be changed before they can rank again.
And fixing duplicate content can be a chore.
The most obvious way to fix duplicate content is to delete one of the offending pages. You can also rewrite one of them to orient it toward another subject. Alternatively, you can add a permanent redirect (which we’ll discuss more later) to one of the pages, which is also known as a 301 redirect.
Regardless of the solution you choose, you can solve the problem. Deleting the page means you lose all of your work on one page, but don’t have to take any further action. Rewriting the page means you save some qualities of what you’ve done so you can use it in a unique setting. And permanently redirecting means no one will be able to access one of those pages, which in a sense “deletes” it from view.
6. Mixing keywords
When you creating content based on keywords, it’s important that you only use your targeted keywords (and variations of them) on one page. Including the same long-tail keywords across multiple pages confuses search engines and forces them to rank your own pages against one another. Essentially, you compete against yourself, sabotage your own rankings, and make it easier for your competition to outrank you.
But it’s incredibly easy to accidentally throw in a keyword here and there that really belongs on another page. And that alone shouldn’t hurt your rankings — but if you do it more than once or twice, you’re looking at some problems.
The solution to keyword mixing is simply to edit your content after you’re done writing. Check out the page or the blog post that you’ve written and clean house in terms of irrelevant keywords. Stick with synonyms and rewordings of your target keyword to make sure you don’t include too many on one page.
Including synonyms and reworded keywords can actually help your chances of ranking, too. It provides a better user experience overall, and it shows search engines that you’re not just stuffing your pages full of keywords to try and gain rank. It also lets you cover exact match and partial match keywords all on the same page for different search queries.
For example, if you’re targeting “vintage graphic T-shirts” on a page, you can also target “vintage T-shirts with graphics.” That gives your text a more fluid feel with the potential to match more than just your target keyword.
Just makes sure you don’t mix in anything like “vintage wolf T-shirt” — that’s another keyword for another (great) day.
7. Focusing on search engines
Contrary to its name, SEO isn’t just about search engines anymore — it’s about user experience. The more you can help or inform your site visitors, the better you’ll perform in search engine rankings for a keyword. It’s just that simple.
Focusing only on search engines generally leads to ineffective or black hat tactics that are obsolete by today’s standards. This includes stuffing keywords into a page’s tags and content, creating a hard-to-navigate website, and not using responsive design.
All of those factors negatively impact your SEO, but they’re only factors because they’re so important to a user’s experience. In other words, the user experience came first, and then search engines caught up.
Focus on your user. They’re the ones who become your customers, after all — not the search engines.
Make your site easy to use, make it accessible on mobile devices, and make it readable so that visitors aren’t irritated when they click on your site and get a wall of keyword-stuffed text that doesn’t make sense.
It’s still important to think about search engines when you create pages — your titles and headings are critical ranking factors — but your visitors come first. Creating helpful and informative content on user-friendly pages will give them the information they need, and it’ll also help you build links further down the road.
Once you’ve built some links, you’ll start naturally climbing rank for the keywords you’re targeting on your pages. And that, combined with a positive UX, will help you rank better in search engines.
8. Using the wrong redirects
Redirects are frequently used, but they’re not always understood. These are especially tricky for webmasters who are just starting their first website(s) and need to move some of their content around.
Using the wrong redirect can hurt your SEO because it’ll send the wrong message to search engines. If you want a 301 redirect, but you use a 302 redirect, you have a problem.
Basically, if you’re going to use redirects, you have to make absolutely sure that you’re working with the right numbers. If you’re not, you can negatively affect valuable parts of your site.
The best solution is to simply know your redirects.
- 301: Permanently move a page
- Preserves link equity earned from other sites
- Often the best solution to redirecting a page
- 302: Temporarily redirect to another page (HTTP 1.0); Found (HTTP 1.1)
- Does not preserve link equity earned from other sites
- Avoid using
- 307: Temporarily redirect to another page
- Does not preserve link equity earned from other sites
- Useful if your server is 1.1 compatible and your content is really only moved temporarily
Basically, you only want to use 301 redirects for the vast majority (99%) of your site.
9. Misusing robots.txt, useragent, and disallow
This is by far one of the easiest mistakes to make on a new page (or a whole site), and it has the potential to destroy your chances of getting listed in search engines.
Your robots.txt file tells search engines what they can and can’t crawl when they go to your website. If you want them to crawl everything, you don’t have to have a robots.txt file at all. But if you want to block them, you can write “Useragent:” followed by the bot’s name and “Disallow:” followed by the pages you don’t want the bot to crawl.
For convenience, you don’t have to write the full name or URL of everything you want to block. Instead, you can use * to block all useragents and / to block all of your pages. And if you want to block a whole section of your domain, you can just write “Disallow: /[sectionname].”
But that convenience has a major downside for people who aren’t careful.
When you type “Useragent: *” and “Disallow: /,” you stop every search engine from crawling your entire site. That means they don’t even look at your homepage — they just see the disallow, and they turn tail.
As you can expect, this is both confusing and devastating to webmasters who don’t fully understand their robots.txt. It prevents new pages from being indexed, and it can completely wreck an established site’s SEO work up to that point. When you’re not crawled, you’re not indexed — and that means nobody can find you when they search.
Familiarize yourself with robots.txt as much as you can. Create a dummy page (or a whole dummy section) of your site to check out how it works. Don’t disallow it right away — let Google index it. Then, once it’s indexed, disallow Google and other search engines from coming back to those pages. After you make the change, wait a few days or a week and check out the results.
If everything goes the way it should, you should see your dummy pages show up in Google’s search results. After you disallow, your listing should disappear since Google removed it from their cache.
It’s important to note that Google’s crawlers aren’t the only ones that come to your site. In addition to other major search engines like Yahoo! and Bing, there are also “bad” bots that will look at your site regardless of whether or not you stop them in robots.txt. In that regard, robots.txt acts more like a gentle “No, thanks” instead of a brick wall — robots only turn away because they’re programmed to respect what you say.
“Bad” bots can perform a lot of different functions. Most of them just skew your analytics data so that it looks like you’re getting more hits than you really are. In fact, in 2013, an estimated 61.5% of all website traffic was bots. But bots can also steal and duplicate your content, siphon off your bandwidth, read your RSS feed, overload your servers, and even prime your site for hacking.
If you find yourself dealing with “bad” bots, you can try to home in on their IP addresses and manually block them. But in the event that’s not an option for you, you may need to rework more than just your robots.txt file.
10. Expecting results NOW
SEO takes a lot of time to work, especially if you’re optimizing a site for the first time. For a while, it might even seem like you’re working non-stop without getting much of a payoff.
But that’s how SEO works. Google can’t crawl and index every site at every moment of every day, and it has a priority list based on providing a positive experience to its users. Unfortunately, that makes SEO a winner’s game, and if you want to win, you have to work hard for a long time.
This can be even more frustrating if you’ve bought a domain that’s been penalized by Google before. Even though you didn’t attempt to break Google’s rules, someone else did, and they owned the domain at the time. That means you have to do a lot of honest work just to get back to ground level, and then you can start building from there.
Even if your business’s site doesn’t have a history of penalties, it still takes time to see results. You have to prove over a long period of time that you’re a reliable and honest source in order for Google to recommend you to its users. That means consistently creating quality content that users enjoy — and that’s not easy.
First, make your website to the best of your ability. It needs to be user-friendly, it has to have a point, and it should have multiple pages.
Then, make sure Google knows you exist by submitting your URL. This doesn’t take a lot of time, which is good — after you’re done with that, you have a lot more work to do.
Continue creating quality content by adding pages or blog posts to your website. The more pages you create, the more Google can index when its robots crawl your site, and the better you can compete with other businesses in your industry.
Then, build links. Pitch your content to other websites that are interested in your industry, promote it on social media, and generally make sure people can find it. The more links it gets, the better your pages will rank.
Naturally, all of this takes time. On top of that, it takes a while for Google to catch up with the additions and changes to your site. It might be aggravating, but sometimes, all you can really do is wait for the search engines to catch up to you.
11. Thinking you’re done
One of the biggest parts of SEO to keep in mind is that it’s an ongoing process, not a one-time project. You research keywords, implement them in your site and optimize those pages – but that’s only the beginning. This is why so many companies have entire SEO departments, or why they choose to contract an SEO agency instead.
SEO continuously changes, and there’s no way around it. If you don’t use it, you’ll fall behind your competition for sure. If you do use it, you need to keep using it to stay on top. After all, nobody wants to be dethroned when they’ve worked so hard to earn top spots in search engine rankings.
Keep at it. That’s really all you can do.
But it shouldn’t feel like a slough or a trudge through a swamp — if you’re passionate about SEO, this is the best part. You constantly have something to do, there’s always a new project, and you can create a stellar portfolio of accomplishments that prove you’re on the right track.
If you’re not feeling that rush of excitement at the thought of restarting the SEO process every time you wrap up a creation strategy, there’s a good chance SEO just isn’t for you. Find someone in your company who has the drive to match that pattern of work and renewal, even if they don’t know a lot about SEO yet. You can learn optimization best practices — but you can’t learn passion for the job.
Are you making any of these mistakes?
There are a lot of takeaways here, and hopefully you found something helpful for your SEO strategy. This isn’t a comprehensive list of all the potential errors that people can make with SEO on their sites, but they’re definitely some of the most common.
Do you know of any other common SEO mistakes that aren’t on this list? How would you recommend fixing them? Let me know in the comments!