There are many common SEO mistakes made today, either through lack of knowledge or by attempts to dupe the search engines. As I've harped on, many times before, Google and other major search engines are on a mission to give quality and relevance to their search queries. So it's up to you to optimise your site as effectively as possible if you want to be found online for keywords that are relevant to your business.
After carrying out numerous SEO audits on a variety of clients’ websites, I discovered many were guilty of the same SEO mistakes. So I thought I’d share with you my list of the most common SEO mistakes, and some recommendations for avoiding them.
1. Having Unreasonable SEO Expectations
SEO isn’t a case of pressing a few buttons and, magically, your website appears at the top of Google's search rankings. There's no way other to put it…effective SEO is bloody hard!
There's also an expectation that SEO will bring instant traffic to your website. It won't. If your aim is to get instant traffic within the next three months, consider Google Adwords or some other form of Pay Per Click advertising.
A well-built and optimised site takes time to climb the SERPs (search engine results page). This can range anything from 3 to 6 months (or more, depending on the industry and competition for the keywords you are targetting).
As an SEO consultant, all I can do is influence Google’s index to favour your page more than that of another site. Sometimes – you simply can’t win. If another company has a well optimised site and has been first in the rankings for 5 years, chances are you won't be leapfrogging it anytime soon.
Google is all about authority. Think age and popularity. Age being the length of time a site has been published and in Google’s index. Popularity being the quantity and quality of both content and relevant, incoming links a site has. Obviously, nobody can change the age of a website – but, popularity can be influenced with a coherent content creation and digital networking plan.
Changes in Google's algorithm which have brought in penalties for over-optimisation and poor quality links mean that to rank highly now, you have to deserve it.
Take a good hard look at your site and your business.
- Are you producing quality content?
- If you’re selling something, do you go beyond being a simple brochure site with the same information that can be found on hundreds of other sites?
- Do you provide a reason for people to spend more than a few seconds reading your pages?
- Do you offer real value, something of substance to visitors, that is unique, different, useful and that they won’t find elsewhere?
Before even thinking about generating extra traffic through SEO, you need to focus on the information your prospects are looking for and try to develop a content strategy around this.
You also need to be realistic about the keywords your website is targetting. I get many enquiries from businesses looking to target short-tail, competitive and high search volume keywords such as:
Aside from the fact that these are extremely competitive search terms whose SERPS are dominated by very large, resourceful companies, recent research has shown that trying to rank highly for these types of short-tail keywords could be a flawed strategy. Keywords associated with higher conversion rates are usually longer phrases such as:
“Dublin hotel with family rooms”
“Used mobile phones for sale”
“WordPress web designer in limerick”
These show a greater buyer intent, plus they would be a little easier to rank for as the terms are more focused and less generic.
Tools I recommend for conducting keyword research:
2. Hiring a Crappy SEO Agency or Consultant
I hate to say it, but this is still one of the most common SEO mistakes I see business owners making.
Whether it’s because you don’t want to (or can’t) allocate the resources or because your SEO agency/consultant is lazy, incompetent, out-of-date, or just taking you for a ride, hiring an SEO that is still using outdated tactics (likely to get your website penalised or banned by Google) is the most dangerous SEO mistake of all.
Hiring a crappy SEO used to be just a waste of money at worst, but now they can damage your reputation for good. I’m not talking just “black-hat” stuff here either. I'm talking about the “€199 per month, 100% guaranteed” SEO agencies who do stuff like:
- Build large numbers of crappy, money keyword anchor text focused links from spammy blog networks and directories (Ever heard of Penguin?).
- Rehash content by grabbing articles from another website, changing the words around resulting in something almost unreadable.
- Claim to have built links that they couldn’t show the client because it would give away their “secrets”. If any SEO agency you talk to seems vague and indirect in their answers, doesn’t want to show you the link report of existing clients (assuming they are allowed to), move on to the next agency.
Many of my current enquiries are from businesses who've seen their rankings drop due to Google penalties suffered as a result of the efforts of snake-oil SEO consultants. Trust me, you're better off having a completeley unoptimised site than having one optimised by a bad SEO agency.
Free Tools I recommend for checking if a website has poor quality backlinks:
3. Putting Too Much Emphasis on Link Building
Are you too focused on building links to your website, at the expense of creating compelling content and marketing your site through social media channels?
Matt Cutts (Head of Google's webspam team) gave some very strong pointers around this topic recently when he stated, “I wouldn't put too much of a tunnel vision focus on just links.”. I would try to think instead about what I can do to market my website to make it more well known within my community, or more broadly, without only thinking about search engines.”
Similar to keywords, backlinks are a very important factor for your SEO Campaign. However, poor quality links from sites that are not within your site’s general topic area can do more harm than good.
Links are a form of ‘Vote’ for your website and as such it makes sense to have backlinks that come from a site that is within the same niche as your site. Just 1 inbound link from a high quality, high ranking authority site is worth more than 100 backlinks from low quality, low ranking websites.
4. Writing Ineffective Meta Titles and Descriptions
The importance of Meta tags in SEO has changed quite a lot in the last couple of years. Originally, the meta tag was intended to make web use easier, by telling search engines what the content of a web page was about. The Meta tag was the first thing the search engine spider looked at when determining the relevance of a page to a user query.
The Meta tag retains its function, which is to tell the search engine spider what your page is about. However, these days it should be used in conjunction with a full web marketing and optimisation strategy.
Your Meta tags should contain appropriate keywords. That means ensuring that the actual text of your page content and articles is optimised for the same keyword or phrase expressed in your Meta tag.
Because your page title and meta description are frequently pulled to form the snippet that appears whenever your pages are listed in the natural search results, the content you include in these areas can play a major role in your ability to attract visitors from the SERPs.
The first step to properly optimizing your meta tags is to use as many characters as you’re given access to. Think about your title tag and your meta description tag as being the first introduction that many new visitors will have to your brand, as they encounter this information in your website’s snippet in the natural search results. Given how important this real estate is, you should try to maximize the number of characters you’re allowed.
As a general rule, you should aim to fill up the following character limits within each of your meta tags:
- Page title – 70 characters
- Meta description – 160 characters
- Meta keywords – No more than 10 keyword phrases
As you’re filling out your meta tags using the character limits shown above, you’ll want to pay special attention to the way your target keyword phrases are included. Just because the practice of keyword stuffing your meta tags has been long since devalued by the search engines doesn’t mean that these phrases shouldn’t be included in your tags. It just means that you need to be more strategic about how you introduce them.
Write your tags for yourself. Once you’ve come up with a possible meta tag, ask yourself, “Would I click through based on this information?” If your tags don’t yet seem compelling, rewrite them until you come up with something more enticing.
Each Title Tag needs to be unique… if you have many identical title tags, the search engines will see them as similar which will make it difficult for them to assess the context of your page content. Your rankings may then suffer as a result.
Don’t forget, you can always test out and refine the effectiveness of your meta tag content by changing the information stored in these fields periodically. If you notice a spike in organic search traffic upon making a change, it could indicate that you’ve hit on a winning combination of meta tag text.
5. Having Poor Quality or Duplicate Content on Your Website
Through the Google Panda Update, Google is penalising sites that don’t provide original or quality content. In the past, there have been too many loopholes to where people just copy and paste somebody else’s hard work to call their own and their rankings move up… Not anymore!
This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Source: Google Blog
Instead of copying other people’s work, create your own original content that has user value and you will be rewarded.
6. Overusing your Main Keywords in your Page Content (aka Keyword Stuffing)
Keywords are very important to SEO, but their overuse can harm your rankings and quite possibly get you penalised.
Keyword stuffing is putting a keyword phrase, or several, multiple times within a webpage, to the extent where whatever is on the page doesn't even make much sense because of the repetitive keywords. This is done so that the keywords are visible to search engine, with the idea that it will help it rank better in Google.
Most keyword stuffing examples are very obvious. While it is good to have your keywords within your text on the page, you can go overboard quite easily. If you want a quick method on how to check to see if your webpage is a little bit too keyword happy, read your text out loud, as it will often sound very unnatural. If it sounds fine to you or to those you read it too, it should be fine.
Why is this a problem? When users search for certain keywords and end up on your site, they want to see those keywords on the page in a useful format. They don't want to end up there due to hidden text located in the footer. Hidden text and keyword stuffing often make for a very poor user experience for it the user coming in from Google, which is why Google now views this practice negatively.
7. Focusing on Search Engines Instead of your Visitors
While search engine optimization is important, your visitors matter most. Your SEO activities shouldn't undermine the quality of your content to the point that readers no longer want to stick around and engage with your site.
Follow established SEO guidelines where you can, but keep the focus on providing value to the people who actually arrive on your site. Make their satisfaction your ultimate priority, and you'll likely be rewarded with both high search rankings and increased revenues.
8. Not Having Enough Patience
The last, most common mistake is not having patience. Getting to the top of search engines isn't an overnight process. It can take weeks, sometimes months, for your website to develop authority and be viewed as a reliable source by search engines.
Successful SEO requires a long-term investment. Ideally you want your website to climb slowly in the rankings. A sudden increase will only send Google a signal that you may be performing shady SEO practices.
The stats aren’t always going to be what you want them to be. You’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to get annoyed, you’re going to wonder why the hell you are spending all this time creating new content, optimising meta tags etc. But, slowly and surely it will start to happen and you'll see spikes in traffic, the phone will start ringing more often, you'll get more email enquiries through. It might take you 3 weeks… It might take 3 months… It might take 3 years… Just keep doing the rights things, regularly, and you should definitely see improvements in your rankings.