Are You Making These Common SEO Mistakes?
SEO mistakes don’t just waste your time; they hurt you. Many websites have found themselves the victims of a Google penalty, which means a big drop in search engine rankings and a lot of work to get back on Google’s good side.
Whether you’re doing SEO yourself or hiring someone to do it, it’s important to make sure you’re doing it right. That means avoiding both spammy, black-hat practices and missed opportunities.
Here are some of the most common mistakes people make around SEO.
1. Keyword stuffing
In the early days of SEO, this was an extremely common tactic. To better get on Google’s radar for a specific term, writers would produce content that was filled with that particular term – even using it in contexts where it was awkward at best or nonsensical at worst.
For a short time, it worked. But Google figured out that this keyword-stuffed content was creating a bad experience for users and was a lazy way to try to game the system. Year by year, they’ve been making updates to ensure that pages overusing a particular keyword won’t rank for it. And now they’re even using latent semantic indexing (LSI) which makes repeating a keyword pointless, since Google can recognize synonyms and related words on a page to better figure out what it’s about.
If you’ve been filling your content with keywords, or you hired someone that does, it’s time for that to stop. Focus on making your content readable and relevant to your readers instead.
2. Paying for links.
Backlinks are one of the most important parts of SEO and building links naturally is hard. For a long time, that created an industry of companies that sold (mostly low-quality) links for businesses that wanted an easier way to get them. But Google has caught on to that too. Anytime they’re able to identify links that have been paid for, or see trends that suggest link buying, websites get penalized.
It’s tempting to try to buy your way around something that’s difficult to do legitimately, but it’s not worth the risk here. Focus on white-hat link building techniques like guest posting and building partnerships instead.
3. Not customizing your URLs.
On-site optimization is the part of SEO you have the most control over, so it’s important to take every opportunity you can to make your webpages stronger in the eyes of the search engines. One of the on-site factors that search engines look to in figuring out which pages should rank for which keywords is the website URL.
Every time you publish a new webpage or blog post, you should therefore change the URL to include the main keyword you’re targeting. Don’t use whatever default URL gets filled in, especially if it’s just random characters. Put the title of the page (or a short but clear version of it) in the URL instead, with hyphens between the words.
And pay attention to the URL structures of your website. If you have too many folders, your URLs will get more convoluted and the extra characters in the URL will drown out the keywords you want to focus on.
4. Skipping your meta descriptions.
Meta descriptions won’t play a role in how you rank in the search engines, but the whole point of getting higher in the search engine rankings is so that people will see your website and click on it. And meta descriptions help with that part.
You get the chance to write the teaser text that people will see when they’re trying to decide which link to click on. If you include the keyword they searched for in the text, it will show up in bold, drawing more attention to your link in the results.
And in some cases, Google will look to the meta description when trying to determine which site to pull a featured snippet from. Including a relevant meta description increases your chances of showing up at the very top of the results, even if you don’t manage to get the top ranking.
5. Neglecting long-tail keywords.
Sure, it would be great if your fishing supply website showed up on page one for the term “fishing supplies,” but gaining a top spot for a general keyword like that is a hard feat to manage. If you’re not one of the biggest players in the industry, your chances aren’t great.
But if you switch your focus to trying to rank for more specific keywords with more words in them, called long-tail keywords, your chances increase. That can mean making it local (“boston fishing supplies”) or diving into specific topics related to the products you sell (“different types of fishing bait”).
If you brainstorm the questions your customers have and the topics they care about, you should come up with a nice long list of long-tail keywords you can target. Creating content around those keywords will help you start making progress in the rankings for the long-tail keywords and more competitive general keywords alike.
6. Skimping on your content.
If you’re trying to get by buying cheap content, that’s not cutting it. If you’re rushing yourself to put out content that’s quick and sloppy, that won’t cut it either. At this point, there are too many businesses doing content marketing for you to get anywhere with low-quality work.
Your content needs to be well written, accurate, and formatted to make it easy to read. Giving a thorough treatment to each topic is also a good idea, as long-form posts tend to perform better than shorter ones.
Yes, this means that you’re either going to have to pay more or devote more time to your content creation, or both. There’s no getting around that. But high-quality content is one of the most important parts of every good content strategy, so if you’re giving it short shrift now, it’s time to correct that mistake.
7. Having a slow site.
Google has confirmed for years that one of the ranking factors they use for website is site speed. If your website is slow, not only will people be less likely to wait around for it to load, but your SEO will suffer.
There are a number of steps you can take to speed up your website like keeping your scripts up to date and sizing your images correctly. But one of the big ones is making sure you have a web hosting provider and plan that can deliver the speed your visitors (and Google) expect.
8. Forgetting internal links.
Internal linking isn’t as powerful for SEO as building backlinks from other sites is, but it is a useful way to give Google more information about what certain pages are about. You have total control over the anchor text of internal links, so if you want Google to associate a certain page with the term “office supplies” then you can make sure that every time the phrase or a similar one is used on your website, you link those words to that page.
Internal links also help you get more out of your most popular pages. A page that gets a ton of traffic gives you opportunities to send people to other pages on your site once they get there. Look for opportunities on your most successful pages to link out to other relevant pages. You can help visitors discover more of your content and keep them longer on your website.
While internal links are good to think about and use regularly, make sure you don’t overdo it. If all your pages include a large number of internal links, and especially if they all aren’t natural and relevant, then you risk making your website look like spam. And the more links that are included on a page, the less value each one has, so be strategic in which internal links you include on each page of content.
9. Not optimizing your images for SEO.
A lot of on-site optimization has to do with the textual parts of a webpage – it’s about using the right words in the right places. That makes it easy to overlook the opportunity you have for optimizing your images.
Every time you add an image to your website, there are a couple of ways for you to include relevant keywords:
- The image name (“blackhighheeledshoes.jpg”)
- The image alt tag (alt=black high heeled shoes)
Using that behind-the-scenes image text, a page hoping to rank for the term black high heeled shoes now has two additional spots where they can mention the keyword on the page, giving Google that extra bit of information on what the page is about.
10. Having a bad mobile site experience.
A couple of years ago, Google announced that they’d start ranking websites that were mobile friendly higher in the search engine. This year they’re taking that a step further and creating a mobile first index, which prioritizes the mobile site over the desktop version in how the algorithm determines rankings.
If you haven’t yet, you have got to make mobile a priority. If your visitors have a bad experience on your website any time they come from a mobile device, you’re alienating a big part of your audience and hurting your web rankings at the same time.
SEO is such an important part of a website’s success. Doing it well will bring you greater visibility and more visitors. Doing it badly will waste your time, keep you hidden from your audience, and could mean penalties from Google. Don’t go one day longer making any of these mistakes.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.