Alexander Pope once said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing“. I can’t help but think he was way ahead of his time and referring specifically to SEO.
Believe me when I say you can end up doing more harm than good. The web is full of wannabe ‘gurus’ and outdated or incomplete advice not to mention that if you have a habit of skim reading then you could end up missing a core principle.
Here are the 8 most common SEO mistakes I see websites making…
#1 – Selecting keywords solely on search volume
THE MISTAKE – “I need more visitors, SEO starts with keywords so I’ll just pick the keywords with the most monthly searches”
THE SOLUTION – There really is so much more to keyword research than firing up Google’s Keyword Tool and looking for the ones with the highest number of monthly searches.
First and foremost, you need to get into the mindset of your potential customer – brainstorm the kinds of keywords that they might use to find your products and services. You also need to identify the keywords that are likely to convert or at least think about how you might be able to convert the traffic that arrives from a keyword into a use within your business. Extra visitors without a conversion is essentially a waste of bandwidth.
It is also very important that you are realistic with your keyword choices. If you are launching a new website with a modest budget then the keywords you can realistically target will be different to an established site. There’s nothing wrong with ambition but it is a competitive world out there so you need an idea of what you are up against. My suggestion is to have a short, medium and long term plan for keywords – gaining some momentum by targeting less competitive phrases initially and gradually working towards the more trafficked, more competitive keywords.
I wrote a post over at SEOmoz on the subtlety of really good keyword research and it is something that we excel at as a company.
#2 – Over-optimising pages
THE MISTAKE – “On-page optimisation is good, let’s do some more, and more, and more!”
THE SOLUTION – You can do too much of a good thing and the same rings true when talking about on-page optimisation. There are quite a few things you might be doing that is making your website rubbish for users and wholly unattractive to search engines.
Keyword stuffing is one of the most common ways to over-optimise a page. Adding too many keywords or repeating keywords in the body, footer, sidebar, header, title or meta content could be causing Google to think your website is spammy and more importantly rendering your site unusable for potential customers.
Internal linking is also another tactic that you can go overboard with; I would actively encourage you to link to other parts of your website but only do so when it is relevant, if you link back too often to the same resource you run the risk of confusing your visitors and potentially a Google penalty.
#3 – Anchor text heavy linkbuilding
THE MISTAKE – “Links are good, anchor text links are better – I want to rank for [keyword] so I’m going to build as many links with that anchor text as I can”
THE SOLUTION – The fundamental principle of strategic and long term linkbuilding is to craft a link profile that is as natural yet effective as it can be. Building hundreds of links with the same anchor text doesn’t look natural, in fact it leaves an easily detectable footprint that leaves you open to a penalty from Google.
The best way to avoid this is to
build encourage links using a variety of anchor text, brand terms and sometimes even the URL. The logic being that if someone were naturally linking back to your website they are far more likely to link up the URL or a brand term rather than keyword perfect anchor text.
#4 – Creating loads of thin pages
THE MISTAKE – “More pages means I can target more keywords and get more search engine traffic”
THE SOLUTION – In the past, you could have gotten away with adding a new very thin page each time you wanted to target a new keyword phrase…the more content you could put out there, the more long-tail terms you could rank for and the more traffic you would bring in. That was pre-Panda.
Post-Panda (the Google update) however is a different kettle of fish. This strategy could be harming your site and might get you labelled a content farm.
Creating loads of pages for no other reason but SEO is very much a mistake – low quality, somewhat duplicated junk doesn’t cut it. Remember that every page is a landing page and since you only get one shot at a first impression, make sure you captivate, engage and convert as many visitors as you possibly can.
This was one of my 6 myths of SEO copywriting
#5 – Only building links to your homepage
THE MISTAKE – “My homepage is the most important and easiest to build links to, I’ll focus all my attention there”
THE SOLUTION – A website which has the lion share of links pointing at the homepage bears all the hallmarks of an over-engineered link profile.
You need to create a balanced and diverse link profile. If someone were naturally linking to you then chances are they would link to a specific page, blog post or resource. Yes, your homepage is likely to have the most links but other areas of your website need to be linked to also.
Spreading linkbuilding efforts across your website will help you to avoid Google’s penalties and Panda filters but it will also improve search engine visibility across the board. That means more eyeballs across a broader range of keyword terms.
#6 – Duplicating Meta data
THE MISTAKE – “Meta titles and descriptions aren’t all that important, I will just create one and duplicate across my website”
THE SOLUTION – I accept that meta titles and descriptions are far less important in SEO terms than they once were. Google recognised people gaming the system using these and reduced their importance. Couple this with the fact that Google sometimes ignores your meta data completely and adds its own to your search listing and it is starting to look like it is a complete waste of time.
However, this simply isn’t the case. In my experience, not adding meta data is bad, adding duplicated meta data is worse and at least making an effort to create unique meta data across your website is still the best practice. My theory is that Google sees it as a quality and relevance signal (albeit a small one) for the website – it demonstrates that the webmaster is at least bothered enough to add meta data.
And, if Google does decide to use your meta data in search listings, it is your chance to stand out in the SERPs. A mini sales pitch encouraging the clickthrough once you’ve got that top ranking.
My top-tip…build your website atop a CMS (content management system) that auto-generates unique meta titles and descriptions for each page, WordPress for example. Then craft a bespoke title and description for the main pages.
#7 – Setting up a blog on a free host
THE MISTAKE – “I need to be blogging, YAY! [Blogger.com/WordPress.com/Tumblr.com] is free, I’ll just setup there”
THE SOLUTION – I have nothing against the free hosted blogging platforms out there and they provide a very useful service but if you are looking to start a blog for your business then you want to be able to squeeze maximum SEO benefits out of doing so.
Going for a hosted free solution limits your control, passes links and authority to a domain you don’t really own and doesn’t really look all that professional.
Instead, opt for a free self-hosted publishing platform like WordPress, if you entire website doesn’t run off WP already then install it in a sub-directory of your website. This will give you maximum control and maximum SEO benefits since you will be adding quality content to your main domain in the form of blog posts and encouraging links to your main domain likely giving your ‘money’ pages a boost also.
#8- Chaotic keyword targeting
THE MISTAKE – “I’m going to target this list of keywords – not sure which pages are targeting which but I’ll see what sticks”
THE SOLUTION – Saying you are going to target a group of keywords and actually targeting them is very different. Successful SEO campaigns have strategy and planning underpinning them because knowing which keywords will be targeted on which pages will help to shape your strategy and improve the effectiveness of your efforts.
Keeping a simple spreadsheet ‘map’ is vital if you are really looking to get the most out of your SEO campaign. It encourages you to think about which page is most relevant to that keyword and it helps you identify content gaps where a desirable keyword has been identified but there isn’t a current page that fits.