SEO 101 Common Mistakes

by Paul Carpenter
See Dave Speak SMX London

For all the “SEO isn’t rocket science” crap you get from certain quarters it’s funny to see that companies from huge concerns down to one-man bands continue to commit the same errors they were making 10 years ago. If you’re an SEO, you could easily add to this list yourself (and I’ll have to thank the whole SEO team for chipping in about 63 ideas to bring this list to a nice round number!) If you’re a web designer who thinks that “good CSS = SEO”, a writer who thinks that “good content = SEO” or a developer who just thinks “SEO = bullshit” then here are a few pitfalls to bear in mind if you’re considering using SEO as a way to bring your products to market.

General Strategy

SEO isn’t just a discipline that exists outside the goals of your business. It should complement and be informed by wider business smarts.

  1. Treating onsite SEO as a ‘one-off’ project without a plan to regularly review the site – especially if your site has a high product or content rollover, or has big seasonal changes to push new messages and offers
  2. Changing horses mid-stream – revisiting keyword lists month by month in response to internal politics
  3. Not consulting existing Analytics data to identify best performing keywords
  4. Targeting all markets simultaneously
  5. Forgetting about Bing and Yahoo, where rankings and traffic can be easier to find in the short term
  6. Failing to understand (or convey to a client) that an SEO campaign is a long term strategy and results will not necessarily be evident in the first weeks or even months in competitive markets
  7. Failing to utilize universal search options for increased SERPS visibility eg images, news, blog search, product feeds etc
  8. Failing to work out initially if you can get a ROI from a sector you are targeting (profit margins, keyword volume etc)
  9. Putting SEO in a silo outside core business objectives
  10. Failing to include SEO input during the building of an online business plan and creating a site development spec.

Market Research

  1. Concentrating on trying to concentrate on acquiring the ‘same’ links as your competition
  2. Looking solely at offline competitors
  3. Not tracking industry news and events for new, fresh content ideas
  4. Identifying ‘competitors’ purely based on results for broad, vanity keywords
  5. Not using tools like Google Insight or paying for data from the likes Hitwise to identify seasonal trends
  6. Not using the valuable data available from a concurrent PPC campaign to monitor converting keywords
  7. Being unprepared to deal with social media
  8. Failing to deal with negative feedback and reviews online
  9. Failure to do your own market research through reviewing interaction with your site through Analytics, click tracking, customer surveys etc
  10. Failing to have any form of conversion tracking software on the site to see what keywords are the ones that you have to go after

Keywords

  1. Focussing on a small number of high volume ‘vanity’ terms rather than a deeper and better-converting long tail
  2. Allowing keyword choices on the basis of “the MD checks this every day”
  3. Chasing unrealistic keywords for your budget
  4. Choosing keywords from internal industry-speak rather than consumer-led terms with actual traffic
  5. Deploying brand / company name as part of a tedious “Company.co.uk – About” page title formula
  6. Setting too many keywords to dilute linkbuilding and content efforts
  7. Believing the numbers for likely traffic
  8. Using the “other users found this page by..” method of including misspellings and synonyms
  9. Forgetting that 25% of all searches have never been seen before and that search queries are typically much longer than single words
  10. Not reviewing keyword choices to understand where your site is failing to convert visitors and why

Content

  1. Copying content from other sites – potentially tripping penalties
  2. Stuffing content with unnatural frequencies of keywords
  3. Keyword “wishlists” in page titles (“UK SEO – SEO in the UK – UK SEO Agency from a UK SEO” etc)
  4. Duplicated meta descriptions, which encourage Google to create their own snippets which can be nonsensical and harm clickthrough rates
  5. Deploying content in images and Flash files
  6. Creating content that has no value to human readers and fails to back up your market messages
  7. Syndicating content to higher authority sites which are likely to be indexed before your own site and thus become canonical
  8. Placing a large block of keyword-stuffed “seo content” a mouse scroll below the footer on the home page
  9. Outsourcing content writing to the cheapest provider that you can find… you get what you pay for
  10. Putting text within images rather than using background images under HTML text content

Links

  1. Building links from a narrow range of IP addresses
  2. Demanding link volume rather than looking at quality
  3. Using more than one company to build links without co-ordination between their goals
  4. Buying blogroll links from sites with dozens of unrelated, anchor text links to companies in completely different markets
  5. Using toolbar PageRank to determine the value of a link in isolation, without considering the content of the page, quality of the domain etc
  6. Not re-checking link equity from established links to make sure good links haven’t gone bad
  7. Relying on a small number of sources for links that could be nofollowed/deleted/removed by policy at any time
  8. Over building links on a small set of anchor text
  9. Not creating links to sites and pages that already link to you naturally
  10. Believing that linking to the search engines or an SEO company will deliver you any benefit

Watch your URLs

  1. Not redirecting URLs to a canonical domain – leading to huge duplicate content issues
  2. Leaving the non-www version and the www live simultaneously
  3. Not sending correct 404 HTTP responses for broken pages
  4. Using long strings of variables in URLs rather than short, static URLs with a proper file extension
  5. Not using the correct 301 response for old content that has moved to a new URL
  6. Using links for territories and currencies that create duplicates of your content in all but minor ways
  7. Using ‘unfriendly’ characters in URLs, such as underscores instead of hypens
  8. Allowing the indexing of  URLS with session id variables
  9. Not using keywords within URL structures over numbers and internal shorthand
  10. Having a directory structure that includes terms like ‘seo’

Channelling your Equity

  1. Deploying sitewide links to low-value pages such as “categories” with 1 product in them
  2. Linking every page to every other through an over-prescriptive menu and diluting equity spread to non-critical content
  3. Leaking equity to external sites by not deploying the rel=nofollow attribute
  4. Using ‘click here’ and ‘read more’ as default choices for internal links, rather than more descriptive phrases containing keywords where appropriate
  5. Not using the homepage to channel power to the most important market sectors you’re targeting
  6. Not using other properties you own (parent company websites, partners etc) to direct keyword equity to your target site
  7. Using internal nofollows to try to sculpt PageRank
  8. Failing to protect your site from exploits – everything from basic keyword spam in blog comments to sophisticated hacks
  9. Using XML sitemaps to mask poor internal link structure
  10. Not understanding the importance of ‘first link first’

Code

  1. Deploying lots of inline Javascript and CSS and increasing the site’s download time
  2. Keeping CSS and Javascript files on the same domain, reducing threading and increasing load times
  3. Leaving dozens or hundreds of ‘keywords’ in the meta keyword
  4. Having page titles that deploy “keyword wish lists”
  5. Using navigation that can only be accessed through Javascript
  6. Not considering the use of AJAX to bring in content and links to keep load times low and control equity spread without compromising user experience
  7. Serving unoptimised images with large file sizes
  8. Failing to label images with relevant alt attributes containing keywords as appropriate
  9. Serving different pages to spiders and human visitors through cloaking without an obviously justifiable reason such as personalisation
  10. Denying access to spiders through Robots.txt

Relationships

  1. Not keeping the SEO company in the loop with changes to the company’s wider strategy
  2. Allowing web developers to build/change things on the site willy-nilly without informing and consulting with SEO
  3. Changing contact points frequently so that messages and learning get lost
  4. Not introducing SEO agencies to other parties like offline marketing companies, PR agencies etc. This misses massive opportunities for content synergy and pooling of ideas.
  5. Not responding to requests for information and content
  6. Not ensuring that SEO recommendations are implemented as fully as possible
  7. Blaming SEO partners for falling traffic without first seeing if there are wider market reasons such as seasonality that could be playing a part
  8. Enacting SEO recommendations from other third parties without consulting with an existing SEO partner
  9. Being unwilling to gain a small understanding of HTML / CSS
  10. Not paying your SEO company!

The First Rule of SEO Club is…. “Don’t Talk About SEO Club”

  1. Leaving “clues” in source code like <!– This content for SEO //–>
  2. Using obvious file names and document structure. http://www.yoursite.com/styles/seo.css is going to attraction attention and all that “text-indent:-100em” stuff is going to highlight your hidden content pretty much off the bat.
  3. Having dozens of obvious keyword landing pages linked from sitewides
  4. Advertising the fact that you belong to a link exchange program by carrying banners that promote such schemes
  5. Asking for advice about SEO issues on public forums without consulting your SEO company first
  6. Leaving link requests in blog comments
  7. Creating easily identifiable networks with common IP addresses, templates and outlink profiles that have an obvious relationship with your target site
  8. Making sloppy link requests to bloggers who are likely to out you (hint: read their back catalogue!)
  9. Using automated tools to check rankings on too big a scale
  10. Using the same link sources for different target sites again and again

And finally….

  1. Don’t believe everything you read on SEO blogs ;)
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