If you’re anything like most of the hardworking business owners I talk to on a daily basis, you’re probably too busy running your business to stay up to date on the latest search engine optimization techniques.
I completely understand that. That’s why I’m not surprised when I see smart people making a lot of the same SEO mistakes. I understand that this digital marketing wizardry isn’t second nature to everyone else, the way it is for people like me who deal with it every day.
So today, I’m going to share 7 dumb SEO mistakes that I see smart people like you make all the time, to help you avoid making these mistakes yourself.
Treating SEO like a one-time task
This is probably the most common SEO mistake that I see smart people make because outside of our industry, most people simply don’t understand SEO.
I was recently talking with a potential client about marketing his product, and when the subject of search engine optimization came up, he insisted that he didn’t need it.
I asked about his goals again to make sure I was on the same page, and he confirmed that he did indeed understand the value in SEO and know that his potential customers would search for his products in Google using non-branded terms. It wasn’t until I dug a little deeper that I identified the problem.
“I don’t need SEO because my last web designer put it in when he built my website.” He proudly proclaimed.
“Ahh, this one again,” I thought to myself as I explained that search engine optimization isn’t simply a one-time task that you check off, never to think about again. The code on your website is only a small part of what goes into SEO.
So when does the work and/or cost end?
Well, never, unless you want to be overtaken by hungry competitors who are eager to plunder your precious organic web traffic.
Do you think your competitors are going to sit around, content to let you have all of the customers who are searching on Google for the products you offer, or do you think they’ll want them for themselves?
SEO is a lot like exercise in that it often takes considerable time and work before you see any results, and then it’s an ongoing and constantly evolving process for as long as you remain in business.
This is because you’re up against competitors—both current and any that may arise in the future, fighting over a finite amount of organic search traffic. At the same time, you’re also up against search engine algorithms that continually evolve to adjust for:
- technological advancements
- user behavior
- goals of the search engines
- spam/black hat countermeasures
In other words, search engine optimization is never “done.”
Using duplicate or similar meta description tags
I’ve seen a lot of websites where the same meta description tag was used throughout large portions of, or even throughout the entire website. This probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, right? After all, if you’re using a description that clearly explains what your company does, what’s the harm?
Well, it can harm your website in two big ways.
- Duplicate meta description tags can decrease the number of pages of your website that are indexed in Google.
- Duplicate meta description tags can adversely affect click-through rates in the search results, which can have an impact on future ranking. (Meta descriptions are not themselves a ranking factor.)
It’s important to write a clear, compelling meta description that is under 155 characters, and is unique for each page.
Not building links
Another common SEO mistake most people make is thinking that it’s just on-site SEO factors (the content and coding on your own website) that determine where your pages rank in the search engines.
It’s not. In fact, the most important ranking factor is links to your website from other websites.
Links are the life blood of search engine optimization because they signal to search engines that other websites consider a page to be an authoritative source of information on the topic.
There are countless link building strategies you could implement, but boiled down to its essence, link building is simply a matter of producing original, useful and amazing content, and then asking other website owners to link to it.
Before we go deeper into link building, I want to emphasize that where your links come from and how you obtain them matters. If you don’t follow Google’s webmaster guidelines, you will eventually end up receiving a penalty and can even be dropped from Google’s index entirely. If that happens, you won’t even show up if someone searches for your company name.
Building amazing content is the first step in link building because in order for people to link to your website, there needs to be something there worth linking too. Unless a publication is specifically featuring your company as the focus of their article, it’s highly unlikely that they will link directly to your home page, or even to your core pages. They will however, link to blog posts that contain original information they feel is both relevant and useful to their audience.
To say that producing content that is link-worthy is difficult would be an understatement. According to an analysis of over 1 million articles conducted by Moz and BuzzSumo, over 75% of blog posts had earned exactly zero links from other websites. Every niche is drowning in content today, and most of it is shit, so if you can’t produce something that blows peoples’ minds, you won’t earn any links—which means no increase in organic traffic.
The next step is outreach, where you ask others to link to your content. This is simple, but it’s certainly not easy.
You’ll start by compiling a list of websites that are both relevant to your industry and actively posting new content on a regular basis. The larger the better, because your conversion rate will be minuscule. This is a numbers game. When you reach out to them, you need to engage in a meaningful way that doesn’t sound like the same bullshit they get from everyone else.
If you haven’t been on the receiving end of a cold link outreach email, they usually sound a little something like this:
I love your blog! Great work!
Your readers would also love my great blog, so you should give them more value by linking to my post here:
Thanks in advance!
Don’t. Do. That.
It’s disingenuous, and quite frankly, insulting.
In most cases, a cold email isn’t going to result in a new link to your site, no matter how great your content is. A conversion rate between 1–5% is considered pretty good. This means that for every 100 emails you send out asking website owners to link to your content, you should expect to earn between 1–5 new links. That’s assuming that your content is awesome and your email is engaging.
During this process, you should also work on developing rapport with the influencers in your niche. This will help improve the results of your link building efforts over time. Once you (personally and/or as a company) build a brand that people in your industry immediately recognize, outreach will become somewhat easier, but it will always be necessary. What that means is that no matter how authoritative your website becomes, you will still have to conduct manual outreach to build the new links necessary to stay ahead of your competitors.
Not producing original, useful content regularly
Your website should be a continually growing and evolving entity, but many people mistakenly believe that their job is done once they publish their new website. In reality, that’s only the beginning, because today’s consumer expects you to publish new content regularly. We’ve already discussed how producing original, useful content is essential to link building, but that’s not the only role it plays in your digital marketing efforts.
Potential customers visit your website because they’re looking for information. Information about:
- your products and services,
- customers experiences with your company,
- the stability of your company,
- trends and developments in your industry,
- your expertise and capabilities,
- how you compare with your competitors.
If your website hasn’t been updated in a while, potential customers will assume your company is a fly-by-night operation. They expect to be able to find the information they’re looking for quickly and easily, and when they can’t, they’ll assume you’re either hiding something or are incapable of meeting their needs.
Producing new content also helps you to earn more organic search traffic because you’ll have both a wider and deeper library of content for the search engines to evaluate. More content, provided that it’s relevant and based on a solid strategy, means more opportunities to rank for more keywords, and the more content you publish on a particular topic, the more authoritative Google deems your website to be for that topic.
This also helps to establish you as a thought leader in your industry. You can tell people how insightful and forward thinking you are all day long, but until they can see it first hand, it’s just meaningless self-promotion.
Regularly producing original, useful content demonstrates your expertise.
Ignoring responsive design
We live in a mobile world. In fact, Google is so serious about catering to mobile visitors, that they rolled out their mobile-first index near the end of 2016, which means they will create and rank search listings based on the mobile version of content rather than using a separate index for mobile and desktop.
This isn’t surprising considering the growth of mobile technology over the last decade. Today, there are more mobile devices than people, more Google searches take place on mobile devices, and mobile traffic even exceeds desktop traffic in general. Responsive design will only become more important in the future because the number of mobile devices will continue to grow and people will use them while out, as well as at home and work.
It’s important to point out that responsive design is not a ranking factor yet. However, without responsive design, visitors on mobile devices will have a poor user experience, which will negatively impact several current ranking factors. So while responsive design is not yet a direct ranking factor, it does have an impact on ranking through other factors.
Is your website mobile responsive? Google has a handy tool to get a general idea, but that’s only a starting point. Ideally, you should have several people who aren’t already familiar with your website test it on Android and iOS phones and tablets, both horizontally and vertically to be certain.
If your website is not responsive, you have two options; if you take your business seriously, hire a firm to design a custom responsive website for you, or if you’re on a shoestring budget and understand HTML and CSS, you can buy a premade responsive theme and edit it to suit your needs.
Ignoring site speed
Site speed is a critical, but often overlooked ranking factor. It also indirectly affects several other ranking factors related to user experience.
Most people view their own website from their own computer. This doesn’t give an accurate representation of the average experience because a majority of web traffic comes from mobile devices with limited processing power and less bandwidth compared to the more powerful processor and higher bandwidth of a desktop or laptop computer.
Since Google determines whether a page loads quickly enough, I prefer to get my data directly from them using their PageSpeed Tool. Once you have the data, it’s simply a matter of improving your website’s performance based on the listed bottlenecks until it loads within an acceptable range.
Using black hat SEO techniques
Search engine optimization takes a lot of work, which means it is not inexpensive. This sometimes leads budget-conscious business owners to try to cut corners.
You’ve probably seen some of these discount “SEO packages” advertised on websites like Fiverr, offering to submit your website to thousands of directories, let you guest post on their websites, or even sell you links to your website.
There are no short cuts when it comes to search engine optimization. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is—and will eventually get your website penalized.
So what is a black hat SEO technique, anyway?
Black hat SEO is any technique that attempts to artificially manipulate the ranking of a web page, including, but not limited to:
- Machine generated content
- Doorway pages
- Hidden text or links
- Buying links
- Keyword stuffing
- Negative SEO
- Reciprocal links
- Sneaky redirects
- Manipulative linking schemes
- Guest posting networks
- Article spinning
- Link networks
- Rich snippet markup spam
- Duplicate content
An easy way to think about it is this: if you wouldn’t be comfortable with explaining to a Google engineer the exact SEO techniques you’re using, then it’s probably black hat.