Every digital marketer knows that SEO can make or break a site.
Back in the early days of the internet, SEO was seen as something of a dark art, and many marketers just outsourced the job, paid for keyword research and backlinks, and hoped for the best. They only cared about number one rankings, and the black hat SEOs that they used tried to get them there by stuffing pages with keywords and using spammy linkbuilding techniques.
Luckily, those days are over, and most marketers now have at least a rudimentary knowledge of SEO. There’s been a mindset shift, and people now try to work with search engines to fit within their guidelines instead of trying to outwit them. In fact, an impressive 72% of marketers now say that relevant content creation is the most effective SEO tactic.
But despite 99% of marketers believing that “winning the SEO war” is of paramount importance, 55% of them said that SEO is poorly understood by their peers.
We’re now entering a new age of awareness in which everyone knows what SEO is – but not everyone is able to actually do it. That’s where this article comes in.
Everybody makes mistakes. It’s what makes us human. But when it comes to business, you’d be a fool not to look out for them – to try to spot mistakes early and to fix them as quickly as possible. It’s no different for SEO – in fact, some of these mistakes could derail your whole business, so spotting them early is essential.
Here are nine things for you to look out for.
Many web developers will use a robots.txt file to discourage search engines from indexing a site. This is useful during the build of a new site because it stops your work-in-progress from being served up to the general public before it’s ready, but it can have major repercussions if you’re not careful.
If robots.txt is still in place when you switch over to the new build, you’ll effectively be turning search engines away from your main website. All of those rankings that you’ve earned will fade away as they honour your request and remove you from their listings.
To check your robots.txt file, simply go to www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt. If it includes the line “”Disallow: /” then you’re still telling search engine bots not to crawl your site and you’ll want to update the file immediately.
Nobody likes 404 errors. They’re effectively a response from the server telling you that the resource couldn’t be found, and they really kill the mood when you’re browsing a site for information or looking to make a purchase.
You can lessen the impact of 404 errors by creating a custom 404 page which includes search functionality and links to your most popular content. But it’s better to try to avoid them altogether, which is where basic SEO comes in.
Use a tool like Screaming Frog to crawl your website and to look for 404 errors. Make a list of each of the errors and then use 301 redirects to move both humans and search engines from the broken page to a relevant, related page. That way, you’ll maintain the value of any inbound links to the dead page whilst keeping your visitors on site.
This one isn’t easy to fix, but it is easy to prevent it in the first place. Simply put, you’ll want to make sure that every single page on your site uses a recognisable URL structure. Even without carrying out keyword research, doing this will naturally help you to rank high for certain search terms.
Instead of uploading images with generic file names – such as ‘untitled.jpg’ or ‘shutterstock_123582523.jpg’ – rename them so that they’re descriptive. If those same files were called ‘fender-stratocaster-blue.jpg’ and ’12-dunlop-guitar-picks.jpg’, you’d have a much better idea of what they represented. So would search engines.
Naming conventions are particularly important for webpages, but the filenames are often determined by your CMS. You may need help from a developer to change them, and if you run a large site with thousands of pages, it may be better to improve your names in the future instead of revisiting your work from the past.
Don’t be scared by this technical term. Canonicalization is essentially the process of converting multiple data points into a standard form. In SEO terms, we’re talking about setting up redirects so that your website doesn’t resolve the same page for multiple URLs.
Take the following examples:
Without canonicalization, it’s possible for all four of those URLs to show visitors your homepage. Unfortunately, to search engines, analytics tools and other types of software, all four URLs are different webpages. The worst case scenario? You could be penalized for serving up duplicate content.
This is really taking you back to basics, but meta titles, meta descriptions and alt tags are just as important in 2017 as ever. While their impact on search engine rankings is debatable, they do have a tremendous impact on the click through rate when your site appears on the results pages.
Make sure that you’re using relevant meta titles and meta descriptions for every page on your site, and carry out regular audits to make sure that you’re not slipping back into sloppy habits. Avoid duplicating information where possible and make it standard practice to update meta tags every time a new piece of content is added to the site.
The same can be said about alt tags for images. You should already be optimizing their file names, so updating their alt tags won’t be too difficult. Get it right and you’ll start to see a boost in traffic from Google Images and other types of image search.
If you’re not using analytics, you’re going in blind. Make it a priority to install Google Analytics or some other software as early as possible so that you can start to gather data about how people are using your website.
Remember, though, that adding the code is only one element. If you’re not checking your analytics on a regular basis – and using it to inform decisions about future content – then you might as well not bother in the first place.
Analytics suites are one of the most powerful tools in the modern SEO’s arsenal. Track everything, measure everything and use it to dominate the competition.
If 72% of marketers say that relevant content creation is the best tactic for modern SEO, it stands to reason that the content needs to be high-quality and worth reading. Yet you’d be surprised at how many companies skimp on quality to try to cut corners and save money.
Ultimately, using poor quality content – by failing to hire a professional or by hiring the wrong professional – will do more harm than good. If your content is bad, people will start to assume that so is your product.
On top of that, it’s important not to share content for content’s sake. Make sure that it really does add some value to your audience and that you’re not just blogging about the top ten tile grouting techniques because there’s not much competition for the keywords.
Keyword research is all well and good, but it does have a tendency to lead people astray. Before you start creating content, make sure that your keyword list is relevant and that you’re not going to bring in the wrong type of traffic.
Where possible, focus on longer tail keywords. This will help you to be more specific with your content and will give you a better idea of what the user is actually looking for. If they’re searching for ‘buy 40th birthday party balloons’ then you can be much more targeted with your content than if they’re searching for ‘party’.
In fact, the above example highlights another common mistake. As marketers, we often forget that words have multiple meanings. If someone’s searching for ‘party’ and we sell balloons, we’ll always assume that they want to hear from us. We forget that they might be looking for their local political party.
This might sound like the opposite of a mistake, but it’s true that you can focus too much on search engine optimization. Ultimately, while SEO should be part of your basic strategy and while you should optimize your content for search wherever possible, it’s a mistake to think that it’s the be all and end all.
Remember that search engines aren’t spending money – your customers are. Always put your customers first, even if it clashes with your SEO strategy, and avoid stuffing posts with so many keywords that they no longer make sense.
Focusing too much on SEO without taking care of your product and your customers is a lot like trying to get a number one ranking. It can become all-consuming, even taking priority over other objectives, and ultimately it’s not that important. It’s all about quality over quantity – get the mix right and you’ll be picking up search engine traffic in no time.
Have you experienced any of the SEO mistakes in our list? And will you be doing anything different to combat them? Let us know.