SEO can sometimes feel like a bit of a minefield. It is an area of marketing that has changed dramatically over the years. Practices which would have got your website ranked at the top 10 years ago may now land you in Google jail.
SEO is constantly evolving – it’s what makes it such an exciting industry to work in. While this is good news for those of us who like to be kept on our toes, it can be a pain for those who don’t do SEO for a living.
If you run a blog or small business and maintain the SEO yourself, the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of SEO can be frustrating at best and confusing at worst. To help provide some clarity, I have compiled the 10 biggest SEO mistakes. With a clear list of common mistakes to avoid, you’ll be in a better position to capitalise on the amazing potential of SEO.
1. Writing for Google and not for your readers
One of the most common SEO mistakes I see is the idea that you have to write for the search engines first and foremost. This is a very outdated approach and one that will not get you very far.
Let’s take Google as an example, since this is the most used search engine. Remember that Google is a business. It makes money from advertising. The more people who use the search engine, the more money it makes from advertising. In order to get more people to use the search engine, it’s in Google’s interest to provide the best possible user experience. This means providing value to the user.
So, if you’re writing content that doesn’t prioritise the user? Google won’t like it. The search engines are smart. Like, really smart. They no longer need you to stuff in keywords for them to understand what your content is about. Sure, there are steps you can take to make it as clear as possible (more on these throughout the post), but as long as you are providing content that provides value for users then your site will be favoured.
2. Skipping keyword research
Following on from the above point – if you’re writing for search engine users, then you need to know what they are actually searching for. Writing content that you want to write may not be what your audience wants to read. It might be, but it pays to carry out keyword research so you don’t waste your time writing content that no one is interested in.
I’ve written a whole post on why keyword research is so important, as well as how to use keywords. It’s all about identifying searches which are relevant to your blog / website / service / product and discovering popular queries and content trends. Then ensure that your content addresses the search query effectively by offering value and relevance.
3. Not writing unique metadata
Writing optimised metadata is an unmissable step in your SEO process. Metadata consists of meta titles (or title tags) and meta descriptions.
The meta titles are extremely influential in helping the search engines decide which results to show. While meta descriptions aren’t a ranking factor, they are crucial in increasing your click-through rate from the search engine results pages. Meta descriptions should provide a clear summary of the page or post and entice search engine users to click-through.
For more information and advice on this, have a read of my post about how to write metadata.
4. Not making use of internal links
You should always be including links within your content. External links are useful for providing a reference to information you mention, or for providing users with further information that you don’t offer on your site.
But internal links are really important for SEO, as they provide clarity on your site structure for the search engines. It also means you can prioritise the most important pages or posts on your site, by adding more links to them and therefore bringing them more link value.
Don’t overdo it, but be sure to include some internal links where the content calls for it naturally. You’ll see that I’ve included a handful of internal links in this post, where the linked posts are relevant and provide further value to the reader.
5. Forgetting the importance of call-to-actions
Another goal of SEO is to keep users on your site. If users are arriving then leaving right away, your bounce rate will be high and session duration low. Don’t think for one second that Google won’t notice this!
Search engines want to provide the best user experience. And if people are leaving your site quickly then it indicates that perhaps people are not receiving a good user experience, so they are going elsewhere.
To keep users on your site for longer, it helps to include clear call-to-actions. One way of doing this is with internal links. But you should also make sure that you have a way of driving users elsewhere at the bottom of each page. Whether this is to other relevant posts or products, or to encourage them to get in touch.
6. Not compressing images
Related to the user experience point, if your site is slow to load then it could deter users away. There’s a lot that goes into overall site performance and speed but one simple mistake to avoid is to ensure that images are compressed.
Images which are too large will slow down your site. Before hitting publish, make sure that images have been compressed – ideally to less than 150kb per image. You can use free tools like picresize.com or resizeweb.net. For bulk resizing, try kraken.io.
7. Forgetting to use alt text for images
Continuing the theme of images, make sure that you don’t forget to add alternative text to your images. Alt text is essentially a description of the image. It’s an easy step to overlook but it’s important for a couple of key reasons.
Firstly, search engines can’t read images. So without alt text, they have no reliable way of understanding what an image is or represents. Your images are therefore not likely to appear in image search results, which means you could be missing out on organic traffic.
Secondly, alt text is helpful for blind or partially sighted users. The alt text will be read out so that the user can understand what the image is. It’s therefore important for accessibility to all users.
8. Not using subheadings
As well as a clear h1 heading for each page (which should be the main title), it’s important to use subheadings (h2s, h3s, etc.) throughout your content. This improves the overall readability of the page, as it gives the content structure and clarity. And remember, if it’s good for the user then it’s good for the search engines!
It’s also a chance to include some keywords in your content. Just remember, this should occur naturally and if you’re forcing keywords into subheadings then you need to reassess the keywords you are targeting.
Don’t forget to actually tag your subheadings with heading tags. Don’t just highlight them in bold, as the search engines won’t be able to tell that they are subheadings. It’s usually very easy to do this via the CMS, or you can markup in the HTML as follows: <h2>This is a subheading</h2>
9. Not using Google Analytics and Search Console
As with any marketing strategy, you need to be keeping track of performance. Keep an eye on Google Analytics to understand which content performs best. Google Search Console is great for seeing which search terms are driving the most impressions and clicks on your website.
Use this invaluable information to help shape your strategy moving forwards. There is also nothing more satisfying than seeing your hard work pay off with a sexy graph that shows an increase in organic traffic. Yes, I just referred to a graph as sexy, which probably explains why I get called a nerd.
10. Using outdated black-hat SEO techniques
As mentioned earlier, SEO has changed considerably over the years. Black-hat techniques refer to SEO practices which are spammy and violate Google’s webmaster guidelines. Although you may see some improvements in the short-term, the chances are that your website will eventually get penalised. Worst case scenario, your website could be removed from Google’s index altogether! And it’s really hard to recover from these penalties.
If you are ever doing anything that doesn’t provide value to the user, then you should stop and ask yourself whether it’s potentially spammy. Keep up-to-date with the latest updates in the world of SEO where you can. If nothing else, be sure to avoid all the common SEO mistakes listed in this post, and you’ll be just fine.