After years in SEO, I’ve seen thousands of websites and audited hundreds of them. After a while, one starts to notice trends. The same basic SEO errors are repeated over and over. Most of these are easy to find and fix, the kinds of things that any decent SEO consultant should be aware of.
If you have a site and don’t have an SEO consultant, these are a few of the things you can quickly go and check yourself. If you do have an SEO consultant, they should have brought these issues to your attention.
If they haven’t …and sadly I see a lot of clients who have had “SEO consultants” for years but still have these problems, you may want to question if you have the right consultant working for you.
Here are 6 common SEO mistakes to avoid.
1. Duplicate content
What is duplicate content? Duplicate content in the context of SEO, means the same content appearing in more than one webpage (URL) within same or different domain (web site). The most common problem with duplicate content is that search engines can’t decide which content to index, eventually not showing this web page in search results.
Duplicate content can come under different types. One of the most common errors is duplicate versions of the homepage:
One of the first things I check with a site is whether there are duplicate versions of the home page.
Here are some examples of duplicate homepage:
If you are serving duplicate versions of your home page to the engines, they are duplicate content. The engines will usually figure out which version to index, but sometimes they get it wrong. So why confuse them if you don’t have to?
I have seen quite a few duplicate URL’s, where upper case or lower case URL text are used inconsistently, causing search bots to be confused and consequently devaluing the URL or not ranking your website highly.
The issue here is if you have all your internal or external links pointing at www.example.com/Apple-Iphone or www.example.com/apple-iphone and the “real” version of the page is www.example.com/apple-iphone, you’re splitting the link equity between these two URLs. You want all that linky goodness pointed at the one original URL you want to rank in the search engines.
Figure 1: URL Duplication Image credit: searchenabler.com
Different Webpages Having Nearly Similar Content
Almost every site I’ve ever worked on or for has had duplicate page content problems.
Duplicate content happens when you or your staff either copy some other website content then paste it on your site or you use same piece of content across different pages within your website. This issue occurs more often especially when an SEO guideline has not been put in place in the architecture phase of building a site. A designer or content writer for your website might not pay attention to it because they are not SEO specialists.
How do you resolve these duplication issues?
- Minimise similar content: If you have many pages that are similar, consider expanding each page or consolidating the pages into one. For instance, if you have a restaurant site with separate pages for two locations, but the same information on both pages, you could either merge the pages into one page about both locations. You could also separate it into two pages and write unique content about each location.
- Delete duplicate page version of your content
- 301 redirect the duplicate versions to the original ones or Place “rel canonical” tag on the original page to send a strong hint to search engines your about preferred version to index among duplicate pages on the web. If you are not clear what 301 redirect or rel canonical tag are, just ask your web developer to fix them for you.
Figure 2: Using Canonical Tag to Fix The URL Duplication Image credit: searchenabler.com
- URL best practices: Use hyphens to separate words when necessary for readability. They should not use underscores, spaces, or any other characters to separate words. The URL of a web document should ideally be as descriptive and brief as possible. Do not use CAPITALS in words in URLs.
2. Forgotten about content marketing
Don’t expect that your hired SEO team will make your website traffic take off significantly just with onsite optimisation, link building and without any content strategy in place.
Many things in the SEO world have changed drastically, especially for the last couple of years when content has started to play a critical role in determining whether your SEO or digital marketing campaign is successful or not. Any SEO strategy without content marketing in place should not be considered. The days that SEO agencies build hundreds of backlinks on directories, social book marketing sites, blog comments and forum comments pointing to a static website are well and truly over.
Let me give you an example:
When I started working on New Cars Plus (which are a discount new cars buying services based in Sydney). Their website was as static and had very low traffic. It had only 400 visits a month. After 12 months of regularly creating and posting content, the site traffic soared from 400 visits a month to 8,596 visits per month.
Figure 3: New Cars Plus traffic from April 2012 to April 2013
Wow!!…. Did I do that? The good news is that it wasn’t rocket science but a combination of link building, pure content production and social seeding.
So my point is not to expect your website traffic to be soaring up the rankings with pure off-page optimisation (link building and social signals). Remember, this site took 12 months of continuous work.
Even if you rank number one on a number of keywords (in the case of a perfect world), the maximum traffic you’d get is xxx number of visits per day and it is not growing, especially with the constant updates from Google, your high ranking positions are not ensured.
3. Poor site structure
Often when building a new website, your web developer doesn’t integrate best SEO practices into the website structure. This is totally understandable because the web developer is not an SEO specialist. Therefore an overlooked facet of site architecture (in other words, the way the website is laid out and how the pages connect to each other) is fairly common.
I would argue it’s the single most underrated area of SEO.
In general, the home page of your site is going to have the most authority because it’s going to have the most incoming links and the best quality of inbound links. Authority (or link juice) flows throughout a website from high authority pages to low authority pages through links. For every step away a web page is from the home page, the less and less of that total authority is going to be passed to it. All other factors being equal, the further away the page is from the home page, the worse it will rank.
I’ve seen cases of high authority web pages being buried deep in site architecture and losing rankings dramatically. I’ve also seen the reverse where web pages are moved closer to the home page and suddenly jump several spots in Google. Ultimately you want to create your website structure so it is easy and intuitive to navigate for users.
A flat structure often satisfies that requirement and will help you get more of those users to your site through search engines.
Figure 4: Flatten your site architecture, no more than 3 clicks from the homepage is recommended and cross-link to relevant and related topics
Here is another example of mine, this website at www.warrantyandinsurance.com.au and extended car warranty insurance company.
We built a flat architecture site, having all related pages linking to each other through targeted keywords, writing unique Meta Title and Meta Description, page content with targeted keywords.
This is basic on-page optimisation stuff which also includes updating the site twice per month with some blog posts (I should produce more content than that, but it is a low budget site).
Despite that the website traffic has been naturally growing at the rate of 30% month on month and generating more than a 8.5% conversion rate. Compared to other car insurance sites this is a huge success considering I haven’t done any link building to this website.
4. Don’t have a mobile site design for multiple screens
Google is now taking into consideration the mobile when ranking websites. Here are some other facts to keep in mind about the importance of a mobile site
- 61% of customers who visit a mobile unfriendly site are likely to jump to a competitor’s website (Karim Temsamani at IABALM 2012 via IAB)
- According to a recent Herald Sun report, smartphone users in Australia will reach 12.2 million in 2013.
- Traffic coming from mobile devices from websites I have managed is now at an average of 25% and it is still going upwards.
With so much focus on usability, the demise of the desktop browser dominance, and the prevalence of mobile devices, Google’s made it very clear that no mobile experience, no love from Google!
Therefore, creating a user-friendly site design that works well and fast across all devices…especially mobile and tablet.
Mobile versions for your website can be built easily by using one of three popular mobile design technologies such as dedicated mobile site( m.example.com.au) or responsive design (Google’s preferred method) or native application (for complex design/user interface).
For most of the simple sites, I would recommend using responsive design for anyone who has limited resources for maintenance, limited budget and want a SEO-friendly website.
Figure 5: Result Driven SEO’s Responsive Design Testing Tool
5. Unreasonable SEO expectations
SEO isn’t easy, fast, or cheap. Gone are the days of scalable, easy tactics that exploited loopholes in the algorithms.
Another thing, there is a widely-held belief that SEO is all about rankings on a certain keywords. I don’t totally agree with this, let me show you why.
Most of the time customers want to target short-tail, competitive and high search volume keywords such as:
- Truck finance
- Equipment loans
- Machinery finance
The reality is much different. People type in search terms differently and most of them use long-tail keywords. Some examples of this are:
- “Truck finance no deposit”
- “Bad credit truck financing”
- “How can I get equipment finance with bad credit”
- “Machinery finance no credit check”
And guess what?
They are not on your keyword ranking list. Another thing according to the latest research done by Neil Patel, is that long-tail keywords generate more conversion than short-tail ones.
Figure 6: Short-Tail vs Long-Tail Keywords in Conversion, Image Credit: quicksprout.com
If you look at the image above, you’ll notice that one- or two-word key phrases are costly to rank for and they don’t convert well. Searchers are also getting more sophisticated and are starting to use more words in their searches.
Many websites have high traffic coming in but it doesn’t convert well as people bounce in and out. Does your ranking help in this case? Not really.
My point is the SEO success measurement should not solely or mainly based on ranking; other factors such as traffic, longer time visit, lower bounce rate, and most importantly more enquiries or sales are things to look at.
Thirdly, if you want to have a successful SEO campaign, your website have to deserve it. Many site owners think that SEO can make up for the fact that the site is not exceptional, but that’s just not the case.
Take a good hard look at your site and your business. If you truly deserve to SEO success, SEO can help you get there. But if your user interface sucks, your design is dated, your prices are too high, your content is self-centered and boring or your customer service is lousy, fix that stuff first. Then do SEO stuff to get you where you should be.
In the old days you could be successful at SEO and generate the money to make your site great. Now you have to spend the time and money and resources to be great, and then you can be successful at SEO.
6. Hiring a crappy SEO consultant
I hate to say it, but this is still one of the most common SEO mistakes I see business owners making.
Whether it’s because you don’t want to (or can’t) allocate the resources or because your SEO agency/consultant is lazy, incompetent, out-of-date, or just taking you for a ride, hiring an SEO that isn’t on his or her game is the most dangerous SEO mistake of all.
Hiring a crappy SEO used to be just a waste of money at worst, but now they can bury you. I’m not talking black-hat stuff here either. Even in my short time as a full-time consultant (after many years in-house) I’ve talked to site owners who have SEO consultant who:
- Missed most of the items above
- Built large numbers of crappy, money keyword anchor text focused links from spammy blog networks and directories (Ever heard of Penguin?)
- Claim to have built links that they couldn’t show the client because it would give away their “secrets”. If any SEO agency you talk to seems vague and indirect in their answers, doesn’t want to show you the link report of existing clients (assuming they are allowed to), move on to the next agency.
During my time as a SEO consultant, I have had to fix many bad SEO sites. You are better off not having an SEO consultant at all than having a bad SEO site.
I’ve pointed our most common mistakes that people have when it comes to SEO, there are many SEO mistakes that you should look out too, but I think you should leave them to your SEO specialists, as the owner of the website or marketing manager, you should look at SEO from high-level, strategic point of view to make sure that your SEO campaign is heading to the right direction.
My recommended SEO approach here is to fully optimise your onsite for search engines, optimise your landing pages for better conversion, develop awesome content and generate high quality, thematic links to your site. Does it sum up everything about SEO? Pretty much I believe.
I will cover some cool SEO topics later on, stay tuned!! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave some below.