In our world, where millions of websites are looking to gain attention, it is extremely important to rank high in Google’s organic search rankings. Despite the effectiveness of paid ads and other digital marketing channels, SEO often reigns as king for long-term value and results.
Users inherently trust organic results far more than ads. Add to that, a solid SEO strategy can help you plan for intent-driven traffic and provide you with insights to tailor your website content and offerings.
While nearly every serious business with a web presence appreciates the value of SEO, many of them fail to take the right approach. In this article, we’ll look at 12 common SEO mistakes companies make and share ways to correct them.
SEO Mistake 1: Broad Targeting
Reaching Out to Everyone and No One in Particular
Ranking for popular keywords on Google is not easy. Given the fact that most users rarely move beyond the first search results page in Google, it is extremely critical for businesses to attempt appearing on the first page for the keywords that really matter to them.
However, the approach a company takes makes a huge difference between success and failure. A critical mistake that many companies make is targeting broad search terms without narrowing down their audience.
A generic SEO approach will only lead to less than optimum results as SEO efforts get spread out in ranking for keywords that are highly contested. Companies need to focus on their target audience; the kind of people they are really looking to get on to their website.
Now if you are responsible for the SEO efforts of your company, you need to start thinking about who your real customers are and ask some basic questions:
- Who makes up for the bulk of your customers; are they young or old, male or female?
- Do your customers belong to certain demographic or interest groups; for example are they young college students who are interested in sports or high-end executives with a taste in bespoke lifestyle.
- What are the key gaps in your customers requirements that you are trying to fulfill?
We recommend creating personas of customers and building a customized strategy to target them directly.
Defining an audience can be best understood with an example. Let’s consider an independent VoIP business phone service, based out of Long Beach, CA, that’s trying to rank in organic search results. It is unlikely that the company will rank high for a broad keyword like “Best VoIP Service”.
The right SEO approach would be to target demographics that are interested in a locally owned business phone service; small businesses and professional services like doctors, lawyers, and accountants that want personalized service from a provider they can trust. In such a competitive market, it would make sense for the company to target businesses near its location.
Focusing on a narrow well-defined audience goes a long way in making sure SEO efforts meet the desired business goals. Make sure you reach all your most likely customers before going nationwide.
SEO Mistake 2: Inadequate Keyword Research
Keyword research is a core SEO practice. Depending on the audience you plan to target you need to build up a list of keywords to work upon. As tempting as it may be for a brand to target all top traffic keywords in its target market; primarily going after generic or broad keywords will only cost you money and effort.
In fact, inadequate keyword research is one of the biggest mistakes that a company can make. If you choose to focus on generic keywords, you may end up getting a lot of visitors, but fail to make conversions.
For example, if you are running a pest control service in San Antonio, Texas and focus on the keywords like “best pest control in Texas” or “kill bugs the size of Texas”, you may get a ton of visitors, provided you end up getting ranked on the first search results page.
However, most people who visit your site won’t be looking for service in San Antonio. You would have visitors who are just landing on your page out of curiosity or are looking for pest control close to where they live.
In the same vein, one needs to consider targeting local keywords, especially if you are a local establishment. It would be wiser to target keywords like “best pest control in San Antonio” or “Alamo Heights pest control” which would cater to a more concise local audience than trying to rank across the state.
A crucial part of keyword research involves figuring out keywords that can be part of relevant search intent. For example, a person may be searching with keywords like “best pest control in ….” or “cheap pest control in …” etc. Keywords that contain inherent desire or action easily show the search intent of the user.
For shopping sites, keywords like “buy now” or “discount” are the clearest pointers of search intent. Identifying a significant number of such keywords and creating content and offerings that address such searches should form a critical part of your SEO strategy.
While you also can take help from commercial keyword research tools like Ahrefs or SEMrush, the free Google Keyword Planner tool is often good enough. It offers several options to refine your search for keywords, add filters, and discover relevant keyword ideas.
SEO Mistake 3: Failure to Analyze Results
Most businesses put a lot of money and time in their SEO effort. Some hire specialized agencies to improve their SEO rankings. However, without measuring the impact of the SEO effort, the entire endeavor can become a failure.
Google Analytics (GA) offers one of the easiest ways to track how your organic search results are performing. You can easily track which keywords are delivering maximum traffic to your website. Add to that you can also check whether the organic traffic is helping you achieve your intended results by creating Goals in GA. You can even assign a goal value and track the performance of search traffic in a quantifiable manner.
This can help you steer clear of several pitfalls. For example, you may be getting a lot of traffic but that traffic is not contributing to your sales. On further analysis with GA, you may find that the keywords contributing to such traffic are irrelevant or are too generic to make a meaningful impact on the business topline. This insight would allow you to take corrective measures and focus on keywords that are delivering results.
GA is a very powerful tool in the hands of an advanced user. You should create a customized SEO dashboard in GA showing a top-level view of your organic traffic performance. It should contain widgets to showcase organic keywords, goal conversions, top landing pages, average visit duration for organic traffic, etc.
In case you have employed an agency to manage your SEO effort; ask them to create and share a GA SEO dashboard with you, which you can check in real-time.
While GA offers a great look at how your organic results are performing, you also need to use Google Search Console (GSC). GSC offers you direct access about how GoogleBot views your site including your search rankings, links that you have gained, and warnings of actions that could be impacting your search visibility.
SEO Mistake 4: Thin Content
Search engines continue to refine the way they rank websites. With Google dominating search, it has become very important to understand the key role that content plays in its rankings.
Your website must have well written content covering the key aspects of your business. Creating a many pages with duplicate or similar content will hurt your business. Do not do this.
Your website needs to have content that engages with users. For example, if you have a blog section on your site with helpful, relevant content that is regularly updated, it will positively impact your SEO goals.
Also consider adding engaging content formats like video, quizzes, infographics, walkthroughs, case studies, listicles, calculators, etc. that help in increasing the time a typical user spends on your website. Original and long-form content is known to typically perform better in search.
For e-commerce websites, the focus should be on creating rich product descriptions, demo videos, image galleries, infographics, etc. to showcase the advantage of the products.
Content Marketing Strategy
An arbitrary content marketing strategy that eschews regular content generation can be a severe drawback. To avoid such a scenario, you should consider creating a content calendar and formalize your content marketing approach. Regular posting of well written rich content is a great way to rank higher in your niche.
Content marketing also covers the distribution of the content assets that you create. Some of the common channels include social networks like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and traditional channels like email marketing and guest blogging.
Social content today plays a huge role in improving your SEO results and achieving overall business goals. If you have the resources to commit; creating custom content for different social sites is recommended.
Measuring the results of your content marketing efforts should form a part of the KPIs of an SEO team. Understanding the kind of content that is performing better gives insights into the mind of customers and their changing requirements. It is always better to create content that engages the user and keeps them coming back to your site.
SEO Mistake 5: Ignoring Influencer Marketing
Today a lot of engaging content is being created on social sites and in many cases, influencers are the driving force behind this trend. As an SEO practitioner, one needs to always be on the lookout for ways to rank for keywords using different approaches. Influencers provide one of the easiest ways to increase the overall search rankings of your website or showcase your brand in keyword searches.
Integrating Social Media Marketing Efforts
Influencers can be encouraged to create content and link back to your website. The content can be created on their blogs or social handles like Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, etc. YouTube influencers can work as one the best force multipliers for ranking in highly competitive keywords.
For example, a new personal care brand may not be able to rank for a keyword like “best SPF 30 Sunscreen”. However if a YouTube Influencer with credible following reviews the product of the brand, that video is likely to show up in the searches for the same keyword.
For B2B brands, professional platforms like LinkedIn are better suited to improve their SEO rankings. B2B brands should consider working with thought leaders in their niche and ask them to review or write about their products or services.
SEO Mistake 6: Overlooking Local Search
If your business has a physical presence, failing to harness the power of local search can have a severe negative impact on your company.
Google prominently features businesses that are near users searching for products and services in their area. For example, if you are searching for “car repair” services from your residence in New York, you would be shown repair centers near your location.
Typically Google showcases three local businesses in what is often called a “Snack Pack” at the top of its search results for relevant local queries. You need to regularly monitor whether or not you are featured in the Snack Pack in your area for the keywords that matter for your business.
If you are not showing up regularly, you should immediately focus on your local search strategy.
Local Search Strategy
The first thing you need to do is optimize your Google My Business listing. Make sure a detailed description is present along with images and other relevant information. On your website, make sure your business name, address, and contact details are present and correct. In addition to this, you should encourage your customers to review your business on Google.
In case your business has no physical presence, but you still wish to attract customers from local searches, consider adding localized keywords for areas where you offer service. Create content focused on local needs that can show up in relevant searches.
In fact, you can create a city or location-specific pages, highlighting your success stories in that area, complete with testimonials from local customers.
SEO Mistake 7: Poor Link Building Strategy
There was a time, say more than a decade back when more backlinks meant more SEO juice. Given that it was easy to generate backlinks via dubious means, companies started purchasing links, and dedicated link farms developed.
This lead to a situation where irrelevant and low-quality sites started ranking on the search results. To prevent spammy sites from showing up in search results, Google released the Penguin update in 2012, and link farms were pushed into the periphery.
The Penguin update essentially meant that only links from relevant sites would be counted and spammy links from obscure and irrelevant sites would not count for much. However many websites still seem to live in past and make rookie mistakes like building a ton of links from irrelevant websites.
Let’s take an example of a food recipe website. Now if this website receives link backs from other food sites, preferably established ones, or news websites that may cover it, it is likely to get a lot of link juice. However, if it starts building links from shady forums or directories; it hardly helps its SEO cause — and may actually hurt its SEO ranking.
White Hat Link Building
It is important to focus on gaining quality links from reputable sources rather than building a lot of irrelevant links.
One of the easiest ways to gain such links involves reaching out to bloggers and thought leaders in your niche and requesting them to cover your site. For established companies, the SEO team can lean on the expertise of their PR team to get covered on news sites and other reputable media outlets which can give a significant boost to their SEO efforts.
However, the most effective way to gain relevant links involves the creation of linkable assets that others would love to link to. Create innovative, long-form content with lots of rich media including videos, infographics, etc., and share them on social channels. Over time, people will discover your awesome content and organically link back to you.
SEO Mistake 8: Lack of Internal Links
Search engines prefer sites that have tons of content in their niche over sites which contain thin pages. While creating relevant content is important, it is equally important to link your internal pages in a manner that search engines can discover related content.
For example you run a website on Cooking Recipes and have a bunch of recipes pages on Italian cuisine. If these pages are not interlinked, search engines will not be able to ascertain the authority your site offers someone who is looking for Italian recipes.
Ideally, you should create a pillar content page that summarizes the all recipes you have covered in a certain category and then link them with proper anchor texts.
Using the correct anchor text also helps in improving your search rankings. Avoid using words like next page or next article when you link from one piece of content to another. Instead include the keyword related to the subsequent article in the anchor text.
For example, a recipe website may include an anchor text like “Red Sauce Pasta Recipe” or “Spaghetti with Eggplant Recipe” from the cuisine index page.
SEO Mistake 9: Weak Title & Meta Tags
Often companies and teams start their on-page SEO effort in earnest, but over time they lose the discipline needed to implement the best practices. One of the most apparent examples of such lack of focus is the use of generic Meta tag content in web pages. It is not surprising to come across sites that use the same Meta tag content, page after page.
Even with Title tags, many websites fail to use their imagination and use bland titles which neither attract users nor search engines. If this was not enough, some websites include duplicate titles that confuse users who may be interested in bookmarking articles for future reference.
Always make it a point to create unique titles, and try to introduce a brand name in them if possible. Further, one should create a custom Meta tag description for each page. One can even creatively author the Meta tag description as it is likely to show up in search results. Think of it as an ad copy that can be used to attract the user right of the search results page.
SEO Mistake 10: Poor User Experience
Poorly designed websites often make it difficult for SEO efforts to bear fruit. A website with a poor navigational structure and cluttered interface is likely to deliver a poor user experience. Consequently, it is quite likely to have a high bounce rate and would fail to retain users.
In contrast, a well-designed website that is easy to navigate makes it extremely easy for users to discover new content. It will also improve conversion rates for organic traffic and help objectively measure the impact of search traffic.
Slow website speed can have a significant impact on the SEO ranking of your web pages. Sites that take more than three seconds to load may be penalized in search results. To address the issue, you can use the free Google PageSpeed Insights tool to check the speed of a web page and go through the recommendations for improving the page.
SEO Mistake 11: Not Mobile Optimized
With most Internet users accessing the web through their smartphones, it is absolutely critical for websites to have a mobile-optimized design. Google has already migrated to a mobile-first index — which essentially means that if your site is not mobile responsive, you are likely to see a fall in the search rankings.
To address the issue, you need to work on the design aspects and test your website across different mobile devices. If you have a web design team looking after your site, make sure they use best practices like large buttons and optimal reading widths. You can also consider changing the order of content blocks in the mobile version of your website to suit your users’ needs. In some cases, you may consider completely removing certain content blocks that would be difficult to view on a mobile device.
SEO Mistake 12: Lazy SEO
Search engines have evolved over the last two decades and today they consider hundreds of signals. Given the overarching dominance of Google in the global search market, it is imperative for SEO practitioners to keep track of the latest happenings in its search engine algorithm and information shared by its search team. Outsourcing with an SEO expert is often the best option.
When Google rolled out the Panda and Penguin updates in quick succession, thousands of sites were severely hit. The SEO game was turned on its head (for the better). Suddenly genuine content-rich sites started getting rewarded instead of sites with tons of purchased links. Companies that did not keep track of the changes and adapt, suddenly saw their years of SEO effort going down the drain.
The emphasis on high quality content has continued in the recent Bert update that rolled out in 2019. Slowly, the emphasis is moving away from keywords to understanding what a user really wants. Now more than ever, it is critical to author well-written content for the end-user that will answer all their questions. Every SEO practitioner should bookmark the Google Search Central Blog page and sign up to receive GSC news and updates.
Final Thoughts on SEO Mistakes
If you are really looking to take your SEO efforts to next level, you need to be alert to both opportunities and challenges. Whenever you discover a mistake in your SEO approach, be proactive in correcting it.
For established companies, SEO teams should avoid working in silos and try to work together with the content, social, and even PR teams to deliver optimum results. Last but not least, keep experimenting, try out different approaches to discover strategies that work for you.