SEO is one of the most misunderstood inbound marketing strategies used today. Of course, this is partially a consequence of the fluid nature of the SEO process, the rules of which change every time a search engine like Google introduces new algorithmic adjustments. Because those algorithm changes are largely designed to weed out unscrupulous, “black hat” techniques and reward quality content, businesses that try to take shortcuts are frequently penalized for practices they’ve hitherto relied upon.
Still, even well-intentioned SEO enthusiasts can make mistakes, whether they’re buying into a dated strategy or leaving valuable stones unturned. By watching out for these common SEO mistakes — and knowing what to do instead — you give yourself an advantage both with your audience and with the search engines.
1. SEO That’s Faulty By Design
SEO isn’t a one-dimensional strategy that exists only in keyword-laden copy, and if you aren’t optimizing your web design, you’re wasting a major opportunity. Search engine crawlers don’t read your website the same way that the average user does—rather, they comb through the coding, the links, the URLS and more, looking for information they can interpret to determine your site’s quality.
For example, search engines inspect a web page’s URL to determine its content. The problem, though, is that the default URL when you upload a page might look like this:
Now, that doesn’t tell you much about the page’s content, and it won’t make the search engine crawler want to rank your site any higher. When you design, change the URL to something a little more crawler-friendly:
And this is just one way that better design is part of better SEO. Everything from your meta tags and your anchor text to the way you implement Flash impacts your site’s success with the crawlers, so before you design, learn how your ideas might impact your long-term SEO strategy.
2. Thinking Small
Keyword-optimized content like resource pages, blog entries and case studies are all valuable for building SEO value into your website, but it’s also fairly traditional. Don’t concentrate on creating more of the same content—instead, explore new directions for improving and effectively distributing it.
Web videos are the perfect example of a misunderstood SEO strategy. When you upload and embed a YouTube video to your website, search engine crawlers don’t know much about the video’s content, severely limiting your SEO benefit. When you add captions to the video (which users can switch on and off), Google and YouTube index the transcript, and the crawlers read through it when they comb your site.
Going off-site presents new opportunities that you can just as easily miss, most prominently, backlinking. Search engines don’t just look for keywords—they examine your entire web presence, particularly how other sites link to yours. By developing an active presence on social media and using it to promote web content, you increase the likelihood of other users sharing it, increasing the number of links to your site and effectively optimizing it from the outside in.
3. You Set It and Forget It
Optimizing your website is like staying in shape—you get better results from long-term efforts. If you take a one-and-done approach to SEO, you might see some short-term gains, but they won’t last.
SEO is a continuous process that requires constant refinement, or else your content becomes outdated. As certain keywords become irrelevant and original content is inevitably stolen and appropriated elsewhere, search engines devalue it, and eventually, it’s almost as though your site was never optimized at all. To keep ranking well, you have to maintain your SEO efforts with consistency.
4. Your Content Goes Stale
Search engines value fresh content, and it’s up to you to supply it. Regularly updating your site with blog entries, whitepapers, downloads, case studies and more demonstrates to search engines that your content is highly relevant, giving you a distinct advantage over competitor sites that do not. You can leverage these regular updates for additional SEO benefit, like internal linking, on-site video, keyword implementation and photo embeds.
5. Keyword Stuffing and Low Quality Content
While Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have thoroughly delegitimized a number of black hat SEO strategies, they’ve also made it easier to inadvertently over-optimize your site. When search engine crawlers detect keyword stuffing, for example, your site is penalized with lower ranking. Ideally, each keyword on a given page should only account for about 1 percent of your copy—more than that, and you could raise a few eyebrows. Ultimately, this benefits your audience, too, as conspicuous keywords can render your content awkward at best and unreadable at worst. Don’t choose between writing for the search engine crawlers and writing for a live audience—write for both.
6. Too-Good-to-Be-True Shortcuts
Optimizing your site for SEO purposes takes time and continued effort for a reason: Search engines prefer to reward high quality content with high ranking on the results page. This isn’t something that you can buy your way into, either, despite how the online marketplace may make it seem—just remember that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Discount marketing services promising hundreds of backlinks or dozens of SEO-optimized blog posts frequently ignore best practices guidelines, and if you’re caught using them, your site pays the penalty. A high volume of backlinks from dubious websites, for example, reflects poorly on your website. Whether you’re managing your own SEO campaign or working with a consultant, you have to play by the rules.
While it’s tempting to feel frustrated when a search engine algorithm change throws off your SEO game plan, ultimately, it’s for the best. These changes directly reward inbound marketers who make smart, ethical choices—by avoiding these common mistakes, you can make sure that you’re among them.
Solomon Thimothy is the founder and CEO of integrated marketing firm OneIMS and its online marketing division, ClickXPosure. From their joint headquarters in Chicago, he specializes in web design and development, SEO, PPC, and a wide range of digital and traditional marketing strategies. You can connect with Solomon on Twitter or on Google+.