As an industry, SEO has been around since 1995, born during the early days of Yahoo. It really began to grow up, however, when Google started in the early 2000s.
And in the last five years it’s definitely gotten more sophisticated…and even gone somewhat mainstream.
So you would think that most people understand the basics and can at least avoid common mistakes when building blogs and websites.
I wish I could say that was true, but in my ten years of working in SEO I am still seeing the same mistakes committed, especially the following seven.
Hopefully I can provide some clarification and updated knowledge on these issues that I’ve developed from my experience working with clients.
1. Duplicate content
Pretty much anyone who knows the first thing about search engine optimization knows not to create duplicate content – that is unless they want to be punished in the search engine rankings.
Yet, it happens all the time, even if it’s not malicious. According to the Google Webmaster Tools blog, non-malicious examples include:
- Discussion forums that can generate both regular and stripped-down pages targeted at mobile devices
- Store items shown or linked via multiple distinct URLs
- Printer-only versions of web pages
These are common mistakes I see innocent people make all the time.
But they make the problem worse by linking the home page to the navigation so that they are in essence broadcasting to search engine crawlers that just one-level deep in navigation is duplicate content.
In other words, they’re not being consistent:
- Be consistent: Try to keep your internal linking consistent. For example, don’t link to
A simple 301 redirect on the index page that points to the top-level domain will solve the first problem. Then go through and update the internal navigation to point only to the top…and then remove the index file from the site map.
Check out the rest of the steps you can take to deal with duplicate content issues on the Google Webmaster Blog.
2. Ignoring the alt attribute
In one of my most recent SEO projects I found some pages that were not even optimized in the most basic ways…like the alt attribute tag was empty.
- Videos – Whether you host the videos on your site or park them on YouTube or Vimeo, you always add text, namely the transcript (see any SEOmoz video…the transcript is on the page below the video), title and description tags.
- Images – Please, please, please drop a descriptive line of copy in image descriptions.
- Logos – Even though this is identical to an image, I separated it out to bring attention to it because it seems that on almost every job I’m involved in we find the logo has not been optimized! It’s pretty simple to drop a line of copy to describe the logo. That may sound like small beans, but trust me…this all adds up!
- Taglines – Again, this is identical to an image, but I’ve seen this happen to…taglines that are turned into images without any supporting text. Big no-no!
- Photos of staff – This is another image that I find is not optimized with a line of copy. By the way, this is especially important when you are dealing with a photo that has someone performing an action. If it’s a static photo, the line of copy should include their name. If it’s an action shot, describe who is doing what, where and when. Those with disabilities will appreciate it!
Content is king in defining a page’s worth and relevancy. So from an SEO standpoint you try to make every element on your web page understandable to search engines, including images and videos.
Here’s a nice cheat sheet from Search Engine Guide on why alt attributes are important:
So whether it is a search engine spider or a web surfer, give them copy that helps both of them understand the relevancy of the element in question and the actual page. Wikipedia uses this image to explain how to properly use images and the alt attribute:
<img alt=”In the sky flies a red flag with a white cross whose vertical bar is shifted toward the flagpole.”
3. Lack of link-building focus
In 2011, SEO experts said that link-building will continue to be a critical factor to your website’s success:
That’s actually down from 2009, but only by 4%.
Unfortunately, it also seems that a lot of web project teams don’t understand the importance of linking throughout the site.
Sure, they might have an approach where they link in and out through navigation…especially true if they are dealing with a network of sites…but missing are essential on-page links.
Some writers of these corporate blogs understand that they should be blogging great content, but nobody unfortunately told them that they should actually link that content.
This one always amazes me because if anything it seems that SEO has spread enough that people understand at least the basic tenets of SEO (even if they still don’t trust it) like you got to get links.
And of course, getting links begins with a sound outbound link-building strategy.
4. No keyword research
Another key area in SEO that baffles me is when it comes to keywords. Like I mentioned above, a lot of these corporations and small businesses get that they should be blogging…but they are not conducting proper keyword research before doing so.
That means their copy is aimless in terms of keyword strength.
Now, I know it’s time-consuming to drill down through keywords for every article, especially if you are blogging more than once a day. But even veteran SEO writers know and will develop copy around a tight keyword range for each page.
So, please, make the effort to do your keyword search.
5. Duplicate page titles
Another common mistake is that websites will paste the same page title across the site. It’s usually of the variation “company name + tagline”. Sometime it’s just the company name.
This is interesting because you at least think they would name the pages based upon purpose…like “Home,” “About” or “Contact.”
Even so, each page should always have a unique and descriptive title that both search engines and web surfers can read.
6. Page meta-descriptions
When I see companies fail to fill out meta-descriptions, I feel like this is a little more understandable, especially for big sites…because that’s just a lot of content to develop.
But still you have to do it.
The meta-description controls what is seen on search engine results pages:
And can be the difference between low and high clickthroughs.
This is equally true for blog posts, which many people blow off simply because they let the default setting grab the first 160 characters of the actual article…
The problem with that is it’s usually not optimized to be clear, concise or compelling. The tricks for pulling readers through an article on the page is a lot different from what you have to do to get them to click on a link on a SERPs.
Look at the source code, and you’ll see this:
<META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”informative description here”>
And a WordPress plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast makes it pretty easy to input a title, description and even keywords without knowing code.
Google has also given us some tips on how to create descriptions, the three most important being:
- Descriptive – Use a formula that journalists use, the 5 Ws…“Who? What? Why? When? Where? How?” This formula works equally well writing descriptions.
- Unique – You’ve got to create a new description for each page or post.
- Short – Google limits meta descriptions to 160 characters or less.
Please don’t ignore!
7. Lack of detailed and descriptive copy
The Google Panda update pretty much put the lid on content farms…and content that looks like it was created by a content mill. And this update is well known, which surprises me because…
In the last month alone I’ve still seen sites that looked like they hired someone from a content mill to create copy.
The copy was short, bland and wasn’t even using keywords right.
It’s essential these days to write posts that are detailed and meaningful…otherwise you will never rank high. And fortunately it’s easier than ever with advice from Google engineers on how to create high-quality content.
If you are an SEO, you better not be making the mistakes that I shared above. Instead, any SEO worth his salt should be spotting these issues, raising a red flag and then fixing them right away for his or her clients.
I can’t honestly imagine that any website owner who hires you won’t listen to your recommendations, but if they don’t let them know that this is baseline issues that need corrected…and it would be impossible for you to deliver results unless they were corrected.
What other common SEO mistakes do you see websites still making?
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