Generally in life I follow the principle of if I’m not learning from my mistakes then I’m not trying hard enough. All too often it is easy to get carried away with complacency and miss the blindingly obvious mistakes that are staring us in the face. So how do you know when you’ve become complacent with SEO and missed some real obvious tricks??
1. A Lack of Domain Canonicalisation
You still have both a www and non-www version of the website accessible, days, months, or perhaps even years after the website launched. This may seem like a blindingly obvious SEO faux-pas for some but it is amazing how many of the largest websites on the internet have not implemented this redirect.
Not only are you confusing visitors with 2 variations of your domain you are no doubt also missing out on a huge amount of benefit due to your lack of backlink consolidation. A quick check of an online backlink checking tool such as Majestic SEO will highlight exactly what you’re missing out on.
Pick a single variation for your domain and sort out those 301 redirects! Oh and while you’re at it, fix up those duplicate index.htm/html/php/asp/aspx references that are still hanging around with 301 redirects too!
2. Over Reliance on Branded Traffic
Checked your non-branded traffic recently? Ok some SEO campaigns will focus on brand development but generally speaking it’s the non-branded stuff that counts. If your non-branded traffic is stagnant or even in decline, seasonality aside there is likely something very wrong with your strategy.
So how can you check this? Easy – just go into your analytics reporting tool (e.g. Google Analytics), exclude your brand name from the organic search entry keywords report and view your traffic over time. Generally speaking you should be looking to re-appraise your website and check your content targeting strategy alongside your target keywords regularly.
3. Broken Links
When was the last time you spidered your website for errors? In fact, have you ever spidered your website for errors? Do you even know what spidering is? It is amazing how many ‘SEOs’ have never undertaken this task and certainly goes a long way to highlighting the low quality SEO service offerings that exist in our saturated industry.
With high profile websites or those that are updated frequently, spidering your website regularly for 404 errors and other SEO hindrances is an absolute must. It is all too easy to create a broken link on your website and even easier to let it slip through the net unnoticed (no pun intended!) causing all sorts of problems from inaccessible content for visitors and spiders through to negative signals being relayed to search engine spiders. Use a free tool such as Xenu’s Link Sleuth and help the search engines and your visitors by tidying up your internal links!
4. No Sales/Enquiries
Have you been staring at the visitors/visits analytics graphs for so long that you’ve completely forgotten your clients Key Performance Indicator (KPI)? Is is sales? Enquiries? Both?
Remember what your clients goals are (very important note: THEIR goals, not yours) and make sure you’re on track to achieving them. There’s no point reporting fantastic organic search visitor numbers if it’s not what the client/your boss wants to hear about, especially when there’s no bottom line figures/money to be directly attributed to it.
Perhaps your problems lie with point number 5 below…
5. Teeny Tiny Calls To Action
This is a bit of a controversial SEO one really and largely comes down to your own interpretation of what SEO is. Although firmly placed under the conversion rate optimisation (CRO) hat, I would always argue that conversion optimisation goes hand in hand with SEO. For myself and my colleagues at Receptional, our approach to SEO is very much fixated on ROI. Therefore, SEO activity involves not only obtaining highly targeted, high quality organic search visitors, but also ensuring that once we have obtained the visitor we keep them and have them complete our desired action. After all (again, brand recognition/reputation aside), what’s the point in having a website with tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of visitors every month if they aren’t engaging with you?
Let’s face it, there is ALWAYS a call to action (CTA) that could (and should) be included on every website. If you are a blog site then perhaps it’s getting your visitors to add comments to your article. If you are an ecommerce site then it will obviously be to obtain a sale. If you are information based, perhaps it is getting people to link to your articles or tweet them.
Take a look at your site – if your telephone number is in 12px font size in light blue text on a dark blue background, your contact form takes 10 clicks to locate, your Adsense content is overwhelming your CTA or your sign up button is the smallest link on the page, you need to readdress your goals. Don’t forget, there are some great tools out there for conversion rate optimisation including Google’s own website optimiser.
Whatever your website, don’t lose sight of your CTA – always keep a keen eye and strong focus on your desired end goal.
6. You’ve Never Come Across the Term ‘Co-Occurence’
Seriously now, if you’re unfamiliar with this term and you’re doing SEO you need to reassess if a life in the SEO game is really for you. I’ll make a bet that those of you that haven’t heard this term before, let alone know what it is and why it’s significant, are still repeating your target keywords on a page, spending your client/boss’ money filling in meta keywords tags and dreaming of owning Marty McFly’s hoverboard – am I right?
In all seriousness though, PLEASE go look it up and get up to date with SEO techniques. You cannot run the 2003 style “my first SEO campaign” anymore simply repeating your keywords and one or two variations of it throughout your text. You need to be clever than that.
Look to include closely related keywords, synonyms and loosely related keywords to assist with content theming. Co-occurrence, like backlinks, is essential for good SEO performance and if you’re omitting it right now you need to get back to (the 2011) basics.
7. No-One Can Navigate Your Website
Confusing menus? Multiple menus? Contextual menus? You’ve probably got them all. This isn’t just usability though folks, this is SEO. Information architecture is a key aspect of SEO and if your menus are a mess, I’d go out on a limb and suggest that chances are it’s certainly not doing your SEO performance any favours either.
Search engines and site owners will both find it difficult to navigate and interpret your website if your menus are inconsistent, too long or simply appear and disappear at will. We’ve all seen this issue on the internet whether consciously or not. A top navigation menu that confuses service related content with information, a left hand menu that requires page scrolling to reach the bottom and a right hand menu of unrelated content links that serves little or no purpose at all. Oh and don’t even get me started on your dreadful footer menu of (spam) links (see point 8 below)!
First and foremost, write your content for real people – that goes without saying. You also need to ensure your website is accessible by real people. Have you ever tested this by asking someone to locate a piece of content on your website and watched their behaviour/viewed their sporadic clicking hoping to find the content? You can certainly learn a lot about your website’s hierarchy from this type of activity.
So what should you do? Keep your website focused by ensuring your maintain a short, high quality website hierarchy that is only a few levels deep. Also ensure you are linking in context to the current page as this will assist with both usability and SEO. If someone is on a page of content reading about soup recipes, they certainly don’t need to be presented with a huge list of links to your sport/lifestyle content.
And for goodness sake, implement a search box on your website. Not only does this allow for a fail-safe route of navigation, but you can monitor the search phrases entered and learn what content is missing from your site or difficult for your visitors to find.
8. That Ugly Block of Footer Text Links
You know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. That interchangeable, ugly block of links/static text that appears on every page of your website site-wide. You know it, I know it and the search engines definitely know it: no-one is reading that text and no-one is clicking those spammy links. It’s not 2003 anymore guys, drop the low quality duplicate text and ditch those unusable, over-optimised keyword footer links!
With Google pressing on with rewarding websites that have high quality, unique content you don’t want to put your and/or your client’s business in the firing line for breaching Google’s quality guidelines and receiving a Panda-style demotion.
These keyword spam footer links aren’t doing your website any favours and that generic block of text is putting you at risk of duplication penalties. My advice – ditch them.
9. The Existence of a ‘Links’ Page
Ok, I’ll admit that this one is a personal favourite of mine to visit on various websites. Due to their nature I am always amazed that these types of pages still exist, especially when you take a closer look at the types of links that they present. You know exactly the type of pages I’m talking about here – that “links” or “resources” page that often appears on a website linked to in footer.
Let’s face it, these pages absolutely stink of paid/reciprocal links and it doesn’t take a genius or a search engine to figure that out either. Have you ever been on one of these pages and actually visited a link that is presented to you? Furthermore, have you ever actually linked to one of these pages as it is such a fantastic resource? I seriously doubt it. There is very little value for your website to have this type of page.
Don’t get me wrong, some websites have meant well with this type of page and haven’t abused its function. Many websites link to their suppliers or related business but as is often the case these links are always presented in isolation and out of content. If the links are to your suppliers then you should make that clear on your “suppliers” page and not a generic “links” page – provide a brief background to their business and what they do. Similarly if you are promoting another business then do it in context of the current content i.e. link to them from articles related to their business, don’t just stuff a page full of unrelated business links.
So do you still have a links page still linking to those drug and online gambling websites that paid you £100 for 6 months visibility, 5 years ago? Or EVEN worse still does your old links page still lurk in Google despite having removed internal site links to it? It could certainly be doing your website harm from an SEO performance perspective if you have undesirable links on it and haven’t redirects/removed it fully.
So what can you do? Firstly spider your website (point 3 above) and find any links to that page and delete them. Then delete the links page. These types of pages were never any good except for reciprocal linking in 2003. In fact they weren’t that great even then. Best pretend they never existed, “410 gone” them!
10. Using One Industry Website as Your SEO Bible
There are some fantastic sites around relating to SEO that offer the latest industry news, techniques and testing/experiments. Whatever you do however, don’t fall into the predictable newbie SEO trap and use Search Engine Land (SEL) as your Bible. Don’t misinterpret me here, I have absolutely nothing against SEL, I use their website every day and there is fantastic content available. There are however a LOT of additional resources out there that will often give you far greater insight/different angles on SEO techniques and testing than the latest SEL article.
Take for example the Webmaster World forums – there are many threads there from real site owners with real SEO issues, often implementing new and/or tried and tested techniques. You can learn a lot from these types of places. Similarly, aside from the general dislike for the black hat side of the industry, do not write off the knowledge that you can learn from these guys. I’m certainly not advocating their techniques but get on some black hat forums, see what they’re doing and see what works and doesn’t work for them. Not only will you learn a lot about bad practice SEO, you will gain greater insight into how the likes of Google work along the way. Plus you will get tertiary benefits through learning from other people’s mistakes.
Any Other Obvious Mistakes / Complacencies?
Ok so that’s it, the end of my list of common “you’re doing it wrong!” SEO mistakes. Have I missed anything glaringly obvious here? Got any other top niggles that get your goat when scouring the internet? I’d love to hear your own views on this, please comment below..