Agency-Tested Tips to Help You Avoid All-Too-Common Pitfalls and Errors
We all make mistakes. It happens – it’s human nature. The thing is – mistakes don’t define us. We’re always improving. Think about Eric Clapton for a second – a guitarist who spent a portion of the seventies responding to the nickname “GOD.” Even he had to start somewhere, and even he made some mistakes. If you’ve tried to optimize your website, but it still isn’t performing well, chances are you’ve made some common search engine optimization mistakes. That’s okay! While these mistakes can hurt your rankings, as any SEO agency will tell you, they can be fixed! With the right tools and approach, you can course-correct your business’ content marketing and SEO strategy and get it back on track.
Interested in learning more about SEO? Check out our rundown of Google’s latest update here!
We’re going to look at some of the most common mistakes and pitfalls made with regards to your site, and what you can do to fix them. Let’s get started:
PROBLEM: Keywords Aren’t Getting Traffic SOLUTION: Keep Things Topical
Keyword research must be one of the biggest challenges in the SEO world. Even with all the tools you’ve got at your disposal, there are plenty of small snags and hang-ups that can significantly affect your search rankings. Say you’ve done your keyword research. You’ve prepared site content around these keywords. Your site is live, and you’ve flipped all the switches on your end… but you’re not getting the traffic you thought you would. “But the search volume!” you may say. Yes, search volume for a given keyword indicates this term is getting significant traction, but volume doesn’t equate traffic. Competition and difficulty increase alongside search volume – more people are trying to rank for it, after all. We’re going to let you in on a little secret here: opt for longer search terms. Finding relevant keyword phrases and related variations and topics will pay off in the long run. The broad, generic, one-to-two-word search terms get a lot of traffic, it’s true, but that broadness cuts two ways: exact keyword matches are much harder to rank for. The more specific you get, the more you can cater your site’s content to specific searches and nail down long-tail keywords that provide consistent results and traffic. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: think of keywords as topics you want to develop authority in. Search engines are trying to deliver information to users, so provide authoritative, informative content to meet user needs.
Don’t Forget URLs, Titles, and Tags
Remember what we said about phrase matching? There’s a time and place for it. Your keyword research likely gave you several variations and phrases that read like questions. Page title tags, meta descriptions, and URLs are a fantastic way to capture those searches! Don’t forget your headers, either. Content headers (your heading tags in HTML) can identify strategic keyword phrases. And we can’t overlook short descriptions for image alt text: these are used to improve site accessibility for people who can’t see images but are also a great way to add a string of text that can catch a reader’s (or crawler’s) attention and draw them in.
PROBLEM: Technical Issues SOLUTION: Time to Troubleshoot
Technical issues on your website can severely impact performance and SEO strategies. In fact, if you’re thinking of site performance and technical details as distinct from your SEO efforts, stop! If a website ranks well, chances are it runs well, too. Crawlers and robots that index your website get confused by messy, unintuitive structures. When they run into issues, they take notes – and your site’s rank is affected accordingly. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when troubleshooting your site to work out potential issues.
Are You Mobile-Friendly?
Google’s index is now mobile-first. This means that they prioritize the mobile version of a site over the desktop version. Simply put, if your site isn’t mobile-friendly, i.e., responsive, adaptive, and functional across a range of screens and devices, you’re going to have trouble ranking.
Slow Page Loading Time
High-speed Internet is the gold standard for web browsing. Users want to digest content and navigate sites quickly. But if a page takes too long to load, users will go elsewhere. In fact, Google themselves recommend a maximum load time of 2.5 seconds – but they strive for 0.5 seconds or less.
Broken links are born from typos and human error. Sometimes you rename a page and forget to update 301 redirects – it happens. But returning a 404 error is giving Google’s bots a dead end when you want them to crawl as much of your site as possible. And returning a 404 kills all the good SEO karma you’ve built up with that URL. From an SEO perspective, they’re not great. From a user experience perspective, they’re even worse. A user hitting a 404 error means, at best, they’re bouncing back to a home page and starting their search again. Maybe they’ll find their way to the right page, or maybe they’ll hit the error again. Chances are they’ll bounce at that point, though. At worst, a user will hit a 404 error and bail entirely to find their info elsewhere. Take the time to crawl your own site and double-check your links. This is much easier on smaller sites, but even a 15-page site can become cumbersome if you’re interlinking pages. Try using a crawling tool to return any 404s or broken links and take the time to fix them up with new links or 301 redirects to preserve traffic.
If you haven’t made the switch over to HTTPS from HTTP, your site isn’t on the Google-preferred secure connection. This could hurt your rankings and send signals to your users to run away. We’re serious – you know those “Not Secure” warnings Chrome, Google, and other engines and browsers give you? How often do you actually click through despite the warnings? HTTPS helps you avoid all these issues and keeps users feeling relaxed and at ease when using your site. Migrating from HTTP to HTTPS is time-consuming but working with a knowledgeable SEO agency and web development team can make the process smooth and seamless.
NOTE: Google considers HTTPS migration a site move with a URL change. As such, you’ll likely see some change in your traffic temporarily – this is totally normal, and your numbers will recover.
PROBLEM: Weak Content SOLUTION: Content and Backlink Strategies
This is the meat-and-potatoes stuff. Content is, at its core, a delivery system for SEO. It’s how it’s packaged, and how you put SEO into practice. Your content strategy should cover a significant part of who you – or rather, your business or site – are. Backlink strategies are much more complex. These efforts focus on building, well, backlinks to your site – links from other locations that refer to you as an authority and source of information. Building backlinks can be a full-time job in its own right, but there are still a few things you can do that will help your efforts with an SEO agency further down the road.
Developing Authority with Original Content
If you’re still operating on the assumption that “good” content depends on exact matches for keywords, it’s time to get up to speed. We discussed this earlier, but basically, you’re not trying to cram in as many variations on a given keyword as possible. Sure, it’ll let Google know what you’re trying to rank for, but it’s not enough to throw in your chosen keywords and leave it to the crawlers. Content should support your brand by developing authority through useful, relevant information that helps users meet their needs. We recommend developing a clear content strategy to help support your SEO. Effective content is a massive boon for your brand, as you’re providing meaningful info that addresses user needs. Measuring your strategy’s success using key metrics and quantifiable data helps you rework and retool the things that aren’t doing so hot. Chances are when developing your site’s content, you’ve spent some time researching what the competition is doing. Maybe you see an approach you like, and you want to use something similar. People spin content all the time, especially with high-ranking pages and highly competitive markets. But there’s a fine line between taking an idea and putting your own spin on it and running a quick find-and-replace program to sneak things in under the radar. As an agency, we’ve come across sites that try it all, and we can tell you one thing for certain: it doesn’t work. Duplicated content might not bear a strict penalty from a search engine, but it won’t get any of the valuable link juice or authority of the original content. Remember, if it’s copied from somewhere else, that other location has already been indexed and ranked by Google’s bots. You’re using the same content but at a severe disadvantage from the get-go. Our rule of thumb? If you want to rank (and outrank) the pages you think are doing it right, your stuff needs to be ten times better. Take the time to do the research, do the work, and create something unique that speaks to your audience and reflects your business and experience. Inform, educate, and…
A backlink strategy takes time to research, plan, and implement. Some businesses offer it as a full-time service and employ teams whose entire job is to build backlinks from other sites and locations to your own site. It’s challenging, time-consuming, and sometimes incredibly stressful, but it can generate some seriously impressive results. Essentially, backlinks are links back to your website. That’s it. And on the surface, that might seem incredibly straightforward. In practice, how do you build natural, organic links from other sites and communities? We like to think of links as votes – Each link to your site is a vote in its favour. Each link you include to another site is a vote in that site’s favour. It’s a combination of cold call-style outreach, syndication, and social sharing – not to mention significant backend analysis and research. On your end, you need to:
- Use best-practices anchor text for links – and not just on keyword strings!
- Link in kind – choose the sites you link out to carefully, as they’ll reflect on your site in turn.
- Develop relationships and partnerships with other sites – AKA outreach!
And that’s just the start of it! Meanwhile, you need the sites linking back to you to follow similar guidelines. In time, you can develop editorial links (like the links you might find in a blog), manual links based on relationships you build business-to-business, and links in forums, blog comments, and much, much more. Backlinks from other websites are good for your site’s rankings, but only with quality backlinks from high-ranking, trustworthy, and relevant websites. It’s easier said than done (and a lot can be said about backlinks), but it helps to know where to start.
PROBLEM: What’s Next? SOLUTION: Keep At It!
At long last, our final tip: SEO isn’t a fire-and-forget process. You’ve got to keep at it! Optimization is ongoing, with regular checks, monitoring, and updates to adjust as needed. Analytics provide tremendous insight into how your site is performing and can give a clear indication of how a strategy is playing out. See what’s working and what isn’t so you can keep improving. Don’t let mistakes slow you down! Remember, Eric Clapton didn’t arrive on the scene a fully-formed guitar god. He had years of practice and development. You can even hear him improve over time. We’re not saying you’re guaranteed to be the Clapton of SEO – but you’ll improve, too. Chances are you’re going to make some all-too-common mistakes with your SEO efforts, especially if you’re just starting with the process. That’s okay! It’s not the end of the world, and you can always check in with a few dependable experts at a local SEO agency to help you get back on track.
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