Top SEO mistakes to avoid
Lessons from delivering SEO consulting services over a decade
While many SEO pros would like you to believe that it is a perfect science with accurately predictable outcomes for every action, I contend that it is an iterative process. Trial and error is very much a part of it. But why make the same SEO mistakes that others have already made?
It is in the spirit of learning from mistakes that I have penned this article. Some of these mistakes are so common that you expect everyone to know about them already. You can’t help but wonder how they can continue to be made in this day and age, considering the wealth of information about the field of SEO available online for free.
In this article, I don’t get into the SEO mistakes that we see with specific tactics. Instead, I will focus on the most common ones at a more strategic level in terms of how I find many businesses go about planning and executing a SEO campaign.
Hopefully, at least some companies will benefit from the lessons we’ve learnt over the years, avoid making the same mistakes and enjoy SEO success, faster. So, here goes:
SEO Mistake # 1: Treat SEO as an afterthought
I am amazed at the number of times I am told, when discussing a potential SEO consulting engagement, that we can start after the website is built or re-built. “Let’s revisit it then,” is a common refrain.
If you are thinking of digital marketing and expect organic search engine traffic to be an important channel for attracting visitors and generating leads, then the time to think of SEO is before you build or revamp your website.
Design and development shouldn’t precede SEO planning; it should either follow or, at best, happen simultaneously.
It is rather expensive and time consuming to dismantle or alter something that is already built. There are so many aspects that you can take care of upfront: the information architecture of the website, the URL structure, whether the site is secure or not, how developers should code to ensure the website is fast loading, and so on.
Imagine making all of these after the website development team has handed over the site to you. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happens more often than not. Mind you, this is not a problem limited to SMEs; I’ve seen this happen with MNCs too who just wanted to go ahead and “have a new website live” before devoting time to SEO considerations.
SEO Mistake # 2: Execute website revamps without proper migration of existing site
Among all the SEO mistakes that I have seen, this one seems to be the most common one made by companies that decide to have a “fresh look”.
Here’s the typical scenario. A company decides that their existing website has become stale and needs to be changed to something trendy and in tune with the times. So, they scout a new web development agency to redesign and redevelop their digital presence.
Everything is fine until a few weeks to a couple of months after their new website is live that they realise: “….we used to get “x” number of leads previously and now we are getting zero!”
Time for the SEO consultant to enter the scene. One look at the site analytics and Search Console and the problem is clear. URLs were changed during the revamp without any redirection of the old URLs to their corresponding new URLs.
Enormous value, often built over several years, just flushed down the drain. Instead of moving a few steps forward and reaping the benefits of the new UX, the website is pushed several steps behind.
Three things to pay special attention to before you carry out the migration of a website, so that you don’t lose the accrued SEO value:
- Get a clear handle of the content inventory of your website. Purge any unwanted content if you have to (refer to the third item), but ensure that this non-migration is ‘managed’ rather than a slip through the cracks.
- Review all existing content and design elements on different types of pages on the current website. Carefully evaluate which ones should be carried forward into the new design interface as removing certain elements may have SEO implications and affect the page’s ranking on Google, even if you manage to keep the URL the same.
- Carry out appropriate 301 url redirection of pages whose URLs change (or have to change because of certain technical considerations).
SEO Mistake # 3: Adopt a silo mentality to SEO
I’ve seen so many companies leave unbelievable amounts of SEO ‘juice’ on the table simply because of their silo mentality.
Not only do they not take into account the SEO opportunities available from across their organisation (different departments and stakeholders), but more worryingly they also do not consider integrating their other marketing initiatives into their SEO strategy.
For example, I have seen numerous instances where businesses spend thousands of dollars at trade shows/ exhibitions. However, there is not much thought into the content opportunities or link acquisition opportunities this event participation can provide to their business, which in turn could give their SEO efforts a huge boost.
There is a much greater probability of SEO success if we stop viewing SEO as a stand-alone activity that covers meta tags and writing keyword-rich marketing copy.
Look around your own department and your own company and think of how you can take advantage of all their good initiatives; you will discover a gold mine of untapped SEO opportunities!
SEO Mistake # 4: Not invest in content and focus purely on “technical” SEO
There is a misconception, especially among SMEs just getting their feet wet, that SEO is about fixing some meta tags, some unknown “magic” and inserting lots of keywords at different places.
For many, SEO is a cheap, commoditized, mechanical and process-driven activity that does not require much intelligence or creativity. Unfortunately, SEO agencies like ours that have historically thrived on an arbitrage model by delivering offshore SEO services to clients from the west are guilty of perpetrating that myth.
I am a strong believer that a SEO strategy without a content strategy is unlikely to yield long-term results. Content is an area that offers great scope for creativity in SEO to flourish.
Yes, you can attain short-term results by fixing technical issues on a website, but without having a solid content plan, this success will be rather limited.
Avoid this rather common mistake- don’t jump into SEO without budgeting for time, effort and money for the creation and distribution of content.
SEO Mistake # 5: Have unrealistic expectations
We’ve had clients with completely new websites of about 10-15 pages sign up for SEO. Within a couple of weeks, they want to know when they can be on the 1st page of Google.
No, these are not cases where we have sold them the ultimate SEO dream – give us two weeks and we’ll get your website to No.1 ranking on Google!
In fact, I never give a first position guarantee to any client and often reiterate this. The farthest I am willing to go is that “I expect us to be able to get so-and–so pages to the first page within so-and-so timeframe, but I can’t guarantee that because we don’t control what Google does or what the competition does.”
Talk about unrealistic expectations. I suspect that such unrealistic expectation comes from a lack of understanding of all the variables that influence SEO results. The mistake is to think that by taking care of your own website, you should be able to rank high enough.
Not much thought is given to Google’s constant tinkering of search results or the effort the competition in expending on their own SEO.
Understand from your agency or your SEO team what would be realistic to achieve; what the stretch goals could be. Will increasing the budget help achieve the results you desire within a compressed time frame?
Managing and re-setting expectations is quite crucial if you don’t want to experience frustration and disappointment with SEO.
SEO Mistake # 6: Chase Google algorithm and react to every statement from Google
This is an ‘advanced’ mistake in the sense that it is made by people who have some understanding of what is happening in the SEO world. They are knowledgeable and current enough to know of numerous Google algorithms but not discerning enough to know what changes and pronouncements to respond to.
Every announcement from Google does not have to impact you. Some will and many won’t: Google claims to make over 500 changes to its search algorithm in a year as it experiments with results for different types of queries.
Stop being paranoid about algorithm updates. Check whether a pronouncement from Google will be applicable to your own website or not. Evaluate short-term, medium-term and long-term implications of the announcement. (You can read more about my views on how to respond to Google algorithm updates.)
Remember, no response is also a valid form of response.
SEO Mistake # 7: Blindly following the competition (or ignoring them completely)
It is important to study the competition in search visibility and factor the observations from that into your own SEO strategy. Competition here does not mean only those who are in the same business as yours, but also websites that appear in search results for queries that are relevant to you.
However, don’t blindly follow the competition. For example, the competition may be producing content that that is not appropriate to your audience. You may not be offering a particular product or service but just because your competition has created content around that product or service, you shouldn’t get sucked into creating that content.
It seems a fairly obvious thing to do, but we state this explicitly here because it does happen quite often.
Of course, at the other end of the spectrum is ignoring your competition completely and not taking cognisance of their SEO efforts, whether it is in content creation or link acquisition. Beware, the price of completely ignoring your competition may be too high!
SEO Mistake # 8: Obsess over SEO hacks aka shortcuts
For a long time, all talk of SEO was accompanied by talks of different types of hats: white hat, black hat and grey hat. That seems to have changed now- “Hat” seems to be replaced by “Hack”!
There is nothing wrong in looking out for SEO hacks- legitimate smart tactics that pluck the low hanging fruit and deliver results quickly.
The problem is that the continuous quest for hacks often tends to distract from the long-term strategy. Some of these hacks end up being perilously close to violating Google’s guidelines too (the realm of “grey hat”), which means that you could make yourself quite vulnerable to a future Google update.
My advice: stop obsessing on hacks and shortcuts and think long term. Don’t win the battle to lose the war!
- Manoj Aravindakshan
This article was originally published on our Singapore partner website