For the uninitiated, dabbling in the dark art of SEO, better known as Search Engine Optimization, can be a daunting and intimidating task. If you’re unsure of how to navigate the digital realm, don’t let hubris be your downfall and attempt to implement tactics that will only result in search engines rejecting your website. If the words “search engine optimization” seem like sorcery to you, it’s better to hand the keys to your site to digital marketing professionals and agencies. However, if you’re on a limited budget, this guide can be a handy resource on what NOT to do – I’ll keep what you SHOULD do for another time. 😉
Not Developing a Keyword Strategy
Believe it or not, the whole point of search engine optimization is to be found. If you end up building a new website or have one made for you without thinking about how your target audience is going to come across your site naturally via search engines, then you may want to consider having your business owner card revoked. Ouf – I’m sorry, that’s a little harsh, but if you’re going to invest your own money into marketing your business, you need to do it correctly and not screw up during your first at-bat (a baseball reference, btw).
While it would be worthwhile to spend a good amount of time researching trends and data, you can simply use Google’s Keyword Planner or any other number of search marketing tools to determine which keywords are used in your niche. Some popular keyword tools include:
- SEMrush (my personal favourite – the keyword analytics tool is a content marketer’s dream)
Using “home page” as your main meta title
Whenever I come across a website with “home page” as the main meta title, a little piece of me dies inside. While the preceding comment may be riddled with sardonic hyperbole, I can’t help but feel bad for businesses that find themselves in a position where 16-year-olds on Facebook have profiles with better meta titles for search engines. A nifty feature of Facebook’s profile creation is to dynamically insert a user’s name into the meta title, thereby better describing the content of our youth’s profiles than a business with “home page” as the meta title. As for your website, utilizing keyword research tools can help you develop a keyword-rich page title that accurately describes your business and increases the likelihood of it being found on search engines. For example, a health insurance broker in Los Angeles may opt for “Health Insurance Broker in Los Angeles | BrokerGuyQuotes.com” as the main title. It’s clear, succinct, and keyword rich. Juicy!
On the flip side….having TOO many keywords sprawled all over your content can lead to significant indexing issues. While the saying “content is king” is widely used and abused, it does ring true in most cases. Optimized content will ALWAYS rank if it’s fresh, authoritative, and unique. However, if you start preparing content that has more in common with Trump’s incoherent rants (saying the same things over and over again without making a valid point), it’s likely that search engines will devalue your content and your organic traffic will suffer as a result. Writing optimized web copy is both a science and an art. Your web content needs to be conversion-focused and interesting enough to keep your audience engaged, while at the same time providing pertinent information surrounded by the right keywords to feed the hungry search engines.
Poor website structure
It’s not uncommon to come across websites that have most, if not, all of the following common issues:
- URLs not optimized for search engines (/PID=87/ instead of /seo-services/, for example).
- No breadcrumb navigation structure
- Broken internal links
- Duplicate URLs and canonicalization issues
- Site speed issues
When it comes to securing your real estate online, entrusting your website development to “highly-affordable” freelancers (otherwise known as people you hire on Craigslist for a couple of hundred dollars) without a lot of experience or without the resources of an agency typically results in all of the issues listed above. It’s important to hire an experienced agency or web developer that is cognizant of how these issues may arise and understand how to fix them. Otherwise, you may end up with a shiny broken toy.
Forgetting your audience on mobile devices
Honestly, this is only here because there are still some websites on the web that refuse to be mobile-friendly. I think it’s virtually impossible to build a website in this day and age with an off-the-shelf CMS (content management system) that doesn’t support mobile. WordPress, Shopify, Magento, Drupal, and other website-building platforms all provide sufficient mobile resources. In some cases, your website may require a custom build, and if your developer is coding without thinking about the mobile experience, it will prove to be a costly mistake. With Google’s mobile-first index rolling out and mobile usability elements factoring into organic rankings, it’s more important than ever to develop a website that renders perfectly across all types of devices (yes, even those pesky little tablets).
Website migration issues
This one is common for businesses that roll out new websites and simply think the search engine fairies will realize what happened magically and transfer all SEO juice to the new pages. Sorry bud, that ain’t happening. The most common issue I come across in this regard is the forgotten task of setting up redirects from old URLs to new URLs. For example, if your services page went from being /services/ to /business-services/, you better make sure to implement a 301 redirect to let bots know that the old URL has moved to the new one permanently. Forgetting to implement 301 redirects can prove to be DISASTROUS for e-commerce websites. For example, I started an SEO project with an ecommerce business four years ago that wondered why all of its organic traffic went down the drain right after relaunching their website. After digging around for all but ten minutes, it turns out developers decided to launch the website willy-nilly, resulting in a loss of 50% of traffic and thousands of 404 errors. Oops.
Tying it all together
While this post may seem elementary for some and confusing as hell for others, it’s important to know that some of the most basic elements of your website can have a profound effect on your organic traffic if they are not handled properly. Search engine optimization has evolved so much over the past ten years that it’s getting more difficult to manipulate search engines to boost your rankings (thankfully – black hat SEO tactics are just unprofessional and messy). Developing a new website or implementing a brand new design is an investment in your business that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When hiring an agency or independent contractor, do your due diligence and ask the right questions to ensure that you won’t be left with an egg post-launch that doesn’t get found easily on search engines.