25 Common SEO Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

by | March 3, 2021

Tired of watching frustrating graphs? This downward trend is a nightmare for any SEO specialist, agency, or company investing time and money in SEO. If you’ve spent tons of resources on your organic search campaigns but aren’t able to generate the desired results, you’ll know exactly how it feels.

Since an entire SEO campaign is based on various experiments, having a decline is a common thing. Sometimes your experiments may work, and sometimes they may not. Never lose hope and just remember that it all can be fixed with a bit of work.

seo failure quote

Undoubtedly, SEO has never been an overnight success game. Along with an effective strategy and execution, it requires patience to be successful in your niche. Most business owners stop funding their organic search campaigns when they aren’t able to generate traffic and increase leads/sales to their site in the short term. As a result, they conclude that SEO is an ineffective marketing channel.

Before we address the most common SEO mistakes, let’s discuss why the organic search channel is effective. Although it’s not the main focus of this article, it is important to recognize the value of SEO before jumping into the challenges you may be facing. So first, let’s prove that SEO is not a dead marketing strategy and should not be taken for granted.

seo is dead meme

Did you know?
● SEO can drive a conversion-rate of 14.6% when done properly. (Source)
● 93% of online sessions are initiated via search engines. (Source)
● Around 40% of revenue is acquired from organic search. (Source)
● Organic search channels have the highest ROI amongst digital marketing channels.(Source)

seo roi stats

During the COVID-19 pandemic, SEO proved to be the most effective source of traffic and sales generation for markets such as e-Commerce. Just because some industries were badly affected by the pandemic (e.g. the global travel industry), this doesn’t mean SEO wasn’t effective. So don’t give up hope with your SEO campaign.

Now let’s delve into what you might be missing. There is quite a huge list of SEO mistakes so it’s almost impossible to cover everything. If you’re unsure about where to begin, contact an experienced digital marketing agency that can run an audit of your site and get you off to the right start.

free seo audit

Common SEO Mistakes

The most common mistakes can be divided into the following sections:

1. Keyword Research Mistakes
2. Technical SEO Mistakes
3. On-Page SEO Mistakes
4. Content Production Mistakes
5. Link Building Mistakes

Keyword Research Mistakes

1. Ignoring the Keyword Intent

It’s important not to mistake a keyword for being conversion-centric when it’s actually an informative keyword. Let’s take an example of the term “cool outfits” below. Most people might consider it to be a convertible keyword. However, this is not the case. Here’s why:

cool outfits serps

As you can see from this screenshot, the first page is full of Pinterest links or blog posts. This means that the users who are searching for this term are not looking to purchase anything. Instead, they are searching for certain information on the given topic. Imagine if you’ve put in a lot of time to get such a keyword ranked and then you realize it’s not giving you the conversion results you were aiming for. Ignoring the intent of a keyword can end up costing you time, money, and resources.

Pro tip: It is highly recommended to check the keywords’ intent by searching for it in Google to see which types of results are popping up on the first page. Focus on keywords with comparisons and buyers intent, such as: ‘vs’, ‘buy’, ‘best’, ‘and alternatives’, ‘price’, ‘reviews’, ‘pros and cons of…’

2. Targeting Super-Highly Competitive Keywords

If you’re new to the game, don’t target high-volume, high difficulty keywords from the get-go. Your domain rating might still be low, and you won’t yet have a lot of backlinks from other similar websites in your niche. In a nutshell, the foundations of your website aren’t yet stable enough for you to compete with high-profile competitors. This is because such super-highly competitive terms are usually targeted by the big fish in your market.

As a newbie, Google won’t know if your website is trustworthy yet. It would, therefore, be challenging to compete with the top dogs and get to the first page on Google for such keywords. It could even take years to achieve this target.

So to get initial traction, always focus on low volume keywords with higher CPC or buying intent. These are the keywords that despite their low volume, are still able to get bids from PPC experts — which means they carry quality traffic.

website hosting service wordpress

An example of a low-volume, high CPC keyword that has a lot more potential than ‘WordPress hosting service’ alone. These are the low-hanging fruits. Pluck them.

Pro Tip: Focus on the keywords that have less search volume with a decent CPC, or have a decent search volume with less competition and a lower difficulty ratio. You can even check the long-tail keywords targeted by your competitors to get a better idea of what works.

3. Ignoring the Power of Long-Tail Keywords

In 2007, a book was released called the Long-Tail. At that time, most people had no idea long-tail keywords even existed. Today everyone knows about it. Unfortunately, many companies are still not using them to gain a foot in their digital niche.

Long-tail keywords have a lot of potential in almost every market. With the growing use of speech recognition technology, more people are using tools like Amazon Alexa to search for the services and products they need. The result? Long-tail keywords are becoming more influential. The best part? Most of these keywords still have low competition. Examples include terms such as, ‘find a 24h pharmacy near me’, ‘wellness clinics in Boston’, or ‘cleaning companies for apartments.’

Long-tail keywords have less search volume. They are also not as competitive, making it easier to rank on the first page of Google. Ahrefs analyzed over 1.9 billion keywords in their US database and found that 92.42% get around 10 or less searches per month. This clearly indicates the potential of long-tail low search volume keywords.

monthly search volume distribution

Pro tip: Find all long-tail keywords and use them in your blogs as LSI keywords if necessary. Or you can create them as clusters to bolster your pillar pieces. Whichever method you choose, you are bound to get higher rankings for your target keywords and bring quality traffic back to your site.

4. Avoiding Local SEO Keywords

A rookie mistake that many companies make when first starting out, is failing to use local SEO keywords at all. Let us share an example: A business that organizes Yoga classes will try any means possible to rank highly for that service. Getting links from event sites, writing blogs for niche relevant blogs and others. It’s easy to forget that the business can also locally target their services in their nearest cities by using terms such as ‘yoga classes in Tampa.’ In a short amount of time, you can double your number of leads by just ranking on certain local keywords. Additionally, you can optimize the businesss listings on various platforms including Google my Buinsess, Yelp, etc… to boost your visiibility in the online local market.

yoga classes serps

Pro Tip: Depending on your services, you can directly target cities, areas, and even regions to market your products and services. All you need is to adopt the right local SEO strategies and strengthen the local business profiles.

5. Underestimating Interrogative Keywords

Search engines are filled with question keywords. If you are not using them in your content or as the main keywords of your topics, you’re missing out on a large part of the search landscape. It also means you are not reaching the people that could have been your potential customers.

Let’s say you are running a gym/fitness club and you’re not targeting keywords like ‘How much does it cost to join 24/7 fitness?’ or ‘Is it important to go to the gym or health clubs and Why?’ You’d be missing out on reaching your target audience at the very moment they are looking for your services.

Most people miss out on interrogative and question keywords because they think these keywords don’t provide relevant value to them. There is some degree of truth in this. However, interrogative keywords fall under both the informational keywords category and the buyer keywords category. Good SEO experts have to find the difference between the two and target the right one for their business.

Pro Tip: Keywords like ‘How’, ‘Why’, ‘Where’, ‘When’, ‘Who’, and ‘What’ make or break your marketing efforts. Below are some ways you can find interrogative keyword ideas:

People also ask via Google Search:

people also ask results

Question Keywords via SEMRUSH:

question based keywords

6. Keywords Cannibalization

Ranking on Google is already tough, especially when you’re targeting highly competitive keywords. Ranking all content pieces for a single keyword — where each piece is competing against one another — not only wastes efforts but also decreases your website’s worth. Tricking the Google bot with such cannibalization can often bring huge fluctuations in the rankings of various pages and you will gradually start losing your organic traffic.

Search engine algorithms are a lot smarter than before. They consider excess keyword cannibalization as spam and penalize websites that engage in such practices.

Pro tip: Make sure that all your categories, products, and blog pages target different keywords and don’t compete against each other. Additionally, your content should be aligned with new keywords on each page.

website optimization for seo

Technical SEO Mistakes

7. Ignoring Crawl Issues

A simple rule of thumb is that websites with the most content get the most crawl attention — also known as crawl budget. These websites are noticed by Google faster than other search engines, and they rank better.

Google allocates a crawl budget to each website depending on its authority and rating. Make sure you utilize yours effectively and only let Google crawl pages that you really want to rank for on search engines. Below are some factors that influence the crawl budget:

Parameter-based URLs: You might have observed URLs that contain parameters. Since it’s a new version of a URL, crawlers will crawl them unless they are properly canonicalized.

url structure

Redirect Chains: If a certain URL is redirected multiple times before reaching its final destination URL it will affect the crawl budget of your website.

redirect chain

404 Pages: If your site has a lot of broken links that aren’t properly redirected you will waste precious crawl budget.

Pro tip:
● All the parameter-based URLs should be properly canonicalized. Additionally, look at blocking such URLs for the crawlers by implementing noindex tag and disallowing them in robots.txt.
● All the redirect chains should be properly optimized.
● Check the 404 pages on your site often and redirect them to the most relevant pages.

8. Ignoring the Website Security

Google has over 200 ranking factors that it considers while indexing a website. One of these ranking factors is security. If your website is not secure and it doesn’t have an HTTPS version then it won’t be ranking on the first page of Google.

To get these issues fixed, make sure that your website is fully secure, has an SSL certificate for the whole domain, and any HTTP version is redirected to the HTTPS version.

If you are using an older version of WordPress or any other CMS/eCommerce platform, make sure you update to the latest one to patch all security loopholes.

Pro tip: Add a malware scanner plugin for your website as these plugins are free and will prove to search bots that your site is completely secure. Also, try to add an SSL and login limiter plugin to limit admin access.

9. Prioritizing the Desktop Version over Mobile

Don’t focus too much on desktop and neglect the mobile version of your website altogether. Google now primarily focuses on mobile-first indexing so the mobile version has become a priority for Google.
Your mobile website must be properly aligned with the desktop alternative which means that all the information delivered to the desktop bot should be similar for the mobile bot as well.

Pro tip: Test your mobile site using the Mobile-Friendly Testing Tool and also keep an eye on the mobile-usability issues in Google Search Console.

10. Relying on Poor Page Speed

Google has made page speed a signal for ranking in search engines. If your website takes more than 3 seconds to load, it’s bad news as neither search engines nor visitors like a slow website.

The Core Web Vitals feature in Google Search Console is a testament to speed being a signal for site rankings. Make sure to check your site performance in Core Web Vitals and see how many pages perform poorly. Remove unnecessary scripts and code that is making it difficult for your website to load in under 3 seconds.

You can check your site performance with tools like GTMetrix, Google Page Speed Insights, or even Pingdom.

Pro tip: Add cache plugin like Nitropack, W3 Total Cache or WP Fastest Cache to optimize the website performance.

11. Lack of Canonicalization

Suppose you have page A for organic searches and a separate page B for performance marketing efforts. You don’t want search engines to rank both (obviously!) as that will lead to cannibalization and diluted SERPs.

Since page B is a perfect replica of page A, you want search engines to only consider page A. To make sure that they pay heed to your idea, add canonicalization of page A on page B. This will help search bots to understand that page B is not the original page that needs to be indexed on searches.

Pro tip: Add canonicalization to pages using a WordPress plugin if you are not familiar with coding. Additionally, review canonical tags by scanning the site on Screaming Frog and address them as soon as possible.

12. Improper Redirect Strategy

Redirection is one of the key ways to improve site usability, but using them unnecessarily can impact your website negatively. Moreover, not only will it impact your site rankings but it will also lead to a loss of revenue.

Below are the most common areas where businesses require redirection:

Domain Migration: There are scenarios where businesses decide to compromise their existing domain and redirect it to a new one. First of all, it is the responsibility of the agency or the SEO person working on your website to look into the key data and decide whether or not it’s a wise decision. If your existing domain name is one of the most important factors of your current organic success then it shouldn’t be redirected to a new domain.

If the domain name isn’t that important then yes, you can go ahead with a strategic redirection. Although most companies prefer to simply redirect all the URLs from the old website to the homepage of the new website, it’s generally a bad idea. Instead, you should redirect the old pages to relevant new pages with similar keywords and search phrases.

CMS Migration: If you’re hoping to move to a new CMS, you must include a redirect strategy to your new website. URL structures are refreshed every time you move to a new CMS and if those pages aren’t redirected they will return 404 errors.

Pro tip: Whether you proceed with a domain or CMS level redirection, always align a strategic redirect document that will explain all the scenarios of redirection to the developers. Make sure that each of your web pages redirects to the most relevant pages.

13. Missing XML Sitemap

Not having an XML Sitemap on your website is another major reason why most sites have indexability issues. Additionally, that XML Sitemap needs to be submitted in Google Search Console. It will eventually assist the search engine crawlers to gain a better understanding of your website’s pages and their structure.

Pro Tip: Make sure that you submit an XML Sitemap to all major search engines including Google and Bing. Also, ensure that the XML Sitemap contains links to all the main pages of your website.

14. Complicated Site Structure

Your SEO practice starts from the day you launch your website. Most people start by adding a few pages here and there, not recognizing that their mistakes are just going to pile up and make their SEO efforts a lot more difficult in the long-run.

Solid site architecture is as important as your marketing campaigns. Just as it’s impossible to build a skyscraper without laying the proper foundations, it’s counterproductive to build a website without setting up the proper site architecture.

site structure

Pro tip: Your homepage should have a chronological connection with all the top pages on your website. These pages should have their own clusters and each cluster should be connected to a lead magnet or a product page (depending on your business type).

technical seo banner

On-Page SEO Mistakes

15. Un-Optimized Titles and Meta Descriptions

Meta titles and meta descriptions are essential for letting search engines know about your main keywords. Sadly, most marketers don’t pay much attention to them. This leads to blogs getting ranked on keywords that were not the intent of the article.

When titles and meta descriptions are not properly filled, Google will take its own description from the content within the page. When this happens, you lose control over what information will be featured. So, it is always a good idea to properly write and optimize all titles and meta descriptions for pages on your website.

Pro Tip: Use your main targeted keywords in the titles and meta descriptions. Ensure that the title doesn’t exceed 60 characters (including spaces) and the meta description doesn’t exceed above 156 characters (including spaces). They should be written in a way that can positively influence your CTR.

16. Un-Optimized Images

Images on a website serve many purposes. Two major SEO reasons are that images are indexed faster in search engines and bring relevant traffic to your website. Secondly, they get backlinks from other websites if they are properly designed. People love to link back to images that explain a topic.

But these images won’t rank in search engines or get backlinks if they are not properly optimized with ALT texts.

The ALT texts tell search engines what a particular image is about. It is like the meta title of a page. So make sure that all images have proper alt texts and they include the main keywords where you want that image to show up.

Pro Tip: Always optimize images to make them load faster. You can even use image optimization plugins to do the same. Additionally, whenever you upload a new image to the site make sure to update the relevant ALT texts.

17. Missing or Un-Optimized Heading Tags

You would be surprised to see how many content pieces have the potential to rank number one, only make it to the first page and no further. Why? Because these pages are not properly optimized for their desired keywords. They are missing main keywords in the headings or they simply don’t have any headings at all.

A good content structure should include H1s, H2s, H3s, and H4s. The main keywords and the secondary LSI keywords should be added to these headings so that the content piece can rank for the desired keywords and at the desired positions in search engines.

Pro Tip: Use Screaming Frog to check how many pages are missing heading tags, especially H1s and H2s.

Content Production Mistakes

18. Lack (or Excessive Usage) of Keywords

What keyword density should you have for each content piece produced? This is one question that most business owners just don’t know the answer to. According to Google, there is no set density. You should have a keyword density of between 1% and 3% depending on the type and length of your content.

Often writers excessively use the same keyword in their content pieces. This will give Google the impression that the piece of content is spam. So, when creating pages, make sure that you keep a keyword balance. If the keyword density is exceeding 3%, use a synonym or an LSI keyword.

Pro Tip: If you are targeting a certain keyword, conduct competitor research to see what the keyword density of the initial 3 websites popping-up in the SERPs is. You can also use the WordCounter plugin to see if you have excessively used any keywords. If you have the SurferSEO tool, then optimizing plugins is even easier.

19. Lack of Internal Linking

Avoiding internal linking on your website is like telling Google that the age is of no value at all. When pages are internally linked, they pass link juice to each other. Search bots use this link juice to ascertain the value of important pages within a website.

Make sure that all your website pages are internally linked. If there are any orphaned pages, remove them or link them to other pages. This will do two things: firstly, improve the user journey and decrease your website’s bounce rate. Secondly, increase your website’s worth, and search engines will rank your website higher.

internal linking structure

Pro Tip: Do not just rely on the internal links coming from the header and footer navigation. Always look for contextual internal linking opportunities. Define proper anchor text and its variants (depending on your targeted keyword).

20. Internal Content Duplication

Internal content duplication can be brutal for your website. There are cases where duplicate pages rank for the same keywords. This results in keyword cannibalization which can penalize a website.
Marketers managing thousands of pages often make the mistake of content duplication. The problem is that the pages can’t be detected unless they appear in search results or an anomaly is detected through the search console.

Give special importance to pages while creating them by checking all content with plagiarism checking software. You can even check the exact duplicates using Screaming Frog.

Pro Tip: Run a Screaming Frog crawl and extract the pages with exact and near duplicates. Start optimizing those pages after doing proper keyword research.

21. Taking Blog Posts for Granted

Many small business owners don’t recognize the importance of blogs. Often people think that blogs are just for promoting products and therefore create no blog strategy. This is one of the reasons so many websites are unable to generate leads.

In reality, blogs are one of the best ways to generate leads for a website. Implement a complete content marketing strategy with a top-to-bottom funnel, where blog clusters are used to hook the reader and turn them into customers, and you can reap numerous profits. The most important benefit of having a blog is that you can target long-tail keywords easily and more frequently with every new post.

exact duplicate report

Pro tip: Prepare a quarterly editorial calendar that contains the long-tail or tertiary keywords relevant to your niche and have the potential to be easily ranked.

Link Building Mistakes

22. Acquiring Links from Irrelevant Niches

Relevance is key when it comes to backlinks. Backlinks are like votes and they tell the search engines “oh, I value the services of that website, it is of importance.” But it’s no good just finding any link. Think about it — in the real world, you wouldn’t go to a dentist when you need legal advice, would you?

So in the online world, if you’re a law firm and you try to gain links from a dentistry website, Google will pick it up as irrelevant, even though the link may increase your traffic. You want links from websites and blogs that are within your industry and niche. Taking the example of a law firm, you might seek backlinks from legal advisors, attorneys, government websites, law firm portals, review websites like Yelp, Google My Business, and various review channels, among others.

Pro Tip: Perform a proper competitor backlink profile analysis and list the potential links which you can utilize for your website. Also, do your own research to find backlinks that your competitors haven’t even captured.

23. Unnatural Backlink Flow

On average, a website will give 1 to 10 links to another website unless it is a collaborator, partner, subsidiary, or social media platform.

Often, SEO specialists build links on the websites which display your link site-wide. This means that hundreds of backlinks from a single website point to your site. These are called unnatural links as there is no explanation for a website to link to yours so many times. Another possible scenario would be that a site is getting 10 to 15 backlinks every month and suddenly the backlink average spikes and may exceed 200 to 300 backlinks monthly. An unnatural backlink flow like this would indicate something fishy to crawlers.

Google doesn’t like unnatural link building and it penalizes websites that engage in such practices. So remember to avoid unnatural backlink flow at all costs. Disavow those links that you are unaware of to maintain your site’s health.

Pro tip: Plan out your link-building campaign and strategize it properly. You should have a proper execution plan on the quality and quantity of backlinks required for your site.

24. Putting Blind Trust into Competitors’ Backlink Profile

Every website has a different intent. Because of this, it is recommended that you build a unique website and not copy another. Unfortunately, beginner SEO specialists make the mistake of replicating all competitor links to outrank them. This strategy doesn’t always work.

There are chances that the competitor under your review has low-quality backlinks or might be following blackhat link-building tactics. So be sure to properly review each backlink from such a website before following suit.

Pro Tip: Review each of the backlinks from your competitors’ profiles thoroughly to get an idea of whether they are suitable for your website or not. Don’t ever go with a single competitor analysis, rather analyze a couple. There is a chance that your indirect competitors have better link quality.

25. Not Disavowing Toxic Backlinks

Many search experts have found that toxic links are one of the main reasons most websites have tanked SERP rankings.

Toxic links must be removed from a website on a regular basis. If these links are not removed on time, they can directly hurt site authority and increase your spam score. If you aren’t able to remove them then consider submitting a link disavow request in Google Search Console.

Pro tip: Make a habit of auditing your backlink profile on a monthly or maybe quarterly basis so that you are always aware of the quality of links to your website. Don’t delay in removing or disavowing the toxic backlinks, act promptly!

In a Nutshell

Your SEO is only as good as you want it to be. The best thing about organic marketing is that you can always improve it by making the right decisions. The above mistakes can be easily avoided if you follow the right tips. If you get stuck, get in touch with experienced SEO professionals to improve your website’s search strategy and build your online presence.

If you would like to start a project, feel free to contact us today.
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