29 Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid – What to Watch For!
What are the most common SEO mistakes? And how can you avoid them?
For online brands and businesses that are looking to get better growth from search marketing, going full throttle into SEO can be tempting but can lead to bad results if one isn’t careful.
SEO is a powerful tool that is easy to implement, but difficult to master. A well-executed SEO strategy can significantly increase search traffic; however, a poorly-implemented plan with common mistakes can cause a site’s rankings to plummet. Whether you’re trying to optimize your site for the first time, or attempting to diagnose why your strategy isn’t working, the SEO experts at Radd Interactive are here to help.
Read our list below of the most common SEO mistakes and top mistakes in digital content production.
For search engines like Google and Bing, their goal is to provide searchers the best, high-quality, accurate, and useful results that match what users are looking for. The beginning part of any SEO strategy should be focusing on making a website that is easy to use, intuitive, and honest. These common SEO mistakes can hurt your chances of getting search traffic, but some are worse than others.
If you’ve found that your site has many of these issues, then you might want to begin fixing and optimizing sections of your site bit by bit or completing a technical SEO audit checklist.
Here are some of the most common SEO mistakes to avoid:
1. Not using Google Analytics data
Google Analytics is very popular for being able to track traffic and user interactions across your site. With Analytics marketers can see where their traffic is coming from, track conversions, see how users interact with their site, and see which pages are most popular.
Without Analytics it will be a lot more difficult to run an effective SEO campaign or to track your results over time.
Analytics let’s SEO experts see which pages are underperforming, and which pages are starting to do well. If you’re not using Google analytics, you could make the mistake of re-optimizing pages that don’t need SEO.
2. Having the Google Analytics tracking code set-up wrong
In order to make sure your Google Analytics is collecting data accurately, you want to make sure it’s installed correctly.
Unfortunately one of the most common SEO mistakes is to add the tracking code in the wrong spot, install multiple tracking codes, add a custom code that doesn’t work properly, or set up custom filters that could alter your data too much.
Best practice is to install the tracking code following Google’s instructions, make sure it’s just after the opening <head> tag and to set it up using the default code provided by Analytics. Another good practice is to keep a default property in Analytics that is not filtered, so that way you always have pure data on hand.
3. Generic or naked anchor text
While generic anchor text, such as “Click here to learn more,” won’t hurt your site, it is a missed opportunity. Anchor text helps both users and search engines understand what the page being linked to is about. Instead of using generic anchor text phrases, try to use keywords that you are targeting on the page you are linking to.
Generic anchor text, or even naked hyperlinks can not only hurt your SEO, but in the worst cases they can be confusing for users or fail to help people understand where the link leads to.
This strategy is most important for in-content links or anchor links dispersed throughout your main text content.
4. Little or no content (or duplicate content)
This is a big one, and easily not just one of the most common SEO mistakes, but also one of the worst.
“Content is king” is a phrase that you’ve likely heard over and over again if you’ve spent any time researching effective SEO strategies. That’s because it’s true. Pages with little or no content make it difficult for search engines to understand what the page is about and have no place to target important keywords.
This is a common mistake in SEO that happens most often on product/service pages. It doesn’t matter if a member of your target audience would understand exactly what the page is about if they never see it. Adding content that uses natural language improves your chances of the page being seen. There is no exact word count that every page must have to rank well in the search results. How much content your site needs depends on the page’s topic, the type of content you’re writing, and what your audience expects.
So why is content so important? Well built content can improve your SEO as well as give you the foundation for other forms of digital marketing. Content can improve inbound traffic, help grow your backlinks, lead to better social media shares, and more!
Thin content, low-value content, scraped/stolen content, and automatically generated content are all big SEO mistakes to avoid! These can lead to a thin content penalty from Google.
5. Keyword stuffed content
Keyword stuffing is when someone tries to manipulate their rankings by targeting just one or a small handful of high traffic keywords all over the site, even when they are not the most relevant. This tactic used to work. However, Google has changed their algorithm to make it much more difficult to be deemed relevant for competitive and high traffic terms.
Overusing your target words looks spammy and creates a poor user experience. Instead of focusing your energy on cramming as many high traffic words into your content as possible, write unique, naturally written content that is useful to your target audience. You should still target relevant keywords, but don’t go overboard.
Google’s webmaster guidelines are a good place to start for how to avoid the biggest SEO mistakes. The best advice can be summed up this way: “Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines.”
6. Keyword stuffed title tags
Like content stuffing, keyword stuffing title-tags used to be an effective strategy. But now it’s an easy way to make search engines and people think you’re trying too hard.
Don’t try to put too many keywords in your title-tags in an attempt to rank for more – chances are you rank for each of them less. Your title-tags should focus on topics and should include one or two keywords. Write your title-tags for primarily for humans and make sure they’re honest.
Another issue is that title-tags can be truncated if they are longer than 55-60 characters. Write clear and concise title-tags that tell users and search engines honestly what your page is about. If both your content and your meta titles match your target keyword, you should be fine!
7. Duplicate or default title tags
Title tags are an important on-page ranking factor and are often the first impression people have of your page. Default title tags, like “Home” or “About,” lower click-through rates and won’t help your site rank for important keywords. Duplicate title tags also hurt your site’s rankings by causing multiple pages to compete against each other for the same search term. Giving each page a unique, descriptive title tag increases click-through rates and allows you to target a variety of important keywords.
8. Default meta descriptions
Meta descriptions might not be a ranking factor, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t important.
Meta descriptions provide a short sales pitch that can help increase your click-through rate. A good meta description should include relevant keywords and be as descriptive and persuasive as possible. Google will pull a default description for your result if you don’t include one. However, this default description will most likely not be as coherent or relevant as one you write yourself.
9. Targeting the wrong keywords
The keywords you target should be relevant to the page you’re optimizing. Generic head keywords have the potential to drive a lot of traffic, but if they don’t match what’s on the page, users won’t convert and you’ll be left with a higher bounce rate.
When choosing keywords to optimize your site, it’s important to be as accurate as possible.
For example, if you’re an eCommerce site that sells chocolate cake, you should target keywords that individuals use when they’re looking to purchase cake. The generic phrase “Chocolate Cake” has a lot of traffic, but individuals searching with this keyword are most likely looking for recipes. In this case, lower traffic keywords that indicate purchase intent like “Buy Chocolate Cake” or “Chocolate Cake for Sale” are more likely to lead to conversions and lower bounce rates.
A good SEO strategy should start with well-done keyword research and businesses should remember that often the highest traffic keywords are not the ones that can bring in the most business. Long-tail, accurate, and intent focused keywords can offer best results for less competition.
10. Too many inbound anchor text links
Using a lot of exact match anchor text used to be an effective strategy. Now that Penguin 4.0 is a part of Google’s core algorithm, SEOs need to be a lot more strategic with their anchor text. A page with too many inbound links using the exact same keyword looks unnatural and might trigger the Penguin algorithm. It is still important to use exact match anchor text. However, you should vary your anchor text and make sure that you don’t have too many internal links pointing to one page.
However, Google engineers have said that a fast up-tick in natural links isn’t a concern, only if the links appear to be unnatural. This common SEO mistake here is to engage in link building strategies that are not natural in an attempt to manipulate rankings.
11. Shady Link Building
Gaining links through unnatural means is a quick way to get your site a manual action penalty.
Although this is no longer one of the most common SEO mistakes, it used to be. SEO marketers found that they could buy links, link between websites they own, set up private blog networks for backlinks, and even write guest blogs on other sites in order to help garner more and more backlinks.
The truth is that any link building “scheme” is considered illegitimate by Google and is discouraged. Instead sites are encouraged to write user friendly, authoritative, and high-quality content that will gain links naturally.
Avoid practices like:
- Paying services to link back to your site with other client sites
- Creating content designed for other sites and requesting back-links in return
- Paying for links
- Deliberately trying to get links from sites that are not related to yours in subject matter
- Setting up your own separate blogs or websites in order to link back to your main site
- Overcrowding content with too many links on one page (even for internal links on your domain)
12. Ignoring 404s or broken links
Many people know that 404s are a bad thing, but not enough webmasters go through the effort of fixing broken links on their site and/or redirecting 404s.
Even for low-ranking, low-value pages this might seem like it’s not worth the trouble, but overtime you could be losing rankings if you let 404s just sit around. Plus, too many 404s could waste time for search engine bots like Googlebot, and decrease your crawl budget. Not only can 404s lose ranking authority associated with the original pages, but they can lead to decreased rankings across the whole domain when search engines think your site is low quality.
13. Non-secure HTTP sites
This is now a less common SEO mistake, but there are still many sites that have not moved over to HTTPS security. Site security is now a ranking signal across both desktop and mobile sites, which means this can directly affect SEO performance.
This is most important for eCommerce sites or sites where users might submit payments or provide private information. Make sure that there are not parts of your site like this that are not still using HTTP protocols.
14. Mixed content
This is one of the most common SEO mistakes since it’s a relatively new issue. Since HTTPS protocols only became an SEO ranking factor in recent years, many sites are still learning to transfer over everything. This is a light SEO signal, which means that won’t have a huge effect on a search marketing campaign, but it’s a small thing that can give websites an edge on SEO.
Make sure that images, videos, stylesheets, scripts, or any on-page source code being delivered to the end user isn’t being sent over an insecure connection.
15. Bad sitemaps
Many site owners and webmasters know the value of sitemaps for SEO, but often times they tend to set-it-and-forget-it.
The truth is, in cases where the CMS or the website platform is automatically creating and updating a sitemap, it’s not always necessary to keep an eye on your it. But in some cases, a sitemap might be set up incorrectly or might not be updated frequently enough, and this can cause issues.
A common sitemap SEO mistake is to include URLs for pages that no longer exist or that have been deleted. Site maps should not include 404s or redirected URLs. They should feature only status 200 pages.
Some of the other biggest mistakes with sitemaps include: adding multiple URLS for the same page (non-canonical URLs), using improper formatting, or creating sitemaps that are too large for Googlebot to crawl.
16. Not submitting a sitemap
Having a sitemap is one thing but making sure that Google can find it and crawl it is another.
Best practice is to submit your sitemap in Search Console. Google encourages businesses and webmaster to do this so that it’s easier to find important pages, re-crawl them regularly, and so that Googlebot doesn’t waste it’s time crawling duplicate or unimportant links.
Sitemaps are also important for indicating which pages are valuable to your business and requesting that they be indexed. This is one of the most common mistakes in SEO to avoid since often sites find that pages they want to be indexed, aren’t being indexed, even though google is aware of them. Sitemaps can ensure this doesn’t happen.
17. Missing or under optimized info pages
This means pages that can help users understand or interact more with your company – including FAQ pages, about pages, and informative contact pages.
These pages are explicitly used for SEO rankings, but they are an important part of establishing your site’s EAT (expertise, authority, and trustworthiness), which Google has emphasized as desirable qualities for pages in search results. The Google search quality evaluator guidelines specifically mention these sorts of pages when establishing the reputation behind high-quality content.
These pages have the potential to draw in organic traffic, and they can help visitors along the conversion funnel which means their value in search marketing is often under appreciated.
18. Poor page load metrics
Over the years site speed and page load metrics have played a greater and greater role in SEO.
In 2018, Google revealed that extremely poor speed could negatively effect rankings on mobile search results. Then, earlier this year, they revealed that their new Core Web Vitals metrics would focus on user experience and SEO, and that these measurements would eventually become part of their core ranking algorithm.
This means that the LCP (largest contentful paint), FID (first input delay), and CLS (cumulative layout shift) of individual pages would impact SEO rankings. Despite this, and the obvious benefit to users, it’s still common for businesses to make the mistake of under optimizing these metrics.
19. Not refreshing or updating old content
Google’s freshness algorithm update from 2011 meant that for certain topics, old or outdated information could lead to poorer SEO performance.
One of the biggest mistakes that many sites and online businesses make in SEO is to constantly create new content in attempt to keep organic traffic afloat. But as old content, guides, pages, and blog posts get older and older they might begin to become buried deeper in the site’s structure or their information might become irrelevant.
The best practice is to find old content or pages on your site that are losing organic traffic and keyword rankings year-over-year (YOY) and see if they’d benefit from being edited or re-written. Re-publishing with new content can also help give your content an SEO boost.
20. Not starting with SEO during development
One of the most common SEO mistakes actually begins before people even think about doing it. And it’s one of the most important SEO mistakes to avoid. That is: not thinking about SEO until it’s too late.
SEO in web design is very complex and involves many factors, too many to go over here. But when you are first thinking about setting up your site, don’t make the mistake of forgetting about your future search marketing potential.
There are also important SEO strategies for new websites that should be near the top of the to-do list right after launch.
21. Bad robots.txt settings
Most webmasters and marketers know what that the robots.txt file is a powerful tool for control search engine crawler bots. But one of the most common SEO mistake is to set-it up wrongly and risk indexing problems.
However, you should not use robots.txt as a means to hide your web pages from Google Search results. In fact in recent years Googlebot has taken indexing commands in robots.txt files as suggestions. The reason being that other links pointing to those pages wont reflect the preferred indexing status, and Google can still arrive at the page using those.
A better way is to use “noindex” or “nofollow” HTML tags within the individual page’s source code.
This isn’t necessarily a major SEO mistake to avoid, but if you only rely on robots.txt for indexing then you might find that your coverage and index status don’t reflect your preferences without proper on-page robots commands.
22. Incorrect canonicalization settings
In many cases it’s not super necessary to have canonicalization, as Google can select its own canonicalizations when non are present. This is most important where multiple URLs are used to represent the same page or where many pages have very similar content.
The biggest SEO mistake involving canonicalization is to point canonicalization to the wrong protocol (http vs https). Make sure that your content management system (CMS) or your site platform is set up properly to handle canonicalization.
23. Unfriendly navigation & orphaned pages
Search engines will use site structure and navigation to better understand your site, they also use site hierarchy to get a sense of which pages are most important and which aren’t – which can sometimes effect how they are shown in search results.
In this case, user friendliness also means Google friendliness.
A common SEO mistake to avoid is having navigation on your site that is confusing, broken, or even missing. Make sure that your most value pages are easy to navigate to or are included in the nav-bar. Even your less important pages should be available on the site somewhere. If there are no links pointing to a page at all it’s known as an “orphan page.”
For many websites, especially large eCommerce sites, it’s simply not possibly to include a link to every single page. In most cases using a sitemap is perfectly fine to avoid having orphaned page or pages that don’t get indexed.
24. Lack of multi-media content
Content is king. Most people know that, but a common SEO misunderstanding is that content mainly means text.
Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines give more indication on what best practice is. Not only should content be high-quality, but it should focus on providing “needs-met” for people that visit the pages.
It also lays out how “page-quality” is not just tied to content, but in fact is tied to how high-quality content is linked to the purpose of a page and how well that purpose is fulfilled. This purpose can include:
- Sharing information about a topic
- Sharing personal or social information
- Sharing pictures, videos, or other forms of media
- Expressing opinions or points of view
- Selling products or services
- Allowing users to post questions or answers
- Allowing users to share files or download software
This means that good content isn’t just limited to a few paragraphs of text. In the modern world of web marketing many businesses have found that users can benefit from a wide range of web elements including tables, menus, forms, videos, photos, graphics, etc.
Think about what your audience needs when creating content, and don’t make the mistake of focusing too much on text (which of course is still valuable for content and SEO keywords!).
25. Bad h-tags
H-tags are another form of content that can indicate to both search engines (and people) what the topic of the page is or off certain sub-segments of the pages. They also have slightly more weight than regular text in SEO.
A common mistake is to write h-tags (like H1 tags for on-page titles) that are plain, vague, or not helpful. Just as bad is writing h-tags that are misleading – definitely an SEO mistake to avoid. Add your target keywords in your h-tags where appropriate and make sure they are useful and honest for the human visiting your site.
26. Not using Google Search Console data
Google’s free Search Console tool is used for a bunch of SEO work. But a common mistake in SEO is to begin keyword research, or to begin optimizing pages without looking at the data in Search Console’s performance report.
Similar to Google Analytics, Search Console gives information on traffic, popular pages, and how people are arriving to your site through Google search results. But a common mistake is to begin optimizing your site too earnestly, and to begin optimizing for keyword density – all without checking which keywords you’re already doing well on!
Search Console can tell you which keywords are bringing your site/pages the most clicks, impressions, and the best click-through-rate (CTR). Before adjusting content on your site, changing title-tags, or optimizing keyword-density, check to make sure your changes couldn’t potentially cause you to lose clicks or CTR for keywords you may not have realized are important.
27. Making changes too frequently
Whenever a page or a site has been optimized for SEO, it’s common for results to take weeks or sometimes even months to show up. Many inexperienced SEO will keep making changes on some pages, or even reverse previous changes, because they think their strategies are not working.
The truth is that SEO moves slowly. It can sometimes take multiple days before a page even get’s indexed, and then it can sometimes take weeks before any movement is seen in Google analytics. And after that you need to wait before enough data is available to do a before-and-after comparison.
Google may even have an algorithmic function that intentionally delays or obfuscates ranking transitions in SEO in order to discourage shady/black hat strategies (whether they are using this is unclear).
28. Redirecting to the wrong pages
Last, but not least. One of the most common SEO mistakes comes up when sites are migrating or when webmasters are moving/removing large amounts of URLs. They perform bulk redirects where dozen even hundreds of pages are redirected to the homepage or to non-matching destinations.
Google assigns “link authority” to individual URLs based off of their existing value, keyword rankings, and content. If these pages are redirected to generic destinations, or non-matching pages (like the home-page) then they can lose their authority and the site as a whole will lose SEO performance.
Whenever possible, always redirect pages to the closest matching equivalent page. If a product is no-longer available, try redirecting it to the most similar product still in stock, or to the parent category page.
However, if there really is no better option, redirecting to the homepage is better than no redirect at all.
29. Wasting time on meta keyword fields.
Meta fields are usually scene in conjunction with meta title tags and meta descriptions. But unlike those, they’re now completely irrelevant to SEO.
One common SEO mistake for inexperienced marketers is to fill these with target keywords believing that they will help.
Because black hat SEOs abused meta information fields to manipulate their rankings, they are no longer a ranking factor. However, stuffing these fields can still earn your site a penalty, so it’s best to leave them blank or with just a few relevant keywords.
While this isn’t a complete list, keeping an eye out for these common SEO mistakes will help your site in the search results. If you would like additional help creating and managing your technical SEO strategy, contact Radd Interactive today for help avoiding the most common search engine optimization mistakes!