SEO is fast-paced and fast-changing, so making SEO mistakes can easily be done without even realising. So think of this post as a map of the obvious places not to tread. Those new to digital marketing, tread very carefully and watch out for paths that look suspiciously well groomed.

We spoke to experts from the SEO industry to find out which SEO mistakes they’ve come across most often in their careers. They gave some really insightful answers which we’ve listed below, along with another couple of quotes we felt also ring true. Read on to learn about the mistakes to avoid in your future SEO work.

What is SEO?

SEO is probably one of the mostly commonly talked about elements of online marketing in the world today. So much so, that some people are actually employed by big firms just to concentrate on this aspect alone. But what is it? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. Very simply put, it is the continued practice of increasing the quantity and quality of traffic to your website through organic search engine results. Many of the elements of your website work towards increasing your SEO. Successful SEO strategies are the culmination of cleverly crafted campaigns and on-site changes to your website that consider the keywords that generate traffic to your website, how many links you have on your site as well as how unique and relevant your content is. If you want your website to be first on a Google search page, it is your SEO that will get you there.

Thousands of webmasters in the past have tried to steamroller their way to the top of search engine rankings and in the process have stumbled across common and not so common problems, sometimes causing untold damage to their site’s ranking ability.

So let’s have a look at some SEO mistakes Google will strap electrodes to your nipples for, and the steps you should take to avoid being spurned by the internet at large.

Thinking you can ‘trick’ Google into giving good rankings without consequence

Tom Lynch, Novi Digital:

“We see this from two angles; clients who haven’t yet realised, and clients who have used SEO companies using dubious practices in the past who now need help fixing those issues as well as optimising for the future.

You can boil both categories down to people believing Google can be ‘tricked’ into giving good metrics – usually rankings – and that there are no downsides to that.

Getting results through shortcuts can have serious long-term negative effects. Receiving a manual penalty from a search engine can see your site effectively vanish from the listings overnight – and not return until a lot of work has been done, ideally including the work needed to persuade the search engine to lift that penalty.

Even if this doesn’t happen, most shortcuts will attract visitors who aren’t interested and won’t make good customers – and their disengagement hurts the site’s performance long-term.”

Poor UX Design

First and foremost, make sure you have a website that provides a good user-experience. If your web design is not user-friendly you will get shot down by all sides. It HAS to be mobile-friendly, there is no excuse.

Internet users want to be able to find things quickly regardless of the device they are using. If they are not led along the path by the hand, they will run away. Users that ‘bounce’ from your website back to Google’s search result page, send the wrong message to Google. What they’re saying is: “Thanks but I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I’m going to try something else instead.”

That’s one signal you don’t want to send to Google.

Ben Cope, The Content Works: 

Page load speed issues. Did you know that 40% of your website’s visitors will abandon your website if it doesn’t load within 3 seconds? The fact is, no-one likes waiting and the majority of websites have unnecessarily long page load times that can be easily addressed on a server-level. Any improvements you make to the core-code will benefit every page on your website, increasing user engagement and conversions.”

Targeting competitive keywords

This is a tough one because you do need to use competitive keywords. But if you are not already ranking in search engines, you cannot compete with sites that are using popular search terms.

So find another solution. Use fringe terms and ramp some of your page content up with low-volume phrases. It may seem counter-intuitive, but it does actually increase your chances of attracting traffic when there is less competition.

For example: you’re a furniture shop and you want to rank for the keyword ‘sofa’ …or do you? That keyword has over two-million searches a month and it’s highly competitive. Think about your offering; if you’ve got a store in Farnham, Surrey, then aren’t you better off focusing on ‘sofa surrey’ or ‘sofa farnham’? Not only are those keywords less competitive but they’re also going to be searched for by users who are far more likely to connect with your business in a meaningful way.

Simon Fryer, CandidSky:

“Honestly, [the most common issue is] poor keyword strategy. It’s surprising, as the concept of a ‘keyword’ is the most understood part of SEO. Even so, we consistently see brands failing to really empathise with their audience to understand how they might search and all the different ways they could express themselves. This will become even more apparent as voice search increases in millennial and younger generations.”

Paying for backlinks

Backlinks are vitally important for improving search engine rankings. SEO agencies know this, and so do some unruly web owners.

There was a time when those in the know joined forces. Web owners charged SEO agencies to host content with a backlink pointing back to their client’s site.

Google found out and was not a happy Admiral. The Penguin update was launched and websites got tanked. The search engine giant also issued a stark warning that businesses found to be paying for backlinks will be penalised or even blacklisted.

But there are still chinks in the algorithm armour and some black-hat agencies still pay for backlinks. Eventually they will be found out so avoid making this link building mistake at all costs.

Mike Lawson, trCREATIVE

“I’ll stick with [the issue I mentioned in the previous article] – backlinks. We’re finding more and more sites are forcing us into the reluctant process of creating and uploading disavow lists. They’ve bought 10,000 links for £5 and expect to be on page 1, where in fact they’ll probably get blacklisted.”

Over-optimising keywords

Rob Stoubos, Odyssey New Media:

“Google wants websites which read well and whose content hasn’t just been stuffed with keywords at the expense of readability. In the last 1.5 years Google has put more emphasis on website owners writing content which reads well, is written in a natural, clear and concise way.

As a rule, two or three word keyphrases shouldn’t exceed 4% of the overall landing page content.

Ideally keyphrase density of every major landing page should be analysed individually, and use of target phrases should be reduced if it goes over the 4% threshold so that it doesn’t flag any over-optimisation penalties with Google.

A great free tool for analysing keyphrase density is SEO Book’s Keyphrase Density Analyser.”

Using poor anchor text in internal links

On the subject of link building, using poor internal links is also a mistake SEO newbies tend to make. The first error is not using internal links. By not doing so search engine crawlers or visitors can not navigate your website and find relevant content.

Secondly, internal links are good for SEO rankings. By creating keyword silos you can flag up the most important pages on your website so they appear in search results.

Internal links should be embedded into naturally sounding anchor text. Avoid using anchor text that reads: ‘click here’, ‘you will find more information here’, or exact keyword matches.

Ignoring local search signals

Search engines favour local businesses because a high volume of local search terms are used every day. If your website is not primed with local signals, don’t expect to show in search results.

There are various local signals you can use and this advanced guide to local seo is a good starting point. Just be aware not to go overboard when using your location otherwise you risk receiving a Google penalty for keyword stuffing.


Starting with poor website design and architecture

Farky Rafiq, Liquid Silver:

“Beyond standard mark-up, often issues are created at a design level. SEO can be quite time consuming, so if designers took more time during the build process to think about UX and information architecture. then many structural issues could be avoided. This would then leave us to think more about content strategy and promotion / link building.”

Daniel Foley, Assertive Media:

“[The most common issue is] poor quality site architecture. We see a lot of client websites which suffer from either canonicalization problems or keyword cannibalisation caused by multiple pages trying to rank for the same things.”

Poor content quality

Mischa Weston-Green, Transcend Marketing:

“[A common issue I’ve found is] thin and duplicate content, especially on eCommerce websites.”

Missing out on quick wins

Haris Chechi, Digital Uncut:

“For me the common issue is easy rankings being missed from on page SEO. This is something that can be fixed before any link building campaign starts – making sure the target keyword is on the homepage, above the fold, having enough content around those keywords on the homepage, using Google Search Console to find pages that have good Page Authority (PA) but are not getting clicks, and either redirect these pages to another similar page or link back to using keywords that are lingering on page 2 of Google.”

Being unsure which goal to chase

Stephan Spencer writing for Search Engine Land:

“When somebody tells me they added H1 tags to their site and it really bumped up their Google rankings, the first question I ask is: “Did you already have the headline text there and just change a font tag into an H1, or did you add keyword-rich headlines that weren’t present before?” It’s usually the latter. The keyword-rich text at the top of the page bumped up the keyword prominence (causation). The H1 tag was a correlation that didn’t move the needle.”

In this video Matt Cutts explains the common ways that webmasters make mistakes when it comes to SEO.

Got questions?

We hope this guide points you in the right direction but if you have any questions, feel free to give us a call on 0207 305 55 99 or check out our Services page to see the many ways in which we can help your business.

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