Sometimes the easiest way to learn something is by just doing it. Unfortunately, following this philosophy for search-engine optimization (SEO) is likely to get your Website sandboxed by Google and de-indexed from search results. Too many people simply jump into the SEO game without knowing what they are doing. The results of their “learn-as-you-go” philosophy can wind up costing their sites visitors—and ultimately revenue.
If you are new to SEO and are trying to figure out how to best position your business’s Website, you’re not alone. Many people do their own SEO work; some are amateurs who try to make do. If you’re doing SEO on your own, you could use the following advice from experts on mistakes that many SEO beginners will make. If you can avoid these, you are on the road to ranking higher in search results without risking penalizing your Website.
Not Using the Right Keywords
“What is your strategy for uncovering the best keywords for your company’s Website?” asks Neil Patel in a blog post about tools you can use to target the best keywords. “As a new business owner, you need to address this question sooner, rather than later. Focusing on the right keywords will put you on the right path to SEO success.”
So why do you need to use the right keywords? Simply put, keywords are how people are going to find your Website. If you use the wrong keywords, you are going to attract the wrong customers, who are then unlikely to buy your product or use your service. The keywords that best describe your business are what you need to use in order to attract the right clientele.
Keyword stuffing is the practice of adding the same keyword to your content numerous times in an attempt to trick Google into thinking your content should be ranked highly for that keyword. This is the black-hat technique that used to be a standard practice for boosting your content’s ranking. However, Google has caught up and can recognize and penalize such activity.
“Shady practices, such as keyword stuffing or using text that’s the same color as the background, can negatively affect your rankings,” says the team at 180fusion. “Though this is only an issue if your site gets manually inspected and you don’t have a legitimate reason for it.”
Instead of keyword stuffing, simply write your content so that it flows naturally. If you still think you need specific keywords, go back and place a few within the content, as long as they are used naturally. You should also make sure to use LSI keywords to help alleviate any keyword stuffing concerns.
Not Providing a Meta Description
Meta descriptions provide Google with an overview of what your content is about. Some people don’t place an emphasis on meta descriptions, which can actually cause harm.
“Despite SEO experts having the belief that Google doesn’t place much emphasis on meta descriptions, they still can be an important part of SEO,” says Dan Steiner, CEO and co-founder of Elite Legal Marketing. “You have a chance to make meta descriptions engaging with a call to action for your visitors.”
SEO beginners often pass this up, as Google will simply take the first few sentences of your content if a meta description is missing. Steiner adds that the first few sentences of your content may not be that engaging or might have too many keywords, which could lead to a penalty associated with keyword stuffing.
Not Keeping Mobile in Mind
Over the last few years, the parameters for search rankings in mobile content have changed dramatically. This means you must be aware that people will be looking at your content from their tablets and mobile devices, and you need to plan accordingly.
“Now that over half of all searches are made on a mobile device, it is increasingly important to think mobile when thinking SEO,” says Bob Bentz, author of Relevance Raises Response. “While many of the elements that are critical in search engine optimization for desktop are the same as mobile, there are some definite differences when optimizing a Website for mobile.”
Bentz states that mobile SEO includes things such as improving site design, site structure, page speed, and other variables to make sure a site is properly servicing mobile searches. He also adds that people on mobile devices are even less likely to look at page two of search results (as opposed to desktop users), so it is very important to aim for page one when optimizing your content.
Not Submitting a Sitemap to Google
A sitemap is one of the most important pieces of information you can ever send Google. Your sitemap is the tool used by Google to understand what your Website is about and what keywords are relevant to your content.
“By telling Google where your XML sitemap is, you’ve eliminated the guessing game of which link to follow next,” says Mike Kaplan of Workshop Digital. “Google will quickly be able to crawl the sitemap, read the priorities that you’ve already set, and will index/rank pages accordingly. This simple basic step can be the difference between Google understanding what is and isn’t important on your site.”
When you don’t submit a sitemap to Google, it’s like sending someone on a tour of a foreign country without a map. Yes, they will likely find plenty to do, but a map helps them find what they are looking for more quickly so they don’t waste their time. Same goes for Google.
Being Scared to Link to Other Websites
Google has everyone on their toes when it comes to link building. As such, many people get scared to incorporate links into their content. This is a huge mistake, as Google wants to see relevant links in your content.
“Google likes if you link out to sites from your own site or articles,” says Michael Heiligenstein, Director of SEO at Fit Small Business. “They like it even more if your visitors click through and land on that site. This shows them that you are linking to quality, relevant sites and providing the best experience for your users.”
Heiligenstein explains that links add to the quality of your article. You want to provide readers with the most relevant information and if that means linking to other Websites, then that is something you most certainly should do.
Failing to Proofread Your Content
Your content must be readable, so proofreading your content can increase your rankings. How? Well, quality is the new norm with content, and if people find your content hard to read because of poor spelling and grammar, they will likely leave your page and go to a competitor. When Google sees people leaving your content, it will consider it worthless and rank other pages higher.
“It is always a good idea to get a second set of eyes on your content before you publish it, and if this is from an experienced proofreader then all the better,” says Sian Phillips, freelance proofreader and editor. “Even the best writers make mistakes; they get immersed into their writing and miss the fundamentals. Then again, not everyone is a good writer and lots of mistakes can be made unknowingly. Potential customers will click away from your site if what they are seeing isn’t an easy read for them, and this will be a problem for your SEO. Therefore, consider a proofreader to help with your content. It’s not expensive and could improve your SEO and attract more clients.”
If you are horrible at spelling and grammar, hire a freelancer to copy-edit your content. It doesn’t cost that much and will help your SEO.
Not Making Content Sharable
Content must be shared in order for Google to know people love it. In order to get people to share it, you must make it easy. Adding social sharing buttons to your content can increase engagement and get your content shared.
“The search engines now include the strength of a link in social media as an algorithm-ranking factor,” writes Nick Stamoulis in a blog post about adding social share buttons. “Strength is measured by calculating the number of times that content is shared, tweeted, liked, and posted on social media. So if your content is getting shared frequently, that will improve its search engine ranking for relevant keywords.”
Social share buttons make it easier for people to share your content. Adding them to your content increases the likelihood of shares and ultimately results in better SEO and hopefully higher search rankings.
Not Collecting Data About Your Content
Many people who engage in SEO, not just beginners, simply “set it and forget it,” meaning they post content and hope and pray it rises to the top of search results. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Learning from the past is the best way to increase search results.
“Collect as much data as you can about your content,” says Colson Steber, co-CEO of Communications for Research Inc. “Analyze visitor stats to determine your best content and work on bringing that even higher in the search results. Then, focus on what is not doing so well and either go a different direction or try to increase the ranking through shares and backlinks.”
You can use free tools from Google such as Google Analytics and Google Search Console to help collect and analyze data. Build off great content by linking to it while at the same time finding out why the “bad” content is not working out so well for you.
Using Duplicate Content
There is nothing wrong with quoting parts of content as long as you attribute it properly. There is also nothing wrong with incorporating parts of your previous content into current content. However, when you start to regurgitate the same content over and over, you could run into a problem with Google.
“The ever-present temptation for students, both in high school and university, is plagiarism,” says Steffen Ploeger from 9thCO. “And, Google isn’t any more forgiving than a university professor.” Ploeger adds that copying and pasting content will lead to Google giving you “a big fat F.”
Try to limit using duplicate content. If Google determines that your content is not original, you will likely suffer for it by not being ranked anywhere close to the first page.
Choosing Quantity Over Quality
We are now in the age of quality content. This means that what you write must be informative to readers, not just written for ranking high in search results. Many people new to SEO try to manipulate search results with the way they write content instead of focusing on quality.
“Focus on providing answers for your customers,” says Mike Kiel of LeapClixx.com. “If you focus on Google, you will fail. If you focus on content that helps readers, Google will ultimately reward you. The saying goes that Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first. This is why you need to focus on the reader, not Google.”
When writing, basically think of what you would want to know if you were searching for the same information. Then, simply provide the answer to the question you want. Readers who find the answers to their questions are more likely to return, share your content, and probably convert into paying customers.
Final Thoughts on SEO Mistakes
There are dozens more mistakes you can make when first taking on SEO; however, these are the most common that will cause damage to your Website and search results. Remember that SEO is not necessarily difficult, but you have to follow the rules. Keep your readers happy first and Google will reward you as a result.
Brian Horvath is a freelance writer from Michigan and founder of MyBusinessTalk. He is a journalism graduate and a regular contributor to numerous online magazines and journals.