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10 SEO Mistakes You Should Avoid

June 29th, 2007

In the never-ending quest to optimize our sites for the search engines, it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture because we get bogged down in many small details due to “information overload”. In an earlier article, I mentioned ten simple SEO strategies for newbies that could be used to improve a beginner’s chances of better rankings without having spend lots of money or time. Now I will cover the other side of the equation; that is, common mistakes that are often made by the clueless newbie who may not be aware of how search engine spiders or algorithms really work.

1. Irrelevant, missing, or useless title tags

When crawling web pages, the title tag is the #1 item that search engines use to determine the relevance of your page and figure out where it should be ranked and for which keywords it should appear in the results. Title tags need to be specific to what your web site (or page) is actually about; if your site is about white water rafting, then it is probably a good idea to have “white water rafting” somewhere in the title instead of simply saying “rafting” or using something even more generic such as “outdoor sports”.

I have even seen some sites that either have no title tag at all or have something that is completely useless for SEO purposes. For example, a few days ago I saw a small business site that was offering computer repair services and had “Home” as the title. A few other sites that I saw had “Home Page” as the title even though it was pretty obvious that these sites were not supposed to be about homes or pages. Until the owners of these sites are able to come up with more imaginative and specific title tags, they will be severely handicapped when it comes to their search engine traffic.

2. Overzealous use of keywords

Newcomers to the idea of SEO are sometimes tempted to use the same keywords many times on the same page, or repeat the same keywords on multiple pages of the same site. While it is good to use your main keyword once in the title and a few times in an article for relevance, if this is taken too far it could draw penalties from the search engines for “keyword stuffing”. It is also not a good idea to use the same keywords in title tags for different pages on the same site; many of these pages could be flagged for duplicate content and wind up in Google’s supplemental index.

3. Poor keyword selection

Many beginners make the mistake of using keywords that are much too generalized to have any hope of ranking well, or they use keywords that do not receive any real search traffic. For example, if you were operating a computer repair business that is able to service only the Corpus Christi, Texas metropolitan area, trying to use “computer” as a keyword would be practically useless because it is too general. Even if you did manage to rank well for it, most of the traffic received would originate far outside of the Corpus Christi area, meaning that it is unlikely to result in any actual revenue for your business. Even phrases like “computer repair” or “fix my computer” would not work well because they are not geo-targeted. However, something like “Corpus Christi computer repair” would be getting closer to the mark because most of the traffic would come from your local area, giving you a much better chance to convert these visitors into actual revenue.

4. Broken links

It is important to make sure that all of the links on your site are “live” links, which means that they are actually working and do not point to 404 error pages, suspended pages, or nonexistent domains. The W3 Org site has a link checker tool that can help with this, and also provides tools to check whether or not your page markup is valid.

5. No inbound links

Even if the content of your pages is well-optimized, it is virtually impossible to rank well for any meaningful keywords unless you have some links from other sites pointing to your page. Gaining a sufficient quantity and quality of inbound links is probably the most important SEO factor of all when we consider “off page” elements. Unfortunately, for most people it is also the most difficult. Ultimately, writing good quality content that people actually want to link to is the best way to receive inbound links, but other methods such as submitting articles, posting in forums, and commenting on other people’s blogs can give you enough “link juice” to get you started.

6. Irrelevant inbound link anchor text

In addition to receiving inbound links, the text that the other site uses to link to you is also very important. If you receive incoming links that read “click here”, this will not help you much if you are trying to rank for something like “web design”. Therefore, in cases where you have any kind of control at all over the anchor text that is used to link to your site, make sure that it is relevant to your site or your favorite keywords.

7. Poorly worded internal links

When linking to other pages within your own site, the anchor text that you use should be relevant and include the title tag of the other page whenever possible. For example, near the beginning of this article where I linked to my other page about SEO tips, I used the specific anchor text that corresponds to that page’s title tag. Since internal links such as this are something that you have full control of as a webmaster, you might as well use this opportunity to improve your on-page factors as much as possible.

8. Bad page filenames and formatting

By default, some content management systems such as Wordpress and Joomla generate rather ugly looking filenames for your posts whenever you publish a new page. Wordpress default permalinks will use a question mark in the filename, followed by “p=x”, where x is the number of the page. This is not good for SEO because when the page shows up in the search results, the URL will not look very appealing to human visitors, nor will it help your rankings because the text will not be relevant to the content of your page. Fortunately, it is possible to change this in the Wordpress admin panel so that it generates a more readable and relevant permalink structure. Another option is to use the “Post Slug” feature, which allows you to manually customize each post’s filename before you press the “Publish” button.

9. Duplicate content

Many chronically lazy Internet marketers simply find content that is posted at article directory sites and then copy/paste it into their web pages so that they can build lots of niche mini-sites. Others will use content that they have already written and use it over and over again across several of their own sites. Neither one of these methods is good for SEO. Duplicate content pages are notorious for being thrown into Google’s supplemental index, and if a whole site is duplicated, it can be penalized rather severely. If you really do not want to write your own content at all, you can always outsource it and hire writers to do this for a fee. Even if you are able to write your own content, outsourcing some of the laborious writing chores can be a good way to free up some of your time so that you can concentrate on other aspects of SEO strategy.

10. Getting too impatient

Search engine optimization is typically a lengthy process of researching, testing, tweaking, and adapting to the changes in algorithms and technology. Very few people are able to master it quickly, and even those who do still need to watch out for new competition and updates to the search engine methodology that could upset their current rankings. There are also time-dependent SEO factors such as the age of your domain, the age of your individual pages, and the age of your inbound links that give older sites somewhat of an advantage over newer ones. This means that it will take time and patience to rank well and receive significant traffic from organic search results. But as long as you are proactive and continue to produce quality content, you can eventually build a top-notch site and reap the rewards of free traffic that is targeted to your chosen topics.

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