Are you making any of these common SEO mistakes?

We’ve performed hundreds of SEO audits over the last decade for businesses looking to grow their organic presence and we’ve distilled that information into the most common SEO mistakes that prevent businesses from ranking in search.

SEO is hands down the best way to set your business up for long-term success.

There is no better way to create reliable, recurring traffic and revenue streams for your business than SEO. Social media and PPC don’t even come close to holding a candle to it. This passive traffic and revenue stream reinforces your bottom line and solidifies your company’s foundation.

However, there are some very common SEO mistakes that businesses make that hold them back. This article is going to hit on the top 11 and give you some insight on how to avoid making them.

Most Common SEO Mistakes

  1. Not targeting the right keywords
  2. Ignoring opportunities to rank in local search
  3. Skipping your title tags and meta descriptions
  4. Not paying attention to your internal linking
  5. Being afraid to link to other websites
  6. Spamming your keywords
  7. Not doing outreach for inbound links
  8. Ignoring the technical side of SEO
  9. Not keeping an eye on Analytics
  10. Not creating high quality content
  11. Quitting when you don’t get overnight results

#1 Not targeting the right keywords

Keyword targeting can be something of a minefield. However, the only way to get experience is to start walking.

The most common mistake here is chasing after very broad keywords with the highest average search volumes. These are the phrases that have 1 – 3 words in them, and they’re also known as short-tail keywords.

People get greedy with the amount of potential traffic they could get from short-tail keywords. What they might not know is that these are also the most popular and most difficult keywords to rank for.

And that’s not even counting how broad they are. The more generic a keyword the wider range of visitors you’ll attract.

Short Tail vs. Long Tail Keywords

For instance, let’s say you want to target “best realtors”. Users could be looking for:

  • Training to become the best realtor.
  • The best realtors in their area.
  • Tools the best realtors use.
  • The best commercial realtors.
  • The best residential realtors.
  • And any number of other things to do with those two words.

The best path to success here is to target long-tail keywords, or phrases that have 4+ words in them, and create content specifically for those keywords.

For instance, you could build a page to target “the best commercial realtor in Dallas, TX”. Not only do you have an immensely better chance of ranking for that keyword, but you’re also going to be serving up hyper-specific content to users with a very specific need.

That’s going to be incredibly relevant and useful to them to solve their needs.

This is the goal of keyword targeting.

Find a need and build content to fill that need.

#2 Ignoring opportunities to rank in local search

Local businesses live and die by the amount of foot traffic they bring into their stores. If you have a brick-and-mortar shop that relies on getting bodies through your doors, it is vitally important that you brush up on your local marketing or partner with a local SEO agency to do it for you.

Google has created a variety of services specifically for local businesses to help them stand out on the search results page. You can even create geographic pages that target local keywords (your city + the thing you do) to show up in the local organic search results.

The key here is that you want to have your local address and phone number on your site to let Google see where you’re based so you can show up in the local search results.

This goes for nationwide companies too. Every single company with a physical location should have a local SEO strategy in place to dominate their hometown search results.

You can still benefit from local search even if you aren’t a retail store and you don’t accept walk-ins. People prefer to do business with local companies if they have the option.

Give them the option.

#3 Skipping your title tags and meta descriptions

Every single page on your website should have a unique title tag and meta description, period.

This is one of the basic fundamentals of search engine optimization 101 and it’s often the most neglected making it one of the most common SEO mistakes.

Your title tags and meta descriptions are used everywhere from your organic search result to previews on social shares. Having unique and descriptive titles and descriptions is not only great for SEO, but also for telling visitors what the page is about.

Be sure that you write these for every page on your website.

Now, it’s true that Google will sometimes replace your meta description or change your title tag so that it better reflects the on-page content if the ones you wrote don’t.

common seo mistakes title tag example screenshot
Example of how Google can change title tags.

This is a very benign example, but you still shouldn’t A) rely on Google to do that for you, B) trust Google to get it right, and C) ignore this very simple actual best practice when all it takes is < 5 minutes of your time.

Ours is harmless enough to ignore, but more egregious offenders may give visitors the wrong impression of the page’s content and require a fix.

Your title tag and meta description are, possibly, two of the most important parts of on-page SEO since they directly affect your pages’ click-through rates (CTRs). Having poorly written, or irrelevant, title tags/meta descriptions can tank your CTR which leads to fewer visits and fewer opportunities to convert.

#4 Not paying attention to your internal linking

The focus of internal linking is twofold. You want to 1) link between relevant pieces of content on your site to provide value to your visitors and keep them engaged, and 2) help provide more connections between pages to improve Google’s ability to crawl every page on your website.

If you focus on these two things, the rankings will come. Trying to manipulate your internal link profile, however, will most likely backfire since Google will see it as unnatural and providing a poor user experience.

Now, you might be getting advice to link internally to your top-performing pages. While this is important and you should be doing it, there’s more to internal linking than linking to just your “money” pages.

Realistically, you should organically link between relevant pieces of content instead of shoe-horning a link into a page where it doesn’t belong and where the content you’re linking to won’t provide any value to the user. This is important even if the page you’re linking to isn’t one of your main pages.

You also want to use descriptive anchor text in your links so the user, and Google, know what to expect on the following page. Don’t lean in too heavily here. Be sure to vary the internal link anchors to your pages so your link profile doesn’t start to look unnatural.

#5 Being afraid to link to other websites

Some marketers are very still hesitant to link to other websites since Penguin was introduced back in 2013. This goes double for businesses that are doing their own link building and aren’t well acquainted with the lay of the land.

However, there’s absolutely no danger in linking to off-domain content if do your due diligence. Linking to content that’s valuable, relevant, and well thought out / written is actually a smart move since it’s part of being a “good neighbor”.

The simplest way to describe link building is that it’s about “link neighborhoods“. Bad neighborhoods are low-quality sites with spammy or manipulative marketing and good neighborhoods are quality websites that color inside of Google’s lines.

Like your mom told you, you are who you associate yourself with.

Spammy websites link to other low-quality sites while good websites never link to spammy sites.

Linking to credible, high-quality content shows which side of the fence you fall on.

As long as you stay in good company, you have nothing to worry about.

#6 Spamming your keywords

Keyword stuffing has been on Google’s naughty list for years now, but websites are still trying to brute force rankings by having their target keyword in every other sentence.

This doesn’t work. Not even a little bit.

It’s repetitive, manipulative, unnatural, and it will annoy your readers if they keep seeing the same words over and over and over and over again.

Google has released multiple updates to their search algorithm, namely Hummingbird, and their focus on latent semantic indexing has helped Google “understand” what your content is about.

I won’t say that this has devalued keywords or made them useless, as they are still very important, but it has placed less emphasis on them which in turn has negated any benefit a website could possibly get from stuffing keywords.

Realistically, you should only use your target keyword in a few places. This will essentially “declare” your topic to Google and then you should make full use of synonyms where appropriate and organic.

Anything more than that and you risk it looking unnatural and manipulative.

#7 Not doing outreach for inbound links

The reason why this SEO mistake is so common is because of how time-consuming it is. However, it is incredibly vital to help your content rank higher in search, and here’s why.

AHRefs did a killer case study where they found that ~90% of pages in their 1 billion page sample get exactly 0 traffic from Google. The most common denominator was that 66% of those pages also had 0 backlinks.

The number of inbound links a page has is an important signal that helps that page rank higher in search. It’s not the end all be all of the signals, but it is an important one that you should be prioritizing.

Think of backlinks as a vote of confidence. Another website looks at your content favorably enough that they’re willing to link to you as a resource for their visitors.

They are effectively “vouching” for you and your content.

The more people vouching for you, the more authoritative you appear to Google. The more authoritative signals you’re able to send to Google, the higher you’ll rank in search.

#8 Ignoring the technical side of SEO

Not every search marketer has the resources available to them to improve a website’s technical SEO. That’s fine, don’t panic, but that doesn’t make it any less important.

In a nutshell, technical SEO is anything to has to do with a site’s ability to be crawled by search engines, sitemap optimization, page speed and load times, page canonicalization, and much, much more.

Basically, anything to do with site visibility relies on the site’s source code to make it happen. Two of the most important aspects of technical SEO are site speed and sitemap indexing/site crawlability.

Ignoring things like your site speed can provide a bad user experience if your site takes a long time to load. There has been a direct correlation between long load times and high bounce rates. If it takes longer than 3 seconds for your site to load, you’re going to have a higher bounce rate than you should.

This is also especially important because Core Web Vitals (site load time) will become a ranking factor in 2021.

When it comes to optimizing your sitemap and site crawlability, it boils down to a simple fact.

Google can’t index your pages if it can’t find them.

Maximizing your index rate will increase the number of pages that Google can index and serve up for organic search queries.

#9 Not keeping an eye on Analytics

Analytics is an incredibly important part of optimizing for organic search because you can’t know how you’re doing if you aren’t tracking historical data.

Data is everything when it comes to SEO.

It shows what’s working, what isn’t, what you rank for, what brings in traffic, what your overall trends look like, what’s converting, and a ton of other useful metrics to help you grow your organic presence.

Doing SEO without supporting data is a lot like throwing darts in the dark. You could hit the target, but it’s going to take a lot of luck to make it happen.

Bluntly, every decision you make that has to do with SEO should be supported by hard data. And if you don’t have the data to back it up, you shouldn’t do it.

Google Analytics and Search Console are two free analytics tools you can use to track your progress. (You should be using them anyway.) If you don’t already have Search Console and Analytics installed, I highly recommend you get that done ASAP.

I also recommend that you look into using Moz Pro, AHRefs, or SEMRush to keep a closer eye on your SEO efforts and track historical data.

#10 Not creating high quality content

The key to ranking in the search results is making great content. Not “good” content, great content. Google has been saying it for years now, but you have to make what Rand Fishkin calls 10x Content.

In a nutshell, 10x Content is content that’s 10 times better than anything else in the search results. It provides 10 times the value, it’s intuitive and easy to use, it’s authoritative, it solves problems and answers questions, and it’s unique.

At its core, it’s phenomenal content.

However, making 10x Content is incredibly difficult and time-consuming, which is why most companies struggle to see success with their content marketing.

And most of the time, they’ll fall into one of two camps. They either copy what their competitors are doing and don’t differentiate themselves from the proverbial pack or they go the quantity over quality route and post a bunch of thin, low-quality content.

Neither is a good way to get your audience’s or Google’s attention.

#11 Quitting when you don’t get overnight results

The most common SEO mistake of all is quitting too soon. So many businesses stop investing in organic search after a handful of months because “it’s not working”.

No, it’s just not working as fast as you want it to and that’s a “you” problem and an “SEO” problem.

Search engine optimization is a marathon, not a sprint. It is an investment in the future of your company and it can take a long time to see the needle move.

The general rule of thumb used to be that it took 4 – 6 months to see results with SEO and we’ve seen results in as little as 3 months, but that’s a best-case scenario.

The real answer on when you’ll see results is “it depends”.

It depends on what keywords you’re targeting, how popular they are, if you’re in a saturated market, what the competition is doing, whether you’re promoting a brand new website or an existing one, what sort of organic marketing have you’ve been doing (if any), and a slew of other things.

organic traffic over time screenshot
One of our SEO clients stuck with it. 500 visits / week to 25,000 visits / week.

The bottom line is this. If you want results like the ones above, it’s going to take time and a lot of work. Work that’s far too important to start and stop and start and stop.

You need to start it and stick with it.

The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll start to see results.

And if you quit…you’ll never see results.

SEO Mistakes Recap

Search engine optimization is an amazing way to grow your business, but there are some very common SEO mistakes that can sabotage your efforts. Knowing what they are and how to avoid them will help you get back on track and climb the search results again.

Have you made any of these mistakes? Are you seeing any others that we didn’t mention?

Let me know in the comments section below!

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Kenny Empey