The Most Common SEO Pitfalls
A successful SEO strategy takes planning, especially during the site design stage. Misconceptions about search marketing or errors in planning can sometimes lead your efforts astray, leaving you with an underperforming site and a heap of frustration. And once live, SEO is still never a “set it and forget it” deal. At OpenMoves, we think of it like mowing the lawn. If you don’t keep at it, it gets out of control.
As a performance-driven search marketing agency we hear a lot of SEO success stories. But we also hear sad tales of SEO woe. So, I’ve combed through our files and SEO history, and assembled a list of some especially common SEO pitfalls we run into. Many may feel particularly familiar if you are building a new site or overhauling an existing one.
Here then are some of the most common SEO pitfalls in website design.
1. Assigning Site Responsibility to the Wrong Department
In the early days of SEO, it was common for the Web development and maintenance responsibility to live in an IT department or with a gifted techie. Today websites and search marketing are crucial to the customer acquisition and sales process, so this is no longer an adequate model. While the IT talent should manage your site’s development and technology, the functionality and overall design of the site should be determined by the Sales and Marketing teams. Take control of your site and be sure your Marketing department is at the helm.
2. Using a Custom Website Platform
We still see companies who choose to build a custom website rather than use an off-the-shelf CMS as the foundation. For most small and mid-size businesses this is hard to justify. It will almost definitely cost more in the long run and produce less. Most sites have content, forms, navigation, and a few widgets of various kinds. Very few have highly specific functionality that would require a custom site. Instead, use WordPress or a similar CMS (content management system) for rapid development, access to thousands of pre-coded widgets, and easy maintenance. And if you don’t have a real dev department, outsource the whole thing. You won’t be sorry. An off-the-shelf system will also be easier to hand off to a new developer should the need arise.
3. No SEO Maintenance Plan
A successful website is dynamic and fresh. Content should be updated frequently. You track visits, user behavior, and conversions (leads or sales). You tweak the site and your marketing campaigns accordingly. SEO will generally be less expensive than most other forms of marketing, and generate longer lasting results. But every new page requires work! Every page must have a goal, and every page must be maintained in accordance with its goal. When a user lands on any page on the site, your design, content, widgets, navigation, and calls-to-action, should work together to ensure the visitor knows what you want them to do next. Be sure to embed those goals in the design, the content, and the landing pages. And then check what’s working and what’s not on a monthly basis at least. Tweak. Rinse and repeat.
4. No Established Goal
What is the purpose of your website? While it may sound surprising, many people have difficulty answering this question. Did you plan or specify a goal for your site when you began the design process? I’m not referring to the design spec. Rather, what was the business goal of the site? It’s conventional wisdom that every company needs a website, but why? What do you want it to do for you? How does your site fit in your marketing and sales strategy? Is it a brochure site? Do you want fresh leads? Do you sell widgets? Or do you simply want to stay top of mind with prospects? What do you want people to do once they land on your site? Without agreement on a goal, you can’t determine if it’s successful.
Typically, a website should help your company do all these things:
- Get found
- Stay in touch with prospects and nurture the relationship
- Grow the business with leads or sales
How many different types of people visit your site? And at what stages of the buyer’s journey? Can you describe those stages and identify the needs of a user in each stage? Does your site provide answers for those needs, and help them move to the next stage when ready?
5. Putting Up a Page with No Purpose
Even if you are clear about the purpose of your site, every page should have a job. Every page should support the goal. And each page should match user intent, with different types of content for different types of users. Don’t send users — or search engines, for that matter — on a wild goose chase. Don’t point them down blind alleyways, dead ends, or lead them to pages without a purpose.
The path a user takes to a page deep in your site does not always start with the home page. No matter how well-planned your navigational flow, a user can land on any page from anywhere. They might perform a search and then click on an ad or an organic result. They may have found a link on a blog or in an email. In each case, what was this person looking for? Does this page deliver?
For each page determine who is the target. Is it someone high up in the search funnel still exploring options and solutions? Or someone who has their wallet open? How does your page help in each of these situations? What is the primary call-to-action on this page and what is the secondary? Users may leave your site within a few seconds unless they see immediate value and understand what they can do next.
For each page you create, consider:
- Who is it for?
- What questions does it answer?
- What problems does it solve?
- How does it help the user who lands there move through the decision-making process?
6. No Tracking
You can’t measure what you don’t track. And yet, it’s surprising how often we see small business websites with no analytics. Once you have the goals and content strategy in place, it’s critical to understand what works and what doesn’t.
There are many good tracking platforms. We always recommend Google Analytics. It’s the most common, high-quality solution, and it’s free. Google Analytics divides the primary data roughly into three types of information:
- Acquisition – What are your traffic sources? How do people find your site?
- Behavior – What do they do when they land on your site? How do they engage with your content? Which pages draw people in, and which repel them? Which pages are doing their job?
- Conversions – On a B2B site, are users filling out lead forms, RFQs? Are they signing up you’re your newsletter, asking for more info? On an ecommerce site, can you improve sales or average order value by tweaking landing pages?
Proper tracking will provide invaluable, actionable insights. No tracking means you are shooting in the dark and have no way to know if your site is effective, no basis for adding or removing content. So, get your tracking in order and check your analytics frequently.
7. No Thought Given to Page Load Time
Since page load time — or site speed — is not visual, it can often escape notice as an issue until late in the game. But it may be the first and most important factor in a visitor’s impulse to stay or leave. And even if the landing page loads quickly, be sure to check the conversion pages, as well. Every page in the path a user will take through your site should be fast and clean.
There are great tools for checking load speeds. We recommend Google’s Mobile Website Speed Testing Tool. It checks speed on mobile, desktop, and while you are at it, gives feedback on mobile friendliness. Google’s older tool, PageSpeed Insights, works great as well. Another well-known speed test tool is Pingdom Website Speed Test. Don’t leave your visitors waiting and wondering. Ensure your site loads. Your users AND Google will penalize you if you don’t.
8. Content Not Well-Organized
Just like in a library, content needs a logical framework or taxonomy. Visitors come to a library and search by topic, or author, for example. You need to provide a similar context on your site. Some sites appear like a large sock drawer, with no discernible structure to the content. These sites offer no obvious connections between articles, posts, labels, or tags.
Other sites impose a superstructure that is completely non-intuitive. For example, a WordPress default is to archive blog posts by date. Users can navigate the archive via a sidebar widget with links to content by year and by month. Seriously? When was the last time you visited a website, and wondered, “what did they write about in August 2010?” I think it’s safe to say that most users will rarely start a content search with a date lookup. Also, it’s important to note, when you highlight the date, people avoid posts that look old! So, remove that taxonomy and provide a logical search by topic or category instead.
Another common error is to organize content by media type: Posts, Articles, PDFs, Videos, Podcasts, etc. Seems to make sense at first. But if you are trying to learn about a company, a service, or a product, it’s rare to begin with a search by media type. Wouldn’t you prefer to look up a topic and find a landing page with links to ALL related content, of every media type? That would be a powerful landing page, for users, and for Google!
So, don’t create a sock drawer! Give your content a solid structure that provides context, helps visitors find what they need, and links to related material.
9. Ignoring SEO Basics – No Meta Descriptions, No Page Titles
It’s surprising how often I see a website with no meta descriptions or no page titles. Or a site with duplicate meta descriptions or page titles. These are still bedrock SEO fundamentals. And they are unlikely to change soon.
A page title should tell the user and Google what the page is about. And so, every page should have its own unique title. It must be created with the HTML <title> tag in the <head> of any web page. It will appear to a user as the text in the browser tab for each page. It is also the default text used when creating a browser bookmark or favorite. Lastly, it is usually used by Google as the text in the link for a page in the search engine results page.
The meta description is usually used by Google to form the short description of a page in the search results. While it won’t impact your SEO ranking, a well-crafted meta description may get more clicks to your site. So, again, make it unique and make sure every page has one.
10. Not Optimizing for Users – Not Optimizing for Google
Some sites focus on user interface and design. And some worry more about Google and search engine performance. But if your design team never talks to your SEO team, you will always have a problem. These are two sides of a coin, two key aspects to a great site.
Google really WANTS your site to offer a good user experience. That’s what Google values because it wants to provide the best possible search results. So, user engagement metrics have become important SEO factors for Google.
Something as simple as keyword research will impact both user experience and SEO. Plan the implementation of keywords in meta tags and on-page copy in a way that will reflect user intent for visitors to that page. This will encourage engagement, lower bounce rates, and ultimately improve rankings.
Add breadcrumbs, to enable both users and search engines to understand context, to see where a page fits in the larger picture, and where it makes sense to click next. With few exceptions, good user-based design will improve your SEO and vice versa. Be sure you are optimizing for both!
As noted, let us know your stories, or if you’d like a review of your site for free.
There you have it. 10 important SEO pitfalls where many sites drop the ball. How does your site measure up? Let us know if we can help!