Avoid These 38 SEO Fails to Increase Your Chances of Ranking

Author's avatar Marketing UPDATED Mar 16, 2023 PUBLISHED Oct 28, 2019 41 minutes read

Table of contents

    Peter Caputa

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    SEO is tough to get right; there are over 200 ranking factors you’ll need to check off your list.

    That, combined with the thousands of SEO myths you’ll have heard over the past few decades, means there’s a ton of disasters that have happened.

    Don’t believe me? Just 5% of SEO experts say they’ve never made a mistake. The vast majority have made three or more:

    seo fails

    We wanted to find out what those SEO fails were–so you didn’t make them yourself.

    To do that, we asked 48 experts to share their biggest SEO disaster. From link-building to content marketing, we’ll talk about the SEO crimes our experts have committed.


    1. Underestimating links (and overestimating content)

    Harris Schachter’s team at OptimizePrime think the biggest SEO fail “is not building links, and believing that only good content will carry your rankings.”

    “This is totally false, and no matter how “epic” your content is it will not bring results unless it earns links.”

    Schachter continues: “Of course, better content can earn links naturally, but you have to put as much effort into doing outreach and finding link opportunities as you do actually creating the content. No matter how many times someone from Google says links don’t matter, they clearly do.”

    “I fixed this mistake by standing up link building efforts with the same discipline as content creation. If you’re creating content based on search demand and a focused search intent, you should also consider it a linking target from similar pages on other domains.”

    2. Paying for PBN links

    Abhijith V M of ClaySys Technologies says: “The biggest SEO fail I committed was in my early days. I used a cheap freelance gig website (Fiverr.com) to buy PBN links. It was at the time when PBNs was a hot topic and a colleague of mine had shown me positive results by using PBNs bought for cheap.”

    (PBN means Private Blog Network. It’s a group of websites run by the same owner, who sells links across all of their sites.)

    Abhijith says that as a result of buying PBN links, “everything fell apart. Organic keywords and traffic took a steep dive and continued to stay the same for almost a year”… All because of these two mistakes:

    1. “Went into the PBN game without due diligence. Does PBN work? Well, it does, but one has to be extremely careful before pursuing that path and should be ready to lose everything.
    2.  We chose CHEAP PBNs. It’s a high risk on its own to use good PBN, let alone cheap ones. The PBN links I got was linking out to many websites and was super easy for Google to detect the pattern. The P in PBN stands for private. If the network is linking to every random internet site who pays the owner a few bucks, it’s not private anymore.”

    To fix the SEO fail, Abhijith “started publishing good unique long-form content and disavowed ALL of the PBN backlinks along with other backlinks which I thought was bad.”

    “It took a couple of months, but the results started coming slowly. The number of organic keywords went up and the traffic numbers have also gone up, though not as much as how it was before.”

    In fact, the team at IsItWP.com has also fallen victim to this SEO fail, as Farasat Khan adds: “I only had a few options with me to uplift client’s site ranking. PBN was my go-to option!”

    “Yeah, Yeah a lot of you might say it is against Google’s guidelines but there is a lot which is against the guideline that still works. And the cherry on top of it was that my intern generated a sum of around 143 links from that PBN within 2 days, which totally looked Spam and unnatural.”

    “With this act in play the site went down in more than 5 days as the site got a manual penalty from Google,” Khan continues.

    But despite the penalty being “lifted in exactly 5 months and 11 days, the rankings never recovered. And we had to set the domain to rest.”

    Growth Hackers’ Jonathan Aufray did the same: “By scouring the Web, I could see that one of the main ranking factors was backlinks. I bought thousands of low-quality backlinks (Citations, blog comments, directories, etc.) for very cheap.”

    “It worked… for a few weeks. Indeed, my website ranked high and very quickly but that didn’t last long. Google’s algorithm found the hack and penalized the website. It didn’t appear anymore.”

    Aufray adds that this SEO mistakewas a great learning lesson. […] Fortunately, it wasn’t an important website for me and I didn’t try to fix it. If I had to, it would have taken weeks to disavow the links and get the website re-accepted by Google without any guarantees.”

    …But what happens if you’ve already committed this SEO crime? Follow Aufray’s advice and disavow those links. This tells Google not to associate your site with theirs.

    3. Building links with rich anchor text

    “When I started out working in-house for a solar company, I had an ingenious idea of creating a solar ROI calculator widget that we could offer to other solar companies and blogs to embed on their own websites,” writes Pathfinder Alliance’s Mitchell Kelly. “The widget had a rich anchor text follow link back to our website.”

    (Anchor text is the copy you use over a link. For example, the anchor text for the link above is “Pathfinder Alliance.”)

    “Pretty soon we had 20 new referring domains including some sitewide links from highly relevant websites,” Kelly adds. “For a short period, rankings spiked and I was crowning myself the king of SEO.”

    “It lasted a week or so until we got hit with a manual penalty and I had to explain to the directors why they were no longer ranking for their own brand name.”

    To reverse this SEO fail, Kelly’s team “had to update the link to nofollow and submitted a reconsideration request. The penalty was lifted in a week or so. Not a huge length of time, but it cost the company tens of thousands of dollars and was the most stressful week of my career.”

    “With little knowledge of what is and isn’t OK when it comes to link building though, it’s all too easy to seriously damage a site and brand,” Kelly adds.

    Victor Antiu, who now works at Sleek Bill, says: “A few years ago I was managing the marketing in another startup. The company was doing well and the site was growing in organic for all major keywords.”

    “But one day, after like 9-10 months since I started, pages started to drop from SERPs. We had no idea why and we had no SEO tools because they did not want to invest in such “trivial” things.”

    Antiu continues: “Finally, after many hours of digging through the Search Console (Webmaster Tools at that time), I found we had a lot of low-level domains linking to us without no-follow and using our main KWs as anchor.”

    “This looked suspicious and after asking around the company, it seems one of the founders was giving discounts to companies who would link to us from their sites.”

    Antiu “worked for a few hours sorting domains and adding them to the newly launched disavow tool. I think back then the tool worked differently so we also had to try and remove the links manually or show that we tried.”

    “It took a few days of work from our support team to call all clients and ask them to remove the links, Antiu adds.

    “Considering it also took about 2 months to fully recover, the loss was quite high and all because one person did this without others knowing and because we did not actively monitor backlinks and their anchors.”

    4. Neglecting redirects

    “One of the biggest mistakes that I’ve made with SEO was failing to redirect new pages,” says Clare Lankester of Boutique Digital Media. “If you change the structure of your website, it’s important to set up redirects to the new location of pages.”

    “For example, if you move website.com/cleaning.html to website.com/services/cleaning.html you need to set a 301 redirect to tell search engines that the page has been permanently moved. This allows all the SEO momentum that you have built up previously to pass on to the page in the new location.”

    Lankester continues: “Failing to do this means any backlinks to that page and the benefit they pass will be lost. Also, if Google is ranking a website on the first page and it suddenly disappears its rankings will drop.”

    “When I converted my first HTML 5 website to WordPress although I hadn’t changed the structure of the site. What I failed to take on board was that website.com/page.html becomes website.com/page/. This is [an] SEO disaster!”

    “The website went from 14 pages ranking in position 1-3 to 5 pages ranking in 1-3 almost overnight. As soon as I realized the mistake I’d made (and it was a real “doh!” moment) I could have kicked myself,” Lankester adds.

    To fix the SEO fail, Lankester “immediately set-up the 301 redirects and the ranking did recover over the period of a couple of months.”

    “Luckily this wasn’t on a website that had a large volume of traffic. If it had of been then the business could have been hugely affected.”

    5. Not being specific with redirects

    You know that redirects are important. But the destination URL you point the redirect to is just as important, as Justin McIntyre of Perfect Search Media explains: “The biggest SEO fail I committed was not being specific enough with the type of redirect to be implemented.”

    “We prepared redirect mapping for URLs undergoing a migration and while the old destination to the new was clear, I simply detailed that they needed to be redirected but did not specify what type of redirect.”

    “Because I did not specify, these pages were 302 redirected, rather than 301, meaning that no SEO equity would be carried over.”

    McIntyre adds: “We, fortunately, discovered this fairly quickly by completing a post-migration crawl and the developers were able to adjust, however, we are lucky that there were not more serious implications.”

    You can use tools like Redirection to handle these redirects:

    Phil Strazzulla says that SelectSoftware “had built a custom CMS, which by mistake dynamically generated about 300 new pages, and broke the URLs for our existing pages.” 

    “We noticed the mistake 2 days later, but by then Google had already penalized our site massively and the traffic went down around 80% in the coming weeks.”

    “We were able to roll back the URL structure and did a good job of 301 redirecting the new URLs to the original ones. We submitted a new sitemap when it was all done, and eventually Google gave us another shot. However, it took almost six months to get back into good graces.”

    Strazzulla concludes: “SEOs have to be the most careful about changing URLs and not adding the appropriate 301, 404, etc messages to crawlers so that they can appropriately index your site.”

    6. Internal link structure

    “We launched a new theme on our WordPress site in early 2019,” says Chad Hill of Hill & Ponton. “It was primarily to update the look and feel.”

    “We had tried to minimize any changes that would impact organic referrals. After launching we noticed a drop in traffic and keyword rankings. At first, we waited to see if the change was temporary but it persisted. We were seeing about a 20% drop in traffic.”

    That’s why Hill’s team “did an extensive review and got some advice [on how] to do a thorough check of changes to internal links.” 

    “At first, everything checked out but as we dug in, we realized the new them was using Ajax and JavaScript for category links and pagination on blog archives. This made the user experience a little better but changed the internal linking structure.”

    Hill adds: “We had our developer change back to the previous link structure. Traffic and rankings recovered.”

    Thomas Adams’ team at Tech Prosperity LLC had the same problem: “In our content strategy, I had multiple blog posts linking to the exact same internal page. Because of this, the page being linked to was penalized and nearly deindexed entirely.

    “Once I updated the internal links on the blog posts to be more diversified, the page recovered its rankings after a few weeks,” Adams adds.

    John Atwood of Health Club Consultants adds: “I think sometimes we just assume that internal links are a free for all. Let’s link to whatever we can on one single blog post, right? That’s not exactly the way things work.

    “You need to link within the particular content silo,” Atwood adds. “For example, if you’re talking about vegetables, don’t link to something about sugary desserts.”

    “Your internal links need to make sense to the reader and provide them with information – not just point them to another article.”

    7. Migration

    Are you planning to migrate your website? Whether you’re moving to a different CMS or changing your domain name, our experts think this branch of technical SEO is most susceptible to SEO fails:

    technical SEO mistakes

    According to Jeff Moriarty, this was true for More Gems, who’s largest SEO fail happened “during a migration from Magento over to Shopify.”

    “We moved three websites at the same time, as they were all under the same admin in Magento. Everything seemed to go well, but then we noticed our content pages and blogs dropping in positioning week over week.”

    “After days and days of researching the issue, we found out during the migration all the content and blog pages from each website we migrating to every website, so we had 100’s of pages of duplicate content spread across each site.”

    The only fix? Moriarty explains: “We had to manually remove blog posts from the wrong websites and make sure they were on the correct site. This took us about 40+ hours to complete, as it had to be done manually. We then resubmitted the URLs to Google Search Console, and over a few weeks our positioning slowly came back.”

    Beacon Digital Marketing’s team has also experienced the same problem, according to John Reinesch: “During a site migration our websites title tags and meta descriptions were not transferred over so saw an initial drop in rankings for a large volume of keywords.

    “After updating all of our core pages to have the correct title tag and meta description and then submitting them to be recrawled with Google Search Console we saw our rankings start to come back within 2 weeks.”

    “We now have a detailed site migration checklist that we follow to make sure we don’t miss any steps during the migration process,” Reinesch explains.

    Plus, the team at Dilate Digital experienced their biggest SEO fail “during the launch of a new website design for one of our existing clients.”

    Charles Ferrer explains: “During the migration phase, the client’s web developers did not communicate to us that they had implemented a number of no-index tags across some of the most important pages we were tracking for keyword rankings.”

    “A few weeks later the rankings began to decline, and in some cases completely drop off the top 100 for a number of terms.”

    ”To fix the issue, we used Screaming Frog to identify all pages containing a no-index tag, and requested the client’s web developers to remove these tags. We then used Search Console’s “Request Indexing” feature to bring them back into Google’s index library.”

    Ferrer adds: “Just under 2 weeks we had recovered our rankings for most of the terms we were tracking. Though a number of them still needed slight improving as they did not fully recover.”

    8. Buying expired domains

    “My biggest SEO fail for Wrightwood Homes was purchasing an expired domain,” says Joe Horan. 

    “I purchased an expired domain that looked like it had decent backlinks and forwarded that domain to my current domain. Prior to that, I was ranking number two for my main keyword.”

    “The problem: I didn’t do enough backlink research prior to purchasing and forwarding the domain. I found out, as my ranking dropped, that the previous domain had thousands of horrible links from pharmaceutical, gambling and porn sites. It tanked my ranking fairly quickly and I lost all the traffic I had been getting.”

    Horan adds: “Once I found out what the issue was, I immediately stopped the 301 redirect and then let the domain expire. I also uploaded a disavow file to Webmaster tools in hopes that they would disregard those links.” 

    “It definitely helped but I still haven’t returned to my previous position. I’ve enlisted the help of someone who can dedicate more time as I focus on other areas of the business.”

    10. Incorrect Google Analytics spam filter

    Almost 30 million websites use Google Analytics. But despite its popularity, it’s easy to make mistakes with the software.

    Sonny Davies of Just Win Marketing did this when they “created a spam filter in Google Analytics to remove all junk traffic from my reports ongoing. However, I left the ‘|’ at the end of the formula. This proceeded to exclude all traffic recordings from the site.”

    “I was scratching my head for a few days wondering why my website was recording no traffic, until I finally realised my mistake. I missed out on a whole week of important traffic and customer information because of that.”

    To fix the fail, Davies ran “through an on-line checklist of what to look at when traffic is done. I then look at the change history in Google Analytics and walked back my steps.”

    “It worked, I removed the “|” and the traffic recording came back.”

    Editor’s note: Set up custom metrics in marketing reporting software for the specific traffic metrics you want to track, such as pageviews, sessions, or bounce rate. Databox’s Annotations feature enables you to leave comments directly within your visualization dashboards, providing a clear and concise way to showcase traffic changes that occurred before and after spam traffic was deducted from Google Analytics.

    11. Neglecting author bio pages

    “Probably the biggest SEO fail was not being ready for the EAT update,” writes 10Web’s Araks Nalbandyan. 

    “I was managing a medical website at that time and the blog had a lot of valuable content, but no proof of the quality of the content, like a certified author with a bio that had links to social proof. The organic traffic went down by 60%.”

    However, Nalbandyan says they reversed the SEO fail “by adding author bios that include links to the author’s social accounts or website (if different). Also asking different certified experts to provide quotes to include within the articles. It helped to grow the organic traffic back, but it took more than 6 months.”

    12. Using clickbait headlines

    “In my previous company, the content creation team often created headlines that were pure clickbait, with little to no link with the actual content,” MintResume’s William Taylor explains.

    “Initially, this technique worked as we achieved really high CTRs. However, with time, we started losing readers and our bounce rates also increased substantially.”

    To fix the problem, Taylor says: “The SEO team chimed in and helped the content creators create engaging headlines that were true to the content. And, it seemed to improve our SEO rankings as well as readership.”

    13. Taking “secret” SEO strategies as gospel

    “Early in my career, I fell prey to shiny objects and “super-secret strategies,” says Break The Web’s Jason Berkowitz. “These “tactics” get pitched as that one SEO strategy to take things to the next level because no one else is doing it.”

    “Thankfully, none of those strategies have caused me or my client’s harm but was definitely a waste of time as they made no difference.”

    Berkowitz adds: “These shiny objects were surely creative, but at the end of the day, the basic principles of SEO remain the same and continue to stay the same. It’s the execution that evolves.”

    14. Changing strategies too soon

    “One of the biggest SEO fails I’ve been a part of was testing and changing strategies for a large website too often after a dip in performance,” says Postali’s Dan Foland. 

    “This lead to a ‘Frankenstein’ type of website that had all types of technical issues on the backend, the front end, content issues, site structure issues and more. Changing strategies too often didn’t help our results, and didn’t give us enough time to see what worked and what didn’t.”

    “The website was old, slow, and had a lot of issues that weren’t just SEO issues. We decided to completely create a new website from the ground up. We evaluated every page on the website, created a new custom theme in WordPress and worked closely with the development, design, and content teams to produce a great website and user experience.”

    “This approach certainly worked, though completely creating a new website from scratch took a lot of resources and isn’t an option for everyone,” Foland summarizes.

    Remember: SEO can take months to pay off. Don’t switch strategies too soon to see any impact. Use this SEO dashboard to measure the impact of your SEO efforts overtime.

    15. Creating content for content’s sake

    Content marketing is crucial for SEO.

    But according to Jennifer Stratton, the biggest SEO fail of Bluegrass Integrated Communications was “creating content for the sake of creating content without digging deeper into the connection between content marketing and keyword planning.”

    “Creating content on a continual basis is great – it shows Google and visitors that you’re active, you have content to share on social media and you get to show off your knowledge. 

    “But oftentimes content production can become run of the mill and stagnant on your site,” Stratton continues.

    “Despite good intentions, content without a keyword assignment and strategy often goes nowhere. Skipping this step and assigning keywords, optimizing content and pages after the fact is time-consuming.

    Stratton adds: “I have been revisiting content to assign keywords, optimize pages and even consolidate information to improve user experience. It has worked!”

    “One page, in particular, has seen monumental increases in traffic, making up a large percentage of overall website traffic in a short period of time.”

    Paul McIntosh, the CEO of Siren Digital Marketing, also says that “sacrificing the quality of content and user experience of our first website just to try to rank better” was their biggest SEO fail.

    “We had a lot of keyword rankings and drove a lot of traffic. However, the choppy content due to writing this way told visitors a different story than what they had hoped for and we had zero conversions in our first year of business with my previous company.”

    McIntosh continues: “When we redesigned our website we found that there is a nice balance between having quality content, a good user experience, and SEO friendly content.”

    17. Writing for search engines, not people

    Similarly, James Pollard of The Advisor Coach‘s biggest SEO fail “was creating blog titles that I thought would interest people instead of writing for search engines.”

    “Of course, the key is to write interesting titles that appeal to both but I was titling my articles vague, random things that nobody would ever type into a search engine. I thought I was being cute or cool but it was a dumb mistake.”

    To fix this fail, Pollard “went back to my articles and titled them based on what people were actually searching for. Yes, it worked. It took about two weeks for the results to be reflected in my analytics.”

    “When we were able to find this balance we did rank for less keywords, however we started getting leads from our traffic almost immediately and it was a game changer.”

    18. Letting keywords take control

    We all know that keywords are the basis of SEO. It’s the terms our target audience type (or speak) to find us through search engines.

    However, “over-reliance on keywords and the trust that with enough keywords my posts will rank well on search engines” was Dewayne Hamilton of Web Cosmo Forums‘ biggest SEO fail.

    “The problem was that the best keywords didn’t make much sense grammatically, as there were several keywords missing. Even so, I tried to repeat the phrase as many times I could in heading and in the body of the text. I shouldn’t even need to say that the end result was barely readable and that while it was online was an extreme embarrassment.”

    “After a few interesting comments, I decided that there is a limit to the SEO approach and that quality needs to be put in place before quantity.”

    Hamilton adds: “I’ve rewritten the article and this time without worrying or giving much attention to SEO keywords and phrases. I just set out to tell a specific story, and the end result was much better than any until then.”

    Anastasia Iliou says Medicare Plan Finder have struggled with this, too: “When I started getting into the SEO/content game, I was told to try to fit in as many uses of the keyword as I could. I ran into situations where in 1,000 words, I used my keyword 20 times. All of the occurrences looked natural, but they weren’t, and it was too much.”

    “I was able to fix the mistake by not necessarily deleting the extra keywords, but definitely changing the syntax,” Iliou explains.

    “For example, it was naturally easy to change the keyword “medicare advantage benefits” to things like “benefits of medicare advantage” and “medicare advantage coverage. They are saying the same thing, but I might be able to capture different searches and Google won’t think I just went in and stuffed the keyword in a bunch of times.”

    Iliou summarizes: “At the end of the day, user experience is of utmost importance (as it should be), so if your piece says the same thing over and over again because you were trying to get the keyword in, it’s not going to perform as well as something that you wrote naturally.”

    19. Keyword (and link) stuffing 

    “When I was first starting out with SEO, my biggest mistake was always keyword and link stuffing,” says Lauren Pope. “You always hear that Google wants you to hit all the right words, so I was determined to make sure I could rank for any and every keyword related to my topic.”

    Pope continues: “Same with link stuffing. I wanted all of my content linking to each other to create that network between posts. It didn’t matter if it was good for the audience, so much did we have content for it and if we did, we linked it. I’d have 30+ links in a 1,000-word article at some points.”

    “When I started working at G2, my manager sat each of us down and asked how much we knew about SEO. From there they trained us on the right way to do things.”

    “We have an SEO Slack group where we can throw questions out and ask each other questions. Using my peers and just reading up on the latest industry news has made me better at SEO,” Pope adds.

    20. Picking competitive keywords

    “I’d say the biggest SEO fail I’ve ever committed was going too big to fast,” says Congruent Digital’s Brian Jensen.

    “When performing keyword research, there’s always the temptation to optimize for the keywords with the highest search volume that match the intent of the page. I failed in that I didn’t properly evaluate the competition and as a result, we didn’t end up on the first page – rookie mistake.”

    “Our approach was to reassess the website’s authority with that of our competitors ranking on the first page for the keywords we were initially targeting.”

    Jensen adds: “By revisiting our keyword research, we were able to identify phrases that matched the intent of the page, had less search volume, but that were also less competitive. After reoptimizing the page, we were able to eventually rank on the first page for the new keywords and ultimately drive qualified traffic and leads.”

    You can find the monthly search volume of your keyword using tools like Ubersuggest, Ahrefs, or Moz:

    Jensen continues: “The lesson; learn to properly evaluate the authority of your SERP competition and pick keywords that you’ll be able to rank on not only the first page for, but ideally the first few positions.”

    “The 2nd page of search results equates to little to no traffic!”

    21. Multiple pages targeting the same keyword

    Colton De Vos says Resolute Technology Solutions “wrote a series of blogs around IT Disaster Recovery which were each performing OK on their own in terms of search ranking.” 

    “When we looked closer into it, each of these blogs was actually outperforming our actual Disaster Recovery service page and interfering with each other for ranking for the same terms.”

    To fix the problem, De Vos says: “We ended up compiling three separate Disaster Recover blogs into one comprehensive Guide to Disaster Recovery Planning. We optimized this guide around alternate keywords that still had significant traffic and buyer intent but differed from those on our DR service page.”

    “That way, me managed to maintain the traffic we were getting but we routed to the appropriate resource. i.e. Top of Funnel planning based searches get the guide and Bottom of the Funnel searches like disaster recovery services and pricing get the service page.”

    22. Keyword density

    “The biggest SEO fail I’ve ever committed was incessantly targeting the same keyword again and again with new content,” writes Search Optimism’s Sam Olmsted.

    “Early in my career, I always thought that more content and more instances targeting the same phrase would lead to higher search results. I would write blog after blog titled, “New Orleans Knee Surgery” hoping that my client would get to the first page.”

    “The result was, of course, the opposite. Each new page devalued the last and my client never experienced the results they were hoping for.”

    Olmsted adds: “After that critical error, I realized that an SEO and content marketing strategy needed to be more holistic than simply writing the same blog again and again. I started digging more into keyword research and link building, creating a more focused approach to every campaign.”

    23. Over-targeting keywords with one post

    Similarly, Paperflite’s Karthik Subramanian says: “One of the biggest SEO mistakes we committed was in one of the blogs that we published; we aimed for authority over a keyword that we were targeting for a long time.”

    “This was a 1,800-word blog was a success for us as it started ranking high in SERP rankings. However, we wanted to branch out to other aspects of the same keyword. So we expanded this blog to a massive 10,000-word manuscript which took a lot of time and effort.”

    “This increased the bounce rate of our blog, and users weren’t interested in reading it,” Subramanian says happened for two reasons: 

    1. “We should not have stuffed everything into one blog
    2. This blog became too unwieldy to handle.”

    Subramanian continues: “We knew that we had made a mistake. We had gotten too greedy trying to rank for too many keywords and probably got the search intent wrong on this.”

    “Now, what we have done is we have separated the large blog into different blogs that aim for separate keywords and URLs. This way, we can aim for various keywords and write more effectively. It also helps us manage these script blogs easily and optimize it as we go along.” 

    Subramanian adds: “It has started bearing us good results as we see some of the blogs doing well. While we know that not all blogs will do well (for various reasons), we are happy that some of them are giving us good traffic.”

    24. Not understanding search intent

    “The biggest SEO fail you can commit is creating a piece of content that isn’t built a keyword with the proper intent,” says Luke Wester of Miva, Inc.

    Search intent is the reason why people are searching for that term.

    (For example: Someone searching “women’s blue shoes” would want to purchase. However, someone searching for “how to write a blog” would be looking for information.)

    “All too often, content teams come up with an idea for a piece without conducting proper keyword research. The end result is a great piece that doesn’t rank and little to no people are interested in consuming.

    Wester advises preventing this SEO fail by having “the keywords be the driving force of your content. Make sure you create content that people ACTUALLY want and not the content you THINK people want. The path will become clear in your keyword research.”

    Techjackie’s Jackie Owen had the same problem: “I have this article on my website, which I was trying to rank for the keyword, “local SEO tips 2019.”

    “I wrote a 3,000 words long article with great images and video, basically like a guide. As time passed, I noticed I couldn’t even rank in the top 50 on Google. In fact, my article is one of the longest and in-depth out there.”

    Owen continues: “I went back to google results and analyze my competitors’ article pattern. What I realized was that almost all of them were a list type post with numbers, just as you would normally see like tip1, tip2…”

    “I quickly went back, changed my article format to match the competitors and guess what, I quickly improved my ranking to the top 20 within a month and currently ranking on the first page in almost every country, with fewer backlinks to the page than most of the competitors too!”

    25. Overlooking meta descriptions

    Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co thinks that “since [the meta description] is not a ranking signal, it’s easy to duplicate meta descriptions across pages, neglecting to add keywords, or even overlooking the meta description entirely!”

    “But what most marketers don’t know is that the more often a user searches for a keyword and clicks through to your site, the better your rank will be. Make sure to explain exactly what the page is about and what they’ll be able to achieve by reading it.”

    meta title and description example

    To fix this, Moxham says: “Always optimize your meta descriptions with a descriptive overview of what’s on the page, a relevant keyword and strong call-to-action.”

    MailCharts’ Tom Buchok adds: “When you’re uploading a post, depending on your CMS, a meta title and description will usually be instantly generated.” 

    “Of course, the description is usually the first part of your post, and it could cut off in mid-sentence. That doesn’t look very professional, does it? Or, perhaps worse yet, it doesn’t provide a good understanding of what the post is actually about, making it less attractive to potential readers.”

    Buchok continues: “To fix this, write unique meta titles and descriptions so that every person who sees this content will instantly know exactly what to expect.”

    “Plus, you’ll also need to pay attention to the character counts. Keep titles between 35 and 60 characters, with descriptions between 70 and 155 characters for best practices.”

    26. Not prioritizing the most important SEO elements

    While Joe Robison of Green Flag Digital says “I can’t point to one huge fail,” Robison says “there have been plenty of projects I’ve worked on where website relaunches are just so huge and complex, that things get lost in the shuffle between teams.”

    “When coordinating development, design, marketing, SEO, and content, there’s a lot of room for error.”

    “So the biggest [SEO] fail has been around not prioritizing the most important, big SEO elements that have the biggest effect on a site relaunch, such as internal links, title tags, and content while worrying too much about smaller elements such as very low traffic pages, weak redirects, and XML image sitemaps,” Robison says.

    To fix this problem, Robison says: “I’ve changed up my approach to constantly re-prioritize throughout the project and focus on the important elements that move the needle, and being ok with letting some small things go.”

    27. Moving to Google AMP

    For the team at Deals Scoop, “moving to Google AMP was an SEO fail that we quickly reversed,” says Stacy Caprio. 

    “It ruined the site’s UX because it stripped away so many essential site features and made it so users were engaging with our much less and spending less time on the site, in addition to other changes that impacted SEO and revenue.”

    Caprio adds: “We changed the site back to its regular theme and took it off of AMP and saw large improvements in user engagement back to baseline.”

    28. Errors with the robots.txt file

    When relaunching their website, the team at Ever Increasing Circles “forgot to check the robots.txt file for one particular client.”

    Alistair Dodds explains: “I sent my desired robots.txt file to their developer to implement. So I was perplexed as to why, for the first few days after the relaunch, we were still seeing a huge number of undesirable search pages still being indexed.” 

    Dodds continues: “After methodically running through our standard checklist I thought to check the robots.txt file. It turns out the client’s developer had not uploaded the robots.txt I had sent him and still had old parameters like search query strings open for indexing.”

    “Once we recognized the issue and strongly advised their web developer to update the robots.txt file, the issue was soon resolved and the undesirable pages removed from Google’s index,” Dodds adds.

    Nigel Wright Group’s Fiona Kay also says they had the same problem: “We worked with a digital agency for a time that accidentally disallowed all of our webpages from being crawled via the robots.txt file.”

    “This resulted in a significant drop in search rankings and subsequent traffic before we were able to identify the error that had been made.”

    The fix? According to Kay, “the agency removed the forward-slash from the Disallow section of the robots.txt file.”

    29. Neglecting image optimization

    Flow SEO’s Angela Ash thinks “SEO is both a science AND an art form. Everything has a perfect balance, and all must be in accordance with the rules and regulations from Google.”

    “But while content and links may be the first things that come to mind, images must also be taken into account. For example, large images that slow down the loading speed of your page can keep everyone but the most patient of visitors from hanging around.”

    Ash continues: “Fortunately, this is one of the easier fixes when it comes to SEO. Simply look at every image on your site and check that it’s 100 kb or under. If not, resize and replace it. It will make a world of difference!”

    30. Letting the SSL certificate expire

    Shane Black’s team at Pearl Digital Marketing say their biggest SEO fail was “letting the SSL certificate expire.”

    “I ran an experiment earlier this year where I let the SSL certificate expire on an old website of mine just to see the impact on organic traffic. The day it expired, traffic fell off a cliff. A 90% drop.”

    To fix the drop in traffic, Black says their team “reactivated the SSL certificate. Although it took months to recover from the damage.”

    31. Focusing on product pages

    “My biggest SEO mistake was focusing all the efforts on the product pages, which included keywords optimization, backlinks, and internal links,” writes Angel Jackets’ Ronald D’souza.

    “At first, it doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but this resulted in high traffic but low conversion rate.”

    D’souza explains: “I changed my approach by shifting my focus on product categories by adding long-form content, getting high authority backlinks, and internal links to the category. Doing this to the website was able to rank for high volume keywords which doubled the traffic and conversion.”

    32. Auto-generating tags and category pages

    “The biggest SEO fail we have ever committed was keeping categories and tags indexed,” writes AffloSpark’s Kulwant Nagi.

    “We started a new blog on WordPress and started adding high-quality articles on the blog. Our theme was SEO optimized and we started adding 5-7 super SEO optimized articles on the blog daily.”

    “After 5-6 months, I thought about checking the indexed pages in Google. My mind was blown away when I checked that 17,000+ pages were indexed. When I checked thoroughly, I found that it was happening because of tags and categories.” 

    Nagi explains: “Google indexed all posts and pages under them and indexed all of them. It created a duplicate content issue on the blog and we paid a lot of money and efforts to rectify this mistake.”

    For that reason, Nagi recommends to “always check your SEO plugin’s setting to make sure that categories, tags, author pages, and pagination are not indexed in Google. We removed all of those unwanted indexed pages from Google and site started performing well in Google after 3 months.”

    33. Associating with dodgy sites

    “Years ago, I posted a comment on a forum that was engaged in a scheme to connect websites together in a type of link and traffic exchange,” says Netpaths’ Cayley Vos. “I didn’t purchase this linking program I just asked a question about it.”

    However, Vos says: “That didn’t matter. Google came down hard on all the participants and associates they could find, and one of my sites got hit. It was frustrating and embarrassing.”

    “This was also before the Google Webmaster Console where you had a way to contact the Google search team. This was painful and resulted in a lot of lost opportunities, and the search king forums closed shortly after.”

    “Now I would have done a disavow request in the Google Search Console, but this was not an option at the time,” Vos continues.

    That’s why their team started by “creating a lot of content and doing PR outreach to get the site noticed. I learned about the nascent tactic of content marketing and creating good information to share.”

    Secondly, Vos “tracked down a search engineer at a conference and beg him to look at my site. Matt Cutts did and eventually, the site rankings were restored.”

    34. Neglecting important SEO metrics

    There are some important SEO metrics you’ll need to track using an SEO dashboard software, such as:

    • Organic traffic
    • Click-through rate
    • Dwell time

    For Clemens Rychlik of Bourbon Creative, their “biggest SEO mistake I ever did was back in my early days when I underestimated the importance of Domain Authority.”

    “In my case, I’ve worked with a client that was producing a lot of great content, but due to budget constraints neglected to build up domain authority. As a result, we’ve enjoyed stable but unremarkable organic growth.”

    “However, only once we focused on raising DA, did we really see what we were missing out – the results were undeniable,” Rychlik continues.

    “Once we realized that we need to raise Domain Authority, we’ve turned to common best practices. We started with a proper competitor analysis to identify link gaps and relevant high-domain media sites from our industry.”

    Rychlik summarizes: “After prioritizing these sites, we began reaching out to them by following a sales-like process and by pitching guest posts. Within a few months the authority score (SEMrush metric) went up from 17 to 37 and our organic traffic growth exploded.”

    35. Not understanding your user

    You have buyer personas for your marketing campaigns. Not using them for SEO could be a huge mistake, as Colibri Digital Marketing’s Andrew McLoughlin explains: “We were working with a client in a very niche market, and the first round of keywords we developed were similarly niche.”

    “We understood the product, but the in-house terminology didn’t really make for effective keywords. They didn’t reflect the ways the average potential user, especially one without prior knowledge of the industry, would phrase his or her queries.”

    To fix this SEO fail, McLoughlin says: “We developed new keywords through rounds of audience research and small focus groups, which better reflected the ideas and needs of our client’s potential user-base.”

    “We populated their content (and their metadata) with these new keywords, and their site engagement improved almost overnight.”

    36. Not monitoring spam comments

    According to Seb Brantigan, the biggest SEO fail Brantigan Enterprises have done was “approving blog posts and comments from spammers trying to disguise their links in genuine looking comments!”

    “I mistakenly approved them thinking they were authentic but they were not entirely related to my content and some did not have great English at all.”

    Brantigan continues: “I removed the comments and installed Akismet to stop spam comments being seen automatically. It has been a huge time saver and I’ve not needed to trawl through spam comments it stops them straight away and deletes them for you automatically.”

    37. Over-selling SEO services

    SEO fails don’t just happen to those working in-house.

    It can happen if you’re selling SEO services, as Caleb Rule of Rule Marketing Group explains: “Truthfully, the biggest SEO fail I’ve done is over-selling the impact of on-site optimization when I was first getting into the industry.”

    “After implementing changes across a client’s site, I was dismayed to see the movement wasn’t what I had hoped – we began showing, but only on page three for a while.”

    “I didn’t paint a more holistic picture of what might be needed, especially when looking at how people were searching. A lot of folks had research-type questions they’d look up before becoming ready to buy, and I whiffed on an opportunity.”

    Rule explains how they fixed their SEO fail: “For this particular client, I learned a hard lesson and it was an uncomfortable meeting. We did do some additional content development and looked to alternatives (such as local SEO) to try and diversify our approach as the client was asking for results.”

    “Did it work? Kind of. The client did see gains across the board, on-site traffic was clearly landing on a more relevant page organically (indicated by lower bounce rates) and foundationally, the content was there.”

    “But we did lose the client because we hadn’t done a good job of explaining a more robust strategy initially,” Rule adds.

    38. Checking the client implements suggestions correctly

    Webiteers’ Sem Poell has also had issues working with clients: “I once advised [a client] to implement canonical URLs. But during the implementation, the client made a typo in the domain name.”

    “The result was a de-indexation of most of the pages. So, it is extremely important to (double) check if implementations performed by the client are correct.”

    Although “the problem was fixed by correcting the domain name in the canonical URL,” Poell adds that “they did not recover 100%.”


    Don’t make these SEO mistakes

    As you can see, there are several SEO fails you could fall victim to.

    But you know the old saying: Knowledge is power.

    By understanding the common SEO mistakes that experts have committed, you’ll know what to avoid in your own strategy.

    Author's avatar
    Article by
    Elise Dopson

    Elise Dopson is a freelance B2B writer for SaaS and marketing companies. With a focus on data-driven ideas that truly provide value, she helps brands to get noticed online--and drive targeted website visitors that transform into raving fans.

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