Even experienced pros sometimes neglect SEO fundamentals because there’s just so much to do and remember when it comes to optimizing a website and its content for search.
And if you’re not a pro, it’s even harder to keep up. You may neglect something important entirely. You may get bad information that leads to poor rankings or manual actions. You may spend too much time on one thing at the expense of another, only to find out later that the thing you neglected was more important.
So for our most recent survey, we set out to discover the most obvious SEO tips and tactics that almost no one follows. We polled 150 marketers to find out where businesses trip up with SEO most often.
Through all of those responses, we identified 12 SEO fundamentals—the core aspects of search engine optimization that companies should be focused on—along with the 49 most common SEO mistakes marketers often make within each of those fundamentals.
1. Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
“Even small companies that don’t have massive budgets or dedicated PR or web development teams can maximize their SEO efforts by optimizing their page titles and meta descriptions,” says Rhianna Taniguchi of iQ 360.
“Using custom title tags and meta descriptions doesn’t require a high level of expertise, but it contributes to a higher click-through rate from search results,” Taniguchi says.
Common Mistake: Blank Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
“The one SEO tip that companies forget to follow is making sure that all of your pages have a title tag and meta description,” says Anne Polland of Novella Brandhouse. “Without checking these off, your pages will not be ranked as high.”
“Too often, I look at a new client’s website and see ‘Home’ or ‘Homepage’ as the page title,” says David Wurst of WebCitz. “Then, interior pages typically follow that trend with ‘About’ or ‘Contact’ as the sole word in the title tag.”
“This leaves your website lacking valuable content in the page title that can either be used for attracting visitors from search or helping search engines better understand the most important aspects of the page.”
“At the very least, we typically suggest trying to put a few valuable phrases in page titles. Take for instance an accounting firm, which could do something like ‘Accounting & Tax Prep | City Name | Business Name’ for a homepage page title,” Wurst says.
Of course, some SEO tools will auto-generate a page title for you, but Direct Online Marketing’s Cory Hedgepeth says this can lead to a mistake as well. “I see site owners not leveraging Yoast’s ability to separate out social and SEO titles/descriptions. This forces them to choose a title based more heavily on one goal.”
“When we separate our titles, we dramatically improve our viability on both Facebook and Google search. When we don’t, we compromise one or the other. I see this happening even when an agency handled the work prior to my audit of the site’s article pages,” Hedgepeth says.
“A lot of times, updating title tags can provide an increase in clicks and rankings, especially when you’re sitting in the top five slots of the SERPs for certain terms,” says Jake Lane of NuBrakes Mobile Brake Repair.
“Once you begin to see some goodness from your rankings, begin testing variations in your title tags to help push your results even further,” Lane says.
Common Mistake: Auto-Generated Meta Descriptions
Another thing that gets auto-generated: your meta description.
“Lots of SEO-savvy content marketers add a meta description designed to show up on SERPs underneath the page title link,” says Rising Star Reviews’ Chas Cooper. “By doing this, they can offer searchers a description of the content that’s tailored to attract maximum click-throughs to the content.”
“But Google often doesn’t publish the meta description. Instead, it shows an auto-generated excerpt from the content. When Google auto-generates this excerpt, it tends to favor the first couple sentences of the content itself, especially if the beginning of the content includes the SERP’s search term.”
“So why not make your first paragraph identical to your meta description? This is an easy and highly effective way to get Google to use your meta description on SERPs much more often, which in turn drives more click-throughs and higher rankings,” Cooper says.
Common Mistake: Unoriginal Page Titles
“Title tags and meta descriptions need to be unique,” says Sergio Stephano of Adaptia Design. “Higher CTRs in the SERPs is increasingly becoming a more important Google ranking signal.”
Joe Goldstein of Contractor Calls agrees: “Check competing search results before writing your title tag and meta description. If your description mentions ‘free shipping on orders over $20’ but one of the other results says ‘free shipping, period,’ the competitor is going to win the click even if you outrank them.”
“Write your title and description as if you’ll never rank better than second place but need to win the click anyways,” Goldstein says.
Common Mistake: Keyword-Stuffed Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
“You should craft your page title and meta description to look like a PPC ad,” says Rent a Tablet’s Akiva Leyton. “I often see people stuff keywords into their meta content, thinking it will make a huge difference. This is a huge mistake because Google doesn’t value it as much as people think it does.”
“Page titles and descriptions should be used to draw people to your website, and if that means using fewer keywords, then so be it. It’s more important to get people interested enough to visit your website than it is to convince Google to display your pages in the top results,” Leyton says.
“When deciding what to write for your title tags and meta descriptions, pretend to be a consumer looking for your services,” the Rudy Lucas of The 20.
Common Mistake: Adding Meta Keywords
“A lot of companies still seem to think that the ‘meta keywords’ tag still has any impact on search rankings—or anything for that matter,” says Matt Osborn of RoadRunner Auto Transport.
“The meta keywords tag has not been used by Google for a decade now. Google has long been intuitive enough to rank your site for the keywords that appear on-page in your content. Other search engines like Bing used it a little more recently, but now even they do not use it.”
“The problem is that if you use the meta keywords tag and a competitor reports that to Google as webspam for keyword stuffing, this can actually end up hurting your rankings. When you look at this from a risk-versus-benefit perspective, there is a low amount of risk but absolutely no possible benefit,” Osborn says.
When we asked our respondents to tell us where they think companies over-invest most often when it comes to SEO, keywords received the most votes:
But while companies may spend too much time focusing on keywords, keywords are still an important part of SEO.
“Optimizing for the correct keywords can make or break you,” says Tandem Interactive’s Juliane Sunshine.
“You should make a list of as many words that you can think of that describe your business or the service that you provide,” says John Michael Brunetti of TrueVestment Financial.
“A lot of people are likely searching for the exact words you wrote down, but without having them on your website, it makes it difficult for you to be a top search result,” Brunetti says.
Common Mistake: Keyword Stuffing
“Too many companies forget that their content should be written for people first and search engines second,” says Niles Koenigsberg of FiG Advertising + Marketing.
“We stumble across many blogs and articles that are packed full of appropriate keywords, but the content is just unreadable. It’s clunky, the phrasing is redundant, and it quickly becomes clear the article was only written to improve rankings,” Koenigsberg says.
Anthony Adams of 214 SEO agrees: “By keyword stuffing your website or writing unnaturally, you end up alienating your core audience and raising red flags with search engines.”
And as Queen City Buyer’s Matt York says, keyword stuffing won’t improve your rankings: “Cramming your keywords into your page as many times as possible will not help you rank higher. In fact, Google looks for this and flags it!”
“Having a ton of keywords in metadata and website content is an archaic tactic,” says Revenue River’s Linda Le. “Content should be as natural sounding as possible.”
Sam Maizlech of Glacier Wellness agrees: “While keyword stuffing used to be the bread and butter of early SEO, things have changed, and search engines have adapted. Instead of throwing in keywords at every available chance, you’re better off writing in natural language patterns.”
So how should you use keywords without stuffing? Delmain’s Dan DelMain recommends including your keyword in “your page title and meta description, H1 tag, at least once in the body content, and in your image alt tags.”
And Nathan Piccini of Data Science Dojo recommends using synonyms: “In your on-page SEO efforts, you may be trying to rank your site for the keyword ‘smartphone.’ That’s great, except if you always use ‘smartphone’ in your text, you’ll get flagged for keyword stuffing.”
“What you should do instead is use the specific keyword in the title, URL, and two to three times throughout the page, while using synonyms to refer back to the keyword. In this case, you could use ‘mobile,’ ‘cell phone,’ ‘phone,’ ‘iPhone,’ or ‘Galaxy.’”
“Search engines will recognize that you’re referring to ‘smartphone’ and give your site more SEO love. Plus you will find yourself ranking for the synonyms as well,” Piccini says.
Common Mistake: Neglecting Searcher Intent
“Often times, marketers can get lost in performance data when selecting keywords and forget to focus on the searcher’s intent,” says Miva’s Luke Wester.
“If you’re struggling to rank, it may be because your content does not match the user intent Google has identified and is trying to serve,” says Daniel Reeves of Dandy Marketing.
“To see the searcher intent behind a keyword, all you need to do is type the keyword into Google,” says Rob Powell of Rob Powell Biz Blog. “Google knows what the intent is behind a keyword.”
“For example, let’s say you’re about to write an article for the keyword ‘free serp checkers.’ If you type that keyword into Google, you quickly see that when people search for ‘free serp checkers,’ they are looking for product pages, not an article. That means your article would not rank on Google for that keyword,” Powell says.
If you understand searcher intent, you can also take the advice of Search Evaluator’s Danilo Godoy and “optimize your page title to match user intent.”
“Assume that the user issued the query ‘how to tie a tie.’ You have a comprehensive blog post with many different ways to tie a tie. However, your blog post is titled ‘Tying Like a Pro – 7 Essential Tie Knots You Need to Learn.’”
“Even if your content is comprehensive and of high quality, right now it is unlikely that you will rank on the first page for the query ‘how to tie a tie.’ A much better page title that more obviously targets the user intent would be ‘How to Tie a Tie – 7 Essential Knots You Need to Learn,’” Godoy says.
“Google’s number-one objective when it comes to their organic search results is to return the absolute best answers to a user’s query,” says Zack Reboletti of Web Focused. “So the most important thing you can do is empathize with the searcher.”
“What are their pains and frustrations, wants and aspirations? What are they hoping to find when they’re searching a particular query? And how can you give them the best experience possible while fully answering their question?” Reboletti says.
Common Mistake: Doing Shallow Keyword Research
“Keyword research is critical to understand what topics you need to write about, but you also need to research the actual content topic you want to rank for,” says David Attard of Collectiveray. “The best tool to do this: Google.”
“By checking the top 10 SERP results for your chosen keywords, you get a clear understanding of the content Google loves. You need to write similar but better content which covers all the aspects and search intent in the top 10 positions.”
“If you do this, you will be able to rank for this topic very quickly and easily outrank the other positions (given that you have equivalent backlinks, too),” Attard says.
Lockedown Design & SEO’s John Locke agrees: “Ideally, you would look at the results on page one of Google for each keyword phrase and take notes about each result. Are they mostly informational pages (blog posts), transactional (e-commerce), or some other task completion?”
“Whatever the predominant pattern shows, that’s what your page needs to be.”
“Another thing to look for is elements in the page, as well as the design and layout of the pages that are ranking. Do the majority of the results on page one have video embeds, images, or other page elements? It is easier to ‘go with the grain’ and match the patterns that Google is already favoring,” Locke says.
“The best tool in SEO is Google itself,” says Revenue River’s Juliette Tholey. “Go into the search results and see what else is ranking for your target keyword. Google is showing what is important to rank for that term, so just improving on what’s already there can help you increase search rank.”
Common Mistake: Only Targeting High-Volume Keywords
“Many novice SEO professionals only target keywords with the highest search volumes without considering the difficulty of ranking for those keywords,” says Omar Fonseca of Medicare Plan Finder. “Instead, they should target long-tail keywords that have less competition.”
“Long-tail keywords generally perform better than regular keywords, particularly if you’re a new or small business,” says Ellie Shedden of THE-OOP.COM.
“For example, optimizing for a keyword like ‘car crash lawyer’ instead of the higher-volume ‘lawyer’ will attract only users looking for that particular skill. That means you’ll not only rank higher, but conversions will also increase,” Shedden says.
“Google is making a big push for natural language and semantics, meaning it understands related terms and can pull relevant content that doesn’t necessarily contain the same text as your search term,” says StrategySEO’s Jack Bird.
“For example, if I search for ‘tips for better posture,’ I get a bunch of results that say ‘improve posture’ or ‘how to stand or sit correctly.’ These results don’t target any of the words in my original query as keywords.”
“My advice: don’t get hung up on keywords. If you’re writing relevant content, Google will ‘get it’ and start to rank you for related terms,” Bird says.
Common Mistake: Keyword Cannibalization
“One tip we’ve learned but still need to make a conscious effort to avoid is creating multiple pages targeting the same keyword,” says James McGrath of Yoreevo.
“This confuses Google because it doesn’t know which one to show, and showing both usually isn’t an option. This is why deleting content can actually be very helpful for SEO; it gives Google a clear candidate for specific keywords.”
“Paying attention to your own audience and their search experience can be one of the most rewarding activities for SEOs to engage in because people searching for branded queries represent your customers—or very likely future customers,” Morabito says.
And Paul Schmidt of SmartBug Media says it’s important to pay attention to branded search saturation. “What percentage of the top 10 organic SERPs do you control when you search for your brand name in Google? Don’t overlook the rank of all of your ‘owned’ digital properties that can also rank for your brand keywords.”
“The more of the SERPs you own, the better chance you have of controlling the information your prospects consume before they make their final purchase decision.”
“If you see SERPs with negative coverage or reviews of your brand, try to push those listings down by improving the rankings of your social media profiles, video profiles on YouTube, third-party profiles (i.e. BBB, Chamber of Commerce, industry directories), or other microsites you own,” Schmidt says.
“Many studies have shown that backlinks are the number-one variable correlated with ranking content, yet so many people don’t bother with building links because it’s difficult (and frankly pretty boring),” says Ron Stefanski of RonSki Media, LLC.
Brett Downes of HQ SEO and Ghost Marketing agrees: “So many new companies are focused on making their sites look nice, producing articles, or shouting about themselves on social media. But they forget or ignore the most important ranking factor: backlinks.”
“Links are the reason Google and other search engines discover websites. Without links, each website would be a marooned island, away from civilization.”
“Ever seen an ugly, hard-to-use website ranked on page one? Of course you have. It is only there because of links. People say links are dead, but nothing could be further from the truth,” Downes says.
Common Mistake: Having No Link-Building Strategy
“Link building can be tedious, so it’s easy to overlook,” says Advice Media’s Dylan Myatt. But many of our respondents said that overlooking link building is a common mistake.
“You should be building links to your website all the time,” says Vital Dollar’s Marc Andre. “Many companies will go through some link building campaigns or hire an agency to build links for a period of time, but then the campaign ends and they stop working for links.”
“To get the best results, you should always be looking for new link opportunities,” Andre says.
“In my opinion, brands miss out on their biggest SEO opportunities when they fail to have a link-building strategy,” says Kenzi Wood of Kenzi Writes.
“Search engines have said time and time again that quality links are the number-one indicator for SEO. A white-hat link-building strategy is essential to get indexed and to show up well in the SERPs,” Wood says.
Common Mistake: Failing to Guest Post
“One SEO tactic that gets overlooked often is guest posting on other websites that are related to your brand or business,” says Marissa Ryan of VisualFizz.
“Many business owners turn their noses up at the concept of writing free content that will help another business’s blog, but this is a high-quality link-building tactic that usually results in informative, branded information and helps position brands as thought leaders in their space.”
Common Mistake: Ignoring HARO
“Few people know to take advantage of the opportunities available through HARO,” says Andrew Jacobson of 9thCO.
“Replying to opportunities through HARO not only gets you a quality link on a relevant site within your niche, but it also positions your brand as a thought leader and voice of authority within your industry. Not nearly enough people take advantage of this great tool.”
When we asked our respondents to select the SEO fundamental companies most often under-invest in, content came out on top:
“Everyone looks for gimmicks—things you can do to trick Google into liking your content more,” says Amber Bracegirdle of Mediavine.
“But if you just make more content—solid, quality content that references other content on your site and gives Google more surface area to know what you’re an expert in—you’ll automatically start to rank for more related terms. And over time, that allows you to rank better for the initial term you wanted.”
“Rather than spending time trying to reformat your content or chase white-hat backlinks (and yes, those things are still important, but also time-consuming) spend some of that time creating more content on terms where you rank relatively well but not in the top three.”
Common Mistake: Prioritizing Quantity Over Quality
“One of the most neglected SEO ‘golden rules’ which I frequently see overlooked is not focusing on creating quality content,” says Patricia Russell of FinanceMarvel. “If you really want your blog post to stand out in a crowded niche, focus on creating original, prolific, and engaging content that people are generally interested in reading.”
Bryan Pattman of 9Sail agrees: “Write the best piece of content for the keyword that you are trying to rank for. People try to complicate the writing process, but if you write an article that is better than the rest, you will win in the long run.”
“While low quality (click bait) content provides many leads with low conversion, high-quality content provides fewer leads with high conversion,” says Kylie Williams of Kylie Williams Communications and Marketing. “For companies that rely on conversions for profit, high-quality content is the obvious choice.”
“Unfortunately, many companies continue to opt for low-cost content production and bursting content libraries that hold little value for their target market.”
“The clever businesses that choose to create high-quality, value-adding content that aligns with their brand identity are building loyal communities of customers and being rewarded for it,” Williams says.
Common Mistake: Publishing Shallow Content
“One fairly obvious piece of advice I can provide is to focus editorial energy on fewer, but more comprehensive, pieces of content,” says Roman Kim of VerticalScope. “We’ve seen editorial staff pump out volumes of thin articles to meet a quota, but that thin content is often not able to rise in the SERPs for competitive topics.”
“By slowing down and creating well-researched, comprehensive resources, a page becomes more useful to users, attracts more backlinks, and satisfies search quality algorithms. Despite taking longer to produce, longer articles often get more traffic and have an overall higher ROI,” Kim says.
So how long is comprehensive content? Lexi Montgomery of The Darling Company says that “articles with at least 2,000 words rank better and faster.”
But Stan Tan of Selby’s says it depends on the topic: “Most advice you hear today is something along the lines of ‘Write 1,000-2,000 words.’ You can write a low-quality high-fluff 2,000-word article, but it won’t have a high E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness) score.”
“My advice is to be an expert in your niche. Know everything inside-out and write high-quality articles that cover your niche regardless of the number of words. Some topics need 200 words to cover; others might need 2,000,” Tan says.
And Roy Harmon of Advertoscope recommends using topic clusters to cover topics more comprehensively: “Create clusters of content around a topic that links back to a pillar page. Many businesses are still relying on basic brochure pages that don’t focus on search intent.”
Common Mistake: Publishing Low-Value Content
“An SEO tip that few companies follow is publishing blog posts that provide value to the reader,” says Keeon Yazdani of CBD’R US. “It’s Google’s goal to display search results that provide the most value to search engine users. Therefore, all websites should publish quality content that readers will engage with.”
Jordan McCreery of Ingrained Media agrees: “Poor user interaction will always hurt SEO more than it helps. Quality SEO copywriting begins with thinking of the user first.”
“People focus so much on search engine algorithms that they often forget that the baseline is content that is fresh, valuable, relevant, and useful to a target audience,” says Shoumo Ganguly of Obligent Consulting. “If your content is skewed towards keywords, only Google’s spiders will read it.”
And while The Money Mix’s Michael Dinich says “you may be able to trick Google into giving you a coveted spot in the SERPs, if you’re serving up a poor user experience, you won’t remain king of the hill long. Most importantly, you won’t convert any of that traffic.”
Delivering value to your users brings other benefits as well. Jesse Perreault of Car Loans Canada says that delivering value “increases dwell time, which drastically improves the odds of getting backlinks/social shares.”
And Schutt Media’s Andrew Schutt says “If you create valuable content, you’ll captivate your audience, your bounce rate will decrease, and your SEO will receive a boost as a result.”
“Companies should always ask ‘What’s in it for readers?’ when creating content,” says Benjamin Houy of Grow With Less. “Content people care about is content that will get shared and attract backlinks. This will, in turn, help a website rank well on Google.”
Common Mistake: Publishing Brand-Focused Content
Another trick for creating content that’s valuable to users is creating content that’s not all about your brand, products, and services.
“One mistake brands make is writing content for themselves rather than their users,” says Ian Wright of British Business Energy. “So many businesses write sales-y content and expect it to rank number one in Google, rather than creating anything actually useful. They then wonder why it never ranks in Google.”
But sometimes, you have to write about your brand, products, and services. When that’s the case, Trinity Insight’s Jessica Herbine offers this advice:
“Explain your products or services clearly. Frequently, users come across websites that are lacking in on-page copy that adequately explains what the company is offering and what makes their products/services better than their competitors, and this is a problem for visitors as much as it is for search engines.”
“If visitors don’t understand what you’re selling or how it functions, how can you expect them to confidently make a purchase? Similarly, if Google doesn’t understand what you’re offering, how can you expect to rank highly for related keywords?”
“Explaining products and services more clearly on your website might mean:”
“Stating the benefits plainly: ‘Our software makes it easy for developers to share their data with in-house and remote teammates, wherever they work.’”
“Articulating who the ideal user or consumer is: ‘Busy moms love us because our subscription boxes make their weekly grocery lists moot.’”
“Explaining how it works in layman’s terms: ‘Our turmeric smoothies help soothe inflammation—faulty flare-ups in the body’s immune system when there’s nothing to fight—often experienced by those with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, and diabetes.’”
“Including common language alongside creative brand/product names: ‘Forget what you think you know. 18 years later, the iPod is reinventing portable media devices all over again.’”
“This is a shortcoming that affects all businesses, regardless of size and industry,” Herbine says.
Common Mistake: Neglecting Old Content
“While many companies create great content, there also tends to be a gamut of older blog posts that haven’t gained traction in the search engines,” says Joe Flanagan of GetSongBPM. “These pieces of content should have new topic and keyword research applied to them to add more depth and breadth.”
Adam Klingman of The eMovement Group agrees that updating old blog posts is a great strategy for SEO: “Most businesses focus solely on publishing new posts, but going back and refreshing old posts even slightly can produce positive SEO outcomes.”
So how do you find old content that needs to be updated? Ampjar’s Quincy Smith says to “look for pieces of content that were written more than a year ago, for pieces targeting keywords that are ranking in positions 10-20, and for pieces that are seasonal and will be relevant again in the next three months.”
While conducting this audit, The Good’s David Hoos says to “evaluate your content and decide whether to keep it, improve it, or remove it based on its relevance and performance.”
Once you’ve identified content that needs to be updated, Referral Rock’s Jay Kang says to “identify what’s missing from the piece, what competitors have written about the topic, and what keywords are struggling. Link to new articles from old ones, and identify user intent questions and see if you can explain the answers better.”
The goal, as Jeroen Minks of Vazooky Digital says, is to “make old content more relevant for today’s audience. By updating the article with the latest information, it can be made more relevant, which has a positive effect on the organic rankings.”
“Many companies feel they wrote an article and now they are finished,” says Lisamarie Monaco of PinnacleQuote Life Insurance Specialists. “But Google wants to see constant updating with meaningful content.”
And, as Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard says, “in the long-run, updating existing content is cheaper than creating new content.”
Common Mistake: Publishing Duplicate Content
“You have to create original content,” says Richard Williamson of HealthLynked. “That should be a no-brainer.”
But if you plan to syndicate content from other websites or allow other websites to syndicate your content, it’s important to understand and use canonical tags.
“People often don’t use or aren’t even aware of canonical tags,” says Jeremy Rose of CertaHosting. “Canonical tags (or rel=canonical) are used to tell Google which source is the original in cases of duplicate content.”
“You should use canonical tags if you would like to publish your content on other sites while keeping the original page live. Also, if there are several similar versions of the same content on your website, specify a canonical version. Canonical tags tell the search engines which version of the content to display first in results,” Rose says.
Common Mistake: Letting Your Blog Languish
“One mistake I see often with small companies is a failure to blog,” says Shane Hebzynski of 3 Cats Labs. “Some companies are clearly excited at the start and have a flurry of blog posts. But as time goes on, the content becomes irregular.”
If you’re struggling to come with ideas for your blog, our respondents offered several tips.
Blogcast’s Miguel Piedrafita recommends repurposing your content. “For example, once a new article is finished, you could make an easily-shareable infographic or create a narrated version of the article.”
Hubneo’s Illya Polokhin is also a fan of infographics: “Infographics are liked and shared three times more on social media than other content. Infographics can be made free and easily with online tools and are such an easy way to have people spreading your content around for you.”
Tomasz Alemany of Top Whole Life recommends asking yourself: “‘Have I explored every aspect of my niche?’ Almost always the answer is ‘No.’ Every niche has almost infinite content you can create, and you should always look to keep diving deeper into your niche.”
Ghost Blog Writers’ Dayne Shuda provides an example: “If you’re a pizza restaurant, you want to create content that answers the questions your target customers are asking about pizza, things like:”
“What are the biggest pizza pet peeves?”
“What are the most common pizza toppings?”
“What are the oldest pizza toppings?”
“What is the average time for eating at a restaurant?”
“Over time, the more questions you answer, the more valuable your brand becomes. Your posts earn mentions, links, etc. That all lifts the reputation of your brand, which helps your homepage rank for higher-volume terms like ‘pizza restaurant,’” Shuda says.
Common Mistake: No Content Strategy
The final mistake our respondents see companies make with content frequently is pressing forward without a content strategy.
“In my 10+ years of consulting with companies around the world on their marketing, I’ve found that the vast majority of clients do not continually create strategic content for their website,” says Karri Gonzalez of EZMarketing.
“Too many companies still have a ‘set it and forget’ mindset when it comes to their website. They treat it like an online business card and never do much with it.”
“Or perhaps even worse yet, they invest in creating content that isn’t based on actual research into what their target markets want to know and isn’t optimized so their target markets can find it when they’re searching,” Gonzalez says.
To avoid this issue, Online Turf’s Lewis Peters recommends asking three questions before writing any new piece of content:
“What purpose does this content serve?”
“Who will link to this content—and why?”
“How will people find out about this piece of content?”
“If you can’t answer these three questions about your next piece, don’t publish it! Once your great piece of content is live, people need to know about it. This is where outreach comes in. Without it, it is very unlikely you will get backlinks that are high quality and relevant to your niche.”
“There are many outreach tools—Pitchbox and NinjaOutreach are two of my favorites—that can quickly gather leads and automate the outreach process, as well as intelligently follow up a few days later if you don’t receive a response,” Peters says.
“One SEO tip that many people fail to implement is providing data for images,” says Mailbird’s Andrea Loubier. “Even if the images you are using are sourced, they can still end up in the search results, which is yet another way to bring people to your page.”
“While image searches are utilized less than the classic web search, it’s so simple to optimize images and get ahead of all the people who haven’t paid attention to their images. Also, in certain design/imagery focused industries, image searches can be a huge source of new clients.”
Common Mistake: Poor Image Naming Conventions
“The one obvious SEO tip that we find few people/companies follow is naming the images they upload to the website using keywords they want to rank for,” says Alexis Irias of Spire Digital.
“Many times, people will upload images with the image name of ‘IMG-1’ instead of using something like ‘PuppyCity303-DogTreats-denver.’ This may be a tedious task but not one to take for granted since it can help your website rank higher on the search engines,” Irias says.
Anna Kaine of ESM Inbound agrees: “Put your keyword in the name of your image and in the alt tag. This solidifies the topic of your post to Google, making it extra findable whether a searcher finds you through normal search or a Google image search.”
“Optimizing images may not be as hard-hitting as other optimizations, but if you’re in a competitive niche and no one is doing it properly, it could give you the edge you’re looking for,” Surface SEO’s Carlo Barajas says.
Common Mistake: Failing to Include Alt Text
“The most obvious SEO tip that very few people/companies follow is adding alt text to their images,” says Fisher Unitech’s Jackie Tihanyi. “Alt text is the written copy that shows in place of an image on a webpage if the image fails to load. Having alt text allows search engines to better crawl and rank your website for SEO.”
“After uploading images to your CMS, you should add target keywords to your alt tags,” says Christina Brodzky of MediaSesh. “Google is getting better about knowing what an image is about without alt text to describe it, but I don’t think it’s there yet.”
But as Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design cautions, “it’s important to use the keywords/phrases without keyword stuffing.”
And Jessica Rhoades of Create IT Web Designs recommends a different approach: “Instead of just putting keywords in the alt text, write a detailed description of the image.”
“For example, say the keyword for an article is ‘best chocolate fudge brownies.’ Go beyond the keyword and describe the complete picture, such as:”
“‘Grandma’s Best Chocolate Fudge Brownies on Grandmother’s white antique plate with a blue checkered napkin below the plate. The large slice of brownie contains mouth-watering chocolate chips and has just been removed from the oven and placed on the plate. A perfect recipe to take to the neighborhood potluck.’”
Rhoades’ approach is also great because image alt text isn’t just for SEO. As Rio Rocket of Rio Rocket SEO Services explains, “Image alt text improves the accessibility of your website for vision-impaired users using screen readers.”
Common Mistake: Not Including a Caption
In addition to failing to add alt text to images, V. Michael Santoro of Vaetas says businesses often fail to take advantage of image captions.
“Both alt text and image captions are indexed by the search engines. As an added value, the caption can be a compelling call-to-action presented when visitors roll over the images, such as, ‘Get your 15% discount now!’ The image can also be linked to the checkout page.”
“This cuts down on the amount of text used on the page and is very engaging.”
Common Mistake: Using Irrelevant Images
Jeff Stanislow of Chief Internet Marketer says that “it’s important to pay attention to your images because Google now looks at the content of the image in addition to the content of the page. Images should match the main content objective of the page.”
“A free tool I found that will give image results back for a page is NeuralViews.”
6. Site Speed
“One important ranking factor in SEO that a lot of companies seem to overlook is page load speed,” says Katherine Rowland of YourParkingSpace.
“Broadly speaking, a faster-loading page will outrank a slower-loading page, and there actually appears to be a small but significant correlation between load speed and Google’s search engine result rankings. So my tip would be to optimize your page load time as much as you can,” Rowland says.
Edge of the Web’s Sam Orchard agrees: “Fast loading times are on pretty much every SEO checklist out there, but if you run PageSpeed Insights on agency websites, you’ll see the vast majority scoring below 50%. It’s easy to get caught up with big images, videos, and infographics and forget the impact on loading times.”
Common Mistake: Using a Low-Cost Hosting Provider
“It’s common knowledge that page speed directly affects the way search engines index your site,” says Steven Gipson of Recruiters Websites. “But too often small businesses go with low-budget hosting plans that really slow down page load time and affect their rankings.”
“Ideally, a page should load in less than three seconds.”
Common Mistake: Failing to Compress Images
“Bloated image sizes are a major contributor to large page sizes and slow load times, particularly for mobile,” says Roy Bielewicz of Apotheca. “Having assessed and worked with hundreds of sites over the years, we’ve found that many companies don’t bother to effectively optimize and compress their images.”
“Ironically, image compression is free, easy, and non-technical. While it’s something that anyone can do, most website designers and marketing teams often overlook it. Tools like TinyJPG/TinyPNG can reduce typical image sizes from 1MB to just a few KB without any degradation in quality.”
“Since Google likes to see the maximum page size under 5MB, reducing the size of one or two images on a typical page can have a huge impact on the overall size,” Bielewicz says.
“Having large images—both in pixel dimensions and in file size—slows down the website so that it takes longer to load, which can cause people to become impatient and go to another website,” says Gwen Beren of Illuminous Marketing.
“Search engines are mainly concerned with the quality of the user experience, but by making a user wait (and unnecessarily use their data on a large download), the website owner is not providing a good experience,” Beren says.
And Audrey Strasenburgh of FreeLogoServices says that “image compression, resizing, and alt text are essential ranking factors for all websites—not just ecommerce sites. Image compression and resizing can reduce a page’s load time by an average of two seconds.”
7. Mobile Responsiveness
“One very obvious SEO tip that many people forget is that if you want to start ranking any website, you must make sure it’s responsive,” says Bradley Thompson of DigiHype Media.
Why? Online Optimism’s Ian Cogswell explains: “If your mobile site is slow, clunky, and difficult to use, users and prospective clients will back out and look for information elsewhere. Search engines measure this activity and rank web pages accordingly.”
Gregory Golinski of YourParkingSpace actually recommends “optimizing for mobile first. I can’t count the number of businesses that never check how their website looks like on a smartphone. They don’t realize that most people surf the web on their phones and they’ll lose potential customers by not having a mobile-friendly site.”
“People hate waiting for pages to load and when sites are hard to navigate, so make sure your site is mobile-friendly,” says Paige Arnof-Fenn of Mavens & Moguls. “All the other stuff is just bells and whistles if you don’t get the basics right.”
8. Site Architecture
“Many companies create a lot of SEO-optimized content but forget about their site architecture and how to make it easy for site visitors to find the content they’re interested in,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers. “You want things like this on your website/blog:”
“most popular blog posts”
“internal links between your articles”
Donna Duncan of B-SeenOnTop agrees: “Few people seem to pay attention to their site structure once the site has been launched.”
“I often find sites with literally hundreds of pages and blog posts sitting in the root directory. This effectively distributes your SEO equity so wide that there is no focus—there’s no way for Google to know what you consider most important.”
“A rough analogy would be if you were to die with $327 million in the bank and leave $1 to every person in the United States. One dollar is not going to make a difference to any of those people, but if you left $109 million to three people… well, you get the idea,” Duncan says.
Common Mistake: Neglecting SEO During Design
“Often times, people design websites without SEO consideration,” says Nathan Fishman of Nate Fishman Digital Consulting. “But it’s important to align site structure for SEO, particularly for bigger websites.”
“If you have pages that target keywords with high search volumes, those pages should be internally linked to more than others,” Fishman says.
“So many sites have unimportant pages featured prominently in site navigation,” says John Holloway of NoExam.com. “They also link to many worthless pages throughout their site via internal links.”
“A good site architecture will tell Google what pages are the most important. Not every page on your website is important. Make sure the search engines know which ones are,” Holloway says.
Common Mistake: Failing to Add Internal Links
“I find that one of the easiest and most obvious SEO tips that few businesses do properly is internal linking,” says Quentin Aisbett of OnQ Marketing.
“Particularly when launching a new page or post, finding contextual linking opportunities from stronger pages on your site will help demonstrate relevance while passing authority,” Aisbett says.
Chhavi Agarwal of Mrs Daaku Studio agrees: “Internal linking is highly ignored but important for SEO. It helps Google understand the hierarchy of your blog and distributes page authority throughout the site. If you are smart about internal linking, you can improve your ranking in search engines with just that.”
“Unlike other SEO tactics, internal linking requires minimal use of developer time,” says Emma Cavalier of RateYourSeats.com. “By simply linking from blog pages to higher-level pages, such as the homepage, about us, or product pages, a website can improve rankings quickly on the keywords anchoring the new internal links.”
“Google analyzes users’ behavior to see if they’re clicking onto a site and immediately clicking off,” says Alice Donoghue of Aldono Marketing & Communications Services. “Google’s rankings are checking if people tend to browse more than one page; make it easy for people to do that, and you’ll be rewarded.”
Common Mistake: Building a One-Page Website
“We are seeing a big rise in one-pager websites,” says Liz Hughes of Blue Bamboo. “The issue with these is that it is very difficult to apply focused keywords to a particular topic.”
“Each topic would normally have its own page with its own title, URL, and subtitles. These are all opportunities to apply keywords and increase your chances of being ranked for those keywords.”
“One-pager websites are like putting all your SEO eggs into one basket. And we are seeing more and more websites adopt this type of design.”
Common Mistake: Failing to Submit a Sitemap to Google Search Console
“A lot of companies skip the basic step of setting up Google Search Console and submitting a proper sitemap,” says Ryan Walker of Gazelle Interactive.
“But this is crucial, especially when you want to trigger Google to crawl your site when you publish new content.”
Common Mistake: Using Sliders
“Sliders hide content and don’t get the interaction they’re thought to get,” says Brian Gorman of Go Fish Digital. “I run into many clients that use sliders, particularly on their homepages. But the data shows that sliders often lead to missed content.”
“On many occasions, I’ve taken the first slide and made it into the hero image, then used subsequent slides as new sections on the home page, supplementing the images and their heading overlays with on-page copy (and sometimes CTAs).”
“What would have remained nearly hidden within a slider was now being seen and helping to improve conversions. What’s more, the additional sections make the home page—most often the flagship page of a site—more robust.”
Common Mistake: Failing to Format Content Correctly
“One of the most obvious SEO issues that I see far too often is the improper use of heading tags,” says Wes Marsh of BCA Technologies. “Many companies try to use heading tags for style rather than for their intended purpose of organizing the page.”
“For example, when trying to make something big and bold, it gets wrapped in an H1, even though there’s already a heading at the top of the page. The better use is to have only one H1 tag on the page, and it should be the big overarching topic of that page and closely align with the page’s meta title and URL slug.”
“From that, you can have multiple H2s, H3s and H4s, but they should always be in a logical order. The goal here is to help both the user and the search engines quickly understand exactly what your page is all about, especially if they are skimming.”
“Finally, when using your target keywords and related keywords in these heading tags, you can further improve your SEO and potential to rank,” Marsh says.
In addition to using heading tags improperly, some of our respondents say that sites fail to use heading tags at all. “Some websites appear to lack any meaningful header tags upon viewing their page source,” says Michael Anderson of GeoJango Maps.
“It could be a website that places page titles within an image, one that has H2 tags but no H1 tag, or perhaps they simply increased the size of the body text to make it look like a page title/H1 tag,” Anderson says.
“Use H2 headings to break out your article and include related keywords you want to rank for,” says Stacy Caprio of Conversiono.
“Often, sites will only do keyword research for one main keyword and include it in the title and throughout the article, forgetting there are more opportunities to include additional keywords sprinkled throughout that could also start to rank in the article,” Caprio says.
Common Mistake: Including Multiple H1 Tags
“Each page should have one H1 tag,” says Ironpaper’s Brian Casey. “You don’t want to lose the SEO value that an H1 provides.”
“Time after time, I see companies including multiple H1 tags on their pages,” says Tony Mastri of MARION Marketing Agency. “The best practice is to include one H1, indicating that the page has a single overarching topic.”
“Sometimes the error happens because site owners aren’t aware of this best practice, but many times the culprit is a website builder.”
“Marketers without coding knowledge rely on drag-and-drop website builders to create headlines and page content. Many of these drag-and-drop builders wrap their headings in H1 tags, leading unsuspecting marketers to create multiple H1s because they like the size or styling.”
“With just a little bit of CSS knowledge, marketers can maintain a single H1 on each page and use other subheadings (H2 or smaller) for additional section headings,” Mastri says.
Common Mistake: Failing to Include Structured Data
“This demonstrates that the use of structured data on webpages and elements on those pages is a very obvious SEO tip that few companies follow.”
“Pages with structured data rank higher in search results and show more information because Google can understand the content on the page much better. Structured data is not optional, but very few people go beyond the basics of what Yoast or another basic SEO plugin provides.”
9. Local SEO
“Local SEO is important,” says Moz’s Peter Meyers. “90% of purchases take place in physical stores, and 80% of U.S. disposable income is spent within 20 miles of home.”
“Navigate the click-to-brick economy by ensuring you’re implementing local SEO tactics.”
Common Mistake: No Google My Business Profile
“All businesses—whether Fortune 500 or mom-and-pop—need to have a Google My Business set up for every location they operate in,” says Landon Coats of Varx Marketing.
“Not only should those be properly set up, but they also need to be monitored and maintained as if they were any other social media account,” Coats says.
Sam Bretzmann of BretzMedia agrees: “Every business should update and maintain their Google My Business profile. This is currently a huge factor for local SEO. There are still a lot of businesses that are not using Google My Business, so it will give you a big leg up on your competition.”
Editor’s note: Local businesses can now get a quick view of their most important Google My Business metrics in Databox. Download the free Google My Business Insights dashboard below to get started, then add in Datablocks from Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and more than 70 other tools for a centralized view of all of your KPIs.
Common Mistake: NAP Inconsistencies
“One obvious SEO tip that very few people/companies follow is NAP consistency,” says Lane Rizzardini of Marion Relationship Marketing. “NAP stands for name, address, and phone number, and these three items should be identical on your website, social media profiles, and any directories you can be found on across the web.”
“If Google sees all kinds of different conflicting information, it doesn’t know what to trust and will suppress you in the rankings,” Rizzardini says.
“Having consistent NAP throughout the internet is important for companies wishing to rank well for local organic search results,” says Noelle Del Grippo of Sagefrog Marketing Group.
“Add a branded and consistent NAP to a variety of local websites, like Google my Business, Bing for Business, Yelp, Clutch, etc.,” says Marissa Ryan of VisualFizz.
“While the traffic from these channels likely won’t significantly change your business, sending out these location-based signals can help your business appear for local and/or mobile searches,” Ryan says.
Common Mistake: Lack of Reviews
“Collecting reviews online is a great way to get search engines’ attention,” says Reuben Kats of Falcon Marketing. “You should do your best in getting clients to leave reviews on your listings.”
“Reviews help people see that your business is reliable and reputable. Over the years, people have started to rely on referrals and word-of-mouth. Getting reviews on your listings will drive more customers to your business.”
10. Technical SEO
“Everyone knows that having good technical SEO makes it easy for search engines, but we have so many things to do as SEOs and digital marketers that we often forget the less glamorous parts of search engine optimization,” says Austin Shong of Blip Billboards.
“It’s easy to get caught up in off-site, on-site, and content creation so that the only time technical things get looked at is when you’re teaching your summer intern or turning things over to an agency.”
“It doesn’t need to take forever, but periodically firing up Screaming Frog and making sure your new pages are optimized for mobile and your sitemap is up to date can make all the difference.”
Common Mistake: Lack of SEO Experience
“Good SEO can’t be achieved by guesswork, so it’s important that you have experience—or that you reach out to a company that does,” says Angela Ash of Flow SEO.
“Many people find that they’re spinning their wheels and dedicating a lot of time with very little results. If this is the case, SEO agencies offer competitive prices, and they can guarantee that you will move up in rankings,” Ash says.
Nathan Griffin of O’Malley Real Estate recommends “getting a professional to audit your technical SEO configuration, not just your content or linking strategy. Crawl errors, duplicated content, site speed, and even robots.txt issues need an SEO-minded technical professional.”
“In many IT departments, the website support team may have some SEO knowledge, but it’s frequently dated or inaccurate. An authoritative third party can help speak truth to power, especially on behalf of less technical search marketers,” Griffin says.
Janice Wald of Mostly Blogging also says you can use an SEO audit tool like Sitechecker. “Sitechecker will conduct a free SEO audit of your site. And by seeing what’s wrong with your search engine optimization, you’ll learn a great deal about SEO.”
Common Mistake: No SSL Certificate
“One obvious SEO tip that very few people/companies follow is the need to install an SSL certificate and move to HTTPS,” says Samuel David of Smart Home Vault.
“Installing an SSL certificate and moving to HTTPS helps instill confidence in website visitors, especially for websites collecting sensitive data.”
11. Analysis, Testing, and Measurement
One of the most important pieces of a solid SEO approach is conducting analysis, running experiments, and measuring your results.
It’s through this process that SEOs identify not only overarching SEO fundamentals, but also best practices for your specific business, niche, and industry.
Common Mistake: Ignoring What Competitors Are Doing
“A good competitive analysis will show you low-hanging fruit you are missing out on,” says Lance Beaudry of Avalanche Creative. “After selecting your target keywords, all you need to do is compare your position for those keywords against your competitors.”
“Almost every time we find a keyword that the customer has selected as valuable, yet they aren’t in the top 100 and at least one competitor is on page one. This means our client is probably missing some valuable content.”
“Develop an SEO content template for that keyword, publish it, and you should start ranking.”
Common Mistake: Not Measuring Click-Through Rate
“In my experience as a professional SEO for the last 14 years, one of the most overlooked SEO tactics is measuring click-through rate (CTR) on search engine results pages,” says Will Manuel of Core Mobile Apps.
“It has been factually shown that Google takes into account the number of clicks a particular site is getting versus the other sites on the same search engine results page.”
“For example, if the top three sites were absolutely identical in terms of SEO value, the site that has the best CTR will eventually move up above the others simply because Google sees that site as the one that is the most relevant for the user’s search inquiry,” Manuel says.
R.J. Weiss of The Ways To Wealth recommends “finding your CTR inside Google Search Console. If it’s getting a lot of impressions but few clicks, test a new headline to see if click-throughs improve.”
And Software Path’s Tom Feltham says to “conduct CRO tests on your page titles and meta descriptions over time. Using Google Search Console, you can quickly find low CTR pages on your site that are good candidates for testing.”
Editor’s note: Want a quick way to see the click-through rate of your top pages alongside other key Google Search Console metrics? Download this free Google Search Console Basics dashboard to easily compare your site’s average CTR to the CTR of your most-trafficked pages and highest-ranked keywords.
Common Mistake: Failing to Measure ROI
“Tracking lead volume—and ultimately tracking revenue being generated by SEO campaigns—is the most obvious SEO tip that a lot of companies overlook,” says Joe Lawlor of Digital Dynasty.
“The only reason to invest in SEO is to get a return on the investment—not to just make sure technical work has been done.”
12. Manual Actions
One of the absolute worst SEO mistakes you can make is doing something that results in a manual action from Google. If a manual action is taken on your site, Google may remove your site from the search results entirely.
To prevent getting hit with a manual action, avoid these common SEO mistakes.
Common Mistake: Not Setting Up Google Search Console
“A big mistake is not connecting your site to Google Search Console,” says Janel Scott of DatabaseUSA.com. “It’s literally a free tool. It has so many necessary functions, yet website owners and marketers just completely forget that it exists.”
“You can manually index web pages.”
“It helps identify what is and isn’t indexing.”
“You can see which pages have 404s or 400/500 errors.”
“You can see search data and where you rank.”
“You can find the keywords your site ranks for along with how many clicks they received and CTR.”
Another benefit of connecting your site to Google Search Console is that in the unfortunate event that your site was tagged with a manual action, Google would send you a notice through Google Search Console. This could help you notice the issue sooner and take action to get it removed.
Common Mistake: Engaging in Black-Hat SEO Practices
“Driven by ambitious goals and a great thirst for success, some people go beyond organic SEO processes and move towards content and backlink manipulation,” says Uladzislau Yanouski of ScienceSoft. “It’s easy to be misled into this approach because many websites rank despite having a primitive approach to SEO.”
“But it’s crucial not to follow these bad examples. Instead, think about the possible harm of being penalized by Google.”
Common Mistake: Linking to Low-Quality Sources
“One copywriting best practice I always try to follow for effective SEO is quoting reputable sources,” says Jessie Brennan of SOVRN Creative.
Think of your links as recommendations. If you wouldn’t recommend a site as reputable to a friend, you probably don’t want to link to it on your website. One of the reasons Google can apply a manual action is when you have unnatural links on your site.
Common Mistake: Failing to Understand Nofollow Links
“Very few people understand the difference between ‘follow’ and ‘nofollow’ links,” says Cynthia White of Dear Cynthia. “Nofollow links are to be used for paid advertising links.”
Shawn DeWolfe of Shawn DeWolfe Consulting also says to make sure the ads you’re running have nofollow links: “Too many people run Google Ads campaigns that dump their ad and link on any page willing to run it. That means backlinks that look really spotty: Russian hack sites, porn sites, gambling, etc.”
Overarching SEO Fundamentals
We’ve looked in great detail at some of the specific SEO fundamentals businesses should adhere to—and at the common mistakes that businesses make with each. But there are also some overarching fundamentals our respondents recommend. In closing, we’ll review those.
Robert Donnell of P5 Marketing says it’s important to “understand when to use content marketing. If a purchase is easy, people don’t do a lot of research before they buy. If it’s expensive or complex, the purchase requires research.”
“It’s in the latter scenario where content comes into play. If you can help prospective buyers do their research, then content marketing—and the SEO for that content—works like a charm,” Donnell says.
Claire Shaner of BestCompany says it’s important that you “don’t put all your eggs in one basket. When businesses are working on their SEO, they tend to find one method that works for them, and they run with it.”
“SEO is kind of like high-risk stocks. You don’t want to put all your money on one thing because it could drop overnight. In the ever-changing and evolving world of SEO, you can’t bank on one thing. You want your stocks diversified,” Shaner says.
And Kevin Tash of Tack Media says to “always have a paid strategy to balance your SEO. SEO is mostly supplemental in the beginning. It’s not going to be your primary lead driver in the short term.”
“SEO is not going to make or break your business, and you should never rely on it solely to sustain your business.”
About the author
Jessica Greene writes about marketing, business, and technology for B2B SaaS companies. A former writing instructor and corporate marketer, she uses her subject-matter expertise and desire to educate others as motivation for developing actionable, in-depth, user-focused content.
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