January 13 2015


Information Technology

7 rookie SEO mistakes (and why you should be concerned about them)

Through many working sessions with my clients, my training course at Technologia and countless Web surfing sessions, it’s become second nature for me to identify, diagnose and resolve SEO errors.

I see many typical rookie mistakes over and over again—classic faux pas that month after month and year after year tarnish the results of your SEO performance and users’ research and Web surfing experience. Now, it’s time to reverse the trend!

1. Blocking access to your Web site

The search engine process can be summarized in 3 steps:

  1. Crawling: "I want to access your Web site"
  2. Indexation : "I want to save it"
  3. Performance : "I want to understand it and evaluate it based on user searches"

As basic as it might seem, the first step is crucial. If search engines are unable to access your content, the odds that you’ll appear on the search result pages are slim to none.

Search engines explore and index the Web thanks to links between sites and between pages. Their exploration abilities can, however, be hindered by several factors:

  • The robots.txt file, a text document added to the root of your Web site, contains prompts that ask your search engine to ignore certain directories (or, worse, your Web site altogether);
  • Each of your Web pages contains noindex, nofollow tags, which translate into huprommain language as “Dear Robots, please do not index this Web page or follow the links displayed on it: your exploration ends here.”
  • Certain parts of the content are displayed in Flash and/or certain pages are hidden by JavaScript, languages that the search engines are still not capable of understanding as well as HTML;
  • You offer exclusive content to your members and these resources are only accessible when a user enters his username and password.

Before going further with your SEO strategy or your overall content strategy, think about checking these different elements (which you are likely able to control): it’s the very first step!

2. Split up your Web presence

One of the major concepts that works either for or against a given Web site on research result pages is the authority of the domain—essentially a measure, based in large part on the quantity and quality of external signals, most notably links that point to your content—which determines just how strong a particular Web site is.

Of course, there are no official measures published by Google, but several companies and agencies offer their calculations for comparing the authority of a site over time and against the competition: Domain Authority from Moz and Trust Flow / Citation Flow by Majestic.

If you split up your Web presence into multiple platforms, you can create a buzz about your brand. Here are a few examples :

  • Your blog is hosted on other servers (blog.yourbrand.com) instead of being included under a directory (yourbrand.com/blog);
  • You launch a new ad campaign, contest, tool, etc. on an external microsite (brandinitiative.com);
  • Your key brand houses several sub-brands in the same area of activity, each in their own subdomain (sub-brand.yourbrand.com) or separate site (sub-brand.com).

The situation can be especially damaging if these external platforms generate interest from users and accumulate mentions, social signals and links. When this happens, you are diluting authority between a multitude of different Web sites (and, as the examples above illustrate, this also applies to sub-domains).

The more you build a strong and unified Web presence, supported by quality signals, the more you increase the authority of your domain and your visibility on search engines.

3. Talking only about yourself

Search engines exist (and are actively used every day) ) for one simple reason: millions of individuals need a tool to find the information they are looking for—a gateway to the content that is likely to provide a certain value. Whether users are looking for a product, the address of a restaurant or information to improve their professional skills, the role of search engines is to provide these users with relevant and adequate answers..

The very foundation of SEO lies in understanding the needs, interrogations and concerns of your audience in order to respond with your expertise. How can you help users be better? What added value can you offer among the mass of content that is published every day on the Web? Contribute by providing a variety of formats (different formats for different objectives) using articles, graphics, PDF documents, videos, Twitter exchanges, etc.
The most important thing is to be generous.. If you constantly talk about your brand, your products, your events, you are missing out on several opportunities to:

  • Attract more traffic (and more qualified traffic);
  • Create user loyalty or, in the case of a successfully conceptualized long-term content strategy, build a community;
  • Generate quality signals—whether these are mentions, social signals or links;
  • Position your brand as a reference.

There are several ways to define and better understand your personas. Some of the most concrete include the customer service provided by salespeople (teams which are often overlooked and yet which are in direct contact with consumers), one-on-one interviews with users, online surveys, keyword searches and social listening.

4. Ignoring the Web ecosystem you are immersed in

One of the major pillars of SEO is Web site notoriety, defined in large part by the quantity and quality of signals that extend its reach (mentions, links, social signals). Except in certain special cases, I don’t adhere to the belief that “if you build it, they will come”. In reality, your content must be relayed by someone in order to be seen, read, appreciated and shared..
In essence, this works out perfectly since your Web presence is part of a wider ecosystem that extends far beyond your own activities. This includes your business partners, complementary brands, news publication platforms, influencers, etc.

Still not convinced? Here’s just a short list of typical facilitators in a Web ecosystem :

  • Your business partners;
  • Your suppliers;
  • Your current clients that have a certain influence on the Web (perhaps data value in your CRM?);
  • Your community: your Twitter followers, Facebook fans, etc.;
  • Users who have already shared part of your content, whether through a tweet or a link added to their blog;
  • Users who have already expressed an interest for content published by the competition (if competitors were successful, you can be too);
  • Influencers(categorized by level of influence and popular topics) who have gained certain notoriety in your industry and whose audience corresponds to your personas.

You are far from being alone! And the possibilities are endless (co-creation of content, invitation to events, contests, etc.).
The goal is to develop mutually beneficial relationships –— relationships that, over the long term, support your brand image and generate traffic from multiple channels and sources.

5. Ignoring certain content

Everything is content. From a blog post to a pamphlet that you hand out during events to product fact sheets and magazine ads: you create much more content than you think. Having a clear overall view of your online and offline content is critical—it will enable you to better identify if it is well suited to your audience’s understanding.

We have to remember that duplicate content and, more generally speaking, low-quality content, is particularly targeted by search engines (notably with Panda updates). Knowing your content means giving yourself the possibility of detecting potential problems… that you may very well have caused yourself!

This means more than just making a list of your content. It means thinking critically about its fundamental purpose and scope:

  • Is your content coherent? Does it provide added value to users?
  • Is the tone used consistent with your brand, its personality and its values?
  • Are your different Web platforms (main Web sites, social profiles, etc.) correctly identified on your offline content?
  • Does your content work together or does it compete against itself?
  • Are your certain that you have not duplicated your own content, whether directly on your Web site or between your platforms (site under development indexed by search engines, microsites, etc.)?
  • What particular Web content resonates with your audience (organic performance, social signals, etc.)? What lessons can be drawn and used for your next content marketing efforts?
  • On the flip side, can you think of any offline content that consumers use, but that have no online equivalent (user manuals, guides, etc.)?
  • Is your content often duplicated externally (blog post by your business partners, paragraphs from a product fact sheet copied to a blog, etc.)?

Before throwing yourself into the creation of content in the hopes of attracting more traffic, evaluate your Web assets - the resources that you already have and that would benefit from being further developed and enhanced.

6. Neglecting your Web site’s health

You have to give your Web site the care and attention it needs. A poor quality site repels search engines as much as it does users. Some will limit the time spent indexing and favour competing sites on their search result pages (all other things being equal); others will be frustrated and cut short the time they give you. In both cases, you risk losing traffic and, in the end, conversions.

First, consider the average loading time of your Web pages—data that is available through pogo-sticking effect – and Google is definitely not a big fan.

At the same time, a Web site often contains numerous errors (some that are individual, others that stem from a pattern), many of which have a considerable impact on SEO performance. Here are a few examples:

  • You have decided to re-brand a new section of your Web site: the design, content and linked pages. You run everything through the URL, even the directory! Formerly without a /section/, now dozens of pages are included under a /super-section/. And, in just a few short minutes, you have managed to create a whole bunch of 404 pages.
  • Your product lines are updated every year. Several products, which are no longer available, are removed from your Web site. Even if their pages are still indexed by search engines and have been shared by users; you no longer offer these products, therefore their pages should disappear. End of story.
  • A few years ago, you worked tirelessly to create the Complete Guide to the Best Brunch Restaurants in Montreal – 2010 Edition. And it was a huge success! This particular resource, however, is no longer up to date and, upon revamping your blog, you decide it’s no longer worth keeping. Despite this, in 2010, it has acquired a few links that, in addition to lending authority to your site, still generate a bit of referral traffic. However, you did not have this data on hand when you made this decision…

Taking care of your Web site therefore means understanding where errors stem from and knowing how to correct them, whether they were created directly in your site or on external platforms.
If you have several people working on different parts of your Web site (which is often the case for businesses), think about creating a plan for content governance.

7. Focusing solely on the desktop

Motivated by the idea that “Content is King”, mobile use is an obvious consideration in any Web strategy. In fact, it’s probably one of the key parts of every marketing strategy, year after year. And, although you may have heard the statistics time and time again, there is one important conclusion drawn from the comScore data that is clearly worth highlighting again. For the first time in history, consumers are spending more time on mobile devices than on desktops (U.S.). And now, there is reason to believe that the gap will widen even further in 2015!

It’s no longer enough to just be present on mobile platforms. Nowadays, you need to devote yourself to improving the experience of mobile users and offer them something truly satisfying. The purpose isn’t to set yourself apart from the competition, but rather to meet a basic requirement of Internet users and, by extension, of search engines. Among other things:

  • Learn more about your audience : is the conversion process different on a mobile platform ? Which particular pages of your Web site are the most popular on mobile devices and on desktops? Do people search for different things on mobile devices than on laptops? The answers to these questions will help you lay the foundations for an optimal mobile presence.
  • Regardless of the source of the user (search engine, article published by an influencer, banner, etc.), offer him the content he is looking for. In other words, adapt your Web pages and ban automatic redirecting from mobile pages to the Homepage.
  • Earn points by making it easier for robots to do their job! There are several technical indications that help search engines to better understand how your mobile presence is structured and, in situations where you manage a separate mobile site, to correctly associate your platforms.

An SEO strategy that does not take mobile use into considerations, or which grants it much less importance that desktop use, is considered incomplete. No matter what type of device is being used, the foundations of SEO remain the same: focus on improving the search experience of users.

Recognize any of these mistakes in your own approach?

The 7 mistakes you have just seen are generally caused by a lack of understanding of SEO, and it’s easy to see why. In a blog post on SEO, I once addressed a whole range of concepts and ideas stemming from Web site maintenance to content creation, synergy between online and offline efforts, the relationship with influencers, etc. In the end, it is clear that everything you do (or almost everything you do) has an impact on SEO performance.

What’s important is understanding these elements and making sure you have the tools you need to make the most of them. Join me during my next training course entitled Successful Search Engine Optimizationthrough User Experience Improvement (WE165) where we will discuss key concepts and the tools and techniques you need to improve your SEO performance. Not only will you avoid making these rookie mistakes, you’ll also learn how to optimize your Web marketing!

Want to make a comment or share a common SEO mistake that I did not include in this article? Send it along at tweet @mcsnv!