Building a viable website from the ground up requires thorough planning, especially if you want to see your site rank on search engines and receive regular traffic. Search engine optimization is an integral part of this goal. Avoid these common SEO transgressions as you lay your framework for a well-optimized site.
1. Sitemap Neglect
While search engine crawlers are likely to discover some parts of your website through their standard processes, they’ll be unable to discover all of it on their own and what they do find can take months to index. A Sitemap gives search engines a complete and organized list of all the pages on your website and tells them how often your site is updated. Sitemaps are not automatically generated. You’ll need to create one and submit it to search engines.
Many designers are not aware that they need to do this, or they just skip it for whatever reason. Your site is not going to show up in search results if the pages are not indexed, which you’ll see in the nearly non-existent traffic you’ll get post-launch if you fail to submit your Sitemap.
Luckily, though, if you’re using a content management system (like WordPress) you can install plugins such as Google XML Sitemaps to do this job for you.
2. Lazy Keyword SEO
Are you researching your keywords? Often times, you’ll need to test different search phrases to see what resonates with your target audience and brings the most traffic to your site. For example, if you’re running a fitness blog, you’ll need to know what percentage of your audience is beginner or advanced, male or female, etc. Gear your keywords accordingly. It might seem tedious, but skipping this process can lose you a significant percentage of potential site traffic.
Similarly, an often-overlooked strategy is local search optimization (we’ll cover this in more detail in a later section). This is especially useful for any sites focusing their services in a particular region. While it can be hard to break into competitive search ranks on a global level, adding a geographical location to relevant keywords can put you at the top of the list for anyone performing a search in your area of operation. Don’t be afraid to specialize.
3. Keyword Stuffing
Another common keyword blunder is stuffing. You might have heard of or be under the impression that the more keywords you can fit onto a page, the better, so you’ll try to squeeze twenty instances of your chosen term into a 500-word article.
This is one of the worst things you could do. Most search engine algorithms adjusted for arbitrary packing of keywords years ago. Keyword stuffing will now get you penalized, severely dropping your rank on most major search engines.
4. Analytics Oversight
Collecting data on your site’s performance and demographics is one of the most powerful ways to learn what direction you need to take in order to strengthen and refine the flow of traffic to your website. Anyone forgoing the use of an analytics tool is really shooting themselves in the foot.
There are dozens of easy-to-learn apps, plugins and online resources that can help you gain a more granular understanding of who is coming to your site, why they’re coming, and how you can get them fully engaged. Without it, you’ll be working largely on guesswork, assumptions or long-process data collection, all of which are unnecessary handicaps and can keep you from ever fully realizing your website’s potential. Google Analytics Academy can help marketers understand what to look for within the data.
5. Low Quality Links
Low quality links can come in different forms and, while they won’t get you outright penalized by search engine algorithms, they won’t help you either. Broken links are the simplest of these to stay on top of. Broken links accumulate naturally over time and need to be fixed or set up with 301 redirects to keep traffic flowing on your site.
Content links should, as often as possible, link to authority sources. When it comes to link juice, quality trumps quantity. Linking to a well-trusted and respected website will get you ten times the kickback than ten links to Joe Schmoe’s LiveJournal. Links should also contain unique and relevant anchor text. Don’t use dozens of instances of “click here” or “this post.” If you’re linking to NASA’s study on plants in space, don’t link “study”; link “The Importance of Plants in Space.” If you’re optimizing your links on a particular keyword, be sure to vary the phrasing. Too much repetition of the same highlighted words can look dubious to visitors and drop their trust in your site.
6. Poor or Duplicate Content
Low quality content is one of the biggest ways to bring traffic to a standstill. If people don’t find value in what you’re uploading, they won’t stay on your site, they won’t share your articles, and no other sites will link to your pages.
As with links, quality is always better than quantity. Focus your content around a main service or theme so that all your pages make sense when put together. Be sure that 90% of what you upload contains information, resources or products that are well-written or well-presented, and that people find valuable. Value can mean anything from education to entertainment, but a site full of repetitive and badly written ad copy will turn people off. Take a long game approach to your content.
Duplicate content is just as bad as poor content. Duplicate content comes in two forms: internal and external. Neither is ideal.
Internal duplication can happen when you use stand-in page templates during design and forget to revamp them before launch. Or you might have a site full of product descriptions selling similar items, resulting in a lot of repetitive phrasing. These are just a couple of many examples that can innocently generate duplicate content, links or URLs, which can cause a hiccup in your search engine ranking. While search algorithms can usually spot the difference between incidental similarities or intentional ones used for rank manipulation, there’s always a chance that they won’t. It’s best practice to double-check your content and either add appropriate variation or rearrange the structure of your pages.
External duplication means your content is the same as another site’s entirely, which usually happens via scraping by one party or the other (i.e. plagiarism). If it’s your site is getting copied, it’s most likely because your site has enough traction to make it worthy of getting scraped, and algorithms can usually tell that the original content came from the heftier platform. On the rare occasion that a plagiarizing site manages to outrank you, most search engines have tools with which you can report them and take action against them if necessary.
If you’re the one violating copyright… Do we really need to tell you that’s not a good idea? Expect to get hit with penalties sooner or later.
7. Neglecting Local SEO
According to Chris Walker, businesses trying to attract local foot traffic need to give special attention to local SEO. These strategies emphasize the creation and optimization of social media, promoting the uniformity of NAP (name, address, and phone) information across the web, and the creation of web citations on local listing services such as Yahoo and Yelp. Also vital to local SEO is mobile optimization of all business web pages. Most local search is done on mobile, and search engines will favor sites and pages with quick load times and meta markers for mobile compatibility.
While there are certainly more ways to improve your website’s optimization, steering clear of the mistakes on this list will put you in a great starting position on launch day. Good SEO takes time and attention, but giving it both will pay off in the long run, giving you greater leverage to move your site closer to the goal line.