I've spent the last decade consulting and working in both agency and in-house SEO environments. I've had the privilege to work with executives and stakeholders who understand the importance of SEO to their business and have a desire to maximize it. But I've also experienced the disadvantage of working with businesses moving too quickly, and in some cases, too slowly, making avoidable mistakes that jeopardize their organic programs. The good news is twofold: First, you can avoid these top 10 mistakes in the first place, and secondly, there's a way to recover from them.
Keep this top 10 list of SEO mistakes in mind as you craft and execute your overall SEO strategy.
Assuming keyword research is the only market research you need to perform.
There are motivational and emotional reasons why your target market exists. To be successful with SEO long-term, you really need to understand your target market at this deeper level. Start thinking about your target market in a more nuanced way. This goes well beyond keyword research into teasing out the emotional details and rational reasons why your users will consider paying for your product or service.
Questions to answer: How well do you know your users? How well are you listening to them and responding with the best product or service possible? Do you understand the buyer journey(s) for your products or services? Do you have the expertise to talk intelligently about your products and services (and is it enough to convince someone to purchase from you)?
Yes, keyword research is a step in the process of understanding your target audience and their search intent, but there's always deeper, ongoing market research to perform and your business' past and present data to consider. Avoid the trap of one-and-done keyword research by making targeted market research a part of your ongoing research processes. I recommend working closely with your product/merchandising team or a product marketing manager. Also tap into the knowledge of your social media manager. These people will typically perform a good deal of market research as part of their jobs as well. Your keyword universe will expand, the quality of your content will improve, and users will reward you through better engagement and sales.
Ignoring search engine recommendations and being blindsided by upcoming changes.
SEO is an ongoing, ever-evolving process. You must be extensive in your approach and flexible in your abilities to stay relevant and remain competitive in an online world where the playing field can change quickly.
One great example of this is mobile optimization. Business owners should have been preparing for the day that Google would begin adjusting their rankings of smartphone search results. It's a fairly obvious evolutionary step towards improving the mobile search experience, so no one should've been surprised when Google began rewarding websites with proper mobile configurations and downgrading those without. Studies like this suggest that more than 50 percent of companies report having mobile optimized sites; however, many businesses are struggling to keep pace with present mobile optimization best practices. Less than 50 percent of companies report having responsive designs, which is what Google recommends. By the time most companies do catch up, they may not be prepared for future optimizations.
Bottom line, if you're not paying attention to the latest happenings and beginning to anticipate future changes, you may feel blindsided at some point. As another example, did 100 percent term (not provided) catch you by surprise? It shouldn't have. Avoid this by reading more. Attend conferences. Listen to podcasts. Follow Google and Bing. Get in the conversation.
Not understanding your business' true value, thus having unrealistic expectations.
Today, almost every organic landscape is competitive. It's imperative for you to understand the true value of what you offer and how you can present it in a useful and informative way to your user. Assuming your users share the same positive sentiment, you'll grow the all-important brand, social, and link signals needed to rank well. This will also help fuel all of your other ongoing marketing initiatives. If you don't understand your value to your market and believe you deserve better rankings based on tactics alone, you may find yourself constantly moving to-and-fro looking for the next big thing without taking into account future repercussions. Think algorithm updates.
An example of this could be a business entrusting a technology provider to increase its organic traffic by 120 percent in 60 days by utilizing breakthrough dynamic page generating such-and-such. Most of the time techniques like these are short-lived. Will you realize substantial returns in a short amount of time? Perhaps. Is this something you can sustain long-term and convince stakeholders to invest in as a commodity? Not in my experience. Does it add value to your user experience? Depends. And what happens if it disappears? Is this something Google could identify and devalue some day? Probably.
Start by understanding your place in terms of share of market and share of voice. What is the perception of your product and services in the market? Typically there are things to improve upon that can lead to short-term and long-term SEO gains. There are SEO tools and social monitoring tools that can help with this. Leverage analytics for insight.
Not investing in a competent, in-house person specialized in SEO and content marketing in your industry.
You need someone that can perform targeted market research and audit your website, incoming links, and social interactions constantly, especially if you have a large site. Hire this person in-house. Believing that an agency can fulfill this role full-time could be detrimental to your long-term goals. In my experience, agency relationships rarely last a long time, even if the contracts are well written and you get off to a strong start. Agency relationships are more successful when the partner understands its role as complementary to current SEO efforts. Perhaps the partnership is project-based, perhaps the partner is serving as a consultant, or perhaps you need extra muscle to support international expansion. In most scenarios, you'll probably have more success with an in-house SEO who can manage all these operations and assign work to an agency partner. Also, you need to be prepared to support this person. Passionate SEOs, like all great marketers, tend to be outspoken. Give him/her a seat at every table.
Assuming your competitor's plan will work for you.
Let me know if this scenario sounds familiar: A bunch of people are sitting in a meeting room discussing SEO results, and inevitably someone proclaims that a competitor is doing everything perfectly, and if you could just do the same, everything would be gravy.
This is a dangerous road to go down. First of all, even if you are operating in the same space, you're not the same as your competition, and vice-versa. Even if you're selling the exact same product, you don't know for sure what's working for them because you don't work for them. Secondly, you likely have very limited visibility (if any at all) into your competition's strategy and roadmap. You're likely unaware of any tests they may be running, whether or not they're working on a redesign, if they just hired an agency to help them with content marketing efforts, etc.
Also, it's naive to assume perceived industry best practices will work for you. It's better to invest time in identifying and leveraging your current strengths because you want to build a long-term SEO strategy around them. You should absolutely continue to perform competitive research and understand your position in terms of share of market and share of voice. And you should absolutely continue to learn from your competition using your monitoring tools. But don't think you should just copy your competition. Avoid this trap by encouraging your colleagues to leverage your data.
Believing Google has your best interests at heart.
Google's interest lies in its search engine users, not SEOs. It's a bit of a paradox. The company understands that the happier its users are, the more they'll come back. Google also understands the value of an SEO who can help it discover and deliver the best content for any given query. But SEOs are not priority. If Google's tests show Wikipedia really is the best result to show on top for any given search result, you probably won't be able to overcome it. Also, Google will probably never be as forthcoming with information to help SEOs achieve better organic results as it is with say, its paid search program, for obvious reasons. Google doesn't want its organic results to be manipulated. Understanding your place in Google's world should help you realize where your own business priorities should be.
Relying on a website designer to "do SEO" for you and/or not involving SEO in website redesigns.
Most of us have been through redesign efforts, and I'm willing to bet a great deal of business owners have realized massive organic traffic losses post-launch with hopes of it returning someday. The problem in many of these situations is there wasn't a competent SEO designated as a stakeholder during the project. If you're in the midst of a redesign or are planning one soon, do yourself a favor and make sure you have an SEO strategy in place. (And please don't tell me it's your designer.) This person needs to work with all other business units to ensure previous efforts are not dismantled and future efforts are taken into account.
Not understanding how to integrate SEO initiatives with social, PR, content production, email marketing, and any other form of inbound marketing.
While having distinct marketing channels set up is beneficial for many reasons, you want to prevent siloing efforts to the point where units are no longer working together to maximize output. Agencies are typically better at breaking down silos versus an in-house team. The agency understands they're working on behalf of the brand. In-house personnel tend to look out for individual results first.
One way to address this is to make SEO part of the outcome of all other marketing initiatives. This shifts the thought process that SEO is something that someone is doing into something that the business is (i.e., the business is optimized for search engine rankings). There are many ways to ingrain this into the company fabric. My personal favorite is to form an editorial board where representatives of the marketing channels are creating an optimized content marketing strategy and forming the editorial calendar that assigns and enforces the content production and promotion workflow.
As you continue to work to make gains in your SEO efforts, keep these blunders in mind, making sure that you incorporate as many stakeholders in your business as possible. The idea here is that if everyone understands what you're trying to avoid, everyone will be more on board in helping to reach what you're trying to achieve.
"Missed turn" image via Shutterstock.