Digital marketing is like playing the drums; everyone thinks they can do it.
Inevitably, the layman writes content stuffed to the brim with a target keyword and cannibalizes his/her own webpages by using the same five keywords across all of their webpages.
As infallible as we sometimes think we are, even the best of our industry can make some pretty hairbrained mistakes.
Sometimes the best way to move forward is to take a step back and go back to SEO basics.
As Google and Bing’s algorithms continue to evolve and incorporate new technologies for search, so do our strategies.
Between optimizing our content for voice search, desktop visitors, mobile swipers, and our social media followers, the task can feel impossible and overwhelming.
Breathe a little, you’re not alone.
As much as the medium may change, the same principles still remain in place and so too do the same basic errors.
Here are eight common SEO mistakes that even the experts still make.
1. Presenting a Poor Internal Link Structure
As your website balloons in size with all of your awesome content, you’re bound to encounter some pretty basic internal linking errors. This includes everything from producing mass duplicate content to 404 page errors cropping up.
Internal links provide five valuable functions for your website:
- Providing clear pathways to conversion pages.
- Spreading authority to webpages hidden deep on your site.
- Providing additional reading or interactive material for users to consume on your site.
- Organizing webpages categorically by keyword-optimized anchor text.
- Communicating your most important webpages to search engine crawlers.
Resubmitting an XML sitemap to search engines is a great way to open up crawl paths for search engines to unlinked webpages.
Along the same lines, it’s important to use your robots.txt file and noindex tag wisely so that you don’t accidentally block important webpages on your site or a client’s.
As a general rule of thumb, no webpage should be more than two clicks away from the homepage or a call-to-action landing page.
Reassess your website architecture using fresh keyword research to begin organizing webpages by topicality.
HubSpot provides a great guide for creating topic clusters on your website that arrange webpages by topic, using semantic keywords, and hierarchy to their shared thesis.
2. Creating Content for Content’s Sake
Best practices dictate that you should produce content consistently to increase your brand’s exposure and authority, as well as increase your website’s indexation rate.
But as your website grows to hundreds of pages or more, it becomes difficult to find unique keywords for each page and stick to a cohesive strategy.
Sometimes we fall for the fallacy that we must produce content just to have more of it. That’s simply untrue and leads to thin and useless content, which amounts to wasted resources.
Don’t write content without completing strategic keyword research beforehand.
Make sure the content is relevant to the target keyword and utilizes closely associated keywords in H2 tags and body paragraphs.
This will convey full context of your content to search engines and meet user intent on multiple levels.
Take the time to invest in long-form content that is actionable and evergreen. Remember, we are content marketers and SEO specialists, not journalists.
Optimized content can take months to reach page one results; make sure it remains relevant and unique to its industry when it does.
3. Not Investing in Link-Worthy Content
As we understand it, the quantity and quality of unique referring domains to a webpage is one of Google’s three most important ranking factors.
The best way to acquire links is naturally, leveraging stellar content that people just want to link to.
Instead of investing time in manual research and creating hundreds of guest posts a year, why not invest in a piece of content that can acquire all of those links in one day of writing?
Again, I bring up HubSpot, which provides a great example of this. Every year, they provide a list of industry statistics they scour from the internet, such as “The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics”, which serves as an invaluable resource for anyone in the digital marketing industry.
As previously stated, invest the time in crafting long-form content that adds value to the industry.
Here, you can experiment with different forms of content, whether it’s a resource page, infographic, interactive quiz, or evergreen guide.
Dedicate some of your manual outreach strategy to promote a piece of content published on your own website and not someone else’s.
4. Failing to Reach Customers with Your Content
Continuing this discussion, you need to have a strategy in place to actually get people to view your content.
I believe that much of the industry and many businesses don’t invest as many resources into content promotion as they do production.
Sure, you share your content over social media, but how much reach does it actually acquire without paid advertising?
Simply posting your latest article on your blog, social media channel, and e-newsletter limits its reach to a small percentage of your existing audience.
If you’re looking to acquire new leads for your business, then you’ll need to invest more resources into promotional tactics. Some strategies include.
While it’s rather chicken and egg, you need to promote content to get links to it. Only then can you begin to acquire more links organically.
5. Optimizing for the Wrong Keywords
So you invested the time in crafting a piece of long-form content, but it’s not driving large-scale traffic to your website.
Just as bad, your visitors have low time on page and are not converting.
More than likely, you’re optimizing for the wrong keywords.
While most of us understand the importance of long-tail keywords for informational queries, sometimes we run into some common mistakes:
- Failing to segment search volumes and competition by geography.
- Relying too much on high volume phrases that don’t convert.
- Focusing too many resources on broad keywords (external links, internal link anchor text, etc.).
- Ignoring click-through rates.
- Trying to insert awkward exact match phrases into content.
- Ignoring AdWords value.
- Allocating target keywords to irrelevant content.
- Choosing keywords irrelevant to your audience.
It’s important to actually research the search phrases that appear in top results for both national and local searches.
Talk to your customers to see what search phrases they use to describe different elements of your industry. From here, you can segment your keyword list to make it more relevant to your customers.
Use keyword tools like Google Keyword Planner and SEMrush’s keyword generator for relevant keyword ideas.
Don’t forget to optimize for informational and commercial search queries.
6. Not Consulting Paid Media
As the industry currently stands, SEO focuses on acquiring and nurturing leads, while paid media focuses on acquiring and converting leads.
But what if we broke down those silos to create a cohesive message that targeted the buyer at every step of the journey?
As an SEO provider, do you even know what your client’s advertising message is or the keywords they use? Are you promoting the same products/service pages with the same keywords as the paid media department?
There is a lot of insight that SEO consultants can learn from PPC keyword research and landing page performances that can aid them in their own campaign.
Beyond this, Facebook and Twitter’s advertising platform offer robust audience analysis tools that SEO consultants can use to better understand their client’s customers.
By focusing on a unified message and sharing in each other’s research, SEO consultants can discover keywords that convert the highest and drive the most clicks in the search results.
7. Forgetting About Local
Google’s Pigeon update completely opened up an entirely new field of local SEO.
Between local directory reviews, customizing a Google My Business page, and the local three-pack, local SEO is highly targeted and high converting.
Consider some of the statistics:
- 50 percent of searches over a mobile device result in an in-store visit that day.
- Half of local, mobile searches are for local business information.
- Anywhere between 80-90 percent of people read an online review before making a purchase.
- 85 percent of people trust reviews as much as personal recommendations.
It’s important to segment your keyword research for both local and national intent.
If you provide local services, be sure to create content that reflects local intent, such as including city names next to target keywords and in the body of content.
While most of us focus on growing business at the national scale, the importance of local SEO should not be ignored.
8. Not Regularly Auditing Your Own Website
One of the biggest mistakes we all make is not continuing to optimize our own site and fix mistakes that crop up over time.
A site audit is especially important after a site migration or implementation of any new tools or plugins.
Common technical mistakes that occur over time include:
- Duplicate content.
- Broken links.
- Unoptimized meta tags.
Duplicate content can occur for a number of reasons, whether through pagination or session IDs.
Resolve any URL parameter errors or duplicate content from your cookies by inserting canonicals on source webpages. This allows all signals from duplicate pages to point back to the source page.
Broken links are inevitable as you move content around your site, so it’s important to insert 301 redirects to a relevant webpage on any content you remove. Be sure to resolve 302 redirects, as these only serve as a temporary redirect.
Auditing your website is paramount for mobile search. Simply having a responsive web design or AMP is not enough.
Be sure to minify your CSS and JS on your mobile design, as well as shrink images, to provide a fast and responsive design.
Finally, one part of the audit that is often overlooked is reevaluating your onsite content strategy. Most industries are dynamic, meaning that new innovations crop up and certain services become obsolete overtime.
Remodel your website to reflect any new product offerings you have. Create content around that topic to showcase its importance to your hierarchy to both search engines and users.
Continually refresh your keyword research and audience research to find new opportunities to scale and stay relevant.
Everyone is susceptible to mistakes in their craft and one of the best ways to rectify them is to consult the best practices.
My best bit of advice: Keep your mind nimble and always take a step back here and there to evaluate whether you are doing the best to scale your or a client’s business.
Every picture tells a story and also may help you build links. Contributor Pratik Dholakiya shares four solid ways to use images to attract links.
“Create visual content and the links will follow” is a nice sentiment, but in reality, it’s a prerequisite, not a guarantee of the fulfillment of a promise.
If you want to use images to earn inbound links, you need a concrete plan with some specific actionable goals.
Here are four ways you can use images and visual content to build links and drive traffic. Use the following tactics to get the ideas and inbound links flowing and build a smart strategy for your brand.
1. Become your industry’s stock photo site
It’s become more or less a standard in this industry to ensure that every blog post needs to feature at least one image to keep people engaged and be taken seriously, with a few exceptions.
In many cases, those images are stock photos with some thematic connection to the topic of the post, rather than original image content.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with using stock images, but you can take advantage of it by becoming a go-to resource in your industry for visual content.
Here are some ideas to help you do that:
- Make a list of niche keywords in your industry, and perform an image search on Google to see if there is a lack of good images out there.
- Create images that represent something insightful about those keywords and their related topics. This could be in the form of original journalistic photographs, data visualizations such as infographics or visual metaphors.
- Create a blog post around your visual content and include an embed code to make it easy for people to reuse the image with credits. Look for an “embed code generator” tool to help create embedded code.
- Create a “stock photo” page on your site that collects all of your original images, along with embed codes. The title of the page should include those phrases bloggers use when searching for images, such as “free stock photos,” “public domain images,” “creative commons images” or similar phrases, as well as the relevant niche terms. Make sure to include image alts and image labels in text for the more specific keywords. Include your embed codes here as well to make sure it’s easy for people to link to you with credit.
Bear in mind that your visual content doesn’t necessarily need to be the most amazing thing ever, as long as it addresses topics that aren’t as readily addressed in other images.
Examples of this are the top image results for Moz. Their Whiteboard Friday images lack visual flair, but they get the point across.
2. Identify image keywords bloggers are likely to search for
This is related to the tactic above, but it’s a topic with enough depth that it deserves its own section.
The goal here isn’t just to identify keywords your consumer audience is searching for, or even keywords that other influencers in your industry are searching for.
You need to specifically identify keywords that bloggers and influencers are using images for and linking to.
Start by scraping a few prominent sites in your niche and looking for patterns. Here is one approach I recommend using:
- Use Screaming Frog to crawl a top publisher with an audience similar to yours.
- Go to the “External” tab and select “Images” from the filter.
- Export the image links and analyze the image alt text for any patterns.
Unfortunately, most publishers these days don’t use external links to display images; instead, they host the image on their own site, with an image credit link. Since these links aren’t embedded in the same hypertext markup language (HTML) as the image itself, there’s no easy way to identify image credit links.
What you can do, however, is crawl the site for their internal images and analyze the image alts they are using for some ideas:
While you won’t be able to immediately tell which images are credited to other sources and which were produced internally, you can quickly determine what topics their visual content tends to focus on.
You can also do a crawl of all external links and export the anchor text:
While this won’t limit the external links to image credits, it will help you identify the kind of topics they are most willing to link out to. Combining that with your image alt data and some manual inspection, you can start to get a clear idea of what kinds of keywords to target with your images.
Repeat this process for several top publishers until you have a clear, extensive list of keywords to target, with your original images.
Now test the viability of your keywords by:
- Testing the keyword volume in the Google Keyword Planner. You don’t need a lot of volume, since the keywords you are focusing on should be keywords searched for by bloggers, not general audiences. But you will need to make sure enough people are searching for the topic that bloggers would regularly come across the image.
- Search for the keyword with Google image search to see what comes up. Image quality is a big factor, but relevance is even more important. What you are really shooting for is a keyword without a good image designed to convey the idea clearly. As long as you go tight enough with your niche, this is more common than you might think.
- Avoid generic keywords. Generic keywords should be a jumping-off point only. You should be looking for highly specific keywords that convey very clear concepts that can be presented visually.
- Use a tool such as SEMrush to estimate the difficulty of ranking for the keyword.
3. Reach out to people using your original images
If you are creating original visual content and publishing it to your site, and you have a decent amount of exposure in Google Images, there is a very good chance people are using your images without linking to you.
Capitalize on this by contacting these people and politely asking them to give you credit with a link. (In all but the most egregious monetized cases, I would avoid making copyright threats, especially since it is more likely to result in their removing the image than linking to you for credit.)
To find sites that are using your image, go to Google Images and click the camera icon:
You’ll be asked to paste an image URL or to upload an image:
Now, paste the image URL (pointing to the image itself, not the page it’s on) into the “Paste image URL” tab, or click “Upload an image” and browse through your folders to locate the image if you are storing it locally on your machine. You can also just drag and drop an image into this pop-up.
Then click “Search by image.”
Scroll past the “Best guess for this image” and “Visually Similar Images” results, down to the “Pages that include matching images.” Click through to verify that they are still using the image, find their contact information, and send them an email requesting they cite your image with a link.
If you are producing a lot of image content on a regular basis, this process can get tedious, so it’s better off being automated. In that case, you can use the sites that allow you to do “reverse image search” for a larger number of images on a periodic basis.
4. Perfect your image-to-word ratio
According to a study by BuzzSumo, the blog posts that receive the most shares on Facebook and Twitter are the ones that include one image for every roughly 75 to 100 words.
Since there’s a relatively strong correlation between social sharing and the number of inbound links you earn, getting the right mix of images and words can be a smart link-earning strategy.
As with any statistic, especially one based on observational analysis instead of experimentation, it should be taken with a grain of salt. Rather than considering this “best practice,” use it as a jumping-off point, test a few different ratios over time and measure what seems to work best within your niche.
In most niches, the more hardcore your fan base, the more knowledge-hungry they are, meaning that they will be more willing to read walls of text (although you’d better be leveraging your white space even if that’s the case).
You may also find that your link-earning and social media activity aren’t as heavily correlated in your industry.
Regardless, the point stands. Measuring your image-to-word ratio — and how it correlates with the number of inbound links you earn — will help inform your link-earning strategy and allow you to make more optimized decisions.
Now, it’s time to put these ideas to use and up your visual SEO game!
You may be the best in your business or practice but, without search engine optimization, you’re either average or a nobody in your field.
As digital marketing consultant Alex Chris writes, “Search engine optimization or SEO is a set of rules for website (or blog) owners to follow for the proper optimization of their websites to improve their search engine rankings.” He also added that “millions of users per day are using the internet to look for answers to their questions and solutions to their problems.”
With a proper SEO guide, any website and business can grow into one of the most trusted brands on the internet.
Unfortunately, there are some issues with SEO that you should know about before you hire an expert. In Bob Sakayama’s article “When SEO Failure Results in Google Penalties or Rank Suppression,” he pointed out that the professionals are the ones who often trigger most of the severe Google penalties. In short, these “experts” who were hired to prevent such problems from happening in the first place are the ones who really trigger the penalties. If that is the case, why should we even consider the idea of hiring an SEO expert? In my years of experience in the search engine optimization industry, there are many factors that can trigger penalties due to the constant changes in rules. Whether you’re an optimizer or a website owner, you should know the factors that can cause serious problems in the long run.
We can live with owner-triggered rank issues because they won’t affect your established traffic, rankings and profit the way penalties would. On the other hand, Google penalties can ruin your business. There are many different types of penalties; you could get a penalty for unnatural (spam) links to your site or an over optimization anchor text penalty from using a piece of software to build links. You could also be penalized for using the same exact content from another website or using a keyword too many times on a page, which is known as “keyword stuffing.”
Penalties are also due to the constant changes in the rules. With the rapid changes, most SEO agencies can’t keep up with the latest improvements. Most optimizers are passive which is bad because you can’t make proper adjustments in time. Here are some tips for beginners and old professionals on what to look out for to avoid a penalty from Google.
Unnatural Links To And From Your Website
If we take a look at the link schemes section of Google’s Quality Guidelines, we’ll find out that any links made by an SEO with the intention to manipulate a website’s ranking are clear violations of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. In short, unnatural links to your site can get your website in trouble.
Google also warns about unnatural links from your site. Google is now capable of determining natural links from unnatural links. It focuses on links that act as editorial votes for a site. If you somehow manipulate links from your site, there’s a high chance you’ll receive a penalty. My firm recently helped water filtration company AquaOx (which I am a partner in) recover from a major Google penalty. The previous SEO company used a link-building software to create unnatural links from the website. Unfortunately, the company got caught and the site was pushed far down in the search engines to page 10. We had to go through a list of links, tag the ones that were really bad and disavow those links in Google Webmaster tools. Our next move was to build high-quality links from the site. Once Google noticed our cleanup operation, the search engine made some adjustments in the search rankings. Although penalty recovery is not a quick process by any means, the accomplishment is rewarding.
Publishing Keyword-Heavy Content
Spamming keywords into compelling content is an old trick that used to work for many SEO agencies. Unfortunately, Google made the competition tougher with its frequent changes. My personal belief is that the search engine prefers a website with about 2% of the content being keywords. If it is annoying for users to read unnatural keywords in a website’s content, the same thing is true with the search engine. Website owners or SEO companies should keep track of their keyword count by using keyword counting tools. In my practice and belief, high-quality content does not need many keywords to rank higher in Google. Avoid many of the top 10 Google penalties by investing in other tactics like proper keyword research and keyword placement instead of spamming with keywords.
Spammy Structured Data Markup
Although schema markup (structured data markup) can boost your search engine content discovery and make other improvements, this strategy can get you slammed by Google. A spammy structured data markup can potentially hurt your site as you will receive penalties from the search engine. The best way to avoid structured data markup penalties is by following the rules set by Google. You can either adhere to the guidelines of the search engine or use a structured data testing tool. Either one is better than getting into serious trouble.
Deliberately Cloaking Web Pages For SEO Or CTR Purposes
Cloaking web pages for your personal interest is a big crime against Google. Cloaking is where one version of the site is shown to search engine spiders and a different version is shown to the user viewing the site. Once caught, your site will face serious challenges and issues. The search engine discourages any form of manipulation to level up the game and keep the credibility of websites on the search result.
Being penalized isn’t the end of the world for website owners, though. There are ways to get your website back on track. As a professional SEO, my first recommendation would be to look for the right people for the job.