Despite the plethora of literature available on the web, in blogospheres and search conferences, there are still very basic search engine optimization concepts that webmasters continue to overlook. And while the specific variables that comprise each search algorithm remain closely-held trade secrets, there has been ample research and testing conducted to shed light on some of the most important factors the spiders crawling your site are looking at. But still, mistakes of all sorts continue. Therefore, I’ve outlined the 5 most common SEO mistakes to avoid:
1. Misuse of Title Tag
This is a big one. Title tags (titles appearing at the very top of web pages) tell search engines, like Google, what a given web page is about. It’s important that these titles, therefore, include descriptions of the page content. A lot of sites simply use their brand name as the main title tag. Now this isn’t the worst thing in the world…if you’re a site like Coca-Cola, Nike or even Facebook! Big brands can get away with this since people are actually searching for those brands by name. But small-to-medium size brands (in terms of traffic and popularity) have to work a little harder. Take a competitive industry like weddings — a smaller brand, with little to no online presence, benefits from incorporating keywords like “unique wedding favors” or “wedding party gifts” within title tags.
Something brands will want to avoid? Having the same title tag on every page which can cause duplicate content issues, or worse, using “Homepage” as the homepage title tag. This tells Google absolutely nothing about what the site is about…other than a homepage.
2. No Keywords in Alt Tag or Image Names
Another common mistake that plagues a number of websites is unoptimized images. Because images are becoming more insightful in the world of search, it’s important that they are saved and titled descriptively. I often see MANY (reputable sites) in the industry that have neglected their image optimization. This is just some low-hanging fruit that shouldn’t be neglected. The two main areas where specific keywords can be incorporated, are the image file name (what it is saved as) and the alt text, or words that appear upon scroll-over (see image). If you’re using target keywords within images just make sure they truly describe the image…otherwise it’s keyword stuffing!
3. Poor Use of Anchor Text
Inbound links are one of the most important ranking factors for a website. Equally so, are the clickable words or anchor text on a page. In fact, a recent study conducted by SEOmoz found keyword-rich anchor text to be one of the top 5 ranking factors. In other words, if you want to rank for a term like, “cupcake recipes” it’s important to have links to that page with the words “cupcake recipes” hyper-linked. This is what search engines like to see. However, far too many sites do the unthinkable and link to important pieces of content using “click here” anchor text. This is one of the biggest mistakes seen, sadly. When would “click here” be okay, you ask? Well, if you’re linking to pieces of content you don’t really care about then “click here” may not be such a blunder. But 9 times out of 10, you’ll be referencing content you value, whether internally or externally.
4. Flash-based Sites
Sure you want to make your site attractive and engaging for visitors, but are you willing to sacrifice search engine visibility? Flash-based sites do just that: make it harder for search engine spiders to access your content. That’s because SEO is dependent on text. If a site uses a lot of flash and even worse embeds important pieces of content within flash, spiders can’t process the information. And while search engines have become more sophisticated, it is still recommended to avoid wrapping important pieces of content in flash. Try HTML for a change!
5. Focusing on Meta Tags
I’ve lost count on the number of times I’ve heard people (new to the industry) talk about meta tags — particularly working to get the “right” meta keywords on their web pages. The fact is, the only meta tag that is truly valuable is the title tag, as mentioned earlier. The meta keyword tag is actually the least important tag, due to keyword stuffing tactics that has even led Google, to devalue the tag. You can’t expect to rank for a particular keyword by simply manipulating some code on your site. That would be far too easy.
Avoid these beginner mistakes and you’ll be on your way to an SEO-friendly site!
Okay, so you get this concept: Without the right keywords on your page, search engines and potential customers may never find your site. Keyword research is in fact an essential piece of any search engine optimization strategy. But do you know to look beyond the surface of the words you choose? Put simply, not every person is familiar with what you call your product or brand. You need to understand what users automatically think and therefore type when searching for a product like yours. It takes a combination of good keyword research tools and careful topical analysis to do this!
Google Adwords Keyword Tool: A Great FREE Tool
This is an easy (and not to mention, FREE) tool to begin with. The Keyword Tool (originally designed for Adwords/PPC campaigns) shows the average monthly search volume for a particular keyword phrase along with a competition rating.
For example, say brand XYZ is a site that sees itself as a door replacement store for both personal and business needs. The brand may see door replacements as it’s main keyword to rank for, but the data below shows very different results for variations of that keyword.
Door repairs and commercial doors, yield an estimated 22,200 and 33,100 monthly searches respectively – more than ten times the amount that the favored keyword door replacements receives. Even the long-tail phrase, garage door repair, yields a significant volume prediction at 90,500. This has some major implications for what brand XYZ should be focusing on. XYZ should keep an open mind and be ready to adjust their target keyword language depending on what the results show. Why focus on ranking for a word like door replacements if most people aren’t even searching for that phrase? On the other hand, choosing keywords that are both relevant to the offerings of a web site and directly in-line with the specific phrases people search for, will boost the chances of that given word being found in the search results.
Keyword Semantics & Analysis
An important factor to consider? Whether to focus solely on generic, head-terms like doors and door repairs or to take it a step further and target extended versions, such as the long-tail keyword phrase garage door opener remote. XYZ should aim to make it’s target keywords as specific as possible in order to better mimic the way people search. That is, given the fact that people no longer click beyond the first search results page in Google, but rather edit their original search query to include more words with specificity, marketers should do the same on-page. I’m not advocating solely for the long-tail; I think both head and long-tail need to be used for different purposes.
When thinking of which keywords to target, it’s equally important to really look at associated words or details that given word connotes. For instance, take the word, football training, which on the surface can simply bring thoughts of football camps or football programs to mind, but when pulling all the related words in this category, can bring more specific thoughts like quarterback, kicker, offense, defense, training camps, strength-training etc. These variations should also be included among sub-categories and deeper pages within a site, for optimal targeting.
One last factor to consider, is your target audience. Using a word such as gaffes in all titles and headers won’t get you anywhere, if most people in your demographics search for a more popular term like, mistakes. You may think your sophisticated target audience searches one way, but you have to actually look at the numbers before you start assuming. This way, you don’t end up losing half your audience before they even start looking.
I’ve recently been tasked with finding essential SEO tips for web writers and journalists — professionals who can oftentimes lose free traffic to their sites by focusing on creativity alone. Writers think using clever headlines and titles are the keys to driving visits, but they forget to think about the way people are actually searching.
Think about it for a second. When was the last time you googled, “skip marriage” when looking for “pros and cons of being married versus living together”? That is, who actually searches using clever phrases versus using the literal translation? Not many people. Therefore, if headlines and titles are one of the key on-page factors that search engines turn to when evaluating the relevancy of a page, why not use words that people are actually searching for in these particular areas?
Well, a lot of issues writers encounter in their efforts to increase organic visits derive from their lack of SEO knowledge. They may have heard something or read something in forums, which they don’t quite understand. They then misapply the basic SEO principles.
This is where tools come into place – actual measurable indicators of how people are searching and in what frequencies. Take the Google Keyword Tool, a free tool that quantifies the volume of monthly searches for a particular keyword or keyword phrase. This tool will literally show the most popular phrases people are searching for along with how competitive the term is.
This is an essential tool for all web writers. Armed with this data, they can effectively target keywords and even weave some creativity into the picture — revamped headline: Skip Marriage: Pros and Cons of Living Together vs. Marrying! An SEO-friendly move certain to increase natural search visits.