A few weeks ago, I gave a lightning talk at WordCamp Nijmegen (my hometown in the Netherlands) on how to avoid common SEO mistakes. And this seemed a great topic to write a post about as well, so here it is! I’ll describe the most pressing SEO problems I find on sites I work on as an SEO consultant. Of course, I’ll also explain how to avoid them!
It’s important to start with Yoast’s vision on SEO, namely holistic SEO. This means that we don’t just focus on the technical aspects of your site, but also see content and User eXperience (UX) as an important part of SEO. Therefore, the tips outlined in the article below will not only cover the strict definition of SEO, but also include a wide range of other aspects that site owners should pay attention to as well.
#1: Forgetting that faster is better
The first thing I’d like to touch on is site speed. The faster your site, the more Google will favor it. There’s a very useful tool from Google itself to check your site speed: Google PageSpeed Insights. This tool gives you an overview of what aspects need improvement to boost the speed of a particular page.
One of the recommendations I frequently give as an SEO consultant is to optimize your images. A lot of websites have images that are relatively large, which take a lot of time to load. Resizing your images can increase the loading time. If you have a WordPress site, this can easily be done by installing a plugin that does that for you.
Another tip that I frequently give people is to enable browser caching and gzip compression. Both of them will speed up your entire site. The first makes your site faster to load for returning visitors and the latter compresses static files, which makes them faster to load into your browser.
In case of a WordPress install, I also recommend taking a good look at the plugins that are activated. Are you actually using all of them? Perhaps some of them can be replaced by another plugin that combines those functions? The best advice I can give you on this topic is that less is more. The fewer plugins that are activated, the faster your WordPress installment can be loaded.
#2: Trying to rank for the wrong keywords
If you want to rank in Google you have to make sure that you’re using the right keywords for every page. One of the biggest mistakes I frequently encounter is that site owners are optimizing for too generic keywords. If you are a relatively small business that wants to rank for ‘rental car’, you’re aiming too high. You should try to come up with something more specific than that. Otherwise, you’re competing with all the car rental companies all over the world, which is impossible to do! So at least make sure you add the area in which your company is located to the keyword. This will make the keyword more long tail, as we call it.
The longer and more specific the keywords are, the higher your chances of ranking for this keyword. Of course, this also means that the search volume for this keyword decreases, but you can compensate for this by optimizing a lot of pages on your site for different long tail keywords. Your site will eventually gain more traffic for all of these keywords combined, than it ever would if you optimized for one main keyword, for which you could never rank page 1 in Google.
#3: Failing to invite people to visit your site
Metadata is what appears on search engine result pages (SERPs) when a website comes up for certain queries. It includes the title of the page and its meta description. The page title is still one of the most important ranking factors for Google, so you have to make sure it’s optimized correctly for every page. This means adding the relevant keyword to each particular page and making sure that your page title isn’t too long. If your page title is too long (currently 400 to 600 pixels), it will get cut off in Google. You don’t want potential visitors to be unable to read the full title in the SERPs.
The meta description is not a ranking factor, but it does play an important part in optimizing your Click Through Rate (CTR). CTR gives some insight into how likely potential visitors are to actually click on your site in the SERPs. If you optimize your meta descriptions with clear and attractive extracts on what potential visitors can find on your site, it becomes easier for them to see if the information they’re looking for is on that page. The more likely potential visitors are to think your site will provide an answer to their search query, the more traffic a page will gain.
#4: Neglecting to write awesome content
A lot is already written on this blog about writing awesome content, but I still frequently come across sites that do a poor job in writing content. It’s important to make sure every page of your site has decent content, at least 300 words. You can’t expect Google to see you as an expert on a certain topic when you have only written two sentences about it. This indicates to Google that your page probably isn’t the best result to match the search query.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to think of Google as your audience. You write for your visitors and not for Google. Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and provide the best answers possible. Therefore, writing quality content for your audience is also something that will immediately lead to Google’s approval.
Writing quality content means writing original content. This is also important to avoid duplicate content with other sites. And it means that sites have to stop stuffing keywords into their texts. Your text has to be easy to read for your visitor. Obviously, your visitor doesn’t benefit from a keyword stuffed text, because this decreases the readability.
#5: No call to action for your visitors
Once visitors are on your site, an important goal is to keep them on your site. You don’t want your visitors immediately bouncing back to Google once they have read something on your site. This is why you need to encourage visitors to click through your site. The best way to do this is to create a call-to-action (CTA), which usually is a button that offers an action to your visitor. This can be, for instance, a ‘buy’ button on a product page, or a ‘sign up’ button for the newsletters.
Make sure that every page has one call-to-action, so the goal of the page is clear. If you add multiple buttons, you lose the focus of the page and your visitors won’t get where you want them to go. So think about what the right goal is for every page. Also, make sure that the CTA stands out from your design, so it’s clearly visible and cannot be missed. If the button blends into the design of your page too much, it will attract fewer clicks than when it stands out. So don’t be afraid to use a distinct color!
#6: Not thinking ahead: The future is mobile
Since Google has announced that next year they will switch to mobile indexing first, you should be busy preparing your site for this change. ‘Mobile indexing first’ means that Google will look at the mobile version of your site to decide how high you should rank. So if the desktop version of your site is set up brilliantly, but your mobile site isn’t responsive at all, you have a lot of work to do if you don’t want to suffer a rank drop over next year.
A great way to test if your site is at least mobile friendly is to use Google’s mobile-friendly test. This gives you an indication if Google thinks your site is fit for displaying on mobile devices. But don’t stop after checking this. The best advice I can give you is to visit your site on your mobile phone. Browse your own site for a while and try to click on every button, image and link to see what happens. Is everything working as expected? Can you actually purchase something on your site while using your mobile phone? Are all pages displayed correctly? You will see that most sites have some work to do this fall.
As SEO consultant I’ve seen many sites making the same mistakes. Learn from the ones I listed in this post: focus on site speed, write great content and optimize for the right keywords. If you make sure people want to visit your site, have great calls-to-action and prepare for mobile, you’re already on your way to a well-optimized website, the holistic way!