The 6 most common SEO mistakes and how to avoid them

Not sure why you’re not ranking #1 for your focus keywords in Google? You might just be making one of the mistakes a lot of site owners make. Here at Yoast we’ve seen and reviewed a great deal of websites. Many sites, from the small local businesses to the big corporate ones, are making similar mistakes. Here, we’ll give you an overview of the SEO issues we encounter most frequently. Of course, we’ll also explain how to avoid or solve these SEO don’ts. Check this list and make sure you’re not making any of these mistakes!

First off, we’d like to mention Yoast’s vision on SEO; holistic SEO. We don’t just focus on the content or technical aspects of your site, but consider User eXperience (UX) essential to SEO as well. Therefore, we’ll include a somewhat wider range of issues and tips to solve them!

#1: Forgetting that faster is better

The first thing we’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 we frequently give 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 speed up the loading time. If you have a WordPress site, you can do this easily by installing a plugin that does that for you.

Read more: Image SEO »

Another tip 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, we 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 we 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

We regularly write about writing awesome content on this blog, but we 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.

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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. So make it stands out: don’t be afraid to use a distinct color!

Keep reading: Calling to the next action »

#6: Not thinking ahead: The future is mobile

In 2018 Google switched to mobile-first indexing. This means that Google looks 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!

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 your site is fit for displaying on mobile devices. But don’t stop after checking this. The best advice we can give 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 might find you’ll have some work to do!

Read on: Mobile SEO: the Ultimate Guide »

In short

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As SEO consultants we’ve seen many sites making the same mistakes. Learn from the ones we’ve 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!

Keep on reading: 5 SEO questions you were afraid to ask »

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32 Responses to The 6 most common SEO mistakes and how to avoid them

  1. Namratha Nagaraja
    Namratha Nagaraja  • 5 days ago

    Great screening of messages wrt., SEO- would like to know if you offer certification courses in this domains online.

  2. Stijn Spijker
    Stijn Spijker  • 7 days ago

    Thank you for the tips! Well explained and doesn’t seem that difficult to implement.

  3. bilalsvr1979
    bilalsvr1979  • 1 week ago

    great details on why people fail when it comes to ranking their website at the top of Google.
    Thanks for making SEO more manageable for busy entrepreneurs wearing many hats!

  4. Jeff Longley
    Jeff Longley  • 1 week ago

    We are electricians covering many towns. If I want to promote one service in all towns can I use the same content with the long tail detailing the service in each town. And mention the service in the town in the title. Change a few things on the page and post it. Will that be penalised as duplicate.

  5. Fransisca Tan
    Fransisca Tan  • 1 week ago

    Thanks for your great post Michelle

  6. Saheed Soneye
    Saheed Soneye  • 2 weeks ago

    I’ll say it was the 2nd mistake I made when I started learning SEO and I thought I knew all about at least On-page(content SEO optimisation).

    I write unique and long articles on my blog but I targeted the WRONG keywords then. First, they were too competitive keywords that I wasn’t likely to rank for. Secondly, I didn’t know about their search volume.

    After reading about Keyword research on this blog and other blogs, I have learnt to avoid that stupid mistake I made then.

    This post will definitely help!

  7. Mathukutty P. V,
    Mathukutty P. V,  • 2 weeks ago

    Great tips. I am not sure about adding CTA on each post because this is just a blog, do not sell or give anything.
    Recently received a mail from Google search console Mobile-first indexing enabled for my site

  8. Ivelin Todorov
    Ivelin Todorov  • 2 weeks ago

    (: Thenk you Michelle Foolen,
    This article is similar that mini check list for site. In this moment I am working on many articles. This six points give me right rules and I can to grow my working speed.
    I wish you and the team of Yoast a nice days! :)

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Ivelin,

      Thanks! I wish the best to you too!

      Kind regards,

  9. Alex
    Alex  • 2 weeks ago

    great details on why people fail when it comes to ranking their website at the top of Google.

    You covered some serious issues that can negatively effect an SEO campaign. Do you know recommend a plugin for the page speed factor and to reduce images?


  10. Theresa
    Theresa  • 2 weeks ago

    Thanks for making SEO more manageable for busy entrepreneurs wearing many hats!

    • Michelle Foolen

      You’re welcome!

  11. Todd R
    Todd R  • 2 weeks ago

    I didn’t realize load speed was that high on the SEO priority punch list. I will need training on how to improve the load speed of my site.

  12. Jen @ The Frozen Mind
    Jen @ The Frozen Mind  • 2 weeks ago

    Some really great information is in this post and I appreciate it.

    It is funny that you should say that about making sure that the site works well on your phone or tablet. WordPress has a huge issue with this! Yes, they have the app but it is really hard to work on the actual admin portion on my blog on a mobile device.

  13. Joost
    Joost  • 2 weeks ago

    Top advise again. Lucky for me, I can check most of the boxes. Thanks to your nice plugin.

    • Michelle Foolen

      You’re welcome!

  14. Ukrido
    Ukrido  • 2 weeks ago

    Great points. My question here is “. Should I carry out all these six points listed above, will I still need to buy backlinks for my blog to rank on the first page of search engines?”

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Ukrido,

      At Yoast we are not a big fan of buying backlinks. We advise you to optimize every aspect of your site, and you can start with the six points mentioned in this article, and this will make your site rank a lot better. We don’t expect you to need to buy backlinks anymore.

      Kind regards,

  15. Tunde Sanusi (Tuham)
    Tunde Sanusi (Tuham)  • 2 weeks ago

    No #5 is so common

    A lot of us work hard in setting up a site, optimizing it, writing articles but at the end of the whole process, forgot to add CTA to it..

    Great share here

  16. Jim Morazzini
    Jim Morazzini  • 2 weeks ago

    Why don’t you also mention sites like GT Metrix and Pingdom? Isn’t checking actual speed as important as Google optimization?

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Jim,

      We also have a post solely dedicated to site speed, there you can find all of the tools we recommend to check your page speed:

      Kind regards,

  17. Niek
    Niek  • 2 weeks ago

    Mobile first is a big deal and in our market it still is not the main focus of big brands. Strangely enough… Thanks for your great post Michelle!

  18. Mike Montalto
    Mike Montalto  • 2 weeks ago

    Great read! Really appreciate the advice on site speed. I’ve known it was a ranking factor for a while but had no idea on how to improve it!

    Mike Montalto

  19. Rahul Dubey
    Rahul Dubey  • 2 weeks ago

    Nice information Michelle! Trying to rank for the wrong keyword, I would really love if Yoast brings a feature to analyze if the keywords a user trying to rank, is right or rank.

    PS: I’m already Yoast Premium users.


    Rahul D

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Rahul,

      I don’t think that is a feature we can easily build. But if you’re really interested in finding the right keywords for your site, I can highly recommend our keyword research training!

      Kind regards,

  20. Sujata Shah
    Sujata Shah  • 2 weeks ago

    Such a great and informative article. Thanks for sharing

  21. Kalyani V
    Kalyani V  • 2 weeks ago

    Excellent article. Very genuine mistakes a lot of site owners make, thanks for the awareness.

    • Michelle Foolen

      You’re welcome!

  22. George Konstantakopoulos
    George Konstantakopoulos  • 2 weeks ago

    Thanks for the article.
    Another common mistake i regularly notice on websites, is to see images without proper name, e.g. “IMG_1242.jpg” instead of “My computer store – My product 1.jpg” (proper) for a website that sells hardware parts.

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi George,

      You’re absolutely right! That is something that a lot of site owners forget to do. Therefore we also wrote a post about image SEO:

      Kind regards,

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