SEO basics: SEO mistakes

How to avoid common SEO mistakes

How to avoid common SEO mistakes

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!

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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 speed up the loading time. If you have a WordPress site, this can easily be done by installing a plugin that does that for you.

Read more: Image SEO »

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!

Keep reading: Calling to the next action »

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#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.

Read on: Mobile SEO: the Ultimate Guide »

In short

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!

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

26 Responses to How to avoid common SEO mistakes

  1. Jay
    Jay  • 11 months ago

    Hi! Thanks for the great articles.
    I am currently re-designing a site and will be making it look very much like an app. It will basically be a page subdivided into 4 images with a single title on each. It sounds like this could be a disaster for SEO though… Do you have any advice? Should I have a scroll down to a 300+ word home page description?
    Many Thanks

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Jay,

      Since it’s your homepage I can imagine that you don’t have to write 300+ words on this page, since you probably don’t want this page to rank for your main keywords. You want the 4 subpages (that I’m assuming are behind the images) to rank for your most important keywords. But it is wise to have a small textual introduction on your site, and perhaps on the images as well besides the title. You want your visitors to immediately know what your site is about and what they can find on the four different parts.

  2. Tecsolo SEO
    Tecsolo SEO  • 11 months ago

    Faster is most definitely better when it comes to page speed and SEO. Google is big on user experience and page load times. I’ve tried a wordpress plugin called Smushit (Free Version) with limited results as far as improving page speed. Is there a better plugin on the market?

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Tecsolo,

      There are a lot of plugins that you can use. I have some good experiences with Shortpixel (you can use the free version on a limited number of images). Good luck optimizing!

  3. avijit mondal
    avijit mondal  • 11 months ago

    I am using yoast plugin for my 2 blog. If really good and great. I am facing a small problem.
    My 1 blog’s meta description is always working fine but another blog is always showing wrong in google search. I can’t understand how to get rid from it. Any suggestion for me please.

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Avijit,

      Google has the power to overrule the meta description that we write ourselves. Usually, it shows what you wrote yourself, but if Google thinks a different part of your text serves as a better meta description, then it will overrule your text. This can be annoying, but try to think of it as a piece of advice from Google. They know what people are searching for and what best matches the search query, so you might want to tweak your text a bit more.

  4. Olabiyi Malik
    Olabiyi Malik  • 11 months ago

    Thanks For The Mistakes to avoid in seo, I did most of this but now I will detest from it

  5. A different Patrick
    A different Patrick  • 11 months ago

    “The future is mobile”? It’s 2017, if you’re not already just as focused on your mobile experience as your desktop experience then you’re already behind the eight-ball. The *present* is mobile. I totally get what you’re saying, but would have hoped that by this stage it no longer needed to be said. Mind you, the less well everyone else does at SEO optimisation the easier it is for me to rank well!

  6. Edwin De La Cruz
    Edwin De La Cruz  • 11 months ago

    Hi Michelle

    Thank You for taking the time to write all these useful piece of information. I have a new business which is struggling and searching for buyers of our services.

    I used WordPress before, and was unable to find good developers so I decided to launch my business using platform. Shopify has great customer service and a phone number to contact them 24/7.

    My question: Can I use all the recommendations from Yoast on my shopify store? I am considering purchasing “Structure Data” online course for $149. and I am not sure if it will work in shopify store to make my store more mobile organic seo friendly? Please explain and offer an advice ? Thanks


    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Edwin,

      All of these tips are definitely applicable to Shopify as well. It’s just overall SEO advice, regardless of which platform you are using. Our training on structured data is usable for everyone as well, not only WordPress users.

  7. Brittany | Fluffy Kitty
    Brittany | Fluffy Kitty  • 11 months ago

    So happy I came across this post! We have been wondering whether or not we should optimize our mobile site, and now I think we definitely will! Thanks for the great info, Michelle. Best of luck!

  8. Abdul Muneeb
    Abdul Muneeb  • 11 months ago

    Hi, Michelle
    Amazing checklist for SEO mistakes, going re-check my site.
    Thanks For Sharing

  9. Patrick
    Patrick  • 11 months ago

    Good post for a ‘Top of mind SEO checklist’, I got one question though.

    ‘The meta description is not a ranking factor, but it does play an important part in optimizing your Click Through Rate (CTR).’

    Really is this not a ranking factor for Google and friends? To me it looks like a very important SEO factor, not only for CTR. Can you explain, why this is not a ranking factor and yet the YOAST plugin wants you to use the keyword in a meta description?

    Thank you in advance

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Patrick,

      Google has been saying that it’s not a ranking factor for a very long time, so we have to take their word for it. The reason why we urge you to add your keyword to the meta description is that this is beneficial for your potential visitor. You want a potential visitor to inform about what’s on your page so that they will click on your search result. By adding the keyword to the meta description you are ‘forced’ to write a meta description that is actually about the content of your page.

  10. Iain
    Iain  • 11 months ago

    I do all of these things and have a checklist I go through before posting, including getting the green buttons from Yoast. Yet when I check keywords I’m trying to rank for, I’m always getting SERP results with titles that don’t match, or meta info that doesn’t match what I wrote. Why would that be?

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Iain,

      Google has the power to overrule the title and meta description that we write ourselves. Usually, it shows what you wrote yourself, but if Google thinks a different part of your text serves as a better meta description for example, then it will overrule your text. This can be annoying, but try to think of it as a piece of advice from Google. They know what people are searching for and what best matches the search query, so you might want to tweak your text a bit more.

  11. Marcus Tibesar
    Marcus Tibesar  • 11 months ago

    One word, “Amp”

  12. David Hoe
    David Hoe  • 11 months ago

    Really great post Michelle. Totally agree about site speed. So many designers just don’t do anything. It’s so easy to do and relatively inexpensive WP Rocket is great so is WP Fastest Cache.

  13. Vince Arnone
    Vince Arnone  • 11 months ago

    Great post and I liked that you listed site speed as #1 on the list. It’s something that’s really easy to forget is an ongoing task, not a set and forget activity.

    You can start adding features, uploading non-optimized images, doing visual redesigns etc and quickly bulk back up.

    I monitor site speed as a monthly metric in my reports and spot test specific pages from time to time as well.

    • Michelle Foolen

      Monitoring your site speed as a monthly metric is a great way to keep track of how your site is doing! That is something that a lot of sites could benefit from!

  14. daphne
    daphne  • 11 months ago

    thanks for the post, michelle. how about e-commerce sites? what tips do you have for optimizing those since they’re not really known for their content?

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Daphne,

      Optimizing for an e-commerce site isn’t actually that different from optimizing for a regular site. Long tail keywords are very important. Make sure that every product page is optimized for their own keyword. On top of that, optimize your category overview pages as well by writing content in general about this particular category of products. I can imagine that it’s hard to write 300 words for every product, but make sure to write at least a description of the product. Optimizing your speed, calls-to-action and optimizing for mobile is similar to regular sites.

  15. Melinda
    Melinda  • 11 months ago

    I have a question about keywords!
    According to your SEO plugin, I need to have the keyword in the ratio 1/200 words to get the 0,5%
    However, sometimes it is challenging to add the longtail keyword phrase per every 200 words. And I have the feeling that Google also reads keyword phrases even when they are scattered throughout the text.

    So, how does Google actually read keywords?

    • Michelle Foolen

      Hi Melinda,

      Of course, we don’t know exactly how well Google is able to read the contents of a text, but it’s safe to say that Google can definitely grasp the meaning of a text, even if keywords are scattered throughout the text. Keep in mind that out plugin gives you advice on what you should try to optimize for, but if you use synonyms of your keywords in a different order then our plugin isn’t able to detect that (yet), but you know that it’s in there. So it’s not always possible to get a green bullet while you are still doing a great job! I hope this answers your question.

  16. Franklin
    Franklin  • 11 months ago

    Thanks for the article. I really appreciated the links to Google’s page speed website as well as their website to see if our site was mobile friendly. It’ll be interesting to see how the mobile nature of a website affects rankings on Google next year.

    BTW, I really like the Yoast SEO plugin! I’m glad I’m on your e-mail list as well! :)

    • Дзига
      Дзига  • 11 months ago

      Its very useful seo plugin? thanks for it! We need more look like this plugin!

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