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5 common mistakes in SEO (and 6 good ideas!)

I’m Maile Ohye. I work at Google as a Developer Programs Tech Lead, normally from our headquarters in Mountain View, California. But today, I’m at home in San Francisco to talk about the five most common mistakes I find in SEO. Mistake number one is working on SEO before your site has a value proposition. Ask yourself, why would a user choose my site and search results? Let’s say you have a site that promotes your offline business, like a local bike repair shop. What differentiates your business from your competitors? Are you a nonprofit organization? Or perhaps you offer free estimates, a free demo, or you’re the oldest independent dealer in the city. Or if you’re an e-commerce site, what separates your site from the others? Do you have lower prices, free shipping, great customer service, or better product descriptions? Starting with a value proposition, simplifies SEO. No matter where your site ranks in search results, if you want to stay on top, searchers need a value prop to click on your site, to come back and revisit your site, and to recommend your site to their friends. Start with a value prop, and then focus on a quality user experience.

Let’s move to mistake number two, a segmented approach to SEO. I call this the bento box approach, because I’m Japanese. And it’s like your dinner plate, with every item segmented and none of it working together. It’s great for your sushi and your salad. It’s not as great when there is no communication between your marketing, bus dev, and SEO teams. So mistake number two is about working on SEO in a silo. A better, more holistic approach to SEO is to consider the entire user experience, from marketing campaign all the way to the actual conversion and potentially repeat business. Vanessa Fox, a consultant and author on search engine strategy, wrote about this type of bento box approach with respect to the Superbowl, when it’s difficult for companies to completely integrate their offline television ads with their online SEO efforts.

She noted that a car company spent millions on TV ads to lead users to a website, edityourown.com, where they could then edit their own car video. On Superbowl Sunday, this commercial probably not only brought users to the website, but actually helped the query, edityourown, to rank number 36 on Google Hot Trends. Now, imagine if this were your company. As the SEO, you can’t just focus on your regular keywords that you do every day. But you also need to integrate marketing campaigns and optimize for the words “edityourown.” Mistake number three is putting effort into time-consuming workarounds, rather than researching new features or best practices that can simplify your tasks.

For example, for sites with paginated content, in the past some webmasters tried the workaround around of using rel=”canonical” on subsequent pages to their page one. This unfortunately can cause a loss of content in Google’s index. The good news is that there are new best practices. We now support rel=”next” and rel=”prev” markup. So your paginated article or product category is treated as a single series, rather than having page rank diluted into the various components. Also in the past, to have several new or updated pages crawled as quickly as possible, web masters might have performed the lengthy task of updating their site map with the new URLs, then uploading the new site map file, and then submitting it to Google.

But in 2011, we expanded Webmaster Tools “Fetch as Googlebot” so that, per week, you can submit up to 500 new or updated URLs that you’d like to be crawled or up to 10 URLs that you’d like crawled, along with their linked pages. When submitting through “Fetch as Gogglebot,” most URLs are crawled within 24 hours. An easy way to stay in touch of new features and best practices is to subscribe to the Webmaster Central Blog. Now, while mistake number three is about time-consuming workarounds, often because an SEO isn’t as up to date, mistake number four is along a similar spectrum. But now it’s getting caught in SEO trends. In the early days of search engines, both webmasters and search engines chased the user.

We were running the same race, get more users to visit and convert. Then, as the market matured, things went a little crazy. It was as if this race split into two simultaneous races. And rather than chasing users, some websites started chasing search engine algorithms. In over six years at Google, I’ve seen SEO trends take many forms. Around 2005, SEOs lost focus and spent countless hours editing their content for the optimal keyword density, meaning key words per page. Not a great use their time. Instead, they could have better spent their time making their content readable, compelling, and informative. I’m sure you have a long list of tasks for your site.

Try to avoid the SEO trends, and instead prioritize the tasks that will bring lasting value. Finally, this brings us to mistake number five, slow iteration. At Google, we’ve been know to say that the main constant in SEO is that it’s constantly evolving. The faster your team is able to iterate, the better. A good recipe is to, one, define metrics for success.

Then two, implement improvements. Next, measure the impact, and then create new improvements. And then last, prioritize those improvements based on the market and your team’s personnel. And then, of course, repeat. The advantage to having an agile SEO cycle is quite clear. In 2009, we launched Rich Snippets. Recipe or event sites that could iterate quickly and implement the proper markup could now show much more appealing search results. The same was true of video sites that were able to quickly create and submit video site maps. Again, those who are agile could get the benefits. Those are the five most common SEO mistakes that I find. But now, let’s cover good practices in SEO. First, do something cool. Have a value proposition that separates you from your competitors. Second, include relevant keywords in your copy. There’s no need to think about keyword density. But make sure your content includes the keywords people actually search for. Three, be smart about your tags, title tags and meta-description tags, and your site architecture. Four, sign up for email forwarding in Webmaster Tools. This allows important messages from Google, such as notifications for crawl issues, to be forwarded directly to the inbox you check regularly, whether that’s your work account inbox, Yahoo, or Gmail.

Five, attract buzz. This helps bring natural links, great reviews, votes, +1s, and follows. And last, stay fresh and relevant. Perhaps expand your reach to social media sites, if that’s a great place to reach your audience. Or make sure your site is accessible on smartphones, if your product is great on the go. I hope this video helps you avoid the common SEO mistakes and , instead, focus on the good practices that can bring lasting, positive benefits. Thanks for watching..

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