10 Ways to Screw Up Your SEO, and How to Fix It
Search engine optimization, most often called SEO, has a rich history on the internet. When businesses and marketers realized they could get visitors to their websites by optimizing their content for search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo! and many others, the science and art of SEO became a full-fledged business.
As the internet has evolved so has SEO. In 2020, search engine optimization is bona fide business with an estimated market capitalization value of over $80 Billion. (Forbes: SEO Industry Approaching $80B…)
Given the current level of sophistication in the SEO business, if you are fairly new, or trying to manage your search engine results on a budget (do it yourself), there are some critical things you need to know. In particular, there are 10 things that you can screw up in such a way that SEO doesn’t get you the maximum possible traffic, or the level of interest you’re hoping for (or planning on in your business decisions).
The Starting Point
Before we get too deep into the weeds, consider the basics for SEO and how to get more traffic to your website. Basically the idea is to put or write content that speaks to your target customers. Your content will be aimed at what customers search for. Do they ask questions? Or looking for information? Or looking for products/services they can buy? Content can also be driven by keywords and the research you do to identify top keyword priorities based on past search engine results.
Once your content’s established, there are technical things that need to done to your website to maximize the opportunity for search engines like Google to find that content. First, consider this diagram from Rand Fishkin and the folks at Moz.
As you can see, good SEO includes several technical website factors as well as great content. It’s worth noting that content and how relevant your content is to your target audience is part of 3 of the 7 levels included in the SEO hierarchy.
1. Content is Still King
Great content is paramount to getting good SEO results. According to the hierarchy above, your content has to be valuable and “answer the searcher’s query”. In addition, your content has to be optimized for keywords in your niche or market based on past queries. And, your content has to be unique – share-worthy and something that stands out relative to everyone else’s site content.
“You don’t have to reinvent the wheel; you just need to share your unique perspective on why the wheel is important.” – @pageonepower
2. Technical Website Details Matter
A big part of the hierarchy on what drives your SEO results is the technical side of your website and how you put your site together. First, you have to be recognizable to search engines and their crawlers. These “spiders” look for URLs on your site and catalogue or index any new information. There are tools available from most major search engines that will help you with the indexing part.
A good place to start to get more information about Google specifically and how to make sure your website content is indexed is available at https://ahrefs.com/blog/google-index/
There are parts of the user experience – in other words what your site visitors experience when they visit your site – that are critical to getting good SEO results. These include:
- Load speed
- Ease of use
- Responsive design
If your site has too many images or too much coding, the load speed will be affected and you may lose visitors as a result of slow loading. In today’s internet climate, speed counts. People are impatient and want information now, not 2 seconds from now. Anything load speed 2 seconds or less will be better than 75% of the websites out there. (https://www.semrush.com/blog/how-fast-is-fast-enough-page-load-time-and-your-bottom-line/)
Ease of use simply means your site has to be easy to navigate. Make it painfully easy for your visitors to find the information and content relevant to their search query.
Responsive design means your site design has to be flexible so that if I want to check out your site on my mobile device, your site better look good on that platform. At the same time, if someone else looks at your site on their desktop computer, your site should look good there.
To get better search results and conversions, you have to organize your page titles, descriptions and site URLs in specific ways. First, you have to make sure all of the details are there. Second, you need to put all this information in the right places – the locations where search engine crawlers look for them.
3. Easy Screw Ups to Fix
Recently, the SEMrush company put together a list of the top 10 ways to screw up your SEO. These specific results were based on over 2,000 websites and focus primarily on e-commerce sites. E-commerce sites include the URLs that sell physical or digital products.
Even if your site is a blog or you focus on video marketing or affiliate marketing, these latest results are highly important and instructive. Given the emphasis on content and technical components of your website we’ve discussed up to this point, you would be well-advised to heed the warnings in these latest findings.
4. Keep Your Use of HTML to a Minimum
It’s stunning to see that 98% of websites in this study had a low text-to-HTML ratio. Why is this important? We just talked about the importance of content – content is still king. When you write content for your site, you most often use text right? As it turns out, search engines do a lot of their work based on text, not code or html.
So what is a “good” text to html ratio? And how do you know what yours is? The range of acceptable ratios is rather large – from about 15% to about 80%. So it’s fair to say “higher is better”. And if you can get your text-to-html ratio higher or much higher than your competitors, that in turn will give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace.
You can enter your website URLs here and check your text-to-html ratio.
For example, a recent check of the website https://carpedigitas.com showed the following results.
So the text-to-html ratio is okay on this site, but based on everything we’ve seen up to this point, that ratio should be much higher. There are some simple things to do to fix the site design, use of blog posts and overall publishing strategy that will improve that ratio quickly.
5. Title Elements Should be No More Than 60 Characters
The following comes from Moz.com in their SEO Learning Center:
“Google typically displays the first 50–60 characters of a title tag. If you keep your titles under 60 characters, our research suggests that you can expect about 90% of your titles to display properly.”
That’s all you need to know. Anything more than 60 characters will be wasted, no one will see it in your search results.
Again surprising, but over 80% of the websites studied recently by SEMRush have titles that are too long. Make it easy for your SEO to work, and keep your titles’ character counts down.
6. Use a Meta Description Only Once
Okay. Got it. What the heck is a Meta Description?
Over at Wordstream.com, they define it this way.
“A meta description (sometimes called a meta description attribute or tag) is an HTML element that describes and summarizes the contents of your page for the benefit of users and search engines.”
And in terms of how search engines use the meta description, most often it appears under the title of your search listing, like in the graphic below which comes from the same Wordstream page as above.
Now you can see why it’s important to use a meta description only once. If you use the same exact meta description in two or more pages on your website, the search engine algorithms will get confused. You don’t want the same description being used for more than one page. Remember, content has to be unique to get the best possible SEO results. Unique content on each page should lead you to different (and unique) meta descriptions.
And nearly as important, make sure you have a meta description attached to each and every page of your website.
7. Create New Content Every Time
You can see that duplicate title tags (78%) and duplicate content (67%) are an issue as well with the sampled or surveyed e-commerce sites used by SEMRush in their recent reporting. With e-commerce sites if you are selling the same silver wristwatch as a few hundred other people, if you take the description and make a title tag that matches everyone else, then your content may be flagged as duplicate. And, Google in particular search results do not reward duplicate content.
In fact, how it works goes like this. Say you and 5 other online entrepreneurs decide to sell the same watch at or close to the same time, say at the beginning of this year. If you are lucky enough to be faster than the others, and get your content onto your website and indexed in the Google search engine database then you can be rewarded for unique, valuable content.
If, however, you are second or third and the algorithms recognize your content as being the same as the first two or three, then the URL that has your content is degraded within the search database. It still gets indexed and is stored in the search engine process, but you get no benefit from it in terms of rankings or first-page listings.
And the same applies to articles, blog postings and virtually any related text that you use on your website. If you use the same article as someone else, unless you are first, your SEO results will be degraded. Sometimes you can rewrite an article, changing words using synonyms and altering phrases in order to generate unique content. When you do this, in what is known as “spinning” an article, you still run some risk of jeopardizing your search results and page rankings. The algorithms used by search engines are quite complex and capable of recognizing “spun” articles or text content.
According to the Search Engine Journal, article or content spinning is a considered to be a “black hat” SEO technique that basically is a relic of the past. (https://www.searchenginejournal.com/outdated-seo-practices/276343/#close) And, it’s well recognized at this point that many search engine algorithms are more sophisticated and use AI (artificial intelligence) which can help them spot this type of “spun” content. You will most likely be at more significant risk of being penalized by Google and other search engines for this type of content in the not too distant future. Each iteration and update of the search engine algorithms gets more and more sophisticated.
You are much better off to take the time to generate new content. And that applies to e-commerce, articles, blog postings and any text you use. Keep it unique, follow the process and your SEO results will be better.
8. Please Label Your Images and Videos with Alt Tags
This one should be an easy fix, if you are guilty of not including “alt tags” on images, photos and videos you post on your website. What are these “alt tags” and how do I use them? To begin with, the “alt tag” or sometimes referred to as “alt text” have a specific purpose. They are known as alternative text or alternative tags. If you place an image or photo on your website, if a visually impaired person is scanning your website, the reader they use will pick up the alternative text or alternative tag. They will be able to “hear” what your image is all about. By including alt tags, then you are giving everyone a chance to know all of the details on your site. If you don’t include them, then the image or photo will be missing for those individuals who use a voice-response reader.
A second benefit to using alt tags comes from the fact that they make it easier for search engine crawlers and spiders to recognize your image and how it relates to the rest of your website content.
And, third, if the image cannot be displayed for some reason then the alt tag or alt text will be displayed in place of the image. You want this description to be available so that when images don’t load properly, your website visitors still get to “see” what you had in mind.
Over at https://moz.com/learn/seo/alt-text there is a much more detailed and explanatory section on “alt tags”, how to write them, and how to use them. For our purposes here, we can look at a couple of examples so that you get the idea on how to write a great alt tag.
The idea is that you want to be as helpful as possible to the search engines and spiders so that they recognize what content your image or photo provides.
9. H1 Titles and Why You Need Them
There’s a bit of controversy about H1 titles (H2s and H3s as well) in your website content and whether you actually need them or not. You can see part of the discussion in the Webmaster Hangout session below (click the image to go directly to the YouTube video).
Basically, John says that you can use H1 titles in your content (as well as H2s and H3s) but if you don’t the Google search algorithms are smart enough to figure out what your article or text content is all about.
Neil Patel at https://neilpatel.com/blog/h1-tag/ makes a compelling argument that investing time in writing your H1 title for your website content yields significantly higher traffic and search engine results (page rank, etc.) The argument basically goes like this. The H1 is used as a way to help the reader or website visitor get a better understanding of what your content is all about. And as search engines evolve, this user experience or the information contained in your H1 is more important.
The H1 title should be used to highlight the first title in your content. It can be the same as your title tag, but its okay to rewrite to create a new, unique article or content title. Use keywords in your H1 but use them naturally, don’t force it. And, the length of your H1 is not nearly as restrictive as for the title tag. Something under 70 characters (including spaces) is appropriate and will be a good length for search engine crawlers to recognize.
SEMRush also did a recent analysis of its article database to highlight the importance of H1 titles.
Based on their analysis, H1 titles with more words, i.e. longer titles, get
- 2x more traffic
- 2x more shares (across all social media platforms)
- 5x more backlinks (increasingly important for SEO and your search results)
You will get the best search result outcomes when you use a H1 title in your content (at the top of the article or post) and when that title is longer rather than shorter. Ideally your title would include keywords and have at least 10 words.
10. Be Careful to Use https:// in All Your Links
Nearly two-thirds of the sites recently analyzed by SEMRush had issues with the difference between http:// and https:// protocols. To a certain degree this is understandable. The https:// protocol has become much easier and cheaper to use on your site recently.
The “s” part of the URL refers to secure socket layer security that you may or may not have on your website. In today’s internet marketing, the security protocol is a must have. In fact, if you attempt to index URLs in Google search with Webmaster Tools, you will run into a message that states you need to upgrade to the https:// protocol. So Google specifically is placing more emphasis on a secure website, where there is less risk of spam-like comments, bad link building and other criteria used in the crawlers and spiders.
If you aren’t familiar with the SSL or secure socket layer of protection for your website, you have a couple of options. You can contact your hosting provider (e.g. GoDaddy, HostGator, Wix, etc.) and ask about having a security certificate installed on your site. There may be fees involved, but with the importance of having https:// at the front of your URL for your search engine results, any extra cost will be worth it. For providers like Namecheap.com, though, you can implement the SSL and https:// protocol for your site easily and inexpensively. Depending on the hosting package you purchase for your site, the security certificate may be free and you can install it yourself.
At Digicert.com (which sells SSL certificates), the SEO perspective is summarized as
“While building backlinks and testing on-page content for an SEO boost takes time, getting an SSL Certificate is fast and easy and the SEO boost is immediate. With Google making a push to encourage a safer Internet by giving an SEO ranking boost for sites using SSL, now is the time to buy an SSL Certificate for search rank boost.” (https://www.digicert.com/which-ssl-cert-for-seo-ranking-boost.htm)
Neil Patel put together a great analysis of how the https:// protocol can potentially affect your search engine results and page rankings. The full article is here https://neilpatel.com/blog/does-a-ssl-certificate-affect-your-seo-a-data-driven-answer/
For our purposes, the charts below show you what happens when you switch your website to https:// from http://
In this example, note the Google actually stated that the https:// protocol can boost search results, all other things equal. And the Cloudtec company did see significantly higher search results after switching to the https:// secure protocol.
For your site, consider how best to implement the SSL or https:// level of security. If you have a large website, with lots of pages, you might want to consider getting professional help to make all the necessary conversions.
If you are just starting out and are creating a new website, then the choice is easy. Go with the SSL certificate and use the https:// protocol in all your URLs.
For other existing websites, there’s an optimum choice for you. You just have to figure out the cost of certificates for your site, how to transfer, and if you expect the reward or boost from Google will be worthwhile.
Generally we can definitely say, though, that the https:// protocol in all your URLs will definitely be more important to Google and its search or SEO criteria in the very near future.
Based on a recent study by SEMRush published in part by MarketingCharts, we’ve highlighted about 10 ways you can screw up SEO for your website. If you do, your search engine results will suffer and you won’t get nearly as much traffic to your site organically. This is critically important for your website, in part because the organic, search engine traffic is free, and in part because it’s your target audience or customer base — the group of people interested in what you are doing on your site.
Along the way, we’ve also explained why these things are wrong, and how you can quickly correct them.
- Content is still king, and probably will be forever. You must have quality, valuable and unique content on your website. We suggest writing something new and unique, then putting it on your site.
- Technical details about your website matter. Check your site’s load speed, navigation and responsive design features to ensure you are getting the best possible user or site visitor experience.
- Make sure to check the ratio of text to HTML code on your site. Text needs to be as high as possible, up to about 75% to be safe. Your search results will be highly rewarded, and you will have a significant competitive advantage in your chosen market.
- Your site needs a title tag or title attribute. When you write your title, use keywords naturally and limit the title to no more than 60 characters (including spaces).
- Use a meta description for your site and when you write new content, but only use a description once. When you post new content or new text, you also need to include a new, unique meta description. Otherwise you might be penalized for duplicate content.
- Create new, unique content every time you post or write for your site. The potential loss of search rankings from duplicate content is too great. And, any article or content “spinning” you use will be viewed as a “black hat” SEO tactic. Google will not approve.
- Label images, photos and videos with alternative text or “alt tags”. Each image needs its own tag, and you need to write as descriptive a tag as possible. Search engines will then be able to recognize and index content that has images. And, visually impaired visitors to your site will be able to “hear” what your image is about.
- Use one H1 title at the beginning of your text content, article, posting, newsletter, etc. This will help support efficient crawling and indexing of your site’s content and help you generate better search results, getting you more traffic.
- Upgrade your site to SSL certificates and convert everything over to https:// protocol in your URLs as soon as you can. Google is starting to place more emphasis on the security of your site, even if you don’t process credit cards or take payments on your site.
- Dedicated resources to your SEO (and that may only mean a dedicated time for you to check and double check your content for best practices) are well worth it. Follow the steps we outline here, and not only will your search results improve and your site receive more traffic, you won’t have to worry about any more screw ups.