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Six terrible SEO mistakes and how to avoid them

By Alexandra Gavril - September 8, 2014

When building a site, webmasters often get carried away with the design, colour scheme, fonts or rankings that they forget about the importance of search engine optimisation (SEO) best practices. These best practices can help you to endure Google’s ever-changing algorithm updates, to avoid search engine penalties and to become the go-to resource for your audience.

So if you’re building a new site, make sure you avoid making the following six terrible SEO mistakes if you want your site to stand the test of time.

1. Optimising for the wrong keywords

Are you optimising your content using words that people search for? If not, then you’re losing traffic as your audience won’t be able to find you since their search doesn’t make your site show up in search engine results.

In a video about SEO areas where webmasters make the most mistakes, Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Webspam, also mentioned not optimising for the right keywords. For example, Cutts says that if you have a page on Mount Everest’s elevation, you shouldn’t optimise for “Mount Everest elevation”. Instead you should optimise using a keyword phrase like “how high is Mount Everest” because that’s what people are going to type into the search box to get to your page.

And it doesn’t stop here. It’s even worse if you optimise your site using:

  • Global keywords, although you have a local business and only sell in a specific country or city
  • Short keywords that are too competitive and your site doesn’t even show up on page ten on Google.
  • Generic keywords that attract visitors who aren’t interested in what you’re offering. For example, if you’re selling Asics running shoes, you definitely shouldn’t expect to rank for the word “shoes”.

Be as specific as possible by using long-tail keywords and optimising for local search to increase rankings and get the right visitors to your site who are interested in your offering. For example, if you’re a web designer you shouldn’t optimise for a broad keyword like “web design”. Instead, use keywords like “professional web design services in London” or “ecommerce web design services in London” or “web design services for London small businesses”. By optimising for long-tail keywords, you’re not only attracting the right audience but chances are you’ll start producing results immediately.

2. Having the same title and description for all pages

Despite the emphasis Google puts on unique titles and meta descriptions, there are still many sites out there that:

  • Have all pages under the same title and with the same description
  • Have titles that are longer than 50-60 characters.
  • Have descriptions that are longer than 150-160 characters.

Absolutely every page on your site needs to have a unique title that describes the content on that page. It’s not just for SEO but for other reasons as well such as bookmarking and social sharing. When someone bookmarks or shares your pages, how will anyone be able to differentiate them if they say the same thing?

Also, make sure both your title and description include your main keywords for that page and make them are as persuasive as possible in order to make people want to click on your listing when your page shows up in search results.

Want more? Read Moz’s title tag guide and this great post from Search Engine Watch with tips for terrific title tags.

3. Not adding an alt tag to your images

Search engines can’t “see” images which means you need to describe them with text to tell search engines what they’re about. Failing to label your images accordingly can cause problems.

Only a week ago, Greggs’ logo was hijacked because the alt tag they used to describe their logo wasn’t as clear as the one given by Uncyclopedia. That’s how important it is to add an alt tag to your images. So make sure you give your images clear, descriptive, relevant file names and alt text tags.

4. Not doing internal linking

Internal linking refers to inter-linking your web pages and it’s important because:

  • You can help search engines discover and index more pages from your site
  • It’s a signal to search engines that a specific page is very important for your site
  • You can help visitors find related products or learn more about a subject they’re interested in.

Here are some good practices for internal linking:

  • Link to pages that are relevant, not just for the sake of inter-linking
  • Avoid using generic anchor text like “click here” or “find out more”. Instead, be more specific about the information visitors can expect to find if they click on that link.
  • Link older pages that already have authority and traffic to new pages and link new pages to older pages. Make sure these links connect pages that are in some way associated and so help visitors navigate their way around the site.
  • Make sure that the pages you want to rank higher in the search engine results pages have the most internal links.

5. Using the same anchor text for every link

Anchor text is the clickable text which sends the visitor to another page on your site or on an external site.

Optimising your anchor text is important but make sure you don’t use the same one for every link to a page. If most of the links that are pointing to your page have the exact same anchor text, that will send spammy link signals to search engines like Google, which can get you penalised.

So, mix it up by using variations of your keyword phrases and make it look more natural to both visitors and search engines.

Want to dig deeper? Check out this interesting post on anchor text diversity.

6. Building links too fast

Inbound links are still an important factor in Google’s ranking algorithm. However, if you’ve hired a cheap SEO agency who claim they’ll build hundreds or thousands of links quickly, then you’re doing it wrong. Here’s what you can expect instead – a Google penalty that might make your beloved website disappear from the search engine’s results page.

Link building is crucial to any SEO campaign but you need to do it properly if you want to achieve great results and avoid getting penalised. So, what’s the best way to build links? Try guest blogging on popular, high quality sites in your niche. Sharing your knowledge and expertise through guest posting is an effective way to build links as well as to increase your brand’s authority and credibility online. Find out how to use guest posting to build connections and mentions for your site.

Your turn now

These are a few of the biggest and most common SEO mistakes which I hope explained more about how to do proper SEO, and not just how not to do SEO.

Have you made any of the above SEO mistakes? What other common mistakes do you see made by other websites, and how would you recommend fixing them?