Voice search. Artificial intelligence. Google algorithm updates. Mobile-first indexing.
It's difficult to keep up with the ever-changing world of SEO, but it's a must for marketers. Search engines like Google are becoming way more advanced. For example, search bots can detect semantic relationships within the content and better understand searcher intent.
There are also plenty of changes in searcher behavior. People are simply using Google differently now. For example, they can speak full sentences as they voice search through Siri and Alexa. They can also type more detailed search queries into search engines.
Plus, expectations are evolving. Searchers want to click on your website and find what they need in an instant. They expect a clean, user-friendly experience.
You have to stay in the loop with SEO best practices. Otherwise, you could be making costly errors, which have a huge impact on your ability to generate organic traffic and boost your search visibility.
What is SEO? How can website SEO impact your organization? What are the most common website SEO mistakes that drive a business's search engine results page rankings into the proverbial dirt?
Let's find out.
What Is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for "Search Engine Optimization." Which, yes, does make the phrase "SEO optimization" a bit of a tautology—much like the phrase "ATM machine" is tautological because the M in ATM already stands for "machine."
Search engine optimization is the practice of designing or revamping a website to enhance its ranking in search engine results pages (SERPs). The challenge with SEO is that best practices are always changing as search engine providers such as Google change their algorithms to better serve their users.
This means that what worked a few years ago as great SEO advice might not work so well today. In fact, when Google notices that websites have figured out their ranking algorithm and start using so-called "black hat" SEO tricks, they will change their algorithm specifically to punish those kinds of abusive tricks.
Some of the SEO mistakes that will be covered later in this article were, at one point, fast ways to shoot up the rankings, but now are sure to get a website brutally downgraded in SERP lists.
On-Page vs. Off-Page SEO
Another common challenge of SEO is that it can often be more than what is on the page. While on-page elements such as website copy, images, and internal links to other resources play a major role in your overall SEO ranking, some "off-page" SEO elements can also affect your site's ranking in Google or other search engines.
What do these terms mean?
- On-Page SEO Elements. These are the items that are directly on your website that you have control over. This can include page copy, meta descriptions, images, alt text, website design elements, and more. If it's on your site, it's part of your on-page SEO.
- Off-Page SEO Elements. These are items that you might have limited control over that aren't part of your website. For example, backlinks are a major part of your SEO used by search engines to determine your site's domain authority, but you don't have direct control over whether an outside organization will choose to link to your website. This can pose an enormous challenge to site owners looking to increase ranking because they don't control many of these SEO elements directly—and backlinks in particular can be hard to earn if you aren't already showing up in the top results for Google searches!
Now that the preamble's out of the way, here are some of the most common SEO mistakes we've seen being committed in various areas:
Design SEO Mistakes
The design of your website can help or hurt your SEO efforts in many ways. One of the most obvious aspects this affects is the user experience (UX).
While there are plenty of companies using UX design strategies to deliver optimal experiences, you might be committing one of these common SEO mistakes that is hurting your design:
1. Failing to Optimize for Mobile Devices
Mobile devices continue to dominate the search scene. According to data from Statista, in Q1 2023, 58.33 percent of all traffic on the web was from mobile devices.
When you visit a website on your mobile device and the content doesn't fit the screen, the experience can be incredibly frustrating.
If you’re not optimizing for the mobile, users will leave quickly. Your bounce rate will soar.
But more importantly, thanks to Google's mobile-first indexing, your search ranking can take a hit. Mobile-first indexing works like this: You have a desktop site but not a mobile-friendly site. Your competitor who has both desktop and mobile-friendly sites will likely outrank you, even for searchers on desktop.
In other words, a mobile-friendly website is a must in the current digital landscape. This trend will likely favor mobile optimization even more.
2. Poor Navigation Experience
Users who find your site will want to find what they need fast. Therefore, you need a navigation experience that makes sense.
If your navigation is not intuitive and you bury certain web pages, you can expect high bounce rates and lower traffic. Visitors don't want to dig through your sitemap to find the information they need. They want what they want as soon as possible.
So, it's important to build your website navigation to allow visitors to locate the content they're searching for promptly.
3. Infinite Scroll Pages That Can’t Be Crawled
The infinite scroll continues to be a popular feature. It can deliver an excellent experience for your visitors. The more they scroll through a webpage, like your blog, the more content appears.
This continually engages visitors and improves your time on page and session duration.
But if the infinite scroll is not correctly added, bots won’t be able to crawl your site. This will lead to you losing SEO value and hurting your ranking potential.
On-Page SEO Mistakes
As you build your content, there are so many on-page SEO elements you can make the most of. If you're not checking off all the boxes, you're not getting the best results from your content.
You might be making these on-page SEO errors:
4. Broken Internal Links
Without both internal and external linking, you’re not creating any link juice. This is also known as link authority, which is the measure of the effect a link has on your site's overall ranking.
A common linking error is the dreaded broken internal link. A broken link is a link to another piece of content on your site that returns a 404 error message. If you've ever seen a message like "404: Page Not Found," you've seen an example of a broken link. Some website owners have even created fun and interesting 404 pages to help keep visitors engaged when this error happens.
How does this happen? It can happen for several reasons:
- Incorrectly Transcribed Links. Sometimes, even when copying and pasting the link URL into your editor tool, you might make a mistake. For example, say that you meant to link to an article on your site with the URL www.xyz.com/made-up-resource-here, but, as you hit ctrl or command-V, you also accidentally hit another key right after without noticing, so the URL now ends in "made-up-resource-herez" instead of the actual URL ending. When someone clicks the link, the browser won't be able to find the page, so the user will get a 404 error.
- Forgetting to Redirect Archived Pages. Another common error is that, for whatever reason, a page is deleted from a website. For example, say you're cleaning up your old blogs, such as by consolidating some into longer articles with more value to the reader and unpublishing the ones that no longer work on your site. If you don't create a redirect of the old URL to a new one, any links to that deleted content piece will create a 404 error for visitors.
With these in mind, it's important to check your links for these 404 errors and fix them as necessary from time to time.
5. Low Quality Content
Your website content should be engaging and informative. Your audience wants quality information that helps them address their specific pain points. They'll wonder why they showed up to your site if you're delivering subpar blog articles.
When your content is thin or regurgitated, visitors will know immediately and leave. This diminishes your credibility and can hurt your domain authority, which hurts your ranking potential.
Plus, Google can penalize you for thin content that offers little to no value to your website visitors. To avoid penalties and build an awesome reputation, create awesome content that is substantial.
6. Incorrectly Formatted or Missing Meta Descriptions
Your title tags and meta descriptions for your website pages are displayed on SERPs as the clickable headline for a given result. So obviously, from an SEO standpoint, they're very important.
Unfortunately, there are several common mistakes marketers make when it comes to title tags. According to SEMrush, missing meta descriptions are an issue on 67 percent of all websites that they have checked. Considering that the sample size for the check was over 250,000 websites, that's a statistically significant figure.
Meta descriptions summarize the webpage and show up in the SERPs, so they're super valuable for earning clicks.
So why not make the most of them?
A good meta description can impact your click-through rate (CTR) and how your snippets appear on a SERP. You might as well optimize for your keywords and thoroughly describe what the webpage is about.
7. Improperly Compressed Images
One SEO error I encounter a lot when looking at SEO optimization reports is an issue with improperly compressed images. This often happens when someone takes a raw image file and uploads it to their website. This issue impacts page load speed and performance—which hurts website SEO optimization in turn.
For example, if you get an image from Adobe Stock, the file size can be several megabytes (MB, or 1,000 KB). While that's not a lot for a high-quality photo when the average storage media for computers and smartphones measures capacity in gigabytes (GB, or 1,000 MB) or terabytes (TB, or 1,000 GB), it keeps the image from loading quickly.
Ideally, you want the images on your site pages to be as small as possible—under 1 MB at the most, but only a few hundred kilobytes (KB) is ideal. Passing images through a compression tool before uploading them to your website helps reduce their file sizes so they load faster while still looking high-quality.
8. Duplicate Content on the Site
Google really hates plagiarism. And it doesn't exactly inspire confidence from consumers, either. Having duplicate content on the site is an extremely common issue that heavily impacts website SEO. It's truly one of the worst SEO mistakes a site can make—and one that is easy to avoid.
How common is this issue? As noted by SEMrush in the report cited earlier:
- 50.8 percent of websites have duplicate title tags.
- 49.7 percent of websites have duplicate meta descriptions.
- 45.8 percent of websites have duplicate content on the page.
- 36.8 percent of websites have duplicate content in the h1 and title.
This doesn't just cover duplicate content on your site, but also content that matches exactly with other websites out there in the world. While it's true that there's nothing new under the sun and that if there's one article on a subject, there are likely to be 100 more just like it, just phrased differently, it's important to take the time and effort to create original content and avoid copying content—even your own.
One example of a site I saw that had severe issues with this was a company that was running near-weekly events. For each event, they would create a new page, but with the copy only slightly tweaked to have a different date/time. This led to massive duplication errors on the site, tanking its ranking in SERPs.
To fix this, our team recommended archiving and unpublishing the old event pages and redirecting the pages to the most recent version of the page—then just updating the existing page for each new event. Another solution could be to add a "noindex, nofollow" code to each page's header so Google's crawlers wouldn't count the duplicate content against them. Using canonical URLs would be another potential solution to this problem.
Technical SEO Mistakes
Search engine spiders are crawling sites and indexing content at incredible rates. If you don't have all your technical SEO ducks in a row, you're going to hurt your ranking potential.
Let's review the most common technical SEO mistakes:
9. Slow Page Load Speed
We've all been there: You spend minutes or hours looking for a solution to a problem. Then, you finally see a result on your SERP that appears super helpful. You click it and then ... nothing.
The page hangs in a slow-loading limbo. This can get frustrating, to say the least.
This frequently hurts the user experience and can drive visitors away from your website. Unfortunately, this is all too common.
SEMRush's study found that 28.4 percent of websites and webpages have slow page load speeds. Don't lose out on valuable visitors. Not only does this make your bounce rate soar; but it also contributes to a bad reputation.
Want to be a credible, authoritative resource? Make sure your pages load quickly.
10. Poorly Structured URLs
This is another oft-overlooked technical SEO element. URLs matter much more than you think.
There are plenty of common mistakes companies make with URLs. For example, SEMRush's study found that 20% of webpages include underscores in URLs, and 4% have URLs that are too long.
Keep your URLs concise, readable by humans, and informative.
11. Lack of Security
Straight from the authority themselves, Google says that the level of security you have on your site and page is a ranking factor.
This is why it's so important to use HTTPS. If you’re not providing a secure site, browsers like Chrome and Firefox will show users your site is not secure.
This hurts your reputation and can prevent visitors from going to and staying on your site.
General SEO Mistakes
There are so many aspects to your content marketing strategy that impact SEO in one way or another. Here are a few common mistakes you should strive to avoid:
12. Lack of Planning
If you're just blindly creating content and webpages without any plan or goals in mind, you're driving blind.
Planning is an essential piece of the marketing puzzle as a whole, and it can help your SEO strategy, too.
You can't afford to sleep on strategizing.
Conduct keyword research, and build topic clusters into your overall gameplan.
13. Ignoring Data and Analytics
Data drives decisions and should always influence how your strategy evolves. You should always be pulling reports from your analytics tools to see how your SEO strategy is benefitting (or hurting) your overall plan.
Those who ignore data won't get very far. Look for tools that can help you get where you need to be. There are plenty of options available that allow you to track your rankings for specific keywords you're optimizing for and to keep an eye on your competitors as well.
14. Lack of Flexibility
There is no set-it-and-forget-it strategy in any aspect of marketing. SEO strategies are no exception.
With the right tools, you can gather plenty of data. This data should indicate where you can improve and what efforts are hurting you.
But just knowing is half the battle. You also need to act. Analyze the reports you're pulling, and determine action items to take your SEO strategy to the next level.