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5 Painfully Common SEO Mistakes to Avoid

Monday, September 28, 2009

Every company wants their website to show up well in search engines, and their marketing teams understand the importance of search engine optimization. And after the thousands of articles and blog posts written about search engine optimization, SEO is no longer the black art it once was. It's still a blend of art and science, but the basics should be well understood at this point by web marketers and designers. To their credit, many have integrated this basic knowledge.

Yet there are still a surprising number of sites that violate some of the most basic principles of SEO, and pay a penalty in poor search position. Here are a few still-common mistakes that are easy to avoid.

Header Tag Abuse: Although header tags have declined somewhat in SEO importance, they still have somewhat of an impact on rankings—and they are an easy thing to get right. Sites that use words and phrases like "Overview," "About Us" and "Our Services" in their h1, h2 and h3 headers are wasting an opportunity. If you have a page describing your screaming blue thingamabobs, then "About Our Screaming Blue Thingamabobs" is a better header tag for SEO purposes.

Graphic Design > SEO: For the sake of design, many sites still use bland, generic labels for site navigation buttons (e.g., "Products," "Services," "Technology" etc.). One-word terms may let your designer create cute little buttons, but they don't tell you site visitors much and don't tell search engine bots anything. If your product is precision machining doohickies, then that's what your "Products" button should say. After all, your navigation buttons are internal links, and descriptive text labels for internal links are still important for SEO.

"Company" Words vs. "Customer" Words: This is particularly an issue in technology companies, but can happen in any situation where proper keyword research is skipped. Someone will say, "Our product isn't technically a thingamajib, it's actually a whatchamacall it." That may be true, but if the product competes in the thingamajib category, performs the same functions as a thingamajib, and most importantly, if prospective customers will search for it using thingamajib, then that's the term that had better be used on the website.

Sloppy Code: Search engine bots are lazy, so the best practice is to produce clean, minimalist code, for example by relying more on CSS and less on HTML tables. Another common error is to load pages up with lots of Javascript. Ugh! Javascript certainly has it's place, such as in creating drop-down menus, but the code should be stored in separate files and called as needed, minimizing the code on searchable pages.

Ugly URLs: A URL like is much more meaningful to both search engines and humans than, or even worse, something like

Bonus sixth mistake to avoid: build links to your site carefully, using a mix of directory submission, social media, direct outreach, PR and link bait. Avoid link spamming (or hiring a "bargain" SEO firm that engages in this practice); having a bunch of irrelevant, spammy links somewhere on your site is great way to get ignored by the search engines.


Contact Tom Pick: tomATwebmarketcentralDOTcom
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