SEO top 10 mistakes

At Equator, we’ve been managing Search Engine Optimisation campaigns now for over 10 years. In that time, we have seen many things change. “Back in the day”, there was no such thing as Google Analytics. Google itself had a rather more simplistic view of sites; people still used FRAMEs in their site and, well the world was a lot simpler – even if to the average person SEO didn’t seem that way. Fast forward to 2009 and everything is a lot more complex, Google has smartened up and everyone knows that SEO is one of the most important channels in the online mix.

At Equator, we've been managing Search Engine Optimisation campaigns now for over 10 years.

In that time, we have seen many things change. "Back in the day", there was no such thing as Google Analytics. Google itself had a rather more simplistic view of sites; people still used FRAMEs in their site and, well the world was a lot simpler - even if to the average person SEO didn't seem that way. Fast forward to 2009 and everything is a lot more complex, Google has smartened up and everyone knows that SEO is one of the most important channels in the online mix.

So you'd think by now that everyone also knows how to make their website search engine friendly - at least at a basic level. Well, we're not going to name and shame people, but we can certainly say that we witness every one of these 10 mistakes happening with great regularity today - even though most of these are now the stuff of SEO folklore. Now is the time - clear your conscience by ensuring you're not on this list (or are at least trying to do something about it!)

1 - Duplicate content sites

It's so easy to do, you own www.mysite.com and www.mysite.co.uk. You think that you should have a presence on both URLs, so you upload your site to both locations. Wrong! If you consider Google is trying to find the site that is most important and it finds two sites the same, which is it going to choose? It can't because they're identical...so it doesn't and penalises both sites. Rather, what you need to do is choose a primary URL and point all other domains to it with a 301 redirect. This tells the search engines that this is the site and that all other URLs are merely referrals. No duplicate penalty and only one URL for your users to remember.

But don't stop there! Have you got the same content on two pages on your site? Perhaps because it's relevant to both areas. Same problem. You need to make the content unique on each page or, better still, have one place for it and reference it from the other page with a link. After all, if you say it well and link well, there's no need to repeat yourself.

2 - Flash websites

Flash might be attractive but not to search engines and users. If you really insist that your site is Flash-based and you want search engines to love it, provide an html version. Here are some more tips for optimizing Flash sites. Search engines don't like Flash sites for a reason - a spider can't read Flash content and therefore can't index it.

3 -Title tag trashing

Think of it as Google's guide to what the page is about. If you don't have a title tag or, typically, just have your brand or site name in it (on every page!) then you're giving the search engines very little to work with. Make your title tags smart, concise and useful and leave your brand till last - you probably rank for that anyway! Every page should have a unique tag and it shouldn't be rambling. Think about your users too, this should tell them what they can find on the page too!

4 - Hopeless URLs

Getting back to basics, the simplest reference for your site is its URL. Way back when the web was first conceived, there was no way to search the web like you do now and every URL had to be hand-keyed. That meant people made them simple, easy-to-remember and in plain English. So, if you were searching for a black party dress then you would put it somewhere like this: www.myclothesshop.com/womens/dresses/partydresses/black-sequin-dress.html.

So why do so many sites look like this... www.myclothesshop.com/icat/8475340985734.htm. If you consider the user has little chance of knowing what the URL is for, think what the dumb search engine will make of it. Good URLs make a site attractive, easy to navigate, easy to link to. Don't let your site boggle the search engines with meaningless nonsense. Every site should be capable of English-speaking URLs!

5 - Search unfriendly navigation

Using JavaScript for navigation is not bad as long as you understand that search engines do not read JavaScript and build your web pages accordingly. So if you have JavaScript menus you can't do without, you should consider building a sitemap (or putting the links in a noscript tag) so that all your links will be crawlable.

6 - Going after broad generics

It's easy to make the mistake of going after big, broad generics. After all, ask a site owner what they do and they'll likely say "We do clothes" or "We are in the hotel business" or something similar. It used to be the case that this is how the user searched in Google. But times are changing and people are getting smarter about search. Think about what it is to go after 'clothes' and you'll realise just how broad a search that is. How committed is someone to buying if they search for "television" compared to a search for "Panasonic Viera 50" television"? In the first instance, they may not even be looking to buy, maybe just wanting to read the Wikipedia article on the topic.

At Equator, we don't start with the broad generics and try and hit SEO with a blunt instrument. We start with the long-tail and work our way up. That way we are targeting buyers - not browsers, purchasers - not researchers. If you can't think beyond the generic, look at what you sell and then get more specific. You will reach a more targeted and more achievable audience that way!

7 - SEO as an afterthought

Starting a site? Building a new and better site? Chances are, you'll 'start' the whole SEO thing once the site is up and running, working on your content, engaging a great agency like us to manage your SEO and so on. STOP! Reeeeewind! If you're smart and you want to get the most out of your SEO investment, then you need to start SEO as soon as you start the plans on your new site. Optimising your site for search considers its design, its structure, the hierarchy of pages, what each page does, what it is called, what images are called and a whole lot more. What's the point of building something, taking it to market and then trying to make it search-friendly. We're already working with clients at the design stages to integrate SEO and the effects are positive. Consider the power of going live with your new site and moving up the rankings to top 3 positions within a few hours! That's the difference it can make!

8 - Not going all the way

And if you want to avoid another SEO mistake in site launch, then going all the way. We love running SEO campaigns for our clients and have good relationships with all of them but we particularly like clients who go all the way with us - that is, doing everything we advise to make their site work hard in Google. When you hire an agency to do your SEO, they should be working hard with you to get you links and all that other good stuff, but at least 40% of that is site works. If you're not doing everything you can to make your site more SEO friendly then you're missing a big trick. Whether it is making the URLs more friendly, naming your images something useful or writing search-friendly copy, you're limiting the return you get from any search investment (that includes PPC to some degree too!)

9 - Black hat practices

The history of SEO is littered with black hat practices, invisible text, text hidden behind images, clone sites and so on. But they were not always black hat practices - at first they were just ideas. After all, the whole essence of SEO is trying to push the sites up the search engines beyond the positions Google & co. believe they should take. To do this, you have to learn how Google works to achieve this. You always find things that Google has missed. Google eventually finds these things out... sometimes it deems them ok, sometimes not.

If it's an "ok" then you're free to keep doing them as Google believes them to be fair practice in honest optimisation. If it's a "not" then they will tell you on their Webmaster Central and you'd better stop. Be sure to read it regularly. We still regularly encounter sites with hidden text, rented links and spamming. Here at Equator, it's white-hat SEO all the way and we've been getting our clients up the rankings the honest way for years - so we know there's no need for witchcraft to deliver you sales!

10 - Analytics

Oh, people who will do anything to avoid analytics. Seriously! It's 2009 and there are still people in charge of their websites who would quicker feign death that use an analytics package. Why? Well, I can imagine that maybe six or seven years ago, when all you really had to go on was server logs that you would have a reasonable excuse to avoid them. After all, they usually involve screeds and screeds of data that and you would need a fair proficiency in Microsoft Access to make any sense of it all. That, or people would use the excuse that "that sort of thing costs too much".

True enough, before Google Analytics came along, analysis tools were clunky and invariably expensive. But, in true Google style, Analytics blew the competition away and delivered a free and easy-to-use analytics package. Unless you're a large public company, retailer or services provider, Google Analytics has everything you will need to get real site intelligence. And if you're not using it then shame on you! I promise you, 20 minutes simply exploring the screens within Google Analytics and you'll find something new about your site. And if you want to learn more about Analytics, drop us a line! We're experts at advanced Analytics installs and ecommerce tracking as well as being rather good at training people. So, there's nothing to be scared of. Kick your SEO up a notch and get your head round your Analytics and learn where your customers are coming from and what your site is giving them!