The importance of search engine optimization (SEO) in achieving first-page search rankings cannot be overstated, yet many websites remain poorly optimized. On some sites, it's because certain elements were overlooked or missed entirely during the writing and building of the site. In other circumstances, there was not a strategy created to guide SEO. No matter what the situation, a website without proper SEO is practically a ticking time bomb to the visibility of your website and the overall success of your organization.
Of the many SEO mistakes we encounter, here are five we see the most frequently.
1Not Researching Keywords
Some companies have strong notions of what their customers are likely typing into search engines when looking for their product or service. However, these terms may not, in fact, be the best ones to use for SEO purposes. Some terms or groups of terms have virtually no search volume, meaning few people are searching for those phrases.
Focusing your SEO efforts on terms with low or no search volume may put you at #1 on the search results when that specific term is searched, but that top ranking is pretty useless when most of your true potential customers search using other terms or phrases.
It's also not uncommon that terms critical to your industry or company have an entirely different meaning in another industry or context. For instance, when you search "Cars," are you looking to buy a car in your area or are you looking for a synopsis of the Pixar movie? Context is important.
Occasionally, there will be terms you want your site to rank on that are already associated with something else entirely, be it unsavory, divisive or inappropriate content. In situations like that, it's best to avoid accidentally establishing a connection.
|Here’s what you need to know to determine a keyword’s value:||And why it’s important:|
|How often do users search for the term or terms in close relation to it?||If there is no search volume on keywords you select, no one will see your site.|
|How difficult it will be to rank for those terms?||You’ll want to know how many other sites use this term in their SEO efforts and if the term is winnable and worth your efforts.|
|What are your current search engine rankings for the term?||If your site is already ranking on a term without strong SEO efforts, it indicates that the term is a good descriptor of the information on your site. It will also be easier to move up in search rankings if you optimize your digital content even further.|
|Who else is ranking for the term? Are your competitors claiming the top spots? Or is it someone in another industry altogether?||Understanding what terms your competitors are trying to rank on can give you a sense of how well a term applies to what you do. However, if the top rankings for a term belong to companies not related to you at all, you may want to rethink using that term.|
By thoroughly researching the terms related to your business you will get a clear picture of which words or phrases are the most appropriate for your site and how likely you will be able to reach first-page ranking.
2Not Utilizing and/or Optimizing Metadata
Metadata is information that is embedded in a website’s code, but viewers do not see it within the content on your website pages. Search engines use this information to determine what information your site contains.
Meta titles and descriptions are used to create the listing for the search engine result. They not only allow you to tell search engines what info is on the page; they also allow you to have a say in what viewers see in your search engine results.
Both the title and description are ideal places to include keywords as they will be seen by the search engines as well as by the searcher. It’s important that the titles and descriptions are relevant to the page and easy to read, so only include keywords when it is natural.
3Omitting Image Alt Tags
Image alt tags are descriptive labels for images on your site. Search engines can’t “read” an image to know what it is, so alt image tags provide a description. Someone using an assistive device, such as a screen reader, for a sight impairment will make use of the image alt tag.
Having image alt tags improves the user experience while also providing an opportunity for utilizing keywords. But again, only use them when they relate to the image and make sense in context.
4Neglecting to Create an XML Sitemap
A sitemap is a list of the pages on your website that search engines can read to quickly catalog what your site is about and what content you’re offering visitors.
Google, which rarely gives the public specifics on how to improve rankings, even suggests that you have a sitemap. Here it in in their own words:
Search engine web crawlers like Googlebot read [your sitemap] to more intelligently crawl your site... in most cases, your site will benefit from having a sitemap, and you'll never be penalized for having one.
If you want to rank in organic search results, you’ve got to make it really easy for those search engine bots and algorithms. If they don’t know what your site is about, they’re more likely to choose another site that they know is relevant to display as a top result instead.
Having a sitemap is good, but submitting that sitemap to the search engines is better. Both Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools allow you to submit the location of the sitemap so they will then know where to look when they crawl your site.
5SEO is Critical, but Not at the Expense of Good User Experience
All of the above elements are important for SEO, but the most important element for search engines is user experience.
Anything that makes your website harder to read, harder to navigate or less relevant to the user will be penalized. For example, your keywords should be in your page copy, but only when relevant and natural. A sentence chock full of keywords is going to appear spammy to Google and be hard to read for your visitors. Same with metadata: it should describe what is on the page in natural language and include keywords when possible.
And, of course, using your good judgment when optimizing your site for search is as vital as any of the tips we’ve covered above.