Top 5 Avoidable SEO Mistakes

April 1, 2008

Many Digett clients have heard me talk about improving a web page's position on a search engine results page, the practice commonly referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO). It doesn't take a genius to understand that the higher a page appears during a Google search, the more likely it is that a user will visit the page. Next to a good web site, in fact, search engine positioning may be the most important factor determining the overall success of your company's online marketing efforts.

But while most people acknowledge the importance of appearing high on the list for certain searches, the vast majority of web sites show little evidence of a meaningful attempt to make this happen. So, in the spirit of righting the wrongs of this world, here's my own list of Top 5 Avoidable SEO Mistakes.

Ineffective Site Construction

There are a number of ways to build a site that performs miserably in search engines. One of the most common -- though less prevalent than in years gone by -- is to build a site entirely in flash. Flash is a wonderful product by Adobe that makes possible, among other things, complex and beautiful animations, video and myriad of other capabilities. But if your web site is built entirely with flash, there is a good chance it will perform miserably in searches. Search engines are not effective at indexing content in flash. And while the effects that can be achieved by a skilled flash developer may be spectacular, they often do not justify the loss of visibility on major search engines. Take a look at this Google search, which shows the total number of pages indexed on the Ducati web site. One. That's it. Only one page on the entire site is even indexed by Google. Contrast that with a similar search for all pages indexed for the Enchanted Springs Ranch web site, in which some 261 pages are returned. Each of those 261 pages are associated with unique keywords and search phrases. How many key words do you think could possibly perform well for the single entry in Google's index for Ducati? For the record, it is possible to build flash sites that are, indeed, indexable. This is not a trivial undertaking, however, and requires a sizable investment. Also for the record, the number of pages indexed is not necessarily an effective criteria for measuring the overall effectiveness of a web site. Hopefully I made the point that a site that reveals only a single indexable page couldn't possibly be represented well in a search engine.

Another poor construction technique is the inappropriate use of HTML frames. This technique has largely disappeared, but occasionally such a site turns up. We won't mention any names.

Finally, from time to time we still see a site's main navigational elements built with javascript, flash, or another search-engine-invisible technique. Good navigation ensures that search engines can crawl and index all of your site's pages. By using unproven methods, you may be nailing the lid on your own web site's coffin.

Lack of Relevant Content

Think about Google's challenge: To match readers with content. If you don't have content relevant to a user's search terms, then it would be unreasonable to expect Google to send such a user to your site. Of utmost importance is effective use of keywords and phrases within your content. The most perplexing issue I see is the misuse of a site's homepage. Many site home pages carry no mention of their company's purpose, capabilities or offerings. The role of the home page is not to go into depth on these topics, but to provide an overview. The omission of good, concise copy on the home page -- including common, general search terms -- is costly. Including good content on interior pages is, of course, also important.

On a related note, it used to be a practice of webmasters to pack a page's content with keywords in any way possible. Today, the role of keyword "density", or the number of times a keyword appears within a page, has diminished considerably. Keyword "stuffing", as it is referred to, will more likely result in penalties.

Ineffective use of HTML Elements

Dovetailing nicely with "content" would be the effective use of HTML elements. Last month I discussed the importance of a page's meta description. But before spending a minute on tweaking meta descriptions, I would first ensure all of the HTML page titles of my site were unique, accurate, and full of keywords that I would expect my audience to be looking for.

Also falling into this category would appropriate use of header tags within the content of the site. The importance of header tags is debated, but if Stephan Spencer embraces it, then I'm putting my money on it. Omit proper header tags at your own risk.

Poor Linking

Like the rest of the topics discussed in this post, this one deserves more room than what it's given here. It can be a little intimidating to try to explain, since the uninitiated may have difficulty wrapping their brain around it. But an understanding of outbound and inbound linking strategies is imperative for maximizing search engine positioning.

Outbound linking is important because it provides leverage for getting others to link to you. More importantly, links should provide users with additional resources, and a site's owner with credibility. Creating unnecessary outbound links wastes readers' time and squanders your own page's link juice.

Inbound links are important because good ones make your page rank higher. Higher page rank generally means better position on a results page. The art of link building is a world unto itself, but good linking resources are not difficult to find.

No Ongoing Effort to Supplement Content

In the past I've made the argument that "new" content is always "better" when it comes to search engines. Two slices of humble pie later, I now know that this isn't always true. However, I still firmly stand behind the notion that for a site to remain effective over the course of time, its content must be augmented. If your older content is still timely, then it may continue to help you out with good search engine positioning. But let's face it, times change, along with your users and their wants and needs. Addressing this change proactively is part of what good marketing is all about.