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Turtle and the Hare Illustration

Source: Tsahi Levent-Levi

Many businesses come to SEO agencies looking for quick and easy solutions to their online problems. More often than not, all they want is to get high up in the rankings on Google, and they want to be there now.

In the past, there were ways to make this possible, though they’ve always been perceived as shady methods of optimization. Now, with Google’s continued push to make search more rewarding for the users rather than the companies fighting for the rankings, most of those techniques are completely obsolete.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find people still trying to sell you on these methods, but you will find that if you follow their advice, you won’t see your site suddenly excelling in the rankings. Instead, you will find Google slamming the door in your face by penalizing your site for your disingenuous optimization.

I found one of these groups still pushing the out of date, insta-SEO methods in a newsletter I recently came across, but I found it humorous. It seems now even the companies selling these “quick and easy” SEO “solutions” can’t even hide the reality of the situation.

The newsletter offers four “solutions” which will all sound very familiar to anyone keeping up with the SEO industry. They suggest buying links from high PR pages, joining backlink networks, using software to get quick backlinks from social sites, and using scripts to quickly fill your website with content. Do those sound familiar? If they do, you’ve probably read a list of what NOT to do in SEO within the past year.

What makes this newsletter so funny to me is that every “solution” comes with the concession that “Google doesn’t like them at all.” Every solution spends one short paragraph detailing how the methods (used to) work, but then they are all paired with a warning underneath explaining how Google has adapted to these methods and learned to cut them out of the rankings.

There is even a checklist at the bottom which tells you when to avoid the methods, and the checklist is basically made up of asking “is the website for a company?” and “do you want to succeed?” If you answered yes to either of those, even the people offering this advice admit you shouldn’t be using “quick and easy” SEO. If I didn’t know better, I would think their advice was satire, however they seem too eager to tell business owners that these methods will get you to the top of Google quickly.

The truth is, SEO is slow and the only way to build long lasting success is to keep up to date with Google’s best practices. If you want quick online success, sure you can use these spammy methods, but they won’t last long at all, and it is better to put your money towards optimization that has some sort of long-term chance of survival.

While quality SEO is a complex, time-consuming job, there are many types of SEO that any site owner can do. There are also a lot of basic mistakes that site owners regularly make while trying to optimize their own page.

To help prevent these easily corrected mistakes, Matt Cutts, Google’s head of their Webspam team, devoted one of his recent YouTube videos (which you can watch below) to identifying the five most basic SEO mistakes anyone can make.

1) Not Making Your Site Crawlable – According to Cutts, the most common mistake “by volume” is simply not making Google able to crawl your site, or not even having a domain to begin with.

The way Google learns about sites is through web “crawlers” that index pages by following links. If you don’t provide links allowing Google’s bots to find your site, it won’t know what is there. If you can’t reach content by clicking normal links on the page in a text browser, it might as well not exist to Google.

2) Not Using Words People Are Searching For – Google also tries to connect people with the most relevant information for the exact search they used. If someone searches “how high is Mount Everest,” they will be connected with a site using those exact words on a page before they will be suggested a page using just “Mount Everest elevation.”

My favorite example Cutts uses of this is a restaurant’s website, mainly because it seems many restaurants have very minimal websites that are insanely in need of optimization and a bit of a design overhaul. When people look for a restaurant to eat, they search for a couple of things, mainly the location, menu, and hours. If the page has those listed in plain text, Google will index that information and direct more people to the site, than those with PDF menus or no information at all.

3) Focusing On Link Building – One of the biggest buzzwords in SEO is link building. It is one of the oldest strategies, and it is constantly tweaked by Google’s algorithms to keep it in the news regularly, but it may actually be dragging you down.

When people think link building, they cut off many other ideas and marketing options which will equally boost your site. Cutts suggests instead to focus on general marketing. If you make your website more well-known and respected within your community, you will attract real people, which will bring organic links which are much more respected by the search engines.

4) Bad Titles and Descriptions – Many people neglect their titles and descriptions assuming they will either be automatically filled in, or won’t matter in the long run. If your website says “untitled” in the title bar, it will also say “untitled” in a bookmarks folder as well as actual search results. Now ask yourself, would you click on a website without a title?

Similarly, the descriptions for webpages are often blank or copy and pasted straight from the page with no context. Your description should be enticing people to want to click on your page, as well as showing that you have the answer to the question they are searching for. If people can build entire followings around 140 character tweets, you should be able to make someone want to click your page with a 160 character description.

5) Not Using Webmaster Resources – This problem can only be born out of ignorance or laziness. There are countless SEO resources available out there, and most of them are free. The best resources anyone can turn too are the Webmaster Tools and Guidelines that Google offers, but you shouldn’t just stick to those either. There are blogs, webinars, videos, and forums all happy to teach you SEO, you just have to use them. If you’re reading this however, you probably don’t have this problem.

Conclusion

The most common SEO problems, according to Cutts, are also the most simple problems imaginable. There are resources available that will help you fix all your basic SEO problems, and you’ll learn more and get better through finding them and practicing. If you’re currently dealing with trying to learn how to make your site crawlable, you have a long way to go, but if you just keep working at it, you’ll be an SEO pro eventually.

When things go wrong with an SEO campaign, it puts everyone involved in a tricky position. The first step is obviously to figure out what happened and who is responsible in order to fix the problem, but pointing out who is responsible for failure can hurt egos and business relationships if not handled right.

The most problematic situation is when a client is at fault, which is indeed possible. The customer is always right may be a good philosophy to live by in many cases, but it isn’t actually all that true when it comes to implementation. This is especially true when you are working with someone not all that informed about SEO.

Some SEOs will try to cut out the client, but that hurts the campaign as well. Instead, the best option is making sure to educate clients about the process in order to avoid issues, though that obviously can’t keep all problems from popping up. If one does arise, it is your job to talk the issue through with your client. While it may be their fault for not following through on a responsibility, it is equally likely you are also responsible due to a failure of communication.

Amanda DiSilvestro suggested a few ways clients can end up bringing down an SEO campaign, as well as how Search Engines and SEOs themselves can derail your progress. The most common issues for clients include:

  • Failing to Change – Many times, SEOs will suggest changes to make onpage to optimize a website, and often it will mean tweaking content to include keywords or possibly editing a meta tag. Clients are often very protective of their content however, and sometimes ignore these suggestions. In this case, the SEO has done their job, but if the client isn’t willing to cooperate, there is little the expert can do.
  • Failing to Plan as a Group – When SEOs aren’t confident in their client’s understanding of optimization, they sometimes begin to ignore the client all together. But, even if a client doesn’t want to be very hands on with the campaign, they almost certainly had goals in mind when they hired the pros, and those goals should be included in the plan for optimization. If a client tries to avoid being a part of the SEO process, including reading the regular reports, there will be a schism between the SEO expert and the company, which will likely splinter the campaign and weaken it.
  • Giving Up Too Early – Too many potential clients come to SEO agencies wanting quick fixes. No matter how earnestly you try to explain that optimization is a slow process, if the client doesn’t comprehend how long it will actually take, they are likely to get frustrated and shut the whole thing down before they really had a chance to reap rewards. There is little SEOs can do here except try to really communicate about time estimates and benchmarks you expect to hit, or just refusing clients that refuse to understand there is no way to get to the number one spot on Google overnight.

Now, we all know clients aren’t always the problem. In fact, it is usually the professional that ends up torpedoing the whole campaign. SEO firms and experts have the power in the campaign, and it is a tough balancing act to get everything on a site working as well as it can to impress the search engines. There are endless reasons a campaign may not work, but unfortunately the most common all stem from just plain bad practices.

  • Going Black Hat – It seems everyone writing about SEO knows how blatantly terrible an idea black hat practices are, but yet there is are never-ending “optimization” services available that use keyword stuffing, duplicate content, cloaking, shady link building  and several other bad practices that Google already knows to look out for. Sure these services might get a site good rankings initially, but it won’t be long at all before they sink under the weight of penalties.
  • Poor Communication – Just as it was said above, even when the client is at fault, the SEO is sometimes responsible for not explaining the process or keeping the client in the loop. SEO work is a partnership, no matter how independent you may be. The client relies on you to inform them about this unique field and help them make informed decisions. If you aren’t communicating and they make a mistake it is your fault. Similarly, if you make a decision without consulting the company you are working with and they don’t like it, you have no excuse.
  • Laziness – When it all comes down to it, a lot of SEO is maintaining and tweaking things to make a site the most efficient possible at signaling to search engines. Experts can get lazy too, but when a site starts under-performing because you haven’t been paying it the attention it deserves, there is no one to blame but yourself. The solution to this one is obvious. Drink a coffee, get up, and do the work clients are expecting of you.

While these categories cover many mistakes made in SEO, there are also innocent problems like misreading a market, and simply putting your faith in the wrong type of campaign.

No one likes having the finger pointed at them when things fall apart, but it is important to honestly assess who is responsible for the faults.

A bruised ego may sting for a little, but if you are the client can put that aside and focus on the good of the site, you can use the understandings gained about what went wrong to repair SEO mistakes and bad habits. With those lessons under your wing, soon you’re site will be performing as you would like it to.

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SEO experts are always happy to tell you how to improve your website, and maybe get some more conversions while your at it, but you don’t tend to hear much about what people are doing wrong. Maybe the SEO community is more positive than I’ve ever noticed, but we tend to prefer telling you what you can do better to telling you how you’re messing up.

Well today we’re going to change that, with some help from Inessa Bokhan. Sometimes it is just easier to tell people what not to do, and quickly put an end to these bad practices. She chose 17 of the most common mistakes website owners have been making for years, and I’m highlighting the worst offenders here.

One of the worst crimes you can commit as a site manager or content creator is ignoring your readers. It is so common for blog posts to go up, and the author to just vanish afterwords having moved onto new ground, even when readers are asking questions in the comments. Why would you just leave them hanging?

Creating content isn’t the whole process. We create content because Google likes it, yes, but you should also just be trying to attract real people with interesting information and a great site. Once you have those people on your site, you should be trying to keep them around as much as possible, and the best way to do that is simply interacting with them. Answer their questions, cement your reputation, and help foster a dialogue.

Another “sin” which personally drives me crazy is the constant use of registration when it isn’t necessary. There are so many times I’ve tried to read a random article, look at a picture, or register in order to leave a comment. The ability to register through Facebook or Twitter eases this problem as it doesn’t feel like such an invasion of privacy, but why would any web owner expect me to give them my private information just to see their content?

Some website owners just can’t help but turn off their “sell” switch, and “hide” advertising throughout their content.This can come in many forms, such as misleading links making you think you are on your way to a nice concise article, only to end up being offered a webinar, e-book, or even paid consulting.

As Bokhan points out, misleading links won’t even help if you have a pay-per-click campaign. Your audience will just leave. There are also those that simply break up their content with ads for those types of resources. This is a better solution than misdirection, but it is a personal annoyance to me to be distracted or have my train of thought misdirected with irrelevant paragraphs with similar formatting suddenly selling me a product.

These all lead me to the biggest mistake any website can make: lying to their customers. On the web, your customers make you or break you. Google is refined enough now that they can even identify when you are lying to your customers, and they will too. The worst case scenario is customers see through your lies immediately, and you go nowhere. The worst case is you temporarily fool them, are found out, and your reputation is destroyed through social media and forums.

Every business should be putting their customers above all else, and this is especially true on the internet where one bad customer interaction can lead to a fiasco.