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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.

When business owners finally decide to use SEO, they are often uninformed or confused on a lot of the basics of the industry. It isn’t surprising, considering how complex and ever-changing SEO is. While trying to explain all of SEO to a client or business owner is impossible, Nick Stamoulis thinks a few key ideas can help orient people new to the industry with a better understanding of what we do.

SEO is Long Term

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO and the internet as a whole is that there is some magic way to dominate search results or gain visitors overnight. There are a select few cases of websites that have sprung up over the span of a couple months, but those are rare, and there were other factors contributing to their quick success.

SEO is a long term process that builds on itself over time. It can take months just to see the kind of effects your SEO strategy is having on your site. For example, content creation and marketing are huge parts of the current SEO field, and SEO companies pump content out steadily through the work week. Most of this content can go unnoticed, while an occasional article gains gets some attention, but in the end they are all positively contributing to the sites SEO strategy and SERP placement.

No one wants to wait to see positive results, but some things you just can’t force.

Always Put Visitors Before Search Engines

Good SEO relies on creating a good user experience. No marketing campaign in the world will raise an objectively bad website out of the ether, because people won’t return to a site, or even stay on the page long enough to matter, if the site doesn’t work well or have interesting information.

The types of people who put all of their focus on what search engine algorithms want are the type of people who try to take advantage of every loophole and questionable strategy they can find. It might even work for a while, but eventually a new algorithm will identify what they are doing and, as Liz Lemon would say, shut it down.

Conclusion

Stamoulis has two more ideas in his article he feels it is important for business owners to understand but these two points identify the biggest misunderstandings the uninitiated have. If you’re a business owner trying to get into SEO, ask yourself why you want to start now. If you want to dominate the rankings to start making tons more money tomorrow, you are barking up the wrong tree (is there even a right tree for that?). But if you are trying to make your already reputable product or brand more available to the masses over time, SEO can help.

Google’s changes to their SEO policies have made optimization more and more difficult over the past few years. Chris Crum at WebProNews suggests that a new study from the world’s largest search marketing-specific nonprofit trade organization SEMPO reports that SEO spending is still going strong in spite of all of the free information available on the Internet.

The 72-page report, published by Econsultancy, looked at almost 900 companies and agencies and found that, “overall, the report depicts a stable industry, without making dramatic changes.” Despite significant changes in practices through the inclusion of new tools and algorithms, the survey reports that SEO has “very much the same goals in place.”

Most survey respondents increased their SEO budgets over recent years, and as low as 2% of those responding said they did not spend money on SEO. Meanwhile, the amount of agency billing for SEO services is on the rise. SEMPCO says “a significant rise in those spending less than $100k corresponds to higher numbers across the board, with the greatest increase in the $1 to $5 million range.”

One change that is particularly interesting is the statement by SEMPCO that “survey responses show a drop in the blunt objectives of driving traffic.” However, the amount of agencies citing brand reputation as their primary objective has consistently doubled annually. This is especially clear in the paid side of the industry.

What can’t be denied after the report is the value of the search marketing industry is only rising, even when faced by the rise in popularity of social media and Google algorithm updates that force sites to be less reliant on Google.

The report makes clear the “changes to the Google algorithm affects a large percent of marketers, or at least has them concerned,” and SEMPCO also notes “87% call the updates of the last 12-18 months ‘significant or highly significant'”. Most find the changes to be positive, but some legitimate brands have felt the backlash of the hunt for spam sites. Meanwhile, there are rumors of more Google updates in the future.

Thankfully, Google offers some advice on SEO, especially when beginning to look at hiring someone: “Deciding to hire an SEO is a big decision that can potentially improve your site and save time, but you can also risk damage to your site and reputation. Make sure to research the potential advantages as well as the damage that an irresponsible SEO can do to your site.”

Google does emphasize the benefits SEO agencies can provide, such as technical advice on website development, content development, keyword research, and expertise in specific markets and geographies.

They advise “before beginning your search for an SEO, it’s a great idea to become an educated consumer and get familiar with how search engines work.” Of course, they recommend their Webmaster Guidelines and Google 101: How Google crawls, indexes and serves the web as starting points. Google also recommends hiring an SEO early in the development process. They even offer a list of questions you can ask SEOs during your hiring process.

Google’s assistance with SEO doesn’t come without it’s warnings, however. “While SEOs can provide clients with valuable services, some unethical SEO’s have given the industry a black eye through their overly aggressive marketing efforts and their attempts to manipulate search engine results in unfair ways.”

It’s Google’s suggestion to be nervous of any SEO firms or agencies that contact you out of the blue, or one that asks you to link to them. “You should never have to link to an SEO.” They also warn that no firm can guarantee you a #1 ranking.

And if Google hasn’t already made you worn out from lists of recommendations, they also offer a list of deal-breakers when investigating an SEO, such as if the SEO owns shadow domains, puts links to their other clients on doorway pages or offers to sell keywords in the address bar.

Just because Google offers lots of advice, doesn’t mean they are making it easy to get on the first page of test results. But, they are offering resources to give your site its best shot and SEO doesn’t look to be going anywhere.

SEO tips being lies? Okay, not always intentionally, but it happens.  Mainly because with the ways SEO works changing so much, a lot of old techniques no longer work.  Keeping on top of these makes a big difference.

There are several, but I’d recommend checking out this great list put together by Stephan Spencer, Chris Smith, Rand Fishkin, and Eric Enge on Search Engine Land.

Doing SEO for an e-commerce site is tricky.  Almost all the pages are virtually identical, so it’s hard to determine how to do standard SEO for these pages.  Here are five quick tips to help you do some solid SEO for your e-commerce site (a shortened version of the excellent explanation on Search Engine Land):

  1. Do solid SEO on product pages. Focusing on these will help draw traffic to each specific product.  Standard SEO rules apply here – especially remember the title tag, as that will make a big difference.  And keep it search engine friendly – using a lot of Flash or something else the spiders don’t like is not recommended.
  2. Proper categorization. Every product fits into specific categories.  Making sure you use this as best you can will help.  If selling a television, keep all categories in mind, such as a brand name, the size of the television, the type of tv, so forth.  The more detailed your categories, the easier to find (good SEO).
  3. Avoid duplication. Having duplicate pages is a big SEO no-no.  If you have your URLs structured based on categories, then you can often have each category branching through other categories to a single product, resulting in different URLs but the same content (duplicate pages).  To avoid this, you can use parameters (the same URL, different arguments) or even just 301 the duplicate pages all to one single product page.
  4. Use the on-site search engine. To start, having a good on-site search engine is highly recommended for all internet marketing purposes.  If you have one – checking the queries people put into it are easy ways to see what people are searching for that couldn’t find it naturally.  This is a big “SEO THIS” sign.
  5. Social media! Yes, get on board.  By letting people comment on your products or share them with others through social media, you can often get more inbound links than you might expect.  Just make it easy for users and visitors to be able to share, whether it be through on-site widgets or a site blog, or even profiles on social media sites.

These tips will help your products on your e-commerce site be found, both through social media and through the search engines.  These tips are a revised version of the excellent explanation by Aaron Bradley on Search Engine Land.

Canonicalization is a major part of SEO, but at the same time one that still gets missed by many web designers.  Check out my guest post at Daily SEO Tip.  I get into more detail on what it is and how to fix canonicalization there.

In SEO there are many basics that are standard and remain that way.  For instance, the title tag has always been important, and will likely stay important for a long time to come.  It’s the way SERPs present the content of the page linked in the most concise way possible, so it’s the main construct of SEO.

However, there are some SEO elements that have changed over the years.  For example: the keywords meta tag.  This is something that is still used (by some search engines more than others), but is not nearly as prominent as it used to be.  In the past, many pages would just fill this tag with every keyword possible and rank very nicely because of it.  As search engines mature, they become more intelligent in analyzing pages, and tricky black hat approaches no longer have quite the weight they used to.

Another major SEO element that is not as prominently referenced as previously: keyword placement in content.  I can hear many of you gasp now – that’s one of the major SEO staples!  It is still used quite a bit, but it’s starting to change.  Particularly with Google.  Now keywords are still checked, but LSI is starting to play a larger role.  Latent Semantic Indexing is basically the search engine’s associating of keywords with related words.  In the past, you threw a ton of your main keyword up on your page, then made every other word “la la loooo”, you would still rank very highly for the main keyword.  It was easy to cheat.

Now that search engines have progressed, they look for FULL content, not just one or two keywords.  Nobody knows exactly how Google operates (except for the doctors working in their secret labs, with their NDAs chained around their necks), but we do know that they are starting to use LSIs much more when doing keyword rankings for search results.  If you have your keyword and several LSI keywords as well, you’ll do much better than if you awkwardly place one or two keywords in some manufactured content you wrote JUST to have somewhere to put your keywords.

Good SEO is starting to mean actually writing valuable content.  Personally, I think this is a good direction.  People searching through search engine results should be able to find what they are looking for, and quality results.  And to get to the upper ends of the results, you should be providing quality content.  SEO is beginning to progress more in this direction.

For now, it’s not perfect, and some little tips and tricks still do a better job for search engine optimization than they probably SHOULD (aherm, sloppy backlinks, hrm) where they do not always provide the searcher with a quality result.  But as the search engines get more advanced, SEO will have to adjust.