SEO Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

By: Chris Thompson on November 8, 2017 Categories: Content Marketing, Content Strategy, SEO
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Many content marketers have confidence issues when it comes to SEO (search engine optimization). But avoiding SEO is not an option. 47% of content marketing jobs require SEO skills.
It’s not all bad news, of course. Many content marketers are doing just fine with SEO. Roughly 60% of content marketers rate their SEO knowledge as “good” or “excellent”.

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… However, that also means 40% of us rate our skills for those areas as somewhere…  below “good”. And that particular piece of research is actually pretty kind to content marketers. In a similar study from SpiceWorks, only 14-26% of marketers (depending on their age) said they had “excellent” SEO skills.


We get that SEO is complex. It’s changing all the time, it’s technical, and if you’re not learning from someone entertaining (like Rand Fishkin, doing his Whiteboard Friday talks, SEO can be downright boring. (Yes, we said it.)

We also get that content marketers don’t have a lot of time. So while you could spend your free time reading SEO blogs, and reading SEO books, and listening to SEO Content webinars, you may simply not have that option.

Keeping up with your editorial calendar is a full-time job!

So don’t sweat it. SEO is actually best learned over time, anyways. And so long as you avoid these ten common mistakes, you’ll be well on your way to SEO-proficiency.

1. Use the keywords and phrases people actually search for.

You’re using keywords in your content, right? Not overdoing it with them, but using them… perhaps even writing some content to specifically attract traffic for those keywords? We hope so. Because not using keywords was what Google guru Matt Cutts named as the second most common SEO mistake. (He said the most common mistake was not having a website at all).IFrame

This is just common sense. It’s “write for your audience“, but in SEO-speak. Use words in your content that real people might use to search for what you’re writing about. Keywords may not be the be-all and end-all of search anymore, but they are still critically important if you want your content to be found.

B2B marketers can be particularly susceptible to not using the actual words real people use. We, um, kinda have a rep for lapsing into jargon. And there can be pressure from the C-Suite or senior staff to optimize for a particular keyword – whether it gets traffic and converts or not.

Do what you can with those demands, but know this: Most people don’t search with jargon keywords. So while you may need to include some jargon terms in your content, fight for the right to say things plainly and optimize accordingly.

Cutts’ made one other suggestion about how to use keywords that have become even more important since 2013. He said: “don’t just write, ‘Mt. Everest Height’ but write, ‘How high is Mt. Everest?’”

Now that we have answer boxes and voice search, including questions in your content is even smarter. It’s also a nice way to guide readers through content, especially if they tend to scan rather than read.

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Google’s search results are increasingly structured around a question and answer format. Your content pages may get more traffic if you use this question and answer format at least some of the time.

2. Obsessing over link building.

Links definitely still matter, but you should be careful about aggressive link building, especially paid link building.

It’s generally better to create the highest value content possible, and then just do a thorough job promoting it. Let the links come naturally, or “accrue organically” as an SEO might say.

This may run counter to what some search engine agencies have told you. But aggressive, quantity-over-quality link building was what Matt Cutts identified as a common mistake people make with SEO. He didn’t say link building is bad, of course, but he did suggest that the mindset of link building to the exclusion of all other priorities is a mistake.

We recommend you encourage links and even ask for them from high-quality sites. And we recommend guest blogging, too – though that’s as much for visibility and thought leadership as it is for links. But we weren’t too surprised to learn that only 32% of B2B content marketers. even consider inbound links as one of the content marketing metrics they track.

So here’s the 411 on links: They’re good to have, but are best gained naturally. If you’re still chasing links – especially low-quality links – that’s definitely a mistake.

3. Skipping over the title and meta description of your most important pages.

Oh boy… this is a big mistake. And A LOT of marketers make it.

But it’s also a massive opportunity.

Many marketers miss out on tons of traffic by not optimizing their title and meta description tags. This matters because these tags produce the copy that your potential website visitors see when they do a search. Your title tag and meta description come right up –  next to the ad copy in paid ads, and next to the title and meta tags from your competitors’ pages.

So don’t blow this opportunity. Optimize your pages’ title and meta description tags! And don’t avoid this because you don’t want to fuss with code – almost any content management system (include WordPress, with plugins like Yoast) lets you easily edit these tags.


4. Duplicate content.

Duplicate content is tricky. It sneaks in when you don’t expect it to… maybe during website updates, content audits, or in summary pages. Over time, it can stunt your site’s search rankings.

Most websites have duplicate content issues. In SEMRush’s 2017 study, they found that 65.88% of the sites they analyzed had issues with duplicate content.

Fortunately, it’s really easy to see if your site has duplicate content issues. Just run it through the free online tool Siteliner, and you’ll get a report like this:

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5. Missing ALT tags.

When you add an image to a website page, do you take the time to give it an ALT tag?

If you don’t you’re definitely not alone. But you’re also missing out on a way to optimize your pages and a way to give each image a nice description (a searchable description) in Pinterest.

Almost half of the images in SEMRush’s study were missing their ALT tags.


6. Not optimizing for mobile.

Your site is mobile-friendly, right? You’ve run it through Google’s mobile-friendly test to confirm that, right?

Of course you have. Because you know that more than half of the traffic online comes from mobile devices now. And you know that Google doesn’t just have a mobile-specific index of all the webpages in the world… you know that they’re also just a few months away from using that mobile index as the default for all searches.

Whew. We’re glad your site’s among the mobile-friendly. Because otherwise, that would be a huge mistake. (And it would affect more than just your search engine rankings.)

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7. Having a slow site.

Your site needs to load within three seconds or less. If it doesn’t you’re losing visitors and the search engines are suppressing your pages in the results.

It’s very simple: Speed matters. It matters to visitors to your site, it matters to your conversion rates, and it matters to search engines. Do whatever you have to do to speed up those pages. Ideally, they’ll load in two seconds (not three) or less.

8. Neglecting your internal links.

We get so obsessed with inbound link building from third party sites that we often forget about a major link building opportunity we have control of: The links on our own site.

Namely, your site’s “internal links” (links going from one page of your site to another page of your site) and external links (links going out to third party sites).

Best practices for external links are to:

  • Have them: It doesn’t hurt your site to link to other sites, and it often helps.
  • Link to high-authority sites.
  • Use them sparingly: Any more than 10-20 or so outbound links on one page begins to be a problem.
  • Don’t use the “Nofollow” attribute in your outbound link tags. Just give the link; don’t be stingy with “link juice”, or passing page authority to another site.
  • Make sure your existing outbound links aren’t broken.

The best practices for internal links are to:

  • Make sure they’re not broken.
  • To link them to relevant content.
  • To use keywords in the anchor text (that’s the words that are the actual hyperlink)
  • To update your older pages so they link to newer pages.
  • To not use the “nofollow” tag on your internal links.
  • To avoid use of temporary redirects (aka a “302 redirect”)

Surprisingly, most websites have broken internal links. So you might want to check your site to make sure yours are all working. A free tool like ‘SEO Review Tools’ Internal Link Analyzer can help.


9. Not using H1 tags correctly

HTML is the code that creates most webpages. One of the tags that HTML uses is the H1 tag. Any text within the H1/H1 tags marks the most important line of text on the page.

Usually, that’s the headline. You can also have subheaders (H2 tags, logically enough) and even sub-subheaders (H3, H4, etc – though most pages don’t use anything below an H3 tag).

Incredibly, 63% of webpages are missing H1 tags according to SEMRush’s study. That’s making things much harder for the search engines, because they’re designed to find and optimize the H1 tag.

Fixing something like this may be beyond your job description as a content marketer, but you might want to have a chat with your design person/web developer or your SEO person/agency/team to make sure that the H1 tags on your site are in good order.

Take note: Fixing this probably won’t make a massive difference in your rankings, but it will help. Think of it as SEO good housekeeping.

10. Not trying at all.

We’d wager this mistake is worse than all the rest – combined.

Ignoring SEO in your content marketing is not smart. And while some might say that just pleasing your website visitors is enough, you still need to understand and execute the basics of “technical SEO” – stuff like using keywords, and optimizing your title tags, meta descriptions and image ALT tags.

But please, don’t push SEO off your to do list. Everybody makes mistakes. Even if you can’t do it perfectly (and we have yet to meet anyone who can), try. Learn as much as you can, and try to seek out people who explain SEO accurately and clearly. Places like Search Engine Watch, Search Engine Land, Moz and Stone Temple Consulting are all excellent resources.

Even a few minutes a week of education and application is WAY better than nothing.

Final thoughts

SEO is not magic. It might seem confusing, but that’s often the fault of the people explaining it.

So don’t get intimidated. And don’t worry if you can’t do it perfectly. Often, just a little bit of trying is enough to generate some really nice results.

Remember: Many of your competitors are as unsure about SEO as you are. You only have to be a little bit better than them to outrank them.