Five Common SEO Mistakes: Making Sense of Google’s Latest SEO Statement

SEO observations from Google's recent statement on Five Common SEO Mistakes, along with practical SEO advice on how to avoid these mistakes.

Google rarely speaks about SEO, so when they tell you to do something, you’d better damn well consider it. Kind of like getting advice from the great and powerful Oz in my opinion. Last week, Maile Ohye of Google wrote an article on the Google Webmaster Central blog detailing five common SEO mistakes along with six good SEO ideas targeted towards beginner to intermediate SEOs. She also attached a presentation along with a short video.

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Since Google doesn’t typically directly discuss SEO on their owned search properties, I found this to be interesting. Usually they reference it either indirectly or through things you should do to improve your site experience, see their recent Pagination article.

And since, when Google does say things, they can be a little vague when it comes to practical SEO application, I thought I’d write a few articles and provide a practical explanation.

In my first article of two articles analyzing their post, I’ll discuss the common SEO mistakes.

1. Having no value proposition

What Google says:

Having no value proposition: Try not to assume that a site should rank #1 without knowing why it’s helpful to searchers (and better than the competition).

Practical SEO application:

Failing to understand your value proposition (i.e. what makes you stand out) isn’t just an SEO mistake, it’s a business mistake. Even if you do know your value prop, failing to adequately convey it in your site is an SEO mistake:

  • Understand the types of phrases that can be used set your company or website apart from the competition. In the example she gave on a search that looks to be for “bike repair service”, she pointed out phrases in the site descriptions such as ‘best non-profit bike shop’ and ‘free bicycle repair estimate’.
  • Using differentiator phrases in your site’s meta description is likely to drive up your site’s click-through ratio (CTR).
  • Using differentiator phrases in your site’s content, after a user has clicked on your page from the SERPs (and is expecting that type of relevancy), may even drive up your conversion ratios. This is a circular effect – higher CTR means more traffic, which means potentially more links and exposure, which leads to more popularity and relevancy, which leads to better rankings, which is good.
  • A caveat: It’s best from an SEO perspective if your differentiation phrases themselves have search volume as well. This can be found through good keyword research. If you can find differentiation phrases that themselves have search volume you will not have to waste the valuable meta description and content space to include boilerplate ad copy.
  • You can create pages targeting these specific differentiation pages to build on the overall topical theme equity for larger head terms. For example, creating pages to target ‘best non-profit bike shop’ and ‘free bicycle repair estimate’ could help drive traffic in and of themselves, along with helping build continued equity so that you rank for “bike repair service” as well.
  • If your value proposition keywords have search volume, target them through link building to improve their individual rankings and the longer-term rankings of the larger head terms.

2. Segmented approach

What Google says:

Segmented approach: Be wary of setting SEO-related goals without making sure they’re aligned with your company’s overall objectives and the goals of other departments. For example, in tandem with your work optimizing product pages (and the full user experience once they come to your site), also contribute your expertise to your Marketing team’s upcoming campaign. So if Marketing is launching new videos or a more interactive site, be sure that searchers can find their content, too.

Practical SEO application:

Basically, know what initiatives are going on in your company and get the SEO team involved from the outset to alleviate any potential SEO-related performance issues that may occur later.

Not getting your SEO team involved early and often is an SEO mistake. If you’re launching new initiatives, the SEO team can help you with:

  • Any necessary redirects
  • Avoid any technical SEO issues: Indexation, Server Errors
  • Page-structure issues
  • Proper internal linking
  • Proper keyword and content targeting
  • And a slew of other things as well

3. Time-consuming workarounds

What Google says:

Time-consuming workarounds: Avoid implementing a hack rather than researching new features or best practices that could simplify development (e.g., changing the timestamp on an updated URL so it’s crawled more quickly instead of easily submitting the URL through Fetch as Googlebot).

Practical SEO application:

  • Basically, with any website initiative, take the time to do it right from an SEO best practices standpoint as opposed to doing what is easier in the short-term.
  • The long-term benefits from doing the right thing cannot be overstated, while continually doing short-sighted hacks can back you into a programming corner and impact some of your future results and decisions.
  • Although they may seem quicker in the short-term, programming hacks will likely cause more long-term work and headaches in the future, which is ironic.
  • In the video, they discuss the use of rel=”canonical” tag, and how they’ve supplemented that issue with a best practices recommendation of using the rel=”next” and rel=”prev” for pagination issues.

4. Caught in SEO trends

What Google says:

Caught in SEO trends: Consider spending less time obsessing about the latest “trick” to boost your rankings and instead focus on the fundamental tasks/efforts that will bring lasting visitors.

Practical SEO application:

Being a slave to trends can be an SEO mistake. The key is to understand which trends are likely to stick versus passing fads.

  • Trends are trends for a reason, they come and they go. Learn how to recognize a long-term winning SEO strategy versus a short-term trend.
  • Remember, while there are some fundamental consistencies that have proven to be long-term winners in SEO, there are many other shabby SEO strategies that worked short-term but added up to long term failure.
  • Implementing things that are considered SEO trends could hurt you long term if you’re not careful. What works today, may not work tomorrow (and may come back to punch you in the face).
  • Prime example of short-term SEO trends: EZine sites were once considered good ways to build backlinks, but since the Panda algorithm change, these types of sites are no longer considered to be good sources for backlinks as the content is typically of a low quality and value to the readers.
  • In the video, they also referred to the keyword density trend that occurred around 2005.

5. Slow iteration

What Google says:

Slow iteration: Aim to be agile rather than promote an environment where the infrastructure and/or processes make improving your site, or even testing possible improvements, difficult.

Practical SEO application:

Based on my experience, this is actually a more common problem than you would expect, especially within larger corporate infrastructures. Many business have websites that they either can’t update, or the process of updating their site is akin to moving a mountain. Creating an inflexible web present is an SEO mistake for a few reasons:

  • Google likes content, so the more new content you can add to your site, the better (as long as it is relevant to searcher needs)
  • Google likes fresh content as opposed to old, stale content.
  • A good website infrastructure is flexible and agile and allows you to feed Google (and users) what they want, content.

So basically, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Google wants content. Users want content. Google and users want sites that are kept fresh, engaging, and up to date. So give it to them. It’s an SEO mistake not to.

You need to ensure that your site’s infrastructure makes it easier to make changes to your site and to add additional content and features as necessary. Creating an agile infrastructure (maybe using a CMS) should make it easier for your people to make changes, and for your company to adapt to future needs, as well as give you the flexibility from an SEO standpoint to go full steam at the target keywords you wish to conquest.

So that’s it for this post on common SEO mistakes…I’ll be back later this week to discuss Google’s “Good SEO Ideas” in detail.

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