5 SEO Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur

5 SEO Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur

Everyone thinks they can win at SEO, but some SEO hopefuls make some pretty amateur mistakes – ones that can even hurt your rankings. Nancy Strauss, today’s guest poster, thought it might be a good idea to remind you of 5 SEO mistakes that make you look like an amateur… and I agreed. Enjoy!

I keep getting spam from “SEO companies” who promise that they can improve my website rankings for Google.

I figure if these companies were actually good at SEO, then they wouldn’t have to spam anyone. Customers would come to them. That’s the whole point of SEO — people who search on Google for the service you provide find your website in the top results.

The benefits of SEO are clear, and because it doesn’t have to cost money, it has become a particularly important tool for freelancers and small businesses with limited marketing budgets.
Want to optimize your website, or even your client’s? Avoid these common SEO mistakes:

Mistake # 1 – Trying to trick the search engines

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a woman who has an online editing business, and the topic of search engine optimization came up. “Oh, I know all about that,” she said. “I put certain words all over my website in white font so that you can’t see them, but Google will pick them up.”

No, no, no, no, no. This woman is risking getting her site banned by Google.

Search engines base their business on delivering relevant and useful search results. In order to do this, search engines use keywords on a Web page to figure out what the page is about.

There are a number of ways that people try to manipulate search engine results, such as including hidden text and links or cramming pages full of irrelevant keywords. These so-called “black hat” SEO techniques have the effect of making search engine results less useful to searchers, not more so.

And the search engines are getting better and better at filtering out – and even penalizing – such manipulation.

If you’re tempted to try something sneaky, ask yourself this: do you really think you can outsmart Google?

Mistake # 2 – Choosing useless keywords

I run a document translation company, and a couple of years ago, we relaunched the company’s website. At the time, I didn’t know much about search engine optimization, but since the company specializes in providing translation services to the market research sector, I decided to optimize the new website for the search term “market research translations.”

A short time afterward, I did a Google search for “market research translations” and was delighted to see our website come up in the top results. It worked! Great, right?

No, not so great.

As it turns out, ranking highly for the search term “market research translations” is pretty much useless because no one searches Google for that term.

With the proper research, I could have figured this out in advance and optimized for keywords that our potential clients actually use when searching.

If you’re looking for a way to research keyword demand, you might start with GoogleAdwords keyword tool and WordTracker. You’d be surprised at what you might discover.

Mistake # 3 – Choosing keywords you can’t win

Let’s say you’re a copywriter specialized in travel brochures. You’ve done some keyword research and found that no one is searching for “hotel brochure copywriting,” but lots of people are searching for the word “copywriting.”

Why not optimize your site for that word? The more popular the word, the better — right?

Here’s the problem with that strategy. Optimizing for a word is not enough. You have to “win” that word on Google by becoming one of the top results when people search for that word. If your site is number 200 in the results list, no one will find it there.

If you optimize for the word “copywriting,” you’ll be competing with a huge number of websites for the top few Google results. For a new website on a small budget, this word will be nearly impossible to win.

Optimizing for such a common term as “copywriting” is not totally useless, though, since your website might come up when people search for that term in combination with others (for example, if your website mentions a trade fair in Nashville, and someone searches on Google for “Nashville copywriting services.”)

But your SEO strategy should not focus on the word “copywriting” alone. Look for terms that have high enough search volume to be worth the effort, but which have a manageable level of competition.

Mistake # 4 – Ignoring off-page factors

You’ve chosen ideal keywords and integrated them into your website in an ideal way. But on-page factors are not the only criteria that search engines consider.

What you need now is links. You need links to your website from other related websites — real links from real websites, not links from spammy directories or links that you buy. You need these links in order to improve the search engine performance of your site. Google gives better ranking to sites that have other sites linking to them.

Some ways to get links include guest posting on blogs, writing for article directories, and sending out press releases.

Getting links can be time-consuming, and you may not feel like putting in the effort. After all, the idea of SEO is that the customers come to you. If you have to do marketing and write press releases, then why do SEO at all?

You do SEO for the future. If you market your site with press releases but don’t optimize it for search engines, then you’ll have to keep writing press releases indefinitely. When the press releases stop, your website traffic is likely to stop as well.

Put in the work now, and reap the benefits later.

Mistake # 5 – Short-term thinking

If you optimize your site today, you won’t see the results of your work tomorrow. You might not see the results even after a couple of months. Search engine optimization, like building a business, takes time to pay off.

Give up too soon, and you’re likely to fail. Instead, try to focus on your long-term goals. Be patient, and keep working away at it. Eventually, your SEO efforts can turn into a steady flow of free qualified traffic to your website — potential customers coming to you.

That’s a result worth waiting for.

About the Author: Nancy Strauss is a writer and entrepreneur based in Spain. Her latest project is the development of free online writing courses for Creative-Writing-Now.com, a website for new fiction writers and poets.

A couple of SEO resources we've liked include Ranking Number One: 50 Essential SEO Tips to Boost Your Search Engine Rankings, by James Beswick and The Art of SEO, by a bunch of smart people.

Post by Agent X

Agent X is the name many mysterious and intriguing people take on when they guest post at our site. Their mission is to slip in like a thief in the night, leave you with entertaining, valuable and useful content, and slip away again - without getting caught.

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  1. Hi Nancy! So you’re in Spain to eh? Smart girl!

    Great article, guess I’ll have to get back to the drawing board :)

    Thanks

    Martin

  2. Okay, I know very VERY little about SEO, though a reader of mine calls it “say everything over and over” which I think is pretty accurate. It’s hard to pinpoint the sites who do SEO well because, well, they do it right. But too often I see websites that just repeat keywords over and over and it makes the writing sound horrible. I tried to “learn” SEO but realized my site was doing just fine as it was – lots of links back, high in Google search for terms in my niche. I have, however, just purchased Scribe and it’s been interesting seeing how my posts rate.

    • It’s good to learn about SEO and keep it in mind as you work. I agree with you that building a strong site organically is great (MwP has been built that way, basically), but don’t forget to ask yourself, “How much better could I do WITH a little SEO?”

    • Actually Marian, ‘saying it over and over’, although at one-time a great strategy, is now going the way of the dinosaur. As the search engines get smarter and smarter, word manipulation techniques (like repetition) are being rendered less and less effective. A good rule of thumb for SEO is as follows:

      1. Make sure you page titles, urls, and headers contain your goal keywords so as to please the search engines.

      2. Make sure your content is written to please the reader…not the search engine.

      Hopefully you see what I’m saying here. Quality, reader friendly content, with just the right keyword usage, will always prove successful in terms of great SEO.

    • That’s great that you were able to achieve such positive results even without a conscious SEO effort. It speaks well for the quality of your content.

    • Why SEO scares so many people???! If you follow a simple blueprint, results will
      come. Or you can hire someone to do the job.

  3. The best way to do SEO is to produce relevant quality content for *gasp* REAL PEOPLE and the rest will pretty much fall into place by itself in time.

    However, here are som techniques you might wanna look at if you havn’t done so already:
    http://vandelaydesign.com/blog/seo/effective-search-engine-optimization/

  4. I’ve been a writter for a long time and have had some success in print publication, but when I first decided to try writing on-line and started to research how to optimize to draw an audience and the resulting advertising dollars, the things I read were really discouraging to me as a writer – so much of it would be hard to read and the SEO techniques seemed dishonest. But in the months since I’ve started I have found more and more people advocating that we stay away from the black-hat tricks (sigh of relief) and concentrate on writing good, solid content. Even with the tricks the audience will not be instant, so why not do it right and avoid the risk of being banned by Google for pushing the envelope too hard?

    Thanks for another reminder.

    • I’m glad to say that the hard-to-read content and black hat techniques are taking a back seat these days – or at least, aren’t the first things people see. There are plenty of ways to write SEO copy that comes off perfectly natural and well-written!

    • I’m glad you’ve avoided the techniques that felt dishonest to you, and I wish you lots of success with your quality-based approached. Thanks for commenting.

  5. One of the biggest mistakes — or at least oversights — I see is forgetting to say exactly where your target market lives.

    For example, how many restaurants fail to mention the city they are in, even in the “Contact Us” section? Because they assume their target market are all reading their website from Anytown, they don’t need to mention “Anytown”.

    Thing is, the Internet isn’t the Yellow Pages — there isn’t a big cover with the words “Anytown” on the front. If someone does a Google search for “Anytown restaurant”, you’ll have a much better chance of them finding you if you sprinkle the name of your city within your web content.

    BTW, I especially like point #3. Too many times, I’ve had clients say “I want to be number one for the term ‘dog food'” or some such thing. And, they want a guarantee. I always try to steer them away from being so focused on a single, highly-competitive search term, but usually they are so fixated that they don’t listen. So I tell them that I can’t promise anything, and point them to Google’s own comments on people who guarantee top listings. But inevitably, they go off to find someone who will promise them the #1 spot they’re looking for…

    ~Graham

    • Well said, Graham, and good one. It’s VERY true that adding city name and business names and geographical locators into copy can have really good results. Because here’s what I searched for today:

      Movies Montreal
      Autobus Montreal
      Toys R Us Montreal
      East Side Mario’s Montreal

      Every single search I made today to the places I WANTED to spend money at… included a city name.

      • This gave me a giggle because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated and hungry trying to Google “My Town Chinese Restaurant Delivery”.

    • Thanks for your comment, Graham. That’s an excellent point about SEO for local searches.

    • Local SEO has given huge attention in the past few months, even more so after we saw changes in the SERP and in the new Google Places. I believe keyword research plays a huge part in local SEO space because you run into different search behaviours when people are looking for a place rather than a product that they could buy online.

  6. Thanks for the reminders. It is hard to just keep going when noone is reading. As you suggest, I guess the answer is patience. But pooh. That’s tough.

  7. I’m with Anton and Allan – businesses should be thinking of SEO as complementary to good writing, not necessarily as a goal on its own.

    Your focus should always be on the human element – after all, even if you rank in a great spot, why would people want to stay if it’s over-hyped, stuffed full of obvious keywords, and boring as hell?

    To use kind of an odd analogy, it’s like making a roast beef supper. Your focus is obviously making your family happy, but if you can sneak a few tasty bits to his dish, you can keep the dog happy too.

    Awesome post. As usual here at MWP. :)

  8. I am figuring out SEO as well, and am trying to walk the fine line between making sure to include my keywords and “stuffing” the results as you mention. Do tools like Scribe help with this? What’s the sweet spot?

    • A note on Scribe – I love it. And they keep making it more and more useful. But it can’t replace learning about SEO either, I think. But it’s a very, very good tool if it’s something that you’d use often.

    • I agree that Scribe is useful, but you also need to learn about SEO elsewhere to complement what you learn from Scribe.

      I got Scribe when it first came out, used it religiously for a couple of months and learned its rules and methods, and then canceled.

    • Scribe is a good SEO nanny. “Oops, you don’t have ‘web designer’ here. Oops, fix that title. Hm… a little low there, toss some more in? Whoa, buddy, chill… great. Hit publish!”

      It’s not particularly good for people who already know about SEO and density and who follow best practices, I feel, but then again, those people tend to get overbusy and let their SEO slide.

  9. Great article! Yes, finding keywords that are relevant to your post and also that people are searching for is the key. Write naturally to convey your ideas, but include SEO friendly keywords, so that your content gets found in the search engines.

  10. I’m just starting my first niche site, and I’m surprise to realize that I’ve been learning the tips in your article as I go along – if only I had my hands on this article sooner though, to save myself a lot of trial and error!

    Researching high volume, high paying but relatively low competition keywords was the most challenging part of the process for me thus far. I spent some time optimizing for a keyword I later found was more competitive than I thought, and had to re-work my entire strategy.

    SEO is a challenge, but such a valuable part of getting content read by visitors that I am looking forward to learning more about it. Thanks for the article!

    • The trick is not to go nuts with it. In 30 minutes on Google’s Keyword Tool, you can find at least 5 solid keywords to have fun with. Write them into the content, add some H tags, and away you go.

      BUT. SEO isn’t enough to build traffic and readership – it’s nice to have, but you still have to go out, find readers and point them back to your site!

    • It sounds like you’ve done a lot of preparatory work that should pay off later. Good luck with your site!

  11. That’s a good list of tips for those that are new to SEO.
    I find most of my time spent ‘educating’ clients who know a little about SEO (they’ve read a few articles) is pointing out why what they want to do is likely to do more harm than good.
    I’m going to recommend a book with the most SEO’y title I’ve ever heard – 50 ways to make Google love your website – Steve Johnston ISBN9781905211258.
    The title initially put me off, but for $15AUD it was worth the risk.
    For a newcomer to SEO you’d be hard placed to find a better collection of all the ‘right’ advice, even for someone more ‘seasoned’ (as I consider myself) the benefits of Steve’s methods that really added to my skills.
    There’s nothing you can’t find by reading a hundred articles for free, but you might have to read a thousand to find those hundred and still have enough knowledge to understand which are worthwhile and which aren’t.
    Spend $15, a few hours on the first read and you’ll be very pleased with your purchase.

  12. The trick is to find lucrative keyword phrases in your specific niche that you can actually rank on the first page for realistically. Then optimize your content with those chosen keyword phrases, and build quality backlinks pointing at your blog through article marketing, profile backlinks, blog commenting, etc…

  13. Simple, straight forward and must know tips on SEO.

  14. > I figure if these companies were actually good at SEO, then they wouldn’t have to spam anyone. Customers would come to them
    Beautiful words of wisdom.

    It took me a while to fully realize that yeah, SEO is really about addressing the problem that people looking for xyz, are finding xyz … the best answer to xyz on the Web.

    One of my mentors put it crisply … on the Web, it’s about defending your niche. Be the best URL on the shelf for solving problem xyz.

  15. Well done article. I think the theme of it is ‘use common sense’ for SEO. Don’t over-do it, don’t under-do it. SEO, combined with solid content, is a wonderful strategy for building a blog audience.

    • Thank you so much for all your valuable information. While I am relatively new to freelance writing for the web, I sold vintage clothing on eBay for almost 10 years – where keywords were king. Other sellers used those sneaky techniques all the time, but I found out quickly that good writing wins out over sneaky tricks every time. While you might get someone to click in, if you don’t give them what they came for they will just click right back out – and won’t be fooled the next time.

      I have been learning quite a bit from your blog, and just wanted to say that I really appreciate it! Keep up the good work!

  16. I used to get those emails from SEO companies promising the moon. After putting in a numerical challenge response field in my comment form they have stopped. Now I feel even more pissed off that they were using spam bots to spam me, instead of sitting down behind a computer and copy-pasting those messages. Not much different from a seller of male appendages.

    You will also look like an amateur if your back end code is too messy.However that’s much less of an issue if you are using a SEO friendly CMS theme.

    • Oops monumental blooper there.Those shady operators were not selling male appendages. I don’t trust myself to assert that they would never try that shtick but not yet.They were selling medication to increase the size of male appendages.

      Note to self- revise, and revise yet again before hitting the Submit Comment button.

  17. Don’t know why my comment didn’t appear…nobody was selling me male appendages. That might be the next trend in spam. They were selling meds to make it more “majestic”, in the words of one such enthusiast, over-eager salesperson.

  18. Many thanks for these helpful tips. I’m setting up a new website now and am just beginning to get the hang of SEO. I have to say that it’s refreshing to see so many people reaffirming the value of good writing! I sometimes find myself torn between writing well and slipping in as many keywords as possible. So far the former usually wins out, though I do try to remain mindful of the latter!

  19. I’ve been a writter for a long time and have had some success in print publication, but when I first decided to try writing on-line and started to research how to optimize to draw an audience and the resulting advertising dollars, the things I read were really discouraging to me as a writer – so much of it would be hard to read and the SEO techniques seemed dishonest. But in the months since I’ve started I have found more and more people advocating that we stay away from the black-hat tricks (sigh of relief) and concentrate on writing good, solid content. Even with the tricks the audience will not be instant, so why not do it right and avoid the risk of being banned by Google for pushing the envelope too hard?

    Thanks for another reminder.

    • I’m not sure if I should be angry about being plagiarized or flattered that you thought my comment was so wonderful that you would just post it as yours. But I do think that even in comments you should be original enough to use your own words.

      • Wow now that’s a first…comment plagiarism. The Internet never ceases to surprise

      • Crap, sorry about that, Allan – that comment hit our spam and it looked “normal” enough that I missed it was a duplicate of yours. I’ll delete it now and block the commentator.

        @Bhaskar – It’s not uber-common, but it happens fairly frequently. Enough that it’s extremely annoying to me.

        • No problem; stuff happens. I was reading that comment and thought, “boy that sounds familiar” took a while for it to sink in that I had written it! Gues that goes along withmy latest blog post!

          You may delete my reply to his/her post if you like, and the rest of this thread. Won’t hurt my feelings.

        • No problem; stuff happens. I was reading that comment and thought, “boy that sounds familiar” took a while for it to sink in that I had written it! Gues that goes along with my latest blog post!

          You may delete my reply to his/her post if you like, and the rest of this thread. Won’t hurt my feelings.

  20. Great tips Nancy, and I know I’m still guilty of a few of them myself… Especially picking the wrong keywords at the initial stage, but we live and learn…

    However, I believe #4 is quite subjective… you can ‘buy’ links that would be very beneficial to your off page optimisation process, it’s just a question of how you go about doing it… I just think you shouldn’t lump all paid links as being spammy directories or useless to your link building cause.
    Other than that, great tips!

  21. OK, I’ll admit I’m a little late reading this, but turns out that it ties in very nicely with a post I just published today on the importance of SEO (titled, “If you build it, make them come”). This gives some great basic information that everyone from copywriters to biz owners and entrepreneurs needs to know, especially ‘black hat vs. white hat’ tactics, like stuffing (where keywords are typed in white font on a white background, among other instances) – which, btw, I can’t believe is still being done. That’s sooo ’90s (or is it 2000-and-late?).

    I’m far from an expert on the subject, but know there’s an art and science behind SEO and improving your page rankings and search engine marketing.

    True, SEO isn’t the be all and end all it once was thanks to other factors like social media and blogging, it’s still a very important piece to the “getting found online” puzzle.

    Nicely done!

  22. Another SEO mistake I’d say most amateurs make is failing to understand the idea of NoFollow.

    I think it’s funny when people go to various blogs and leave their keyword term for their name in hopes it will help with their SEO backlinking when in fact it’s a nofollow link.

    There’s an add-on out there called NoDoFollow for Firefox which will show you if a link is dofollow or nofollow. If it’s no follow, there’s no reason to spam someone’s site.

  23. Great article, and a very well done blog over-all!

  24. Great article Nancy! I think one of the most important aspects of SEO and creating a great brand for yourself online is being able to influence others. Whether you’re an individual or a business, if you provide interesting, relevant and unique information to your niche, people will being linking to you with no effort on your part of generating links. My blog (www.jacksonlo.com) is not at the mature stage yet but I’ve seen trackbacks and links pointing to my site. Now I’m getting some steady traffic each day/month to it.

    I think you touched on some of the more important aspects that SEO specialists should watch out for, and pay attention to. Thanks for the info!

    Jackson

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  1. [...] 5 SEO Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur – Mens with Pens [...]

  2. [...] 5 SEO Mistakes That Make You Look Like an Amateur – I’ve always struggled with SEO and am sure have made my share of mistakes. This article will surely help us manage our SE optimization with better results. [...]

  3. [...] Strauss wrote a post about five common SEO mistakes to avoid. Here is a brief [...]

  4. [...] or too good to be true, or in any way dishonest, then don’t bother. Such strategies include: hiding superflous keywords in white text (so they aren’t visible to the naked eye), link farms, link exchanges, anything that you don’t [...]

  5. [...] 5 SEO Mis­takes That Make You Look Like an Amateur [...]

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