Ever wondered why your competitors are outranking you on search engines? You’re likely falling into the trap of making SEO mistakes that, with a little know-how, you can easily avoid.
You’ve checked your website position on Google and seeing your competitors outrank you is a sinking feeling. You’ve probably spent a lot of time and money on your website and SEO and you just don’t know why you aren’t ranking as well as you could.
The number one reason for a website not appearing on Google is badly applied SEO — or, in some cases, no SEO at all.
So, why should you bother with SEO?
Simply because search engine optimisation is what makes your website searchable – so people can find it on Google. When it’s done correctly and consistently, SEO should get your website in front of your target audience.
Even if you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you might be making SEO mistakes that are costing you attracting more clients.
While there are literally dozens of potential SEO mistakes to avoid, here are my top ten easiest mistakes to fix and with actionable tips to help you.
So, let’s get started.
#1. Ignoring HTTP status
HTTPS stands for hypertext transfer protocol secure and it ensures data security over the network. You may have noticed that website URLs start with HTTP. Some have an S at the end, some don’t.
But is HTTPS really necessary?
HTTPS protects the integrity of your website and helps prevent intruders from tampering with the communications between your website and your users’ browsers.
When a user sees the ‘S’, it shows them that they are visiting a secure site and, in the case of e-commerce sites, customers will feel safer shopping there. Even if your website is primarily informational, that is you’re not selling products or services directly from your site, it’s still recommended to use HTTPS.
It also legitimises a site because it can be verified. HTTPS is a Google ranking factor too and with over 200 ranking factors it would be silly not to check this one off your list.
This is one of the easiest SEO mistakes to fix. Contact your hosting company to set up an SSL Certificate. This is a bit of code on your web server that will provide security for online communications.
#2. Call To Actions that don’t lead to conversions
A Call To Action (CTA) is a clickable button or a short sentence on your website that asks the user to take action. It could be asking the user to read more, buy something or contact you.
CTAs are important because they help to convert visitors into customers. Before writing the CTA text, think about the purpose and goal of your message. Do you want to capture leads? Or do you want more traffic to your website? Whatever the purpose is, your CTA should always support it.
If your text aligns with the benefit that the consumer is going to get, they’re much more likely to convert.
A powerful CTA is short and precise and a single sentence or a couple of words can easily do the trick. It’s best not to use generic words such as “Buy Now” or “Try Me”, which aren’t very effective.
Instead, use time-sensitive words such as “Try now” or “Free 7-day trial.”
Placement of your CTAs is also important. You don’t want to only place them at the bottom of your website or on your banner image. They should be placed where it makes sense. Have your CTAs sprinkled throughout your page so users don’t have to keep scrolling up or down to find them.
Here’s a great example from Asana which invites the user to sign up without the commitment of paying right away. It’s hard to resist, right?
This is the time to do some research and where better to start than with your competitors’ websites? Look carefully at their CTAs, where those links lead to and where they’re placed on the page. You can glean a lot of information from “spying” on your competition. See what they’re doing well and emulate their best practices.
#3. Poor content
When it comes to your website, whether it be on your static web pages or on your blogs, what you say and how you say it matters. In fact, it matters a lot and it’s a huge SEO mistake. Spelling and grammar mistakes and sentences that just don’t make any sense give a bad impression. Worse still, it’s costing you potential business. In one study where two pages were tested, one with lots of spelling and grammar errors, and the other without, the mistake-riddled webpage lost nearly double the number of potential customers compared to the typo-free version. Not only that, the time spent on the typo-filled site was 8% less than the time spent by visitors on the accurate page. So, don’t write the copy yourself, especially if English isn’t your mother tongue. Copy that has been written by a non-native speaker can be spotted a mile off, so avoid this at all costs.
Say no to spin
You may have come across companies that offer to write hundreds of articles for you at a very low cost. They will be using the highly frowned upon black hat tactic of using software to “spin” articles to make Google think it’s a different article. Content spinning is an outdated and ill-advised SEO strategy that could very well land you with a penalty from Google. Instead, write unique content that’s interesting and provides value to your audience.
Having duplicate content on your website is also a very big SEO mistake. There are several ways this can happen. For example, if you copy and paste words from a rival company’s website. Or if you provide the same service in several different cities and repeat the same page for each city, with only the place names changed.
Remember: everything you write should be unique — not duplicated from another site, or from other pages from your own website. Moz has a comprehensive article to duplicate content which is a highly recommended read.
Relevance matters – a hell of a lot
Google also pays close attention to the relevance of your content.
If your core business is based on being a Facebook Ads expert, then it wouldn’t make sense to write about topics on branding or about other social media platforms. Everything on your site should be relevant to your service offering.
First, analyse the content on your site to decide if it stays, needs to be updated or if it needs to be deleted.
Then hire a professional SEO copywriter. Even if you think you’re a good writer, chances are you’ll still need the help of a copywriter whose blog and web copy skills have been honed over many years.
#4. Ignoring internal links
An internal link is any link from one page on your website to another page on your website. Both your users and search engines use links to find content on your website.
Your users use links to navigate through your site and to find the content they’re looking for.
Web pages with no links to them are known as “orphans”. These pages are not indexed and can’t be seen by Google. If Google can’t see a page, neither can your visitors.
Using the right internal linking strategy can boost your SEO. The more links a page receives, the more important it will seem to search engines. Therefore, good internal links are crucial to your SEO.
Your SEO plugin will be a useful tool to show you how many links a page is getting, or if it’s getting none at all. Tools such as Sitebulb and Screaming Frog will also help you understand your internal link structure.
#5. Not providing a good user experience
Google talks about user experience a lot and it’s not hard to understand why. What people expect from a website now is far different than in the past. People are busy and impatient. No one wants to wait more than a few seconds for a website to load. Nor will they like or trust a website that’s outdated, nor one that looks like every other website they’ve seen.
There really is no reason to make this SEO mistake, but sadly a lot of companies do.
Fast, Faster, Fastest
First, let’s discuss loading time. According to 2018 research by Google, 53% of mobile users leave a site that takes longer than three seconds to load. That’s over half of your visitors that won’t stick around. If you’re not sure how fast your site loads, you can find out using GTMetrix. And if there are loading issues, you can discuss this with your webmaster.
Second, there’s the design of your website. Now, if you ask 10 people what they think about a website, you’ll get 10 different opinions. If your website is stuck in the last decade then it’s worth the investment in a new updated design. 38% of people will stop engaging with a website if the content is unattractive and 48% of people cited a website’s design as the number one factor in deciding the credibility of a business. Seriously folks, that’s nearly half your visitors.
A wild goose chase
Third, there’s navigation to think about. Your users want to get what they want quickly. So, if they want to hire you for your services, you don’t want to send them on a wild goose chase around your website to give them the information they are looking for. The three-click rule is an unofficial web design rule that suggests that a user should be able to find any information with no more than three mouse clicks. You should also fix any broken links. A 404 error is really off-putting and it’s likely at this stage the user will just leave your site altogether. Keep the navigation simple.
Should you use stock photos or not? While stock photos aren’t directly referenced as harmful to search rankings by Google, they could indirectly affect user experience. If you’re a freelancer or a small business, wouldn’t you want to showcase your brand with pictures of you and your team? People buy from people, so show your visitors who you and your company are in a transparent way builds trust.
For site speed issues, run your website through GTMetrix. If you don’t know how to fix the issues yourself, speak with your webmaster.
To find out what the website errors are, again tools such as Screaming Frog and Sitebulb will crawl your site and will flag issues affecting your site. Use your SEO plugin (if you have a WordPress site) to analyse links going to and from your web pages.
To replace your stock images, find a local photographer and get shots that accurately portray you and your team and what happens behind the scenes. Get pictures of you at work or of your products. People buy from people, so show them who you are.
#6. Not optimising for local search
Small businesses (that don’t sell solely online) that want to attract more customers in a specific geographic area need to implement local SEO as part of an overall SEO strategy.
The reason for this is simple. 46% of all searches are related to local search queries. This SEO statistic highlights that small to medium-sized businesses not implementing basic local SEO strategies will miss out on ranking for almost half of all Google searches.
Implement local SEO tactics that include geo-specific content, a well optimised Google My Business listing and submitting your details to local directories. This is an often-missed opportunity to get some of those local searches.
#7. Ignoring mobile-first indexing
Mobile-first indexing means Google predominantly uses the mobile version of your content for indexing and ranking. Google started to switch to mobile-first indexing for all websites in September 2020.
If a site doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version, the desktop site can still be included in the index. However, the lack of a mobile-friendly experience could impact negatively on the rankings of that site. 57% of internet users say they won’t recommend a business with a poorly designed website on mobile.
This means that for you as a small business owner, a better mobile experience would potentially receive a rankings boost.
Check how your website displays on different operating systems. If you spot errors in the functionality or display, contact your webmaster to get those issues fixed.
To check if your site has been moved over to mobile-first indexing, log into Google Search Console and click on ‘URL Inspection’ in the left-hand menu. Type in your URL in the search bar and it will then tell you if your website has been moved over.
If you see the value “Googlebot smartphone” it means your site has been moved over. If you see the value “Googlebot desktop,” then it’s still waiting.
# 8. Not optimising your images correctly
Optimising the images for your website helps you get the highest quality images with the smallest file size. You can do this by using the correct format, dimension, size, and resolution. Image optimisation helps to improve your website’s load speed, boost SEO ranking and improve user experience. Large image files are one of the biggest culprits for slowing down a website. Small file sizes are vital if you want your website to load quickly — especially on mobile devices.
The name of the image is also important because it helps search engines understand the content of the image in context. If it’s relevant, you can also use keywords in your filenames. Make them descriptive and don’t name the camera filename such as “Image-1.jpg.”
Missing alt-text is another SEO mistake. Alt-text is a text-only alternative to the image that will be displayed if the image doesn’t load. Since the search crawlers have not learned to recognise the content of images, using the ALT attribute helps them to understand what the image is about. This makes alt-text particularly important for SEO.
Add alt-text and descriptions to all of your pictures. In WordPress, click on Media and then fill in the alt-text field for each of your images.
Use Screaming Frog or a similar crawler to flag images that are too big. For WordPress sites, a plugin such as Smush will compress images. For images that can’t be compressed with Smush, speak with your webmaster.
#9. Poorly optimised SEO titles and meta descriptions
SEO titles are important because they let readers know what information will be present when a user clicks on a page. They are important for the search engines for the same reason, except they also function to determine the relevancy of the web page as a result in a search query.
A good title grabs attention and encourages the user to click on the link. They also should be between 50 and 60 characters in length, which isn’t long — so you need to make every word count.
The meta description is the two lines of black text on the Google results page and provides a brief summary of a web page. Meta tags are important because they impact how your site appears in the search engine results pages (SERPs) and how many people will be inclined to click through to your website. They will therefore impact your traffic and engagement rates, which can impact your SEO and rankings. Meta tags are an important part of a solid SEO strategy.
This listing on Google following a search for “gardeners near me” is an example of where the title and description could be optimised better. The problem with the example below is that while the title has keywords such as “gardening services” and they’ve included the location, the title is a bit boring and generic. With regards to the meta description, it hasn’t been entered manually and so Google has pulled information from the page which isn’t the most interesting or compelling. It’s also running off the page.
A better example of how to write titles and descriptions is this one. The title and description are more informative and specific. You know that this company provides a garden design service and that you can call any time, night or day.
This is another example where you can “spy” on your competitors. Type in the search term you want a page to rank for and look at the organic results. Which titles and descriptions would make you want to click? What differentiators and USPs are your competitors using? Free delivery? Next day delivery? Free quote?
Google Ads are also a great source of information. Those companies are paying for clicks so they’re making sure they’re using optimal keywords and USPs in the description to grab attention.
Don’t write these in haste. Write and rewrite your titles and descriptions until you’re happy with the final version.
#10. Not having realistic expectations
SEO is a journey rather than an endpoint and getting a high ranking on Google doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort and quite a bit of patience to get your website to the top. If anyone tells you otherwise, you should be suspicious of their methods.
Added to that, your competitors are people who are just as eager as you are to get first page results.
If you are ranking on Google, don’t be surprised if your ranking fluctuates from time to time. A decrease in ranking might be because a competitor has just completed a ton of SEO work on their site. Or because you haven’t been blogging as much as before. Or because of a new Google core update. The key is not to panic.
Before going on your SEO journey, whether it’s for the first time or whether you’ve done SEO before and want to launch into it again, the key here is to ask yourself why and what you want to achieve. If you’re doing SEO yourself and not getting results, it might be time to hire an SEO expert.
Everyone makes mistakes – even SEOs. SEO isn’t an exact science. It’s about research, testing what works and reviewing tactics that aren’t working as well as they could.
Let’s not forget that SEO is incredibly complex. There are over 200 ranking factors that influence where your site appears on Google. Not to mention competitors trying to steal your ranking position and algorithm changes you need to prepare for. Managing it all can be an overwhelming task for any small business owner. So, just take it one issue at a time and don’t try to do it all yourself.