Search engine optimization is no longer just about ranking. It's about reputation and authority. And it is a critical part of business growth. Most entrepreneurs I speak with either invest in external SEO services, or have learned some basics and are working through it on their own (or have intentions of doing one or the other).
Most also want to start small because of doubts about ROI. In SEO, as in life, there are few guarantees. But there are certain best practices that will give you the best potential for success.
Oftentimes, a "best practice" is more about what not to do. The following are three classic SEO mistakes not to fall for:
Mistake #1 - Forgetting to make a site crawlable or indexable
There are many things you can do to increase your search rankings. But all of that effort will be for nothing if search engines are unable to index or crawl your site. Many people don't even realize that this is a potential issue.
Here are 3 ways to check (and double check - it's that important!) that you aren't making this mistake:
Make sure robots.txt is not blocking your site
What's robots.txt? This is a file that tells search engines where to enter your site, how to enter, and where not to enter. It's your site's gatekeeper. Search engines know to look for this file.
The easiest way to check your robots.txt file is to type your domain name into the address bar, followed by "/robots.txt".
There should be some text content displayed on the page. If you see nothing but a blank page, no page or an unattended to page, contact your SEO specialist to update it, immediately.
The robots.txt file is good for both indexing good content, and de-indexing harmful content
- If properly used, you will rank for the right pages.
- If misused, your site could be completely removed from search results. Not good!
Make sure the robots meta tag is set to index
There is a meta tag that could be added to your site head section, that tells search engines whether or not to index your site. Setting it to "INDEX" is like putting out a welcome mat. Setting it to "NOINDEX" is like telling the search engines to get off your lawn.
This tag is present on each web page, and it looks like this:
You do NOT want it to look like this:
... unless you don't want anyone to find your site.
Make sure you have submitted your site and sitemap to Google and Bing
Google and Bing have tools called Google Web Master tools and Bing Web Master tools, respectively.
These tools will notify you if there is ever a problem indexing or crawling your site.
Mistake #2 - Duplicate content
When you think about duplicate content, you may think about copy and pasting from another site to your own website. That's not a great practice, but it's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about duplicating your own content.
3 common scenarios of duplicate content:
This when you have 2 or more variations of your home page URL:
You would have the exact same content on all these different URLs. In your mind, it's just your homepage. But in the 'minds' of search engines, each URL is a unique webpage, and each one would be indexed and crawled separately.
Why is that bad? It dilutes the strength of your homepage. Instead of one homepage getting all the search love, you've got 2, 3 or 4 pages sharing the love. Your homepage is meant to be monogamous.
How to fix it:
Step 1: Choose the one URL you want for your homepage and create 301 redirects from the other URLs that lead to it. The preferable choice is the simplest: www.sample-your-domain.com
Why can't you just delete the other pages? Because the search engines have already indexed them. If you delete them, all that love is gone! Redirecting them sends some of that built up goodness to your main page.
Step 2: Create a canonical tag on your chosen homepage telling search engines to consider that one the homepage.
www. Vs. Non-www.
This is one of the most common mistakes. Having www. and non-www. sites is like splitting all your hard work in half.
If both versions of your site exist and are indexable, it's the same as having two websites and the search engine attention gets split.
You have to tell Google which one to go to.
How to fix it:
This is a quick fix. In Google Web Master tools, simply provide Google with your preference.
- You can choose either the www. or non-www. version of your site. Neither one is better than the other, but it is critical to choose only one
Once again, search engines will see two separate pages with identical content.
How to fix it:
Add a canonical tag identifying your page preference to ensure search engines only index one of the pages.
Mistake #3 -Ignoring the details
Back in the day, the meta description had a direct impact on SEO. It no longer does, so many people (even specialists) ignore it. Big mistake!
There is still an indirect, but significant, impact. It is one of the main influences on click-through-rate (CTR)!
It's great to have a good ranking, but you also want people to click on your listing. Optimizing for CTR must be part of your SEO strategy.
Important keywords should always be in the first paragraph of your page.
Page Speed - Clean Code - Clean Site - No HTML Errors:
All of these affect the user experience and how browsers and search engines read your site.
Google can provide you with page speed insight to help you understand where to improve your site performance and speed.
Also try HTML W3 validator, a tool to assess your site and identify errors that browsers or search engines might run into. It will show you any errors that might prevent a page from loading fully.
This tag tells search engines the language your page is in and will avoid any duplicate content in cases of similar languages such as UK, Canada and the US, or Mexico, Spain and Chili.
Conclusion: These 3 mistakes all have simple fixes, many of which you can do yourself. However, despite the simplicity, not fixing them can have major negative impacts. Even if you aren't ready to embark on some serious SEO work, at least ensure you are not falling for any of these mistakes. Ranking can happen organically over time as you add content to your site. But it absolutely cannot happen if search engines can't even find you!
7 years of work experience in the field (50+ Clients)
Inbound Marketing and SEO insights from the MOZBLOG Book
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook