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5 Simple SEO Errors That Smart People Make

Mistakes happen.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re new to search engine optimization (SEO) or have a ton experience.

Some of the smartest people I know in the SEO industry have made dumb mistakes.

To be clear: making a mistake doesn’t make you dumb.

And dumb mistakes usually aren’t a reflection on the SEO practitioner.

Everyone makes mistakes.

We All Start at Zero

Why are there so many mistakes?

For starters, there is a monumental amount of disinformation about SEO available online.

In fact, when I got involved in this industry nearly 20 years ago, almost everything I first learned was incorrect.

Fortunately, I had stumbled onto a forum (which no longer exists today) that was run by Morgan Carey, the founder of Real Estate Webmasters, who graciously helped me get on track.

I was a fast learner, and before long, I was mentoring new SEO practitioners in the same way that Carey had done for me, in part because I was inspired by him and so many others in the industry who go above and beyond to help others improve their own skill set.

Take a look around the search community and you’ll see people like Alan Bleiweiss, Dave Davies, David Harry, Roger Montti, Bill Hartzer, Bill Slawski, and far too many others to list, generously sharing their valuable time and experience to help the next generation of SEO practitioners hone their skills.

Throughout my career, now spanning nearly two decades, I’ve seen a lot of smart people make the same dumb SEO mistakes.

Today, I’m going to share some of them with you so that you can identify and avoid them, and achieve success far faster and more efficiently.

1. Putting Bots Before Humans

The days of chasing algorithms, or worse yet, trying to trick search engines, are long behind us.

Despite that, I still see people putting bots above actual humans, which leads to ineffective tactics like keyword stuffing, specific content length, and manipulative linking schemes.

Look, I understand the logic behind that kind of thinking.

But the kind of thinking that drives people to do whatever they think bots, or more accurately, search engine algorithms, are looking for, is counterproductive in today’s SEO environment.

That’s because what it takes to rank well today is exactly the same as what it takes to satisfy visitors:

A mobile-friendly website with an excellent user experience, that loads quickly, and is filled with lots of useful, original, and well-written content.

Your first priority should always be satisfying your human visitors. They are the only ones who can buy your products or services.

If you can’t satisfy your visitors, they won’t buy from you. If they won’t buy from you, is there really any value in ranking well?

2. Focusing on Tactics Instead of Strategies

One of my former clients was obsessed with jumping on every new tactic that sparked his interest.

Unfortunately, this meant that he never really stuck with anything long enough to produce results.

Fortunately, he eventually stepped down and the new CEO appointed to lead the company possessed the discipline to stick to a plan.

A large part of the problem is that most people really don’t understand the difference between a tactic and a strategy, which causes them to be inefficient and aimless.

In order to achieve significant long-term success, you need a clear understanding of the difference between the two, and the role they play in relation to each other:

  • Strategy: A big picture objective that will give you a significant competitive advantage.
  • Tactics: The actions you have to take to achieve that strategy.

For example, a home builder might develop a strategy to use SEO to get in front of home buyers who are interested in a custom-built home, priced between $500,000 and $1 million.

One of the tactics he might use to support that strategy could be to publish content on high-tech home equipment and appliances that this demographic tends to be interested in – such as high-performance air purifiers, Nest home devices, and wine refrigerators.

3. Not Identifying Worthwhile Key Performance Indicators

I’m old enough to remember when the internet was basically brand new.

When people first began selling advertising on websites, the metric most people relied on was “hits,” which most buyers incorrectly assumed to mean pageviews.

In reality, everything that had to be downloaded when a webpage was accessed, including every individual CSS, JavaScript, font, and image file, all counted as additional hits, leading to a wildly inflated perception of traffic volume.

Many ethically-challenged publishers took advantage of this false assumption by adding extra images to their websites, sometimes dozens or even hundreds of 1px by 1px images on each page, invisible to visitors, all in an effort to artificially inflate their hit count so they could sell more advertising at higher prices.

Clearly, this was a terrible metric to track.

While today’s marketers may no longer track “hits,” many still pay a lot of attention to equally ambiguous metrics, like inbound links, follower count, and likes.

I can already hear it…

“Did you hear that Jeremy said we shouldn’t track inbound links?!”

Inbound links, like any other metric, may or may not be a worthwhile key performance indicator, depending on the context.

For example, if I could wave a magic wand and point 100 new links at your website right now, and you were simply using volume of links as a KPI, you’d probably call that a win, right?

Would you still call it a win if all of those links came from one website? Or if they were all from comment spam? How about if they came from PBNs and other low-quality websites?

Of course not.

In order for any metric to be a valuable KPI, it must make sense in the context of your business goals.

For example, my agency specializes in digital marketing for the construction industry, so one of the KPIs I track is inbound links within content about digital marketing on high-quality websites about the construction industry.

A link within content that’s relevant to what I do is infinitely more valuable from an SEO perspective, but more importantly, since that content is published on a website about the construction industry, the people who read it are generally going to be in my target market.

Your KPIs must be objectively measurable and tied to a specific business goal, such as getting in front of ideal prospects, generating positive PR, or generating revenue.

4. Failing to Accurately Track Performance

If you don’t know exactly how you’re performing, how will you know whether you’re making sufficient progress, or when and how to adjust course?

Unfortunately, a lot of marketers go by gut instinct.

While there is often a lot of merit to our instincts, they are far from infallible.

Besides, today there is no reason not to track performance because there are so many powerful tools available to us.

From free tools like Google Analytics and Search Console to paid tools like Raven, SEMrush, and Moz, we have the ability to track pretty much any KPI we could come up with.

That’s important because tracking performance allows you to increase what is working, and fix or eliminate what isn’t working in your campaigns.

It also allows you to correct course early and often, creating a more direct and cost-effective path to success.

5. Following Advice from Questionable Sources

One of the great things about the internet is that information can live on forever.

But one of the terrible things about the internet is that information can live on forever.

The field of SEO has changed dramatically over the last 20 years.

While publications like Search Engine Journal do a great job of publishing lots of up to date information, there are unfortunately a tremendous number of other publications publishing outdated, or even flat-out false information.

Staying on top of SEO means regularly reading the top publications in our industry, including this site, Search Engine Land, and Search Engine Roundtable, as well as following the leaders in the industry.

Danny Goodwin, SEJ’s Executive Editor, recently put together a great list of 140 of the top SEO experts that you should be following. While there are a few notable names missing in my opinion (no such list will ever satisfy everybody), keeping up with this list will help ensure that you’re more educated than most SEO practitioners.

It’s important to never stop learning from reputable sources because search engine optimization is a constantly and rapidly evolving industry.


by Jeremy Knauff