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Common Search Engine Optimization Mistakes

I learned much of what I know about search engine optimization through a combination of reading and experimenting with the first three websites I originally built nearly 10 years ago. You don't have to be an SEO expert to get better search engine rankings for your website. In most cases, you can give your website enough basic search engine optimization to do reasonably well in most business sectors just by following the simple SEO Tips I present here. There are more complicated methods available to the professional website design engineer which do require a high level of design and programming skills, but the techniques I show you here will give your website high search engine ranking results that can put you ahead of most of your competition.


Common Mistakes in Website Design for SEO

When I visit other websites, I'm often comparing them with my own websites and those of my business clients in terms of their search engine ranking and optimization techniques. I examine high-ranking websites to learn why they have good search engine positioning, and I also often see websites that could have much better rankings if they fixed a few problems. There are several common mistakes that new webmasters make that keep their websites from ranking high in search engines. You will be miles ahead of the webmasters of new and smaller websites simply by avoiding these common search engine optimization mistakes:

  1. Lack of Good Quality Links - Google ranks webpages in large part using their formula called PageRank, which is based on the number and quality of incoming links pointing to a page. This principle of rating websites by the number of other sites that link to it is often called Link Popularity, and all of the major search engines rely on this measure when they rank websites in search results in one way or another. If you have no links from other websites pointing to pages on your website, you will never achieve high rankings in Google, Bing or the other search engines. The most common way for new webmasters to obtain links is by inviting the webmasters of other websites to exchange links, but you should only do link exchanges with a handfull of sites or you may end up hurting your site. Other methods include registering your website with top quality directory websites. Links from blogs, guestbooks, forums, automated link directory pages, and other low-quality webpages are of little or no help in this regard. See my Building Links To Your Website article for some helpful advice in this area.

  2. Poor Choice of <title> Text - Search engine ranking systems give the <title> tag a great deal of weight in ranking. Don't waste the <title> by just using your just your business name, your website's name, URL, or some silly phrase that amuses you. Your two or three most important keywords should be in the <title> of your main page. The <title> tags on your interior pages should similarly focus on the keywords for each page. By the same token, don't overstuff the <title> with every conceivable keyword for the page. "Moderation in all things", as the saying goes. And every <title> must be unique and relevant to the page.

  3. Little or No Presence of Keywords on the Main Page - Search engines ranking methods are almost completely dependent on the text they find on your webpages. How is a search engine supposed to know the topic of your site if you don't set it out in plain text? A search engine will only find the keywords you feed to it on your webpages. Adding emphasis to your target keyword phrases by enclosing them in <h>eadline tags can help. My point is that a page that is comprised solely of graphics or Flash animation is severely impairing its search engine potential. All it takes is a paragraph or two of keyword-rich text that reads naturally and concisely defines the purpose of your website and what information users will find there. So, feed those search engine spiders (and your users) some juicy text!

  4. <META> Tag Abuse - Many years ago, search engine ranking systems gave a good deal of weight to the 'Keywords' <META> tag, and so every computer book author told his readers this was the secret of search engine optimization. Well, that time passed over a decade ago, and all but one of the major search engine ranking systems now ignore the 'Keywords' <META> tag. Google still largely ignores all <META> tags for ranking purposes, except perhaps for judging the overall quality of a page. Make your 'Description' <META> tags unique, descriptive, and enticing - about 20-25 words is fine. Note that only four <meta> tags are recognized by the search engines: 'keywords', 'description', 'robots' (the individual search engines all have unique variations of the 'robots' name so you can customize the controls to the individual search engine when that's appropriate), and 'viewport'. Search engines DO NOT support the 'revisit-after' <meta> tag, so don't bother using it. Be sure to remove any robots <meta> set to "noindex" from any page that you want included in the search engines. And if you use an XHTML <!DOCTYPE>, be sure to properly close your <meta> tags with " />".

  5. Improper HTML Coding - Using HTML coding that is in compliance with the World Wide Web Consortium's standards means your site is easily read by search engine spiders, easier to maintain, and cross-browser compatible. This is especially important for websites that receive government funding, because the federal government requires compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, which in turn means your site has to be compatible with devices that allow the visually impaired to browse the Internet. Using code that is proprietary to Microsoft Internet Explorer is not acceptable for such sites, so you need to know what is and isn't in the current W3C standards. You can check your webpages' compliance with the W3C's HTML standards using the W3C's HTML Validator. Be sure your HTML code is compatible with your <!DOCTYPE> statement. Google appears to ignore parts of the <head> section of HTML pages when the tags within them are not properly formatted for the version of HTML declared in the <!DOCTYPE>. When you have proper HTML coding, not only will your pages get indexed and ranked properly, but you won't have to worry that some users won't see your pages the way you intended just because they don't use the same browser that you do. Don't forget that not everyone surfs the Web with a computer. Cell phones, tablets, and other devices are common now and they rarely rely on Microsoft Internet Explorer to display webpages.

  6. Missing or Incomplete Location Information. Your geographic location is an important ranking factor, so it's imperative to make your location known to the search engines. This generally starts with knowing how the search engines determine in which country your website resides: your geo-location. Business websites with a strong local focus, like mine has for clients in Minneapolis, should use the appropriate HTML microdata mark-up for business location to clearly identify the city, state, or region your business serves. This information should be included in your site's main page and any other pages that highlight your location.

  7. Invalid Links - Be sure all of the links on your pages point to accessible URLs without any errors or (if possible) redirects. Do not link to link farms, web rings, or other schemes whose main purpose is to affect the search engines. Also watch for server problems. Avoid redirects that rely on JavaScript. These can be considered as "doorway" pages, which violate nearly all search engine guidelines. There are several automated link-checking tools available online. The W3C offers a basic FREE link checker. Windows users can take advantage of an excellent program called Xenu Link Sleuth which does a thorough job of finding broken links on sites of up to several hundred pages. Links that include User ID numbers, session ID numbers, and long query strings (ie. the text following the "?") in the URL may cause problems in all search engines because of the way they nibble at sites a few pages at a time over many visits. If your URLs change with every visit for visitors that don't accept cookies, the search engines' index of your site will soon be filled with many apparently duplicate pages. Google and Yahoo! provide a means of informing them to ignore specific query string parameters through the their Webmaster Tools systems, and you should use those tools if your site relies on these navigation mechanisms.

  8. Invalid robots.txt file - Errors in your robots.txt file can cause important pages, or even your entire site, from being included in the search engines. There is a good tool for checking your robots.txt file in the Google Webmaster Tools console. You should use that tool whenever you change your robots.txt file to make sure that you aren't blocking content that you want to be included in the search engines.

  9. Poor Spelling and Grammar - Misspell your keywords and you're negating your search engine optimization efforts. When you misspell common words, people may lose respect for you and your company. For example, the contraction for the two words "you" and "are" is "you're", not "your". And there is no such word as "alot." You can allot blame for this common error between parents and schools, but it takes a lot of hubris not to thoroughly proofread AND spellcheck your writing. Google has been hinting that a large number of misspellings may reduce your site's quality score. I went to Catholic grade school and the nuns had us all diagramming sentences for 5 of those 8 long years. I hated it then, but I'm very grateful now because good grammar comes to me fairly naturally as I write. Oh, I make mistakes, too, but that foundation still serves me well. The sole exception in avoiding spelling errors is occasionally including some common variations of your keywords in the <body> text of your interior pages in order to snare the search engine traffic from variations in user queries and simple errors. But this should be done sparingly, if at all, and only with the utmost care to avoid damaging your site's reputation and impact.

  10. Violating Search Engine Guidelines - All of the major search engines have guidelines for webmasters to follow to avoid being penalized. These are simple regulations that prohibit practices that are designed to attempt to maliciously manipulate a website's rankings, provide no unique information or services, or are otherwise harmful to users. You'll find Google's Guidelines at https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/35769. Pay particular attention to the section labeled "Quality Guidelines" because that's where they outline the practices that can get your website penalized in detail.


This SEO Tip by Rainbo Design was last updated on April 25, 2016


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In writing these SEO tips, I'm often reminded of a pearl of wisdom that my high school computer programming teacher passed on from one of his teachers, "Computers are high-speed idiots!" Remember that, and don't let them get under your skin.


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