SEO basics: The top 8 mistakes that rookies (and new businesses) make

SEO mistakes can be easy to make, especially when you’re just starting out – either as a new SEO, or as a fledgling business.

By being keenly aware of specific pitfalls that new businesses and SEO rookies can fall into when attempting to optimize their site and their content, you can steer clear of the most common mistakes and oversights, implement best practices, and fast track your search visibility success.

Here are eight missteps you’ll want to avoid:

1) Not starting SEO sooner

Businesses can (and too often do) invest years creating compelling content that is exactly what its target audience is looking for. However, even the best content won’t do much good if its intended audience can’t find it or doesn’t know it exists.

Engaging in SEO to ensure that content is visible and prominent – not buried beneath other search results – can be as critical to success as the content itself. Smaller businesses in particular tend to prioritize content creation over SEO strategy, but the two really need to go hand-in-hand. The best time to begin SEO is earlier than many companies think.

2) Not choosing low-competition keywords

Emerging websites are not likely to have enough pull to earn high search rankings on competitive terms. Expect this to remain true for some time, even if following every best practice in the book; starting out in any new endeavor means working your way up, and this certainly rings true for SEO.

Unfortunately, many new businesses make the mistake of focusing exclusively on high competition keywords out of the gate and fail to achieve results as far as how they rank in results.

A better strategy is to begin by finding and focusing on low-competition keywords. Doing so makes it more feasible to climb the rankings and grow the site’s traffic and reputation. That, in turn and with a little time, will help fuel success on those more competitive keywords.

3) Not understanding the audience and their search intent

There’s a misconception that SEO success is all about fooling the algorithms. In reality, the single most important SEO best practice is to create content that is compelling to your audience.

Any tactics that address the needs of search engines should come second – and in many cases practices that satisfy searchers and search engines are one in the same. The key is to understand your audience’s search intent: what are people trying to accomplish when they search on certain terms? They may want information, or to find or buy something specific.

When the content on your webpages fulfills that search intent, both your audience and search engines will reward your site. What’s good for the audience is almost always what’s good for the algorithms.

4) Targeting broad search terms instead of the long-tail

SEO beginners may believe that focusing on broad and basic search terms is the natural place to start. Conversely, more specific and detailed long-tail terms usually prove much more advantageous.

When someone inputs a broad term into their search engine of choice, a couple assumptions can be made.

One, they are probably early in the process of learning about a subject on which they don’t yet have a lot of knowledge. Two, even if the terms clearly relate to a specific product or service, those searchers are oftentimes not yet ready to make a purchase.

Also, broad search terms are usually high competition keywords, as discussed above. Search engine results pages for broad terms also tend to have more ads at the top, pushing organic listings down (generally making them less valuable as a consequence).

5) Forgetting about “under the hood” webpage details

For many getting started in SEO, it can be all too easy to forget about the SEO-enhancing details that must be added to every webpage on your site – page titles, meta descriptions, image file names and alt text, URLs, etc. – because they aren’t visible on the surface of your content.

However, these elements are essential in shaping how search engines – and therefore the audience you’re seeking – view your pages. The title tag, slug (page URL), and meta description for a webpage control the text that is displayed on a search engine results page and when shared on social media.

Though invisible on the pages themselves, this text serves as a kind of ad for your site where it does appear. SEO beginners also shouldn’t be shy with continual testing to determine what text yields the best click-through rates.

A few under-the-hood components to pay attention to

6) Thinking that keyword stuffing will help

Keyword stuffing is the practice of using as many keywords as possible on a page to win favor with search engines. The result is awkward content that creates a bad user experience.

While many beginners think keyword stuffing will be a shortcut to ranking, search engines frown on this practice. The algorithms are too clever to be fooled by keyword stuffing, and search engines are increasingly finding and penalizing sites that try to do it.

Again, producing content that legitimately satisfies an audience’s search intent is the best and most successful SEO technique.

7) Forgetting to build out internal links

Once you’ve succeeded in bringing someone to your site, you want to keep them there – both for SEO and, of course, your own business purposes. Give your audience easy access to other pieces of content that logically flow from the page they are on.

8) Not measuring results

Finally, SEO newcomers are most likely to implement new practices without properly tracking results to inform whether they are effective or not. SEO is a highly data-driven endeavor, and the analytics tools to keep track of SEO success are readily available and need to be used early on.

Example showing the aggregated organic share of voice of a set of competitive sites, which helps show how SEO strategy (in its entirety) is doing relative to competitors. You’ll also want to track and measure this on a keyword-by-keyword basis.

Kim Kosaka is the Director of Marketing at Alexa.com, whose tools provide insight into digital behavior that marketers use to better understand and win over their audience.

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