You might be able to build mega-traffic quickly through social media, but let’s be clear on this: the majority of bloggers won’t regardless of what any uber-blogger tells you. For most mortal bloggers (myself included), we survive at the mercy of search engines, who like SEO to be “just so”. With this in my mind, what follows is a list of 16 SEO mistakes to avoid, in the hope of appeasing the gods of search.
My List of 16 SEO Mistakes to Avoid
I’ve tried to group this list by topic so they make more practical sense. Hence they are organized like this:
Look through them, then examine your own blog to see if any of these items are pulling your pants down. Most of them (the majority in fact) should be easy for you to fix.
Anyways… here we go!
Content & SEO
Content plays a very important role in SEO. Your approach to writing content should be based around providing useful and valuable information written first and foremost for people. Badly written content, or worse spammy content, is one of the biggest SEO mistakes you should avoid.
1. Low Quality Content
Google is very clear on this point. Your content has to work towards Google’s E-A-T philosophy:
Perhaps you could knock out a few pages of thin content back in 2005 and get away with it. These days Google expects a lot more from you.
Don’t just write words, publish them and expect to see a glut of traffic to your blog. Your words have to mean something and they have to provide value to your readers.
This means writing original content (don’t copy it from someone else) and write it to the best of your ability (no spelling mistakes and poor grammar please).
You also need to make sure the information you provide is up to date and true… provide sources to back up what you say if you have to.
Read my post about Google’s content quality requirements.
2. Content Length
It’s pretty well universally acknowledged that short posts will likely struggle to compete with longer form content. While debate rages on about how long your blog posts should be, it’s unlikely that a 500 word piece will contain the kind of expert and authoritative detail that a 2,000 word post has the potential to deliver.
Of course this is a generalization because it’s easy to fill a longer post with a whole bunch of padding. But as a general rule of thumb, you have a much better chance of properly fleshing out your subject if your word count is higher.
3. Keyword Optimization Mistakes
There are a few SEO mistakes around keywords you should avoid.
Firstly, there’s targeting the wrong keywords. This is especially important for new bloggers with a young domain that has no authority. The high-demand keywords in any niche that drive massive visits are unlikely to bring you any visitors as a new blogger.
Competition for these keywords is ruthless and it will take you eons to appear in a high enough in search results to see even one visit. It’s not that it’s a problem to write content to target these keywords, it’s just highly unlikely you’ll get visitors for them.
You should be looking for less competitive long-tail search phrases (of 3 or more words) that you stand more of a chance to rank for. Use keywords tools that can help you identify keywords you should be targeting, such as:
- Google Ads Keyword Planner (free).
- Bing Ads Keyword Research (free).
- Ubersuggest (subscription)
- SEO PowerSuite (subscription).
- Moz (subscription).
The next mistake is keyword stuffing. This is the practice of over-using your target keywords in the hope of making your blog posts more relevant. It doesn’t and you’ll likely be slapped for it because keyword stuffing is an old black hat marketing technique that goes against search engines guidelines.
Here are some of the tools I use to check SEO.
HTML & SEO
The mistakes listed in this section are all related to HTML, but they have a strong connection to content. Many of these mistakes are to do with formatting while you’re preparing your blog posts for publishing.
These are sometimes easy to overlook!
4. Page / Post Titles
There are a few of common mistakes here.
Firstly, your page titles should be unique. When you’ve been blogging a for while you may well forget that you’ve already used a page title before, especially when you’ve accumulated an extensive content portfolio.
If you’re a WordPress blogger, your the page titles you choose to use when your start your blog will likely be used as your page “meta title” (the title displayed in search results).
The more duplication you have for page titles, the worse those pages will rank in the search results.
The next common SEO error around page titles is to do with word length. There is a limit to the number of characters in a page title that Google will display in search results before it truncates them.
But you can also have a title that’s too short. If your page title is sparse, it’ll most likely have little meaning, won’t contain your target keyword terms and it won’t stand out in the results compared to your competitors.
As a general rule of thumb, work within the 50 – 60 characters range and Google should display a nice title in full as you’d like it to be.
Finally, your page title should always contain the keywords you’re targeting. You aim is to help search engines understand what your content is about and the easier you make this, the more likely it is that you’ll give your posts a chance to appear higher in search results.
5. Meta Description
A post’s meta description is the text search engines display beneath your page title in search results. There are 3 mistakes here that affect SEO.
The first is forgetting to add a meta description to your post. On the one hand, it may seem like a small issue, since if you forget to add a meta description, search engines will usually pull content from your page to populate it… and sometimes they do this anyway even if you’ve supplied a meta description.
The next mistake is using a meta description you’ve used elsewhere. As with page titles, the more duplicated meta description you have on your blog, the less likely affected pages will rank.
The third potential problem is using a meta description that’s too short or too long.
Too short and it won’t provide any detail to people scanning search results to look for hits that match what they’re looking for. A description that’s too long will be truncated by search engines in the results.
Ideally you’ll use between 50 – 160 characters in your meta description. Also, what you write should contain your target keywords and be written to encourage a click.
6. Meta Keyword
A meta keyword is an interesting throwback. Many years ago, adding meta keywords to your page was a way to gain an SEO benefit. Although they never appeared “on page”, they were a mechanism to tell search engines what keywords your post was relevant for.
This feature was abused and people learned to stuff keywords into the meta keywords section of a page to try to rank for masses of search terms. Search engines got wise and ended their SEO value.
If you make the mistake of using meta keywords now, you’ll likely not be punished for it, but you’ll gain no SEO benefit whatsoever. However, your competitors will gain. a benefit as they’ll be able to see by looking at your page code the keywords you are targeting.
Don’t use them!
7. Heading Tags
H1, H2, H3, H4… I won’t go further down the line. Heading tags are a nod to print media, where different heading sizes are used to make page content more readable.
They’re useful still for this purpose on your blogs posts. They break up your content and make it easier on the eye: nobody likes being hit by a wall of text!
However heading tags are also useful for SEO… but people often use them erroneously.
First off, you should only use one H1 tag on your page. The H1 tag traditionally gave a lot of weight to the keywords displayed in a H1 tag. This too became overused by keyword stuffing and overuse… so their importance was naturally downgraded when search engines caught on.
Google has said that multiple use of H1 does not incur a penalty. But in my view, it’s better to err on the side of caution and only use one.
H1 tags still have a part to play in keyword relevancy scores and Google has certainly used them in the past to swap into the meta title in search results.
While were on the subject of H1 tags, another mistake is to omit them entirely. Most modern blogging tools these day will automatically put your page title into a H1 tag, but if you’re running older software you might need to add this manually.
It’s also a mistake to neglect other heading tags since they’ll break up your content and may also play a role in helping search engines determine keyword relevancy.
8. ALT Tags on Images
We use ALT tags in HTML to add a description to an image. Their primary function is for accessibility for visually impaired visitors who use screen readers. However, ALT tags are displayed in place of an image where the image can’t be displayed for some reason.
ALT tags also play a role in advising search engine crawlers what an image relates to. Hence there may be a small SEO benefit in ensuring they’re not missing from your images.
Best practice is to use ALT tags to describe your images and where possible use the keywords you’re trying to target.
9. URLs With Underscores
Again, modern blogging tools tend to manage this for you, but if for whatever reason you’re using underscores instead of hyphens (dashes) in your URLs, you’re making a mistake. Google is explicit in this:
We recommend that you use hyphens (-) instead of underscores (_) in your URLs.Source: Google Search Console Help
It’s all to do with readability, and if Big G suggests it, it’s probably worth doing.
10. Long and Illegible URLs
Another one to take from the horse’s mouth! Google tells us to keep URLs short, tidy and readable, advising us to create our URLs:
in a manner that is most intelligible to humans (when possible, readable words rather than long ID numbers).Source: Google Search Console Help
Long URLs and URLs with long lists of characters and numbers are almost impossible for visitors to remember. So… keep them as short and as sweet as possible.
Google also tells us that long and complex URLs pose a potential problem for crawlers… your job is to make it as easy as possible for crawlers to pass through all your blog content with ease.
The direct SEO benefit of this is you’ll get your content indexed more efficiently.
Links & SEO
There are 6 SEO mistakes to avoid in this section of this post, but some of them could easily sit in the content and HTML sections. I list these cases here since they sit more logically with other link mistakes people make.
11. Too Many On-Page Links
This one’s up for debate. I’m not sure there is an exact number of links you should not exceed, though for many years a figure of around 100+ links has been bandied as possibly excessive to search engine eyes.
In the past, spam sites tended to build pages with 100s of links in an attempt to manipulate search results. So I guess the point here is, do you want your page content to appear spammy?
I’d question whether a page with 100 links is actually useful for your readers though. There may be some exceptions, but in reality, how many people are going to wade through even 50 links, let alone 100+?
12. Broken Internal and External Links
It’s questionable if broken internal and external links are an SEO mistake you’ll be penalized for, since broken links are a fact of website life. However you should try to minimize the instances of broken links on your blog and strive to avoid them entirely.
Even if broken links don’t directly affect SEO, they definitely impact visitor experience and maybe increase bounce rates or create a negative buzz around your blog
The more broken links on your blog, the lesser the visitor experience… that’s why it’s a big mistake not to check your blog for broken links on a regular basis.
Find out why broken links are bad.
13. Bad Links
What the heck is a bad link?
A bad link might be determined as any link created for the purposes of manipulating search engine results. Most typically we think of these as external links pointing to your blog, which people use to influence their page rank.
Google defines such links as “unnatural” and will actively penalize you for having a link profile that looks fishy. This can result in your blog being dropped out of search engine indexes, which means no one will ever find it in search.
A bad link might come from a site deliberately set up to manipulate search results such as PBNs (Private Blog Networks), sites that search engines believe come are low quality or “bad neighbourhoods” (spam sites).
Deliberately setting out to build bad links is one of the biggest SEO mistakes you can make and you should avoid it at all costs.
Find out how to find bad links.
14. Link Anchor Text
Whenever you link to other pages on your blog, or to blogs owned by others, you must make sure your not using the same keyword-rich anchor text (the text in the link) over and over.
Excessive use of the same anchor text link might seem unnatural to search engines as it indicates an attempt to manipulate page rankings. As I’ve mentioned before, search engine punishments for such activities is harsh and can land you with a penalty.
I received a penalty many years ago and I don’t recommend the experience to you.
You need to vary your anchor text: use your target keywords of course, but mix them up by using different but relevant keyword phrase combinations.
An inverse mistake is to not use your target keywords at all and instead use “click here” or “find out more” as your anchor text. It’s natural to use this type of call to action on your anchor text links occasionally, but you’ll get no SEO benefit at if if they all look like this.
15. Nofollow, Sponsored & UGC Links
All links have an attribution type. Attribution is defined as:
These attributions are effectively hints to search engines about how they should asses the link.
A “follow” link is effectively a link with no specified attribute. It’s a hint to search engines that you trust the blog you’re linking too and you effectively recommend it. Google places a high value on a follow link, and as a general rule the more follow links a blog has pointing to it, the more SEO benefit it enjoys.
A “nofollow” link is the opposite. It’s not a black mark against the site you link to using it, it’s just that you’re suggesting to search engines that you don’t want it to be counted as a vote from your site. Nofollow links tend not to pass SEO value to one site from another.
The “sponsored” attribute is a relatively new attribution type, designed to inform search engines that the link you’re providing will likely earn you money, such as an affiliate link might.
Finally, the “ugc” link attribute relates to user generated links, such as blog comments or forum profiles, where a site user adds a link to content.
It’s important to use link attributes and to use them correctly, since not doing so might land you with a penalty. Moz published a great piece on this that clearly explains what you must and mustn’t do.
I’ll urge you not to make a mistake with link attribution since it’s an SEO no-no to be avoided with extreme prejudice!
16. Linking Internally from HTTPS to HTTP
If you’re running your blog from HTTPS (secured) or have recently moved from HTTP to HTTPS, congratulations!
Migrating to HTTPS is a great move towards helping protect visitors to your blog. You also get an SEO benefit for using HTTPs, or at least your blog won’t be looked at less favorably… which is a benefit I guess.
However, check your internal links if you’ve moved to HTTPS recently, since you may have links pointing to HTTP versions of your pages, and this is an SEO mistake.
If your visitors are moving from HTTPS to HTTP randomly as they browse your blog, they’re operating in an unsafe environment. This is a problem if you’re linking to unsafe versions where your visitors are passing sensitive information to you.
Use a tool like SEO PowerSuite to find and fix internal links pointing to HTTP pages on your blog.
As a summing up exercise, here are the 16 SEO mistakes to avoid if you possibly can… to be honest you should be able to avoid them all!
- Low quality content will not help your posts to rank.
- Content length… short posts are a missed SEO opportunity.
- Keyword optimization… target the right keywords and don’t stuff them unnaturally into your posts.
- Post / page titles should contain between 50 – 160 characters.
- Meta descriptions should contain between 50 – 160 characters.
- Meta keywords… don’t use them, they’re unnecessary.
- Heading tags (H1, H2, H3)… use them appropriately to help format your posts for user friendliness and use your target keywords… but don’t overstuff them!
- ALT tags on images… don’t forget them and use target keywords where useful.
- URLs with underscores… don’t use them, use hyphens instead.
- Long and illegible URLs… no good for people or search engine crawlers.
- Too many on-page links… no hard rule here but 100s of links on your page are not going to help your visitors and may indicate spam activity.
- Broken internal and external links… not an SEO mistake per se but avoid them by checking your blog regularly.
- Bad links… do not actively engage in building unnatural links
- Link anchor text… don’t overuse or underuse keywords in your links.
- Nofollow, sponsored & UGC links… use them correctly or risk an SEO penalty.
- Linking internally from HTTPS to HTTP… this suggests an unsafe experience for your visitors. Avoid this SEO mistake by checking your blog regularly to make sure your internal links are as they should be.
That’s all for now!
If you have anything to add to my list of SEO mistakes to avoid, drop a comment below and let me know!
Solid advice here, Paul.
I’m not surprised that you have talked about content in the first place. I still remember those early days back in 2015, when I had copied content on my first blog and yet Google had been rewarding me with the 1st page until that core update would come. Later I had to realize that even if Google ranks you well for thin content and your blog’s SEO errors, it would be just for a matter of time.
No one would stay long on Google in this lucrative digital world unless we understand the right mix of content, backlinks and on-site factors and act right. Since it is easier to evaluate the Google penalty these days with the tools like SEMrush, Moz, etc, we must keep an eye on our blog’s performance to stand a chance in the competition.
This is a great resource for new bloggers and website owners must look into, understand and implement. I really enjoyed reading all of this page’s content and not missing any word.
I like your blog’s new design by the way, Paul 🙂 Have a great day!
Hey Mudassir… thanks for your thoughtful comment and for recognizing I’ve updated my theme!
You make very good points… one recipe for traffic is indeed high-quality content and backlinks.