Search engine optimization (SEO) allows you connect with clients and consumers who are looking for exactly your products and services when they’re looking to buy, and delivers long-lasting, consistent digital marketing ROI.

When you’re properly leveraging SEO, you can skip the expensive customer acquisition process. Your website becomes a sales funnel you can control. But if you’re making any of these nine common SEO mistakes, you may be leaving money on the table.

1. Targeting the Wrong SEO Keywords

If you’re not laying your foundation correctly with targeted keyword research and analysis, you’re not positioning your business for potential customers and clients to find you because you’re using the wrong search terms.

Fix: Target Long-tail Keywords

What’s a long-tail keyword?

  • Usually 3+ words long
  • Highly targeted
  • Lower competition

This is one of the first mistakes we see people make. Shorter, broader, more generic keywords like “science” will generate more search traffic than “how to find an environmental science job.” However, you’ll have a harder time ranking for “science,” and the traffic you’d earn from it won’t be specific to your business.

Long-Tail Keyword Examples

Fix: Target Transactional Keywords

What’s a Transactional Keyword?

A transactional keyword is a search term that indicates that a user is ready to make a purchase.

Transactional Keyword Examples

  • “Where to buy weighted blankets”
  • “How to hire a publicist”
  • “How much does a business coach cost”

FIX: Target Keywords You Can Realistically Rank For

  • Pages that rank on the first page of Google search get 91.5% of search traffic
  • Pages in the top three results earn 61.5% of clicks, with 32.5% going to the #1 result (Chitika).

What does that tell you? Two things. First, to get results from SEO, you need to be on the first Search Engine Results Page (SERP). (This can actually be a bit easier if you're a local business, since Google displays local results before the top SERP results — check out our Beginner's Guide to Local SEO to learn why and how.)

Second, you need to target keywords that carve out a specific niche your company can capitalize on, with reasonable competition, volume, and CPC.

When evaluating keywords, ask yourself:

  • How hard is it to rank for a particular keyword?
  • What type of content currently fills the top search results?
  • Can I create content that’s 10x better than that so I can rank higher than my competition?

2. Poor Technical SEO

Your on-page SEO may be on point, but you could have underlying code issues — and it isn’t always obvious! Even if your website looks perfect and boasts a great user experience, the structure and code that form the foundation of your site may be harming your SEO performance.

Common Technical SEO Issues:

  • Slow site speed
  • Issues with XML sitemaps
  • Using 302 temporary redirects instead of 301 permanent redirects
  • Huge crawl depth
  • Orphan pages
  • Poor indexability
  • Your site isn’t mobile friendly

Fix: Perform a Technical SEO Audit

You can use a tool like SEMrush (sign up for a free month here!) to generate a technical SEO audit of your website. Just by looking at the report, you can learn a lot about the factors that affect technical SEO. Even if that isn’t your area of expertise, you can send the report to your website developer for resolution.

Get a free, high-level SEO audit

Fill out this form, and we'll send you an SEO audit report within the hour. You'll learn the top technical SEO issues that could be harming your site traffic.

3. Low Number or Quality of Backlinks

High quality backlinks signal to search engines that your website is a trustworthy resource because blue chip websites are linking to you. If you don’t have enough backlinks, your keyword usage can only get you so far — and if you have low quality backlinks from sketchy websites, they can tank you in search.

If the problem is really bad, you'll get a message in Google Search Console that tells you your website has a manual penalty. You do not want the problem to get this acute. You can fix manual penalties , but in the meantime, you'll lose substantial amounts of SEO traffic. It's much better if you address the problem before that happens and prevent the manual penalty.

Fix: Remove Toxic Backlinks

To remove a backlink from an unreputable website, you’ll have to contact the site’s webmaster and request to have the link taken down. If that doesn’t work, you can disavow or nofollow those links. Afterward, submit a reconsideration request to Google to recoup your domain authority. This can take a few weeks.

Fix: Use HARO to Earn High Quality Backlinks connects high-authority media outlets to industry experts by sending dozens of reporters’ content requests to subscribers’ inboxes three times each day. At TCF, we’ve used HARO to earn media placements in six major media outlets (including Success Magazine ) in one month — for free.

Want to get started? We wrote a blog post with 18 HARO success tips from PR pros, so read up and start pitching!

4. Not Publishing Long-Form Content

Blog posts and website pages with more than 2,000 words consistently perform better not only in organic search traffic, but also in social shares, backlinks and domain authority. That may seem unintuitive — after all, don’t we all have goldfish attention spans these days? — but the data doesn’t lie. If you can answer your audience’s question more thoroughly than your competitor, you’ll get more traffic and conversions.

Fix: Optimize and Lengthen Your Short-Form Content

If your 400-word article isn’t ranking for the long-tail keyword you targeted, you don’t have to throw it out. Optimize it with more high-value content!

Hit the question at every angle. Give a step-by-step process to solve challenges. Add internal links to relevant content on your site. Don’t write long content for long content’s sake, but always ask yourself, “Is this article missing something that could be important to my readers?”

5. Your Content Isn’t Structured Properly for SEO

It’s not enough to have 2,500 words on the page. You need to work keywords into plenty of H2 headers for SEO and scannability. Headers provide Google with a hierarchy that shows which of your content is most important. You should also optimize internal and external links, include keyword-infused image alt text, and format your page title, meta description, and URL slug.

Fix: Target Google’s Answer Box

Google’s Answer Box features the best answer to a search query in a visually prominent, top-of-the-page result that ratchets up the chance you’ll be the first click. By writing content that answers questions in the “People also ask” box and writing clear, straightforward answers to the question (remember to format the question in an H2 header!), you can improve your chances of earning that prime real estate.

Learn more: How to Optimize Content for Google's Featured Snippet Box

6. Your Blog Isn’t Set Up Properly

Is your blog hosted on a different domain than your website? Is it built on a CMS without a solid technical SEO foundation? Is it hosted on a subdomain, rather than a subfolder? Your Tumblr may have gone viral, but it won’t do anything to direct organic traffic to your site. Any content marketing investment into a poorly formatted blog could be a waste of time and expense.

Fix: Host Your Website and Blog On WordPress

WordPress got its start as a blogging platform, but now it’s a full-featured content management system (CMS) that allows you to build the custom website of your entrepreneurial dreams. WordPress is faithful to the structure you use to format your content, so you don’t get any SEO-damaging code surprises when you hit “Publish.” It’s easy to create and edit content, and comes with easy-to-use plugins for search optimization. Which brings us to our next point...

7. Not Using the Right WordPress Plugins

So you’ve set up a WordPress blog — great! You’re off to the right start, but without the right plugins, you could be leaving sales, leads, and social shares on the table.

Fix: Download Our Favorite WordPress Plugins

Here are a few of the plugins The Content Factory uses every day:

  • Yoast SEO: Yoast grades your SEO best practices on a number of factors: keyword density, readability, title and meta description length and more, offering suggestions to improve your content as you write it.
  • Click to Tweet and social sharing toolbars: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody writes a social post about it, does it make a sound? Build social sharing into your website and blog and make content promotion simple with these plugins.
  • An SSL plugin: SSL stands for “Secure Socket Layer,” a type of encryption that improves your website security and organic search rankings. This is a no-brainer, especially since Google has been weighing SSL/TLS encryption more heavily in its algorithm. Learn more about how SSL impacts SEO.

By Kari DePhillips

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