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June 7, 2012

5 Rookie SEO Mistakes That Can Kill Your Search Engine Traffic and Some Tools to Help

Mistakes. We all make them, and ideally we learn from them. But even the smallest of mistakes on your website can sometimes cause big problems. And big problems with a website can cause lost traffic, money, and jobs.

With that in mind, here are 5 mistakes I’ve seen often enough to warrant a mention. I hope that you can learn from others who weren’t so lucky:

1. Telling the search engines you don’t want them to add your website to their database or follow its links.

If the pages of your website are not in Google’s database, then there’s no way you’ll ever receive any search engine traffic — targeted or otherwise. Not a week goes by when I don’t see a website where somehow the “noindex, nofollow” meta tags have been inadvertently added to every page (or even just some pages) of the site. Most of the time, it’s due to a WordPress setting that goes unnoticed when the website is first being designed. If you literally can’t find any page of your site in Google, even for a search on the name of the site or the URL, view the source code to see if you have told Google that you don’t want them to index your site.

I use a Chrome extension called “Nofollow,” which highlights all links that have the nofollow attribute, and also pops up a little window if the page is set at “noindex.” This simple extension is why I end up spotting this so often.

2. Relying on SEO software to “optimize” your website.

Repeat after me: There is no specific number of times a keyword phrase should be used in my content. There is no magic number of words that my pages should have written on them. And there is no best number of words or phrases that belong in a Title tag. And most of all: There is no SEO software that can optimize my website (despite the claims of their creators).

Use your common sense to optimize your site! Learn how your target audience searches for products, services and information such as yours, and write about it accordingly on your website. Then write to make an emotional connection with your visitors so that they’ll convert into happy customers.

3. Improper redirecting of old pages (or sites) to new ones via a 302-redirect instead of a 301-redirect.

Whether you’ve changed your domain name to something different or you’ve redeveloped your website and all or most of your new URLs are different from the old ones, it’s critical to redirect the old to the new via 301-redirects and not 302s. A 301-redirect causes Google to remove the old URL and also to pass the link popularity of the old URL to the new one. But a 302, while redirecting visitors to the correct new URL, will often still be indexed by Google. This causes duplicate content issues and PageRank splitting problems. That is, any links to the old URL will not pass “link juice” to the new one as long as it’s redirected erroneously via a 302.

Check the http header status of your redirected URLs to see if they show a 301 or a 302 via the SEO Consultant’s server header checker tool.

4. Writing to your CEO instead of your customer.

When you’re entrenched in the day-to-day activities of your business, you might forget that the words you use to describe what you do aren’t necessarily the ones that will be used by those unfamiliar with what you do. The people who come to your site shouldn’t need a translator to understand exactly what you do. And you know who the worst offenders are? Marketers! I fundamentally understand marketing at a commonsense level, because it’s a fairly simple concept. Yet when I check out some marketing companies’ websites, they might as well be speaking Martian. In addition to the gobbledygook that many companies write, they also don’t always speak to their potential customer at all. Instead, they try to impress those customers with how great they are.

To fix these copywriting mistakes, find out the words people use to find products and services such
as yours through keyword research, and then tell your potential customers what’s in it for them, rather than how totally awesome YOU are.

5. Creating a new site on a new domain and leaving the old site up as well.

I know that it’s scary to develop a brand-new site — especially if (for whatever reason) you must change domain names. But having 2 websites up at the same time is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the search engines. Every time I’ve seen this done (either on purpose or by mistake), the new website rarely gains any traction in the search engines as long as the old site is still alive and kicking. If you’ve spent time and money creating a kick-ass new website, don’t kill its chances of people finding it through search engines by keeping your old cruddy (but highly ranking) site lurking in the background.

Be sure you follow best SEO redesign practices, 301-redirect all your old URLs to the new, and — if you are changing domain names — perform a “change of address” using your Google Webmaster Tools account. After you do these things, your new site should do at least as well as your old site did in the search engines. More likely than not, it will do even better!

There are probably 100 more SEO rookie mistakes that are made every day, but I hope that these 5 — as well as the tools to help find and fix them — provide you with a good start toward keeping your website mistake free!

Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings, an SEO Consulting company in the Boston, MA area
since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen. If you learned from this article, be sure to invite your colleagues to sign up for the High Rankings Advisor SEO Newsletter so they can receive similar articles in the future!