When I first started blogging in 2009 there were just a handful of us knocking about, and only a fraction of them are still around (shout out to UJU, TARA, CHRIS, MARIA, BECKY, MIRKA – have I forgotten anyone?!).
Back then, you simply wrote your blog posts, and pressed publish – none of us ‘old-school’ bloggers knew anything about SEO mistakes, or alt tags, or RSS feeds, or Google penalties – we just wrote because we enjoyed it.
Now, it’s a very different kettle of fish.
Blogging is a bona-fide profession now; they’re reaching glossy magazine quality, and competition is fierce. If you’re not continually upping your game and keeping abreast of all the digital advancements, you’ll get left behind.
Before becoming a blogger I was a magazine journalist for 20 years, writing for publications such as Cosmopolitan, Red, Psychologies and The Guardian’s Weekend magazine. As a journalist you research, interview and write your story, then hand it over for a team of other people to edit, proof read, arrange photos, design the layout and print.
As a blogger you have to learn to do ALL of the above, and more. Yes, I’m talking about SEO – those three letters that strike fear in a blogger’s heart, and could spell the difference between your blog being seen by dozens of people, or tens of thousands.
It’s the area I’ve struggled the most with; I’m a typical creative – writing is a joy to me, but all the tech side of digital writing fills me with utter dread. In the years since I grudgingly accept
ed SEO was an essential component of my blogging, I’ve managed to pick up a very basic understanding (mostly thanks to my saviour – Yoast!), but I know I’m still making some rookie mistakes, and damaging my visibility in the eyes of Google.
It’s my mission this year to trawl back through all those early posts, and bring them fully up to SEO speed (there’s only about 1000 of them – how long can it take? *gulp*).
To help me know where to even start, and to ensure I do it all right this time, I called on the hugely knowledgeable Gareth Torrance, from THAT MARKETING PUNK. I commissioned him to do a full SEO report on my entire blog, and the information he sent over (in easy to understand, Jacqui-proof language) has already paid for itself twice over – and I’m only partway through his report!
Here’s the really exciting part for you lot – I made a cheeky request, and Gareth very kindly agreed to provide a guest post imparting some of his valuable SEO and digital marketing know-how.
Please enjoy, and if you find them helpful, please pop over to That Marketing Punk, and give Gareth some social media follows, or – even better – join his mailing list for loads of great SEO info and advice.
The Five SEO Mistakes You’re Probably Making, and How To Fix Them
Let’s face it, there’s just so many different thing you need to sort out when it comes to SEO that it can seem completely overwhelming.
But, you know what? It really isn’t; in fact, throughout my career in SEO there have been a few select things that nearly every client has been getting wrong… and the good news is, they’re actually pretty simple mistakes to fix.
That’s why, today, I’m going to be looking at the top 5 SEO mistakes that you are probably making, simply because almost everyone is. And do you know what that means? If everyone else is making these mistakes, but you fix them, you’re already at an advantage.
So let’s get on with the list, shall we?
Not Using Canonical Tags Correctly
Okay, so those of you who have heard of a canonical tag, put your hands up! I bet there’s a lot of you who either haven’t heard of it, or heard of it but don’t really understand what a canonical tag is, right?
When using a CMS (content management system) like WordPress, Blogger or Drupal to build a website (or even free website builders like Wix), each page is built from data within a database. Therefore, it is very common for multiple pages of the same content to be created.
In fact, even the comments system in blogging software can duplicate your posts, as far as Google is concerned. For example;
Whilst these would actually load the same page (your-awesome-post), because the second link has an added parameter, Google would see it as a separate page, meaning that you’ve got duplicate content.
Now, when you consider that the comment ID is 1, then I’m sure you can see what you could have 50, 100 or more ‘copies’ of the same post. Google doesn’t like duplicate content, and uses it’s Panda algorithm to penalise sites that have duplicate content, but Google also knows that, as in the example above, it can happen accidentally.
That’s why they introduced the canonical tag. What this does is tell Google which copy of the page is the ‘canonical’ (real) version. Google will then only read that version, and completely ignore the rest. Therefore, it actually acts as a shield against accidental duplicate content.
To make sure you are using it correctly, you should make sure that the canonical tag is referencing the post or page that it is on. For example, in the case of the post listed above, the correct canonical tag would be as follows.
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.example.com/your-awesome-post”>
With this in the <head> section of that post, it will also appear in all other copies created by changing the link URL. Therefore, no matter how Google comes to that post, it will only ever look at the correct version.
If you are using WordPress, then the simplest way to make sure this is done correctly is to simply install Yoast – that’s because this specialist SEO plugin will sort out the canonical tags for you.
Using Tags To Show Keywords
Okay, so we started off with something pretty detailed and complex, but that’s because without the canonicals done correctly everything else you do can be ruined by a Panda penalty. So, with those out of the way, the next thing to address is the use of tags.
It used to be common, and correct, to use tags on blog posts as a sort of keyword cloud to help boost your SEO (by ‘used to be’, I mean about 5 years ago).
Google has come a long way since then. For example, it’s moved on from looking at specific words in its search to understand and interpret the actual question of the search. Now that doesn’t mean that keywords are obsolete, it just means the way we use them needs to change as well.
By having a block of random keywords with no actual content (the list of tags), you’re actually running the risk of keyword stuffing – putting too many keywords in a page or post. This will actually hinder your SEO, as Google really doesn’t like that.
So, if your theme shows the tags on the page or post, or even just has them in the code of that page or post but not visible to the reader, you should either stop using them, or get your theme edited so that they don’t appear in the code of the post. For example, I use tags with the ‘Revive Old Post’ plugin, as it uses them to make hashtags for social sharing, but they don’t appear on my pages or posts.
Using the Meta Keywords Tag
In a very similar vein, there used to be a meta tag that was incredibly popular, known as the meta keywords tag. Actually, it’s still very popular with a lot of website owners, but it really shouldn’t be!
Back in 2013, Google announced that it would no longer be accepting the meta keywords tag as actual metadata for a page. This came about because people in the darker side of the SEO industry would flood this tag with keywords, effectively spamming Google’s search results.
So, in an effort to combat this, Google simply refused to accept it anymore. Therefore, similar to post tags, if you are using the meta keyword tag then you are just listing a bunch of keywords with no actual context. So, again – keyword stuffing. So let’s all stop using it, shall we?
Not Optimising Your Page Titles for both Google and the Reader
So let’s start this with a little explanation about why you shouldn’t just optimise things for Google. As far as Google is concerned, it’s another business that needs to keep its customers happy. But who are Google’s customers? We are.
Everyone who searches in Google is a customer, as Google makes most of its income through ad revenue generated by ads both on websites (AdSense) and also Pay Per Click ads in search results. Therefore, it is imperative that they are known as the most reliable search engine.
To do this, they are constantly refining the way they read and understand websites and how they rank them, but they are also putting a huge emphasis on user experience and engagement.
That’s why it’s no longer best practice to have keyword-focused page titles. They’re ugly, don’t read well and people aren’t very likely to click on them in search results. Instead, you want to make sure your page titles are attractive to users; Of course, beware of going too close to a clickbait title… For example;
- SEO Mistakes | SEO Problems | SEO Blog
- That’s a very keyword-focused page title, and it really isn’t inviting
- 5 SEO Mistakes To Look For
- That’s a bit better, and more focused on the user, but still not that inviting
- How To Fix The 5 SEO Mistakes You’re Probably Making
- This one is much more user friendly, explaining what they can expect to find, and drawing their attention as it mentions fixing the mistakes, not just listing them
- Get Top Position 1 In Google With These Awesome, Mind-blowing Tactics That No-one Else Knows!!!!!!!!
- Definite clickbait – you don’t want to go that far
Can you see the difference? The third one is much more inviting, but also manages to get the keyword “seo mistakes” into the title as well. This way, you’re able to optimise for both Google and the user, getting better rankings in search results and more clicks and engagement!
Oh! But make sure each of your page titles are unique! Having the same page title for different pages or posts will just end up confusing Google… And that doesn’t mean it will just show both. If Google gets confused, it basically throws a tantrum and refuses to show either of the pages!
Not Paying Attention to the Mobile Experience of your Site
Ok, so you may have a ‘responsive’ theme on your site (you do have one, right?) but that’s not all you need to worry about when it comes to being mobile friendly:
Have you ever heard of Mobilegeddon? That was the day the Google released its mobile usability focused update, which penalises you if your site isn’t responsive or you don’t have a mobile alternative site. So, at the very least, you need to make sure that your theme works right on mobile phones and tablets.
But towards the end of 2016, Google released the Mobile 2 update and announced that (in the near future) they will be switching to a ‘mobile-first index’. What this means is that search results on both computers and mobiles will use the database for mobile searches – they used to be separate.
So firstly, if you have an alternate mobile site (for example, m.example.com) then once the change to the mobile-first index happens, anyone who finds your website in search results on computers will find that mobile version, not the normal one.
Secondly, if your site doesn’t offer good usability on mobile phones, then you will lose rankings in Google on both mobile and computer searches. That’s pretty big, huh?
So, here are things you need to review to make sure that your site is not only mobile friendly, but also has good mobile usability;
- Is the text size big enough to read on smaller phones?
- Now, on things like the iPhone 7 and the Galaxy S8, the screens are pretty big. But have you tested your phone on a Galaxy Core Prime or an iPhone SE? Their screens are a lot smaller, so the text will also be smaller. If the user has to zoom in to be able to read it clearly, then you need to make your font bigger on mobile devices.
- Is the menu big enough to use with ease on smaller phones?
- Similar to the previous point, if the menu items are too close together on smaller phones, and it is difficult to press the right link (or any link on the site, in fact) then you need to look at increase the size of the menu items, and the spacing between them.
- Do you have a pop-up or overlay that the user has to interact with before being able to read the content?
- Google released an update in September 2016 called the Intrusive Interstitial update (a horrible name) that will penalise you if you have a popup or overlay that blocks the content on mobile devices. This could be anything from an advert pop up to a “join my mailing list” overlay. If it covers more than roughly 10% of the screen, and stops the user from reading or interacting with the content of the page, you need to remove it and find a different way to get that popup or overlay’s information across.
- Does your site load fast enough on lower strength connections like 3G or lower?
- Page load speed is a huge ranking factor for Google, so if your website doesn’t load fast enough, it will hinder your rankings in search results. The best way to check this is to run a few random pages of your site through Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool or GTMetrix. Both of these tools will give your pages a score, and advise you on what you need to fix… But aware, however, that the fixes can be quite technical and you may need to speak to a web developer for some of them.
And That’s All Folks!
Those are the 5 SEO mistakes that you – like much of the world – are probably making, and how to go about addressing them.
I know a couple are quite technical, but they are also really, really important to get sorted. I hope you’ve found this helpful, and if you have any questions, feel free to put them in the comments below, or get in touch with me on Twitter or my own blog, That Marketing Punk.
• if you enjoyed this tutorial on common SEO mistakes, you might like to check out: ‘WHAT PR’S LOOK FOR IN BLOGGERS – HOW TO GET THE JOBS YOU WANT‘.