7 SEO Mistakes You’re Probably Making [And How to Fix Them]

World-renowned SEO expert, consultant, and bestselling author Stephan Spencer and his equally SEO-savvy daughter Chloe Spencer recently spoke at BlogHer17 on conquering search engine algorithms. Just as we wrote several blog posts about driving traffic to your site inspired by a presentation given by mega successful online entrepreneur and digital marketer Syed Balkhi at Social Media Marketing World, we’re bringing you rich advice from the Spencers on best SEO practices that even non-techies can easily put into action -- starting with this post on SEO mistakes you’re likely making and how to fix them.

If you think that SEO is only about filling your content, URLs and backend data with keywords, using tons of tags, or loading your site with lots of duplicate content because, well, more is more – then the bad news is you’re already making several big SEO mistakes.

The good news is that fixing those errors is simple and intuitive, even if you have limited technical knowledge.

In their BlogHer presentation, “SEO: Conquering Search Engine Algorithms,” Stephan Spencer and his daughter Chloe Spencer identified the following seven biggest SEO mistakes publishers commonly make and gave easily actionable advice on how to make immediate improvements for better organic search results.

1) Toss out your tag pages.

Once upon a time, using tags was considered a solid SEO practice, as they would tell people and search engines alike how to classify content. But today, tag pages not only don’t add value to Google, but they also actually confuse the search engine as they’re just a rehash of what you already have on category pages, in your post archives, and even your homepage if you have your newest post(s) there. So when you’re creating a blog post or page and you think you should fill in tags – even if they are the absolute best keywords for your site and you’re sure they’ll be helpful – do what Stephan advises and fight the urge to do so.

Instead, use categories to qualify your posts. And when you name your categories, don’t be obtuse and cute; be clear and use keywords that fit your niche best. The goal is to organize your categories around the posts your readers like best, and the search words or phrases people use to find your site. Finally, there’s no need to have a ton of categories -- keep it to the handful of topics you write about most frequently.

If you still want to continue using tags, then take the additional step to tell your site NOT to index them. If you have a WordPress site, then this is easily accomplished with Yoast’s SEO Plugin. Simply set tags to “no index.” 

Expert tip: If you’ve been a heavy tag user and are wondering how many content-thin tag pages you have in your search results, simply type the following into Google’s search bar:

site:yourdomainname.com (Note, there’s no space between the colon and “site” or your domain name.)

Scan the results for listings that have a random keyword that takes the user to a page without any particularly rich or valuable content. Now go back to those pages or posts and either remove the tags, or if you feel strongly about keeping them, be sure to set that page to “noindex.” Then give Google some time to catch up.

2) Ditch your date-based archives.

Most blogs automatically archive posts by date. While maybe it makes some sense to you, to anyone trying to access content on your site, it’s a non-starter, as people don’t search blog posts by dates -- they search for posts by topics or keywords that they’re most interested in. Organizing your archived content by date makes it appear extra-thin to Google, which leads to lower organic search rankings. If you do have a use case for archiving by date, then don’t index those posts.

3) Write better page titles.

According to both Spencers, a title tag is one of the most important aspects of your on-page SEO, as it’s one of the most prime spots to include your site keywords. A title tag is the title attribute in the head section of your HTML or, more simply put, the snippet of wording at the very top of your browser window (the title of the tab).

So default titles like “Welcome,” “Blog” or “Home Page,” are useless title tags because they have no keywords. Because the search engine bots that crawl your site give your title tag keywords the most weight, it’s critical that you thoughtfully craft each title. WordPress users can edit title tags using the Yoast SEO plug-in or the SEO Title Tag Plugin, developed by Stephan.

Expert tip: Make your title tags 60 characters (including spaces) or less, and put the top keywords for the page at the beginning of your title tag. While the custom title is the most important field to fill in, the meta description is useful as it’s often the snippet Google uses for that page or post, so be sure to write a short and descriptive sentence for that field.

4) Don’t duplicate content.

Repurposing old content and just using a new URL or worse, simply reposting an old article, doesn’t outsmart Google -- it just confuses the search engine and makes your content compete with itself. It also ruins your link equity, as there’s not one definitive URL.

5) Make sure each page on your site has introductory copy.

When a user clicks on a category page that doesn't have an introduction and instead just showcases a long listing of the latest posts, Google sees the page as thin, low-value content. Add an introduction that’s meaningful and clearly related to that page’s topic, and Google will be satisfied with it, as you’re providing quality information to deliver to people searching for your specific content.

6) Use your own domain.

When you use a URL that fully belongs to you, you own your website name and its content. When you are lazy about your domain name and allow a third party name to be a part of your blog or website’s URL (i.e. Blogger, Weebly) it is not only less professional, but it also affects your SEO. Take the extra step and use your own custom domain name.

7) Keep post URLs short and sweet.

By default, blog posts will use the title you give them to create the page URL, so if the post title is too long, it will affect your SEO. Keep in mind that if you want to use a relatively long title for your post, you can truncate the URL for SEO purposes by editing the permalink. Try using five to seven words, with top keywords for the post included first, separated by dashes.

Mistakes are easy to make, but fixing them can be equally as simple when you focus on making your site as user-friendly – and search engine friendly – as possible. Stay tuned for more expert SEO insight from Stephan and Chloe from their BlogHer presentation and interview!

Additional resources:

7 Simple SEO Hacks for Non-Technie Bloggers (BlogHer post written by Stephan)

The Science of SEO (Stephan’s site)

Chloe Spencer’s website

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