While the industry is maturing, SEO still remains a largely misunderstood discipline. There are three main reasons for this:
- The search engines keep the details of their ranking algorithms private.
- There is a lot of bad information and misperceptions that are presented as SEO wisdom online.
- The algorithms search engines use are frequently changing.
As a consequence of this landscape, it takes real working experience to develop strong SEO skills – you can’t get them without it. Making changes and seeing what works and what doesn’t is simply a must. Even if your SEO team (or SEO agency) has that experience, there are a number of things that you can do to make life difficult for your SEO team.
Let me count the ways …
1. Focusing On “SEO goals” Instead Of Business Goals
Too many enterprises get focused on goals that are artificial. For example, they focus on building 100 links per month. Seriously now. I can get you 100 links per month for $400 or less and they probably won’t do anything at all for you.
Other bad goals are specific rankings or PageRank increases. Your top level goals should nearly always be: increased relevant, non-branded search engine, traffic (NBSET), and increased conversions from NBSET. Align the SEO team goals with your company goals.
2. Doing SEO In A Vacuum
SEO impacts a lot of different disciplines. The SEO team needs to be in close coordination with many parts of the enterprise, and those parts of the organization need to be aligned with the goals and what is required to meet them.
3. Poor Communication With The Dev Team
One common problem is the lack of a strong communication channel, and strong trust between the dev team and the SEO team. One classic example is the 301 redirect. Most tools it seems default to 302 redirects, and the developers need to really be on board with why a 301 is preferred and understand that they need to check and verify it themselves.
4. Poor Communication With Marketing
Love those pesky marketing folks, really, I do. But sometimes they can make decisions not realizing that what they are doing is blowing up the SEO efforts. I have seen situations where the marketing team insisted on titling pages of their site with their fancy product brand names that don’t have the slightest relationship to a phrase that users ever search on.
5. Poor Communication With The Exec Team
This is one of the easiest way to throw a wrench in your SEO efforts. One enterprise I know decided to design their site for the C-suite. As a result, they promptly ripped most of the text off of their pages and slimmed down the site into a corporate brochure. Great way to make it very difficult for search engines to figure out what is special about your site!
6. Poor Education At The Exec Level
It turns out that communication is not enough. The execs need to know enough about SEO to understand what they don’t know, and how and when it matters. Once they understand that, they will be far more likely to get SEO advice about the impact of a decision when they need it.
7. No Centralized Coordination of SEO
Putting your SEO team in a position where they have to separately sell multiple groups in your organization is really going to hamper their efforts. Having good communication with marketing, development and the execs is necessary, but you also need to streamline it so it is efficient.
8. Being Over-Focused On One Specific Goal
This happens often, and one of the most common hyper-focused goals is driving traffic on one specific keyword. This narrows your SEO efforts in a way that is too artificial.
In an environment as fluid and undefined as SEO, it is best to allow some freedom to pursue the areas that bring you the fastest/largest ROI. It is usually very difficult to discern where that will come from in advance.
9. Making Decisions That Impact SEO Without Knowing It (Or Checking)
This is obviously related to the communication and education related problems. However, even if the communication channels are open, it still happens that people make decisions and don’t have the discipline to first ask if there is an SEO concern with the decision. Instill the discipline in your team to ask that key question before committing to that new “great idea” someone has.
10. The Developer “Knows” SEO
Just like those marketing folks, I love the dev team too. But, it does happen that there are developers who say they know SEO, trust them, everything will be all right. One CTO I encountered insisted that 302 vs. 301 redirects did not matter because there was no way that the search engines would be so narrow in how they interpreted redirects.
Unless that developer has worked full time on SEO for 2 years or more (and I do mean FULL time), they don’t know SEO. They may have learned some things about it, but that is not the same thing as being an expert.
11. Doing SEO “After The Fact” – Do It Right Or Do It Over!
The most common variation of this mistake is launching a new website or a site redesign and then bringing in the SEO team. What do you mean the CMS I picked is SEO hostile? What? The title tag for every page on the site is required to be the same? There are session IDs on the URLs? Yup, I have seen all of these mistakes and more.
12. Not Starting SEO Soon Enough (Due To Scope Of Dev Impact)
Even after you get the idea that you must involve SEO planning up front, there is still an issue of not starting soon enough. What if the SEO input leads you to realize that you have to re-architect the site? Far easier to let development know that before they are well down the path. Consider SEO a key part of the product/site requirements definition process.
13. Keeping Social Media & SEO Separate
Today this is in fact the norm. Yet, there is a huge amount of interaction between social and SEO. For many sites, the best link building strategy going is a combined SEO and social media strategy. Operating these two disciplines in two different silos is a great way to lose a lot of leverage.
14. Not Coordinating Content Between Social Media, Blog, PR & On-Site
The leverage in having all these disciplines work in conjunction is enormous. However, to make it work, you need to have a consistent, reinforcing, content plan across them all.
15. Not Leveraging Your PR Efforts
Effective PR can be an awesome tool for generating lots of links and social media activity. Developing a consciousness of this in the PR department and getting them to understand how they can drive SEO and social goodness is a huge win.
16. Picking A CMS Without SEO Team Input
This is one specific problem that happens frequently enough that I felt I needed to post it here as a separate item. Please … don’t do it.
17. Finalizing A Site Architecture Without SEO Team Input
This is similar to the CMS line item. There is a lot of useful input that the SEO team can have here. Don’t let the SEO input be the sole source of input to a site architecture as usability and user experience factors are a big deal here, but an awareness of keywords that matter is important to take into account too.
18. Listening To Bad Or Outdated Advice From Others
Once someone gets to know a little SEO they may start to check out other sources of information. News shocker – but not everything you read about SEO online is accurate.
For example, the article about meta tags on About.com still indicates that keyword meta tags are used by search engines.
You can also read hundreds of articles saying that SEO is dead.
Just bear in mind that we are in the age of irresponsible journalism where far too many people grasp the power of the headline without having an understanding that influence comes with some level of responsibility.
19. Pursuing A Short-Sighted SEO Strategy Such As Low Quality Links
One of the most frustrating things in SEO is seeing your spammy competitor outrank you while cheating at SEO. Eppie Vojt published a nice case study on SEOmoz about the tactics one spammy site used to rank for the term “car insurance”. I am sure someone at Geico was saying WTF?
Unlike the example in the SEOmoz article where the site got banned from the index, there are many examples that can be shown where these cheaters just keep on ranking. It gets frustrating, and you can get the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” thing going on in your head. Don’t do it.
You don’t want to build your business so it is at odds with Google’s goals. No happy ending there.
20. Thinking SEO Is More Important Than The End User
This is a way of living in Google’s cross hairs too. SEO is one marketing discipline, and there are many others. Given end users good, valuable “stuff” is one function that can’t be ignored. And Google and Bing are both hard at work on methods for determining what the best “stuff” is and favoring that in your search results.
21. Constant Tinkering
This is a serious problem in many organizations. I have worked with people that are so wrapped up in tweaking the site over and over again, and their energy would be much better spent on the inbound components of SEO, such as link building, social media, PR, etc.
22. Not Understanding The Broader SEO Landscape
It is important to understand that the landscape is constantly shifting. We had Panda occur on February 24, 2011; Search, plus Your World launch on January 10, 2012; and on January 19th, 2012 we had the Page Layout algorithm which attacked ad heavy sites.
Even more recently, Google’s Amit Singhal was talking about semantic search saying it will impact 10% of results, and Matt Cutts was heard at SXSW saying a major update targeted at over-SEO’ed sites is coming.
Head spinning? The landscape is going to continue to shift. Make sure that you are not mired in specific details of today’s algos and the great majority of your effort goes to tactics that will stand the test of time.
23. Obsession With SEO
This is one of the things that can lead to tinkering. SEO is important, and you need to pay attention to it. But, it is not life itself. Know what I mean?
24. On-Page Only SEO
I have seen a lot of this. Major organizations learn that SEO matters and the first thing they do is focus on on-page SEO. Getting started is good, but on-page largely defines relevance for the search engines, and not ranking.
It is often hard for enterprises to deal with the link building side of things because of the problems in coordinating with other marketing disciplines such as PR and social media. Link building does not replace PR or social media or have to be at odds with it. Getting these things to work together brings a lot of leverage, so make sure you go past the “on-page only” stage of SEO awareness.
That’s my list for today! I am sure that there are many other aspects I have overlooked in the above. Please share your ideas/examples/frustrations in the comments below!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.