Deadly Sins Against SEO: Part 1

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a specialty that is intricately woven into many other disciplines: website design/development, information architecture, copywriting, website usability, analytics and conversion analysis, etc. Successful SEO hybrids are web professionals who are equally skilled in SEO and another area of expertise. For example, many search-savvy web developers understand how search engines access content on a website, and they make it as easy as possible for search engines and searchers to access that content.

Many SEO professionals work very hard to understand other disciplines to create the best overall searcher experience. Yet we meet with a lot of resistance. Copywriters don’t want to want to change their clever headlines (that often lack crucial keywords). Designers take great offense when you tell them that Flash was used inappropriately. Even landing page and conversion specialists are dumbfounded that we optimizers are trying to prevent a sale, at least from their perspective. Here are some of the top SEO sins I commonly encounter.

Sin #1: Eliminating important keywords

I have this beef with a wide variety of professionals, be they journalists, public relations (PR) professionals, information architects or website usability professionals. I constantly observe landing page professionals remove important keyword phrases from pages… after I put them in. And the tug-of-war begins. Who is a website owner to believe: the search usability expert or the conversion guru?

For search engines and searchers to accurately determine the “aboutness” of a web page, the page needs to contain important keyword phrases, and the page needs to appear somewhat focused on those words. I am not saying that web pages should contain a sea of black text. I am not saying to eliminate calls to action and other important sales copy. But I am saying to stop eliminating important keywords that successfully communicate the “aboutness” of a page.

Guess what? It might mean that some items will not appear above the fold. But that’s okay, because users/searchers will exhibit important finding behaviors long before they click “add to cart,” which brings me to my next SEO sin….

Sin #2: Not accommodating searcher behaviors

One of the reasons I contradict landing page professionals is what I perceive as ignorance on their part. All too often, I encounter a profound lack of knowledge about common searcher behaviors, such as orientation. Before users “add to cart,” and before users determine the product/service they wish to purchase, they are going to land on a web page and quickly ascertain whether or not they have: (a) landed on the most appropriate page, and (b) landed on the most appropriate site. And they are going to orient very quickly. In fact, successful orientation should occur in less than 1 second.

Successful orientation, reinforcement of information scent, and validation of user/searcher mental models ultimately leads to customer satisfaction, brand credibility, increased findability and sales. Keywords are a critical part of the scent of information and successful orientation. Landing page and conversion specialists might convince you to place more products/services to appear above the fold, but you are also doing that at the expense of critical finding behaviors.

Prioritization is a key skill of a qualified information architect, which brings me to my next beef….

Sin #3: Making sites difficult to navigate

With all due respect to landing page and conversion specialists, site navigation and relevant page interlinking isn’t exactly their forté. In fact, conversion specialists seem so overly focused on sales and conversions that they often lack the objectivity needed to construct intuitive site navigation schemes and labels.

I have seen global navigation schemes that are completely inappropriate for a site, all in an effort to get as many internal links as possible to important “sales” or “conversion” pages. I have seen “page interlinking gone wild.” I have seen keyword-stuffed navigation labels that are incredibly difficult to scan. On the flip side, I have also seen content orphaned when it shouldn’t be orphaned. I have seen links buried or de-emphasized that shouldn’t be buried. And all of this “conversion” advice comes from persuasion architects, landing page specialists and conversion professionals. Which led me to conclude that hiring a landing page or conversion expert to come up with a site’s information architecture might not be a wise decision.

Information architects tend to be more objective than any person involved in sales. They understand that finding behavior consists of browsing, querying and asking. They accommodate these three finding behaviors into site navigation schemes and other navigation labels, such as headings and titles. They determine the order in which information (and navigation) should be presented via a variety of usability tests and other data.

Information architects do not ignore or discount business goals. They try to make websites more intuitive. Their goal is to make task completion easier and more efficient. The end result? More sales, conversions, and findability.

More deadly SEO sins to come in my next post… stay tuned. And if you want to add your own deadly sins, please do so in the comments section below.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Content | Search & Usability


About The Author: is the Founder and SEO Director at Omni Marketing Interactive and the author of the books Search Engine Visibility and When Search Meets Web Usability. Shari currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Information Architecture Institute (IAI) and the ASLIB Journal of Information Management. She also served on the board of the User Experience Professionals Association (UXPA).

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  • Dennis Brennan

    Good stuff Shari.
    We are becoming more and more like physicians & lawyers, we practice, practice and more practice, never to be perfect…


  • etreske

    I enjoyed the post Sharri, it’s always good to hear from an experienced and successful SEO practitioner. This post reminded me of an SEOmoz video I just read and it’s all about the big picture. SEO gets relegated to so many minute details that often we fail to see the big picture and remember why SEO even exists- to get yourself or company in front of your target audience. I am looking forward to Part 2! Here’s the link to the video as well:

  • Etela

    I can totally connect with these topics and am looking forward to your next post. There are many challanges for SEOs and I hope you will be writing about some of the challanges of working with developers, who often try to tell me “it can’t be done” when I know for sure that it can, but it means the developers will have to change the way they are used to doing things. It would also be great if you could give some advice on how to deal with the resistance; how to convice teams you are working with to accept the SEO recommendations.

  • mkematt

    Thanks for the great article! Today, it’s imperative that Search Marketers become “experts” beyond PPC and SEO alone. Optimizing a site properly must include other areas like User Experience, Design & Programming/Development. All of these areas need to complement each other in order to drive traffic and conversions.

  • Shari Thurow

    Hey guys-

    Thank you very much for your comments. It is very difficult to come up with the most deadly SEO sins — there are so many of them. But I found that they tended to be grouped in these main categories.

    Etela, I empathize with you about developers. I am a designer/developer. So I see both sides. In general, developers certainly do not accommodate known searcher behaviors. In fact, I would be so bold to say that most developers are not even aware of searcher behaviors. I also believe most developers make sites difficult to navigation, unless they work with a person or group with a background in information architecture and usability or some other non-technical industry.

    There are books on GUI design that highlight these challenges…even though there is not one mention of SEO in them…which I find to be very interesting.

    Anyway, I hope you all enjoy Part 2. And please, by all means, let me know an egregious sin that I might have overlooked.




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