SEO “Don’ts”: 20 Fatal Mistakes You Must Avoid To Succeed

Small businesses are often hard-pressed for time and money. That’s been a recurring theme in the Small is Beautiful columns here on Search Engine Land. And as I read various small business blogs, it’s clear to me that there’s a growing interest in search marketing and understanding the benefits of SEO. But there’s still a divide between that and actually doing SEO or hiring an SEO company. The idea for this column came from a small business blog, where one small business owner asked for a quick and easy SEO checklist to follow. In other words, a concise list of do’s and don’ts for search engine optimization.

Well, how about going one better than that? How about two checklists? This week, a checklist of don’ts: things to avoid whether you’re doing SEO yourself or having an outside firm do it for you.

Small Business SEO Checklist: The Don’ts

1. Don’t reply to the SEO spam you get via e-mail. You don’t need to submit to 1,000 search engines or 500 directories. You can’t buy 2,000 quality links for $50. And no reputable SEO can guarantee a number one ranking on any search engine for keywords that matter. The kind of SEO company you want to hire doesn’t send out spam.

2. Don’t wait too long to implement SEO. Whether you’re launching a new Web site or upgrading your current site, SEO considerations should be part of the discussion from day one.

3. Don’t take your decision to hire an SEO company too lightly. Hiring an SEO company is not like choosing a company to service your copy machine. Online marketing can make or break your company, so choosing a vendor should involve a lot of research and questions with the companies you’re considering.

4. Don’t hire an SEO company and then divorce yourself from the process. It’s your job to know and understand as much as possible about the strategies and tactics your SEO company will be using. If your SEO company uses high-risk tactics and your site gets caught, you’ll be the one paying the price.

5. Don’t spread your content over several domains. There are times when sub-domains or an additional domain might make sense, but those occasions should be dominated by user and content considerations, not an attempt to get multiple domains/sites listed in the SERPs. Know the pros and cons of using sub-domains and additional domains.

6. Don’t waste your time submitting your URL to search engines. The crawler-based search engines will find your site more quickly as soon as you get a link from another web site already being crawled. Search engine submission died a few years ago.

7. Don’t make your web site uncrawlable. This can result from an incorrect robots.txt file, having session IDs or too many variables in your URLs, using a convoluted navigation menu that spiders can’t (or won’t) follow, or developing an all-Flash, all-graphic, or all-AJAX site.

8. Don’t target overly general keywords. A real estate agency in Wichita has no shot at ranking for the phrase “real estate;” a lawyer in Fresno has no shot at ranking for the word “lawyer.” Optimize for relevant, specific keywords that will bring targeted traffic.

9. Don’t stuff keywords in your meta tags, image alt tags, etc. That is so 1996-97. Today, it’s called spam.

10. Don’t stuff keywords in your page footer with lightly-colored or hidden text. That is so 1998-99. Today, it’s also called spam.

11. Don’t have the same title element on every page. Variety is the spice of life and, combined with relevance, is a pre-requisite to avoiding duplicate content issues and Google’s supplemental index.

12. Don’t allow both and to resolve to your home page. Those are two separate addresses to a search engine, and that means you have the same content at two addresses. On a related note, don’t link to your home page with a URL like—that’s also a separate address from and will also look like duplicate content.

13. Don’t ignore usability. Things like proper site structure, logical navigation, descriptive link text, etc., are good for both users and search engine spiders.

14. Don’t give up on creating great content because you think your customers don’t need or want it, or because your product or service doesn’t lend itself to great content. No matter what business you’re in, you can add great (linkable) content to your web site. A glossary is an easy way to create a page of great, keyword-rich content. Also consider a frequently asked questions page, a testimonials page, how to articles, product support manuals and so on.

15. Don’t develop an unbalanced link profile. Too many small business owners, knowing links are important, immediately begin trading links with any and every site they can find. Not a good idea. Reciprocal links aren’t bad by default, but if most of your inbound links are the result of link trades, they won’t help much. Reciprocal links should only be made with quality, relevant web sites, and should only represent a fraction of your overall link profile.

16. Don’t request the same exact anchor text on all links to your site. This is an obvious sign of unnatural link building. Your link building should look natural, and varied anchor text will help.

17. Don’t plaster your link all over blog comments, guestbooks, etc. That’s called spamming, not SEO.

18. Don’t fret over keyword density. Yes, your target keyword and closely-related terms should appear in the page title, description meta tag, and page copy. No, a calculator is not an SEO tool.

19. Don’t obsess over Google PageRank. What you see in the toolbar is several months old, and doesn’t affect rankings like it used to. PageRank is now more about crawl frequency and depth, and whether a page is stored in the main index or supplemental index.

20. Don’t check your rankings every day. They’re going to change whether you look or not. Better to spend time improving your web site rather than watching it flutter up and down the SERPs.

This list could continue well beyond these 20 “don’ts.” Your additions are welcome in the comments.

Next week’s Small Business SEO Checklist will cover the crucial search optimization dos.

Matt McGee is the SEO Manager for Marchex, Inc., a search and media company offering search marketing services through its TrafficLeader subsidiary. The Small Is Beautiful column appears on Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | SEO: General | Small Is Beautiful


About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • kSchnepp

    Matt -

    Great post! How about this (it compliments #8):

    21. Don’t underestimate the value of keyword research.

  • bontb

    22. Don’t use duplicate keywords like iphone , apple iphone,

    23. Don’t forget to create custom 404 page.

    I have more dont’s but Ill leave it for others :)

    Greate post

    Visit me if you get a chance i like opinions

  • Lucky Lester

    24) Don’t believe everything you read as some may be posted specifically for misinformation purposes ;)

    25) Don’t purchase links as it may make your site more competitive and Google may have to place more of their products into the organic results to push you off of page 1 ;)

    26) Don’t tug on superman’s cape

    27) Don’t spit into the wind

    28) Don’t pull the mask of the ol’ lone ranger

    29) And you don’t mess around with Spam

  • Jill

    22. Don’t use duplicate keywords like iphone , apple iphone,

    Why not?

  • sportsguy

    Number 1 for your do list, Matt – keyword research – it always starts there…


  • David at TNM

    30) Don’t assume that your query strings will be accurately translated by search engines. URL rewriting and providing permanent link is an important step for dynamic sites.

    31) Don’t forget that capitalization, singular vs. plural and consistency all count in increasing your rankings for your targeted key words and phrases.

    32) Don’t use clever article titles like you would in printed media. Bots don’t understand clever the way people do. They understand clear, concise and descriptive titles and descriptions.

  • David at TNM

    –22. Don’t use duplicate keywords like iphone , apple iphone,

    –Why not?

    Two reasons (IMO), 1) Bots might flag it as spam and 2) “apple iphone” is a more descriptive phrase than just “iphone” making the latter useless.

  • REBlogGirl

    Great post, Matt. Number 12 is by far my biggest pet peeve… canonicalization! So many sites simply never take the time to canonicalize their sites then end up with 2 indexable domains to spread their content, PR and SERP over.

    Here’s my addition:
    Don’t redirect sites without testing that the 301 redirect is done properly.

  • Paul

    33) Don’t put 10s of words/phrases into the meta keyword and description. I’ve this sooooo many times and of course the feedback was awful.

    34) Title Tag is THE most important SEO issue ANYONE can implement. And if you have words from the Title within the page (2-3 REAL combinations) you’ve done an amazing job.

    35) Get and put a Google Keycode (from Webmasters Tools) in your meta description. Believe it or not, MSN not only recognizes it, but gives it looots of credit in search results. I didn’t study if Yahoo recognizes it, but it’s on my agenda :)

  • Paul

    CORRECTION 33) Don’t put 10s of words/phrases into the meta keyword and description. I’ve *****SEEN***** this sooooo many times and of course the feedback was awful.

  • David at TNM

    I think 34 and 35 are more DOs than DON’Ts =]

    And here’s a URL for the Google Webmaster Tools Paul mentioned in his post.

  • Paul

    Thank you, David. You are absolutely right, I should have put Don’ts instead of Dos. But I can easily change that :)

    34) DON’T forget that the Title Tag is THE most important SEO issue ANYONE can implement. And if you have words from the Title within the page (2-3 REAL combinations) you’ve done an amazing job.

    35) DON’T forget to generate and put a Google Keycode (from Webmasters Tools) in your meta description. Believe it or not, MSN not only recognizes it, but gives it looots of credit in search results. I didn’t study if Yahoo recognizes it, but it’s on my agenda :)

    Is it ok now? Of course it’s just playing with English skills.

  • http:// seo beginners

    Don’t use the same description tag on every page of your site. Descriptions are very important, that’s what the visitor usually sees displayed on the SERP’s and also helps to avoid duplicate content issues for your Website pages. Thanks great article for SEO Beginners.

  • Miriam

    Right on, Matt. Tell it like it is!

  • Yebot

    This is quite the nice list you’ve got here. Apparently some of my meta strategy is stuck in the nineties.

  • GadgetsGuy

    Re # 12)

    This point may be inaccurate for optimal SEO. The correct way to do this is to have the non-www version of your website 301 redirect to the so that the combined results are applied to the single domain.


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