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 www.yourdomain.com and domain.com 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 www.yourdomain.com/index.html—that’s also a separate address from www.yourdomain.com 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.