The 11 Deadly Sins of Search Engine Optimization

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By Jeff Palmer

There is so much misinformation floating through the internet regarding search engine marketing and optimization that it’s important to shed some light on a few common errors and misconceptions. The following list highlights some of the most critical issues involved in determining the success or failure of a web site’s search engine optimization and marketing strategies.

1. Lack of “Search Friendly” Content.
Every week I review web sites with no real search engine indexable content. Web pages composed mostly of graphics, flash and other bells and whistle are commonly over-looked by the search engines. Search engines determine what content is of value per web page based on the text used on that page. A truly optimized site should contain at least 200 words of keyword-dense text. There is some debate among experts on exactly how many words should be used, but generally 200 words will suffice. As a point of reference this paragraph contains about 200 words. It is equally important for text content to contain keywords that match the page titles. For example, a site selling peanut butter owned by a company called “ACME Foods” might have a title of “Acme Foods, Inc. Wholesale Food Products”. We have to consider how many people are likely to search for the term “Acme Foods, Inc. Wholesale Food Products” it is much more likely that people will search for the term “peanut butter”. Knowing this, we can say with confidence that it would be a wiser choice to title a page, “Peanut Butter, ACME Foods” and the page content should reflect this same keyword strategy.

2. Insufficient Link Popularity.
Search engines make every attempt to qualify the results which are displayed in search results. One of the ways that they do this is by tracking the number and quality of the incoming links to a web site. A site with a large number of incoming links from quality sites is given a higher ranking in search results. This is an important consideration that is sometimes over-looked by those attempting to market web sites. Services that promise to link your site to thousands of other sites are far from productive; in fact they can sometimes do more harm than good. Most search engines these days consider services like this to be spam, so called “link farming” and often give sites with these types of links a low ranking or drop them all-together from the search results. Incoming links to a site that compliment it and are relevant to the site contents are golden and can greatly boost a site’s ranking. Google’s page ranking system is a good example. A site with a page rank of 1 if given a link from a site with a page rank of 8 can see its page rank boost to 4! Link popularity is one of the most time consuming and difficult aspects of search engine optimization. It’s no wonder that many of the search engines give so much importance to this web site measurement.

3. Lack of Keyword Research And Updates
So, you have a web site. Do you know what pages in your web site are generating the most interest? Do you know what terms people are searching for that result in them finding your site? Probably not. Let’s use the peanut butter analogy again. You own a web site that sells peanut butter. You spend some money on paid search advertising, logically; you assume that the key phrase “peanut butter” is a prime candidate to target. What happens? usually one of two things, one, the term peanut butter is such a popular search term that thirty million other web sites are competing for the same key phrase. Two, the term peanut butter is so unpopular that it’s unlikely that it’s searched for more than once in this lifetime. Proper keyword research can solve these problems. Let’s say for the sake of argument that keyword research is performed and that it is determined that a significant number of people are searching for “organic peanut butter”. It just so happens that our peanut butter company manufactures a whole line of organic, all natural peanut butter. We have discovered a niche. The right amount of people searching for the specific product that we want to sell. It’s the perfect match. So, what must be done to capitalize on our findings? First we optimize our web pages for our target keyword, we change the title, and the content so that they include the term “organic peanut butter”, then we scrap all of the paid search advertising that wasn’t working and focus on targeting our “organic peanut butter” market. The point is, successful search engine marketing relies on constant research and updates the internet is fluid and evolving. What works today might not work tomorrow, we have to be able to identify strengths and weaknesses in our internet marketing campaigns and must be prepared to research, update and adapt.

4. Designing First, Optimizing Later
I have seen this mistake repeated hundreds of times. Even experienced web designers fail to consider the results of design decisions on search optimization until it’s too late. What is the point of spending thousands of dollars for a well “designed” web site if nobody ever sees it? Consult a search engine specialist early in the design process. Even if your web site marketing strategy relies heavily on paid search advertising a consultation with a professional optimization expert may expose flaws in your site’s layout. Points in the flow of information that tend to cause users to lose interest or become confused may become apparent, better to address these issues early on.

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5. Relying Too Heavily On Paid Search Advertising
This is a mistake made by Fortune 500 companies and small businesses alike. The fact is that most businesses, small and large aren’t getting it right.
The rationale is that since search advertising can be purchased it isn’t necessary to focus on search optimization techniques. On the surface this might make some sense, you can buy certain keyword phrases that people are searching for, so why bother optimizing your site for the search engines? For a company with a huge internet advertising budget this means spending huge amounts of money to drive traffic to their sites, when, if their site had been properly optimized from the beginning, these costs might be half as much for the same amount of viewers. For many smaller businesses trying to compete in the internet marketplace simply becomes overwhelming. While paid search advertising is a highly effective means of targeting an audience, organic search optimization greatly increases the chances of success for any web site. Make sure that the site you are advertising is one that people can find easily without the assistance of a paid search campaign.

6. Not Supporting the Conversion Process
A few weeks ago my wife decided that she wanted to buy some Australian made baby clothes that we can’t find here in the states. So being the internet savvy father to be, I decided to have a look on the internet for the particular brand she was interested in. I surf to a search engine and type in the brand name. A few seconds later I’m greeted with a list of web sites that supposedly have what I’m looking for. I click on the first site in the list. I find myself at the site of a clothing importer based out of California. There are links to several categories of clothing, none of which seem to have anything to do with babies, eventually after a lot of searching I find a link on the children’s clothing page for infant garments. The infant