Search engine optimization experts usually focus on what you should do to improve your site’s organic search rankings. In this post, I'm asking the opposite question: What are the fastest ways to destroy your site’s SEO performance? Here's a list of my top four mistakes.
Mistake 1: Launch the New, Ignore the Old
Imagine this sample approach.
"We're going to launch a redesign on a new platform, but we need to move quickly. Just change those URLs up, don’t bother with those pesky 301 redirects, mess with the navigation links and anchor text, and while we’re at it place as much content as possible in super-interactive formats that search engines can’t decipher.
"After all, the new campaign/branding/design strategy our company is cooking up is so fantastic and ground-breaking that it makes the current site and its content look like last year’s garbage. Since it’s irrelevant to our new marketing strategy, let’s just forget about that content that previously drove organic search traffic and the URLs that the search engines had indexed and associated link authority with."
That approach will kiss SEO performance goodbye. Focusing entirely on building new without planning for the SEO implications will absolutely negatively impact your SEO performance. Whether the project is a redesign, a content overhaul, a navigational tweak or a massive platform migration, an SEO launch strategy needs to be part of the plan.
Mistake 2: Follow Your Gut
Here's more flawed thinking.
"We’re each deeply immersed in our various industries and know our customers like the back of our hands. We’re armed with personas and market analysis and follow the right industry blogs. So of course we know which keywords and phrases we should be targeting in our SEO programs. Why bother doing keyword research when we already know the answers, right?
"While we’re on the subject of knowing the answers, when it comes to making changes on the site we also intuitively know which areas need work. We know how our customers use the site, we know how they get there, and we know how they’re converting – all simply because we build and love and obsess about our online presence all day long. Customers always use our sites exactly how we’ve planned for them to, naturally."
I agree that intuition has its place. But SEO decisions need to be based on data. Yes, ideas about which keywords are most valuable should feed into keyword research, but the data itself should guide which keywords to build the SEO content strategy on for which pages.
The same goes for plans to modify the site. We already have a wealth of information in our web analytics to determine which pages attract which keyword visits with the greatest frequency, and hopefully which convert. We’d be foolish not to take that data into account when developing plans for SEO, or any online marketing plan that could affect SEO.
Mistake 3: Buy Links
Don't be tempted to buy links, as in this sample plan.
"Google values links, we have money, so let’s go buy some SEO juice. Surely if we’re careful and sleuth out sites ourselves we can fly under the radar and get the benefit without Google and Bing finding out. They can’t watch every site in every industry all over the world at once, and really we deserve to rank better so these links are just righting the power balance.
"While we’re at it, let’s go build some easy links in free directories that take all links from any site. Then we can drop some keyword-optimized links into blog comments. And after that we can offer a bunch of advice on wiki and answer sites, seeding in our links as we go. If the search engines value links then the more links the better, and we can get lots this way."
Unfortunately, all of these link acquisition practices are easily identifiable with modern search algorithms. Buying links is specifically called out as a violation of Google’s webmaster guidelines, and many other fast-and-easy link building tactics result in low-quality links. In both cases, the links will be devalued algorithmically, and potentially even penalized. The best way to earn links of value these days is to earn them naturally via content marketing and working closely with other effective online marketing channels.
Mistake 4: Seeking Shortcuts
Avoid taking the easy route, as in this approach.
- "Fine, if we can’t grab a bunch of links quickly we can at least bulk up the content on our site with lots of keyword-rich content. If we syndicate content from this site and mash it up with data from this other source and then add exchange rates and weather info into it we’ll have a whole ton of new content pages that the search engines will gobble up. It will be fast, cheap and easy. Plus, we can auto-generate tags for each page to create a new internal navigation to flow link juice all through the new section and then cross link each page to our relevant products."
That sounds like a great way to give search engines just what they want – keyword-rich content and links. However, very rarely do these types of shortcut projects offer any unique content or real value to customers. As an amalgamation of content pulled from other sources, the shortcut content is by definition not unique. Google’s recent Panda algorithm updates are designed to devalue shortcut strategies like these, focused on creating masses of shallow or duplicative content for SEO value rather than customer value.
Can shortcut strategies kill a site’s SEO? Not usually by themselves. But when paired with the other SEO-killing strategies, they can definitely have a compound effect. Shortcuts will more than likely waste time and money that is better spent on SEO strategies that have a better chance of moving the needle and leading to long-term SEO success.