Google AdWords is losing its power as ads get more expensive. SEO, which aims to get better natural search rankings, can be a more reliable strategy. But watch out because there are traps.
The beauty of Google AdWords is its ability to put your brand and your offering in front of an audience right at the instant they’re interested in it – the consumer enters in a query and up pops your ad.
But you have to bid to get your ad up the top of the page; and competition is driving up the costs. As more people have discovered AdWords, competition for top positions has increased, and the cost of each click has increased.
On top of this, Google is adding new rules and features to AdWords almost weekly, so trying to keep up with Google AdWords is becoming a full-time occupation.
There is another way.
A great natural search engine ranking at Google will achieve the same result. The great aspect of search engine optimisation (SEO) is the ability for you to DIY. If you have the time and the inclination to learn about it, there’s nothing to stop you doing it yourself.
Ultimately, this can save you a bundle on ongoing AdWords costs, because once you’re ranking well, you can wind back your AdWords spend and rely on free organic traffic from the search engines.
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But it does take time and patience, so be prepared for results to happen gradually.
Think of it this way: Google AdWords = one day cricket. SEO = a test match.
The fundamentals of ethical search engine optimisation need to be followed if you want long term success. Don’t be tempted by the “dark side”, commonly referred to as Black Hat SEO. Keep it clean, play by the search engine rules, be patient and you will succeed.
So here is a top 10 list of the mistakes people make, and what you need to be aware of to avoid them.
1. Little or no idea how a search engine actually works
You simply must understand how a search engine works so you know what to do to work with one! Search engines, like Google, work automatically.
There is no human influence on Google’s results at all (except when a website has been naughty, and is physically removed from Google results). Search engines are typically made up of three parts – robots, crawlers and spiders; or “bots”. Robots are essentially automated information collectors. Like humans, they “surf” the internet, following links, finding web pages and sending information back to a central storage computer.
The index is an enormous storage system which stores and continuously updates all the information the robots have collected. The index is simply a slightly outdated “copy” of the internet. In SEO terms, it’s important to ensure all pages of your website are included in the index.
The algorithm is the third part of a search engine. This is a program that sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index to find matches to a search and rank them in order of what it believes is most relevant. Each search engine’s algorithm is slightly different in the way it works, which is why results for the same key phrase at different search engines will often provide a different set of results.
2. No SEO strategy in place
An SEO strategy is just as important as your website design and development strategy.
First, create a check-list of pages on your site that you most want people to visit – your target pages (don’t waste time optimising your privacy page, unless there’s a really good reason!). Decide the keywords you want to appear alongside in search results, then create measurement systems to track the success (or otherwise) of your optimisation. At the very least you should be looking at your ranking position(s) for your targeted key phrases (against your competition) and how much traffic is coming to the site using by analysing your web metrics package, such as Google Analytics or LiveStats.
3. Website is built using non-SEO friendly technology
Many owners have their website built using non-search engine friendly technology. Search engine robots are still very primitive, so you need a web design company to design you a site that is great for humans, and accessible to robots.
4. The wrong keywords are targeted, or keywords are not selected at all
This is one of the most common SEO mistakes. Even today it’s quite stunning that many web developers and website owners make no effort at all to perform research into the keywords for which they should rank highly. Often businesses target key phrases that are far too competitive, such as single words, which are notoriously difficult to rank well for. Inexperienced SEO practitioners will also try and place lots of keywords and key phrases all on one page in an attempt to rank highly for all of them. This completely dilutes the thematic relevance of the page. Of course, website owners then wonder why they don’t rank well for any of the key phrases they’ve selected.
If you target one or two “on theme” key phrases for each page, the page will be highly relevant for those words and you are more likely to rank higher in search results. This leads us to…
5. Too much content on one page
Break out your content, so that each page has its own highly relevant theme. Remember, search engines want to return the most relevant web page to a user’s query. So if you have a single page about lots of topics, chop it up into pages dedicated to each topic.
6. Poor or non-existent meta data and on-page optimisation
This is another astoundingly common problem. There are countless websites that have no “title tag” information and no “meta content” description. If you’re interested in DIY SEO but you’re not sure what this means, you need to learn some basic HTML. Thankfully, it’s not that hard to get your head around.
7. Using Black Hat SEO techniques
Here’s another tactic many inexperienced DIY SEO folk try on, thinking no-one will ever notice. Remember this.
Google and other search engines employ the greatest minds in the world to develop their search engines. Every deceptive trick you employ has been thought of long before you came on the scene. If you use unethical techniques to trick a search engine into ranking you higher than you deserve, you will get found out. It might take a few weeks or a few months, but it will happen.
Yes, it’s frustrating waiting for your website to climb the rankings. Yes, sometimes it’s a one-step-back, two-step-forward process. But don’t ever resort to Black Hat SEO techniques if you’re in it for the long haul. End of sermon.
8. Design and develop an SEO-unfriendly website
Search engines typically need at least 250 to 300 words (minimum) to get a clear relevance picture of the thematic topic of a web page.
So when you design a page, you should allow enough space on the page for textual content. If the page is filled with images, you’re just not giving the search engines enough to hang their hat on in terms of page relevance.
And you won’t get around the problem using “image alt” tags. Developers live deep in code, and (strangely!) most of them love it. They love solving programming problems.
Inexperienced developers solve problems for humans on your website, but can unwittingly create problems for search engine robots. Experienced developers solve problems with humans and search engine robots in mind.
9. Poor or non-existent external link strategy
This is a really tough topic because it is the misery of many smaller website owners.
There’s a lot of excitement building a new website. You’d be hard pressed to find a website owner uninterested in the design, development and launch of a website. They just can’t stop talking about it. It’s a wonderfully stressful time. It’s a different story when it comes to link building. Getting quality links to your site is a slog, and anybody who tells you different is lying. You certainly won’t hear website owners boasting about the new link they just got from so-and-so’s home page.
But it’s important, because the more other sites link to your site, the more search engines will count your site as worthy of sending other users to and the higher your search ranking. The quickest way to get quality links to your site is by opening your wallet. Go to Yahoo and fork over $US299 (for one year) to be included in its directory. By the way, that’s without any guarantee of inclusion; if a Yahoo editor doesn’t like your site, or if you have the hint of a “site under construction” message, you’ve done your dough. No refunds. Google has recently clamped down on websites buying links from other websites, but for some reason, buying a link in a paid directory is OK. The secret to encouraging people to link to you is to have great content. Sounds great in theory, but sadly that’s not always easy when you’re in a dull industry, or if you’ve got a dull website.
10. Poor internal link strategy
Links are the arteries, veins and the capillaries of the internet. Links are the connections between websites and allow the flow of traffic. The internet would be a boring place without them. Same goes for your website. Search engines place a lot of weight on links, and the words that are used in the link text (also referred to as anchor text). Many webmasters use words in internal links like “click here” and “learn more”. Don’t make this mistake; use descriptive words in your link text which describes what the target page is about. If it’s good enough for Wikipedia – (defined as “the site which has a licence to rank 1st at Google for every key phrase imaginable”) then it’s good enough for you.
This list is by no means definitive, but it should act as a good guide of things to look out for when you’re re-building or optimising your existing site.
Duplicate content and domain name handling issues probably could have made it into the list, but then a “12 biggest SEO mistakes” article doesn’t quite have the same ring to it!