The 7 Deadly Sins of SEO

Sin No. 1: Using the wrong keywords 
If your website doesn't use the same words that the people searching for you do, your content will never show up for those searches or be seen by the right people.

The solution? You can use Google Insights for Search to compare potential keywords, and the Google AdWords Keyword Tool (both free!) to assess search volume for those terms. Based on your research, you should use the more common terminology in your titles and headings.

For instance, if you're a realtor, your research would lead you to find that 60 percent of people use the search phrase "real estate" when they're trying to find you on the Web, whereas only 5 percent use the phrase "houses for sale."

Sin No. 2: Blocking search engines from your site
It's possible you don't want all pages of your website to appear in search engines. Two common methods of keeping pages "hidden" are placing a robots.txt file on your site or a robots meta tag on your pages. But sometimes, these methods accidentally block your entire site from being indexed -- and that's bad news.

For instance, you might block the entire site during development and testing and forget to remove the block for launch. If none of your site's pages are being indexed or they appear in search results without a title or description, check (or have your Web developer check for you) to see if the source code contains the following robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content= "noindex">

If you don't see that code, open a browser address bar and type in www.site.com/robots.txt (replacing "site.com" with your domain name). Check first to see if the robots.txt file looks like this:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /

If it does, then the entire site is blocked from search engines. This file can also be used to block particular files on a site. The easiest way to ensure this file is set up properly is to log into Google Webmaster Tools and use the robots.txt checker. You can list any page (such as your home page) and test to see if it is being blocked.

Sin No. 3: Not using descriptive internal anchor text
The words you use in links signal to search engines what a page is about. If a hundred sites link to the home page of the local ice cream store using the words "free ice cream every Wednesday," then the ice cream store home page is likely to show up for those searching "free ice cream."

Adobe learned this the hard way after linking thousands of buttons that simply say "Click here," instead of something descriptive like "Download Adobe Reader." As a result, the Adobe Reader page is the first website to pop up if you search for "click here" -- but who searches for that?

You can't control how other sites link to yours, but you can control how you link to the pages on your site internally. Make sure the text you use in those links is descriptive, both for visitors to your site and for search engines looking to better understand what your site's pages are about.

A common missed opportunity is with "read more" links. It's fine to use that text to link to the pages with more information, but make the descriptive heading a link as well. Otherwise, you are telling search engines that the page you are linking to is about … "read more."

Sin No. 4: Not making sharing easy
In the age of social media, you want to make it easy for visitors to share your content. The fact that this helps search engine optimization is a secondary benefit. But too many sites, especially with the prevalence of rich media such as AJAX and Flash, make sharing nearly impossible. Make sure that:

  • Every page on your site has a unique URL. When you copy and paste the URL, is the page you want then loaded, or is the beginning of a wizard or filter loaded instead?
     
  • Content doesn't load in pop-ups that contain no URL.
     
  • Sharing links on videos link back to the page that has the video embedded rather than a standalone video pop-up.

Sin No. 5: Keeping search engines in the dark about your content
Search engines read HTML text, so if all your site's content is contained in images or Flash, search engines won't know what your site is about. Richard Branson's Moroccan resort doesn't appear in searches for "Moroccan resort" because although it seems like there are plenty of words on the home page, the text is actually part of an image. So all search engines see is a blank page.

Putting text in HTML will help those accessing your site using mobile devices, screen readers or slow connections.

Sin No. 6: Not including a compelling call to action
The point of having a website and ranking well in search engines isn't about getting a lot of visitors -- it's about turning those visitors into customers. If you have a local store, do you include store hours and your address? If you sell a product, do your educational pages include links to that product?

Sin No. 7: Thinking all search traffic will go directly to your home page
Every one of your Web pages should operate as the home page of your site. Visitors often don't land directly on your home page first, learn about you a bit and then navigate further into the site. Rather, visitors will do a search, get led to a page within your site and learn everything about your organization from there. Ensure none of your pages is a dead end and include prominent branding, links to your home page and more about you, as well as relevant calls to action.