It's been said that the first page of search engine results is the most highly coveted real estate on the Internet. Hundreds, maybe even thousands of websites exist for the same keywords, but only around 10 can appear on page one for a given search. Perhaps even more infuriating is that there is no way to pay for a front page listing, and no definitive guide for getting there every time " you just have to figure out how to rank well on your own, which can be pretty scary for a new business without much SEO experience.
Thankfully, you don't need to pay an expensive consultant, or trust the mystified "secrets" of SEO charlatans promising to reveal "Google's top-secret algorithm" at an exorbitant price. The following tips for avoiding big SEO mistakes can put your website on the path to the top. Furthermore, so few website owners take the time to address all of these issues that simply correcting them all will put you lightyears ahead of the competition.
Not Writing Content for the Human Reader
High keyword density (the number of times a keyword appears in your content) is no longer a deciding factor in search ranking. In the past, it was common to stuff your website content with the keyword you wanted to rank for, and begin to see results. Today, this misguided strategy not only doesn't work, but could begin to hurt your ranking. Why? Because search engines have gotten smarter.
Search engines, especially Google, now use Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms to analyze the text on a website and determine if it sounds the way a person would naturally write. In other words, Google can tell if you purposely filling your content with awkwardly placed keywords in an attempt to game the system and rank high. Don't focus on having your main keywords appear as many times as possible, strive instead to create quality content written for a human reader, and you will be rewarded by the search bots.
Ignoring HTML Errors
It's a fact " Google's ranking algorithm hates HTML errors. Having errors on your page will count against you and could cause your rank to fall significantly, even if many other of your on-page factors are good. Unfortunately, website owners may not even know if their site contains errors, because web browsers don't always show problems when you view a page.
A great way to find and correct HTML problems is to make use of the free W3C HTML compliance checking tool. Simply input your website address and the tool will scan your page for errors and report back how many problems there are, and where in the code they exist. This makes it easy to find and fix any issues you may have before beginning your full-forced SEO push.
Not Checking URL Canonicalization
Have you ever noticed that there are two ways you can type in a website address? You could type "www . YourWebsite . com," or you could simply type "YourWebsite . com." While both of these URLs may resolve to the same website, they are actually different website addresses in the eyes of the search engines. As you build out your website, publish content and seek inbound links, your link total will actually get split in half, as some bloggers will type your URL with the "www" prefix, and others will leave it off.
The solution is to tell the search engines to group both URLs together using a 301 redirect from one to the other. This is called URL canonicalization, and it can double your search engine power when done properly. It does not matter which URL " "www . YourWebsite . com" or "YourWebsite . com" you choose to redirect to the other, all that matters is that the redirect is a 301 (or permanent redirect). Any other redirect type will not work.
You have probably wondered how you will go about getting links from other bloggers and thought about offering an exchange " "You link to me and I'll link to you, and we will both benefit." Logical as this may seem, it won't help your search ranking one bit. This strategy is known as reciprocal linking (two sites that link to each other), and is ignored by Google. When you link to a site that is linking to you, the links cancel each other out, and neither site gets the SEO benefit.
Putting Important Content in AJAX
AJAX is a great tool for making your website very pretty and user-friendly, and is a common staple of today's Internet. If you put the wrong content in AJAX, however, it can negatively effect your SEO efforts. AJAX works by reaching into a server and pulling content out to display on demand, without having to refresh the web page. This means that this content is not readily available for search engine bots to scan, and will be skipped entirely when the they index your website.
Imagine if 70% of your homepage was done in AJAX (not uncommon these days), and most of your important, descriptive content was containing within this framework. That would mean that almost all of your website would go unseen by the search engines, making you look irrelevant to all of your keywords. Avoid this problem by making sure you have your most important content in actual, on-page text. AJAX is great for some jobs, but don't over-use it or your site will be invisible to Google's ranking system.
Using Keywords in the Wrong Context
Google now looks as much at the text surrounding the keyword as they do the keyword itself. This is an attempt to determine the overall theme of a website " essentially asking "what is this site mostly about?" Therefore, if you're trying to rank for a keyword such as "health insurance policy," but your website publishes a lot of content about movie reviews to get traffic flowing in, Google will take notice that your target keyword appears in an irrelevant place.
In the above example, the search engine will scan all of the content on your website in an attempt to theme it, and will deduce that it's a "movie review" website. Therefore, if every movie review ends with a quick blurb about getting your "free health insurance quote," it will devalue that keyword placement as irrelevant to the rest of the website. Additionally, inbound links from totally irrelevant sources are valued less than those from relevant websites. Make sure that your website is themed around the keywords you're aiming to rank for to make the most of your written content.
Focusing too Much on On-Page Factors
While on-page factors " the elements of your website that you can control " such as HTML errors and keyword context are important to SEO, they are only a small part of a much bigger picture. Think about it " if there was a recipe you could follow to make your site rank on the first page, the search engine results would be a joke. They would be dominated not by the best, most relevant and helpful websites, but by whatever businesses cracked the mystery code and slid their site onto page one. Needless to say, this is antithetical to the search engine philosophy.
To solve this problem, search engines now rank a site largely based on the number of other sites that link to it. The idea here is that if other people find your website helpful or entertaining enough to recommend that their visitors check it out, it must be worthwhile. Therefore, it must be stressed that the majority of your SEO efforts should be spent seeking inbound links, not endlessly tweaking your own website. On-page optimization should be thought of a quick prerequisite to getting links, and quickly taken care of early on.
About the Author: Jerrimie Allen is a freelance writer for Invesp. Invesp helps businesses improve their online revenue, reduce customer acquisition cost, and provide their visitors with a better user experience through landing page optimization.