SEO blunders can happen to even the most well intentioned companies. This last week I encountered two cases of multiple SEO mistakes that happened to companies I know well. Seeing it happen to people I like is hard. Having a Come to Jesus SEO moment with people I’m professionally and emotionally invested in is even harder for me. It isn’t something I enjoy, but it is a necessary part of my job.
I’d like to turn this last week into a learning lesson for the readers of our blog. Don’t think these events can’t happen to you, because they can. This is especially true if you’re an organization with a website that has been around for a long time and you have a handful of people responsible for maintenance and modifications.
SEO Blunders That Happen to Good People
My below list of SEO blunders are not in a particular order. But they are representative of what I encountered in one week of SEO consulting calls. They may not seem significant, but they are when you consider the degradation of ranking and traffic they produce.
#1 Keyword Stuffing on Core Service Pages
I’ve been working with a client for many years and we had solid page one ranking on their core service pages. Over time these rankings started to slip, which I thought was strange because they were actively blogging and providing nice activity via social media. When I started to look more closely at their service pages I realized they were optimized without me knowing it. And the process of optimization wasn’t right. The content was so over optimized it was hard to read and it looked like complete keyword spam. I’m honestly surprised Google didn’t drop them further down than their existing page two ranking.
Keyword density (the percentage of times a keyword phrase appears on a page compared to the total number of words on the page) is an old school metric. Today’s SEO doesn’t work the same way it used to in years past. The higher the density doesn’t not equal the higher the ranking. Search engines are much more focused on quality content, solving problems, and natural keyword usage with variations.
Write your content for human visitors and include your keyword where it makes sense and in an effort to help the search engines understand the page’s intent. Don’t add keywords just to add keywords.
#2 Old and Outdated Cornerstone Content
With this same client I noticed their top content – the content that drives the majority of their traffic – had not been updated in forever. It was published, ranked well, and forgotten about. And to the search engines this means: stale content +unloved web pages = loss in rank and traffic.
Old content will no longer rank well. Revisit older content and update it on a regular basis. Fresh content is loved by both human visitors and search engines.
#3 Inconsistent Internal Linking
At one point my client had a strong roadmap that matched a focused keywords to a given URL. They used this list to build internal links for visitors and search engines. Along the way this roadmap was set aside and internal linking became very haphazard. One blog post would use the same keyword phrase and link to two different destinations within the website. This confused the search engines and the human readers and neither knew where they might end up should they click on a link.
Internal links help the search engines understand a website’s most important content as well as provide indicators as to what content is about. These links are an important part of ranking a page or post for a given keyword phrase. This process needs structure so both the search engines and users know what to expect from a link. This means it needs to be consistent and it needs to have a roadmap for content writers to follow.
#4 Website Redesign That Forgets SEO
So let’s assume there is an employee responsible for the company’s SEO efforts. Let’s also assume there is a project team responsible for the company’s website redesign and content updates. Now let’s assume the project team plans out a new website and writes all new content but fails to consult with the employee responsible for the website’s SEO. What might happen? All of the SEO would disappear because the project team is unaware of the
importance of SEO critical nature of SEO and why it is vital to the website design process.
That scenario actually happened and the employee responsible for SEO is now reviewing and rewriting all of the website content planned for the redesign. The really sad part of this is the website project team had wonderful intentions. They just forgot that SEO is critical and you have to have someone involved that really understands it and is responsible for maintaining your ranking.
Every organization needs someone responsible for the website’s SEO and this person needs to be part of (or knowledgeable about) anything website related. It is the only way they can protect the existing SEO and continue to grow SEO in the future.
#5 Rewriting Core Product Pages and Forgetting SEO
This SEO blunder was with a different company, but it is very similar to the issue above. In this scenario the marketing team had new education on content writing and used this to update their product pages. In doing so, they were focused on this new wealth of knowledge and completely forgot about SEO. This resulted in their on-page SEO being wiped away, which in turn, had a negative impact on their ranking for their focused keywords.
SEO isn’t a one time event. It has to be considered and coordinated with other marketing activity. Updating content to produce higher conversions is great, but don’t sacrifice SEO in the process. If no one comes to the website, no one will convert regardless of how compelling your content is to the reader.
#6 Removal 1,000’s of URLs from Google’s Index
I preach a lot about using reporting tools like Google Search Console, SEMrush, and SpyFu. I do so because they help point out issues you might not be aware of otherwise. In this SEO blunder we noticed a website lost thousands of pages of web content overnight. And no one really knows why since it happened a few months ago. We can speculate, but the reality is there are lots of moving parts and people involved and not all people are coming together to make marketing decisions and these decisions are impacting SEO.
SEO reaches outside of just your website. What you do in your overall marketing strategy can have massive impacts on your SEO efforts. Innocent changes can have major impacts on SEO, so consider SEO when making shifts in any online marketing policies or procedures.
#7 Massive Shifts Up and Down for Inbound Links
This situation is an interesting one as it is really hard to quantify the impact. Having questionable ranking improvements can be attributed to specific actions or lack of actions. The problem magnifies itself when multiple issues are occurring simultaneously because it becomes very difficult to know which one is causing the issue when so many blunders are occurring at the same time.
What we do know is we noticed a very large amount of inbound links disappear one month, only to have a massive increase a few months later. While the source of these shifts were for legit reasons, they can look very suspect to search engines and appear as black hat SEO.
One also has to question if these links were within the control of the website owner and if 301 redirects should have been used to manage the links and protect long-term SEO on already existing content.
As in the above item, no one really knows what happened because it was months ago. But it is a clear indication that there is lack of cohesive management over the website itself and that someone needs to have oversight.
Everybody Makes Mistakes
No company or individual is perfect. Mistakes happen and SEO blunders occur even with the most well intentioned people. The important take away is you can control and prevent a lot of SEO mistakes by making a few changes to your existing process:
- Make sure one person is responsible for your SEO and has awareness and input over all website activity. This includes subdomains and other web properties that feed into the main website.
- Make sure you are looking at all web properties when working with SEO. Subdomains can influence SEO even if you don’t have focused keywords assigned to this content.
- Periodically review Google Search Console for technical SEO issues and fix them as they occur.
- Stay focused on your core pages and don’t let new information or training sidetrack you.
- Conversions are important, but remember people won’t convert if they never make it to your website.
- Remember SEO reaches to third party websites and inbound links still matter a lot.
- Website redesigns can either assist or derail your SEO efforts. SEO has to be at the forefront of this process and not an afterthought.
- Make sure your internal SEO expert is knowledgable about current day best practices. Outdated information can derail your SEO efforts. Ongoing education is important for keeping and growing your organic SEO traffic.