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What are the most frequent mistakes made by SEO professionals?

No matter how experienced we are, it's important to remember that we're all human and susceptible to making mistakes. But are there specific errors that are particularly common among SEO professionals, even those with a lot of experience?

And no, I'm not talking about the usual mistakes like forgetting meta descriptions or using subheadings wrong. Instead, I'm focusing on the mistakes that even seasoned SEO professionals often make, despite having a lot of experience.

For example, we usually tell ourselves that getting things done is better than making them perfect, especially when we're rushing to meet deadlines. But let's be honest: in SEO, taking shortcuts or rushing can backfire. This article isn't here to slow you down. It's here to make sure that when you roll out your SEO plan, you're not accidentally setting yourself up for failure. That way, your SEO work is not just finished, but done right.

SEO Mistake #1: Wanting to fix everything without considering business goals and impact

Imagine being so caught up in fixing tiny details on your website—404 errors, missing alt text in images, or trying to get all the Core Web Vitals in green. Sometimes, you might spend a lot of time on minor issues that don't significantly contribute to achieving the business goals and might not have a big impact, or any impact at all.

Prioritizing minor issues or spreading resources too thin across many initiatives can divert attention from critical areas that could drive more significant results. For example, ensuring your website’s content matches what your customers are looking for, and therefore meeting the needs and search intent of your audience, will likely have a more substantial impact on achieving business goals than obsessing over minor technical details.

It's like focusing on making your car super shiny and fast but forgetting to fill it up with gas so it can actually take you somewhere. The big mistake here is not aligning your SEO work with what your business is trying to achieve. You need to ensure that the efforts you put in are directly helping your business meet its goals, whether that's attracting more customers, increasing sales, or becoming well-known for what the business does.

SEO Mistake #2: Assuming working on a smaller website is easier than on a bigger one

It might seem like small sites are simpler to manage because there's less content, but this isn't always the case, especially when it comes to testing and optimizing for SEO. When you have a bigger site, you actually have more opportunities to test different strategies because you have more URLs to play with. It's like having a bigger laboratory for your experiments.

For example, if you want to conduct a title tag test, there's a significant difference between testing with control and test groups of 10 URLs each versus 100 URLs each. On a smaller site, your testing ground is much more limited. You have fewer pages to play with, so every change you make needs to be more carefully considered. It’s also harder to determine if the increase or decrease in clicks or whatever you’re testing was due to that implementation, and you can't afford to test as freely because you have less room to make mistakes without impacting your site's overall performance.

Also, smaller sites might not have as much data to analyze, making it harder to spot patterns and to understand what's working and what's not. This can make optimizing a small site just as challenging, if not more so, than working on a larger site.

Besides, bigger sites often have many pages that follow the same template, meaning an issue identified on one page is likely to be present on other similar pages. This can simplify the process of diagnosing and fixing SEO-related problems, as solutions can be applied in bulk. In contrast, smaller sites might require a more bespoke approach to SEO, where each page is treated individually due to the lack of template uniformity.

SEO Mistake #3: Not caring about localization when it comes to international SEO

A common misconception is that international SEO is simply about implementing hreflang tags. However, localization is a must. It’s about fully adapting your content and SEO practices to meet the cultural, linguistic, and commercial specifics of each target market, ensuring that your website resonates with local audiences.

Localization extends into every detail, including technical SEO aspects like schema markup. For example, if your website uses vehicle schema markup, it's important to customize these details to match local conventions—such as using miles per hour for audiences in the UK and kilometers per hour for the Republic of Ireland (and miles per hour for Northern Ireland, of course).

This level of detail in localization ensures that your content is not only linguistically but also contextually relevant to your target audience. From my experience, I've observed the negative impact that neglecting these nuances can have on performance. For example, a business I worked with was facing challenges with their international SEO; despite having correctly implemented all hreflang tags, Google was still displaying pages from Spain to users in Mexico due to a lack of comprehensive localization. After implementing a robust localization strategy under my guidance, we were able to address this issue, ensuring content was tailored to the cultural and contextual specifics of each target audience, significantly improving their visibility across both markets.

Search engine's goal is to deliver the most relevant and useful content to users, and part of determining relevance involves how well the content aligns with the local context and user expectations. If content feels out of place or not fully adapted to the local audience, even with technically correct hreflang tags, search engines might struggle to prioritize the content that seems more locally appropriate.

SEO Mistake #4: Ignoring the User Experience (UX)

Another frequent and big mistake is underestimating the importance of UX in our SEO efforts. This is where the concept of SXO, or Search Experience Optimization, becomes essential. SXO represents the collaboration between SEO and UX Design teams. It focuses on not just driving traffic to your site but ensuring that users enjoy their experience once they arrive. This includes easy navigation and access to all necessary information.

Search engines are getting smarter about picking up on user signals—factors like how long people stay on your site, whether they immediately return to the search results, and how they interact with your content, including scrolling and clicking. These signals provide search engines with valuable insights into the quality of your site and its usefulness to your audience.

SEO Mistake #5: Ignoring user’s feedback

Whether it's through comments, reviews, or direct communication, user’s feedback gives us invaluable insights into what our audience values and what issues they might be finding on our site. Also, not taking user feedback into account can lead to missed opportunities for enhancing user experience and, by extension, our site's SEO. It's important to remember that qualitative data is important, not just quantitative. Understanding the reasons behind user behaviors and preferences provides a deeper insight that numbers alone cannot offer.

Focusing solely on your site's SEO without considering the broader picture of user behavior and preferences can limit your site's potential. It's important to strike a balance between following SEO best practices and adapting to the unique needs and behaviors of your audience.

Where can you gather user feedback? There are so many implementations that you can apply on your site that can help you with that. These include:

  1. Feedback forms: Placing feedback forms across your site allows users to share their experiences and suggestions effortlessly.
  2. Surveys: Conducting targeted surveys can help you gather specific insights about various aspects of your site from your audience.
  3. Live chat and chatbots: Offering live chat or chatbots facilitates real-time feedback and support, enhancing user satisfaction.
  4. Comment sections: Enabling comments on blog posts or articles invites users to engage with your content and provide their viewpoints.
  5. User behavior analytics: Using tools like heatmaps and session recordings can reveal how users interact with your site, identifying both friction points and areas of interest.
  6. Social media integration: Embedding social media features encourages users to share their thoughts on your content in their networks, broadening the feedback scope.

If you're unsure where to start, speaking to your sales and UX research teams can be incredibly beneficial, as they are constantly in touch with users and can offer a lot of information about their pains and needs. Additionally, monitoring what people are saying online about your brand on platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and different forums can uncover a wealth of unfiltered feedback. This multifaceted approach ensures you're not just hearing from your users but actively listening and adapting to their needs, thereby improving both user satisfaction and SEO.

SEO Mistake #6: Assuming that every business needs an international SEO strategy

The idea of going international can be very appealing, it's not always the right move for every company. Not every business needs to think globally with its SEO strategy—sometimes, thinking locally is actually better. Expanding worldwide sounds exciting, but there are times when adopting a more local SEO approach can be much smarter.

For example, if you're a local bakery or a neighborhood clinic, your audience is primarily local. Your business thrives on foot traffic and local clientele, not international visitors. In such cases, focusing on local SEO—optimizing for local search queries, Google Business Profile listings, and local directories—can bring much better returns. It's about making sure people in your area can find you easily online when they're searching for what you offer.

Moreover, the assumption that "bigger is always better" doesn't hold true in SEO. Expanding your digital presence to include multiple countries and languages is a massive undertaking that requires significant resources, not just in terms of money but also time and expertise. Before deciding to go global, it's crucial to evaluate if your business needs an international presence to grow.

SEO Mistake #7: Only implementing changes that are a ranking factor

A common pitfall in SEO is concentrating exclusively on changes that are directly tied to ranking factors. It's a mistake to ignore aspects that enhance the user's experience and the website's credibility, even if they're not direct ranking factors. Implementing features like schema markup and prioritizing concepts like E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) would be two good examples.

Schema markup is very powerful for SEO, as it helps search engines understand your content better. This understanding can lead to richer search results, with features like breadcrumbs, star ratings, or FAQs directly in the SERPs, making your listing more attractive and potentially increasing click-through rates. Schema markup isn't a direct ranking factor per se, but its impact on UX and CTR indirectly benefits SEO.

Similarly, Google's emphasis on E-E-A-T highlights the importance of content quality and credibility. These elements may not be quantifiable ranking factors you can tick off a checklist, but they are critical for earning user trust and satisfaction. Content that demonstrates experience and expertise, that is authored by credible sources, and provides trustworthy information is more likely to satisfy users, leading to positive user behavior signals and potentially higher rankings.

Only focusing on known ranking factors can lead to a narrow SEO strategy that overlooks the broader UX. Remember, the ultimate goal of search engines is to provide users with the best possible answers to their queries. When we focus on good UX, even if it's not a direct ranking factor, you align your site more closely with the search engines' objectives.

This approach also prepares your site for future algorithm updates. Google and other search engines continuously evolve, and they keep increasing their focus on UX and content quality. If you prioritize these elements now, you're not just adhering to current best practices but also future-proofing your SEO strategy.

In summary, while it's important to optimize for known ranking factors, don't overlook the value of enhancements that improve the overall quality and UX of your site. A well-rounded SEO strategy considers both direct ranking factors and broader improvements that contribute to a trustworthy, authoritative, and user-friendly site.

SEO Mistake #8: Not interpreting the data provided by SEO tools effectively

This mistake includes presenting raw data, such as increases in clicks or issues like redirect chains and 404 errors, without exploring the underlying causes or the story behind these figures. As SEOs, it's crucial that we delve deeper than just reporting metrics; it’s important to provide insights and actionable recommendations based on data analysis.

Understanding the "Why" behind the numbers

Just stating that clicks have increased by 20% compared to last month is a start, but it's not enough. The vital next step is to investigate why this increase occurred. This could be due to a variety of factors such as content updates, improved rankings for specific keywords, or successful marketing campaigns. Analyzing the reasons behind the data allows for the replication of successful strategies and a deeper learning from the actions taken.

Interpreting SEO health metrics

Highlighting issues like 20 redirect chains and 200 404 errors on a website points out potential SEO health problems but doesn't inherently suggest a solution. An SEO expert must interpret what these issues mean for both SEO and UX. For example, numerous redirect chains could slow down the site, negatively impacting user satisfaction, whereas a high number of 404 errors may suggest a lack of site maintenance, potentially eroding user trust.

Providing actionable insights

Effective SEO reporting merges data with insights and recommended actions. Beyond identifying issues, suggestions for improvement are crucial. This could involve streamlining site navigation, eliminating unnecessary redirects, or creating user-friendly 404 pages that help retain visitors by directing them back to relevant content.

Being tool agnostic and verifying data accuracy

An essential aspect of interpreting SEO data is maintaining a tool-agnostic approach. While SEO tools are invaluable for uncovering issues and opportunities, but blindly trusting these tools without verification can lead to misguided strategies. It's important to question the data, validate the errors, and ensure that the issues highlighted are genuinely impacting the site's performance. This critical approach prevents unnecessary work on "errors" that may not have a real impact on SEO and ensures that efforts are concentrated on areas that truly need attention.

Telling a story with data

The ultimate aim is to narrate a compelling story with the data. This means setting the context, clarifying the significance of the findings, and showing how these insights can guide future SEO strategies. Transforming raw data into a narrative helps stakeholders understand and act upon it, aligning SEO efforts with broader business goals.

And how do we do this? In presentations, instead of simply listing metrics or errors, turning these findings into headlines or story-like formats can significantly enhance understanding and engagement.

When we make slides for our clients, let's think of each one as telling part of a story, not just listing facts. So, instead of a boring title like "number of errors," let's make it catchy, like it was a news headline. For example, instead of just saying there's a "20% increase in clicks", we can try to spice it up and say something like "A strategic content optimization leads to a 20% uplift in audience engagement metrics". This rephrasing maintains a professional tone, highlighting the strategic approach and its successful outcome in increasing engagement.

If you present headlines like these, the information is more fun to read and easier to get. It helps everyone understand why something matters, without having to dig through a bunch of jargon, which is particularly beneficial when dealing with clients and stakeholders who have limited knowledge about SEO.

Final thoughts

Mastering SEO is not just about understanding the technicalities or keeping up with the latest updates. The common mistakes I highlighted in this article should serve as a reminder that SEO is not an island but a crucial part of a larger ecosystem that includes UX, content strategy, and other areas of digital marketing.

As we've explored, from overlooking user feedback to underestimating the importance of localization and ignoring the user experience, these missteps can significantly hinder our efforts to build a strong online presence.

The key takeaway is to approach SEO with a holistic mindset. Understand that every element of your website, from the technical setup to the content and the way it's marketed, plays a vital role in your overall success. Remember, the goal of SEO is not just to rank higher in search results but to connect with and provide value to your audience. This way, we not only improve our site's visibility but also contribute to building a brand that users trust and rely on.

I hope that these insights will help you refine your SEO practices, ensuring that you're not just completing tasks, but enriching the user's journey every step of the way!

If you liked this article, I highly recommend checking out the podcast "Common SEO Mistakes & How to Avoid Them with Sara Fernández | Search and Grow Podcast", where Toni Navarro invited me, and I had the pleasure of discussing these issues. I also recommend checking out other episodes, as Toni is doing a great job inviting many great SEOs to discuss a wide variety of topics: