As an inbound marketing agency we occasionally have clients who update their website with the best of intentions, but end up making decisions that are detrimental to their SEO. Most people don’t realize any damage has been done until they see their rankings start to drop, and at that point, recovery can be a challenge. To help prevent this problem in the first place, we’ve gathered some of the biggest ‘no-no’s’ in the SEO world.
First, what is SEO? SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In short, SEO is the practice of increasing the number of visitors to your website through organic search channels such as Google or Bing. SEO has been a hot topic for the past 10 years, and there are always articles out there covering how to get started with SEO and what you need to do to improve your SEO, but none of them talk about what you should avoid in your SEO. That’s what this article is for.
Here are the eight SEO tactics you need to pay attention to in order to avoid inadvertently ruining your SEO:
- Image Size
- Image Naming
- Keyword Research
- Keyword Stuffing
- Duplicate Content
- Content Length
- Outbound Linking
- Consistent Updates
Seems simple enough right? Let me explain to you how not paying attention to these common SEO tactics can tank your search engine rankings.
I’m not talking about the size of the image as in - how much space it takes up on the page. I’m talking about the download size of your image. All too often I see websites that take a long time to load, and it’s because of the size of the image. What’s worse - the website owner might not even realize it because the site loads quickly for them. This is where it gets scary, because when you visit your own site often, (like most of us do) it’s going to load quicker for you than for your potential customer. This is because the website has a cached version saved, giving you the illusion your site is loading quickly. In reality, it may be taking your site a long time to load for people and you could never know.
Why do we care about how long it takes a website to load?
If the site takes too long to load, people are less likely to sit there and wait for it to load. They’re much more likely to just go back to the Google search results and find a different website. Over time, Google will start to notice this trend and rank your website lower. Not only that, you’re less likely to rank in the first place because Google’s web crawlers test how long it takes a site to load, and that also affects your overall SEO ranking.
How do you find out if your website is taking too long to load?
Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to see how long your site takes to load. This tool is great because not only does it give you information about how long it takes your site to load, it also gives you information about other issues your site could be having. Use this tool to determine if your website is loading at the speed you’re expecting it to.
If the PageSpeed Insights tell you that it’s taking too long to load an image, it will also tell you which image is causing the problem. Then all you need to do is take that image, make it smaller, and reupload it to the site. We use a free website called Tiny PNG to accomplish this for us. It’s quick and very user friendly. Moving forward, anytime you add a new image to your website, use your resizing tool to make it smaller before it even touches your website.
When uploading an image to your website, do you pay attention to the filename of the image? Filename is defined as “an identifying name given to a computer file.” Many people overlook this crucial piece of information and just upload images with names like:
The problem with doing this is that you’re not giving Google any information about what the image is about, meaning you’re not going to rank anywhere for these images. You want to make sure that Google completely understands what your image is about, and you want to make the name unique to the image, so never use numbering styles like ‘01,02,03.’
Now, if you know a little bit about SEO, you might be saying to yourself now, “Jen, we have to include alt text for our images, so why should I waste my time also making sure the filenames are unique?” And you’d be right to ask that. Alt text (or alternative text) are used in HTML code to describe the appearance and function of an image, and will show in place of the image if the page for some reason is unable to load the image.
So if you have the alt text, why would you need the filename as well? Because Google looks at both. In fact, Google looks at everything on your site and compares it to other websites to decide which is more relevant to the search occurring. In this case, we follow the old saying, ‘the more the merrier’ so Google knows what your image is about, and has no doubts about it. You want to make sure that the filename and alt text are unique and describe what the image is about for every page on your website. It may seem like a lot of work, and it is, but in the end you’ll be happier with the results you see. For example, on this blog post we use multiple images, some in the copy below, and the header image above. Our header image has an alt text of ‘The 8 SEO Tactics That Are Most Overlooked’ and a filename of ‘The 8 SEO Tactics That Are Most Overlooked’ These names are both descriptive of what the page is about. As far as the appropriate length of the alt text and filename, there are varying answers to this topic, I recommended looking to Google’s Image publishing guidelines to determine what the right length is for you.
Performing keyword research seems pretty obvious and is talked about in every SEO article out there, but still we find people posting content without doing any keyword research at all. There are mixed opinions about when to perform keyword research (Is it before you start writing? Is it after you write?) and I’m not here to tell you which is right or wrong, I’m just here to tell you that it has to be done. You cannot write quality content without performing any sort of keyword research. Use tools like Moz Explorer, HubSpot, Google Webmaster Tools, and Google Analytics to see which keywords are most interesting and relevant to the topic you’re writing about.
You often read that you should include as many keywords as possible in your written content in order to rank the best in Google. While this is true, you need to be careful. Keyword stuffing is a terrible SEO tactic that used to be very common, but now in the eyes of Google is ‘illegal’ and will get your website banned. It’s defined as the practice of stuffing your website or page with keywords in an attempt to manipulate your ranking in Google search results. When Google was young, it didn’t have the knowledge and capabilities it does now, and some people would abuse this by adding a lot of keywords to their website or page that were irrelevant in an attempt to get more page views. For example, if you were selling custom handwoven picnic baskets and you weren’t getting a lot of website views, you could stuff your website with words like ‘cute kitties, kitties playing, kitty pics’ and rank when people searched those words. Doing this creates a terrible user experience and makes it hard for people to find what they’re actually looking for. Google is more sophisticated now and can tell when you’re purposely stuffing keywords. If you’re caught doing it, Google won’t rank your website anymore. Not just the page you did it on, but your entire website. Once Google bans your site, you don’t really come back from that.
How can you prevent this?
Don’t purposely keyword stuff your content. Make your writing flow naturally with the keywords you’re using. If when you read your content it sounds like you’re stuffing, you probably are, so go back and revise, make it flow, and make it relevant.
When two pages on the same site say exactly the same thing, that’s duplicate content, and Google doesn’t like it. Duplicate content is typically used as a way to try to rank higher for the focus keywords of those pages, but it doesn’t offer much value to the reader. Google rewards sites that provide quality, unique content that speaks directly to the person who is performing the search. You can have two blog posts about the same topic, but they should each be covering the topic in a unique way. For example you can have a blog post about the ‘Top 10 reasons why cats are better than dogs’ and one about ‘Why my cat is better than your dog’ without being hit for duplicate content, as long as each post has a unique perspective and brings up different points. Even if they have the same underlying tone and objective, if the writing is varied enough, they won’t be considered duplicate content.
In my opinion, avoiding duplicate content also means not using stock photos. If you’re using a stock photo, chances are, so are a million other people, which demonstrates for Google that your content is not unique. For example, look at this stock photo of an adorable cat:
It’s a free stock photo I got from Pexels. I uploaded this image into Google to see how many other sites are using it, and it was a lot. Just look at the number of results that show up for this image:
If you scroll over the image you can see that it’s not all from the same website - there’s one for a pet sitting company, another for a vet clinic, there are about over 22 million instances of that image on the web. How can you declare your content unique if all these other sites are using this image too?
Let’s compare those results with an image of my (even more adorable) cat:
This image was used on a thank you page for our client NexGreen (shameless plug) and when we put it into the search engine here is what we see:
Google doesn’t have even one other instance of that photo being used. It gives me two results: one on each of the two thank you pages on our client’s website.
The lesson here is that when you use original images rather than stock photos, you’re more likely to have stronger search results.So avoid duplicate content in your SEO by avoiding stock photos, and you’re more likely to have good search results.
Another SEO factor to keep in mind is the length of your content. This is one that even we struggle with from time to time, so you’re not alone. When possible and practical, aim for about 1,000 words per page. This gives Google more information about the page and allows you to add more relevant keywords without keyword stuffing. Now, the hardest part of this is coming up with enough information to write about. That’s where you really have to make sure that the topics you want to write about have enough information around them for you to hit those minimum word counts.
How can you accomplish this?
Research your topic and read what other people have to say. If you think they make good points, include those in your article (being sure to cite properly). You can also give examples to support your points, and if possible, tell a story about a real life experience that relates to the topic. If you’re struggling to make the blog post or web page at least 500 words, then maybe it’s not a good topic to write about and you should go back to the drawing board. Strong SEO takes work and practice, so keep writing and you’ll find your sweet spot.
This is an SEO tactic that is often talked about, but I never really see people talking about it from the user experience perspective. An outbound link (AKA external link) is a link from your website to another website. They are good for offering proof of what you’re talking about as well as additional information about the topic that would be too much for your post to cover. What SEO experts don’t typically talk about is when outbound links can go bad. Whenever you include an outbound link, make sure that the link actually works. There’s nothing worse than clicking an outbound link for more information and landing on a 404 page. This is bad for user experience because they can’t get the information you’re referring to, and it’s bad for your website’s reputation because it can seem like you’re being lazy about the content you publish. Always make sure your links are working. Sometimes links go bad after you’ve published the article. This is inevitable and impossible to avoid ahead of time, so make sure you’re running a broken link checker on your entire site from time to time. There are plenty of free broken link checkers out there, so try a few and find one that you like the best (then tell me about it in the comments so I can use it, too!)
You can also have a bad outbound linking experience if the website you’re linking to takes a long time to load. If someone’s on your site and clicks your outbound link, they don’t want to wait even 15 seconds for that page to load, so make sure you’re using websites that practice good SEO tactics. Another factor to consider with outbound linking is the actual content of the page being linked to. If you’re linking to something, make sure it’s completely clear what you’re linking to. I don’t want to click on an outbound link that says ‘defined as’ and then go to a page that doesn’t have the definition of the word. Make sure to link to relevant content from a reputable source. Also, be sure to not over outbound link. It doesn’t look nice on a page when every other word is linked out to another page. Overall, be conservative with your outbound linking, and if you think you’re overdoing it, you probably are.
The final overlooked SEO tactic for today is consistently updating your website’s content. Believe it or not, Google can actually tell how often you update your website and the more often you update it, the more Google likes it. This is because Google wants to always show websites that offer relevant, up-to-date content. I see more often than not that people will go months without updating their site and then publish five new blog posts all on the same day. They may as well have not posted anything. It’s much better in the eyes of Google, in this case, to post one blog per week for five weeks. That way you are updating your website five weeks in a row, rather than once every five weeks.
If you can, you should be updating your website weekly at a minimum, and if you want to be a superstar, update it every day. This isn’t feasible for everyone, so it’s often overlooked, but even posting something new or updating existing content once a month will help your SEO because it shows Google that your website is active.
What do you think? Have you heard these SEO tips before? What did I miss? Let us know in the comments!