Let me know if this story sounds familiar.
You've been doing SEO for your website for a little while now.
You read a few articles online, watched a handful of youtube videos, and you are finally getting the hang of this whole 'SEO' thing.
First off, let me say that this is absolutely the way to do it.
You can really only learn SEO by doing. I'll take that belief to my grave.
You're trying something which has a bad rep for being technical, from one self-taught SEO to another here's a virtual high-five for sticking with it.
You need to get your hands dirty with customer and keyword research, content creation, migrating sites, etc. to really have a true understanding of what makes Google tick.
Otherwise everything is theoretical.
It's like calling yourself a baker after reading a recipe book - and trust me, no matter how many times I've read the recipe I still would not claim my sourdoughs are professionally made. They are edible though, and occasionally quite nice!
Back to SEO though. Learning by doing is not without its pitfalls though.
I know because I've been there.
In this article I'll detail the same gotchas I've seen on client sites, or committed myself early on in learning SEO. These are all things that are popular, trendy, or glossed over by the typical SEO help guide you'll read.
We'll skip over the more common things like ignoring site speed, or not having a meta description. We all know those are table stakes these days. I want to get right into the false truths and half truths I stumbled through, and see others struggling with as well.
Learn from my mistakes and save yourself a few headaches.
Let's get down to it!
This one absolutely kills me.
I remember a startup being touted around the office for its slick website, so I took a peek. The website was indeed nicely done, and I saw they had a blog - to my dismay it led to medium.com.
They're not the only offenders of this.
Platforms like Medium and Notion have become extremely popular for blogging, but they are not helpful for your SEO.
It's not that they hurt your SEO. It's that they do absolutely nothing for it.
All those hours spent finding keywords and creating content are wasted when you publish off your domain.
'Domain authority' is an overused metric (more on that later), but the theory behind it makes sense: there are some websites that are more authoritative than others (like nytimes.com vs some random blog). You can build up the authority of your website by creating content, earning links, and gradually building up traffic to your domain.
When you create content off of your domain, none of that goodness happens. All the authority is built off your domain, so your website (the place you make money) goes nowhere.
You need to create content on your own domain first in order to get a benefit. Medium is sexy but you know what's even sexier than Medium? Your website ranking on page one.
Publish content on your domain first and import into Medium to expand your reach.
Medium is a tremendous platform for promoting content, so don't count it out. They have a handy 'import story' feature which sets the canonical URL to the original post on your website. I use this all the time to distribute my content while not sacrificing that sweet SEO benefit.
This means any equity that post gets on Medium will be transferred over to your domain. It's a win win.
I know I just said there is some merit to the theory of domain authority, but I'm not backtracking here.
There is some merit to the theory of domain authority, but nothing more than that.
They say what gets measured gets managed. Because domain authority is measurable, marketers sure love to measure the crap out of it.
I see people put a great deal of stock in domain authority, but at the end of the day it's only an approximation of how Google views content.
Domain authority is not a ranking factor. Google does not care about your domain authority and they do not take it into account. Google has a very sophisticated way of assessing the value and authority of a website that domain authority just scratches the surface on.
So no, one platform is not better than another because of how it calculates authority because at the end of the day authority does not matter.
Ignore domain authority. Seriously, crumple it up and toss it into the trash by your desk.
There are many important metrics that SEO can move, and domain authority is not one of them. Rather than spending energy on domain authority, I like to focus on metrics that actually move the business forward.
Domain authority is a nice approximation, but moving from 25 to 30 won't transform your business overnight. Increasing clicks from search by 25% or organic sales by 15% though, chefs kiss.
Another common mistake, especially early in the SEO game.
"Best practices" advise you to enter a seed keyword and pull thousands of long-tail keyword suggestions to build your master keyword list.
Those best practices do not exactly work any more.
I can't fault people for making this mistake. We're constantly told to pull a massive list of keywords and filter out the ones that are not getting any search volume and the ones that have too high a difficulty score, and keep the 100 or so that are left.
Then write a blog post for each one, and voila you have an SEO strategy.
Except that is so wrong. All of it.
Everyone is doing that and they are racing to the bottom.
All of your competitors are signing up for the same SEO tools, pulling the same keywords, writing the same content, and saturating Google with generic content.
This is a recipe for spending a ton of time and money on keyword-centric content that everyone else is creating which makes it extremely difficult to stand out from the crowd on Google.
It's not that keyword research is bad. It's a very important part of the SEO process. Pulling a massive list of keywords from a tool and using that (and that alone) to guide your content strategy is the mistake though.
Rather than focus on keywords first, start with the questions your customers are asking.
You know your industry better than anyone - what unique challenges do your customers have, or how do their questions change as they move through the funnel?
Sites like Quora or Reddit are extremely helpful to research these questions and get a good sense of what your customers are looking for. I love to use Google auto suggest as well here to understand how search changes the deeper I go down the rabbit hole.
The goal is to brainstorm the questions your ideal customers are asking as they journey down your funnel and make a purchase.
Somewhat similar to the above, but it is worth it's own section.
First off, let me say that SEO tools are great. SEO tools can drastically speed up the essential tasks of SEO, but SEO tools are not a replacement for the creative strategic thinking that SEO requires.
There is a real danger of over relying on the tool and trusting it to do the thinking for you, resulting in a flat, 2D SEO strategy.
When you blindly pull keywords or trust the content analysis of a tool without layering on your own unique understanding of your customers, you end up with an approach to SEO that will not be competitive in search.
Pulling a list of keywords and writing content with a generic content optimization tool without any understanding of your customer will result in generic content that is written for Google but no one else.
Sure, this may be content that ranks, but it won't be content that resonates and converts. At the end of the day, that is what makes a difference.
Use tools in their proper context.
Tools can be great to automate tasks or speed things up, but they are not a replacement for good, old fashioned critical thinking.
Just like a great hammer is not a replacement for a proper blueprint, an SEO tool is not a replacement for a good strategy.
Build an effective strategy first, define the steps you will take, and explore tools as a way to speed things up.
By the way, we offer a series of SEO strategy programs, from our one:one strategy training program to our 4-week group coaching program. If you've never built an SEO strategy before, I'd recommend checking them out.
Okay shameless plug over, back to the post.
I was approached by a founder who wanted help with SEO.
A quick audit to start with, maybe a couple months of creating content and BAM he's on page one.
Given he was starting from scratch, I politely informed him it would take a lot longer than 8 weeks. With SEO you're looking at a minimum of 3 months, maybe up to a year.
SEO is a long game.
That is not just an axiom, it's the truth. Google is constantly crawling the web and indexing content to add to its search results. There are over 200 ranking factors and new ones being added with each algorithm update.
Creating a few blog posts here and there on your website is not enough to get things going early in the game. This does not mean you should queue up 100+ blog posts with your site launch.
It means you need to widen your timeframe and set proper expectations.
Look at SEO as an investment.
SEO is more like an index fund than buying GameStop hoping it will go to the moon.
Just like you wouldn't expect your 401K or an index fund to grow 100% in the next year, you should not expect the same results from SEO in the short term.
However, just like your 401K can turn into a comfortable retirement fund, in the long run SEO can provide major benefits and propel your business forward. In fact, in the long run a consistent investment in SEO very well may be your most lucrative marketing channel.
This is another mistake that stems from an over-reliance on tools, but is worth its own section.
I see content optimization tools popping up like, well, popovers.
Add a keyword here, use these 5 other keywords, use 6 h2 headings. You know the drill. They all look like a tricked out version of Medium or Word and pretty much do the same thing.
It's a great way to create formulaic content that everyone else using that tool will create, but it's not a great way to create content that actually resonates with your customers or builds a relationship.
We love tools though, and the thought of a recipe for content that puts you on page one is enticing.
Don't fall for it.
At best these tools are an approximation of how Google judges content. Often they are just looking at the top 10-20 search results and trying to derive a formula from that. Usually it's looking for a specific word count, count of headings, count of images, and keyword density.
Great for formulaic content, but not great for serving your customers.
There are two ways you can optimize content.
Before you write a single word, you should have a good understanding of your customer, where in the funnel they are, where in the funnel they are going, and what needs your content can fill that is currently unfilled.
Second, make sure the content is well structured, in the right format, has an engaging title, is well written, and the CTA is clear.
No 'use the keyword x number of times' or 'use the keyword in the first 100 words'. Just write good content designed for people and you will go much further than the people creating content with the 'focus keyword' as the most important thing in their mind.
I remember a conversation with a startup founder that went a bit something like this:
Me: That's great you're getting into SEO and seeing results! How has it been going?
Founder: Great! We've been publishing lots of content and I worked with an agency that bought us links.
Me: Oh... okay, nice uh what else did you do?
Founder: Well I paid a bunch of freelancers to google search terms and click on our site in search results.
I, delicately, told him he wasted his money.
Even if that did work, there are thousands of pieces of content indexed for any query and even more searches/day. Unless you could pay an army of 10,000 people to search and click on your site, those clicks he paid for are a tiny drop in a very large ocean.
There are few get-rich-quick strategies in SEO.
Purchasing links, gimmicks - they may work in the short term but they are nothing more than temporary arbitrage opportunities and should not be mistaken for long term strategy.
Google is getting smarter by the day and is slowly weeding out any "get rich quick" schemes that exist. Sure, something may work today but you're one algorithm update from being obsolete.
Rather than try to outsmart Google, partner with Google.
Google is on a mission to provide the best answer to every query. The more you can hone in on who your customers are, what questions they are asking, and what they are looking for the more your content will resonate with them and the more you will be in line with Google's goals.
Google wants people to keep using Google. They are like any other product in that regard.
You can help Google by creating quality content that gets found on Google, which keeps the virtuous cycle going.
Quality content can take many forms - it could be blog posts, or a collection of resources/guides. That's a conversation for another post though.
There are doubtless many more 'sins' but if I went over 7 I wouldn't have such a snazzy title.
These are the most common offenses that I have seen of late though, especially in SMBs and startups where they are newer to SEO. If this post scares you away, let me provide a word of encouragement. The real differentiator between your competition is your strategy. You can't out-write the big guys, but you can outsmart them and move more quickly than them.
Strategy is the key, which is why we've published our framework for building an SEO strategy in a free ebook which you can download here.
If you've made it this far, thanks for reading and good luck in your SEO journey!
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