Victoria Taylo
Victoria is the Content Marketing Coordinator at
Readz
and editor of
Readz Magazine
. Victoria has a background in marketing and PR, and is a Boston University College of Communication graduate. Connect with her on Twitter
@VPTaylo
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We sometimes spend so much time trying to understand SEO, that we end up focusing on all the wrong stuff, like #1 rankings and the engines themselves. The result is that SEO best practices fly out the window, and the content.... down the drain, which can cause many issues for your site's performance. While it's easy to make mistakes, it's crucial that you know when you've made one. Here are the most common SEO errors sites will make (and how to correct them).
Mistake #1: You have thin content
How to correct it
In 2011, Google rolled out its Panda Update, an algorithm created to target sites with low-quality pages, or
content with little or no added value
. Since then, Panda has become
one of the search engine’s core ranking signals
. This allows Google to take quality into account and adjust site rankings accordingly. It also means that it likely won’t confirm another Panda update in the future, so it's best to take action now. Typical examples of pages with thin content include:
  • Automatically generated content
    . Content that’s been generated programmatically. For instance, aggregating content from different web pages without adding sufficient value.
  • Content from other sources
    . For example, scraped content, or content taken from other places on the web.
  • . Pages with product affiliate links in which product descriptions are copied directly without adding any original content.
  • Doorway pages or portal pages
    . Pages created to perform well for certain keywords or phrases, designed primarily for search engines.
First, check that you don't have any of the pages just listed. If you're ever unsure about quality, check out Google’s
quality guidelines
for direction. Here are some of the questions you should be asking:
Furthermore, there are several tools to help you identify thinness. These include:
  • Screaming Frog
    . Run a URL scrape of your site, and sort URLs by word count. If the majority of your blog content features posts fewer than 250 words, you have thin content.
  • Ahrefs
    . Review backlinks to your domain. Pay attention to content without any real link authority. Google looks at these factors to gauge potential thinness.
  • Google Analytics
    . Go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages and sort by exit rate. Pages with high exit rates and low time-spent (avg. time on page) are good indicators of thin content.
  • G
    oogle Search Console
    . Look at impression data and the crawl rate of potentially thin pages. (
    More on Google Search Console
    .)
This will give you a better idea of the status of your content. From there you have a few options:
  • Remove low-quality pages
    . Note: Google
    does not recommend this
    , as it can make a site’s search problems worse. However, there are times where this is necessary, like when a page is overrun with spam.
  • Merge or improve the content of shallow pages
    . Fix and fatten up these pages to make them more relevant and helpful for the people landing on them from search results. Look back to those quality content guidelines.
  • No index
    . This is a good way to remove all traces of the page from Google but still allow users to find the content on your site if need be. This is best for pages that are important to the conversion process.
  • Adding new content
    . This is another great option. A site will always benefit from new, quality content.
Mistake #2: You have duplicate content
Duplicate content
is content that appears in more than one place (URL). Google has indicated that it doesn’t like this. That's because, like thin content, duplicate content doesn't provide any added value to searchers. This makes for a bad user experience, so Google must decide which version of the content to display. This is bad news for a few reasons:
  1. Search engines don't know which version to include or exclude from their indexes
  2. Search engines must decide whether to direct link metrics - like trust, authority, and link juice - to one page or between multiple versions.
  3. Search engines must decide which version to rank (see: it might not be the choice you’d prefer)
Therefore, we must avoid duplicate content. Warning: Duplicate content can occur due to:
  • URL parameters
    , such as click tracking and other analytics tracking codes.
  • Session IDs
    > when visitors are assigned different ones that then get stored in URLs. E.g.,
    http://paper.com/paper-mache?SESSID=123
    and http://paper.com/paper-mache
  • Printer-friendly versions of the same content. E.g., http://paper.com/print/paper-mache/ and http://paper.com/paper-mache
Here are
four ways to check for duplicate content
.
How to correct it
Any content found at multiple URLs should be
canonicalized
for search engines. Canonicalization is the process of picking the best URL when there are several options: http://example.com/ vs http://www.example.com/
This can be accomplished via a
301 redirect
, which sends visitors trying to access duplicate pages to the default version you’ve selected.
This will help the page’s ability to rank well within search engines. Another option for dealing with duplicate content is to use the
rel=canonical tag
. This is often easier to implement than a 301 redirect and yet just as effective. Here’s what the process looks like:
Additional tips to guard against duplicate content include:
  • Maintain consistency
    .
    Keep your internal linking consistent. For example, don't send some links to http://www.example.com/page/ and others to http://www.example.com/page/index.htm.
  • Syndicate carefully
    . When syndicating content on other sites, include a backlink to the original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to include the
    noindex meta tag
    to prevent search engines from indexing it.
  • Use Google Search Console to
    set your preferred domain
    . Tell Google how you want your site to be indexed.
  • Minimize similar content
    . If you have multiple pages that are similar, consider expanding each page so the content is unique to each page, or consolidate the pages into one.

Mistake #3: You over-optimize content
Has anyone ever told you how that too many good things can be a bad thing? Well that’s over-optimization in a nutshell.
It’s the practice
of creating so many SEO improvements that they begin to ruin a website’s ability to rank. Back in the early days of SEO, over-optimization was how sites gained rank. SEOs would load a site with keywords, or send out thousands of spammy links as a fast and easy way to boost a site in the SERPs. Fast-forward to today, and this practice no longer works. I repeat: this practice does not work anymore. In April of 2012, Google rolled out the
Penguin Update
, designed to punish pages that had been spamming the search engine (think: keyword stuffing, link schemes, over-optimization).
Some signs you might be over-optimizing include:
  • Keyword stuffing
    . Repeating a keyword over and over in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in search results. Spoiler alert: It won’t.
  • Keyword-dense URLs
    . Creating a URL simply for its keyword value.
  • Keyword-rich anchor text for internal links
    . This includes anchors that use the exact URL of the destination and excessive use of anchors that use keywords. Example: Check out our
    top-rated paper mache
    page for more information: (Links to: example.com/top-rated-paper-mache.htm)
  • Linking to low-quality sites
    . Linking to low-DA (sub-20) or
    spammy sites
    . The more you do so, the more you align your site with this group.
Additional resource:
Your site may be over-optimized if...
How to correct it
Here are some tips for correcting the above errors:
  • Don't use excessive keywords in your content. No matter how in-depth and easy-to-navigate the site is,
    says Neil Patel
    , Penguin will most likely find and penalize it. If a keyword sounds unnatural or is out of context, leave it out.
  • Hyper-optimized or keyword-dense URLs put you at high risk for over-optimization. Don’t make your brand name a keyword - you need something different if you want to rank for branded traffic.
  • The occasional keyword-rich anchor text is alright, but do this too much, and you’re asking for a penalty. Instead, keep it natural, and
    diversify anchor text
    to avoid a Google flag.
  • Focus your efforts on linking to quality sites in your niche - sites with strong DA and solid reputations.
    Here are some best practices for external linking
    .
Mistake #4: You ignore mobile
With more searches now on mobile than desktop
, mobile optimization has become integral to SEO success. Mobile optimization is the process of ensuring that visitors who access a site from a mobile device have an experience optimized for that device. The growing adoption and usage of mobile devices, paired with
Google’s push for more mobile-friendly pages
have made the mobile-optimization crucial, and yet, many sites are still resistant to it.
The benefits of a mobile-optimized site include:
  • Improved user experience
  • Improved SEO performance
  • Stronger branding and competitive edge
  • Increased traffic and engagement
  • Reduced bounce rate, increased time-spent
  • Increased conversions and sales
How to correct it
There are a few ways you can optimize your site for mobile:
  • Responsive design
    . The one
    Google prefers
    . Responsive design serves the same content to users regardless of the device. It can be difficult to implement, but it reduces the likelihood of common mistakes affecting mobile sites.
  • Dynamic serving
    . Displays different code to each device, but on the same URL. Done using the Vary HTTP header. Requires you keep an updated list of user agents, meaning updates are needed every time a new mobile device comes to market.
  • Separate (parallel) URLs
    . Allows you to create custom content for mobile visitors, but requires you have two separate sites (URLs). It can be difficult to update multiple sites, but is easy to set up with mobile-conversion platforms like this one.
After you’ve selected and implemented a mobile solution, there are several tools you can use to identify and mitigate potential issues. Google’s
Mobile-Friendly Test
tool, for instance, reports whether your web page has a mobile-friendly design, and
Google Search Console
will provide a drilled-down diagnosis of usability issues affecting your site.
Image from Moz
Image from Business2Community
In addition, the
Responsive Web Design Testing Tool
will show what a responsive site looks like on a variety of standard screen sizes, and the
Google Chrome User Agent Switcher
will show how a page responds to different browsers (also available via
Firefox
).
Conclusion
By correcting these preventable mistakes, you can better optimize your site’s SEO to ensure your content is seen and remembered. To guard against mistakes in the future, conduct regular
site audits
for easy detection of gaps in your SEO. From there you can correct and protect yourself against penalties and other fatal consequences.
Your site and its SEO performance will thank you.
For more lessons on the basics of SEO, check out our
SEO guide
.
Want to learn more about SEO?
GET THE GUIDE
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Image from Moz
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Recommended Reading:
Google Search Console: 5 Reasons Every Marketer Should Use It
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Recommended Reading:
The Beginner's Guide To Mobile Marketing: Everything You Need To Know To Get Started
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