6 Common SEO mistakes small businesses must avoid

Before the digital age, when a brick-and-mortar store owner was struggling to attract customers through traditional marketing methods, they simply had to rethink their marketing message and channel choices. No one had to worry about their competition getting above them, or their store becoming completely invisible on search engines overnight. But now that digital marketing is essential for the survival of all businesses, problems like this can occur.

Customers in your neighborhood could be searching for the products and services you offer,  but not finding you. Read on to find out how to avoid the common SEO mistakes that cause these problems and make sure your business can be found online.

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SEO mistake 1: Competing against your own content

Our first common SEO mistake is caused by the over-application of a key SEO idea: more content is always better for SEO.  Sometimes content needs to belong, even 2000+ words to take that top spot for search terms where those searchers want a comprehensive answer to a query, e.g. educational content.

But this is not always the case: The best result for the search term 'pizza delivery near me' isn’t likely to be a page with the words on. People who are hungry aren’t interested in reading long articles, they want to get a good pizza as quickly as possible, so the top result going to be a nearby pizza place with a good local SEO strategy and a well-set-up e-commerce system. The SEO content on your pages needs to serve the preferences of the specific group of searchers it is targeting. This means that long content is not always strong content.

Perhaps the most common way this ‘more content is always more’ mindset, harms SEO is through the creation of duplicate content: Site owners assuming that by posting multiple versions of an article, targeting the same keywords, they are increasing their chances of ranking for that phrase. This simply isn’t the case and can severely limit those page’s chances of ranking.

Why this common SEO mistake is bad

Creating content and keywords on your website that are similar enough that they could both be displayed in the Google Results, for the same keywords, reduces the chances of each of those pages getting top rankings on Google. Ultimately, the Google Algorithm’s sole purpose is to find the best result for the user from across the entire internet.

By offering Google multiple pages you are splitting Google Bots’ attention between multiple pages on your site. This means that Google needs to first determine which is the best page on your site for that term before it can decide if your best page is the best answer on the internet. This often results in multiple pages being listed very far back in the results, or not at all because of duplicate content penalties.

Avoiding this common SEO mistake

It’s vitally important to have an SEO content plan that includes current and future content ideas and keyword targets. This will help to ensure that you don’t create duplicate content issues by accidentally covering the same topic twice. If you already have pages on your website that look too similar, you should look to consolidate similar pages into one authoritative page for each term.

For instance, if you have an eCommerce website selling wine, rather than posting a blog article in three separate parts, based around the term ‘A beginners guide to wine tasting’, post each of those parts on the same article, extending it as you go. This will create a longer and more authoritative piece of content that Google is going to be more likely to give a top ranking.

If you now realise that you have too many articles covering the same topic, try to pick the best version and place all the best parts from all the other versions into that article. Then push Google’s attention towards this best version by placing canonical tags on the other articles pointing towards the page you want to rank. This lets Google know that this page is the best answer to the user’s query that your site has. For more info on canonicals check out "canonical tag: what’s behind the canonical URL?".

SEO mistake 2: Building a website without SEO in mind

The classic example of this mistake: A small business is finally taking itself online, or giving itself a long overdue update. They pay a graphics designer a few hundred to put something together in their free time. When the website is completed, it looks pretty good and the load speeds are okay, but the site doesn’t attract the visitors and customers promised or needed to make it worthwhile. Realising that in order to get the traffic and customers to survive the business owner then tries to implement SEO after the site has been built, without knowing how their site works or where to start. 

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Why this common SEO mistake is bad

The first problem with this common SEO mistake is self-evident: the lack of customers. But this is a symptom of the initial problem: building a website without taking SEO into consideration from the beginning. This, in itself, is a sign of a fundamental flaw in the site owner’s digital marketing strategy.

If you are a business owner whose business can’t be found on Google, this doesn’t just mean that you are missing out on traffic: It also means that your site is not set up to offer what customers are looking for. A website that makes this mistake may have content that appeals to customers but wont to fulfill its potential because few customers will ever see this content.

How to avoid this common SEO mistake

Regardless of which point you are at with site construction, you need to make SEO a key part of your digital marketing strategy as soon as possible. That way every new page-created wall automatically be optimised for SEO.

The first part of this process is to create a list of all the products and services you offer. You then need to find the best keywords for each of these phrases. Next, you need to make sure that these phrases are used appropriately throughout the content and meta tags for appropriate pages featuring these products.

If you have already built your entire website without taking SEO into consideration, providing you have built a website using a user-friendly content management system, with the help of the right SEO tools, you can implement a professional SEO strategy relatively easily, but SEO often takes weeks, sometimes months to fully deliver its benefits, so a site’s SEO strategy needs to implemented as soon as possible.


rankingCoach from IONOS offers all the tools and features you need to optimise your website for SEO. Learn more about rankingCoach.

SEO mistake 3: Not making SEO content appealing

This common SEO mistake can take many forms: It could be a long, hard-to-read piece of text with no spaces, or content that makes readers feel bored within the first sentence.

Often this SEO content is written to hit a word count without taking any time to consider the needs of its audience. This usually leads to boring and unoriginal site content that even the site owner struggles to read.

Why this common SEO mistake is bad

Those days when websites could post long content stuffed with keywords and hope to get top rankings and sales conversions from it are long gone. The quality of the content on your pages is itself a ranking factor: The Google algorithm can detect spelling and grammar mistakes, as well as bot-generated content. Google also monitors the amount of time visitors spend on your website, using customers who come and leaves quickly (bouncing) as an indication of poor content. All this means that poorly written SEO content can really hurt the rankings of your whole website.

The solution for this common SEO mistake

Spending a little time planning and proofing your content can often solve a lot of issues caused by sloppy content writing. You should never use bots to write your content, Google can tell the difference. Beyond the always dry terms and conditions, never put any written content on your website that you yourself wouldn’t want to read from start to finish.

If you are writing content to try and rank for the search term you need to make sure your content is providing the best possible answer to that term, rather than just using that term multiple times to try and rank for it. For example, content for the search term ‘the best lasagne recipe’ should include these terms,  but equally as important, it should actually try to be ‘the best lasagne recipe’. Keywords will get your content into contention for the top rankings, but it’s getting visitors to engage with content that will achieve and hold those top rankings for you.

Issues with SEO content don’t have to be solely down to the quality of your writing: the formatting and presentation of this writing can also be part of this problem. Make sure your content is presented in a way that is appealing to modern consumers. Nobody likes to read endless paragraphs of long dense text. Also, take into consideration that many users will be reading your content on their handheld devices. Make sure you follow these best practices:

  • Structure your writing with headings and subheadings
  • Add spacing every 3-7 lines
  • Use pictures and videos to break up paragraphs and draw the eye
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SEO mistake 4: rushing posts and missing keywords

Sometimes site owners are overly excited to see the response to their latest blog post, or just relieved to have it off their hands and on a page, so they go straight to posting the content without spending an appropriate amount of time on their meta, title meta description, and meta content tags. Sometimes they even skip entering these tags altogether.

Why this common SEO mistake is bad

First, meta title, meta description, and image alt tags are all prime locations for keywords. If you are not taking the time to fill these out in an appealing way by following the recommended word count suggestions and including your most important keywords – you will severely limit your SEO content’s chances of achieving those top rankings.

Second, the meta title and meta description are often used to create the listing for your page in the results of Google and other search engines. This means that poorly written meta titles and descriptions, containing spelling mistakes or incomplete sentences (caused by exceeding word limits), could be the first impression searchers get of your page and website. If this is the case, they will not be likely to click on your page and your SEO content will not reach its full potential.

How to avoid this common SEO mistake

You need to make sure that these tags explain the content of each page in a relevant appealing way. Otherwise, you won’t get those clicks or customers from the search results. Writing the meta titles should always be a separate task in its own right. Be sure to give yourself a coffee break after finishing your article. Or, if your content is well planned, write them before.

Equally as important, take the time to familiarise yourself with the best practices for each tag. This article will help you do just that: "Essential meta tags at a glance". This will ensure that the tags you post are creating the most appealing possible listings on the results page.

SEO mistake 5: Not making URLs SEO friendly

The URLs on your website aren’t just for your site visitors. They are also for search engines. Digital marketers, who don’t realise this, often don’t put enough thought into the words they use in their URLs. Or even worse – their CMS automatically generates this URL in a way that limits its ranking potential.

Why this common mistake is bad

The worst possible problem caused by these mistakes is that you will create pages for your website that cannot be crawled by search engines at all. If the characters in your URL aren’t correctly encoded or on this list, they will not be displayed in the Google results at all.

Not thinking about the wording of your URLs is also a missed opportunity for using keywords in them: URLs are a prime keyword location. Using keywords in your URLs boost those pages’ chances of ranking and makes them more clickable on the Google search results page. Finally including dates in your URL will limit the longevity of your SEO content. Google is likely to choose content with newer dates, or no dates at all, over content that features past years in its URL.

How to avoid this common SEO mistake

Make sure you include your most important keywords for a page in your URL, use dashes (-) to separate the words in keyword phrases with multiple words in them. Follow all the best practices listed in this article on the importance of URLs for SEO. If you want a page’s content to stay relevant for a long time, never put dates in your URL. If you follow these tips you will avoid this common SEO mistake.

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SEO mistake 6: URL changes

Each page is located on a URL. We may want to change the URL because we have made a mistake wording it, or because we are consolidating content, but doing this quickly without considering the impact on SEO.

Why this common SEO mistake is bad

Search engines use URLs to access the pages of your site. When someone clicks on your site in the Google results, it is the URL that takes the searcher to your page. If you change a URL without telling Google what you are doing, the old URL can stay in the results for a while, meaning that anyone who clicks on this page in the results will be taken to a URL that no longer exists, resulting in site visitors being greeted with the notorious 404 error message page. Unsurprising, This is bad for visitors and for your SEO rankings.

It’s also important to remember that any pages linking from other sites to the old URL will be lost if the address on these backlinks is not updated. This is also bad for your SEO: the ranking boost backlinks deliver will be swapped for a broken link penalty. This also isn’t good for your relationship with the person, linking to or from your site, as they will also have these issues.

How to avoid this common SEO mistake

The first thing you can do to avoid this mistake is to pay close attention when you are entering your URLs. If you notice a mistake within a few seconds of publishing, amending it immediately is unlikely to cause any problems, but any URLs that have been live long enough for Google to crawl them, should not be changed without having an adequate redirect strategy in place. This video from Google will point you in the right direction.

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The final word on avoiding SEO mistakes

The best way to avoid making big SEO mistakes is to make SEO part of your digital marketing strategy from the beginning. First, by finding the best value keywords for your business and, then by building your website around these keywords. You also need to inform yourself of the latest best practice recommendations for meta tags, URLs, and SEO content presentation. This will maximize your SEO minimize the risk of SEO mistakes.

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