Modern businesses face many challenges when maximizing their digital marketing efforts. From optimizing the user experience on their website to tracking conversions with Google Analytics, there are numerous marketing initiatives to evaluate and implement. One of the most important strategies is search engine optimization (SEO) and one of the most common questions we see is what should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?
SEO is the practice of optimizing a website so that it ranks highly in organic search engine rankings. According to a recent analysis of four million Google search results, only 0.63% of people click on the second page of search results. Since most people are more likely to start another search query than to click on the second page, getting your website to the first page of organic search results is crucial.
Your SEO strategy should begin during the website development process and be constantly monitored and improved upon. Many companies today prioritize meeting SEO standards because it’s key in presenting a professional website that gets viewed by target audiences.
Developing a search-optimized website requires a detailed approach, so it’s just as important to understand what not to do as it is to understand what to do. If you’re looking to appease the almighty algorithms that determine your website’s search engine rankings, keep reading to learn what not to do regarding SEO.
What should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website?
What should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website? Most resources online will tell you what to do in terms of search engine optimization. You’ve probably already heard of backlinks, external links, and PageRank. But what about the things you should avoid?
1. Duplicate content
We understand that content marketing is no walk in the park. It often takes hours to write a single blog post or webpage. So, when you’ve finally finished crafting your content, why wouldn’t you want to re-use it? Likewise, why couldn’t you simply piggyback off another website’s content? SEO practices present some convincing reasons why this is not a good idea.
Duplicate content is a significant problem when it comes to SEO. It occurs when two pages have largely similar content or one page completely copies another. Note that duplicate content doesn’t necessarily have to be found within the same website. It can also occur when two domains have similar content.
Websites must avoid duplicating any of their content to stay within the bounds of search engine algorithms.
Why is it harmful to SEO?
Though you may be tempted to duplicate content, resist the urge. It confuses search engines, making it difficult to determine what page should rank higher in the search results.
Think of it this way: search engines want to deliver the best possible search results. If somebody searches for a certain topic and multiple websites pop up with identical blog posts, how will the search engine know which is more relevant or valuable? Even if you don’t receive an immediate penalty, duplicate content may hurt your SEO in the long run.
In addition, duplicate content may cause your website to lose “link juice,” which is the SEO value that links bring. If multiple pages have the same content, link equity — and its associated SEO benefits — can be spread among too many pages instead of concentrating on a single page.
Steps to avoid creating duplicate content
The good news is that you can easily avoid duplicate content by taking the following steps:
Leverage structured data
Structured data, also known as schema markup, is a type of code you can add to your website to help search engines better understand the content on your page. Since search engine algorithms increasingly rely on structured data to determine which pages should rank higher in the SERPs, every website needs to structure its code for the search engine to “read” its page.
Canonical tags are another great way to avoid duplicate content. They are short pieces of code, usually enclosed in link tags, that allow you to “point” search engine algorithms to the original source of your content. It gives you a claim of ownership over the content, allowing search engines to distinguish between original and duplicate sources.
You can also avoid duplicate content by using 301 redirects. A 301 redirect is an HTTP response status code that permanently points search engines and users to the “correct” version of a URL.
For example, let’s say you have a website with two different URLs that contain the same content. To ensure that search engine algorithms don’t view this as duplicate content, you should use a 301 redirect to point all users and search engines to one URL.
Sometimes, people may plagiarize your content without you even knowing it. To prevent this, monitoring your competitors’ websites for duplicate content is essential. If you find any, you can contact the website owner and ask them to remove the plagiarized content. If they refuse, you can contact their hosting provider or file a Digital Millennium Copyright Act complaint.
2. Overusing Keywords
The early days of the Internet saw websites rise to the top of the SERPs (search engine result pages) by gaming the system with keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is the practice of cramming a disproportionate amount of keywords into a piece of content to trick search engine algorithms into thinking it is more relevant.
Look at the following sentence for reference:
“Our website offers the best web development services in California. Our web development services in California are top-notch, and we offer comprehensive web development services in California.”
As you can imagine, this fictional company is offering web development services in California. Search engine crawlers may have no problem reading this text, but the excessive use of keywords makes it difficult for a human reader to read and understand. Search engines have long caught onto this practice and now penalize websites that keyword stuff instead of rewarding them.
Remember that the end goal of any piece of content should be to inform and educate the reader, not to trick search engine algorithms. Nowadays, keyword stuffing is seen as spam and can harm your website’s ranking.
How to effectively use keywords in website content
If you’re looking to increase your organic traffic, you must understand how to implement relevant keywords into your content. As a prominent ranking factor, it is still one of the most crucial on-page SEO techniques. Here’s how you can use keywords effectively:
Understand the basics of keyword research.
Researching and understanding relevant search terms related to your site is essential for a successful SEO strategy. By using tools like Google’s Keyword Planner and SEMrush, you can discover insight into your target market:
Search intent: What does the user expect to find when searching for the keyword?
Search queries: What are the short and long-tail keywords people are using to find what they need?
Search volume: How often is the keyword being searched for?
Competition level: How many other sites are targeting the same keyword?
By understanding these factors, you can easily select target keywords that optimize your site’s visibility and traffic. The right keywords strike a balance between high search volume and low competition. You then won’t need to resort to stuffing keywords into your content.
Include keywords naturally
Once you have your primary keywords, you can include a few variations throughout your content. However, remember that keywords should be used in context and not forced into the text. Don’t try to stuff every keyword variation into one page; instead, emphasize using them naturally and organically.
A good rule of thumb is to aim for a keyword density of 1-2%. This means that any given keyword should not be used more than 2% of the time in your content. For instance, a 1,000-word blog post should include the keyword no more than 20 times.
Choose your keyword placement wisely
A keyword’s position within a piece of content is just as important as its density. Try to include the primary keyword in the following areas:
Headers (H1, H2, etc)
Image ALT tags
First 100 words of the article
Placing the primary keyword in strategic locations ensures that your content is relevant to the search engine and customers. Keywords are also used in tandem with link building. You can use keyword-rich anchor text to link to other authoritative websites or for internal links.
3. Neglecting mobile optimization
With 54.8% of website visits coming from mobile devices, ensuring your website is optimized for mobile viewers is paramount. That figure is only expected to increase as more searchers use their phones. Therefore, neglecting mobile optimization can have an adverse effect on your website’s reception by your target audience.
Another reason to optimize for mobile is that Google recently switched to a mobile-first indexing approach. That means it now looks for mobile-friendly content first. If you’re not optimizing your website for mobile devices, then your site won’t be indexed correctly and could be penalized by Google’s algorithm.
Common mistakes to avoid when optimizing for mobile
Perhaps the most flagrant mistake when optimizing for mobile would be failing to make your website responsive. Responsive web design allows a site to adjust its layout depending on the device it’s accessed from. Your user shouldn’t have to scroll side-to-side or zoom in to read the content. Of course, pinch and zoom should still be allowed on mobile, but the content should still be readable without them.
That means the font sizes and buttons should be large enough to be readable and easily clickable with a finger tap. The content should also not extend beyond the device’s screen size. Images and videos should also be optimized for mobile devices.
Failing to implement Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) is another common mistake. AMP is an open-source coding initiative allowing websites to load faster on mobile devices while using less data. It’s especially helpful for sites with many images and/or videos, as AMP significantly reduces their file sizes.
4. Slow loading speed
A website should not take more than three seconds to load. But you can benefit from higher conversion rates if your load time hovers around one second. Beyond the user experience, page speed also impacts SEO rankings.
Page load is one of the metrics crawlers look for when indexing pages. Pages with slower load times would be ranked lower than those with faster loading speeds, regardless of the content. Just like mobile optimization, you can measure your page speed through the Google Search Console.
Best practices to improve your website loading speed
Slow loading speeds can be caused by a few different factors. Two of the most common culprits are heavy images and bloated code. To reduce image sizes, compress them using a tool or plugin.
You can also implement and leverage browser caching so visitors can quickly access your website’s data. It would be best to consider using a content delivery network (CDN) to reduce latency and the distance between your server and the user’s location.
5. Ignoring meta descriptions and title tags
Next, you should always write title tags and meta descriptions for each website page. Title tags provide a succinct summary of the page, while meta descriptions give searchers an idea of what to expect when they click on your link in the search results. They are HTML elements that you can find in the < head> section of your page’s HTML code.
Meta descriptions are especially important because they entice users to click through to your page. Furthermore, title tags and meta descriptions give search engines more information about the content of a page, which can help them to index it properly. Without these pieces of code, your pages may appear lower in search engine results pages.
SEO tools like Webmaster (or Google Search Console) can help you identify any pages on your website that are missing meta descriptions or title tags. You should also ensure they accurately reflect the page’s content, so visitors won’t be disappointed when they arrive at a page with information that doesn’t match what they expected to find.
Tips for writing effective meta descriptions and title tags
Mind your headings
Headings are important elements of your page’s content, and they should provide structure to the text. Heading tags (h1-h6) also help search engines better understand a page’s topic, while title tags should accurately describe what users will find on that page.
Respect character limits
Title tags are limited to 60 characters, while meta descriptions should be kept under 160. Make sure that your page titles and descriptions don’t exceed these limits, as search engine crawlers may shorten them. It is also best to avoid keyword stuffing in either of the two elements.
Lastly, you should make sure to add alt text to the images on your site. Alt text tells search engines what an image is about, which can help them better understand the content of a page. This helps crawlers index pages more accurately and improves accessibility as screen readers use this information to explain what’s in an image to users who can’t see it.
6. Not implementing SSL certificates
Finally, a search-optimized website is incomplete without implementing an SSL certificate. An SSL, or secure sockets layer, is a protocol used to encrypt data sent over the Internet. It creates a secure connection between two systems and prevents data from being intercepted by third parties. Search engines like Google are now prioritizing websites that have implemented an SSL certificate in their search rankings.
Regardless of high-quality content, if your web pages aren’t secure, they will be harder to rank in Google. Additionally, your visitors may perceive your website as untrustworthy if they are not presented with the “secure” padlock symbol in their browser. It is relatively easy and inexpensive to implement an SSL certificate. All you need to do is purchase one from a trusted provider and install it on your website.
Get in touch with SWARM to learn more
Taking the wrong SEO approach can result in a loss of organic search rankings or, worse, a penalty from Google for using black hat SEO tactics. On the other hand, following best practices will ensure that your website is optimized for search engines and provides the best experience possible for visitors.
Organic traffic all starts at the development stage. You want to start your website off on the right foot by ensuring it’s adequately coded, has good content, and is in a secure environment. While you can use SEO tools to help identify optimization opportunities, most website owners outsource their SEO efforts to an agency or consultant experienced in the field.
Still asking what should you avoid when developing a search-optimized website? Get in touch with SWARM, where we understand that SEO can be both complex and nuanced to manage. We offer a full suite of services for startups and established companies alike. Contact us today for a consultation to get started on boosting your website’s rankings.