9 SEO Mistakes Businesses Make With Content

June 16, 2010
By Lisa Barone in SEO

Do you know what I do all day? I do what you hate. I write content. I write content for Outspoken, I write it for Outspoken clients, and sometimes, when I’m really lucky, I get to write it for myself. And all that content writing has taught me a few things – mostly that many people unknowingly muck up the effectiveness of their Web site content. To help remedy some of the mucking, here are nine SEO mistakes I see people making with their content and how YOU can avoid them.

You can pay me in coffee later.

You’re targeting the wrong keywords.

This is a big deal. If you’re targeting the wrong keywords, it doesn’t matter how well you’re targeting them, you’re still bringing people to your site who won’t convert. Stop it. If this is a problem for you (ie you notice your conversions suck), I’d encourage you to read my post on five steps to effective SEO keyword research. Yeah, it was written in 2006, but it still holds and will give you a solid look at the keyword fundamentals. Also check out Rhea’s post on where to kickoff your keyword research for a more tool-heavy approach.

When you’re done reading those, go drop your URL or favorite related keyword into Google’s Keyword Tool to get some further ideas. And when you’re done with that, use Wordtracker’s Keyword Question tool to get some ideas on how to use your new keywords. There are so many great keyword research tools out there, you really have no excuse for targeting the wrong terms. Make sure you’re going after the words and phrases that your customers are using when they’re looking for a site just like yours, not the terms you think you’re associated with. You live in your bubble. Your customers don’t.

You’re targeting the wrong audience.

Oh yes, it’s not only possible to target the wrong terms, it’s also possible to target the wrong audience. Things you’ll want to ask yourself BEFORE you put pen to paper finger to keyboard:

  • What are the demographics of your audience?
  • What problem/need do they have?
  • Where are they in their buying cycle?
  • What kind of hooks/prompts do they respond to?

Again, if you don’t know the answer to these questions, do some research and figure it out. Targeting the right keyword to the right person will have the biggest impact on conversions. And that takes knowing who they are.

You ignore the Meta description. And the Title. And everything else.

It doesn’t matter if Google uses the Meta description as part of its ranking algorithm or not (it doesn’t, by the way), it’s still an important part of your content strategy. Your Meta description is the text that appears under your Title in the SERPs. You want it to be enticing enough that someone is going to click on it. That means YOU need to write it. You want to optimize your Title, headings, sub headings, alt text and every other call to action on the page. These items give the search engines clues as to what you’re about and what’s important on the page. They also give the same clues to searchers. Don’t ignore them because you think they’re of minimal importance. The content on your page and that describes your page is never minimal. It’s all you have on the Web.

You’re duplicating your content.

Google defines duplicate content as “substantive blocks of content within or across domains that either completely match other content or are appreciably similar”. It may be a result of canonicalization issues, printer-friendly version of pages, article syndication or RSS feeds, full out scraping, or a number of other issues. To prevent your content from being filtered, you want to make sure that only one version of your content is showing.

That may mean:

  • Using Webmaster Tools to tell Google whether you want to be indexed as www.domain.com or domain.com.
  • Making sure you’re linking consistently. Don’t link to www.domain.com from one page and then link to domain.com/index.html from another.
  • Blocking printer pages with a nonindex tag
  • Not displaying full blog posts on your blog home page or in archive pages.
  • Being careful how you handle boilerplate or repetitive text.
  • Making sure all syndicated content links back to the original version on your site.

Rampant duplicate content CAN hurt your site, so make sure you get it under control. Otherwise, you’re creating great content people may not see or, even worse, that they’ll attribute to another Web site.

You don’t actually have content.

A very good friend of mine dropped me an email a few weeks back. He had just hired someone to create a Web site for his new business but wanted my opinion. He loved his new Web site but he feared he may have some ‘SEO issue things’ because it was all built in Flash. And, OMG, did he.

The site he paid to have built is invisible from an SEO standpoint because it focuses on design elements rather than accessibility. The guy who built it should be sentenced to an eternity of being flicked in the forehead. Before you invest in a fancy Web site, make sure that what you’re creating is crawlable and that you’re not hiding your content. You want to your site to be so easily crawled and indexed that even a blind, deaf and dumb robot could do it…because that’s Googlebot is. As my friend learned, it doesn’t matter how great, unique or informative your site is if the content is invisible. He’ll be kicking himself for that one for a while.

You let your content rot and die.

How many times have you landed on a site, found it glaringly obvious the content hadn’t been updated in ten years, and went away giggling to yourself? It happens a lot on the Web. Business owners take time to write their site once and then they let it rot and die. You don’t need to be updating your main site every month, but it’s a good idea to give it a scrub every 18 months or so. If not to update the lingo and brush the dust off, then to make sure you’re still targeting the right keywords, that you’re linking to high traffic pages, and that you’re presenting people with the information that they’re looking for. Things change. Keywords change. Your audience changes. Your site should evolve to reflect that.

Your new CMS is strangling it.

At some point in your career, you may discover the joy that is switching content management systems. And when you do, before you jam that screwdriver straight into your eye, make sure that your new CMS will uphold the integrity of your site and URLs. If you can do this BEFORE you attempt to switch over, well, that’d just be rainbows and butterflies.

Often business owners switch CMS without giving it much thought and they do that to their detriment. The result of switching to the wrong CMS can be huge duplicate content issues thanks to new page extensions, SEO suicide when you find you can’t customize elements (like the URL structure, for example), and a need for medication when you have to 301 all of your URLs by hand. There’s no sense picking a new content management system if it’s going to strangle the life out of your content once you do. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you attempt to switch over. And if you’re currently shopping for a CMS platform, you really can’t do better research than reading Stephan Spencer’s article How To Choose a Content Management System. It will give you an amazing rundown on all the features to look for.

You copied it from somewhere else.

If you caught my tweet last week, you saw me call out another Web site that had completely lifted parts of Outspoken Media’s Web site to help them write theirs. I don’t think they envisioned leaving it up intact; I think they were just looking for ‘help’ or ‘inspiration’ writing theirs. And to be honest, that ‘tactic’ isn’t that uncommon. To help you write your site content, you go and look at all your competitors’ content to ‘give you ideas’ and help get the ball rolling. And then you sound exactly like them. That’s a really ineffective way to stand out, even if you’re not stealing it word for word like my Twitter friend. Your Web site copy should identify who you are and compel people to want to do business with you. You can’t do that if you’re ripping off someone else. You need to find your own identity. Because if you don’t, all the SEO help in the world won’t help you. Boring is boring and trying to be someone else on the Web is the epitome of boring.

You’re not taking it seriously.

Though content is king, it’s also the bastard on the Web. When it’s not being stolen, it’s faked, fudged and forged. And then people wonder why it’s not converting, why it doesn’t engage, and why they’re getting a million customer support calls asking what they do. I’m a firm believer that you can tell how much someone cares about their site by how much they invest in content creation services. Your Web site is your identity. It tells your story and filters your audience. If you can’t write it yourself, hire someone who knows what they’re doing. Paying $5 a page for content is like hitting the Taco Bell drive thru for lunch. Don’t come running to me when people start running from you.

Those are the biggest SEO copywriting mistakes I typically see. What’s caught your eye?

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