9 SEO Mistakes Businesses Make With Content


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?

Your Comments

  • Melissa - SEO Aware

    This is why you are the best! I need to send it to many clients via email!

  • Nate Schubert

    These are all excellent things to consider when you’re going through a webpage. It doesn’t matter if you’re creating content for the first time or going over pre-existing content, it’s always a good strategy to go down the checklist so to speak. With so many factors to take into consideration, and how much of a role human error can play, you’ll most likely find at least one thing that was previously missed.

    Lisa, what do you think is the single most irritating thing that small business owners miss? What is the thing that SEO’s miss when they shouldn’t?

    • Lisa Barone

      That’s a tough one. I think the biggest thing that frustrates me about SMBs is their lack of rankable content. They create sites based around thin, boilerplate pages where there’s not enough meat to differentiate them or give them the cred they need to rank. Or they create one page for all of their locations instead of creating individual store pages. To rank you have to give the engines something to rank. That’s probably what frustrates me the most – wasting opportunities. SMBs have such powerful stories and knowledge about their business. But too often that’s kept in their heads and isn’t put on the page.

      I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are.

  • Nate Schubert

    Yes, lack of rankable content is huge. Pretty much every small business I’ve worked with has about 10 pages and doesn’t really see the value in breaking up the content on those pages and expanding it to more pages. Oddly enough, they also don’t see the value in creating a blog as a means of consistent content creation to build the website.

    I think my major issue with SMBs is the fact that those owners’ perception that since they are the authority on the industry, they know how best to execute a marketing strategy. I’ve proven plenty of SMBs wrong on this, showing that i don’t have to be a 10-year veteran in order to successfully market their products or services. But most of them have pride issues that limit them in a lot of ways.

    You’re dead-on about the fact that SMBs is a land of wasted opportunities.

    • Lisa Barone

      Father knows best, eh? ;)

      Business owners definitely get territorial and have a hard time understand that even though they know their business, they don’t know how to best use the new platforms to market it. I’m not sure what the answer to that is other than education. Or maybe allowing them to fail on their own first. [And then charge them more to fix it. ;)]

  • Christy Correll

    Great post, Lisa!

    I would like to add that I still see (and hear a lot of talk about) what is essentially keyword stuffing. I also think that a lot of small business owners, in particularly, either fail to promote their content at all, or do the opposite and set up social media streams for the exclusive purpose of pushing out their own content (failing to INTERACT with these social media communities).

    • Lisa Barone

      As I alluded to above, it’s really matter of education. SMB owners typically don’t mean to keyword stuff, they just don’t realize they’re doing it. And they don’t mean to spam their Twitter accounts with nothing but ME, ME, ME, they just don’t know how else to use the tool.

  • dianeski

    Great article. Especially the part about targeting the wrong audience. And building the whole dang site in Flash. (Two pet peeves of mine.)

    I follow you on Twitter, BTW, where I enjoy your tweets immensely. Would like to invite you to follow me back @ dianeski I protect my tweets (so that I can vent and rant about my job in peace and privacy ;-)), but I don’t protect ’em from savvy SEO gurus.

    Thanks so much!!

    mild-mannered ecommerce copywriter for a great metropolitan apparel company

  • Andy

    Hi Lisa,
    Thanks for yet more good advice delivered concisely with that warm voice of authority you seem to have. I see your writing is recommended alongside the likes of Bill Slawski under the Local Search Ranking Factors Survey results (Great Survey), and rightly so. I had to chuckle at your alternative name for content under ‘You’re not taking it seriously’. Keep it coming!

    • Lisa Barone

      David was very kind to list myself and Outspoken in with the rest of his local resources. The Local Search Ranking Factors survey he puts out really is top notch. The industry owes him a debt of gratitude for that one. Or at least a big group hug at the next conference. :)

  • Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire

    Great points Lisa,

    I especially appreciate the one about targeting the wrong audience. Sure you can go out there and get the best keywords in the world, but have you just optimized your page for a bunch of high school kids doing a research project instead of your middle-aged customer that you are looking for?

    Going after the customer with what they want is the key to a life-long business.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog MIllionaire

  • Nate Schubert

    By and large I think Small Business Owners would probably do it right the first time if they didn’t already wear so many hats. A lot of the SMB clients I’ve had are hiring me to do the job because they don’t have the time to do it or learn about how to do it correctly. It’s pretty easy to identify a thrown-together approach to internet marketing, that is, if you can find it via SERPs.

  • Sally

    Hey Lisa,

    Thanks for this post, it was HUGE and really helped me.

    I have a quick question if that’s ok, do you believe keyword density in a blog post content makes a difference to seo?

    I never really understood how many times I should mention each keyword etc so you would really be helping me out….

    Sally :)

  • Briana

    Lisa, this was great. I know a lot of websites that target the wrong keyword and audience, and this definitely hurts them in the long run. I’ve been using meta descriptions and titles lately, paying close attention to it. As for duplicated content, does this include syndication on another website?

  • Elaine Ellis

    I love your blog posts more than I love my dog. Or would love my dog if I had one.

  • dhiraj

    Generally we see that people more focused on making website so attractive but they don’t care about the content of the website and finally they fail to achieve their goal of the website. so i truly agree with your points.

  • Keith

    Super post. Great points:
    You get what you pay for.
    There IS a difference b tween a swipe file and swiped files.
    Lack of goals or targets when designing a website.


  • Dave

    It’s always great to get a refresher of the fundamentals every now and then. And this piece right here is just gold for me. Thanks Lisa!

  • Nancy E. Wigal

    great synopsis of what I go through every day – thanks! My clients hate words; they think pictures alone will do it, but when I point out to them that nobody’s yet figured out how to copy/paste a picture of something into the Google, AND find results for it…well, they grudgingly agree to have SOME content. But not nearly enough. Ah well…

  • dianeski

    dhiraj and Nancy – I had no idea this was such a universal problem. I thought my bosses were the King and Queen of all-image / all-flash / all-the-time. Someone with far more time and smarts and skill than I should write a book — or at least a post — about our society’s anti-verbal bent. It has larger implications than just SEO issues!

    My historian husband tells me that primitive cultures usually acquire visual sophistication before they acquire verbal sophistication. That must mean our culture is regressing toward greater primitivism!

    I’m a pretty visual person myself; I don’t denigrate The Look. But, when it’s *all* about The Look and Nothing But, then not only does SEO suffer; clarity and cogency suffer, too. One designer I work with practically reduces everything to hieroglyphics — a word or two of copy sandwiched between icons and other graphics. Talk about cryptic and elliptical!!

    And BTW, you don’t have to be a small business to be this clueless. My employer is ginormous, a household name, etc. (Think Michael Jordan in undershirts…)

  • paloma avila

    This is a really good post, I am new to your blog and I’m enjoying it very much.

  • Sunny

    Read it right before starting a new site. “You copied it from somewhere else.” is a very important point. Many black sheeps rip content deliberately but many of us having ‘taken ideas’ from other sites, sound almost the same. Not only does it affect your SEO optimisation but also morally incorrect.

  • Chris Chong

    never ever forget your meta data ;)

  • Adam

    Really? People still do these things??? Wow! It seems like you could pick any random SEO forum and in about 5 minutes learn that these are not good…

    But as I write that, I remember that people often KNOW, and just don’t DO. So I guess they need to hear it over and over again before it REALLY sinks in. And as I think about my first couple years in SEO – it’s true, I did many of these things too…

    There is no such thing as too much reinforcement of the right messages. Nice post! Good list!

  • Nevil Darukhanawala

    Very useful points while talking to clients who think SEO can be sucesfull without worrying about content.

  • Stephen Eugene Adams

    The duplicate content comment caught my eye. Having three similar businesses with three separate websites, I am always trying to write the same theme but with different words so I don’t get penalized for duplicate content but in the same moment capture the right keywords. Thanks again for your helpful insights.

  • Michelle

    I absolutely LOVE this post….It was extremely beneficial for me and perfect for me to refer my clients too as well. I struggle with this topic, I think I overcomplicate it most of the time…you made this appear at least achievable and I thank you!

  • Mark Carter : SEO

    If I had even a penny for every time I’ve come across these during my work, then I’d be a very rich man indeed. They all seem so obvious to anyone in SEO, but how many of the websites which come to you to work on have these issues? It’s amazing, but then, if it wasn’t like this, we’d all be out of a job, right?

  • Maciej @ SEO Noobie

    Lisa I feel your pain. I write so much all day that I wake up at night thinking about content.

  • Karyn Greenstreet

    Great post and perfect timing, as I’m launching a new site and SEO will be a key piece of it.

    P.S. You wrote the Google doesn’t use the Meta Description tag, but the video you link to says Google *does* use the Meta Description tag. It says it doesn’t use the Meta Keyword tag. Just FYI.

    • Mark - Productivity501

      The video makes it clear that the meta keywords data isn’t used in search ranking. It also says that the meta description is used as the snippet that is usually shown in the search results. This post indicates that the meta description is not used in the ranking algorithm, but the video doesn’t address that topic.

      Whether Google uses the meta description or not for ranking, it is still worth using because it can increase your click through rate. I think that was the point that Lisa was trying to make. However she said that the description isn’t used as part of the ranking algorithm and in my experience that appears incorrect. Obviously it is difficult to do a completely controlled test on the web because everything is constantly changing, but my experiments indicate that what terms you include in the meta description make a very big difference in how the algorithm evaluates your ranking.

  • Man Ray

    I usually get questions from clients and fellow SEOs about how to start writing content, and how to be able to make a content that attracts their market. My usual answer is if you have no interest in something you’re writing, it’s not worth it to continue. A user can smell fake interest a mile away, this in turn will not make you much of an authority. and it would be much better to pay someone who knows what he’s saying. I like the point that you’ve made about not taking content seriously. Page Rank and Backlinks have infected the minds of many and a lot of cluttered and keyword stuffed contents have been popping up. It seems that they’ve forgotten who the contents were written for…not the search engines, but the users. I had a blast reading your post, and I’m very grateful that you’ve shared your thoughts about this with all of us.

  • Olivia Jade

    Thanks Lisa! That’s a great post, and entertaining too!
    I’m new to SEO and I see it needn’t be as boring as it sounded at first! I’ve also realised that many of the techniques used years back are slowly getting outdated as search engines change their algorithms… and i came across thins link which clears some of my doubts: http://blog.directorymaximizer.com/2010/06/25/seo-myths-busted/#more-825
    Hope it helps others too!

  • Toronto SEO

    I feel like the most common mistake SEO’s make is linking to bad neighbourhoods, which in turn hurts the rankings the most. While content is great, its the linking that can really get you into trouble.

  • Amit Verma

    Content is still the King. And we should all know about its importance.

    Love your post Lisa ;)

  • Luca Lazzari

    Thank you very much, Lisa! I’m just starting my odyssey in the magical world of web, and beautiful articles like this help me greatly. Well, actually I’m a little scared: there’s too much too know! And a local note: many italian websites are really bad, and I’m not talking about small enterprises’ sites… And about copying content, I will surely “copy” the structure of your article to write mines! Well, just the structure, obviously: little informative chunks of ideas, well divided, well structured, well titled, well linked.
    Thanks again.

  • nandoism

    wow, I just got “schooled!” love it.

  • Nisha Shah

    Love this post. Thanks Lisa…

  • Pashminu Mansukhani

    Very good coverage of important on-page optimization points, that many people tend to forget over period of time in their zeal to build links.