SEO Mistakes That Just Make You Look Dumb


I know its Monday but you can hold the excuses. There’s no room at the inn for anything but action.

It doesn’t matter who your company is, what you do, how tech savvy you are (or aren’t), or how much business you do offline – if you’re not paying attention to your site’s search engine optimization efforts and doing everything in your power to increase your Web presence, you’re making yourself look a fool. And only you can change it, either by cleaning up the mistakes yourself or by investing in SEO consulting services to help you do it quickly and efficiently. It’s your call. However, what you can’t do is do nothing.

Below are some common SEO mistakes that make you look dumb simply by committing them. They also hurt your business. Fix it.

Refusal to woo your Title Tag

Every page on your Web site should be sporting a unique Title tag. One that is descriptive of the content on the page, is engaging enough to entice a click, and that uses anchor text you wouldn’t mind if people used when linking to you. Remember that your Title tag is what a user will see when they stumble across your content in the search results, how it’s listed in their bookmarks, what shows up in real-time search when tweeted, and, often, what someone will use when linking to your site. In other words, it’s important so you better make sure you’re spending time massaging it. If you’re not and you’re just throwing your company name or some other useless term in there, well, go find someone who looks willing to kick you in the shin and ask them to do so because you deserve it. Also, don’t be afraid to create a unique Title tag for posts and articles you write. It’s a good way to tackle both the user and the search engines’ needs.

Marrying awful URLs

Like a husband who just sits on the couch all day, bad URLs hold you back and are a complete turn off. During the Top Shelf SEO panel at this year’s PubCon Vegas, Stephan Spencer quoted  stats that found short URLs get clicked on twice as often as long ones. He went on to say that long URLs act as a deterrent to clicking, drawing attention away from a listing and passing the attention off to the one below it (ie a competitor). All of that illustrates the power and importance of tweaking things to make sure you’re getting an optimal URL. If you’re using WordPress, make sure you’re tweaking your Permalink settings and not using the default option which makes your URL strings about as sexy as the New England Patriots played last night.

Navigation you need a Master’s Degree to use

Unless you have a really, really good reason for doing so, please stay away from Flash navigations (or, God forbid, putting the whole site in Flash). I’ve seen too many small business owners accidentally create sites that the search engines simply cannot see and have no clue are there. And even if you ignore the fact that it’s a huge obstacle for the spiders, create a Flash navigation and you almost guarantee that your users will hate you. You will develop an audience of people who would like nothing more than to strangle you with your own Flash nav. It’s awful and I’m getting so old I no longer have the physical dexterity I need to maneuver it.

Befriending the wrong keywords

It doesn’t matter how many articles are published on keyword research tactics or even advanced tactics, businesses (especially larger ones) are still going to waste their time chasing terms and traffic that simply won’t convert. Because they’re all about the ego and thinking they know better than their customers. But they’re wrong. You should be using a toolbox of solutions to help you target the right keywords for your business. That means relying on keyword research search tools like Wordtracker, Wordstream and SEO Book; tools offered by the search engines like Google Insights for Search, Bing Search Suggestions, Twitter Trending options; and, of course, your own analytics to give you insight into what terms are actually converting for you.

Spitting in your neighbor’s face

We are far beyond the point where it is okay for you to ignore local search. Even if you’re not a pizzeria located on the corner of Main Street, you need to be localizing your content and doing your part to show up in these different indexes. You can start by including local-specific keywords in your site content and using your full address on the header or footer of your site, but you can’t stop there. You need to follow our list of the 4 things SMB owners must do in 2011 or Die, because that’s how important local search has become. Claim your listings in the search engines local platforms and third-party data providers, complete your Google Places profile; become familiar with tools like Facebook Places, Yelp for Business, Foursquare, Twitter Places, etc; and create a strategy for soliciting reviews, managing reviews, and responding to negative reviews. Good search engine optimization includes paying attention to local SEO. There’s no getting around it.

Botching your internal linking

Every time I watch a site link internally with anchor text winners like “here”, “post” or “ hey, lookie lookie”, part of my soul dies. With all the effort we put into link development and trying to lovingly manipulate people into not only linking to us, but linking to us with preferred anchor text, it makes no sense that we wouldn’t take advantage of the links that are within our control. Whenever you’re linking to a page on your own site, whether it’s from a blog post, your home page, a service page, whatever, make sure you’re using optimized anchor text. Otherwise, you just look silly.

Not using analytics

Performing search engine optimization without the insight of analytics is like navigating an unfamiliar environment in the dark. Don’t be too surprised when you wind up walking into a wall or bashing your knee on a desk that came out of nowhere. As an SEO, you’re responsible for more than just traffic, you’re responsible for money and for conversions. That means you really need to understand the activity on your site, what terms actually convert for you, and your traffic hubs. The more information you know about your site and user behavior, the better you can optimize it for searchers. And the more money you’ll make. But you can’t improve anything if you’re walking around in the dark. Grab a flashlight.

Those are some of the most common search engine optimization mistakes that drive me up the wall. I’m sure there are others that grind at you. Let me hear it.

Your Comments

  • Gabriele Maidecchi

    I feel your pain, especially in the need to include these mistakes in a post in first place.
    I keep finding websites where the title tag is missing altogether, and when that’s a WordPress blog that makes me die inside a little as well.
    I won’t even comment on Flash as you might remember my stance on it :p

    However mistakes are a good thing when they actually enable you to learn new things and progress further in your career path. We are not born with SEO powers after all.

    • Lisa Barone

      Not long ago an old friend of mine sent me his new Web site, which he had paid quite a bit of money to have designed, and expressed concern that there may be some spiderability issues — because it was all made in Flash. It’s 2011 and this is still happening. Someone needs to be stabbed. Mistakes are definitely a good thing…but make smart ones, not ones others have been making for a decade. :)

      • JadedTLC

        Unfortunately, there are flash developers who have fallen in love with Flash, and can’t get past it. Maybe I liken it to Impressionist artists who know what they painted, but the rest of us have no idea. I used to argue with our flash developer employee about it. The day Google claimed it would attempt to crawl flash he started rejoicing, until I reminded him that our flash widget was dynamic, and yes, uncrawlable.

  • StuartB

    Honest question – how long should it take to change the H1 and title tags?

  • Dave Durbin

    Can I get an Amen! Fundamentals win the day every day and twice on Tuesday. This post is also a nice primer for the novice out there. Well done. I feel your passion.

  • Shelly Kramer

    Lisa, I stalk your blog regularly and rarely say much. But I have a massive girl crush on your brain, woman. I love your schizz, your blog, your ‘tude and all the goodness you regularly write about. And I always learn something when I read. Thanks.

    Your fangirl.


  • Katherine Salt

    Sucha useful tips, unfortunately I have made a few of these dumb mistakes and it can be hard work getting back from them. I’ve also let others on my sie and they have made even bigger ones. Articles like this are so helpful, giving you some extra knowledge if you are looking to hire and SEO professional.

  • Toby

    Blimey there’s so much to consider, bit of a wake up call for me. i thought the link development bit was great and befriending the wrong keywords – an area I really need to check out – thanks for that

    • Lisa Barone

      Thank you for starting your comment off with “blimey”. That made my day. :)

      There is a lot to consider, however, if you don’t get the fundamentals right, you’re going to have a hard time coming back, as one commenter has already alluded to. If it’s not something you can tackle yourself, you may want to hire an SEO consultant just to help you get off the guard and give you a taste for what needs to be done to your site.

  • Jim Rudnick

    Absolutely a great list, Lisa! Read it and LOL on a couple of same….and I can’ t count the number of prospective clients who come and say “what? all of our links are working…least that’s what the designer said…” which does make one think that they have never ever tried out their own site…sigh!



  • Val @ Web Tracking Guide

    You are right, these are very basic, yet so many people mess them up. I must confess that I also use those ten-words-long-full-article-title-urls-from-wordpress quite often, though I’m starting to pay attention to these.

    Maybe I would suggest two more items:
    1) Not having proper description tags on every page
    2) Not using headline tags (h1, h2) appropriately.

    • Lisa Barone

      Those long URLs are such eye sores. It’s no wonder people don’t want to click on them. I was really interested in the stats Stephan Spencer was sharing at Pubcon about URL length. It was some good stuff.

      And hear, hear about not having a proper description on each page!

  • Jamie Fairbairn

    Nice post Lisa. One common SEO mistake I think makes people look dumb is keyword stuffing; you know when the first sentence on their website goes a bit like this “We are plumbers in Las Vegas, so when you need a team of plumbers in Las Vegas for your plumbing needs, call the reliable Las Vegas plumbers now.”

    • Lisa Barone

      haha. Some times a little information can really make someone dangerous. :) That one may be a bit different in the mistakes listed above are more unintentional. When you’re keyword stuffing, you’re trying to do something.

  • Brent Barnhart

    Interesting points about “Marrying awful URLs.” Makes sense, though!

  • Mike Feiman

    Great stuff Lisa, but I don’t buy the short URL thing at all. I sat in on that session at Pubcon and didn’t hear any definitive stats that show this to be true beyond Stephen saying it was a fact. I’m guessing that if this held much water, the folks over at Amazon would trim down their 200+ character URLs.

    • Lisa Barone

      I’m imagining that Stephan did some testing of his own that proved this, at least for him, to be true. Though, yeah, I don’t think he stated any specific tests. I have a hard time liveblogging Stephan because he goes so fast over SO much info, so I can’t be 100 percent sure. I think it makes sense from a usability standpoint, though, that longer URLs would get fewer clicks. In the case of Amazon, I hate linking there for exactly that reason. If there was a way around it, I’d take it.

  • Chris

    It’s all about doing the basics realllllly well! Nice post Lisa!

  • Jeff Royce

    You say that long urls are bad. What is a good url? How long should they be? When posting your posts elsewhere, is it better to use the original url or a shortener service?

    • Lisa Barone

      IMO, a good URL is one that is short, static and includes a keyword. At SMX East, Joe Rozsa spoke on the Big URL Issues panel and offers some Common Ingredients for Best URLs.

      His were:
      * Short and sweet and easy to read
      * Touch of static would be awesome
      * Don’t/have/a/hundred/folder/deep/navigation/path
      * No sub (domain) it out either.
      * A pinch of keywords and a-dash-of-separation

      Session coverage:

      Definitely use the original URL (not the shortened one) when linking to something. Even if your shortened URL 301s, you’re still losing out on some juice.

  • Christa Watson

    But, without all these small awesome mistakes, I wouldn’t make the $ on SEO auditing ;) Keep it up crappy on page non-optimization…

  • Shane

    You ROCK! Or should I ;-)

    Having a branded affiliate blog, I literally rely on good SEO. One other thing I have found is the usage of Facebook and Twitter with your site/blog. When I tweet or post on FB, I also make sure to add in Keywords that I’m going for when my site is mentioned because there are some who believe (SEOMoz) that Google uses these as well and it’s been shown to have a relatively small influence.

  • Susan Hope

    Great Article – some good reminders there.. another one that irks me are images that are not properly titled (preferably with a keyword), instead I see it time and again, if you hover over the image you get a nice string of numbers. Images are spidered too and although this might not account for a lot you can get visitors to your site because your correctly labeled image comes up in the search results.

    Cheers, Sue
    Note to Self – make time in client schedule to get on own site and make sure it is up to date with SEO.

  • Ros Phillips

    If blimey gets you going – how about ‘by crikey’? Great stuff Lisa. It is always good to read a list like this if for no other reason but to make sure I have my bases covered. Thanks

  • Ivan Walsh

    Split Testing has to be another.

    Google Analytics has a split testing tool that’s not many know of. Interesting to test pages to see where the conversions are best and how Google assesses it.

  • chatmeter

    Great list! Not getting listed on local search engines or signing up for social media are big mistakes as well.

    That’s why we created chatmeter, it’s a tool that helps SMB’s get listed on local search and track their social media sites.

  • James

    I (think) I followed most of what you are saying and I agree (I think) with most of it.

    But if I may point out something that either did not occur to you or you’ve intentionally skipped over… The average small business has less than a dozen employees. Most “startups” have less than 4, including the owner. And unless they are a tech company probably none of them have someone who does SEO for them and some probably don’t even understand what SEO is.

    I own a traditional business (basically a startup). I am also the primary employee (I have a couple of on-call part-time helpers). I do not have a store front per se, all of my business comes from providing commercial and residential clients my services at their locations.

    I have a website that I have spent a lot of sleepless nights working on and tweaking and as I have time learning about things I can do to make it better. But in this economy, I cannot justify the expense of hiring out the development and back room SEO, etc that you describe.

    I’m not unintelligent and I enjoy learning new things about new and existing technologies, but since my primary purpose is keeping the doors of my business open, the fine tuning of the website has to take a back seat.

    And I don’t mean to sound rude, but it appears to me that you “SEO” types seem to intentionally make SEO seem more difficult than it probably is (no doubt in order to convince business owners like myself that only you can do what needs to be done).

    I guess what I’m saying is you appear to be trying to help by pointing out these “mistakes” yet you don’t give any sort of examples as to what this type of mistake looks like or what a correct version should look like.

    And if you are truly trying to help… how about cut us business owners some slack. If it weren’t for small (or large) businesses that needed (and can eventually afford) to properly develop their website, there would not be a need for SEO’s in the first place.

  • Amanda

    Good post – all the things you mentioned are very important. I am always confused when I come across a site with no title tag, or misspelled internal links, or a URL that consists of ten keywords followed by ‘.info’. Come on site owners, are you even trying? ;)

  • Nick LeRoy

    I agree with everything with the exception of URLs (kinda). I do agree that smaller URLs are preferred but I have seen instances where having the full blog post title in the URL will help with bringing in additional long tail traffic.

  • Uttoran Sen

    it is Wednesday now and thanks for reminding me about Monday, which made me recall the 40 hours train journey that ended on Monday… phew!

    about the title tag, i thought that it is something that is already fixed because i hardly find a site without title tag these days, but unfortunately i found one yesterday, and yes it looked very stupid, i actually wrote a little piece of message on my notepad and thought to email that site owner only to find that there was no contact us page… bless them…

    i always keep friendly urls, or atleast as friendly as i can, with wordpress there is no reason at all for making urls look ugly, as it has so many permalink options… however one just need it to keep at %postname% and it will be fine. Nice points you mentioned, no reason to avoid analytic for sure, some people do avoid it thinking Google might look into their stats, and punish them because of their bounce rate and average time on site… but that is again stupid.

  • Jody

    Lisa, I hear ya. Especially re: local search and interlinking. I have seen so many sites neglect these areas and look towards all of the shiny new tactics and strategies only to overlook these key areas. Thanks for putting this together and for including a number of great resources that site owners can leverage.

  • Business Development

    I know that I have personally been guilty of faulty or bad internal linking in the past but I have been working on that recently. When I was linking my internal articles before, I never thought it mattered since it was your site and that the link wouldn’t have any bearing to Google.

  • Suzanne Vara


    Creepers! It is amazing that with all the free information out there that these mistakes are still out there. Look, we all make mistakes and for small business owners who are not in a position to afford a consultant I say to do your homework because you are only hurting your business. I mean would someone have a business where the front door was broken? No, so why would you continue to have a website that is not up to snuff? Look we know there is more to SEO and ideally hiring someone with the proper experience is warranted but again there is enough information out there to avoid these mistakes above.

    Flash … I cannot even think about this. It horrifies me. I guess that says it all.


  • Jenn@ t1 service

    THANK YOU for mentioning the great sin of Flash! Not only is it a bad idea from an SEO perspective, it doesn’ t show up on mobile devices like iPads and iPhones. Did you know that almost 40% of Generation Y actually prefers to surf the internet on mobile devices? If your business caters to this demographic, then guess what? You are so not getting to them. They just flat out can’t see you. Moreover, you probably paid a fortune for the design and animation, and you’ve completely wasted all your money.

    My biggest pet peeve is settling down to do some internet reading on my iPad (my preferred device for that purpose) and clicking on a site that just won’t run or that I can’t navigate because it uses flash. Epic fail!

  • getFound

    thanks for reminding me about having my address on each page. I have been meaning to fix this for ages, and now you have gone and embarrassed me into doing it. :-)


  • Ahmed

    If I saw this 2 years ago I wouldn’t make so much mistakes in my business. Now I know most of this, but it was a long way… Thank you, Lisa, for warning all noobs in the world.

  • Mark

    Whew. Thank goodness I am not guilt of any of those in the list. However, I have screwed up keyword research more than once.

    As far as most of these go, a good CMS will take care of them automatically.

  • Roger Swain

    Great article Lisa and something even those of us who supposedly know something about SEO need to revisit.
    Looking forward to future posts


  • Donald Rush

    Great post. My site needs some attention no doubt. It’s always good to have a reminder of the things I continually put off.

  • Kirk Taylor

    Thank you for the straight forward tips to better SEO. These all seem to be common sense strategies and yet many ignore them instead searching for the magic potion to making their site rank.

    You just made me a better blogger, thank you…

  • Gin

    Great post, Lisa!
    Thanks for the guidelines; they’re definitely a must for anyone starting in the online arena.
    What I find very confusing is to see sites that “violate” pretty much every SEO rule and guideline available and still make it to position 1 in the SERPs. When I read Google’s Webmasters guidelines I’d expect Google to actually use this to rank the sites but when I see a 1 page website with virtually no content and what seems to me like “keyword stuffing” and lots of crappy inbound links ranking top in Google, that’s when I being to question if Google really is all that smart and picky!

  • Jim Campbell

    Great article for the information it provided and also the prompt to review SEO approach and habits. After all there’s always something that can be done better. Right?

  • Frank

    Great post…I’m so glad that for my first website I didn’t do it in flash. It’s a entertainment so it was definitely tempting. Great tips. I’ll be using these.

  • Michael C. Craven

    Thanks Lisa! You always offer the best advice. I enjoy reading your blogs.
    Michael C. Craven

  • Bob Downing

    Many thanks for pointing out the awfulness of Flash when used for far more than it ever should have been! I loathe not being able to get at the “content” (eg simply being unable to copy the contact details and paste them somewhere useful!), trying to squint at text so small even a magnifying glass is defeated because it has all been sized-down to fit, and chasing the “navigation” links … doh!

  • Bill Ray

    Lisa you have out done yourself with this article, I have bookmarked it will keep coming back to use it.

  • Mark

    That’s an interesting statistic that short URLs get clicked on twice as often as long ones. I thought I was doing very well keeping my WordPress posts short by defining custom permalinks (%postmark%) to find out that these can cause problems with larger sites. Apparently, there is a fix coming in WordPress 3.3.

  • Akash Kumar

    Its funny and very unfortunate for many SEO companies to deal with clients who are more concerned about having their company name rather than the keywords in the title tag.


    Flash is a no-no. I found that out in the beginning when I created a couple of slideshows on my site. Having your keywords in your domain name is also important if you are able to incorporate it.
    Title tags is perhaps the most important mistake of those you mentioned. It’s the first thing the robots pay attention to.

  • Joanna

    Oh, and other bad SEO mistakes from the developer’s perspective: Table-based layouts or worse, layouts in frames. 2001 is long gone, and an SEO-friendly site today is a site laid out using CSS with the minimum of inline styles. It kills me how many people still use table- or frame-based layouts and inline styles. A lot of designers swear by CMS like WordPress and Joomla! but unfortunately, the code those CMS churn out can be slow to load, and not very SEO-friendly.