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January 10, 2014

5 Bad SEO Habits You Need to Break

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Habits get a bad rap. They aren’t bad on their own. We develop them so we can get more done without having to think carefully about everything we do each day.

After any substantial amount of time in the SEO industry, you develop certain habits. Many of those habits are born of necessity, others reinforced by positive experiences, still others implemented for the sake of convenience. Regardless of their source, these tendencies influence the way we SEOs manage our client’s websites and behave online — and not always for the best.

Here are 5 habits that even the most experienced SEO analysts can fall into that could be harming your ability to successfully direct and manage a client’s online marketing campaigns.

1) Signed in searching – you never do it

One of the first things you’re taught as an SEO analyst is to limit personalization when viewing search results. The goal is to view the rankings for your client’s websites without the dramatic effects of personalization due to location and search history. While non-personalized search results are important for judging a site’s ranking strength, they also hide important aspects of the average users’ search experience.

Seeing the impact that localization and things like Google+ and blended search results can have on a SERP page can be exceedingly useful for an SEO. Very few of your client’s potential customers search Google without the benefit of some personalization, and while it is impossible to recreate their experience exactly, knowing the kinds of SERP variations your visitors are seeing on their path to your website is a requirement for any comprehensive online marketing strategy. Your users’ experience begins with the SERP; considering that experience is vital to the success of online marketing campaigns.

2) You check rankings daily

Make no mistake about it, the success of an SEO campaign is often tied to a site’s rankings. Being ignorant of how and where the search engines are returning your client’s site for important search terms is a surefire recipe for disaster (and a one way ticket to the unemployment line).  Daily monitoring of rankings, however, and the resulting paranoia and madness that ensue are not ideal for the success of an SEO campaign.

Rank chasing can cripple the effectiveness of an online marketing campaign since reactionary tactics can often do more harm than good. When outlining the best course of action for an SEO campaign, especially in its initial stages, it is important to stick to the plan, even if there are temporary dips in rankings. As an SEO, you know the best practices for a site over the long term, and getting caught up in every little ranking position shift can get you in trouble. Have faith in your process and the work you are performing and stay the course. SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

3) You blindly implement the “newest” SEO enhancements

Focusing on enhancing your client’s website is a major goal of any successful SEO campaign, but it is important that the enhancements make sense and don’t clash with your client’s business model.

Making sure that all of the pieces of a site are fine-tuned to work as part of a larger mechanism. Converting visitors into customers should be at the heart of all of an SEO’s decisions. This doesn’t always happen, however. A prime example would be SEOs who try to implement authorship and ratings and review markup when it’s not a relevant or beneficial enhancement.

I’ve seen ecommerce websites set up authorship on their pages even though there is no individually authored content. I’ve also seen attorneys add rating star markup to their websites even though testimonials don’t use a numbered rating system.

Google’s recent decision to dial back the amount of rich snippets they display in SERPs is evidence that these types of tactics do not work and may do more harm than good. Some have speculated that the abuse of rich snippets could be a low-value signal to search engines that could one day result in ranking losses. Getting caught up in the latest SEO trend can take your focus away from what truly matters — targeting and bringing interested visitors to your website.

4) You’ve seen your site too many times

There’s an old saying that you “can’t see the forest for the trees,” and it can apply to SEOs and the websites they optimize. I liken it to the writer who needs to step away from his work and revisit it after a time to truly gauge its quality. Visiting a client’s website on a daily basis and getting caught up in the nuances of on-page optimization can prevent you from seeing the big picture items that may be hurting your ability to convert visitors into customers.

While I wouldn’t recommend that SEOs stop visiting their client’s websites, it is very important that your work is viewed with a fresh set of eyes every now and again. One of the benefits of working with the knowledgeable SEO analysts at Bruce Clay, Inc. is that we  collaborate with each other. Throughout my career, I’ve always found it useful to gain advice from my colleagues, something most are more than happy to offer when you do the same.

5) You optimize content for search engines, not for searchers

This is a biggie and I see it happen all the time. Toeing the line between conversion and optimization can be hard for the most seasoned SEO professionals, but too many SEOs sell their online marketing souls trying to rank for that money keyword term. Making changes to a page to optimize for specific keywords can often have disastrous effects on the usability of a website.

While ranking for important search terms is an important aspect of SEO, keyword optimization is becoming less and less important. Anyone who has done more than cursory research into the type of keyword searches that result in conversions to their site know that people find your website using the most odd and non-intuitive searches imaginable. The old SEO axiom that long-tail keywords are the best at converting is true and the most effective means of capturing that long-tail traffic is by naturally, intelligently and completely writing about a topic, not over-optimizing for one keyword term.

It bears noting that Google itself has made some very specific changes to its algorithms that shift the focus away from keyword-based SEO to instead reward topic-based SEO. Google Hummingbird improved the ability of the search engine to properly respond to conversational queries by clearly identifying the entities and topics that those queries relate to. This shift in search engine query processing is best taken advantage of by websites who devote their content to offering the most complete information and answers for a subject, not for individual terms.

As SEO Evolves, So Must Our Habits!

We all have our client’s best interests driving us. No SEO sets out to jeopardize the success of the websites they manage, but it is important to recognize that the tendencies that we fall into as SEOs can be holding our client’s websites back. SEO is a dynamic discipline, which is a major reason why so many of us love it. But, the constant evolution of search engines requires SEOs to constantly and critically review their tactics.

Are you guilty of any bad SEO habits you intend to break? Confess in the comments.

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12 responses to “5 Bad SEO Habits You Need to Break”

  1. Gabi Fire writes:

    I Confess: This is a great reminder-article. Thanks.

  2. David Sewell writes:

    Follow these and you won’t go far wrong.
    Rank should be seen as a “reward” for getting it right, an epiphenomenon, not something to obsess over. If you fix the business, the rank follows later.

  3. David Black writes:

    Visiting a site daily does indeed lead to blindness to the details. I often advise having a week off – go back and take a fresh look – I’m sometimes amazed at things that ‘jump’ out at me.
    Checking rankings in the SERPS is a pain – do you know of any automated way to find where you appear in the vast Google rankings for particular phrases?

  4. kodulehe valmistamine writes:

    That’s what I do a lot :) I check ratings every day, even 2-3 times a day. I don’t see it a as a bad habit – it is just a little time wasting. But it is addictive!

  5. Christopher Skyi writes:

    “While non-personalized search results are important for judging a site’s ranking strength, they also hide important aspects of the average users’ search experience.”

    Why would you use an on-the-fly personalized search (SERP)? What information can you get on the SERP that you won’t more accurately get from Google (or Bing) webmaster tools?

    If you want to look at rankings, then Google (or Bing) webmaster tools is the most accurate source of that data. If you want to see how any particular listing appears in search, i.e., page title and description, then it doesn’t matter whether or not your logged in. In the end, GWT gives the best picture of ‘important aspects of the average users’ search experience’ since it factors in, or average over (in the case of rankings and CTR), personalized and localized search.

    Looking at the SERP however, is necessary if you want to see how your listing compares to a similar listing from another site (that you don’t own) which closely ranks to your listing, and in that case I’d use an unbiased SERP, but it may not matter . . .

    P.S. Google’s webmaster youtube channel has some terrific videos about how to use GWT for SEO tasks; they released their latest one, ‘Creating an SEO strategy (with Webmaster Tools!)’ just a few days ago . . .

  6. Akash Agarwal writes:

    It’s a great informative article. Yes, this is things we used to do repeatedly. Thanks for reminding us for our bad habits.

  7. Christopher Skyi writes:

    @David Black

    “Checking rankings in the SERPS is a pain – do you know of any automated way to find where you appear in the vast Google rankings for particular phrases?”

    Indeed it is. Both Google Webmaster (and Bing) Tool give you the most accurate ranking; note they’ll only give you rankings for search terms a page actually shows up for, i.e., a page could potentially rank for any keyword or phrase in the text of the page, but if no one uses the keyword or phrase in search, or Google or Bing’s algorithms decide the page isn’t relevant for a given query, then there’s no data to report.

    For more, see “Using Search Queries to improve your site:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-wWB1PS8H7Q

  8. Jason writes:

    Great post, I definitely know some people who over do these habits and it drives me nuts. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Virginia Nussey writes:

    @Christopher I’ll back up Rob and say there’s value in checking a signed-in SERP from time to time. What you’ll see from looking at a SERP as a typical signed-in user is a “full” SERP experience. What Universal listings are showing up on the page? What rich snippets may be delivered for this query? Is Google testing a new layout, a carousel, a map on the page? These are all things that a SERP tells us but a tool can’t, with a signed-in SERP delivering an even further personalized experience we should be familiar with.

  10. Robert Ramirez writes:

    @Kodulehe – Thanks for the comment! Checking rankings is definitely addictive. It’s when you end up revising your SEO strategy to account for every position shift that you get into trouble.

  11. Robert Ramirez writes:

    @David – I couldn’t agree more. Like I say in the article, you have to have faith in your tactics and stay the course! Improve the site and user experience and the rankings usually follow.

  12. Robert Ramirez writes:

    @Christopher, thanks for the comment! I would definitely recommend you take a look at how a SERP can change when you perform a signed in search, you might be surprised by what you find. I agree that you need to rely on data from Google (or Bing) webmaster tools when analyzing your searchers experience, but every once in a while putting yourself in your customers shoes and examining what their path to your site looks like can be valuable. This is especially true for local and mobile searches where the personalization can’t be suppressed.



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