Search engine optimisation is not a silver bullet. SEO is not even a specific product. Rather, search engine optimisation is a process, ideally based on marketing methodology, and that process will be unique to each specific application. Here’s my top-list of the biggest and most common mistakes that are made regarding SEO.
1. Commoditization of Search Engine Optimization
This is certainly the top-most mistake regarding SEO. It is a mistake that is often made by both customers and suppliers of search engine optimisation. Customers mistakenly think that they can buy SEO as a fixed product or commodity, and far too many suppliers attempt to offer search engine optimization as a package, an off the shelf solution that is not tailored to the specific needs, situation or the market conditions of each individual client.
Why treating SEO as a commodity is a mistake
All search engine optimization companies are not alike. In fact, not even all SEO practitioners within a single company can provide the same quality, experience, or standard to their work. There is no regulation, or universal standard to SEO or its services. In fact, even among the biggest and most successful and renowned search engine optimization companies there are considerable disparities in practices and capabilities.
On the flip-side, where some SEO companies themselves try to ‘package’ SEO as a commodity, this really does not serve the customer well. One size never fits all. In fact, a package often fits nobody but the company selling it. Sometimes a package forms a compromise of mismatched features to attempt mass-market appeal.
The fact is that search engine optimization is a Marketing activity. In Marketing you cannot just run exactly the same campaign for two different clients. It would be like trying to sell the Coke TV ad campaign to Pepsi, just with the name changed, but with the exact same shots, actors, etc.
2. Treating SEO as ‘a code thing’
Treating search engine optimisation as a technical discipline – all about the code and mark-up – is a common mistake. It is like deciding to run an international advertising campaign on billboards and deciding to put the photocopier guy in charge of the entire billboard campaign – because it is printing and on paper. The code and technical part of SEO is the medium, not the message.
Why treating SEO as a purely technical matter is a mistake
SEO is a method and procedure for marketing. Every single decision in a campaign must tie back to the marketing objectives, which means each line of code, each technical choice, has to be chosen by someone who understands marketing, at least in a basic sense. Where this fundamental is ignored, you get poor SEO choices, resulting in massive inefficiencies, and even practices that run counter to the basic goals.
Specific issues of this mentality are where changes are made to gain high rankings for keywords that fail to convert, or where the changes themselves lower conversion rates. There are still SEOs who believe that if a page ranks #1, their job is perfect, and that its utter failure to convert or serve any business purpose is irrelevant, and someone else’s problem.
You don’t put the photocopier guy in charge of all your print advertising because he knows about print. You don’t put a telephone engineer in charge of your call centres because she knows how to install phones. You don’t put your IT guy in charge of all your Internet marketing because he knows about computers.
3. Losing sight of the objective of SEO
All too often people on all sides of SEO forget what the objective is. They start thinking that the steps that an SEO campaign takes along the way to the objective are actual end objectives in their own right. Indeed, that leads to people going for a particular SEO step they didn’t need at all.
Why confusing SEO methods with the end objective is a mistake.
The simplest illustration is whenever someone comes to an SEO and says “We need to rank number one for [keyword]“. There are very few cases in which a company actually needs to rank number one for a particular search to meet a genuine objective, and the only one I can easily think of that is anywhere near common is when a company can use the “I rank #1 on Google for [keyword]” to leverage a better deal from their suppliers, or otherwise use it purely for branding of some kind.
A common failure of SEO is where a company spends significant resources to gain a top ranking for a high-volume, highly competitive search term in order to gain more sales. Without considering that often an even higher volume of sales could have been attained far more economically by increasing long-tail keyword reach.
Specific SEO methods and tactics are just that – tactics to achieve an objective, and not an objective in themselves.
4. Using SEO tactics without a strategy
I already touched on this in regard to treating search engine optimization as a ‘code thing’, but even people who know that SEO is not just about the media of HTML tags often fail to understand strategic considerations for SEO.
Why having no overall SEO strategy to tactics is a mistake.
To illustrate this point, I will use the analogy of a chef catering for a dinner party.
Okay, so the chef is a professional chef, hired to cater for a dinner party.
In this analogy, the diner party is the marketing method chosen to meet the overall objective of gathering a group of people to have a fine meal and connect with the hosts of the dinner.
The chef is told how many people he needs to cater for, and what sort of budget is available, and may often be given further suggestions about particular ingredients or things to cook. These all help form the strategy, and in this analogy, the strategy is the menu. As the chef plans out what dishes he will provide for each course, he is building the strategy.
His menu is based on the objective to provide a fine dining experience appropriate to the guests, in accordance with the venue, atmosphere, season, etc. His choice of ingredients in the menu may be based on the budget available, the season, and the preferences if any stated by the employer. This allows him to decide what each course of the meal, each dish, should be.
Each dish on the menu, each recipe, is a tactic in the strategy. The dishes must work individually, of course, each of high enough quality, but they must also work together and build to that overall objective of a fine dining experience.
The steps to prepare each dish/course of the meal are the techniques. Whether it is chopping onions, or whipping up cream, the techniques are only really effective uses of time if they are necessary to the recipe, and a part of the overall meal.
In the same way, posting on a blog is a technique that is only effective within a tactic of social engagement and public relations, within a strategy of being able to leverage asserting expertise, seeding viral marketing, or rapid and frequent content marketing.
Just posting to a blog is not SEO, even if the blog post is packed with keywords. It doesn’t tie into a tactic or a strategy.
Adding a tactical reason for blog posting, to have the ability to quickly publish topical, less formal content, is still not good SEO. It doesn’t tie in to an SEO strategy.
The strategy is the part where you have decided that the client has the resources and ability to leverage a strength in ‘thought leadership’ to produce great blog posts. Alternatively, the Strategy might be to humanize a somewhat faceless and impersonal business, building trust and credibility as being run by ‘real people’ that customers can better identify with.
The strategy part is where one has decided to use blogging as a tactic because it is an efficient and effective means to achieve the objective, using resources that the client has or can easily gain. Lack of strategy would be putting up a blog because ‘its what everyone else is doing’ or ‘because that way we can sell you blogging services’.
5. Unrealistic Expectations for SEO
This certainly fits the bill of a common SEO mistake, and it is a big mistake to make. Some of the elements of having unrealistic expectations for search engine optimization are covered in the earlier 4 mistakes. Such as:
- thinking you can buy a cheap offshore SEO package for $99 and it will compete with the full-time, in-house SEO work of top companies in your market.
- thinking your IT guy can do it all, in his spare time, because ‘he knows about computer stuff’.
- thinking that if you just get 1,000 links, that is everything you ever need to worry about, and your site is sure to be a huge success.
What is really upsetting, however, is that it is not only clients that have unrealistic expectations for SEO. Lots of those awful companies that think they can be a professional SEO service because they have read the (often outdated) basic tips on blogs and forums are just as misguided and unrealistic.
Search engine optimization is not a new idea, and nor is it a ‘secret’ that hardly anyone has heard of. The days when just by using SEO you’d have an advantage against everyone else in your market are long gone. There simply is not a single market that I haven’t personally worked in, and I am just one of thousands of professional SEOs. I have worked with every kind of company from national banks to local jewellers, from global logistics companies to price comparison sites, and from markets with as much traffic and search volume as pornography, down to an independant inventor selling his own electronic fly swatter.
Whatever your market, you can be sure that you will be competing against other companies with an investment in SEO, and often with an ongoing investment.
Why having unrealistic expectations are a mistake.
Firstly, you are highly likely to waste your resources by investing in the wrong areas of SEO. No matter how good a guest-house offering bed and breakfast in London may be, it is never going to realistically hold a top position on Google for searches on “London accommodation”. The only truly good result for a broad and generalised search like that is an equally broad property guide that has everything from houses for sale through to hotels.
Any other result is always going to leave all those hundreds of scientists at Google working away at perfecting Google’s methods until it does rank such a broad guide for such a broad search, and not a small business guest-house. It is just as well, because obviously, of all the people who could search for ‘London accommodation’, only a very small fraction would be interested in just one guest-house The bounce rates would be high and the conversion rates would be pathetic.
Next, realise that everyone from the big hotel chains, through to the London newspapers, down to every estate agent, is competing for that market. And a lot of those will be either using SEO agencies, or will have a dedicated in-house SEO team working on their positions and placements.
Those people currently ranked top for such searches? They were not just lucky. They invested considerable time and resources to getting there.
To beat them, you have to beat them. To do more and better things to earn those placements than everything they did. And if the competition have a dedicated in-house team who spend their whole working week on improving the SEO performance of their sites, you hiring an SEO for one day a month is probably not going to cut it.
This does not mean that the big players with more resources win, of course. It simply means you have to be realistic in expecting to work harder and smarter. The smaller company has to apply its fewer resources to a smaller area, a focus, allowing them have more strength on a single point of focus. This is why SEO companies talk about niche marketing. However, that is taking us back into the Strategy point that I discussed above.
David can slay Goliath, but not in a straight wrestling match. David needs to accept the realities that he is smaller and can’t just punch Goliath’s lights out. David has to be smarter and more tactical. David needs a slingshot, and to focus all his power into firing his little stone to a critical point while Goliath is thinking himself at no risk.