Monthly Archives: January 2014

10 Common SEO Mistakes

In many ways, the world of SEO is a bit like the Tudor court. Google is the all-powerful and highly capricious King Henry VIII, the man who makes all the decisions and always gets what he wants. Yahoo! and Bing are his Chief Ministers, Wolsey and Cromwell – they’re not to be crossed either. And you?  Well, you’re the courtier, and to survive in this ruthless world you’ve got to appease the King and his ministers whilst competing with the rest of the court to win their favour. Play the sycophant and you might just bag a seat at the top table for the next big feast.

And so it is with SEO. Do the right things and you’ll be at the top of the search engine results pages; get it wrong and you’ll be heading for a swift exile – or worse, the executioner’s block (Google’s blacklist).

Historical analogies aside, it has to be stressed that playing to Google’s somewhat inflexible rules is the only way you are going to improve your website’s position in the search rankings. Remember, the more authority you hold with the world’s biggest search engine, the more powerful you, as a business, will become. If, however, you cross the line or employ ‘black hat’ practices like some of those listed below, you’ll quickly be stripped of that authority and your website traffic will inevitably suffer.

Outlined here are 10 things you must avoid at all costs if you’re to play the game right.

1. Copying Content.

One of the worst things you can do to your website is fill it with content that’s been lifted straight from somebody else’s. Yes, crafting unique copy is going to take time and money, but stealing it from elsewhere really isn’t the solution. It’s highly unethical, often illegal and completely counter-productive. Sooner or later, King Google will find out you’ve been cheating and will make sure your website is punished.

2. Keyword Stuffing.

Think you can outsmart Google? Think again. Over in Silicon Valley they have all the boffins in the world working all hours to ensure that content over-laden with keywords is ignored (and often penalised). Slip in too many search terms and they’ll know about it.   Write “security fences Kent” a million times on your website and you’ll be heading for the hangman’s noose (so to speak).

3. Broken Links

In a previous post I wrote about the importance of link building in improving a website’s ‘authority’ (and therefore its search ranking). Well, just as good links can boost your position, so too can bad ones undermine it. It’s imperative that you check for broken links on a regular basis. Google and other search engines will simply downgrade any website that has too many.

4. Poorly chosen keywords

This one might seem a bit obvious, but you’d be surprised how many companies get it wrong. I’m not talking about using the keywords “pine tables” when what you actually sell is fluffy kittens – what I mean is the failure to recognise the search terms your customers are using.

Let’s say you’re a window fitter in North London. Describing yourself as a “Window Technician and Installation Specialist in Tottenham” might be technically correct, but it’s certainly not what your customers are searching for. Think about how you would go about finding someone to install your own windows, and if necessary use Google’s Keyword Tool to look up the commonly used search terms.

There is a flip side, of course. If you’re a small, start-up business trying to attract a certain type of client or customer (one that is more likely to lead to a sale), using more specific keywords can actually work to your advantage. More on this in an upcoming post.

5. Ignoring the Data.

You might be tempted to rest on your laurels having successfully optimised your website with a plethora of well-researched keywords. But that would be a big mistake, because the way in which people search for things online is constantly changing. The most important thing is to keep track of keywords that are performing and those that aren’t. You can do this with Google Analytics, a tool that highlights the search terms that are bringing traffic to your website. With this information you can alter or change your website’s content accordingly.

It’s also a good idea to track which of those keywords are bringing in not just traffic but actual paying customers. It’s all well and good using phrases that direct millions of people to your website, but if they’re not buying anything then what’s the point?

6. Bad Inbound Links

Henry VIII was a righteous old fellow, you know (despite the beheadings, etc.). He didn’t like people associating themselves with the impious, the depraved or the immoral (himself excepted, of course). In this respect, as in many others, he was a bit like Google. They don’t like you associating with untrustworthy, disreputable types either. So while having inbound links is generally a very good thing, having them on websites with no authority or those with a bad reputation isn’t – they’ll only drag you down with them.

7. Forgetting to Optimise your Website for Local Search

Small businesses operating within a certain geographic area ought to pay particular attention to their ranking in local searches. If, for example, you run a body shop in Cleckheaton, then you need to be found by customers in West Yorkshire – not by those in West Virginia. By using geo-specific terms (such as “Body Shop Cleckheaton”) in your page titles, meta tags and content, not only will you attract the right people, you also won’t have to compete for position with every other body shop in the world.

8. Repetitive Anchor Text.

In case you didn’t already know, anchor text is this: a word or phrase that, when clicked, will direct you to another web page, either on the same website or another. The search engines like it when this anchor text describes the page that it is linking to because it helps crawlers determine the theme of the page. It also helps them to rank it. That’s why in days gone by, webmasters would cram their anchor text with keywords.

But Google et al are no fools. They quickly wised-up to this black hat practice and put in place algorithms that would automatically treat anchor text with a degree of suspicion. These days you have to be more careful when crafting it – too much of the same and your website will be downgraded.

9. Using the same title tags for every page.

OK, so this one isn’t going to get you blacklisted, but using the exact same text for every page title and meta description is hardly going to help with your page ranking. Name each one after the product or service that it features rather than the name of your company. Not only does this help Google, Bing and Yahoo! rank your pages, it also means users have a reference when bookmarking them or sharing them via social media.

10. Expecting too much, too soon.

Perhaps the biggest mistake you can possibly make when implementing an SEO strategy is to have unrealistic expectations. Thinking that your ranking is going to improve overnight and then discovering it hasn’t will only lead to you commit some of the heinous SEO crimes listed above. Be patient and keep doing things to please King Google and you’ll soon be feasting with the peers of the realm.

Why advertise?

By simple virtue of the fact that you’ve started to read this article means you were browsing the First Directory blog page, it came up in a search engine, or you discovered it via some other means. In addition, the fact that I’m beginning to engage you as the reader (even loosely) means you’re already one step closer to understanding some of the many answers to the question ‘why advertise?’

Let’s examine what ‘advertise’, by definition, actually means. An ‘all singing and dancing’ online dictionary defines the word ‘advertise’ as follows:

“Describe or draw attention to (a product, service, or event) in a public medium in order to promote sales or attendance”

It doesn’t get any more straightforward than that. However, as a result of their direct “buy me” approach, many people are fooled into thinking that adverts are designed to promote sales or attendance immediately – make people do something straight away e.g. buy the latest iPhone, drink the most popular tea, or even advertise. Whilst I won’t deny that every advertiser would love that to happen; that’s not always their aim. That’s the brilliant thing about the advertising engine; it creates memories, whether we like it or not. Our memories are not necessarily to be acted upon straight away but to be unearthed at a later time when it’s appropriate; everyone remembers “Va-va-voom” and “Because you’re worth it”, right? While that could be deemed a rather cynical outlook from an advertising perspective – that we’re being exposed to said advertisement, the advertisement is ‘branding’ our thoughts and we’re like cattle being herded through a field of decision making; people do actually rely on advertising to help them make decisions; they want to make the right one. Having said this – being part of a herd is another article and not everyone wants L’Oreal make-up, to buy Robbie Williams’ latest album or drink Woodpecker (you all know the phrase!).

Or don’t they?

After all, we don’t necessarily respond to advertising to quench our own desires, but perhaps for others; everyone needs or wants something. There are a multitude of answers to the question ‘why advertise?’ Here’s a handful to get us started…

1To reach new customers and generate sales. Your product, idea, service or event needs exposure to succeed; even if it’s not something people necessarily want or need right that minute. People have many research tools at their disposal; Google for example. They may mention their discovery to a friend and by then your advert has reached two people for the price of one. If you get your message across correctly and people like it then they’ll start to advertise it themselves; and what better method to get your product known by than that of recommendation through familiarity? “Simples!

Because a lot of it is free! Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, WordPress and a whole host of other social networks act as the perfect medium by which to advertise; without it costing you a penny! Free advertising doesn’t end at social networks though; companies like First Directory offer the option to add an entry for free too. This gives you the opportunity to try real advertising for next to zero commitment; just the time it takes to write a directory listing! In my opinion, it’s a mistake not to take advantage of these services.

The more you advertise on-line, the more likely a search engine will find you or your product. If Google or any other search engine ‘sees’ a certain product or service which is focussed in a particular way it will start to ‘return’ it more in search results; why? Because it’s starting to trust it more; it makes sense, it works – people start to see search results related to you or your product appearing higher up the rankings, which in turn generates more hits and the cycle continues. It creates the perfect channel for potential customers to find you through.

Because your competitors are advertising too. However much you’d like people to come knocking on your door without having to do any hard work; unfortunately they won’t You have to tell them you’re there first and the chances are, You’re amongst many others in the world who you’ve never met and will never know; who are selling very similar products to you.

To build and maintain a respectable brand image in the eyes of all customers, current and potential. People want to know that what you’re advertising is what you’re saying it’s going to be; 100%. They want to hear it from other people, be able to trust it and substantiate the decision to buy whatever it is you’re selling them. Advertising needs to convey what you’re selling in the perfect scenario so people can literally imagine themselves in that environment. It’s no accident that car adverts often show a person driving a sporty, yet reliable, car effortlessly through winding roads whilst turning everyone’s heads, or that whilst a man is enjoying only the most sparkling, golden glass of cider with his mates in a pub, that he’s also the centre of attention. People want to be advertised to; they want to see it ‘working’ and imagine themselves getting the same results.

I purport that in answer to the question I set out at the beginning of this article, that there are many answers to ‘why advertise?’ and that it’s a combination of these answers which contributes to overall advertising success. What do you think? Please leave your answers below.