by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Founder of the EmpoweringSites.com Network
A detailed analysis of small business Websites across a variety of industries, many with low or non-existent page ranks and weak placement in search engine results, resulted in this list of the 10 most common search engine optimization (SEO) and Website publishing mistakes.
These 10 problems result from a lack of understanding about Web publishing and content development -- rather than illegal or unethical practices that could get your site banned from the search engines. Thus, if you're a small business owner and find that your site has one or more of these mistakes, the good news is that the problem will not cause your site to be delisted from the search engines. The better news is that all of these mistakes have fairly easy fixes -- and this article not only identifies each SEO problem, but explains how to take corrective measures.
1. Weak or non-existent meta data (meta tags and page title). Meta data are information about your Web page that remains mostly hidden to the average visitor, but is important to search engines and directories (although some of this value has diminished). The three most important meta data tags that should be used on every page of your site are: title, description, and keywords. Never used meta tags and have no idea how to implement them on your site? Read this SEO primer, as well as this article on how to use meta tags. Google's advice: "Use brief, but descriptive titles" and ... "make use of the description meta tag."
2. Meta data that contains the same or similar information for every page. Too many small-business sites have the problem of repeating meta data -- and usually weak meta data -- on every single page of the Website. Several Websites listed "homepage" as the title of every page. Many others at least used their company name for the title, but the title (and the other meta tags) should be specific to each page. You could certainly use your company name to brand each page, but you should follow it (you do have about 60 characters) with a short description of the content. Google's advice: "create unique, accurate page titles" and ... "use unique descriptions for each page." Yahoo! adds that it wants: "Metadata (including title and description) that accurately describes the contents of a Web page."
3. Unfocused, unrealistic, or overused keyword selection. When brainstorming keywords for your content and meta data, focus on developing realistic keywords that will drive traffic to your site. In fact, in most cases, you should be focusing on keyword phrases, not keywords. For example, a resume-writing business would be foolish to use "resume" as a keyword. Instead, add strategic modifiers based on your target audience, such as "award-winning executive resumes," "executive resumes that get results," "c-level senor executive resumes." If your focus is geographic, make sure that information is included in your keyword phrases: "metro New York executive resume service." Conduct competitive research to find the best keywords for your business -- and then use them in your meta data, but don't overuse them (a SEO no-no called keyword stuffing). Conduct competitive research on your audience and your competitors to help determine the best keywords for your site.
4. Lack of keyword use in page content. Whatever you say in your meta data about a particular page must represent the page's content. Some Web publishers go to the trouble of developing great meta data, full of rich keyword phrases only to abandon the strategy when it comes to the actual page content. Write content with your keyword phrases in mind -- and use them occasionally within the text of the page. The idea is to align the content of your page with the meta data with a set of rich (and strategic) keyword phrases.
5. Weak Website content. For the foreseeable future, content still drives Web traffic, so your goal should be to develop useful and original content pages -- including text, audio, and video materials. For SEO purposes, text is the best content because all search engines can handle text; many users, however, prefer multimedia over text. Use these content pages to help establish your credibility and authority in the marketplace -- and to drive visitors to your sales pages where you can then convert them to paying customers of your products or services. Content should focus on helping visitors understand trends, products, or services within your industry. Give away a few trade secrets, knowing that many will still need your services regardless of their knowledge. Finally, one pet peeve about sound -- don't have it playing in the background with no obvious way for visitors to turn it off, as it results in annoying them. Yahoo! states that it wants: "Original and unique content of genuine value."
6. No clear use of HTML hierarchy on pages. If you've never done actual HTML coding, you may not even be aware that there is a hierarchy in HTML for font size that search engines use to help understand your page and what you consider important. These header (H) tags indicate the relative importance of each section it is heading: H1 is for the major sections of your document, or as the one header to the entire document. H2 is for the secondary sections of your document, and so forth. If you don't like the size the headers create, you can use style sheets to modify the look while keeping the hierarchy intact for the search engines. It's best to think of the header tags in the same way you use headings and subheads in written documents.
7. Not using keyword or keywords in directories or page file names (URLs). The research results for this article reveals all sorts of strange ways to name Web page files, from simple numeric to totally incomprehensible names. It's best to use a keyword or keyword phrase as part of your file name. For example, for a page in which you detail your executive writing services, consider naming the file "executive-resume-writing-services.html." Google recommends developing descriptive filenames that "could inform a user or search engine what the target page is about before following the link."
8. Inadequate or overly complex site navigation. Organization should always play a central role in Website development, and ideally you have already developed a hierarchy for the pages of your site, with your most important categories serving as the basic navigation tools (internal links). For example a small-business site might be organized around these major categories: Home, Company Information ("About Us"), Products/Services, User Tools (articles, tutorials, samples), Ordering Information, Testimonials, Contact, Search/Site Map. Google states: "the navigation of a Website is important in helping visitors quickly find the content they want. It can also help search engines understand what content the webmaster thinks is important."
9. No sitemap or search capabilities. If you have a rather large site or weak navigation, you can improve your site's usability (to both people and search engines) by adding both search and one or more sitemaps. It's fairly easy and inexpensive to add the ability for users to search your site -- and once you choose a service to add this functionality for you, include either a search box or link to your search page on every page of your site. There are two kinds of sitemaps -- and your site should be using both. One type is a HTML sitemap that links to the major categories (if not all the pages) of your site, giving visitors one page in which to navigate your entire site. The other type is a XML sitemap so that search engine spiders can more easily discover all the pages of your site, as well as through social networking and social bookmarking activities.
10. No apparent linking or backlinking strategy. The first nine of these mistakes deal with specific issues related to the site itself, while this last mistake is more about external validation of the site. When Google and other search engines evaluate your site and its pages, they do not review only what's on your site but the quantity and quality of sites that link to your site. Links from high-ranked Websites carry more weight than links from "free-for-all" link directories and so-called link farms. Speed is an issue too, as you want a gradual increase in links back to your site, which you can accomplish through requests for links from complementary sites, associations, and people in your network. You can also build links back to your site by writing articles for other sites and including an author's bio that has a link to your Website.
Web Marketing Guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen, CEO of EmpoweringSites.com -- a growing network of highly ranked educational and inspirational Websites -- has been empowering people his entire adult life. He is also founder and publisher of EmpoweringRetreat.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. He holds a doctorate in marketing and has been involved in marketing his entire life. Learn more at his personal Website, RandallSHansen.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.