Google is notoriously tight lipped when it comes to telling webmasters what exactly goes into its proprietary algorithms and how a website is deemed worthy of a coveted position one ranking. Earlier this week, the search engine relaxed its grip on its treasure chest of secrets and released a video charting the top five SEO mistakes web owners make when trying to climb to the top of the SERPs.
The video, presented by Maile Ohye, Developer Programs Tech Lead at Google’s Mountain View headquarters, provides valuable intel for those still struggling to get to grips with search engine optimization. It also provides key talking points for those wanting to increase their search engine presence by laying out the top five things that turn Google cold.
1. Value Proposition (lack of)
One of the things that most web publishers are guilty of at some point or another is failing to identify exactly why a user should click on their website in the search results. In the midst of tearing your hair out at sliding rankings and just how difficult it is to get decent links, the target of the exercise gets forgotten – not Google itself but the end user. The human being with a credit card and the power to add to the success of a business by bestowing it with custom.
For Google, the lack of a value proposition is the number one error committed in SEO strategy.
Righting the wrong: Google advises optimizers to identify why a user should click on your site link in the search results before starting a campaign. This could be anything from cheaper prices, free quotes, complimentary shipping to award winning customer service or multi-language customer support– the important thing is to be aware of what makes the site better than competitor offerings in order to make the information presented both compelling and useful.
The search engine states that focusing on a value proposition is imperative to those wanting to top the search results as its what drives click throughs, revisits and recommendations. From that foundation, it’s possible to build a superior user experience – arguably the deciding factor in success on and offline.
The second biggest failing of many SEO campaigns is adopting too segmented a approach. Google use the analogy of a bento box or dinner plate, with each ingredient in the box or on the plate positioned separately to the other components of the meal. In online marketing teams, this means departments not communicating effectively to streamline web presence and marketing messages.
Righting the wrong: Even something as simple as a weekly 30-minute meeting with mandatory attendance by representatives from marketing, sales and customer services can nurture a more holistic approach. A regular meeting means the online team will be well aware of offline advertising campaigns and can plan the integration of relevant keywords that may not be a regular SEO concern. Likewise, the offline team can tap into online trends such as increased searches for specific products to help plan their own marketing strategy. It can also mean social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter can be primed for the extra visibility offline advertising can bring, making all elements work more efficiently together for a common goal.
3. Time-Consuming Workarounds
Google advises webmasters to avoid implementing ‘hacks’ rather than spending time focusing on new techniques and updated best practises. It gives the example of using rel=”canonical” on paginated content (which can lead to a loss of content in the indexing) rather than researching, understanding and implementing the new rel=”next” and rel=”prev” markups.
Righting the wrong: Keeping on top of best practice and new SEO thinking can be more than a full time job in itself, leaving little time to carry out any form of online marketing at a practical level. But, making a conscious effort to set a couple of hours a week aside for ‘SEO study time’ can make all the difference. This time should be spent focusing on Google updates, reading blog posts and articles by well respected SEO experts and delving into the theory behind any aspect of web design, content, link building, best practice or usability that currently eludes you.
4. Getting caught in SEO trends
There is always something new in SEO with new ‘hotspots’ to focus attention on. Google gives the example of keyword density as a buzz word in 2005, with webmaster spending hours rewriting and editing content to get the perfect keyword density in order to rank better. The search engine advises a better approach would have simply been to keep focused on writing great content that compels, informs and engages.
Righting the Wrong: Avoiding trends and prioritizing tasks that bring lasting value is a very fine line. It can be difficult to set the hype to one side and figure out what is actually a new best practice and what is simply a trend that will pass. Righting this wrong requires the detailed knowledge that comes from taking time to study the subject over a period of time (step three), lots of hands on experience and a keen eye on the user experience. Constantly reminding yourself of the user and asking what your customer gets out of the change can be a useful litmus test and avoid the wasted hours rewritten perfectly good content into a gibberish of 3% keyword density.
5. Slow Iteration
SEO is constantly evolving, making agility a highly valued attribute. Google’s fifth SEO mistake is slow iteration. This can mean instilling processes and procedures that are too rigid, making testing difficult or having too long a work flow that makes approval of web site changes a long, drawn out task.
Righting the Wrong: Flexibility is key and that can mean bestowing more decision making authority on key colleagues and cutting out unnecessarily restrictive work practices. Google suggest an agile SEO cycle can be achieved with a clear definition of success metrics as the first step, followed by the speedy implementation of improvements, clear measurement of impact, development of new improvements and a prioritization of improvements based on market and personnel.