Do you make these 3 SEO Mistakes?

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As an SEO consultant, I spend a lot of my time working on existing websites cleaning up SEO mistakes. Those mistakes are made by do-it-yourself tech guys, web developers and designers and sometimes even other SEO consultants.

I also do a fair amount of speaking and training on SEO. And when I’m speaking we always leave time for questions and answers. Without fail, one of the questions that always seems to come up is “what is the one mistake most people make with their SEO?”

I hear that question so often I thought it would be a good idea to address some of the more frequent mistakes in a blog post where we can have a good dialog about it. So, below are the three SEO mistakes I see most often.

SEO Mistake #1: A site created without a content strategy

More often than not I am hired by a company that already has a web site – a web site that’s “not working.” And typically that web site was thrown together carelessly; without really thinking through how consumers or businesses would search for the products or services the client provides. Instead, the client lists what they do and the web developer just builds a site devoted to those pages.

This mindset puts the cart before the horse. Building the site should only begin after a content and keyword strategy has been fully considered and created.

Fix this problem by:

  • Develop personas for your visitors and align the goals of the site against those personas.
  • What do you want visitors to the site to do?  How will they do it once they get there? What funnels do you want to drive them down in order to ensure each persona takes the desired action?
  • Research the words and phrases that people use to search for what you do online.
  • Develop a content strategy that will serve those ends.
  • Plan a page of content designed to target each of your major key phrases.

Chess Strategy

SEO Mistake #2: Awful title tags

I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to put this one. Awful is the best word to describe it. And I see it every single day. I’m forced to deal with it on nearly every site I work on. And for every client site I see this problem I see about a hundred others while simply surfing the web.

The title tag is one of the most important basics of SEO. Always has been and is likely to continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The title tag should be aligned with the key phrase of each page of your site. In most cases the title tag should be the key phrase or the main topic of that page. They should be key word rich, limited in length and the most important words should be at the front of the tag.

And yet, instead of seeing tags like “Chicago architectural engineer” I see title tags like “Brand XYZ | About Us”. This is unforgivable and represents the one thing that miffs me more often than any other mistake. I see people who hold themselves out as web designers and web developers making this simple mistake time and time again. And it just kills me. Want to know a secret? It kills your search traffic too.

Fix this problem by:

  • Creating unique title tags on every page of your web site
  • Ensure the title tag is descriptive of the content on the page and aligned with the key phrase you’ve designated for that page.
  • Avoid using your brand at the front of title tags. In fact, I prefer to avoid using them in title tags altogether.

SEO Mistake #3: Content that has been written with a poor understanding of SEO

I would classify the first two mistakes highlighted above as people not even considering SEO when developing a web site. This third mistake most often occurs when someone is taking a stab at SEO, but they lack a certain fundamental understanding of how to do it well.

You’ve heard the old internet joke about SEO’s right?

An SEO copywriter walks into a bar, bars, bar stool, tavern, pub, pubs, public house, beer garden, beer, lager, ale, wine, whiskey, shots, shot glass…

Alright, alright. I get it. It’s funny. But it’s only funny because it’s true. Old school copywriters and SEOs did write drivel like that (although truth be told it was more often in meta keyword tags and title tags than in content or copy).

But that’s not SEO best practice today. Best practice today is to write your content for your users, for your readers. Write copy that compels action first. Then, and only then, go back and modify a word here a phrase there to ensure the words of your key phrase appear in the content of the page a few times. It really is that simple. Any attempt to over-complicate the matter beyond that is a mistake and a stretch.


For me this has been SEO best practice since 2006 or 2007, and I have the numbers to prove it. When I managed one of the larger SEO teams in the country from 2006 to 2009, we launched hundreds of web sites per month. One of the first things we did after I took over was changed our copywriting standard to the one articulated above.

Our old standard was to include the key phrase verbatim in the copy 4-6 times per page. That standard resulted in stilted copy and our customers hated it. But we insisted on it for “SEO reasons.” After we made the change to more natural sounding copy, our search engine traffic did not suffer one bit. We still grew traffic 32% year over year, just as we had in previous years.

Fix this problem by:

  • Write copy and content for humans. Write copy that sells!
  • After you’ve written kick-ass copy, then and only then, go back in and add in your keywords.Ensure they appear 2-4 times in the copy and the key phrase does not need to appear verbatim.

So that it. Those are the things I see most often. There are other challenges that face web sites to be sure, but these are the ones that are not too technical and that can still keep an otherwise solid web site from performing its main function – to attract and convert visitors to real or potential customers.

What about you? What’s your experience been? Have you been through a process where an experienced SEO has looked at your web site and made recommendations to improve performance? what did they find?

Learn how to avoid these and many other SEO mistakes by joining 312 Digital at our next training session.

March 20, 2013 at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce we’ll teach you all you need to know to get started with SEO.One full day of SEO knowledge taught by expert practitioners.

Get registered today and save $100 off the ticket price.


Images courtesy of jurvetson, eivindw, & Pink Sherbet Photography licensed via creative commons.

Sean McGinnis

Sean McGinnis is founder of 312 Digital, full service digital agency based in Chicago, Illinois. 312 digital provides high performing websites, SEO, content marketing and other online marketing services to small and medium sized businesses across the US. He speaks and blogs about SEO, content creation, social media and a number of other digital topics. Sean has been involved in Internet Marketing since 1998. You can find him on .

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I had a copywriting client bring in an SEO team. They took my beautiful clear titles and keyword stuffed the hell out of them. When I outright complained I was silenced. I was sooooo miffed. I worked really hard on the content strategy and part of that is having titles that are readable and have meaning.  *grr*


Everything related to the blog was fine, but that was completely under my control.


@Inkling_Media helpful. I'm guilty of the no thought about visitors use of the site approach design :( the SEO copywriter joke killed me


@lisagerber Thanks for sharing Gerberlicious.


This was super helpful, Sean... I'm going to learn something this year! : )

Lisa Gerber
Lisa Gerber

This really does happen. I am working with someone who changed from one domain to another. Both WP sites. The web guy didn't even bother migrating the posts over, so you click on it and t goes to the old site. And? Why wouldn't GA install just be understood? Why wouldn't these guys tell their clients they should have it? People.


@TargetedGroup @rdopping @richiekawamoto @jasonkonopinski @KDillabough @seanmcginnis Thanks for sharing our #SEO post this morning.


  1. [...] trees. None of it matters if you don’t have the basics down: clear messaging, a strong brand, great content, and a serious executable strategy and [...]

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