6 Big Mistakes That SEO Rookies Make

Originally published on Search Engine Land by John E. Lincoln.

When you’re new to search engine optimisation, you are going to make more mistakes than a seasoned pro. It is a complicated line of work, and you really cannot be good until you have significant experience.

Often, you won’t even know that you are making a mistake when you make it. There is just so much to know in the field and so much history.

I wrote this post to help out the undergrads of SEO. Here are the six biggest mistakes that I’ve noticed SEO newbies make and how to avoid them.

1. Not Knowing What They Don’t Know

Good SEO practitioners are aware of one undeniable truth: They are never finished learning.

You’ll find that any technical discipline requires constant education. That’s possibly truer of SEO than of other business operations.

Why? Because Google uses an algorithm to determine how pages get ranked, and you can’t count on that algorithm to stay the same.

Your SEO efforts that got you to the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) in 2014 may be less effective in 2016. You also could find that your existing pages perform the dreaded “Google dance” — that is, they shift around in the SERPs because of algorithm changes.

What do you know about the latest Google algorithm change? If you can’t answer that, then that’s what you don’t know. Change that by keeping up with the changes, which are documented frequently.

Also, if you’re just starting out in SEO, be sure to pore over various online authoritative sources about how to successfully rank a web page. Specifically, pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work from very recently published articles. It’s quite possible that a ranking strategy that was popular just six months ago doesn’t work that well any more.

When I first started in SEO, I read every post I could on Search Engine Land, Google Webmaster Central, Moz, you name it. But I still didn’t know half of what I know today. If you are new to SEO, it is very important to keep in mind that you don’t know it all yet. It is okay to ask questions to superiors or tell a client, “I will need to fully research that and get back to you.” In most cases, the client will respect you for that.

Think you know it all? Try your hand at some of these basic SEO questions.

Here are some of the questions I ask in the interview process. Feel free to use these the next time you interview an SEO consultant.

Download this list as a PDF

  1. What is a robots.txt file?
  2. What is the X-Robots tag?
  3. What is the nositelinksearchbox meta tag?
  4. What is the notranslate tag?
  5. What is Unicode/UTF-8 and why does that matter to Google?
  6. Is case important for meta tags?
  7. What is the refresh meta tag and why is it not recommended?
  8. What is an .htaccess file and how do you use it?
  9. How can you use user agent and IP location detection to improve UX?
  10. What is a rel canonical?
  11. What is noindex, nofollow?
  12. When do you use robotx.txt, a rel canonical and a noindex nofollow?
  13. How do you optimise a web page?
    1. URL
    2. Title
    3. Description
    4. H1
    5. H2
    6. Images
    7. Schema
    8. Internal linking
  14. Have you ever optimised in a different language?
  15. What is a hreflang tag?
  16. What are good links for SEO?
  17. How does blogging play a role in SEO?
  18. What is the difference between absolute and relative URLs?
  19. What are all the different ways you can optimise for mobile and the technical requirements.
    1. Subdomain
    2. Different domains
    3. Vary http header
    4. Responsive
  20. How does social media play a role in SEO?
  21. What are 404 errors?
  22. What is 200 ok?
  23. What is 301 and 302 redirect? When should you use each?
  24. What is a server header checker?
  25. Have you used Screaming Frog?
  26. How do you check rankings for SEO?
  27. Are you Google Analytics certified?
  28. How do you find broken external links pointing at your website?
  29. What would you do to optimise a website purely in Ajax or JavaScript?
  30. Have you ever optimised an application?
    1. Deep links on website to app
    2. Set up app in Google Analytics and Google Search Console
    3. Optimise app in app store
  31. What would you do if you saw a client got a spike in 404 errors in the Google search console?
  32. How would you test to see how Google can see content on a page?
  33. What would you do to get a page indexed quickly?
  34. What are directory structures and subdomains and how are they important for SEO?
  35. What is https, how do you switch to https and why is it important for SEO?
  36. What is different about getting a Google Local page ranked opposed to a normal HTML page?
  37. What are your favorite SEO tools?
  38. What are some of your most successful SEO projects?
  39. What are all the manual penalties you can get in Google?
  40. Tell me about a penalty you have cleaned up?
  41. How do you configure a disavow file?
  42. How do you send out a link takedown request?
  43. How do you write a reinclusion request?
  44. How would you handle a hacked website?
  45. How would you handle 1,000 new links pointing at your website with commercial anchor text?
  46. What are all the algorithmic issues you have in Google?
  47. How do you optimise for Google video search?
  48. What do you specify in video markup?
  49. What do you show in a video sitemap?
  50. How do you stop a video from appearing in a specific country?
  51. What is a Google product feed?
  52. What are the attributes of a product feed?
  53. How do you optimise for Google news?
  54. What is Google news publisher center?
  55. Can Google news crawl PDF files?
  56. Can Google news include audio or multimedia content?
  57. Does Google require a Google news sitemap?
  58. What are the Google news standout tags and keywords tags? How are they different than other meta tags?
  59. What are all the types of sitemaps?
  60. What are mobile usability errors and how do you fix them?
  61. What are the most common page speed issues?
  62. What are the five types of website models?
  63. How do you build client relationships?
  64. What is the difference between SEM Rush, SpyFu, Majestic and Moz?

Download this list as a PDF

2. Not Directly Addressing Bad Numbers

When the numbers are bad, you need to be honest with the client about why they are bad. If it is not due to incorrect strategies, and instead is due to something that broke on the client’s site or a technical issue, you need to be clear about that, too.

When it comes to SEO, it does no good to dance around issues of poor performance. Issues need to be addressed head-on. If it is not your fault, make it clear why. If it is, you need to own up and fix it.

On another note, if you’re trying the same thing over and over again, and it’s not working, it’s time to try something else. It’s possible you’re attempting an old SEO strategy that’s no longer working. Even worse, you could be trying a tricky strategy that Google recognises as an attempt to manipulate its algorithm, and your site could be penalised.

For example, if you are still getting lots of low-quality links and expecting your rankings to go up, you’ll be disappointed. You will probably get some rankings for a few months and then leave the site with a terrible penalty.

Bottom line: If your reports are bad, be honest about why. If the report is bad because you don’t have the right strategy, you should reach out to a superior. I’ll talk more about strategy in my next point.

3. Not Focusing On The Most Important Items To Improve Revenue

In SEO, it’s tempting to focus your efforts on ranking pages with “easy” keywords, even if those pages don’t contribute to top-line growth as much as others. Avoid plucking low-hanging fruit just because it makes your job a little less tedious.

Make sure you are doing the following:

  • Focus on keywords that will yield a large enough return.
  • Do not waste time with strategies that do not matter. Forget the little technical stuff — save that for the end!
  • Create quarterly strategic plans that are tied directly to the business goals.
  • Good content and good links are the most important elements — never forget that (That is, as long as nothing is technically wrong or broken on the site, which happens a lot). Note that “good content” can mean a lot of things: a good landing page, a good category template, a good blog. You need to know your on-page, as well.

4. Sticking Too Close To The Contract

Yes, you have a contract with your client that spells out certain specific SEO responsibilities. It lists a series of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots.”

Consider it a guideline, rather than a mandate. Well, not the “thou shalt nots” part… that is mandate.

But please keep this in mind…

When a sales representative sells an SEO deal, they do their best with the services. Often, they do an excellent job. But it is your job to make sure those services are delivered and executed. But also, if they are not the right services, it is your job to modify them so that they are the right services.

For example, say your contract specifies 30 infographics — but when you look more closely, you notice all the content on the website has been stolen by dozens of affiliate sites. Ditch the infographics, get the content problem fixed.

In addition, I generally have no issues with adding more services here and there if the client needs them. We call it client remarketing.

5. Not Getting Help Until It’s Too Late

Although good SEO takes time, it shouldn’t take forever. Your efforts to boost the rank of a web page should be noticeable within six months (depending on the page and keyword you’re trying to rank).

However, if you’re not noticing any results at all after a few months, it might be time to ping a more experienced SEO professional for assistance.

You see, the owner of the website that you’re trying to rank will be checking the SERPs, as well. If he or she isn’t seeing any results after a while, then you could find yourself quickly dismissed. You don’t want that.

So be sure to monitor the page rankings on a weekly basis to determine if there’s movement, even if it’s ever so slight. If it looks like the trend is your friend, then you can be sure that your efforts are having an impact.

However, if the page doesn’t seem to be moving, then you’re doing something wrong. You’ll need to lean on someone else for assistance to get the job done.

The takeaway here is to be constantly vigilant to ensure that you’re having some effect on the rank of pages you’re tasked with optimising. Avoid waiting too long to seek assistance, or it could be too late.

6. Not Realising A Client Is Forever

As an SEO professional, you’ll find that there are few things in your professional life more valuable than a client. That’s why you should bend over backwards, jump through hoops and make whatever reasonable sacrifices are necessary to keep your clients happy.

If you want to know how valuable clients are, start by calculating the cost to acquire one. You’ll usually find that it’s cheaper to spend a little more (in terms of time and money) to keep that client than it is to go find a new one.

The key here is to practice out-of-this-world customer service so that your clients are always happy with your work. That way, you’ll keep the clients you have and probably secure a few more with word-of-mouth advertising.

So go above and beyond the call of duty when it comes to providing your clients with an outstanding experience. They’ll thank you with long-term revenue. Going the extra mile is always rewarded.

On the flip side, if you lose a client, it is also very important to never leave them with a bad taste in their mouth. Always do your best to end on the right foot.

You will most likely run into them again in your professional life. The main point is, even if something goes wrong, and the relationship ends, do your best to be a stand-up human being. You will probably see them again.

Wrapping It Up

If you’re an SEO newbie, you’ll likely make mistakes. However, you don’t have to commit the ones that I’ve covered here.

Give your career an early boost by learning from the errors of others, rather than your own. Good luck with your rankings!

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