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By Peter Kent

When you’re trying to get your website out there, it’s easy to make search engine optimization mistakes. Following are several of the most common SEO mistakes.

You don’t know your keywords

This is also a major problem: The vast majority of websites are created without the site owners or developers really knowing what keywords are important. (That’s okay, perhaps, because most sites are built without any idea of using keywords in the content anyway.) At best, the keywords have been guessed. At worst — the majority of the cases — nobody’s thought of the keywords at all.

Don’t guess at your keywords. Do a proper keyword analysis. You’ll find that some of your guesses were wrong — people aren’t often using some of the phrases you thought would be common. You’ll also discover very important phrases you had no idea about.

A company can rank really well for the keywords it is interested in. The only problem might be that there is another group of keywords the company simply hasn’t considered, which are almost as important as the ones it has — and for this second group of keywords, it doesn’t rank at all.

So it doesn’t matter how well you play the SEO game — if you don’t consider keywords, you might as well not bother.

Too many pages with database parameters and session IDs

This is a surprisingly common problem. Many, many sites (in particular, sites built by big companies with large development teams) are created with long, complicated URLs containing database parameters or session IDs.

The chance that your site won’t get indexed if you have clunky URLs is far lower today than it was in the past. However, there’s still a problem. Every URL is a keywording opportunity, a location that search engines give lots of weight to when ranking pages; so if you don’t have keywords in your URLs, your site is missing out on a huge opportunity.

Building the site and then bringing in the SEO expert

Most companies approach search engine optimization as an afterthought. They build their website and then think, “Right, time to get people to the site.” You really shouldn’t begin a site until you have considered all the different ways you’re going to create traffic to the site.

It’s like starting to build a road without knowing where it needs to go; if you’re not careful, you’ll get halfway there and realize “there” is in another direction.

In particular, though, you shouldn’t start building a website without an understanding of search engines. Most major websites these days are built by teams of developers who have little understanding of search engine issues. These sites are launched and then someone decides to hire a search engine consultant. And the search engine consultant discovers all sorts of unnecessary problems. Good business for the consultant; expensive fixes for the site owner.

You don’t have pages optimized for specific keywords

Have you built pages optimized for your most important keywords? Think about your most important phrases. Do you have pages fully optimized — that is, you have the phrase at the beginning of the <TITLE> tag, at the beginning of the DESCRIPTION tag, in <H1> tags, scattered throughout the page, and so on — for all these phrases? If not, maybe you don’t deserve the #1 spot!

Your pages are empty

This one is a huge problem for many companies; the pages have nothing much for search engines to index. In some cases, the pages have little or no text that a search engine can read because the words on the page are embedded into images. In other cases, the words may be real text but are very few and aren’t the right keywords.

Remember, search engines like — need — content. To a search engine, content means text that it can read and index. Whenever you provide text to a search engine, it should do the most for you — help you to be found in the search results. And the more content, the better.

Ignoring site usability and aesthetics

With the new changes implemented in Google’s Panda update, it’s a new world in search marketing. Pre-2011, the major search engines attempted to match search queries with the best page based on page content; essentially the question was, “Does the content in Page A match the search query better than the content in Page B?”

Now, however, Google is moving to the next step and also trying to answer the question, “Even if the content is a perfect match, will the searcher like this page?”

In other words, a page that is a perfect match as far as the content of the page goes may not be presented to the searcher because of things that Google believes the searcher won’t like once arriving at the page — things like too many ads near the top of the page.

From the perspective of conversions — converting visitors to customers — usability and aesthetics have always been important. Now, and more so in the future, they are also relevant to reaching visitors, because Google (and other search engines will follow) is going to pre-approve sites, rather like sending your butler to visit a hotel before you deign to stay there. (You do have a butler, don’t you?)

Believing everything you read

Just because something’s “in print” — or on a website — doesn’t mean it’s true! This field is full of misinformation, ambiguousness, and outright nonsense. So many people think that if someone said something in a forum, or on a blog, or even in a book on SEO, it must be true. Let skepticism be your byword.