The Five Biggest Mistakes of Onsite SEO

For any SEO program, the first order of business is to make sure your website is communicating clearly with Google. In order to properly index and rank your onsite content, Google must be able to find it, understand it, and determine its importance relative to other content on your site.

If your site isn’t optimized correctly, important content will be completely ignored or under ranked. Consequently, the benefit of any link acquisition activities you’re undertaking will be seriously diminished.

These five SEO blunders are not only big, they’re popular. How many of them is your website guilty of?

1. Bungling Meta Tags

Meta tags are HTML elements that convey information to Google about a web page’s content and importance and there are scores of ways to go wrong when setting them up. These are common Meta tag errors that reduce a page’s ability to rank well.

  • Title tags neither keyword-optimized nor relevant. Title tags are the most important Meta element of a page, as they tell Google exactly what the page is about.
  • Failure to do keyword research. Without it, it’s impossible to keyword-optimize title tags and content.
  • Duplicate tags. Certain types of Meta tags should be unique for each site page, such as Title tags and Description tags.
  • Improper use of Robots tags. The family of Robots tags strongly influence site crawling and indexing.

In #5, I’ll provide a little guidance for dealing with these issues.

2. Having Duplicate Versions of URLs

For a variety of reasons, a site may have the same page of content displaying at different URLs. Frequently seen examples of this:

  • and
  • and
  • and

These situations force Google to decide which location (URL) of the content is the “real” page. Making matters worse, if inbound and internal links point to different versions of the URL a very common occurrence Google becomes even more confused about which page to rank and how highly to rank it.

Ideally, all duplicate versions of URLs should be eliminated. Sometimes, however, multiple URLs are unavoidable due to programming considerations. If multiples cannot be eliminated, all inbound and internal links should point to the preferred version of the URL. In addition, use canonical attributes to tell Google which version of a duplicated page to pay attention to.

Here is an example of the Canonical tagging from Magid, a manufacturer and distributor of leather safety gloves. The product page below has several versions, a non-preferred version being

Magid tells Google which version to index and rank by inserting the following canonical code in the above-noted URL:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”” />

By inserting this code, Magid tells Google to pass any value this version of the page has to the primary page, which has the URL

3. Poor Internal Linking Structure

When Google crawls your site, it looks at your internal linking structure, and concludes that the pages you link to most frequently are the most important. Popular blunders for internal linking include:

  • Not having a coherent internal linking structure.
  • Failing to set up rno follow links to highly linked but SEO-irrelevant pages such as contact and privacy policy pages. No follow tags tell Google not to credit these pages with any link value.
  • Failing to use keywords in anchor text for internal links. Doing so adds value to the page being linked to.

Footer links are a good way to establish a solid internal linking structure. PacMoore, an industrial spray drying company, uses this footer globally on its site:

The anchor text includes important keywords and features pages of the site that are most important to Google. Displaying these links site-wide reinforces the point that the linked-to pages are important and deserve high ranking.

4. Poorly Optimized Content

On-page text must be optimized in order for Google to match it up and rank it highly for relevant search queries. There are many ways to go wrong, but the good news is, the fixes are a matter of knowing what to write and then writing it. Common ways sites stumble:

  • Failing to include keywords in page headlines and subheads.
  • Failing to add keywords to image alt attributes and titles.
  • Failing to optimize video.
  • Conveying essential information in Flash, which is basically invisible to Google, instead of text.
  • Failing to write enough text, which tells Google the page is superficial and therefore not valuable.

5. Not Using Google Webmaster Tools

As we’re seeing, there are hundreds of tactical traps associated with each of these mistake areas. If you’re throwing your hands up in despair don’t. Google Webmaster Tools is a free, online resource that will tell you exactly and in detail what your onsite SEO issues are.

In addition to identifying issues in the areas I’ve already discussed, Webmaster Tools reports common site problems such as unidentified error pages, unintentional black hat SEO tactics and pagination problems.

Reviewing your site in Webmaster Tools on a monthly basis is a good practice. If you haven’t done a review recently or ever you could be in for a bad SEO surprise.

About Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is Director of Content & Social Media Straight North. Brad writes frequently on industry-leading blogs about content marketing, SEO strategy and social media topics.

18 Responses to The Five Biggest Mistakes of Onsite SEO

  1. Title tags aren’t meta tags though. Unless you mean “meta title” tags, like something out of Dublin Core. These have no meaning.

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  5. ChristopherSkyi says:

    Matt Cutts in this video says that the issue of no_follow on internal links is a non issue:  Originally people started using them to implement large, vast and ultimately useless ‘page rank sculpting’ projects (because it had little effect in the real world). In fact, Cutts comes out and says DON’T use it on internal links.  Everything else here is great advice. 

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  8. An SEO campaign is really two parts- on site and link building.  One isn’t any more important than the other.  They both work together.  Link building can be difficult.  If you are going to spend the time, the links better be pointing to a site that’s worthwhile and properly optimized. 

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  10. says:

    Keyword canniballisation. Targeting the same keywords sitewide

  11. Kim Phillips says:

    Excellent post. The one I encounter most often is not writing new content often enough, or ever, then expecting to be found on the first page of a google search.

  12. Footer links are for the purpose of usability and not SEO. Omnipresent footerlinks are, in fact, a bad way of structuring a website. A good IA structure means making website semantically correct, symmetrical and shallow. 

    Footer links should, by no means, replace the main navigation, which is high in every HTML. HTML5 is going to make these links receive even less value than they do now.

    • bradshorr says:

      Footer links can serve both purposes, but I didn’t mean to imply that footer links should replace main nav — from a UX standpoint that would be a disaster, for sure. But from a UX perspective, I do think footer links serve a purpose, since they provide users a way to move about the site without scrolling up.

  13. Mark Welch says:

    I’m intrigued by the notion of using no_follow tags for internal standard pages like “contact and privacy policy.” These links must be visible to search engines “somewhere on the site,” at least on the home page or site index page. 

    You are suggesting that if I don’t use no_follow on other pages (such as product and category pages), I’ll be squandering “link juice” onto pages that I don’t want to carry link juice?

    But another Revenews article says, “In other words, trying to use it [nofollow] as internal SEO tactic to sculpt your PR isn’t going to work.”