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Look smart by looking good

It doesn’t matter what your company is, what you do, how tech savvy you are (or aren’t), or how much business you do offline – if you’re not paying attention to your site’s search engine optimization (SEO) and doing everything in your power to increase your Web presence, you’re making yourself look like a novice. You want to look like a pro.

You're the only one who can change things, either by cleaning up the mistakes yourself or by investing in SEO consulting services to help you do it quickly and efficiently. It’s your call. What you can’t afford to do is nothing at all. Your website is your online brand, and making it work well for search engines gets your brand in front of more people.
Below are some common SEO mistakes that can make a site look unprofessional. They also hurt your business. Fix them, look smart, make money!

Refusal To Woo Your Title Tag

Every page on your website should sport a unique title tag. The title tag should accurately describe the content on the page, be engaging enough to persuade someone to click, and use anchor text you would be happy to have people use when linking to your site.

Not sure what your title tag is? You can check out the title tag of your home page - and learn a lot more about your website - by using the Website Visibility Report that's on the AboutUs page about your website. Go to your site's page - for example, http://www.AboutUs.org/MyWebsite.com and click on the Home Page Analysis in the left-side navigation menu.

Remember that the title tag of a web page is what someone will see when they stumble across your content in search results. The title tag is also how someone will find your web page if they bookmark it. The title is what shows up in real-time search when a link is tweeted, and it's often the text someone will use when linking to a page.

In other words, the title is so important that you'd better make sure you’re spending enough time to massage it. If you’re just throwing your company name or some other useless term in there, well, go find someone who looks willing to kick you in the shin, and ask them to do it, because you deserve it.

Don’t be afraid to create a unique title tag for posts and articles you write. It’s a good way to serve the needs of people and search engines at the same time.

Marrying Awful URLs

Like a husband who just sits on the couch all day, bad URLs hold you back and are a complete turnoff. During the Top Shelf SEO panel at this year’s PubCon Vegas, Stephan Spencer quoted stats showing that short URLs get clicked on twice as often as long ones. Stephan went on to say that long URLs act as a deterrent to clicking, drawing attention away from a listing and passing people's attention to the listing below - that is, a listing for a competitor.

This illustrates the power and importance of tweaking things to make sure every important page on your site has an optimal URL. If you’re using WordPress, make sure you’re tweaking your Permalink settings. Don't use the default option - it makes your URL strings about as sexy as the New England Patriots'.

Navigation You Need a Master’s Degree To Use

Unless you have a really, really good reason for doing so, please stay away from Flash navigations (or, God forbid, putting the whole site in Flash). I’ve seen too many small business owners accidentally create sites that the search engines simply cannot see and have no clue are there.

Even if you ignore the fact that it’s a huge obstacle for the spiders, creating a Flash navigation almost guarantees that your users will hate you. You will develop an audience of people who would like nothing more than to strangle you with your own Flash nav. It’s awful, and I’m getting so old I no longer have the physical dexterity needed to maneuver it.

Befriending the Wrong Keywords

It doesn’t matter how many articles are published on keyword research tactics or even advanced tactics - businesses (especially larger ones) are still going to waste their time chasing terms and traffic that simply won’t convert. Because they’re all about the ego and thinking they know better than their customers. But they’re wrong.

You should be using a toolbox of solutions to help you target the right keywords for your business. That means relying on keyword research tools like:

  • Wordtracker, Wordstream and SEO Book
  • Tools offered by the search engines, such as Google Insights for Search, Bing Search Suggestions and Twitter Trending options

Of course, your own analytics can give you insight into which terms are actually converting for you.

Spitting in Your Neighbor’s Face

We are far beyond the point where it is okay for you to ignore local search. Even if you’re not a pizzeria located on the corner of Main Street, you need to be localizing your content and doing your part to show up in different local indexes.

You can start by including local-specific keywords in your site content and using your full address on the header or footer of your site - but you can’t stop there. You need to follow our list, 4 Things SMB Owners Must Do in 2011 or Die, because that’s how important local search has become.

  • Claim your listings in the search engines' local platforms and third-party data providers
  • Complete your Google Places profile
  • Become familiar with tools like Facebook Places, Yelp for Business, Foursquare and Twitter Places
  • Create a strategy for soliciting reviews, managing reviews, and responding to negative reviews

Good search engine optimization includes paying attention to local SEO. There’s no getting around it.

Botching Your Internal Linking

Every time I watch a site link internally with anchor text winners like “here”, “post” or “ hey, lookie lookie,” part of my soul dies. With all the effort we put into link development, and trying to lovingly manipulate people into not only linking to us, but linking to us with preferred anchor text, it makes no sense that we wouldn’t take advantage of the links that are within our own control.

Whenever you’re linking to a page on your own site, whether it’s from a blog post, your home page, a service page, or whatever, make sure you’re using optimized anchor text. If you don't, you're wasting a real opportunity to better optimize your site. You're also losing the chance to show people by example how to best link to your content.

Not Using Analytics

Performing search engine optimization without the insight of analytics is like navigating an unfamiliar environment in the dark. Don’t be too surprised when you wind up walking into a wall or bashing your knee on a desk that came out of nowhere.

Whether you are optimizing your own site or a client's site, you’re responsible for more than just traffic - you are responsible for money and for conversions. That means you really need to understand the activity on your site, what terms actually convert for you, and your traffic hubs.

The more information you know about your site and user behavior, the better you can optimize it for searchers. And the more money you’ll make. But you can’t improve anything if you’re walking around in the dark. Grab a flashlight.

These are some of the most common search engine optimization mistakes that drive me up the wall. I’m sure there are others that grind at you. Let me hear it.

You can comment on this article on Outspoken Media's blog, where an earlier version is published.

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