Getting Search Engine Optimization Wrong Five Different Ways

Many search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns end in failure. This is somewhat natural. Not everyone can win in the fierce battle for the limited attention of Internet users. But many of these failing SEO campaigns produce results that, because of the approach, may mask the failure. People are wasting money and don’t realize it because their metrics are tied to a busted understanding of what is possible.

Worse, people who do realize their SEO has failed sometimes think the only wasted money is what they spent on SEO. In fact, without effective SEO, all the money they put into their web content, website design and development, all wasted. An invisible website is about as useful as a car that doesn’t run, but sits in your driveway. Rotting away.

This is not another collection of SEO myths. There are so many SEO myths out there that no list can really get at them, plus I can’t really tell which ones people still believe in until I actually hear someone say “we get better rankings by pointing multiple domain names to the same page.” No, no you don’t.

Here’s a pretty good, pretty current list.

What I’d like to do is look at some of the underlying philosophies people bring to the SEO process. In particular, those philosophical approaches that will not only lead to failure, but may also mask failure with apparent success.

Brand-driven optimization

Who doesn’t want to rank highly for their own name? Or for any of the brand slogans they may be using in their marketing? There is certainly nothing wrong with this desire, but using it is the focus of your search engine optimization is just wrong. Why?

People who know your name will probably find you. If your website isn’t completely broken, you will likely rank highly for your name. Anyone who enters your name into a search engine WANTS to go to your website. If you aren’t number one, they will still click on that number five, or number seven spot. Also, much of your brand-related traffic will arrive via a link on another website, newsletter, ad, or via social media.

I would not ignore branding language entirely, though if your name is unknown to your targeting audience, it really doesn’t help much. But the real treasure out there, the search engine using population that you can benefit from reaching, are the people asking questions about your field, questions that express their for what you provide.

Out-ranking competitors

Another simple goal that seems to drive a lot of SEO campaigns is the desire to outrank competitors. Once again, it seems to make sense. If you rank above your competitor for some particular term, it’s like Google is telling everybody that you are better than them.  In fact, for certain keywords that have been researched and shown to deliver relevant traffic, staying ahead of your competitors may be a good benchmark. But as an overall strategy, this is another fail. Why?

What you are comparing is just the surface. Your competitor may have you beat on certain keywords, but how do you know they get any traffic? Or, more importantly, any relevant traffic? In addition, rank position is still one step away from gaining visitors. If your competitors listing appears above yours, but your description is more attractive to the targeted audience you seek, you will probably still get better traffic from the people who make your business go.

Think of it this way. If you had a donut shop, and your competitor ranked more highly for health foods, would you care? In fact, all that health food traffic is probably using up their bandwidth while giving them no true benefits.

Ultimately, what you care about are the people who come to your website. Are you reaching everyone who might be interested? Are they the people who are actually interested in what you offer?

Getting #1 Rankings

This is probably the most common strategy that is not a strategy. Unfortunately, it is also an approach that less reputable SEO practitioners have exploited to drain money from clients. This practice is part of why many people either don’t trust SEO or believe it doesn’t work. Getting some #1 rankings on Google seems like a good idea, and provides an immediate ego-satisfaction. Yet, it may mean nothing in terms of actual SEO success. Why?

#1 Rankings for less-popular keywords are fairly easy to obtain. If you type something obscure into Google, it has to give an answer of some kind. Even more common phrases sometimes face little competition and send very little traffic to websites—nobody searches for them. This can be especially misleading in fields or industries where certain language is used within organizations, but is not common among potential clients or customers. The organization asks to rank highly for some technical term of art, and the SEO practitioner delivers. Turns out there is little competition, and no traffic.

Ranking highly for the right keywords is important. #1 is less critical than it once was, because Google is providing more information about the other highly placed rankings. But in any case, being on the first page for a highly relevant keyword will deliver much better actual results than being in the #1 spot for a term nobody else uses.

Bolt-on SEO

Frustration is being asked to do something when it’s too late. Imagine you are a plumber and someone asks you to do the piping for a construction project. They’ll call you when they are ready. You finally get the call, but it turns out they’ve already poured the foundation. You mention that the pipes were supposed to go first. The concrete is poured around them. “oh that’s okay” the builder tells you, “just bolt the pipes on top.”

It doesn’t work. The water comes into the house under the foundation, and is distributed through the piping system. SEO works with the content, not on top of it. Adding page titles and tags to an existing website may have some positive effect, but that isn’t really optimizing the site.

This can be one of the most deceptive failures, as a good SEO will get you better results for some of those keywords that can be found in the existing content. This could show up in the traffic, and possibly lead to some good rankings. But this all will hide the fact that the major part of the most important audience has probably been missed entirely.

Sadly, it is often the people who have tried doing SEO this way who later tell each other that SEO doesn’t really work. It works, you just didn’t try it.

SEO without a true Web Content Strategy

It’s no secret that our focus here is on web content strategy first, then SEO as it supports that strategy. You can try it the other way, producing content to fill any gaps that keyword research might suggest, but this will eventually create a massive heap of content that doesn’t quite work together. Start with web content strategy, and incorporate SEO into that strategy for your best chance at success.

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