We've all been there; steadily working away at the optimisation of a website, a process that can take weeks and months before any noticeable effect takes place. Still, everything looks good – your site is gaining more traffic all the time, either at a steady increase or in leaps and bounds. You're really kicking your content up a notch, creating the kind of persuasive writing that would make Don Draper take a step back, optimised to that perfect standard so you're providing that rarity of excellent, informative content that can actually be found by your audience.
Suddenly, it's like you've run head-first into a wall. Your traffic stops growing and, in most circumstances, it starts to plummet. Sure, you've got a few die-hard fans still accessing your site, but you aren't attracting any new customers, you aren't making any new sales and you aren't convincing many of those who do arrive at your site to convert.
You search Google for any evidence of a sneaky algorithm change – nothing. You check your keywords and your content links and they are fine. Could it be a technical problem, made months ago, and only just starting to have a negative effective on your optimisation?
As a team of search engine optimisers, we thought we'd put our heads together and list some of the most common SEO disasters that we've come across in the recent past, in the hopes that you might be able to turn your SEO around before it's too late.
Preventable SEO Disasters And eCommerce Websites
Many of the most common issues to occur with eCommerce sites occur due to a lack of professional SEO training – you might be able to pick up the basics as you go along but, if you are dedicated to undertaking your own website's optimisation, you definitely need to make sure that you know what you are doing when it comes to specific problems and issues that are likely to develop.
- Nofollow And Noindex Issues
Every time you add a link to a page on your site, you have the option of adding a tag which reads “nofollow". Simply, this tag tells the search engine's algorithms not to follow that link or associate it with your site. In the same way, you can apply a “noindex" tag, or a robots.txt file, that informs the search engine that you don't want the page to be indexed. Essentially, this will take that page out of Google's search results and nullify any SEO value – either positive or negative – that it would provide.
If misused, or applied by mistake, these two tags can be hugely dangerous to a website's rankings. Most of the time, in fact, we'd recommend that you don't use them at all. Of course, there are tactically advantages to using these in specific links or on specific pages. The major problems develop when they are accidentally put in the wrong place, thereby destroying or, at least, having a negative effect on your site's overall SEO value.
Commonly, the issue only really appears it you decide to use a specific code to automatically add tags to certain kinds of pages, rather than by doing it manually, or if you copy the page's tags as part of a template layout used by another page on your site. This issue can backfire both ways; i.e. by adding a noindex or nofollow tag where they aren't needed or by removing them when they were put into place for a specific reason.
- Limited Changes In Content, Particularly The H1
For the most part, your website's CMS will be unlikely to let you use actual font sizes. Instead, it is likely that you will have a few different options to choose from, as in preset styles revolving around headers, subheading and even the content itself.
The H1 preset (Heading 1) is only meant to be used for the title at the top of the page, which can either be the actual page's title or the headline for a blog post – it depends upon the format of the page.
Google and other search engines use the H1 to determine what a page is all about, so you need to ensure that your H1 text contains your keywords or, at least, presents the content that you have created in an engaging manner. Not only will this have an effect on your reader's satisfaction with your content, but it will help Google to work out how useful the page will be to a reader.
However, not everyone seems to understand this. When someone edits an old page and either; a.) Changes the H1 without effectively changing the content to match, or b.) Changes the content without really changing the H1 to match, you can find an older page really starting to drag you down.
This can particularly be a problem if you, or a new writer, decided to make changes revolving around the keywords in use. On a high-performing page, even the slightest change can really make a difference across your entire site.
Remember, before you make any changes to older content, to re-evaluate the value of the keywords in question.
- Broken Redirects And Ineffective 301s
One of the most common search engine optimisation errors that I've come across, particularly for older sites, is that an old URL no longer contains the webpage or the content that it was supposed to. Whether this is because the URL structure of your website has been changed, you've moved the page to a new URL or you have just decided that you don't want that page anymore, it is a common problem when moving and reorganising websites.
The major problem is that old links around the web still tend to direct towards the previous URL and it will be seen as a dead end, for users as well as Google. This can really have an impact on your site's search engine optimisation overall. There are a few simple ways to get around this problem, the most common being the setup of a 301 redirect.
However, if your site has gone through a few refreshes, you may need to refresh your 301s to make certain that they lead to the new URLs. Developers and web writers often forget about 301s that are multiple versions old. However, you can be assured that Google's redirects do not.
- Changes To Links
Just like changing H1 tags and other edits, adjusting the content on older pages can often involve changing or removing links. Your internal links, navigation layout and external linkages are the lifeblood of your optimisation efforts.
Before you, or anyone else, makes any real changes to your site's content, take the time to double-check how that might affect the rest of your site. This includes the removal of pages altogether.
- A Low-Quality Sitemap
Sitemaps, whilst almost useless to a user, are the things which help search engines to find specific pages and posts on your website. The larger your site grows, the more search engines will be required to rely on it.
People often forget about sitemaps, but if one is full of errors then you could really be making it difficult for Google's algorithms to effectively crawl your site, and search for pages which might not even be there anymore.
Optimising Your Site For Google And Other Search Engines
These are just five of the most common issues to arise with regards to SEO campaigns, and they are typically the result of user error or system automation. It is worth noting, however, that these SEO disasters are usually the kind to develop within an effective SEO campaign – you might suffer from these problems even if you don't create content for optimisation purposes, but without intelligently written, useful content, you will struggle to gain any traction with regards to your SEM efforts.
If you don't like the idea of partnering up with an experienced SEO agency, then you need to at least consider the advantages of digital marketing training. Even the beginner's lessons will help to put you on the right track with your optimisation. Once your site has a good, strong foundation, then you can concentrate more directly on the specific aspects of your online presence.