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10 Major SEO Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

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10 Major SEO Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Are you making these SEO mistakes?

If you are, you should be aware. These are big mistakes—ones that could affect your chances of ranking higher on the search engines.

Continue reading to find out if they apply to your SEO and learn how to avoid them:

  1. Not doing keyword research
  2. Not matching search intent
  3. Targeting keywords that are too difficult
  4. Not building enough backlinks
  5. Breaking Google’s Terms of Service when building links
  6. Missing internal link opportunities
  7. Not letting Google crawl your content
  8. Not letting Google index your content
  9. Having an extremely slow site
  10. Treating SEO as a one-time thing

1. Not doing keyword research

Many website owners randomly create content and think they’ll get search traffic. But if nobody’s searching for those topics, then they won’t be clicking through to any pages.

Translation: zero search traffic.

That’s likely one of the reasons why 90.63% of pages get no traffic from Google, according to our study.

Pie chart showing 90.63% of pages get no organic search traffic from Google

Meaning, if you want search traffic, your content needs to be about topics people are searching for.

How do you find these topics? Keyword research.

Keyword research is the process of understanding the language your target customers use when searching for your products, services, and content. It is the only way to figure out what people are typing into search engines so that you can create content around it.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Before you publish any page (for search traffic), make sure the page targets a keyword with search traffic potential.

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Here’s how to find these keywords:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or a few relevant keywords related to your website or niche (e.g., if you’re selling coffee, then such keywords can be coffee, cappuccino, latte, etc)
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
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List of keywords with corresponding data like KD, volume, etc

Here, there are more than 4 million potential keywords you can target. Look through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant and have traffic potential (look at the TP column).

If you’re looking for informational keywords you can create blog posts around, click the Questions tab:

"Questions" tab in Matching terms report

2. Not matching search intent

Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant result for every query.

That means if you want to rank high on Google, you need to be the most relevant result for the query. In actionable terms, it means your content needs to align with search intent.

Search intent is the why behind a search query. In other words, why did the person do this search?

Here’s an example. If we look for “best frying pans” on Google, we’ll see the results are mostly blog posts about the best frying pans:

SERP overview for "best frying pans"

Google knows that users searching for this query are looking to compare, not buy. So if you’re an e-commerce store that sells frying pans, Google will likely not rank your category page for this query—simply because it’s not what users want.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Before you create any content, make sure you’re aligning with search intent. And since no one understands search intent better than Google, the best starting point is to analyze the current top-ranking results for the three Cs of search intent:

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1. Content type

Content types usually fall into one of five buckets: blog post, product, category, landing page, or video. For example, the top-ranking pages for “nike air jordans” are all category pages:

SERP overview for "nike air jordans"

Searchers are in buying mode. If you want to rank for this keyword, it’s likely you’ll have to follow suit—create a category page.

2. Content format

Content format applies mostly to blog posts, as they’re usually how-tos, listicles, news articles, opinion pieces, or reviews.

For example, the top-ranking pages for the topic “kettlebell swing” are mostly how-to guides:

SERP overview for "kettlebell swing"

3. Content angle

Content angle refers to the main “selling point” of the content. For example, people searching for “how to make fried rice” seem to want the cooking process to be easy:

SERP overview for "how to make fried rice"

3. Targeting keywords that are too difficult

An SEO joke goes like this: “The best place to hide a dead body is on page 2 of Google.”

Hidden within the joke is a kernel of truth—no one clicks beyond the first page of Google. That means for every keyword you want to target, there are only 10 spots for you to grab. (That number is even smaller these days, with Google introducing all kinds of SERP features.)

The situation is ultra-competitive.

Not for every keyword, though. Of course, some keywords are highly desirable, so every website in those relevant niches wants to rank for the keywords. To rank well here, you really need to compete hard, which usually means you need tons of resources. Other keywords are less competitive, so it’s easier to rank for them.

The mistake is thinking you can simply rank for a keyword without considering the competition. Now, I’m not saying you should avoid targeting a keyword because it’s competitive. If a keyword is important to your website and makes you money, you should target it.

But build up to those competitive keywords gradually. Start by prioritizing those keywords that are less competitive and you can rank for with your skills and resources.

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How to avoid this SEO mistake

As you’re looking for keywords in Keywords Explorer, you can filter them by Keyword Difficulty (KD).

KD is an SEO metric that estimates how hard it is to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.

KD filter in Matching terms report

Which KD range should you set?

The correct answer is it depends on many factors: the authority of your website, your ability to build backlinks, and more.

However, a good exercise you can consider is to look up the KD scores of the keywords that your website is already ranking for.

You can do this by entering your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and visiting the Organic keywords report:

Organic keywords report results for Ahrefs' blog

This will give you a nice benchmark. But bear in mind this is just an estimate. It is no substitute for an actual study of the top-ranking pages and factoring in your own SEO skills and available resources.

4. Not building enough backlinks to rank

Links are an important Google ranking factor. Google’s Andrey Lipattsev confirmed it himself:

Excerpt of article talking about Google's top three ranking signals

So, if you find that your pages are not ranking as high as you like, a key reason can simply be that you don’t have enough links.

For example, at Ahrefs, we would like to rank for the keyword “seo.” But if you look at the top-ranking pages for that keyword, they have tons (emphasis on tons) of backlinks.

SERP overview for "seo"

As of right now, our page simply doesn’t have enough:

Site Explorer overview for Ahrefs' beginner's guide to SEO

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Reach out to people who may be interested in your content and persuade them to link to you.

Here’s how you can find these people:

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  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
  2. Search for your topic

For example, if we search for “french press,” you’ll see around 590,000 pages you can target.

Content Explorer search results for "french press"

That’s probably too many pages to look through, so let’s add a few filters to narrow the results down:

  • Domain Rating score: 30–90
  • Website traffic: 500+
  • Words: 500+
  • Language: English
  • One page per domain – Checked
  • Exclude homepages – Checked
  • Exclude subdomains – Checked
  • Live & Broken – Only live
  • Filter explicit results – On
Content Explorer search results with filters applied for "french press"

This reduces the number of pages to ~16,000 of the best ones. If this number is still too daunting for you, then you can always play around with the filters until you get a number you’re comfortable with.

When you have a list you’re satisfied with, go through each page and see if your article can add value as a resource. If the answer is yes, reach out to the writer or website owner and see if you can persuade them to link to your article.

5. Breaking Google’s Terms of Service when building links

You understand that links are important, so you’re actively building them. But along the way, you discover that some people ask for something in return for linking to your content.

Excerpt of email to Tim asking for something in exchange for a link

You know that buying backlinks is a no-no. But what about giving them something else in return, such as a reciprocal backlink or even one of your products? If it’s not cold, hard cash, it should be fine… right? After all, it’s kind of like giving away a free product to an influencer, hoping that they will give your brand a shout-out on their socials.

Right?

Unfortunately, no. According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, link schemes include:

  • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes:
    • Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
    • Exchanging goods or services for links
    • Sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing it and including a link
  • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.

So even if you’re not handing over fiat, it’s against Google’s Terms of Service—and you may get your site penalized.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Promiscuous websites that readily exchange something in return for a link will usually leave a detectable footprint, which will sooner or later get picked up by Google and lead to a “link selling” penalty.

Simply put: Don’t offer payments or products when you’re doing your outreach.

6. Missing internal link opportunities

Internal links are important. Why?

  • Google uses them to discover new content.
  • They aid the flow of PageRank around your site. Generally speaking, the more internal links a page has, the higher its PageRank.
  • Google looks at the anchor texts of internal links to better understand the context. (It also looks at the text surrounding the anchor to understand the context.)

Yet, given all of these benefits, internal links are more often than not never prioritized. That’s a major mistake.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Each time you publish a new page or post, do a site: search on your website to find other relevant content so that you can add internal links.

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For example, I recently published a post about how to create a buyer persona. To find potential internal link opportunities, I’ll do a search on our blog:

Google SERP showing site:search results for term "buyer persona" on Ahrefs' blog

When I click through to our “go-to-market strategy” post, I see there are relevant anchors where I can add internal links:

Excerpt of an article showing potential anchor text

Doing this one by one for every post can be pretty troublesome. So a better way is to run a crawl on your site using Ahrefs’ Site Audit. (It’s free if you sign up for Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.) Once your crawl is done, go to the Link opportunities report.

Link opportunities report results

This report will show you relevant internal link opportunities. Go through the list and add internal links where relevant and wherever it feels natural.

7. Not letting Google crawl your content

If Google can’t crawl your content, it won’t be able to rank the said content.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Make sure you’re not blocking Googlebot from crawling your site.

Do this check by going to your robots.txt (yourdomain.com/robots.txt) and looking for these two snippets of code:

User-agent: Googlebot
Disallow: /

User-agent: *
Disallow: /

Both lines of code tell Googlebot it’s not allowed to crawl any pages on your site. To fix the issue, remove them.

8. Not letting Google index your content

No matter how hard you try, you can’t win if you’re not in the game. If your site or its pages are not indexed by Google, you can’t rank.

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That can happen, for example, if you’ve accidentally added a noindex tag on any of your pages. (Or perhaps, you or your developer added the tags during staging and forgot to remove them!)

Gif showing noindex tag that was added to a webpage

How to avoid this SEO mistake

You can use Google Search Console to check whether a specific page is indexed. To do that, paste the URL into the URL Inspection tool.

If the page is not indexed, the tool will state: “URL is not on Google.”

Example of “URL is not on Google” message shown in GSC

Alternatively, you can also run a crawl using Ahrefs’ Site Audit (via AWT). If you have pages that are noindexed, that will pop up as an issue:

Examples of some issues found by AWT

9. Having an extremely slow site

Page speed is a Google ranking factor. So are Core Web Vitals—metrics that are part of Google’s Page Experience signals used to measure user experience.

Not only will a slow site affect your Google rankings, but it will also impact your sales. According to Unbounce, nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.

How to avoid this SEO mistake

Run a website crawl using Site Audit (with AWT), and you can see how fast (or slow) your pages are:

Pie charts showing data on TTFB and load time distribution, respectively

You can also use other page speed testing tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrix.

Then follow the guide below to learn the different tactics you can use to improve your page speed.

10. Treating SEO as a one-time thing

SEO is not simply a matter of fixing the above nine mistakes and calling it a day.

Even if you’re ranking in pole position today, there is no guarantee that you’ll be number #1 tomorrow. Ranking high on search engines is a competition. Your competitors will be working hard and investing plenty of resources to knock you off the perch.

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How to avoid this SEO mistake

SEO is an ongoing process. You’ll need to make a consistent effort to rank high and grow your search traffic.

That means you need an SEO strategy.

Creating an SEO strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be a plan you can execute over and over again. As such, we recommend following what we call the “Orchard Strategy.”

Here’s the process:

  1. Plant trees (pages)
  2. Pick low-hanging fruits (first-page keyword rankings)
  3. Squeeze more juice out of them (optimize)

Read the post below to learn more about how to execute the strategy:

Keep learning

You now have an understanding of what major SEO mistakes you could be making and how to avoid them. If you want to dig deeper and continue learning, check out these resources:

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How To Create Your Instagram Content Plan

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How To Create Your Instagram Content Plan

Are your Instagram posts not bringing desired results?

Then maybe you need to think about reshaping your strategy and create a content plan.

Content plans can help guide how you release content to make sure you’re hitting certain goals and help your content perform better.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to create a content plan that increases brand reach and conversions on Instagram. You’ll also learn some helpful tips to help boost your content.

1. Define Your Goal

The first thing you want to do is create your Instagram goal or goals.

What do you want to accomplish? Is it to grow your audience, drive more engagement, or generate sales?

Once you figure out your plan, you’ll be better prepared to tailor your content to meet those goals.

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Then, you can set the key performance indicators (KPIs) to mark different points of analysis you want to observe along with your Instagram campaign.

After you select your goal and some KPIs, it’s beneficial to break down your goal into different milestones you would like to reach along the way.

For example, let’s say you want to grow your audience by 20% by the end of the quarter.

What are some milestones along the way you can mark to achieve that goal? What types of content, topics, or content series can you create to increase engagement?

Now, that you’ve done some brainstorming, it’s time to start building your content calendar.

2. Plan Your Content Calendar

A content calendar is important because it’s your roadmap to guide your path, help you meet your goals, and set an end date for a campaign.

This way, you’ll know when you’ve met your goal and can readjust and analyze ways to improve your content strategy for your next campaign.

In addition, a content calendar can help keep ideas and campaigns organized, help you identify any content gaps, and help build consistency (which is critical for Instagram).

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When creating your content plan for the month, quarter, or recent campaign, it’s helpful to plot out which days of the week you want to talk about what.

Next, choose the topic and then form the right caption.

Break content planning into smaller actionable steps makes it easier to make a content calendar.

Then, if you have your goals, topics laid out, and captions, you can move to the next step: Create the necessary pictures or videos.

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Finally, you can compile your topics, days you’re posting, and captions and hashtags into a simple Google, Word, or Excel doc so you can easily copy and paste when you’re ready to schedule out your content.

Bonus Tip: Align Your Content With Marketing Initiatives

If you already have some marketing initiatives, it’s the perfect time to incorporate them into your marketing campaign. For example, maybe you have a new product release.

Then, you can create a content series for that. Create a couple of posts teasing the release of the product, include a giveaway, have an influence to promote your product or a video with them using it, and market those benefits.

Events or holidays are another great way to get consumers engaged and turn more consumers into customers.

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If you have an event coming up, you can create a campaign hyping the event and discussing the speakers involved, products that will be there, or awesome grab bags you’re giving away at the event.

Holidays are another fun and positive way to get customers talking about your brand. Holiday giveaways or deals are another way to grow brand awareness and gain followers.

3. Keep A Consistent Theme And Tone

Creating a tone or brand guide can be an effective way to make sure you keep posts consistent. You also want to maintain a similar theme throughout your posts, including style, font, and colors.

For inspiration, you can look at your website, content, and logos to help create the proper tone and theme for your posts.

In addition, Instagram has the tools in stories that can help you get a color scheme that complements your brand.

You also want to think about the look of your content for both pictures and videos. Consider a consistent angle or filter to set the right tone and look for your content.

It’s also vital to think about your messaging, whether it’s for captions, comments, or responses to direct messages.

It’s crucial to have a standard operating procedure for how you respond to consumers on Instagram, especially if you have multiple people responding to comments and messages, to ensure it’s within the brand’s tone.

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4. Showcase Your Creativity

IG is more than just a photo-sharing app. There are many different ways to create content for Instagram that can highlight your brand and increase engagement.

Let’s talk through them and share some tips on when to use them.

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As you know, Instagram has pictures. Pictures are a great way to showcase products. It’s also great for sharing quotes, posing questions you answer in your image caption, or promoting deals or giveaways.

Videos are an excellent way to show sneak peeks of something coming up or create product teasers. You can also use videos for business BTS and show how to best use your product.

You can use Instagram Reels, or short videos, to showcase products, share stories, and grow your audience.

IGTV or Instagram TV are longer videos on an Instagram feed. Brands use these to go more in-depth into describing a particular topic.

Instagram Shopping is a feature that allows consumers to shop your products through your photos and videos.

Brands can create product tags and product launches where consumers can purchase products straight through Instagram.

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Then, customers don’t have to take the step to leave Instagram to go to your website. Instead, they can quickly buy through the app.

Stories are photos or videos that last 24 hours (unless you add them to your highlights on your profile) where you can share posts from your profile or post new content. It’s a popular way to gain more followers and engage with consumers.

User-Generated Content or content created by influences, customers, or other users is a great way to extend your reach to different audiences and further promote your products.

People are more intrigued to learn about a new product if it’s promoted by someone they already follow.

Likewise, it can help build trust with consumers new to your brand if they see a post by a customer who already loves it.

But what content goes viral? It can be beneficial to look at what your competitors are people on Instagram creating and put your brand’s unique twist on it.

5. Craft Compelling Captions And CTAs

While it’s great to have high-quality pictures and engaging videos, the captions and call to action still matter.

If you hooked the consumer with your picture or video, you want to reel them in with your caption and CTA.

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It’s essential to take time crafting the right CTA to ensure consumers follow your page, engage with your post, or purchase your product.

6. Choose The Correct Hashtags

It’s also crucial to research and choose the right hashtags to ensure your posts reach the intended audience and some new ones that might be interested in your brand.

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Hashtags allow your content to reach users beyond your profile’s following. As you create content for specific hashtags, note which posts perform particularly well.

That way, you can create future posts for specific hashtags that will increase your content’s visibility.

7. Know The Best Time To Post

Planning posts ahead of time can help alleviate some stress of social media strategy.

You can use Meta Business Suites to schedule posts for Facebook and Instagram and set posts for a week or a couple of weeks.

If you’re unsure when to post, they have suggested days and times where analysis points to where you’ll get the most engagement and views.

Although, it would be beneficial to do some research specific to your industry to see the best time and day to make your posts.

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One important thing to keep in mind when you’re planning your content is the upcoming holidays.

Are you going to make a post celebrating the holiday, use the holiday to do a promotion or give away, or choose not to post on that day altogether?

No matter what you pick, it’s important to keep holidays in mind.

8. Measure Results And Adjust

Instagram Insights, both on the app and through Meta Business Suites, can show how many views a post gets and statistics on the engagement with the posts to help you see which types of content are working best. You can see your content’s likes, shares, comments, and saves.

Brands can also use Insights to get metrics on the paid activity. Insights are a great way to see trends so that you can adjust your content strategy.

You’ll also be able to see metrics into your followers to see how many you’re receiving, the age of your followers, and information on when they are most active online. This way, you can adjust the times you post to ensure you are better at reaching your audience.

Wrapping Up

Content planning is the best way to help boost reach and engagement on Instagram.

Creating a content calendar inspired by current marketing objectives and tailoring your content with a theme backed by metrics is the best way to help meet your goals.

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More Resources:


Featured Image: alinabuphoto/Shutterstock

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