As SEO pros, we are often called upon to review websites for searchability, ease of use, readibility, and more. Amazingly, we see the same common errors over and over–on thousands of sites. This article is devoted to the most heinous, most fatal, and most avoidable SEO mistakes–and how to avoid them.
1. Don’t Use Flash Intros
A Flash intro is an animated introductory graphic produced with Adobe’s flash standard. Flash intros can be visually stunning–but they are search engine death. Truly, a flash intro is one of the most damaging decisions a website owner can make. One can just imagine the web designer pitching a flash intro in 2001, “a Flash intro will dazzle your clients, and they’ll be so impressed that they will click through and visit your site.”
The problem is obvious: the search engines don’t read flash. Of course, some argue that the search engines are improving their ability to read flash; nevertheless, they aren’t there yet. A further problem is that a Flash animation takes time to complete–some web designers actually place the Flash intro *before* the actual content that the reader is seeking. It is an untenable proposition that a customer should be and can be expected to wait for the content they are seeking.
A home page should ideally be “search engine candy”–and it is quite easy to do. A home page should be written with lean, standards-compliant code, and should be rich with keywords and information. A home page will always enjoy a higher pagerank than any other page on your site, so your best opportunity to rank highly for key terms is with your home page.
2.a. Don’t Title Your Home Page “Home”
A <title> tag is coded tag that is used to define the text in the top line of a Web browser, also used by many search engines as the title of search listings (it’s very important for search engine placement, as well as click-throughs from search engine results pages). Many uninformed web designers and DIY designers apply the <title> tag “home” to the homepage of a site. Some of the free hosting services set the title tag to “home” by default.
Unless your customers are searching for the term “home”–they aren’t going to find you if your title tag is improperly set.
2.b. Don’t Title Your Home Page the Name of Your Business
Similarly, you should not set your title tag to be solely the name of your business; the title tag should draw on key terms your customers are searching for. The title tag carries great weight–so it’s search engine gold–don’t waste it on a phrase (your business name or phone number) that you’ll rank for anyway.
The theory goes like this: if someone already knows the name of your business, they will find you anyway–you don’t need to draw that person to your website. Conversely, a new customer doesn’t know you–they only know that they need, say, a carpet cleaner in Austin, TX.
Think for a moment, what will that customer’s search phrase be? If they don’t know your name, they’ll search for “austin carpet cleaning”, or some variant of that phrase.
A Very Bad Title Tag:
And so, a bad title tag is the following (this one’s real):
Carpet Mills Of America – Home
A Very Good Title Tag:
And a great title tag is the following (again, it’s real):
Austin Carpet Cleaning – Steam Cleaning, No Soap Or Odor, Fast Drying!
This second title tag above ranks #1 in Google for the phrase “Austin Carpet Cleaning,” while the poorly written title tag does not rank at all except for “Carpet Mills of America “–but so what? Carpet Mills of America could rank for that term anyway without wasting the ever-valuable title tag.
The good tag above has another notable feature: it doesn’t even include the name of the business! Well, they don’t need it in the title tag. This company is enjoying high conversion rates, high Google rankings, and high click-throughs for the most important and popular keyword phrase in their market. So, why would they need the name of their business in their title tag?
Your title tag should be based upon the keywords that generate the greatest number of searches thereby generating the greatest number of visitors. Your company name should certainly be included in the main body of your text, just not in the title tag.
3. Don’t Use Java Menus
Java is a scripting/programming language used in website development. Java is often used to create interactive menus that change colors, or drop down or expand when clicked.
The trouble with Java menus is, again, that search engines don’t read them–it’s like having an invisible navigation structure. Navigation menus are the “roads” by which a search engine crawls to all your pages. A search engine will rank your pages based upon those navigation routes.
4. Don’t Forget Text
It surprises us that despite the obvious importance of searchability on the internet, designers still design pages with heavy graphic components and eschew more reliable text-based components. Again, search engines can’t read pictures, although they can read image tags. A navigation menu based on a graphic is invisible to search engines. Search engines love to read text. Text gives the search engines a context and a set of words by which a search engine can classify–and then serve up to clients–a website. Text is the most powerful tool and should be used over graphics, java, and Flash whenever possible.
5. Don’t Target the Wrong Keywords
A potential customer searching for a business will use a search phrase–if you know what that search phrase is, you can have that customer. If you don’t know that search phrase, the customer goes to someone else. Obviously, you want to know what people are searching for. Collectively, there will be thousands of searches (depending on the size of the marketplace, of course). The businesses that win on the web are the ones that target the most popular search phrases, the high-volume phrases.
If you are a local business, you have a good start because the name of your town is likely part of the search phrase (like with “Austin Carpet Cleaners”). If your high-volume phrases are obvious, you are in luck. If they aren’t, you’ll need to do some research on search volume.
Best of luck,