8 Stupid Mistakes You Make When Optimizing Your Website

Just to be clear. I’m not saying that you are stupid. Just some of the things you do are stupid.

Like that time in Austin, Texas when you were sleepwalking through the hallways of that hotel. Because you didn’t have your glasses on, you couldn’t see the numbers on the door and weren’t able to find your way back to the room. And you were naked. Now that’s the kind of stupid I’m talking about.

We all…wait, are you saying I am the only one that happened to?

(Insert awkward silence here)

Well, regardless. The specifics don’t matter. My point is that we all do some pretty stupid stuff. All of us.

And that includes a lot of the actions you take in your quest to increase the traffic to your website. In fact, even with the best of intentions, many of the things you are doing to help your website are actually hurting it.

So, in an effort to stop you from the proverbial naked stroll through the hallway (whatever the search engine optimization equivalent of that is), here are eight of the stupidest mistakes you make when optimizing your website.

Stupid Mistake #1: Rely on SEO for All of Your Traffic

Search engines can’t be ignored. We all get that. But what most of us may not know is that search engines only amount to an average of about 40% of our traffic each month. And if my math is correct, that means 60% of our traffic comes from other sources like referrals, e-mail marketing, social media, offline marketing and several other methods.

Search engines are merely piece of the puzzle. Granted, they are a big piece, but if your plan is to rely solely on search engines for all of your traffic, you are setting yourself up for failure.

The problem with focusing all of your efforts on search engine traffic is that it puts you in a very vulnerable position. Search engine results are fluid. There are a lot of moving parts. A change in the algorithm or an aggressive competitor is sometimes all it takes to knock you off page one, possibly putting you out of business if there is no Plan B.

A successful strategy for increasing traffic is one that includes several other online methods including:

  • A consistent e-mail marketing plan
  • A small (but strategic) Adwords campaign
  • A strong social media presence
  • A valuable and informative blog

But that’s not enough. You should also have an offline strategy for driving traffic to your website as well. For example:

  • Local networking events where you can meet other like-minded professionals
  • Direct mail that drives people to your website for information or discounts
  • Speaking engagements
  • Writing articles for locals newspapers and magazines

Not all of these are going to work for every possible industry, but you can’t cross it off your list until you have at least tried it and have proof that it doesn’t work. So try everything.

Diversifying your traffic in such a way will make you invincible to any environmental or technological changes online.

Stupid Mistake #2: Optimize Your Site Using Keywords Based on Traffic and Competition

For most of us, search engine optimization is all about targeting the right keywords. The idea is that if you can find keyword phrases that are high in traffic but low in competition you won’t have a care in the world. Not so.

Ranking well for a keyword only because it gets a lot traffic is not a good enough reason to optimize your site for it. Last I checked, traffic does not pay the rent. Quality visitors interested in purchasing your product or service do. Which would you rather have? One hundred visitors a day with no interest in what you are offering or one visitor a day ready to make a purchase?

What I am suggesting is to see the problem a little differently. Rather than doing extensive keyword research to find words to target, try doing extensive people research to find the specific types of visitors you want to target.

Knowing more about the people you want to target will help you determine a lot about how they search and what they expect to see when they get to your site. For example:

  • You know what language to speak
  • You know what problems they need solved
  • You know what words they are searching
  • You know how to exceed their expectations
  • You know how to connect with them

Speaking to visitors in their language, solving their problems, using the words they are searching, exceeding their expectations and connecting with them is how you build a relationship through search. And we all know that people like to do business with those they feel a connection to.

It’s just an added bonus that, because you specifically targeted them, they are people that you want to do business with as well!

Stupid Mistake #3: Think SEO Stops as Soon as Someone Lands on Your Website

When it comes to search engine optimization, there is so much talk about how to get visitors to your site but very little about what to do with them when they get there. If you don’t have a specific plan for your visitors once they land on your site, all of your efforts are wasted.

We all know that a website is a sales tool. But that doesn’t mean you have to make your visitors feel as though they are being sold to at every turn. If your website is the digital equivalent of that annoying pre-pubescent teen standing at the doorway of The Gap trying to upsell you on a belt, it’s time for a change.

New visitors land on your site in an effort to solve a problem. Their problem, not yours. So when you start out by trying too hard to sell them or give them the 100-year history of your company, chances are that you are going to lose them. Even if you have the solution to their problem.

First and foremost, your website needs to:

  • Educate visitors
  • Position you as an expert in your industry
  • Give your visitors a voice by allowing them to leave comments on your blog
  • Showcase your quality of work through images and videos
  • Increase your credibility through your design and testimonials

Make sure that you are setting specific goals of what you want your visitors to do and be sure you are measuring them (without making “Stupid Mistake #4” of course).

Stupid Mistake #4: Spend Too Much Time Looking At Reports and Analytics

This was a typical day in the life of my blog. I would first publish a new post before counting to five and running over to Google Analytics to see my stats. Next, I would Tweet the post and refresh Google Analytics again to see if anyone clicked on the Tweet that I just posted four seconds earlier. Finally, I would share it on Facebook and then, you guessed it, check Google Analytics again.

Sound familiar?

This would go on throughout the course of the day. Every day. Weekends too. And do you know where all of that effort got me? Absolutely nowhere.

Stats are great provided that you are able to see them for what they are. Numbers. A mathematical formula that gives you a small window into what is happening with your website. They tell a story, just not the whole story.

You see, what happens when we get obsessed by statistics is that we find ourselves making decisions based solely on those numbers:

  • We stop writing for our target audience and start writing to generate traffic. Any kind of traffic.
  • We take to social media to see if we can squeeze out a few more visitors by over-sharing our posts instead of engaging with our communities.
  • We become tinkerers. Constantly changing little things thinking they might make a difference.
  • We use questionable SEO tactics in order to increase the quantity of visitors at the expense of the quality of visitors.

Some of which might get us the result we want (more traffic) but not the result we need (more customers).

Instead, spend 15-20 minutes each week looking at your stats. Review the number of visitors, what pages they frequent, the terms they searched to find you, their location, your bounce rate and any other information that could be valuable to you.

Learn from it. But take it with a grain of salt. Allow it to alter your plan but not control it.

Stupid Mistake #5: Blog Everyday Thinking More Content Equals Higher Rankings

It goes a little something like this. The more content you create, the more often your site will show up in a search. The more often your site shows up in a search, the more your traffic increases. The more your traffic increases, the more your phone rings. The more your phone rings, the more successful you are. The more successful you are, the better you look at your high school reunion.

In theory it sounds great. But it doesn’t work.

All of this assumes that you will be writing extraordinary content each day. Not counting weekends, that is 260 groundbreaking posts each year. It’s not sustainable. Eventually you are going to have a hard time coming up with a topic. Or your quality is going to suffer. Or you are going to miss a deadline. Or you are just going to burn out.

Eventually, your content is going to become mediocre. At best. And visitors don’t share mediocre content. They only share extraordinary content. This is where your efforts need to go.

Write every day, but only publish once or twice a week. Write extraordinary stuff. Stuff that matters. Stuff that is thought provoking. Stuff that is educational. Entertaining. Different. Cutting edge. Valuable. Controversial.

Stuff that makes other people wish they wrote it.

Do that and your website will be an overwhelming success for readers and search engines alike.

Stupid Mistake #6: Think You Are Smarter Than Google and Can Beat the System

This one is for all of you “SEO Rockstars” out there. If you honestly think that you can beat the system and cut to the front of the line because of some “flavor of the month” SEO technique you uncovered, boy are you in for a surprise.

I see it all of the time.

In nearly every workshop I teach, there is one person in the group that is there because they lost 90% of their traffic overnight. You can tell who they are by the bags under their eyes and their tear-stained collar. And because they always ask the same question:

“What’s the fastest way to get my ranking back?”

Some people never learn.

Even the dumbest person at Google had a higher IQ as a fetus than the rest of us do now as grown men and women. Stop trying to outsmart them. Whatever hole you are able to find in the boat today will inevitably be plugged tomorrow.

All you have to do is look at the past.

There was a time when you could write a few crappy articles and post them all over the web and in no time find yourself on page one. Until of course the Google Panda update smacked you well into next week. So you moved onto link building and the theory that he who has the most links wins. At least until the Google Penguin update danced all over your hopes and dreams.

It’s not worth it.

These shortcuts offer nothing but a little short-term gain with a lot of long-term pain. The results won’t last.

You must approach search engine optimization ethically and morally. It may seem like a lot of work, but if you look at the long-term gain of consistently building quality content and a community that relies on it you will find that it snowballs.

Much like how compound interest works, if you were to invest a year into turning your website into an incredible resource, you will be untouchable for years to come.

Stupid Mistake #7: Think too Much “Today” and Not Enough “Tomorrow”

The reason most of us do what we do is because of what it will give us right now. Skip the gym and sleep in because it feels good right now. Get that extra scoop of ice cream because it tastes good right now. Take the short cut because of what it will do for your business right now.

It is the sum of all of these “cheats” that creates enormous problems for you in the future.

The smartest thing you could do for your business is to future-proof your online marketing efforts. Stop searching for short cuts and put in the work now with the faith that you will get the results you want. So you won’t be adversely affected each time there is a new algorithm change. So new technology will only enhance your current standing.

So you can sleep at night.

Stupid Mistake #8: Worry More About What Google Thinks Than What Your Visitor Thinks

Want to know what “SEO friendly text” looks like? It goes a little something like this:

“Carpet Munchers is a professional landscaping company in New Jersey that focuses on professional landscaping in New Jersey. So if you are looking for a professional landscaping company in New Jersey, look no further as we are known as the premier professional landscaping company in New Jersey.”

And this is what so many websites sound like in a poor attempt to try and give Google what we think it wants. We write content with Google in mind. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

The problem is that whether it “works” in the eyes of Google or not is irrelevant because even if you did make it to page one with that tragic description of your business, no one in their right mind would hire you. Why? Because you have given your visitor no thought whatsoever. You are not helping them solve a problem. You do not appear to be concerned about their needs or expectations. And of course you sound completely incoherent.

Stop thinking about what Google wants and how you can benefit and start putting your visitors first. Offer them more value than they could possibly imagine through your website. Answer all of the questions that started them searching in the first place.

If you can become an irreplaceable resource for visitors, Google will take notice. Don’t worry.

Bonus Stupid Mistake #9: Leaving This Post Thinking This is a One Sided Conversation

My purpose behind this blog is not to stand on my soapbox and point out the various things I see people screwing up. Granted, I find a lot of joy in that, but it’s not my purpose. My purpose is to lead a conversation and a conversation requires more than one voice.

So, in order for this blog to succeed I am going to need your voice. Your involvement. Your feedback. Your ideas.

If you are struggling with something, ask. If you disagree, debate. If you have something to add, jump right in. That’s what the comments below are for. Please use them!!

We are all here to learn. Including me.

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  • Simon Thompson

    “Stuff that makes other people wish they wrote it.” Anyone with the nerve to mangle the English language in the way that you do Marc and still emerge like Poseidon from the waves has got to be admired. As ever I am swept along wishing to the end that I could emulate your talents.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      You certainly have your own special way of giving a compliment Simon! Mangle the English language huh? You sound like my high school English teacher. I’m not saying there’s no truth to it… :)

  • http://www.iwearspandex.com/ I Wear Spandex

    I don’t get all the hubbub about SEO. I mean, I understand the value, I just don’t understand why so many folks froth at the mouth and tell me that I “have to” do this or that in order to rank higher. I’m not saying you did that here, Marc. In fact, you did the opposite for SEO, which is refreshing.

    I just want to write my content and hope that someone out there gains value from it. I got lucky when I blindly chose my domain name and I gain some traffic from low competition searches, but there are just some searches for “spandex” that you can’t unsee.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      I agree. I read a post today that went on and one about how you have to do your keyword search before writing your blog post so you can pick something popular and then use that keyword as much as you can throughout the post. Regardless of whether it serves your audience.

      That’s what pisses me off about most SEO folks. Who cares what your readers think. Does the subject get enough traffic? Cool, then let’s write about it.

      I disagree. I think you should write what your readers what. If it’s good and valuable, you will show up in a search.

      On my personal blog I have not done any SEO. On purpose. I just write. About 9 months later and over 60% of my traffic comes from search engines. Without even trying. Go figure.

  • MakeupByMerry

    Hi Marc,

    I don’t mind the “mangling” of the English language (and I’m an English Instructor as well as a freelance makeup artist). Glad Simon’s comment was actually a compliment. You adjust to your audience and “speak” in a language I specifically identify with in the blogging and SEO realm. So, about this post… As anticipated, you hit
    some of my personal “best mistakes” – Mistake #1, #2 and #8. I would spend more time on looking at Analytics if I understood the numbers more so, I’m both glad and actually a little embarrassed not to have #4 on my list at all. However, after the grand error I’d made of listening to (and paying!) the remarkably fast-talking SEO rockstars who had been providing me some eLearning tools to build up my shopping site, I am left picking up the pieces and rebuilding. I know SEO does make sense. So does knowing how to use the analytical reports to better understand
    your target audience and which posts really work. Nothing felt more wrong to me than to base my content on popular keyword searches and competition, rather than for the users/visitors. Write for the search engines but put in good content to keep people in there. Say, what? Stupid Mistake #8. When we got to this stage, it pretty much paralyzed
    my writing. (There were other factors involved, so I got out of that scam quickly! And paid the price).

    I used to train key artists on the sales floor to “sell” the brands they were using on the clients. They were artists, not sales associates. Customers already looked up to them as “experts” and would buy because they never tried to “sell”. I based my blog and personal career on that. Customer Care lead to Sales in the end. However, in my eLearning course, I felt like I was being told to “sell items, don’t add personality, and only use the following words and terms”. My gut feeling told me this couldn’t be right, but my inexperience in the SEO and eCommerce department made me ignore the warning signs and listen to those money grabbing “experts”. Result: very little traffic, and a 50% bounce rate. Now, I hope to rescue my online brand and reputation based on my main blog and website which I’d been
    writing without any SEO since 2004. Now, I’m starting from scratch and recovering from my stupidity of trusting such bullies:( I need to get good and authentic content up ASAP now.

    My weaknesses lie on the technical end of putting it all together. HTML codes, duplicate pages, images, aaargh.. I started my career in brand managing and makeup art over 15 yrs ago. Online presence wasn’t talked about then. At least not in my industry. I need help! There are way too many contradicting guides and SEO gurus online. Thanks
    for these posts and your free eBook, Marc!

    I learned the hard way! Hope this helps others starting a blog or online business. I will pass your link on for sure.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Your online store isn’t that much different than a physical store. Suppose you worked at The Gap. Like any store, there are likely items that they want you to sell for one reason or another…high profit margin, a lot in stock, in style, etc. So, as a salesperson you are tasked with selling the latest and greatest skirt that just came out. Do you try and sell everyone that walks in the door? Even men? Or do you adjust based on who is walking into the store?

      The tough part about SEO is that you can’t see who is visiting and adjust on the spot so you need to clearly understand who your ideal clients are and write as if you were talking directly to them. Search engines are not your potential clients so you shouldn’t be writing to them. Long term that strategy (as you’ve seen and paid for) just doesn’t work!

      • MakeupByMerry

        I see it now. Very glad you followed me on twitter. (I must’ve been like the customers who walk into a store looking totally lost and confused!) I followed back right away and remained engaged! Fighting the urge to kick myself for not stumbling across your site before those SEO cowboys got into my head! Being an online store isn’t so different from selling to the different types of customers who walk into a physical store, after all! First thing to do: Understand who my (ideal) customers are and identify their needs. In other words..”Blog my ass off”. Thanks for this entertaining and brilliant blog and for the Search Engine Humanization eBook Marc! I’ll be recommending it to others for sure.

  • http://twitter.com/access4vip Lori Moore

    Marc, this is so well written. I usually skim, but I read every word. You make some absolutely great points in here. When I first started writing, I wrote for my audience, then I started reading about SEO and wondered if I should go back and rewrite everything I wrote.
    I chose not to, without knowing the 40/60 part I figured that if I wrote what people wanted to read then I would eventually gain traction through other avenues – I’m not out to kill it, just to add value.
    Thanks so much for the great insight, I’ll be spreading this around! :)

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Thank you Lori! I really appreciate the positive feedback! You did the right thing! In the end you will win out so much better in the long term by writing for your visitors versus writing for the search engines! What is your website address so I can check out what you do?

  • http://twitter.com/mattfieldingSEO Matt Fielding

    Nice post Marc, every point hits home… Except maybe the naked sleepwalking!

    I get asked the same question you alluded to in part 6 by people who have been through penalty removal procedures. How soon can I get my rankings back?? As an industry I think we’ve encouraged this mentality though, so now I think we have a responsibility of reeducation.

    When the same clients have made mistake #1, however, you can understand the urgency. Their business is on the line and the last thing they want is a lecture…!

    Love the post, will share on Monday.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      I agree that we as an industry are to blame which means it is our responsibility to clean it up. I don’t think the industry is quite ready for that yet. I wake up to hate mail and people with torches at my front door every morning because of this blog and book. The last thing SEO companies want is for SEO not to be so mysterious and complex but it is heading that direction as each update makes it harder and harder to cheat the system!

  • http://www.buraq-technologies.com/ ambreen11

    Thank you for the straight forward tips to better SEO. These all seem to
    be common sense strategies and yet many ignore them instead searching
    for the magic potion to making their site rank.

    • http://www.marcensign.com/blog Marc Ensign

      Exactly! And ever that “magic potion” we’re to actually work today, it’s unlikely that it will work tomorrow. In fact, if history is any indication, it will actually get us penalized tomorrow.

  • Pallavi Shetty

    I loved what you have written. But honestly, it is really difficult to turn them into action, particularly when you have not much knowhow about SEO. I have recently started my content writing website (entwiningwords.wordpress.com) and seem to be stuck now. With all the SEO techniques online, it sometimes become too complicated, specially if you have no one to guide you around. Still with people like you, picking up a thing or two from your write-ups really helps. Thank you!

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