Are you a good SEO professional or a bad one?
If you’re like most people, you’d classify yourself firmly in the former category.
But wait just one second. What if I told you that even if you’re not purposefully creating keyword-stuffed content or pages crammed with manipulative links… you might still be partaking in bad SEO?
It’s true. Even if you’re avoiding the obvious pitfalls, there’s lots of room for missteps that don’t even look like mistakes.
The reason? Google.
Google makes several major updates to its algorithms every year while tweaking things here and there hundreds of times in addition. That’s because Google is completely dedicated to creating a more unified, accessible, high-quality search experience for its users.
Your content needs to support that mission.
If it doesn’t, every update will cause your SERPs to slip lower and lower down the page.
If the latest news about Core Web Vitals or other algorithm changes has left you feeling like you just don’t know what to do anymore to stay in Google’s good graces, fear not.
I’ve got just the guide for you.
5 Bad SEO Mistakes to Avoid in Your Content
When it comes to SEO, Google ultimately cares about one thing: that you’re presenting quality content on topics in which you’re a demonstrated expert in a way that’s easy and enjoyable for your audience.
With Google now fielding some 1.2 trillion searches per year, they’ve gotten more adept at ever than sifting through and ranking all those sites on the web.
And they don’t have time for bad SEO practices like:
1. Poor Quality Citations
It’s good form to cite your sources but be careful who you’re citing.
Google considers links to other pages a vote of confidence on the content of that page. When you provide a link as a reference, you’re effectively telling Google that you believe this content is valid and credible.
(This is why backlinks are so valuable.)
Normally, that’s a good thing. But when you link your site to another site with a more questionable reputation, Google takes note.
As you’re crafting your content, be on the lookout for:
- Sites that have been flagged for misinformation or disinformation.
- Citations for YMYL content where the author or their credentials aren’t clear on the page.
- Sites with an Alexa rank that’s over 100k (that indicates little to no traffic).
PS. Here’s a quick guide on using Nofollow, just in case including that link or citation is inevitable.
2. Articles That Are Waaaay Too Long
It’s good to create the most complete, comprehensive content that you can – but that doesn’t mean you’re trying to write a longer article than your competitors. In fact, you shouldn’t write a word more than you need.
Overly long content can have an equally detrimental effect as thin content on the user experience.
Check out this study by the Nielsen Norman Group, which tracked people’s eyeballs as they scanned a web page. The scanning pattern that suggests people read less the further down the page they go is strongly associated with a negative user experience.
Bottom line: write effective content, not endless content.
3. A Lack of Headings
Here’s a bit of an open secret: Want to snag one of those coveted featured snippet spots? Use headings, especially if you’re writing a list.
It’s true that H2 and H3 headings help guide readers. Using them every 300 words or so gives the brain a quick break and helps prevent the eye from getting lost. It also helps break up that unsightly wall of text that’s never going to get read.
However, headings are also important in SEO. They’re an excellent keyword use opportunity.
They also help provide the structure of the page for Google and serve as powerful indicators of what the page is about.
4. Duplicate Content
Duplicate content involves content that’s similar (or identical) to content found on other websites or web pages within your own site. It has always been a major no-no in the world of SEO.
(Google even calls it out directly.)
Many people think that duplicate content refers to merely plagiarism, but that’s not always true. Rehashing or repeating the same blocks of text throughout your website counts.
While you won’t receive a penalty, duplicate content signals to Google that the content on a page isn’t unique. And what happens? It ends up being omitted from the search results altogether.
5. Keyword Abuse
You know keyword-stuffing is bad. If your article on New York bagels is 300 words long and you use the keyword “NYC bagels” 20 times, Google will absolutely know what your page is about. And readers will click away, likely never to return.
However, keyword abuse can also take different forms. For example:
- Optimizing for too many keywords. You should have one focus keyword and a handful of secondary keywords. No more.
- Using keywords incorrectly relative to the search intent. Google increasingly looks at what users really mean when they type that string of words into the search bar.
7 Ways to Master Good SEO
Now that you’re caught up with what bad SEO looks like, let’s talk about a handful of perennial SEO best practices.
Master these, and your content will always look good to both your audience and Google.
1. Do Your (Keyword) Research
Keyword usage is a case of Goldilocks and the porridge. You don’t want to use too many or too few – or the wrong ones. What you do use needs to be just right.
I recommend that you:
- Use synonyms, answers, and content grouped around topics rather than individual terms.
- Look for long-tail keywords that your competitors have missed.
- Search the keywords you want to use to see what comes up and whether your content is on a similar topic.
2. Optimize Content for Local
If you’ve got a brick-and-mortar store, optimizing for local is important. To accomplish this, use geographical keywords throughout your site to help get you identified as a local business.
Pro-Tip: Writing content on local events or news is a fantastic way to accomplish this.
3. Create for Featured Snippets
Featured snippets are those helpful little boxes that pop up at the very top of the search results. If you’ve ever searched “how to” do something, chances are you were given a quick list of steps.
They’re also a great way to get your content boosted to a much wider audience. Make sure that you:
- Use headings to highlight steps or points.
- Provide straight answers that are prominently placed on the page.
- Avoid creating content that falls into one of these prohibited categories.
4. Use Topic Clusters
SEO is increasingly becoming less about individual keywords or articles and more about topical expertise. In other words, you need to signal to Google that you’re an expert in a specific topic.
That means having plenty of content on your site that proves it. And how do you do that?
Topic clusters involve the creation of pillar content. These are long, authoritative pieces to which smaller and more specific articles link back.
This structure helps Google crawl through your site and get a sense of your expertise.
5. Update Your Old Content
Content isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing. It can become outdated, irrelevant, or factually untrue. When this happens, Google refers to it as “stale.”
A good sign that a piece of content has gone stale is if the organic traffic associated with it has died down. That means either the information is no longer valuable to readers, or the search intent of the keywords with which it was initially optimized has changed.
It’s a good idea to review content once a year to check for stale pieces.
6. Pay Attention to EAT and YMYL
EAT (Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness) and YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) are two important quality guidelines that govern how evaluators rank your site.
Fulfilling the requirements of both will force you to produce great content.
YMYL can also strike when you least expect it. If you think you might be writing anything that could impact a person’s health, wealth, safety, or future happiness, then take a look at the guidelines and make sure you’re meeting the highest standards for Google.
7. Put Your Users First
Last but not least, when you’re collecting SEO tactics, make sure that you’re putting your users first.
As a general rule, good SEO tactics create a better browsing experience for your readers. They also encourage you to develop more useful content that brings users to your site without tricks.
If the strategy you’ve uncovered doesn’t help you do either of those things, then side-eye it. Google’s guiding star is user experience, and that must be your priority, too.
Take Your SEO to the Next Level This Year
SEO continues to evolve as a field. What was once good SEO can easily become bad SEO as Google refines its expectations for content creators.
The good news, however, is that staying in Google’s good graces isn’t hard.
By serving up the best possible content with a consistently exceptional user experience, you help Google fulfill its mission to provide useful, relevant, quality content.