How to Waste Money on SEO

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Build SEO into Your Website, Don’t Slap It on Later

A problem we encounter regularly is the firm that builds a beautiful website – and then, weeks or months later, decides it wants to do SEO. Ugh. SEO is not website window dressing. It’s not something you can slap-on after the fact and expect to make your website hum like a well oiled, lead generating machine. Here are five common examples of how well intended, small and midsize firms fall into a money pit by failing to consider SEO up front, before their websites are under construction.

1. Using SEO Unfriendly URLs

With many out-of-the-box content management systems you run the risk of creating SEO unfriendly URLs. A very common and simple example to consider is WordPress. With a basic installation, the default permalink structure in WordPress is structured to look something like:

A URL structure like that does nothing to tell search engines what the page is about. You’re missing out on the opportunity to include keywords in the URL. Instead, configure your URL structures to work in a more SEO-friendly manner. For example:

There are two ways companies can get in trouble with URLs: first, by creating poor ones to begin with; second, by not using best SEO practices when attempting to fix them.

2. Going CMS-less

Content management systems are an SEO’s best friend. A good CMS allows companies to directly add new content, set up and manage meta information, and control many other aspects of site architecture that are critical to SEO performance. In this day and age, when CMS packages are flying off the shelf, it’s hard to understand why a firm would do websites the old fashioned way – by relying on an outside developer to execute (basic) onsite SEO activities.  Problems with the traditional approach include:

  • The outside developer may have no clue about SEO
  • Site changes take forever to make
  • Site changes are headaches to manage because they seldom get done properly the first time around

Because of the cost, time and frustration, what usually happens is, the firm just stops updating its site. Is tweaking the anchor text to include new keywords worth $75? Are blog posts worth $50 a pop to upload and publish? The CMS-less firm boxes itself into a corner: either pay through the nose for SEO or skip SEO and wind up with a lovely site that nobody sees. I rarely see firms find a comfortable middle ground. The daily grind of going through a third-party to make routine SEO changes is too much to bear.

3. Patching Keywords into Un-optimized Content

Writing optimized site content requires a great deal of skill. You can’t just plaster keywords over existing, un-optimized content and expect it to make any sense to a human being. Properly optimized content – i.e., content that impresses search engines and humans – must be woven into the fabric of every page.

If a firm decides to get serious about SEO after the fact, a complete content overhaul is frequently the best, if not only, option. However, firms are repelled by the idea of spending several thousand dollars for content development when the invoice from the website project is still warm: besides the cost, which is significant, the web dev team risks appearing foolish. Upshot: the firm lives with mediocre or completely ineffective content until the next development project rolls around three or four years down the road. In the meantime, its competitors grab all the search traffic.

The proper path for SEO content is simple: Do the keyword research, connect appropriate primary and secondary phrases to each page of the site, and then and only then start writing.

4. Using Plug-In E-Commerce Sites

In some industries, a firm can plug itself into a canned e-commerce site and instantly get in the game. The cost of this approach is ridiculously low compared to developing a custom e-commerce site internally. Here’s what firms don’t realize: the chances of the plug-and-play approach succeeding are also ridiculously low. Why? Because this type of site promises to make you virtually invisible to Google.

SEO problem number one: The content on the plug-and-pay site is identical to that of every other plug-and-play site. Since Google is looking for original content, it will ignore each and every page you have.

SEO problem number two: The canned sites do not allow subscribers to make significant (or any) changes to content or meta information that would render pages unique. In other words, you are locked into an e-commerce program that is guaranteed to be forever worthless from an SEO point of view.

There is a solution to the problem: starting over and developing the site the right way. Unfortunately, this is the last thing a firm wants to hear unless the site is already old and/or its lack of performance is clearly, painfully evident. Even then, firms will try every other marketing option under the sun before facing the financial music and launching a proper e-commerce web development project.

5. Building with Wobbly Site Architecture

Firms should consider site architecture and navigation from an SEO perspective before developing a website. Products and services need to be grouped together in a hierarchy that makes sense to search engines (and people, for that matter). If Google is unable to see how deep site pages are connected, it will not crawl the site thoroughly, rendering crucially important product and service pages virtually invisible for search.

Obviously, this can be a devastating problem, and one that can only be fixed through major website design and development changes. When we take on a web development project, our SEO team spends a lot of time working on the site map, and we will not move to the next phase until the site map meets all SEO requirements. Reason being, ongoing SEO efforts need a strong foundation to be successful. Site architecture is that foundation.

Why do firms fall into these traps? Let me count the ways.

  • Not understanding the value of SEO
  • Not understanding SEO
  • Having a DIY mentality and getting in over their heads
  • Relying on a web development firm that doesn’t understand SEO
  • Relying on an SEO firm that doesn’t understand web development
  • Relying on an SEO firm that doesn’t understand SEO
  • Budget constraints and unrealistic project timelines
  • Not having a marketing plan in place to support the new website

Very few lead generation and e-commerce websites can afford to underperform on Google. That’s why, sooner or later, sites get serious about SEO. It’s just that later is a lot more expensive than sooner.

Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr

Director of B2B Marketing at Straight North
Brad Shorr is Director of B2B Marketing for Straight North, a full service Internet marketing agency. A blogger since 2005, Brad writes frequently about content marketing, SEO and business strategy.
Brad Shorr
Brad Shorr

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  • Marcus Interactive

    Excellent, informative article, though I have to disagree about the use of a CMS. I’ve worked in many different ones and have yet to find one that handles SEO well, or even competantly. Drupal seems to be the prevailing flavor of the week and it’s SEO handling is hit and miss at best. I think the prevelance of foreign, and generally sleazy, SEO firms, who do slipshod work and never explain the hows and whys to clients, have muddied the waters of why every website needs to be on the ball with their search engine optimization.

    • picky

      I agree that CMS, regardless of effectiveness when properly administered, and / or implemented by a QUALIFIED web developer, which is rarely the case. A CMS in unskilled hands, typically the hands of someone who is unaware of their skimpy skills, can make the biggest, long term, server side mess you’ve ever seen. I actually had one project where the “developer” used Magento to sort and categorize various mishaps and resulting injuries for a Personal Injury. It was ugly. About 50,000 duplicatitous urls, each file name containing 60 more letter and 12 more hyphens than its predecessor, and potential plaintiffs could “shop” their “injury” a la shopping cart with over the top, gross, distasteful graphics. Ahem.

  • Raja

    i am searching for an article like this finally i found here.Nice Explanation about SEO what should and avoid.

  • Alyasha

    Good article. Nicely sorted out points explained in simple way so everyone can understand it. Good read for some SEO clients I think.

  • Marc Peterson

    Great post, these are on-going issues that every SEO has to face. It begins to become a much bigger deal to re-write a URL that is not search engine friendly, but has acquired inbound links in the time that it was live. In these positions we have to look past what is best by the book and formulate a strategy based whats already in place and determine what steps to take from there.

  • Darrelljones

    Very informative post.Thanks for it.Yeah i completely agree with you.Before making any site if one should consider all Onpage SEO tactic then there will be no problem. At least one should use proper keywords in URL and of course Contents are the key.Update your quality contents at regular basis.

  • Mike

    Great article, but I have to disagree with Point #2.

    “by relying on an outside developer to execute (basic) onsite SEO activities. Problems with the traditional approach include:

    The outside developer may have no clue about SEO.
    — The key word being “may”. Outside developers should have an understanding of SEO as web design and SEO are two peas in a pod.

    Site changes take forever to make
    — What an outside Web Developer can do in 5 minutes an inexperienced novice could take hours.

    Site changes are headaches to manage because they seldom get done properly the first time around.
    — I think you must be referring to one man bands, and basement operations because legitimate Web Development companies pride themselves on quick, accurate updates.

    It comes down to false economy. In-House SEO, and Web Updates cost that company money through time of that employee or hiring a staff member.

    Let the Web experts handle the website and let the in-house employees focus on their duties.


  • SpamBot

    lol @ Relying on an SEO firm that doesn’t understand SEO

  • smith brell

    You have a number of choices, and the choices you make could have a huge impact on the eventual success, or otherwise, of your article marketing strategy.

  • August Boehm

    Not sure how #1 is wasting money, as after all, WordPress is free. SEF URLs are part of basic SEO – it can only be a waste if ignored.