I touch a lot of sites every month -- some small, some large, some that we built, and some that were done by outside firms. In doing a wide variety research into what is and isn't working for a small business Web site, I find the most frequent issues fall within the following six categories.
1. Duplicate Content
There are a few types of duplicate content. One of the most common I see is duplicate page titles and meta descriptions.
Many times this problem is actually created innocently -- repeating the brand name on each page as the page title or just reusing one meta description for all pages on a site. Search engines will see the duplicate meta descriptions and sometimes judge a page as duplicate before they get to the actual page content. This happens more often when there isn't very much supporting text on the page.
Beyond giving search engines the wrong impression about your site, you're missing a key opportunity to optimize this page for a search phrase that will bring good qualified traffic to your site.
Many times duplicate content isn't created on purpose. Many different software platforms might create duplicate content without you even knowing it.
If your site is built in WordPress, you could be innocently serving archive and category pages that duplicate content on individual post pages of your site. WordPress is a great platform, but a bit dangerous if not set up correctly. Do some reading, and find a forum like the Search Engine Watch Forums to help you customize your Web site to eliminate duplicate content issues.
2. Working Without Keyword Research
Keyword research is the foundation of good SEM. Don't handicap your rankings and CPC before you even start by guessing what keywords you should be using. This research should be done before building a Web site if possible. A variety of keyword research tools can give you insight into what your audience is looking for. Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery have free versions. Try the tools at SeoBook or the Google AdWords keyword research tool.
3. Landing Traffic on the Wrong Page
If you're advertising via paid placements it's extremely important to land your traffic on a page that is designed, or at least targeted, to serve the needs of the searcher. I see a lot of PPC ads and banner ads that land the searcher on the homepage -- a page that isn't set up to give that searcher what they're looking for.
For example, say I'm searching for "3-bedroom Hilton Head Rental." If that ad lands me on the homepage, then I have to go searching for something I've already told you I'm looking for. The most targeted page for that PPC ad should be the page that lists all three-bedroom rentals in Hilton Head.
4. Ignoring Link Building
If you're trying bring traffic to your site naturally (without PPCs), getting the right keywords on the right pages is only a portion of the job. Google's algorithm weighs incoming links quite heavily -- but not all links are the same.
If you're putting keywords on your pages but not building links to those pages with good link text, you're hurting your chances at ranking as a means to increase organic site traffic. There are a ton of different ways to link build. I recommend reading Search Engine Watch's Link Love columns by Sage Lewis and Justilien Gaspard every week for great tips.
5. Obsessing Over Rankings & Page Rank
These are two very different issues -- but because so many site owners obsess over both means they're linked together in this article. Being number one for a term isn't your goal -- sorry, but that's not where you should focus your energy. Having a PageRank of 6 is also nowhere near your goal.
Are you making money? Is the return on the money you're investing in search making you exponentially more money? Obsessing over the little green bar (which isn't updated very often) or the rank of your listing will give you an ulcer -- and position three can make you just as much money, and in some cases even more, than position one can. I'm not saying rankings are irrelevant -- because logically being in the top six on page one is your goal -- but if you're third and obsessing over first, then you're obsessing over the wrong things.
6. Set it and Forget it Mentality
It's short-sighted to think you can optimize your Web site and leave it be. PPC accounts and ads that are written and left to their own devices can cost immense amounts of money -- with no return if they aren't monitored.
There is no "magic formula" that allows a number one ranking if you follow these three rules and leave it alone. Some sites need higher keyword density -- pages optimized for very competitive keywords may need more quality links to achieve the traffic you need to make money online.
These issues are all fixable -- they're just the six I see most often. It's important to know the strengths and weaknesses of what you're doing and get the issues that are holding your online business back out of the way. SEM is an ongoing process that requires art and science -- invest the time to do it the right way.
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