10 Common SEO Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

10 Common SEO Mistakes (And How to Avoid Them)

Si Quan Ong
Content marketer @ Ahrefs. I've been in digital marketing for the past 6 years and have spoken at some of the industry’s largest conferences in Asia (TIECon and Digital Marketing Skill Share.) I also summarise books on my personal blog.
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    Are you making these common SEO mistakes?

    If you are, you should be aware. These mistakes could affect your chances of ranking higher on the search engines.

    Continue reading to find out if they apply to your SEO and learn how to avoid them:

    1. Not doing keyword research
    2. Not matching search intent
    3. Targeting keywords that are too difficult
    4. Not building enough backlinks
    5. Breaking Google’s Terms of Service when building links
    6. Missing internal link opportunities
    7. Not letting Google crawl your content
    8. Not letting Google index your content
    9. Having an extremely slow site
    10. Treating SEO as a one-time thing

    Many website owners randomly create content and expect to get search traffic. But if nobody’s searching for those topics, then nobody’s clicking through to any pages.

    That’s likely one of the reasons why 90.63% of pages get no traffic from Google, according to our study.

    If you want search traffic, you need to target topics people are searching for.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Before you publish any page, make sure the page targets a keyword with search traffic potential.

    Here’s how to find these keywords:

    1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
    2. Enter one or a few relevant keywords related to your website or niche (e.g., if you’re selling coffee, then they would be coffee, cappuccino, latte, etc)
    3. Go to the Matching terms report

    Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

    Here, there are more than three million potential keywords you can target. Look through the list and pick out keywords that are relevant and have traffic potential (look at the TP column).

    If you’re looking for informational keywords, click the Questions tab:

    Questions tab in the Matching terms report, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

    Google’s goal is to provide users with the most relevant result for every query.

    So, if you want to rank high on Google, you need to be the most relevant result. This means matching search intent, the why behind a search query.

    For example, if we search for “best frying pans”, we’ll see the results are mostly blog posts:

    SERP overview for "best frying pans"

    Google knows that searchers are looking to compare, not buy. So if you’re an e-commerce store that sells frying pans, Google will likely not rank your category page for this query—simply because it’s not what users want.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Align your content with search intent by analyzing the current top-ranking results for the three Cs:

    • Content type – Are they blog posts, product pages, landing pages, or something else?
    • Content format – Are they tutorials, listicles, how-to guides, recipes, free tools, or something else?
    • Content angle – Is there a dominant selling point, like low prices or how easy it is?

    For example, let’s analyze the SERPs for “kettlebell swing”:

    SERP Overview for the query "kettlebell swings", via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
    • Content type – They’re mostly blog posts.
    • Content format – They’re mostly how-to guides.
    • Content angle – The most common angle is “perfect kettlebell swing” or “proper swing form”.

    In every industry, there will be keywords that are highly desirable, so every website wants to rank for them. If you want to rank high for these keywords, you need tons of resources. Other keywords are less competitive, so it’s easier to rank for them.

    The mistake is thinking you can simply rank for a keyword without considering the competition. I’m not saying you should avoid targeting a keyword because it’s competitive. If a keyword is important to your website and makes you money, you should target it.

    But build up to those competitive keywords gradually. Start by prioritizing those keywords that are less competitive and you can rank for with your skills and resources.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Filter for keywords with low Keyword Difficulty (KD) when you’re doing keyword research.

    KD is an SEO metric that estimates how hard it is to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword. It is measured on a scale from 0 to 100, with the latter being the hardest to rank for.

    Which KD range should you set?

    The correct answer is it depends on many factors: the authority of your website, your ability to build backlinks, and more. 

    However, a good exercise you can consider is to look up the KD scores of the keywords that your website is already ranking for.

    You can do this by entering your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and visiting the Organic keywords report:

    Keyword difficulty benchmark for the Ahrefs blog

    This will give you a nice benchmark. But bear in mind this is just an estimate. It is no substitute for an actual study of the top-ranking pages and factoring in your own SEO skills and available resources.

    Links are an important Google ranking factor. Google’s Andrey Lipattsev confirmed it himself:

    Links are an important ranking factor

    So, if your pages are not ranking well, a key reason might be you don’t have enough links.

    For example, at Ahrefs, we would like to rank for the keyword “seo.” But if you look at the top-ranking pages for that keyword, they have tons of backlinks.

    The top-ranking pages for "seo" have tons of referring domains

    As of right now, our page simply doesn’t have enough:

    Backlinks pointing at Ahrefs' Beginner's Guide to SEO

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Reach out to people who may be interested in your content and persuade them to link to you.

    Here’s how you can find these people:

    1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer
    2. Search for your topic

    For example, if we search for “french press,” you’ll see around 750,000 pages you can target.

    Number of pages for "french press", via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

    That’s probably too many pages to look through, so let’s add a few filters to narrow the results down:

    • Domain Rating: 30–90
    • Website traffic: 500+
    • Words: 500+
    • Language: English
    • One page per domain – Checked
    • Exclude homepages – Checked
    • Exclude subdomains – Checked
    • Live & Broken – Only live
    • Filter explicit results – On
    Content Explorer results, filtered

    This reduces the number of pages to ~16,000 of the best ones.

    Go through each page and see if your article can add value as a resource. If the answer is yes, reach out to the writer or website owner and see if you can persuade them to link to your article.

    Links are important, so you’re actively building them. But along the way, you discover that some people ask for something in return for linking.

    Excerpt of email to Tim asking for something in exchange for a link

    Buying backlinks is a no-no. But what about giving them something else in return, such as a reciprocal backlink or even one of your products? It’s fine if it’s not cash, right? After all, it’s akin to giving away a product to an influencer and hoping they’ll give your brand a shout-out.

    Unfortunately, no. According to Google’s Webmaster Guidelines, link schemes include:

    • Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes: 
      • Exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links
      • Exchanging goods or services for links
      • Sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing it and including a link
    • Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking.

    Even if you’re not handing over fiat, it’s against Google’s Terms of Service—and you may get your site penalized.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Promiscuous websites that readily exchange something in return for a link will usually leave a detectable footprint, which will sooner or later get picked up by Google and lead to a “link selling” penalty. 

    Simply put: Don’t offer payments or products when you do your outreach.

    Internal links are important:

    • Google uses them to discover new content.
    • They aid the flow of PageRank around your site. Generally speaking, the more internal links a page has, the higher its PageRank.
    • Google looks at the anchor texts of internal links to better understand the context. (It also looks at the text surrounding the anchor to understand the context.)

    Yet, given all these benefits, internal links are usually not prioritized. That’s a big mistake.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    The reason why internal links aren’t utilized more often is because adding them can be troublesome. But there is a way to “scale” this. Here’s how:

    1. Run a crawl on your site using Ahrefs’ Site Audit. (It’s free if you sign up for Ahrefs Webmaster Tools.)
    2. Go to the Link opportunities report
    Link opportunities report results

    This report will show you relevant internal link opportunities. Go through the list and add internal links where relevant.

    If Google can’t crawl your content, it can’t see what’s on the page. And if it can’t see what’s on the page, it’s unlikely it’ll rank for any relevant keywords.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Make sure you’re not blocking Googlebot from crawling your site.

    Do this check by going to your robots.txt (yourdomain.com/robots.txt) and looking for these two snippets of code:

    User-agent: Googlebot
    Disallow: /

    User-agent: *
    Disallow: /

    Both lines of code tell Googlebot it’s not allowed to crawl any pages on your site. To fix the issue, remove them.

    No matter how hard you try, you can’t win if you’re not in the game. If your site or its pages are not indexed by Google, you can’t rank.

    For example, that can happen if you’ve accidentally added a noindex tag on any of your pages. (Perhaps you or your developer added the tags during staging and forgot to remove them!)

    Gif showing noindex tag that was added to a webpage

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    You can use Google Search Console to check whether a specific page is indexed. To do that, paste the URL into the URL Inspection tool.

    If the page is not indexed, the tool will state: “URL is not on Google.”

    Example of “URL is not on Google” message shown in GSC

    Alternatively, you can also run a crawl using Ahrefs’ Site Audit (via AWT). If you have pages that are noindexed, that will pop up as an issue:

    Examples of some issues found by AWT

    Page speed is a Google ranking factor. So are Core Web Vitals—metrics that are part of Google’s Page Experience signals used to measure user experience.

    Not only will a slow site affect your Google rankings, but it will also impact your sales. According to Unbounce, nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    Run a website crawl using Site Audit (with AWT), and you can see how fast (or slow) your pages are:

    Pie charts showing data on TTFB and load time distribution, respectively

    You can also use other page speed testing tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights or GTMetrix.

    Then follow the guide below to learn the different tactics you can use to improve your page speed.

    SEO is not simply a matter of fixing the above nine mistakes and calling it a day.

    Even if you’re ranking in pole position today, there is no guarantee you’ll be number #1 tomorrow. Ranking high on search engines is a competition. Your competitors will be investing plenty of resources to knock you off the perch.

    How to avoid this SEO mistake

    To make a consistent effort to rank high and grow your search traffic, you need an SEO strategy.

    Creating an SEO strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to be a plan you can execute over and over again. As such, we recommend following what we call the “Orchard Strategy.”

    Here’s the process:

    1. Plant trees (pages)
    2. Pick low-hanging fruits (first-page keyword rankings)
    3. Squeeze more juice out of them (optimize)

    Read the post below to learn more about how to execute the strategy:

    Keep learning

    You now have an understanding of what major SEO mistakes you could be making and how to avoid them. If you want to dig deeper and continue learning, check out these resources:

    Article Performance
    • Organic traffic
    • Linking websites

    The number of websites linking to this post.

    This post's estimated monthly organic search traffic.