10 Ways to Fail in Your SEO Process in 2014 (and How to Avoid Them)

Posted on Thursday, 16 January 2014 by

To help you start off 2014 on the right foot by planning and establishing your SEO processes for success, I would like to share what I believe are some of the top ingredients for SEO failure, or at least, ingredients that keep you from achieving the SEO success you could.

These are less-than-ideal situations that, unfortunately, do arise in SEO processes, especially when planning and coordinating with clients or the project’s stakeholders, and they challenge our ability to effectively achieve our desired results.

So, if you want to succeed in your SEO process, make sure to avoid the following:

1. Don’t Set Goals and KPIs For Your SEO Process From the Beginning

“Why do we want to set goals and KPIs? SEO is about rankings right?” Mistake No. 1.

Set your SEO Goals

This is an old problem but still a common one. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to track your rankings but if you want to achieve a positive ROI SEO process then your goals should be directly related to your site conversions (how the website achieves benefits, depending on its business model), not rankings. This should also be one of the KPIs in your SEO process.

To set SEO goals and KPIs, check out the following resources:

2. Don’t Do In-Depth Keyword Research

“Your clients know their business better than you do and have chosen the keywords that matter.” Not necessarily.

Do a Keyword Research

Although your clients know their business, industry and unique selling proposition better than you – and because of that they should provide you with some initial input to develop the keyword research – they may not necessarily be aware of their online search audience and industry behavior, especially if this is their first SEO process or if they haven’t done SEO for a while.

As SEO specialists it is our job to advise our clients on the most relevant and profitable keywords for which they will be competitive and most likely to perform successfully. You should use external sources (search trends, keywords and competitor research tools) as well as internal data (their own website, marketing and sales statistics) to choose keywords that will drive enough organic search traffic and conversions to achieve a positive ROI process.

Take a look at the following guides to develop an effective keyword research strategy for your SEO process:

3. Forget About Technical Optimization

“Why would we want to optimize the technical aspects of the site? Isn’t it all about having unique, quality content?” Not exactly.

SEO Technical Optimization

Remember that your content is live on the web. Search engines need to be able to crawl and index your content to rank it, and for that you need to optimize your site from a technical perspective.

From a domain blocked with a robots.txt file or a section of your site that has been accidentally unindexed with a meta robots tag to duplicate content issues stemming from poorly organized web architecture, there are many technical aspects of your site that, if not properly configured, can really hurt your ranking potential. This can happen despite a significant investment in great content and link building.

An in-depth SEO audit will allow you to identify any existing or potential technical site issues, and can present opportunities to increase your site’s visibility in search results, for example, by using structured data. Follow the recommendations shared in these posts to develop a smart SEO audit:

4. Don’t Keep Track of Any of Your Site’s SEO Activities

“Why do we need to track everything? Is it (again) not only about getting higher rankings?” Then how would you know what has worked well and what hasn’t?

SEO Tracking - Project Management

This is, I believe, one of the most overlooked aspects in an SEO process. I hear far too commonly that people have too little time to track, coordinate, and in general, do project management of the SEO related activities of their company. If you don’t monitor and document what you have developed, however, you will never know what worked well (to replicate it), or what didn’t (to eliminate it).

Monitoring your site’s activities and their impact on your SEO can make or break the SEO process. It is a critical activity, especially if you work in a medium to large sized project and have to coordinate with people from other departments. No matter whether you’re working as an in-house specialist, a freelance consultant or an SEO agency you will need to plan, coordinate and manage non-trivial resources and activities. For more information take a look at these articles about SEO project management:

5. Never Test or Validate Changes Before or After Launch

“What could go wrong? It’s only a tag we’re changing!” You know what they say about assumptions don’t you?

SEO Tests & Validation

When developing your SEO strategies, from content and link building to technical optimization, it’s important that you test any changes you make to your planned campaigns before launching them live. This will minimize (as much as possible) any potential error that could negatively affect the SEO process results, and prevent problems that would be much more difficult to solve later.

This is why it’s recommended to have a closed test environment to validate any changes or new implementations first, so you can easily fix any problems you find or show the results to the process stakeholders to get final approval to launch.

Here are some resources for testing and validating some of the most common and critical activities of an SEO process:

6. Only Care About the Number of Links You Earn Each Month

“We have so few links! We need many more of them to beat out our competitors and succeed.” Remember, when it comes to links it’s not only about volume but also relevance, authority and trust, among other key characteristics.

Link Spam

Despite the attention that the Penguin Updates have had and the fact that there have been very prominent and documented cases of affected sites, recovery stories and many published guides to diagnose and recover from them, and even surveys showing that most site owners said they haven’t been able to recover, some site owners still only look at the number of links that their SEOs build every month, overlooking the quality of the links and their further impact on traffic and conversions.

This makes it important to educate our clients about all the metrics that should be taken into consideration to assess links and their integral value toward the SEO process. We need to remember to not only make the case for and implement sustainable link building strategies but also to update our reporting systems to show how high-quality links benefit the site’s business success. Check out the following link-building resources that will help you with this:

7. Overlook Multi-Device SEO Optimization

“There is no such thing as multi-device or mobile SEO. Mobile browsers and device capabilities are evolving so quickly that no specific optimization is needed for them!“ Because your audience behavior and intent is exactly the same for all devices, right? Of course not.

Mobile SEO

Photo comparison published by the Today Show on Instagram

Mobile search has finally boomed. Google has released a guide to build smartphone-optimized websites, has provided a checklist and videos about mobile web improvement, has included smartphone crawl errors in Google Webmaster Tools and has published that smartphone rankings are going to be updated taking previous recommendations into consideration.

Why would we need any more reasons to start optimizing our sites to provide the best multi-device web experience? If you haven’t gotten started yet, this is the time:

8. Don’t Enable International Site Versions for your Significant Foreign Visitors

“Why would multi-lingual, international site versions be needed? Our visitors already speak English… they’re already buying from our English site!” But consider this: If you’re already successful with your international audience in English, can you imagine the potential when you provide services in their own languages?

International SEO

International SEO is especially important for sites that have already been doing SEO for a while and have a relatively high volume of international visitors that provide higher-than-average conversion value, despite having no version targeted to them. In this case it might be the time to start using their own language, geographical information and currency, leveraging their cultural factors to promote your product.

Although launching and maintaining an international website is no small feat – as it involves not only translating content, but having on-going language support, the technical resources to update another site version, handling an international business and delivering the service or product to foreign customers – if there’s enough potential, this type of investment can be highly profitable since the online search competition for non English-speaking markets is lower.

This is why it’s fundamental to develop an in-depth initial research plan and evaluate thoroughly the viability of the project. Learn how to proceed and what it takes to develop an international SEO process with the following resources:

9. Don’t Care About Your Search Competitors

“SEO is about achieving my goals, so why do I need to look at other sites’ strategies?” Because you need to know your competitors’ status, strengths and weaknesses if you want to establish a winning strategy to overcome them.

Competitor Tracking

Competitor research and analysis is not only fundamental at the beginning (to select your keywords and establish an adequate SEO strategy), but it is a must throughout the whole SEO process.

Remember that as you develop your site’s SEO processes your competitors will also be working hard, and you should keep an eye on them to identify if they’re advancing faster than you and how they’re doing so; which strategies they’re implementing and the ones that are paying off.

It’s also important to note that although your clients can provide you with some initial input for the research, you should perform the competitor research yourself, since your online competitors may not necessarily be the same as your offline ones, and there are news sites, blogs, aggregators and international online players, among others, that your clients might not be aware of.

Some guides to help you develop a competitor analysis are:

10. Don’t Implement SEO Recommendations for Your Site Because Huge Brands are Doing it Differently

“They’re the leaders in their industries so everything they do with their site should be right!“ No. Remember that huge brands’ popularity positively affects their authority – authority that you still likely don’t have – and that changes everything.

Big Brand vs. Small

Remember the Interflora penalty? There are many other known cases of this, too. Big brands’ sites sometimes have issues not only with links, but with their user experience, with falling into rookie social media mistakes and, as Rae also points out in this post about reasons why some big brands don’t rank, some of them are still just not optimized at all.

Nonetheless, the truth is that most of the time, despite having these types of issues, big brands end up ranking higher than small companies (and when they’re penalized they’re able to get back on their feet quicker too), which usually makes SEO clients, especially small businesses, question SEO recommendations: “How come that big site is ranking without this but you tell me that I need to do it?”

The answer is that again, they’re huge brands, so they can. They already have authority, not only online but also offline and they have had a website for so long that despite not having the best web architecture (most of the time they rely on enterprise-level, non-flexible legacy systems) they have a link popularity that makes them rank quite well.

This will not work for small, medium or even large companies that still don’t have a huge brand name, and until that day comes it’s a must that every possible aspect of a site is optimized to maximize opportunities to rank, otherwise it might be very difficult to achieve success, particularly in highly competitive markets.


Are you ready to achieve SEO success?

One does not simply achieve SEO success

Success in SEO cannot be guaranteed, but your chances will certainly increase if you make sure to:

  1. Set goals and KPIs for your SEO process from the beginning.
  2. Do in-depth keyword research.
  3. Develop a site audit and make sure to technically optimize your site.
  4. Keep track of all of your SEO process activities.
  5. Test and validate all of the changes you make before and after launching them live.
  6. Take link quality metrics into consideration, don’t only consider link volume.
  7. Optimize your site for multi-device search.
  8. Evaluate your international SEO potential and establish an international web presence accordingly.
  9. Research, monitor and take your search competitors into consideration.
  10. Implement your SEO’s recommendations without using the tactics of huge brands as an excuse to avoid them.

Have a happy SEO year!


Images under Creative Commons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.