10 SEO & Design Mistakes That Could Get You in Trouble

This is a guest post by David Murton, a professional writer and blogger.

There are way too many SEO tactics to cover in a single article. Instead, we’ll focus on aspects of search engine optimization that could be devastating to your blog’s search ranking. This article will explain how to correct these problems, avoiding undue headache.

Some of these are simple oversights, but a couple are issues that the more savvy webmasters have noted. Online communication went from wired to wireless internet access in the proverbial blink of an eye, and SEO tactics change just as swiftly to keep up with the search engine algorithms.

Here are 10 mistakes that have made blogs crash and burn, and how to avoid disaster in case your site is flirting with, or using, any of these.

1. Blank Title Tags

Never leave the <title> tag blank, because the keyword in the title tag displays as the page title in search engine results. This is a critical part of an effective SEO strategy. Meta tags are becoming obsolete, but title tags are not, so do not neglect using title tags with great keywords.

2. Flash-Based Site

Search engine spiders cannot read Flash pages, which means they cannot index such pages. If you must have a Flash-based blog theme, then create a spider-friendly parallel HTML page. That way visitors can enjoy your flashy content (no pun intended), and the spiders are appeased. Also, Flash-based navigation cannot be indexed either, so it is better to use text navigation instead.

3. Dynamic URLs

It is bad practice to have a page whose URL ends with a string of nonsensical characters; use terms that are at least relevant to the page’s content. Better still, use known keywords. This satisfies search engine spiders, and site visitors can more easily recall the URL. Having clearly defined pages also aids site management.

Luckily for us, most popular free blogging services (such as WordPress) automatically adjust a page’s URL to a user and search engine-friendly format.

4. Disallow Instead of Noindex

Say you set up your blog’s robots.txt file to tell Googlebot to not visit a certain URL. According to author Stephan Spencer, if existing links point to the URL in question, the URL will show up in Google search results anyway, without a title, a snippet or similar identifying information. Disallowing a URL in robots.txt does not stop it from being indexed – it just tells the spider to not crawl its content.

5. Minimal Keyword Research

Example: A blog sells an eBook on camping. After learning the latest search phrases related to camping, the webmaster finds “camping locations” used the most often. The webmaster can then set up pages about camping locations across the country, or the world. This will help generate more traffic, and quite possibly lead to more sales.

There are plenty of keyword research tools, like Google Suggest, Soovle, Wordtracker Keywords Tool and others.

6. Lofty Expectations from Free Hosts

The most popular free hosts out there are Blogger and WordPress. Their services are not very scalable, so if you desire growth and understand the importance of a strong SEO strategy, it is advisable to pay for their premium services. This allows you to use AdSense effectively, and gives you overall better control over your site.

7. Bad Linking Strategy

Not all backlinks are good links, and quality trumps quantity across the board as far as search engines are concerned. To gain and maintain a lead in the search rankings, a site must have unique content that people want to share.

You need reputable sites to link to your content (and you link back to them), not a ring of sites that could be engaged in the distribution of malware, or known for otherwise shady business practices. The Link Builder Tool from Wordtracker helps with setting up a proper linking scheme. If your content contains relevant keywords, generating inbound links is easier.

8. Poor Site Structure

Imagine putting in hours and hours of effort to get a blog up and running, but it turns out that visitors can navigate only a few pages, and search engines cannot index each page you want them to. Journalist and SEO expert Rachelle Money says accurate site navigation is a must. Ensure the pages link to each other coherently, and that different articles are categorized correctly.

9. Shared Hosting

Editors Note: Google has stated that this isn’t an issue unless the host has misconfigured their servers and IP addresses, according to this article from 2007. Thanks to Adam Singer for the heads up in the comments!

As with real estate, it is about location, location, location. In the real world you would not move your business into a neighborhood full of criminals, and you should not move into a cyber-neighborhood full of them either. There are tools available that help you see which sites are behind the IP addresses in a shared pool. SEO suffers when your site is surrounded with swindlers and other ne’er-do-wells. Secured FTP storage is always the most preferable.

10. Keyword Stuffing

This normally is a block of keyword text in the space underneath the page footer, near the bottom. That practice is frowned upon. An older black hat tactic used to involve making keywords the same color as the page background, in tiny font, all over the page. Adding such a block of text distracts visitors, and search engine spiders do not favor such keyword blocks. According to Net Magazine, your webpage should utilize no more than 2-8% keyword density.

How to Fix the Above Mistakes

So how do you fix the above problems? Here’s your guide in one simple paragraph!

Using title tags appropriately is an integral aspect of SEO best practices. Create a mirror HTML site for a Flash one. Use descriptive URLs. “Disallow” does not prevent a page from being indexed; “Noindex” does that. Brainstorm for keywords and use tools to aid in keyword research. Good scalability must be purchased. Watch who you link to, who links to you, and have unique content. Keep your site easy to navigate, for humans and bots alike. If using a shared host, learn who your neighbors are. Be tactful with keyword placement and avoid gaudy tricks like blocks of keyword-laden text.

Putting these 10 tips into practice will not merely keep your blog(s) from crashing and burning in the search rankings, but will increase your rank.

Your Thoughts

What are some other website design and SEO mistakes can you think of that might get a blog into big trouble? Share your problems and solutions in the comments below!

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  1. says

    Hi David,

    Very nice post, all these are common mistakes, I did some of these mistakes. Share Hosting is new thing for me which I don’t have any idea, can you please share some tools to check hosting properties of website.

    Thanks for useful Guidelines you mention in this post

  2. says

    I use shared hosting (Dreamhost) and have been really happy with them. But hadn’t considered the fact that I might be living next to questionable neighbors. How would I check to see who I am sharing IP space with?

    Thanks for the advice!
    Alexis just posted Why Babies Love White Noise

    • says

      Hi Alexis,

      This may not be that big of a deal. I updated the article that Google doesn’t care about that kind of thing. But you may want to see the comment below and my response about how another site on the same server can harm yours through malware.

  3. says

    One best practice, so to speak, is to bundle multiple CSS files into a master CSS file.

    Makes it easier to manage and reduces load time and calls to the server.

  4. says

    I am currently on a shared hosting plan. A few years ago I was alerted, through Google’s Webmaster tools, about possible malware on my host’s server. The situation was eventually dealt with, and I haven’t received any other warning recently, and my traffic didn’t suffer. If it had gone on for months, then I probably would have seen some degradation in SE traffic for my blog.

    While you are limited to how your host organizes their servers, you should contact your host if there is something that isn’t right on the server.
    Paul Salmon just posted Is SEO Only for Large Businesses

    • says

      Good point Paul. I have had some site hacks that were related to being on the same server as other hacked sites. How did I know that was the reason? Because I had four sites, two on one server, and two on another. All of the same configurations, except that two were hit, and the other two were not.

  5. says

    Re: shared hosting — I have *never* seen a site that followed best practices hurt in search performance from a shared host. You’re going to have to source that other than opinion.

    • says

      I have heard about this myself – it looks like it has to do with if a host has not configured the websites their serving up correctly, according to this article. Will update that in the main article – thanks for the heads up!

  6. says

    hi David Murton,
    This article is very informative. The points were well distributed and well explained.
    Shared hosting is really a big problem and I agree that real state has become location and only about location. Also Keyword Stuffing is a big problem.
    Steven Papas just posted Ultimate Business Planner Review

  7. says

    Kudos. I really like the simplicity that you have presented this post, specially because anyone can understand it. No mambo jumbo, just the real deal. Speaking of which, I think that I am pretty much OK with all the aspects you discuss here, but would like to go a step further on shared hosting. You mention that there are tools “out there”. Care to recommend any? thanks
    DiTesco just posted The Top 5 Best Kept Traffic Secrets Smart Bloggers Are Using To Divert All The Readers

  8. says

    Good list of ‘what not to do’ web wise. Problems with site architecture is a big one, simple navigation is important. If people can’t find the information that they want, they will simply go elsewhere. It’s surprising the number of webmasters/designers who overlook something so simple!

    A bad linking strategy is also a pretty major point. Lots of webmasters think that it’s quantity which is important. This clearly isn’t the case (at least not in the long term!)

  9. says

    Very impressive list of what not to do, another thing I can think of is the site load time. User interaction is now considered in rankings and poor loading sites can get hurt from those changes.
    Nishadha just posted SEO in Sri Lanka

  10. says

    These are some really great tips. I am always looking for ways to improve incoming traffic to my blog from search engines. Thanks for the post

  11. says

    Hi David
    Good SEO article.
    So easy to get things wrong, especially when you are starting out.

    Getting the right domain name is something that I would add to this list – domain name has to contain keywords but still be short and memorable, and… be available.
    Not always easy to come up with the right name.

    As for keyword stuffing, forget it.
    Write for people not bots and perhaps just tweak a bit if you are not appearing in the SERPS.

    All in one SEO plugin is also a must have for SEO.

    What a game we have to play with Google, but it is so important.
    Keith Davis just posted Keep it short- keep it sharp

  12. says

    Hi David,
    Thanks for sharing a very helpful list of tips and some of these surely work better for my blogs.
    I am using Blogspot for some of my blogs, would you please tell me that either it is required to set a title tag in Blogspot or not?
    nazimwarriach just posted Midphase coupon code

  13. says

    Very comprehensive. Great list of what not to do. I enjoyed the read all the way long. Thanks for the very helpful list of tips, these will surely work better for my blogs. Thanks for the share. Keep it up.

  14. says

    This is a good list. I personally really dislike flash sites and as per one of the comments it amazes me how many people still use coloured text on a coloured background.

    There’s a reason why newspapers and magazines use black type on a white background – it’s easy to read an people are used to it!
    Jamie Fairbairn just posted Online Marketing Nonsense

  15. David Murton says

    Hi guys,

    Sorry for not dropping in earlier, the last few weeks have been quite hectic for me.

    RE the shared hosting issue.

    You are correct Adam; generally you should not be worried about shared hosting, as long as you go with a reputable company. However; a lot of people try to game the rankings by linking their websites between each other (which I’m sure most here are aware of.) The easiest way for spammers to use this is to get on a free / extremely cheap shared hosting service and do their “magic” there. Google does detect if too many websites from under the same IP are linking between each other. If the shared hosting service is free / easily accessible by almost anyone, chances are high that it will be completely overwhelmed by such individuals, who mass produce websites (using tools and article spinners for that) just to link them between each other.

    Now, will a legitimate website present on a shared hosting service full of spammers suffer because of this? As with many things related to SEO, I can’t really give any conclusive evidence. What I do know, however, is that among the ~70 or so websites I’ve launched in the last few 6 or so years (none of which were spam sites, btw :) I only had around 5 or 6 that took longer than 3 months to start moving up the rankings; and all of them were on a free shared hosting service. My guess is that Google puts these sites (even if they are legitimate) under a more thorough scrutiny, keeping them off the first SERPs for as long as possible, just to make sure that it isn’t another website belonging to the spammers.