10 Expensive Mistakes Webmasters Make in Search Engine Marketing

Here are some common mistakes webmasters make when generating business through search engine marketing strategies and tactics.


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Legendary copywriter Gary Halbert used to tell the tale of his biggest business screw-up.

Long before the days of the Internet, his agency decided to launch a client’s new product by running a series of full-page adverts in national newspapers. The ad campaign cost a small fortune, but it was expected to yield an even bigger fortune in new business.

The agency expected the phone to ring off the hook with orders, so they had a whole roomful of telephone agents on hand to take the orders.

But on the day the ads were published, the calls didn’t come. The call center wasn’t just quiet – it was as silent as the grave. Gary scanned the adverts anxiously, trying to figure out why his ingenious sales copy wasn’t working. It was only then he realized his terrible mistake.

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He had forgotten to put the phone number in the ads. All of the money spent on the campaign was wasted, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Technology has moved on since then, and the Internet is now the heart of direct marketing. Unfortunately though, many companies are making mistakes just as grave and expensive as Halbert’s missing phone number.

In my experience, at least 8 out of 10 websites are making big search engine marketing mistakes, and wasting money as a result. When I review websites, I invariably find major technical issues that need to be fixed fast. The list of problems is depressingly long. But here are the top ten search engine marketing mistakes that webmasters make.


#1. Failing to Keep the Website Up to Date

I am always amazed at how common this problem is. They say that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and this is most definitely true of online marketing.

Website visitors generally make a decision within eight seconds of landing on a new website. If they don’t immediately feel that this website has something to offer them, they will click back to the search engine and try another website.

This makes it vital to get that first impression exactly right. And you won’t make much of an impression if your website was last updated in 2006. It’s like driving to meet a client in a 20-year old station wagon. You are immediately setting a negative perception.

Web technology advances at a rapid rate, and you need to ensure that your website both looks and feels modern and professional.

Here are some common mistakes webmasters make when generating business through search engine marketing strategies and tactics.

Another surprisingly common problem is that of outdated content. It’s not at all unusual to visit the website of an expensive, professional services firm and see something along the lines of:

“We wish all our clients a Happy New Year, and hope to serve them throughout 2016.”

“President Obama still has another year in office to get things done…”

“We anticipate that by 2017, this issue will affect one in five people in the United States.”

Posting fresh, contemporary, relevant content is a great idea. We highly recommend it. But only if you have the time or the resources to keep that content up to date. If the last time you updated your blog was July 2013, then it is doing your website and your business more harm than good.

#2. Non Mobile-Responsive Websites

Forget desktop – the growth in the use of the Internet is all happening on mobile devices. In 2014, Google stated that the number of searches from mobile devices exceeded searches from desktop devices for the first time ever.

But that was just the beginning. Since that time, usage of mobile devices has continued to rocket, and massive growth is predicted for the future.

Because of this, websites need to be mobile responsive. That is, they need a modern design that automatically adjusts to suit the size of the screen being used. This video shows how that looks in practice:

This video shows how mobile responsive designs automatically adjust according to the available screen size:

If you do not have a mobile responsive design for your business, then you are throwing money away. Visitors on mobiles will visit your website, then immediately click away because the site is too hard to read.

Worse still, Google is taking action to only show mobile-responsive websites in the search results. Non mobile-friendly websites are getting pushed down in the rankings, into virtual obscurity.

#3. Slow-Loading Websites

Time is money, especially when it comes to search. Research indicates that no fewer than 40 per centof visitors abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load. And it gets worse. With each additional second in load time, conversions for that website are decreased by another seven per cent, as this video shows:

Fortunately, there are things you can do to fix this. Your website may be slow loading for one of several reasons, and they can all be fixed with minimal effort:

Cheap, Shared Web Hosting

At first glance, one webhost might seem to be as good as another. So webmasters often go for the cheapest hosting they can get.

But cheap is cheap for a reason. As with most things in life, you tend to get what you pay for. Cheap webhosts need to keep costs to a minimum in order to make a profit, so they are adept at cutting corners. Each cost-cutting exercise could cost you a second or more in page load speed.

On a shared hosting plan, your website is placed on the same server as dozens – perhaps even hundreds – of other websites. The theory is that not all of the websites will be busy at the same time.

This is similar to the way gyms sign up far more members than they could possibly service at the same time. They assume that most people won’t show up very often, so they can afford to be over-subscribed. But if you have visited a packed gym in the first week of January - when everyone has made a New Year’s resolution to get fit – you will know that this thinking is flawed.

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The same goes for shared webhosting. If one website on the server gets hit with a big spike in traffic, then every site on the server gets slowed down – including yours.

And that’s not all.

The hardware used for these servers is likely to be old, slow and out of date. The software will be freeware and open-source software that barely gets the job done.

You can avoid all of these costs by paying for better web hosting. Yes, your base costs will increase, but the amounts are small compared to the performance improvement. And the returns on investment can be huge.

Image Optimization

A lot of websites use stock images in order to get the high-quality pictures they need. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as you have a licence for the images. However, these images can be massive, and this can result in pages taking a long time to load.

There are ways to fix these problems. You can cut images down to size with minimal loss of quality by using compression services such as Kraken and WP Smush. You can also ensure that images are loaded more efficiently by using plugin such as BJ Lazy Load.

Caching Plugins

If you are using WordPress or a similar content management system, you can speed up your blog by using a caching plugin. These reduce the number of redundant operations to make everything work more efficiently. A great option here is W3 Total Cache.

Content Delivery Networks (CDN)

If you are in the UK, and the website you are visiting is hosted in the US, then data has to travel an awful long way. Downloading a page might involve over 100 separate requests to the server, with the result that the total distance travelled by the data could be millions of miles.

Even though data travels at something like two-thirds the speed of light, it takes time to cover this kind of distance. Content Delivery Networks such as StackPath (MaxCDN) solve this problem by storing copies of your webpages on local servers around the world. This slashes the distances that need to be covered.

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#4. Not Engaging Visitors

Once visitors are actually looking at your web page, you need to engage their attention immediately.

Remember that people are typically looking to solve a problem of some kind. Whether they just need information, or are in need of a product or service, you need to show them quickly and effectively that you have what they need.

Remember, your visitors don’t care about you. They are not really interested in the history of your business or your personal qualifications. What they want to know is:

Can you solve my problem?

If you focus on helping people get what they need, your visitors will become subscribers, then customers, and your business will prosper in the long term.

#5. Not Enough Keyword Diversity

The world of search has changed an awful lot. A decade or so ago, people tended to search for short, two-word or three-word keyphrases, such as:

‘Boston divorce attorney’

Since then, people have become more sophisticated in the way they search. Nowadays, they are likely to search for a long phrase, or even a question, such as:

‘Where can I find a good attorney near me who deals with divorce and can help me keep my home and retain custody of my daughter?’

Because of this, the number of keywords you can rank for has exploded exponentially. The available keyword universe is far bigger than ever before.

This means that the focus of search engine optimization is moving away from trying to rank for a small number of phrases that get a lot of searches. It is now much more important to create a high authority website that can rank for a whole range of different search terms.

#6. Relying on Google’s Tools for Keyword Research

Google provides two free tools that most webmasters rely on for keyword research – Google Analytics and the Google Keyword Planner. Unfortunately, both of them are seriously flawed.

Because Google as a search engine now hides keyword date for logged in users, it is now impossible for any analytics package, including Google Analytics, to show you all the keywords people used to find your site. Around 90 per cent of the keywords are typically hidden.

The Google Keyword Planner has always had its limitations. The keywords that it reveals are only a subset of the total number of keywords that people actually search for. Now the tool has been degraded even further, with the actual number of searches for each keyword being replaced with broader ‘buckets’ which are of limited use.

Fortunately, there are ways to get around these problems. Here are some useful tools to use:

  • Google Search Console tells you which keywords are actually getting impressions in the Google search results
  • SEMRush is great not just for spying on other websites, but to see what keywords your own website is ranking for – you may be surprised!
  • Keyword.io is an alternative way to find possible keywords that does not rely on Keyword Planner data

#7. Resorting to Black-Hat Tactics

Sadly, this happens all too often.

Webmasters start their search engine optimization campaigns with the best intentions. They do everything the right way:

  • Creating great content
  • Promoting the content to influencers
  • Looking for guest blogging and contributing opportunities

…and so on. All good, white-hat SEO. The problem, all of this takes time, effort and resources. After a few months, they find they are still not ranking on page one for the terms they consider to be important.

So after a while, they start looking for shortcuts.

Maybe they buy the odd link. Then they pay someone on Fiverr to fire up a link-building tool like GSA Search Engine Ranker or Xrumer. And when all of that fails to get the result they want, they start building private blog networks (PBNs).

A few years ago, such strategies were merely ‘dodgy,’ But now they are downright dangerous. Google has become much more aggressive at penalizing sites that breach its Webmaster Guidelines.

Don’t be tempted to go down that path – you could end up destroying everything you have worked for.

#8. Ignoring On-Site Optimization

Links are very important if you want to rank in Google. Sure, we all know that. But because people are so focused on building backlinks, they often forget the power of on-site optimization.

It’s true that on-site optimization on its own is not enough to rank for a phrase with any kind of competition. But it is an important factor. Used well, it is a way of leveraging your backlinks to squeeze the best possible rankings from them.

Before you even think about building backlinks, you should be attending to on-site issues such as:

  • Internal linking
  • Keyword placement and diversity
  • Bounce rate
  • Dwell time
  • Page views per session

#9. Poor Pay-per-Click (PPC) Management

Pay-per-click advertising is a great way to get qualified traffic fast. But if you don’t know what you are doing, it can also be expensive.

PPC is something that should be done well, or not at all. If you are going to spend money on Adwords, then make sure you have a thorough understanding of quality score, and how achieving a high quality score can drive your cost per click down dramatically.

Most important of all, always be testing. You should be constantly testing new ads, new features and new approaches to find out what works best for your website.

#10. Abandoning SEO Campaigns Just Before They Bear Fruit

There is no doubt about it – search engine optimization can be frustrating.

You spend months working on great content and building links, but still don’t get the result you want. Your website seems to be rooted on page three for that all-important term. Because of this, webmasters often give up on SEO just at the point where a campaign is about to bear fruit.

SEO is a long-term play. You are investing time and effort now to make money further down the track. Have faith in the good work you have done, and you will eventually be rewarded with amazing results.


Change and Adapt

We are all human, and we all make mistakes. However, one of the great benefits of online marketing is that when we make mistakes, we can fix them easily.

When poor old Gary Halbert omitted that all-important phone number from his ads, there was nothing he could do. The ads were paid for, and there was no way to change them. Many thousands of dollars went straight down the toilet.

If the ads had been running in Google Adwords, the problem could have been fixed in less than a minute. The phones would have started ringing off the hooks in less than two minutes. Then Gary could have tweaked and optimized the campaign to increase profits and revenues.

We are lucky to live in such amazing times with awesome technology at our fingertips. So if you find that you are making mistakes, take the opportunity to fix them quickly – and benefit from the huge profits online marketing can generate.

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