5 SEO beginner mistakes

    SEO Clayburn Griffin

    This post is a contribution by Clayburn Griffin, founder of the subreddit r/BigSEO, accomplished SEO and content marketer. You can find him on Twitter @Clayburn!

    In my years of working in digital marketing, I’ve noticed a few particular trends among beginner SEOs (and sometimes even veteran ones!) that are preventing them from taking their SEO game to the next level. I’m tired of seeing these amateurish mistakes and thought I’d write a little bit about them. If you find yourself doing some of these, hopefully this can help you realize it and curb the habit so you can be a better SEO.

    Talking like an SEO

    I once heard a junior SEO on a client call get asked a question about why a particular recommendation mattered. His response was, “It’s an SEO best practice”.

    That reason has little meaning to anyone. The only people who care about or even understand SEO are other SEOs. The problem is that for SEO to succeed, it takes people from all disciplines. You need web developers implementing your fixes. You want your social media guys promoting the right URLs. You want your content team to produce things people are actually looking for. And you want your client to pay for all this.

    To get all these different kinds of people on your side, and working together in the same direction, you have to learn to stop sounding like an SEO. Talk to them about what’s important to them. They probably don’t care about links or meta descriptions. Make them care by tying the recommendation to something that actually matters to them.

    The first step in this is admitting that SEO isn’t the most important thing in the world. It’s the most important thing to you, but everyone has their own KPIs that matter to them. Organic search traffic may be just a small part of them, if a part at all. When you can learn to put SEO in a larger framework of what matters to other people, then you can see real teamwork happen and your recommendations finally implemented.

    You have to stop thinking about everything “from an SEO perspective” and think of your job from business and marketing perspectives. If SEO is important, it’s because of the real business results it brings. It’s that context that will make your SEO recommendations meaningful.

    Using Hearsay Over Experience

    SEOs love hearing from other SEOs. You’re doing that now. But all this hearsay isn’t good enough, even if someone shows you a bunch of fancy charts and big data. I’m not saying to ignore it all. There is value in learning from others, but the best SEOs learn from doing.

    If you want to be better at your job, don’t sit around waiting for other people to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Get out there and try things.

    “But my client won’t implement my recommendations and I don’t want to break something by experimenting on their site.”

    A good SEO should have a variety of their own websites. They don’t have to be profitable or highly successful. They just need to be testing grounds, somewhere you can intimately explore how the Web really works. If you don’t have a website of your own (whether it’s publicly tied to you or not), you can’t be a great SEO. You’ll never have the real hands-on experience that makes all the difference in this field.

    Obsessing Over Keywords

    Not Provided. It’s the end of the world, but only if keywords are the only thing in your world. For good SEOs, there’s far more to life than keywords. Sure, keywords are important and we’d love to have as much data as possible, but this obsession many SEOs have with keywords is essentially hamstringing them.

    In an SEOs obsession over keywords, they may forget the whole reason they’re trying to rank in the first place. There’s a human reader somewhere on the Web that will see and interact with your website in some way. There’s a huge tendency among inexperienced SEOs to write copy like they’re some sort of foreign-language robot. They’re overly focused on hitting all their important keywords that they forget how English works. Or, like trying to put a square peg in a round hole, they’re trying to rank an irrelevant page for some keyword that the client is obsessing about.

    You should be putting as much thought, if not more, into the content you want to have rank and how you want people to interact with it. Think about the purpose of a page. Keywords can be a starting point, but there is plenty more to consider.

    Neglecting Referral Traffic

    SEOs always report on organic search traffic, but many altogether forget to look at referral traffic. “That’s not SEO,” they might say. And they’d be wrong.

    Link-building is an important part of SEO, and the best links drive real traffic. So, you should certainly be looking at the traffic value of links you’ve built. Beyond that, though, your website’s referral traffic provides some great insight into how you can and should be building links. Who already links to you? Get more links from them! You can also figure out then which of your linkbait content is performing the best and with what particular communities and types of websites. Find what’s working and repeat it. If something isn’t working, try something different.

    Maybe as an SEO you can’t report on referral traffic to your client as it may confuse them or step on another department’s toes, but you can find useful information to inform your SEO strategies. So make sure you take the time to check out your referral traffic (including social) and think about what it means for SEO.

    Robots.txt for a Noindex.

    A robots.txt is probably the most useless thing to an SEO, but inexperienced types feel it’s incredibly important for some reason. I suspect that SEOs revere the robots.txt file so much because it feels important, like when you run regedit and suddenly feel like Neo from the Matrix. The boring truth is that your site’s robots.txt is almost never why it’s not ranking well, unless you made a huge mistake with it.

    This odd obsession makes SEOs want to use the robots.txt any chance they get, and for some reason they use it to block a page they don’t want indexed. The robots.txt is for blocking crawling. A noindex meta tag prevents Google from indexing a page, but it can only read that meta tag if you allow it to crawl the page in the first place. So if you don’t want a page showing up on Google’s index, use the noindex meta tag.

    I’m sure there are a lot of other common mistakes out there, and Googling “beginner SEO” is a great way to start learning the dos and don’ts of SEO. These are tendencies that I found to be prevalent and particularly annoying during my own tenure in SEO. So, I had to speak out about them. I’d love to hear what typical mistakes you encounter often. Leave a comment below or tweet me.



    1. Marios Alexandrou on

      In many cases you don’t know all there is about a client’s business or technology, so the “from an SEO perspective” is a good way to acknowledge that you’re speaking without having a complete picture. It allows you to provide an answer to a question you’d otherwise have to caveat ad nauseam or otherwise pretend you know more than you do.

      I know that’s different than what you described, but I thought I’d share an SEO’s perspective 🙂

    2. Yes. Excellent post. I confirm from my experiences in two years writing over 600 posts all over 600 words and no focus on networking. My traffic was only 30 visitors per day. After 2 years of work !!!! Now, on my new project, I am still posting daily with posts from 500 to 1000 words, with totally new domains and on a small, local, slovenian furniture market, but also focusing on a building a network. After one year I am on app. 12.000 visitors per month. Networking is essential and is definitely a part of a SEO work.

    3. Julien Ferras on

      I love this : “The first step in this is admitting that SEO isn’t the most important thing in the world. It’s the most important thing to you, but everyone has their own KPIs that matter to them.” 😀

    4. Hey, Marios. Are you suggesting there are some things SEOs don’t know!?!?

      I think it’s certainly acceptable as a caveat for not having the full picture, but too often it’s used while trying to get your recommendations implemented and it ends up coming off as “not having the full picture” when you really do.

      Thanks for the comment. Hope you’re doing well!

    5. Susanta Sahoo on

      Insightful. Especially agree with you on the Robots.txt point. When it comes to SEO, ignorance can be deadly. Working with a lot of SEO interns, I have seen they perceive it in a wrong way because they have been spoonfed a lot of misconceptions about the technology. As an SEO, one must understand how search engine spiders work before even start building a strategy. Else, you could be doing a disservice to your client’s business.

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