By Ann Gynn published November 10, 2014

Don’t Make These 9 Common SEO Mistakes


SEO is only one way to get your content found, but it’s essential for content marketers to understand the basic principles. During Content Marketing World, Stephan Spencer, co-author of The Art of SEO, shared nine common mistakes you should avoid.

Please note that all of these suggestions are intended to help you maximize your SEO potential. Some of the tips below are things that do work well in social, but they aren’t necessarily best practices when it comes to SEO. In Stephan’s opinion, there is often no downside to applying the principles if you are focused on SEO.

1. You go for likes, not links

“It’s not a social media strategy if it’s not underpinned by SEO,” Spencer says. “Otherwise you’re making a lot of noise without going after a goal.” Viral social traffic is helpful as an intermediary step because the content is more likely to reach bloggers or influencers who can share the content, which would then be tracked by Google, but make sure to include at least one link in the text of your social content so users can read AND click.

Example of what NOT to do: The Flattering Man by Old Spice is a likable and shareable campaign that promotes a faux product – the push-up muscle shirt (clothing that squeezes fat into muscles) — then interrupts the “ad” with a red-flashing screen before the hot Old Spice model appears and tries to dissuade viewers from buying the shirt in favor of Old Spice body spray. The SEO mistake? The words “Old Spice” never appear in the page’s HTML source, which also means there is no link to the Old Spice website. The Flattering Man site may be receiving flattery (shares and likes), but that does nothing to make Old Spice attractive to search engines nor does it drive traffic to Old Spice’s site.

2. Content doesn’t go to a source

Don’t think that social media sites are good homes for content. They can be great places to promote the content, but that content usually doesn’t appear on the page’s HTML source code, which is what search engines monitor.

Remarkable content needs a home where it appears in the source code. For example, a blog hosted on the company’s main domain will boost SEO because the content appears in the page’s searchable code. An added benefit? Being hosted on the home site, the blog draws attention to other content on the page. “A rising tide lifts all boats,” Spencer says.

One other tip – don’t think the content in the actual videos on YouTube moves your Google rankings higher. The search influencers in YouTube are the titles and keywords – the actual text.

Example of what NOT to do: BuzzFeed may seem like a great home for your content to help boost SEO, but it isn’t. Examine the post, “12 Things Women Do Every Day That Are Fearless,” authored by Victoria’s Secret. When you check the article’s HTML source code, BuzzFeed does not include the words “Victoria’s Secret.” If you click on the author’s page, the source code includes Victoria’s Secret but few will visit the page and it won’t do much to help SEO. “Post where you’re going to get the most (SEO) juice,” Spencer advises.

3. You are targeting the wrong audience

“You might be writing content for your customer base and it gets really great reviews from your customers … but from an SEO standpoint, you blew it,” Spencer says. If you want to boost your SEO rankings, then content needs to be created for and attractive to the “Linkerati” — users that have authority in the eye of Google. He offers MozRank, Majestic’s Citation Flow and Trust Flow, and CEMPTER Power*Trust as tools to identify link authorities.

4. You don’t enlist the help from a power user – someone with a lot of SEO influence

Power users plant the seeds in social media. They promote your content to their subscribers and fan base. Spencer advises content marketers to build rapport and relationships with power users in their industry and then provide them with remarkable content worth pushing to their audiences. He offers more how-to insight in his “The Social Media Underground” article.

Example of what TO do: Spencer’s client, Overnight Prints, partnered with web entrepreneur Jeremy Schoemaker to create a contest to design Schoemaker’s new business card (the winning prize was free business cards for life). Shoemaker’s involvement influenced search because he promoted the contest and Overnight Prints on his highly visited websites, blog and social media, and included links to the Overnight Prints-hosted contest page. Prior to the online campaign, Overnight Prints was nowhere to be found on searches for “business cards.” During the campaign, it ranked second and stayed there for months.

5. You use the wrong (or no) words

Research the words your targets are using with tools such as Google Trends. Or, just start by typing words into the Google search box to see what suggestions are automatically populated below it. Spencer says another free tool,, allows you to enter a word and see the autocomplete results from multiple search engines, including Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Bing, YouTube, and Wikipedia.

Ann Gynn 9 SEO Misktakes Screenshot 1 10_28_14

Click to enlarge

Examples of what NOT to do: Spencer shared how one company’s legal department mandated the use of “home loans” on its website rather than the more searchable term, “mortgage.” Another company opted to use “kitchen electrics” rather than words like blenders, mixers, and toasters. The SEO results weren’t surprising. When the technical terms were used, the site tracked low and flat.

6. You break your site

When you redesign or create a new website, don’t dismiss the old website pages. If you kill the site, you kill the rankings, Spencer says. Old pages that have boosted SEO should never be deleted; instead, you should be using 302 redirects to keep those pages in play and current. Also, ensure all the images and links are properly reconnected so they continue to appear in a website redesign or page upgrades.

Examples of what NOT to do: Mentos created a killer campaign and a wildly successful SEO-optimized site, The concept was simple — an intern sat in front of a webcam for the summer and would execute consumer requests. But Mentos didn’t keep the site up after the campaign was completed — it’s not broken, it’s dead, and so is the impact on Mentos’ SEO.

TurboTax hosted a rapid music video contest with the winner of “The Tax Rap” receiving $25,000. “They nailed it,” Spencer says. But when TurboTax redesigned its site, the rap’s new page had a broken link to the image. “Google doesn’t trust sites with broken links,” he notes.

7. You don’t have a plan for systematic outreach

To scale your outreach to Linkerati and influencers, create processes. Spencer advocates creating systems for prospecting, leveraging your CRM, distributing templates with personalization, moderating, following up, and creating a pipeline. Spencer goes into detail in this article, “Scaling and Systemizing Your Link Building.” He also suggests using a tool like to facilitate the process.

To learn more about process for influencer marketing, you can also download our toolkit, The Complete Guide to Influencer Marketing: Strategies, Templates & Tools, which walks you through a simple 10-step process and provides three customizable templates. 

8. You don’t gather intel

Know what keywords work well for your site and your competitors’ sites. Establish baselines and track your keyword success. Spencer offers these platform-specific analytic tools:

  • Authority Labs provides daily search-engine ranking reports.
  • Voot tracks and trends YouTube video performance, engagement data, video comments, and even search.
  • Google Webmaster Tools, Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Ahrefs quantify and qualify inbound links (who is linking to your site/page) and some will show how to compare your inbound link statistics to other URLs.

9. You buy into SEO myths

Thinking meta keywords or descriptions will help your SEO? Stop. It’s a myth — they never count in Google’s algorithm. As for country-specific sites creating duplicate-content issues in Google? It’s a myth too. SEO is an experimental science that you can reverse engineer, and you don’t need to buy into the myths, Spencer says. He has heard so much wrong information that he came up with more than 70 incorrect notions – 36 myths in this article and 36 more in this article.


Now that you know what not to do, you know what to do to boost your SEO. Spencer cautions content marketers not to be overwhelmed by the SEO process. He suggests that you pick out three of the lessons learned and get started today. As you gain ground in knowledge and success, add another actionable tip to push your content up the ladder of SEO success.

Stephan Spencer helped prevent the CMW audience from making these common SEO mistakes. Didn’t attend the presentation or couldn’t make it to CMW this year? You can still catch up on the practical tips, biggest issues, ideas, and innovations in content marketing. Check out our Video on Demand portal for more info.

Cover image by Surminga WN via

Author: Ann Gynn

Ann Gynn edits the CMI blog. She also serves as the Tech Tools editor for Chief Content Officer magazine. Ann regularly combines words and strategy for B2B, B2C, and nonprofits, continuing to live up to her high school nickname, Editor Ann. Former college adjunct faculty, Ann also helps train professionals in content so they can do it themselves. Follow Ann on Twitter @anngynn or connect on LinkedIn.

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  • studiumcirclus

    I really like this post 🙂 one thing to mention is that as far as social metrics go, “likes” haven’t been valuable since organic reach was nuked on FaceBook. You can however use APIs to (instead) pull “Shares”. When someone shares your content there is more likely to be further interaction (commenting, comments from their own friends etc).

    By the way I’m not saying that even this metric should be relied upon entirely. It is useful to fetch, however!

    • Ann Gynn

      You couldn’t be more right about Facebook — “likes” are lovely but they’re now more like when a mom says her child’s pretty. It’s always better when the comment comes from someone outside the family (kind of like “shares” are in Facebook.)

  • Robert Gibb

    Having a systematic plan for outreach is really important.

    When the ineffective form of outreach was big (e.g. offering content to virtually ANY website just for a link back to your website), not much happened. The website that got the content benefitted more than your business. And that wasn’t the publisher’s fault – it was yours. You should have been going after influencers that had a readership relevant to your business in the first place! You should have been going after people you could *collaborate* with.

    As we often hear, people make purchases – not links. If you can team up with influencers to create quality content that offers real value to their readers, those links going back to your website will matter.

    This all goes back to why having a systematic plan is important. Once you establish a connection with a set of influencers, foster them like personal friendships, then go out and get more! You can never have enough friends.

    You help them, they help you. You offer value to their readers, they send their readers your way. It’s a beautiful process that the term “guest blogging” doesn’t quite capture.How about influencer collaborating? Too long. Influaborating? Sounds like the bloating process of a “so-ugly-it’s-cute” animal.

    Well, like the term “content marketing” that’s so much more powerful than it sounds, I guess buzzwords like “guest blogging” and “blogger outreach” will have to do. Great post!

    • Ann Gynn

      Robert — you’re right, a system is key. I appreciate your desire to give a better word to guest blogging and blogger outreach – both of which don’t grasp the fullness of the relationship. I like influencer collaborating – but it is long. How about blog collaborators? Other thoughts?

      • Robert Gibb

        Something simple like “content collaboration” may even do. Because sometimes, the collaboration requested could have to do with something other than a blog. For instance, It could involve you offering a free trial to the publisher and, in turn, getting direct insight from them to create a comprehensive case study with rich feedback. In return for offering them a free trial you’d be able to create a hassle-free case study and have them publish a post on their blog about their experience with you.

        “Content collaboration” is general, yet practical like “content marketing,” so I understand why the content marketing term has stuck! However, unlike content marketing that involves SO much, content collaboration would be a category of content marketing. It would include things like guest blogging, influencer outreach, influencer collaboration, etc.

        Of course, because the word “influencer” isn’t in the term, it would have to be implied. Kind of like how the marketing of content such as blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, infographics, podcasts, interviews, etc. are implied in the term content marketing.

  • ahaval

    I’m confused. The link you gave us to Moz on the H1 title thing does not relate–are you talking about title tags; not H1 tags?

  • ahaval

    Those SEO Myth articles that won’t die are from 2010 and it seems to me that some of those “myths” have been revived. Maybe not the most relevant of all articles to post.

  • Content Strategist & Editor

    I was of the current belief that Google’s latest algorithm actually does crawl social media sites and that engagement (i.e. likes, shares) is a critical reason for Google ranking a source higher in search results. This article seems to suggest that engagement has nothing to do with SEO? Or are you saying that engagement counts but you need to link to the page with keywords in the code on the page you are linking to? A little confuzzled here….!

    • Marketing Bees

      It counts but it’s not something that needs to be a priority. Actually, it shouldn’t be a priority.

  • Renu Bisht

    Many SEOs are still making mistakes, they think they can rank with those old kind of SEO techniques but they are wrong. When Google find they out these spammers they never again rank in their life.

  • Rosser

    Keywords and tags are really important. But still, you will have to use popular but not too common text, which by itself is hard, especially with competition.

  • Daniel Page

    Great article Ann! I included this in my monthly roundup of the best SEO content: Thanks!

  • Wendy Kiana Kelly

    I’m a huge fan of busting SEO myths, and like this article quite a lot. However, I think point #9 needs a bit of a nuance. Meta descriptions are not part of the algorithm Google uses — that is very true. However, an important part of the algorithm takes into consideration users who click to the site and then click right back to search results. The meta description is a huge factor in this. Writing it well – so that it “gets the click” but doesn’t misinform and lead ppl to click right back to the results is an art and science — and very, very important to SEO.