10 SEO Stories From the Front Lines

In this article I thought I would share some of the things that I have come across in the last six months and some recommendations for those issues so that others may learn from those mistakes. Obviously I won’t make these client-specific, but I have seen a number of these issues occur with more than one of my clients, as well as sites that I have evaluated for people who are considering my company as their SEO vendor.

Here are some of the issues that have been top of mind lately and my recommendations for addressing them:

1. Hreflang

Hreflang is a wonderful tool to help search engines understand what region or audience that your content is intended for, especially if your site uses a folder structure to segment content for international audiences. Just make sure when you implement the canonical tags that you are using the correct two-character ISO country and language codes, as I have seen instances where folks are getting these wrong:

Country Codes

Language Codes

Also be sure to get them in the right order! The syntax is:

< link rel=”alternate” href=”http://example.com/en-au” hreflang=”en-au” />

It goes language and then country. If you only use one it will be considered the language. I have seen folks try to use one code with the intention of specifying a country. You must specify at least one language for each country.

More information about Hreflang can be found here.

2. Canonical Tags and Redirects

Lately I have been noticing that vanity domains or shortened URLs like www.example.com/go/keyword that are redirects pointing to a longer URL have been appearing in Google rather than the longer URL. Under normal circumstances, you would expect if www.example.com/go/keyword returns a 301 redirect to www.example.com?abunchofstuffherethatsearchenginesapparentlydontlike that the later URL would be indexed. However, lately that has not been the case. It seems if Google thinks the shorter URL is better for users they will keep it. If this behavior is acceptable to you, then it isn’t an issue, but oftentimes it is not ideal.

It has been my experience that if you put a canonical tag on the second URL (the destination of the redirect), that will circumvent this behavior.

This is just another reason that I always recommend that every page of your site have a canonical tag implemented CORRECTLY. It solves so many issues related to duplicate content and indexing, even issues that you may not be aware of.

3. JavaScript

Do NOT use JavaScript for your global navigation template. Sometimes Google can read it, and sometimes it can’t. Anything Google can’t do, most other search engines can’t, either. Therefore, even if Google can see your JavaScript links, most other engines can’t (certainly not international engines like Baidu). Navigation links are a very important part of SEO and it is critically important that they can be indexed correctly. Use HTML 5 or CSS as an alternative or compliment your JavaScript navigation with a noscript tag in order to ensure it is indexed properly.

You can use Google’s text cache to see if your links are getting indexed. Type “cache:www.example.com” into the Google search box to see what Google has indexed for your page and then click on the link in the header that says text cache and look to see that your links are there. If your links do not appear in the text cache of the page, you typically have an issue.

4. Keyword Density

I know, there is no magical keyword density and that metric is so 2005. However, if a keyword phrase appears only once or not at all in the content of the page, is that page really one of the top 10 best resources for users who are searching for information about that keyword? Just something to think about.

5. Page Titles

A lot of people advocate relatively short page titles now a days, especially since Google has started changing page titles in some cases based on the query, especially longer page titles. I don’t want to get into a philosophical discussion here about page titles, as that could be its own article. But I will say that there seems to be compelling evidence that having your priority keyword near or at the front of the page title is helpful and that most pages that rank for a given competitive keyword, have that keyword in the title. I hear what everyone is saying about Hummingbird, semantic Web, AI, yada yada yada…but, I still recommend ensuring that if you want to rank for a competitive keyword or get long tail traffic around permutations of that keyword, that you include it prominently in the page title. Of course there are always exceptions but when it comes to SEO, I like to play the odds.

6. Content Marketing

Producing great content in and of itself is not going to produce links unless you are extremely fortunate. It has been my experience that most people, when they talk about content marketing, forget the “marketing” part of it. Make sure you have a solid marketing plan for each piece of content that you create. That means more than just blasting it out on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and doing a press release. Make sure you have a good strategy around leveraging relationships that you have with other businesses, bloggers, and other industry sites to ensure maximum exposure for your content and give yourself enough lead time to take advantage of those relationships.

Also, keep in mind that relationships are developed over time and your social team and other thought leaders in your industry should be continually cultivating those relationships to improve your brand awareness, expand your thought leadership footprint, and create potential marketing opportunities (some of which are applicable to content marketing activities).

Also if the content is extremely well done or popular, consider paid advertisement options to increase its reach.

7. Conversion Testing

You should constantly be testing both PPC landing pages and organic pages for conversion optimization. If you get 50,000 visitors a month that convert at a 1 percent rate (500 conversions) with an average order value of $100, that generates $50,000 a month in revenue. To double your revenue you could either double your visitors to 100,000 a month or improve your conversion rate to 2 percent. Which do you think is easier to do? I’m betting its doubling your conversion rate.

Obviously not everyone is in the same boat, but if you aren’t spending consistent resources to test conversions, then you are missing a big piece of the pie and not taking full advantage of the organic traffic that you do have.

8. Search Boxes and Form-Based Navigation

I have seen a number of instances where the only way to access a particular page of content is to use an internal search box or select options from a form. Search engines will not perform either of these actions nor will they count those page elements as links. You should ensure that every piece of content on your site has at least one internal link pointing it (preferably more than one). Island pages do not perform well in search and should always be avoided. Keep in mind that XML sitemaps do pass page rank or other link connectivity metrics and are not considered links by search engines. They aid in indexing but not ranking.

9. Rel=nofollow

Unless you really know what you are doing, don’t use this tag unless it’s for blog comments. I still see people using this tag on their own internal links in a way that looks to be an attempt to do some Page Rank Sculpting. Page rank sculpting is dead. Recall the following quote from Matt Cutts:

“So what happens when you have a page with “ten PageRank points” and ten outgoing links, and five of those links are nofollowed? Let’s leave aside the decay factor to focus on the core part of the question. Originally, the five links without nofollow would have flowed two points of PageRank each (in essence, the nofollowed links didn’t count toward the denominator when dividing PageRank by the outdegree of the page). More than a year ago, Google changed how the PageRank flows so that the five links without nofollow would flow one point of PageRank each.”

So unless you are using this tag for a link you don’t trust (which should never be the case for a link into your own site!), then don’t use it.

10. 404s and Free Links

This is nothing new, but you should always be evaluating your 404 pages to see how you can better improve your user experience. Google Webmaster tools is a great way to do this and to identify a number of opportunities to reclaim links that already exist which point to your site. This was pointed out by Matt Cutts a long time ago.

But I rarely see anyone proactively contacting webmasters for the purposes of cleaning these kinds of links up. But this is usually worth exploring if your site has been around for a while. You never know what you might find and you could be inadvertently overlooking a link that would make a huge difference in your SEO performance.


I hope this list is helpful and provides some value to you in your ongoing quest for more organic search traffic. Merry Christmas, happy holidays, happy new year, and good luck with your SEO efforts in 2015!


Image via Shutterstock.

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