Search engines — in one form or another — have been around for decades, and the art and science of SEO has been a major part of the online marketing puzzle for many years. In fact, some colleges and universities now offer specialized certificate and diploma programs in SEO/SEM, and consultants who know what they’re doing can earn more than doctors (and they don’t have to maintain an inventory of rubber gloves, or scrub their arms up to their elbows every hour).

However, despite the fact that SEO is hardly a new thing, the fact remains that the vast majority of businesses — it could be 95 percent of them — still get many things wrong about SEO. Here are the 3 biggest and costliest mistakes:

  1. Not choosing the right keywords.

In some ways, search engines themselves are to blame for this problem, because they make keyword selection so easy. Literally within seconds, a business can create a list — or several lists — of keywords. What’s the issue here? Well, it’s the old GIGO acronym: garbage in, garbage out. The keywords aren’t strategically selected, and so their resulting SEO impact isn’t either. That is, websites don’t show up at the right time, for the right target group, with the right messaging. That’s a recipe for SEO failure if there ever was one!

And so, what’s the solution? Businesses with the in-house expertise should dig deep and choose keywords that are going to deliver the most bang for their buck. And businesses without the in-house expertise they need (which is almost all of them) should work with a market research agency that specializes in this area, such as Communications for Research.

  1. Not understanding how Google ranks websites.

Google has a complex — and ultimately secret, but not entirely unknown — formula for ranking websites, which includes a mix of on-page elements and off-page elements (including social citations and mentions).

Frankly, most businesses don’t know what Google wants to see, and so they approach things in a trial-and-error way. The major problem here, however, is that it’s like trying to hit a moving target. Even when businesses get some SEO traction and see their website rise, they typically don’t know why — which means they can’t scale it for other keywords. Or what worked a year ago may not work anymore. Google is notorious in the SEO world for tinkering with its algorithm.

(And before I move on, just in case it’s irking some of you: Google actually doesn’t rank websites. It ranks web pages. That’s why a single website domain can show up for multiple keywords, because different web pages are presented to various searchers. But for discussion purposes, it’s simpler to think about ranking websites as a whole. Just keep in mind that, technically, SEO is really about ranking web pages.)

  1. Not realizing that SEO is not the end-all-be-all of sales success.

Rounding out the trifecta of massive SEO misunderstandings is the belief that all businesses need to do is use SEO to get people to their website — and then sales will simply happen. The reality is quite different!

SEO is like an invitation to a party. Obviously, businesses want people — in this context, customers — to accept their invitation and show up at the prescribed location at the right time. But that’s just the beginning. Once they arrive, businesses need to give them a reason to have fun and stick around. Otherwise, they’ll leave.

In the same light, if a website is difficult to navigate, slow, bug-ridden, and doesn’t deliver an overall positive user experience, then people will simply bounce away. All of the SEO work that a business did will be pointless. Remember: SEO is just the beginning of the buyer’s journey — it is by no means the end.

The Bottom Line

If your business is making any — or all — of the above mistakes, then be assured you aren’t alone. However, there’s no strength in numbers here, either. Fixing these mistakes should be a top priority, so that your SEO investment is rewarding and profitable instead of regrettable and costly.