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SEO Website Audit

5 Rookie SEO Mistakes That Can Kill Your Search Engine Traffic and Some Tools to Help

May 30, 2012

Image Credit: opensourceway, pinksherbert, dahlstromsMistakes. We all make them, and ideally we learn from them. But even the smallest of mistakes on your website can sometimes cause big problems. And big problems with a website can cause lost traffic, money and jobs.

With that in mind, here are 5 mistakes I've seen often enough to warrant a mention. I hope that you can learn from others who weren't so lucky:

1. Telling the search engines you don't want them to add your website to their database or follow its links.

If the pages of your website are not in Google's database, then there's no way you'll ever receive any search engine traffic -- targeted or otherwise. Not a week goes by when I don't see a website where somehow the "noindex, nofollow" meta tags have been inadvertently added to every page (or even just some pages) of the site. Most of the time, it's due to a WordPress setting that goes unnoticed when the website is first being designed. If you literally can't find any page of your site in Google, even for a search on the name of the site or the URL, view the source code to see if you have told Google that you don't want them to index your site.

I use a Chrome extension called "Nofollow," which highlights all links that have the nofollow attribute, and also pops up a little window if the page is set at "noindex." This simple extension is why I end up spotting this so often.

2. Relying on SEO software to "optimize" your website.

Repeat after me: There is no specific number of times a keyword phrase should be used in my content. There is no magic number of words that my pages should have written on them. And there is no best number of words or phrases that belong in a Title tag. And most of all: There is no SEO software that can optimize my website (despite the claims of their creators).

Use your common sense to optimize your site! Learn how your target audience searches for products, services and information such as yours, and write about it accordingly on your website. Then write to make an emotional connection with your visitors so that they'll convert into happy customers.

3. Improper redirecting of old pages (or sites) to new ones via a 302-redirect instead of a 301-redirect.

Whether you've changed your domain name to something different or you've redeveloped your website and all or most of your new URLs are different from the old ones, it's critical to redirect the old to the new via 301-redirects and not 302s. A 301-redirect causes Google to remove the old URL and also to pass the link popularity of the old URL to the new one. But a 302, while redirecting visitors to the correct new URL, will often still be indexed by Google. This causes duplicate content issues and PageRank splitting problems. That is, any links to the old URL will not pass "link juice" to the new one as long as it's redirected erroneously via a 302.

Check the http header status of your redirected URLs to see if they show a 301 or a 302 via the SEO Consultant's server header checker tool.

4. Writing to your CEO instead of your customer.

When you're entrenched in the day-to-day activities of your business, you might forget that the words you use to describe what you do aren't necessarily the ones that will be used by those unfamiliar with what you do. The people who come to your site shouldn't need a translator to understand exactly what you do. And you know who the worst offenders are? Marketers! I fundamentally understand marketing at a commonsense level, because it's a fairly simple concept. Yet when I check out some marketing companies' websites, they might as well be speaking Martian. In addition to the gobbledygook that many companies write, they also don't always speak to their potential customer at all. Instead, they try to impress those customers with how great they are.

To fix these copywriting mistakes, find out the words people use to find products and services such as yours through keyword research, and then tell your potential customers what's in it for them, rather than how totally awesome YOU are.

5. Creating a new site on a new domain and leaving the old site up as well.

I know that it's scary to develop a brand-new site -- especially if (for whatever reason) you must change domain names. But having 2 websites up at the same time is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the search engines. Every time I've seen this done (either on purpose or by mistake), the new website rarely gains any traction in the search engines as long as the old site is still alive and kicking. If you've spent time and money creating a kick-ass new website, don't kill its chances of people finding it through search engines by keeping your old cruddy (but highly ranking) site lurking in the background.

Be sure you follow best SEO redesign practices, 301-redirect all your old URLs to the new, and -- if you are changing domain names -- perform a "change of address" using your Google Webmaster Tools account. After you do these things, your new site should do at least as well as your old site did in the search engines. More likely than not, it will do even better!

There are probably 100 more SEO rookie mistakes that are made every day, but I hope that these 5 -- as well as the tools to help find and fix them -- provide you with a good start toward keeping your website mistake free!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings Jill Whalenand an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 SEO Rapper said:
#5 is tough....
I have clients who come in and want a brand new website and have sent content from the old site that they have up using different domains. They hate to take them down...smh
 Ed Pritchard said:
I am confused about item #5. I have good rankings on key words for and I want to add a blog but am concerned that adding wordpress to my site will disrupt my rankings. So my idea is to create a wordpress based site with a new host server and new url, for blogging, posting audio, etc with a link from my home page (I am testing now with a blog link.) Would this fall under the category of what you say not to do creating a new site on a new domain and leaving old sit up? What if I will have different content on the info site?
 Jill Whalen said:
Ed, what you're talking about isn't what I was talking about in #5. I was talking about companies who create a new site and also leave their old one up.

On the other hand, I don't understand what you're worried about adding a blog to your existing site through Wordpress. That would be my recommendation for you. It's much less confusing to have your blog right on your site. Also, that way the links people provide to your great blog content will get passed to the rest of your site through your global navigational links.
 Laurie Macomber said:
Excellent post! Loved the no follow/no index checker tip and all the other thoughts are stellar.
 Martina said:
Wouldn't be better to add the blog into a subfolder like this instead of using the different domain

 Jill Whalen said:
Martina, it doesn't really matter, but my preference would be /blog as that's what people usually remember.
 Dianna Huff said:

Love it! Especially Mistake #2. Thank you!
 Christine said:
Would changing from a .com to count as a change of domain with google? Do you still need to do a change of address or is a 301 redirect fine? I initially tried to do this change of address and Google says to submit it to webmaster tools and you have to verify both sites...well if one doesn't exist anymore how is this possible? How long does it take google to recognise the new web page?
 Jill Whalen said:
Yes, that's certainly a domain change. If you've already deleted the old site, you may not be able to do it now. As long as you're 301 redirecting you should be fine most of the time.
 Ali said:
Hi Jill,
I want to ask that is it wrong if I launch a b2b website of two domains, like and

local site will concentrate on local clients where as intl site will be worldwide . what I am doing, developed a script / website and launch / upload the same script in both just after to change the domain name ...

Could it give the problem in SEO?
 Jill Whalen said:
If the sites are the same then it's probably not worthwhile.
 AmandaW said:
With regard to Item #2: According to Bing Webmaster's SEO Analyser, the title tag on my home page is too long which means I merit a big red flag. Indeed, this is an issue of "high severity". The title is, I would say, a common sense title, but doesn't conform to Bing's notion of a magic number.
 Jill Whalen said:
Amanda, as my article says, I wouldn't worry about it. It's just a tool and tools don't know best.
 Jennifer said:
Thanks, number four is particularly useful to me, and your solution makes a lot of sense.
 Ted Ives said:
Jill, great list, especially #4 - companies have the tendency to talk in their own terms and not the customers terms. I used to be with a battery backup manufacturer and we had software that would sometimes show "The UPS is on battery" - extremely confusing to users until we realized - it should instead simply show "There is a power outage" ;-) Writing from the customer perspective is super-key.

I do take exception on #2 - there is a magic number (i.e. keyword density) for each term. It's definitely between zero percent and 100 percent somewhere, and differs by keywords - the trick is figuring out what it is. The problem is, it's ultimately unknowable, but you *can* find a number slightly lower than the actual magic number. That number is "the percentage you can reasonably get away with, without getting burned". You can find this by analyzing the top competitors ranking for the term - obviously they haven't been burned with whatever keyword density they are using. The same works with document length. Check out [debt consolidation] for instance - you won't see any 350-word pages ranking for that one, they're all lengthy tomes - there's a reason for that...

This is a bit of a religious issue I guess, maybe I shouldn't dwell on it in polite company. But I'm a keyword density believer!
 Jill Whalen said:
@Ted As you can probably imagine, I disagree completely. Taking an average of whatever the top 10 pages are using (for any metric) just doesn't make any sense whatsoever (to me).

But I'm happy to agree to disagree!
 Michael said:
I wasn't even sure there was SEO software that optimized a website, usually software that makes comments about what to do. Perhaps a more basic rookie SEO mistake would be to failing to recognize both parts of SEO - on-site SEO and off-site SEO - and understanding the differences between the two of them!
 Jane Shafrin said:
Hi Jill,
Keyword research may just be my most important job.
I always ask visitors to my site how they found it, and even if they don't remember exactly what search term they used, their answers are always helpful.

I offered discounts to customers who told me 3 different ways they found me (excluding bookmarks) & i got some good ideas.
 Michelle said:
Hi Jill,
I'm checking out the No Follow extension you recommended. I'm trying to understand how it works. If the info box says False does that mean there aren't any and if it says True there are "no follows" ? And since the info box doesn't even show up on your site, I assume that means everything is good.
The only stupid question is the one you don't ask, right?
 Jill Whalen said:
@Michelle, yes, that's correct. You can set it so that it only pops up if one or the other are "True." There are a bunch of settings, in fact, so make sure you look at those and set them as you'd like.
 Linda Lou said:
Hi Jill; My question is how long do you need to redirect the old site to the new one? I'm having to either change my original site over to another domain I own or tear down & rebuild the current one due to an unfixable error a plugin created over the past two days I went through the entire site copied every page's code, all settings in wordpress . . . & will need to redirect the old to the new but eventually I want to use the old one for something else, so is there a good time limit where you could actually delete all the files from the old site & not worry about the 301?
Peace & Blessings
Linda Lou
 Jill Whalen said:
Linda, first of all, you shouldn't need a whole new domain just because you have a technical error. If you've rebuilt the site and it works on another domain then just change it to your current domain.

That said, in general how long to keep an old domain would matter on whether there are still links that point to it. I personally like to try to keep them forever as it doesn't really cost me anything but the $10 a year for the registration. But if you have to pay more or to host it or something, you'd have to weigh that with any potential loss of traffic. Most likely if the site wasn't all that popular to being with keeping it for a year or two would be sufficient.

But again, in your case, you shouldn't need to use an new domain at alll, so the point is moot.
 Linda Lou said:
Thanks Jill :) I'm not sure what you mean about "change it to your domain" I haven't actually rebuilt the other domain yet but was planning on getting started doing it today; & yes I just added the plugin I was having trouble with on the old domain to the new one & it works find there, but again what do you mean "If you've rebuilt the site and it works on another domain then just change it to your current domain. "? do you mean to use the new sites database after I rebuild it? or . . .
Peace & Blessings
Linda Lou
 Jill Whalen said:
Just point your domain's dns to where ever it is that you've built the new site instead of pointing a new domain to it.
 Jon said:
Goes Google penalize me for copying a blog and not recognize it as a new entry because it appears somewhere else? I am part of a franchise and the parent company has a blog and I want to copy and use many of the articles on my site, but someone told me that if I copy them verbatim that Google won;t recognize it/them as a new blog, etc. if any of that makes sense. If so, how much of the old blog do I have to change before it is recognized as a new blog?
 Jon said:
Does Google penalize me if I copy blogs vs. creating brand new content? I am part of a franchise and the parent company publishes regular blogs and I want to copy and utilize those blogs on my website. Someone told me that Google won't recognize the new blogs because they are identical to the old blogs. If that's true, how much do I have to change the blogs?
 Jill Whalen said:
@jon, yeah, you're going to need your own unique content if you want to gain any traction with the search engines.
 jon said:
How much of change constitutes unique content versus the old content? What if I change more than 50% of the words?
 Jill Whalen said:
Jon, who knows?

Why not just write original stuff instead?
 Jon said:
Because our parent company has an excellent blogger who posts great articles multiple times per week.
 Lisa M said:
Thank you so much! My old site is up and I was wondering if I should use the redirect Wordpress is offering. I am in violation of #5. You did a great job of answering my question.
 Matt said:
Some good simple tips here, thanks! Had little understanding of the deep complexities of SEO until building our site recently. It's not an exact science, but following these guidelines will help loads!
 LOL said:
i laughed at this blog post, lady you are still a rookie if you are saying that seo software cannot optimize your site.

yoast seo
all in one seo
 Jill Whalen said:
Those don't optimize your site. They just help it to be crawler friendly.
 Janelle said:
I would say good SEO is very complex and guessing your way through it is just not the best approach. Software can do so much but final tuning and white hat techniques are manual.
 Michael Marcus said:
Your point #3 "Improper redirecting of old pages (or sites) to new ones via a 302-redirect instead of a 301-redirect", is precisely what just happened to us when we had our website re-done. Now that's getting fixed!!

Thanks for providing the tools to identify & avoid the "rookie mistake".

I enjoy reading your articles very much. Great job.
 Bob said:
Awesome information here Jill! I love the link you provided to check the headers, I was worried I was having a 302 redirect based on all of the webpage work I'm doing, but luckily all is good and I'm on a 301.

What is your thoughts on page speed with SEO? I seem to have a horrible page load time (4-7 seconds) which I know can kill conversions and overall CTR from google.
 Steamy said:
Does using a 301 redirect and a change of address still work in regards to transfering the age and link popularity through to the other site?

This used to be a great technique for helping a new domain to get ranked quickly - however Google has made many changes and I was wondering whether this still worked??
 Jill Whalen said:
If its the same site but just with a different domain then yes. But it you just take some other site and say it has a new address I can't imagine that being helpful.
 tagg3rty said:
if a client has a website and is in Australia, what do you do with
how do you add to the site without affecting the ranking?
 Jill Whalen said:
You just redirect (via 301) one site to the other.
 glenn said:
hi there

re point number 1 - i have made a bit of an error during a site redesign - left the 'Ask search engines not to index this site.' Wordpress setting checked on from the test server site. This has been on a well indexed domain for probably 10 days until I realised the error. My question is, now that I have changed the setting to allow indexing - is this like starting with a brand new domain name?

I seriously hope not as he was ranking first in Google for a couple of search terms. Any help would be appreciated.

 Jill Whalen said:
@glen, you'll likely be fine in a few days. But of course as you've changed the site, it's likely your google traffic will change as well
 Glenn said:
Hi Jill

Thanks for the positivity! Just what I needed to hear. I thought as much but you can never be sure. Hopefully traffic should increase as he's gone from a static 5 page site to a WP ecommerce platform. Fingers crossed, thanks again.

 Ajaz Elahi said:
Quick question regarding point #5...

I have a website and it's doing really well but from there I sell a wide range of services. One service in particular is doing so well, it's a business in itself - so I decided to build a niche website just around that one product.. and give the website a completely new brand so it's like competing against myself but with double the chances in the SE's...

The new site is also hosted on the same server (same hosting account with but completely new website with all fresh content and new domain. Are you saying this website may not rank well? I'm a little confused.. sorry.

Or do you mean that only the people who create a new site and carry their content over from the old site will have this problem due to duplicate content?
 Jill Whalen said:
It could cause you problems because as you said you're trying to double the chances that your site shows up in the search results.

Google wants to provide people with variety. If the same companies with the same products and services dominate the search results, it's not good for the consumer.

Now, whether or not Google will know that you're trying to trick them is another story.

The best (well safest) way to handle it is to move the niche products from the main site and just have them on the new site. You can link over to the new site from the old one to point people there who want the niche product.

But overall, in my opinion, you're better off to have just one site for all your products.
 Alonso Argüello said:
Thanks for your ideas Jill.

One question: My site is getting most of the traffic by one Page and one Keyword, that is not so important (the site is for selling psychotherapy services, and the keyword-page that is obtaining more visits is about "motivational quotes". Could this eventually kill my site?

What I´m affraid of is that Google may think that my site is about quotes, and the main keywords (like psychotherapy or psychologists, etc. ) could loose their power (to Google´s eyes, because these keywords don´t attract too much visits...) and affect my index in general.

Thank you for your time.
 Jill Whalen said:
@Alonso, Google looks at pages not sites as a whole (for the most part) so it's not a problem.
 Alonso Argüello said:
Thank you Jill, it makes a lot of sense.
 Peter Carvell said:
Hi Jill,

I've heard you speak at conferences a few times in the past and found you really engaging!

What you wrote in point 5 about old, well-ranking sites was very interesting. We visited America for conferences a few times pre-financial crisis and trained ourselves up to create a (what we thought) kick-ass new website in 2005.

However, I feel the potential of this website is still to this day being held back by our website. Language Courses Abroad has been around for many, many years and we are struggling to keep both fresh and updated.

I think it will be risky to kill off Language Courses Abroad - especially because the generic name (which we are no longer number 1 for) is such a common word in our industry.

Any thoughts from you or any other expert on what we should do would be greatly appreciated.
 Jill Whalen said:
Most likely you should keep the nice newer site, but use it on the older better domain. But it's impossible to say for sure without studying your situation completely.
 thekencook said:
Kudos on #2 - that's what brought me to this page. This is a part of my daily conversation as I provide SEO analysis (manual and automated combined) and reader first content. One of the things I have to "sell against" is "Oh, I already have Yoast isntalled" or "I use Attracta". Yeah, I know, that's why you really need me! Anyway, thank you for your article - I'm a part of the choir for this one but I'm quoting you on #2.
 Bob said:
I recently changed my theme and changed my SEO yoast title description after the remodeling was over. Soon Google ranked me with my new title on page one after a few days.

Days later Google re-ranked me much lower and changed my description back to the previous one I used before the theme change.

Does that make any sense? Do you know what happened?
Will it correct itself over time?
 Sharon owen said:
Hello. I am revamping a website which has a blog not hosted with wordpress. I am going to create a wordpress blog page for the new site but I would like have their current domain attached to the new website. I would like it to read Then when anyone goes to the newly revamped site and hits the blog page they will land on the new wordpress blog page but yet will still be sitting in the domain name. Is this even possible? Does this require some sort of a sub domain or some sort of domain mapping in wordpress administrstion? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thx