7 Things that Can Ding Your Online Search Engine Results

Want to improve the chances that your business’s website shows up in relevant online search engine results? Here’s what not to do.

An entire industry is based on trying to figure out what matters in Google’s all-important algorithm. Whether it’s Google or another online search engine, a company’s search ranking can literally make or break a small business! There are SEO (search engine optimization) tactics you can use to improve your ranking, but just as crucial is avoiding these common mistakes.

1. Neglecting the basics

Building a company website without an SEO strategy is like “opening a brick-and-mortar business and imagining people are going to know about you and come to your store simply because you opened,” cautions Todd Keith, content strategist, Regions eBusiness. He explains that SEO strategy includes completing some basic steps, such as filling in meta tags, which are short descriptions of your website pages that allow search engines to more easily understand what your content is about, and creating a site map, a map of your site’s hierarchy that allows search engines to more easily navigate your website.

Many content management tools are designed with these basics in mind, and they often automatically update website code to adhere to the evolving best practices outlined by Google and other search engines. That’s important because outdated code can hurt your search ranking. If you are unsure about your website’s design, consider partnering with an SEO expert to help you assess your site and optimize it as needed, but remember to vet any SEO expert the way you would any other potential vendor.

If your focus is on improving your Google search ranking, Keith also suggests that you use Google Webmasters resources to measure your site’s performance in search, and that you take steps to improve it by using Google’s free suite of tools and online courses.

2. Not being mobile-friendly

“More search traffic comes from mobile devices and tablets than from laptops and desktops,” says Kristine B. Snively, founder & CEO of Pristine Public Relations, Inc., a public relations and marketing firm that works with attorneys. “If your website is not mobile-friendly, meaning the layout, design and content are not compatible with mobile devices and tablets, your search engine ranking may suffer.” For example, if your mobile site can’t be properly recognized and accurately indexed by Google, it will probably be harder for searchers using Google to find it.

Google provides a free resource for determining whether or not your site design is mobile-friendly. Sue Laurent, a marketing coach for small businesses and owner of NSMarketing, also suggests having everyone in your office look at your website on their smartphones and tablets. “Is your important contact information at the top of the screen? Is the page easy to read? Do the images expand and contract based on the screen size? If you're not providing a great mobile experience for your site visitors, search engines probably won’t rank your pages very high,” she says.

3. Poor promotion of your site

While increasing the number of links pointing to your site from other sites can help your ranking, link quality matters to Google and other search engines. A blog post to announce new site content can be an effective way to promote your site, but avoid promoting every new piece of content. Also, using social media sites to artificially promote your content to the top of the results can work against you. Be judicious.

4. Duplicate content

Duplicate content - “content that can be found on multiple sites across the web” explains Snively – may be perceived by Google as being used to manipulate Google rankings and to deceive Google users and could affect a site’s ranking. As such try to publish as much original material as possible. This is often why people start a business blog. Publishing high-quality original content regularly can improve your Google ranking. Additionally, avoid publishing the same content on multiple pages of your own website, which can even happen accidently, during a site redesign, for example.

5. Slow site speed

“Your website should load very quickly and be available. Search engines typically do not want to have users wait for information they are searching for and may prioritize those pages that load the fastest,” says Snively. Tools like Pingdom allow you to test your site’s speed. If you are concerned with your site’s performance, contact your hosting company to discuss your options, suggests Laurent.

6. High bounce rate

A high bounce rate may also negatively affect your search ranking. Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who leave after viewing just one page of your site. If your website is included in the results of a search query, but a high percentage of people leave without clicking to explore more content, a search engine may assume your site is not relevant to the search or that your content is poor quality, and it will penalize your search ranking accordingly. Check your website analytics for more information on bounce rate. Anything higher than 50 percent is probably cause for concern.

7. Overusing keywords

Identifying and appropriately using keywords is an important SEO tactic, but using keywords too frequently can negatively impact your search engine ranking. Using too many keywords can seem unnatural and compromise clarity. Snively says a good rule of thumb is to keep your keyword usage to one for every 100 words and to only use them when they are truly relevant. “Ranking high in the search engines takes time and patience and consistent, quality content,” she says. Auditing your site for these common mistakes is a great starting point.