If SEO had existed in Shakespeare's day, the playwright might have written, "The fault, dear colleague, is not in our stars, but in our website's poor optimization."

A poorly optimized website cannot serve its purpose. Many factors go into on-site optimization, but three items stand out as being not only crucial but also frequently shortchanged or completely overlooked.

Let's examine each and discuss how you can give them their due and dramatically boost your SEO performance.

1. Keyword Pitfalls

Keywords should be made of sterner stuff.

Keyword research drives SEO. If a company optimizes for the wrong keywords, two bad things happen:

  1. The SEO campaign attracts traffic, but not qualified traffic.
  2. The SEO campaign attracts qualified traffic, but only on the fringes, handing competitors the bulk of traffic and the juiciest leads.

Prevent those outcomes by conducting keyword research properly and fully. Here are important factors to take into account:

  • Search volume. Which relevant search terms are most popular? Many companies err by assuming a particular term is popular. They put all of their efforts into being number one for a term few people care about—an enormous waste of SEO resources.
  • Intent. Without considering a search engine user's intent, you will attract too much unqualified traffic. For instance, "credit card fees" may be a popular term, but users might be looking for a credit card or information on how to reduce debt or calculate fees. On the other hand, "best credit card to use" is more likely to be researched by someone looking to get a new credit card.
  • Longtail terms. Often, the best SEO strategy is to focus on long tail terms—search terms that are highly specific, relevant, and with strong buying intent. For instance, there may be several terms along the lines of "buy new credit card in phoenix arizona" that would produce relatively little traffic but a high percentage of sales.
  • Don't overreach. A company may be able to identify thousands of keywords worth optimizing—but do they have a big enough SEO budget to handle that workload? A smart keyword strategy tackles only enough keywords to be supported with a robust, multifaceted on-site and off-site campaign. Trying to be jack of all keyword phrases will make you master of none.
  • Don't do it one-off. Keyword research must be updated periodically: Search terms fall out of disfavor as language changes, a company introduces new products and services, and so on. Flawlessly executed keyword research from 2010 is likely to be flawed by now.

2. Content Pitfalls

If content be the food of SEO, write on.

Once you have identified strategic SEO keywords, they must align with your website's content—a task easier said than done. If content fails to align properly with keywords, as is often the case...

  • Google will ignore your content or give it low priority.
  • Searchers will click your link in Google organic results, but they will see the content is off the mark... and leave.

Cover the following bases when optimizing website content:

  • Prioritize. High-priority keywords—i.e., the ones in your sales wheelhouse—should have dedicated pages placed high in your website's hierarchy and linked to most frequently from other pages on your site. Doing so tells Google that such dedicated pages are important and your areas of strength; Google will deem them important to people using those keywords to search, and will rank your content accordingly.
  • Write authoritatively. Google is getting better every day at recognizing—and rewarding—high-quality content. As defined by Google and humans, valuable content is useful, informative, better than other content on the same topic, credible, original, and engaging. If a company takes a hands-off approach to copy, turning over content to inexperienced, outside writers, it may be lacking in each of those areas.
  • Follow SEO best-practices. Gone are the days when you have to mention exact keyword phrases a specific number of times at a certain frequency. It is important, though, to put keywords in page titles and subtitles whenever possible. Title tags also remain important for SEO, so they should include the most important keywords for the page.

3. Conversion Pitfalls

O customers, customers! Wherefore art thou customers?

The goal of SEO is not to generate traffic but, rather, to generate sales leads and e-commerce revenue. An SEO campaign can deliver all the traffic in the world, but if none of the visitors ever becomes a customer then the campaign has not succeeded.

Your website pages must have strong calls to action that make it easy and tempting for search engine traffic to take the next step in the business relationship. Without that, your SEO spending is wasted. Here are tips for crafting strong calls to action:

  • Make it sufficiently broad. An e-commerce website will attract broader interest by offering 10 percent off the next order than by offering 15 percent off the next order of a particular product—especially if that product is infrequently ordered or extremely specialized. At this stage, it's not about what you want to sell; it's about what the most potential customers want to buy.
  • Appeal to users in different stages of the buying cycle. A website visitor ready to buy may be interested in talking to a sales representative. However, a visitor in research mode may prefer to download a PDF describing your products in more detail. By offering calls to action that appeal to both, you increase the number of visitors entering your sales funnel.
  • Track it! Your website must be set up to track the sources of conversions accurately; otherwise, you won't know which search engines produce the most leads—and you won't be able to continuously improve your SEO campaign. Failing to track phone leads, which for many companies are far more promising than webform leads, is a common problem. An even more common problem is failing to validate sales leads, separating them from other types of conversions. An infographic our team put together explains validation at a glance (see below).

To be visible for organic search, or not to be visible for organic search, that is the question. I hope this article has provided a few answers.

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Three SEO Pitfalls That Will Wreck Your Website

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image of Brad Shorr

Brad Shorr is the B2B marketing director of Straight North LLC, an Internet marketing agency near Chicago that assists middle marketing firms with SEO, PPC, and retargeting campaigns.

Twitter: @bradshorr