SEO Fundamentals: Common Pitfalls and Alternative Strategies

SEO Fundamentals: Common Pitfalls and Alternative Strategies

Over the past decade, Coalition Technologies has developed a strong reputation for being one of the most effective SEO agencies in the industry and the entire sector has taken notice. Individuals and businesses alike are approaching Coalition, not just to utilize our services as a digital marketing agency, but also for educational purposes. Our President and COO, Jordan Brannon, recently gave a presentation on “SEO Fundamentals: Top Strategies and Pitfalls” at a seminar of business professionals. He wanted to share his insights with even more people and companies, so we went ahead and converted his presentation to the following article. We appreciate the confidence and trust that you have placed in us – that’s what drives us forward!


Pitfall #1: ‘Managed SEO’ (when you shouldn’t)

Alternative #1: ‘Maintained SEO’ (when managed SEO is not right for you)

Managed SEO is defined as those ongoing marketing activities aimed at promoting sites or content with search engines that require reliably recurring work to generate results. This encompasses all the efforts to produce technical (onsite) work, content production, social media outreach, analysis, reporting, and other PR activity for the sake of competitively marketing a business.

All of these activities can be powerful tools for generating the desired outcome, but managed SEO is not appropriate for all businesses. This might be surprising, but here are some examples of how managed SEO can actually be a detriment:

  • There is not a related search audience to your product or service.
    • We had a client / prospective client interested in selling a product that was an alternative to toothpaste. While some keywords seemed related, none had sufficient volume or a closely-matched intent-to-purchase behavior (i.e. most of the related searches with volume were for discovering information, not buying a product). Most search queries tended to focus on alternative ingredients in toothpaste, but not a complete alternative to toothpaste.
  • There is not bandwidth or budget to support the mix of ongoing technical, content, social, analysis, reporting, and PR activity needed to drive success in your competitive marketing.
  • The business is unwilling to accommodate and involve SEO priorities in other common digital marketing practices (web design, development, content, social, paid, omnichannel, PR, customer service, etc).
  • Certain areas or opportunities of focus for a digital business may not have relevance to search audiences and are, subsequently, not worth an ongoing investment.
    • A current client came to us from a reputable ‘big’ SEO/SEM agency that had guided significant investment into a substantial help section and Q&A section for their software as a service product. This section resulted in high rankings on diverse long tail keywords related to their service, but not related to a buying or purchasing step. The end result was a significant growth in the perceived ‘SEO value’ of the site but almost no ROI.

Again, many of the efforts in managed SEO can be effective, but only if it can be properly executed, prioritized, and if the business’ target audience ‘exists’ in the search space. But, there is an alternative with ‘maintained SEO…’

Maintained SEO is defined as those periodic marketing activities aimed at promoting sites or content with search engines that require stable behaviors and processes that should be common to digital businesses. It should be commonplace for any business that is engaged in digital. The objective of maintained SEO is to ensure that the desired outcomes driving Google’s algorithms are met by your business. This means your business should provide valuable digital experiences that address audiences’ needs (instead of arbitrarily ‘trying to get more site traffic’).

In order to ensure that your site exceeds minimum expectations for user-experience within your industry, the following factors should be prioritized:

  • Site speed.
  • Clarity/ease of navigation.
  • Quality of content (photos, video, written materials, designed elements).
  • Accessible to the devices frequently used by your audiences.
  • Anticipate how Google plays a role in the customer’s journey.
    • Clarify which page(s) address different search queries.
  • Frequently check SEO ‘technical’ factors that are actually focused on customer experience:
    • Site server errors.
    • 404 errors / redirects / redirect chains.
    • Security concerns or warnings.


Pitfall #2: Seeing the ‘means’ as the ‘end.’

Alternative #2: Developing the means to support the end.

Higher ranking is often considered the whole point of SEO. The majority of SEO firms still primarily focus their efforts on ranking, ranking, ranking. And, then, only consider bottom-line revenue growth or KPI performance as secondary concerns. This makes us cringe, because it is so painfully backwards!

Historically, this kind of thinking has lead to algorithm updates that penalize sites or devalue significant amounts of SEO work. In turn, this leads to an overemphasis on the perceived expectations of the algorithm in strategy, rather than the outcome the algorithm is hoping to achieve: satisfactory experiences from search users.

In other words, SEOs hungrily pursue higher rankings with tactics designed to effectively game the search engines. This inevitably leaves searchers out in the cold, who are hungry for meaningful engagement experiences. So, search engines – who are trying to empower those users to have those experiences – penalize tactics designed just for the sake of higher rankings.

The penalized SEOs see how significantly the algorithm-changes affect their efforts, assume algorithms are the power behind the curtain that needs to be appeased, and over-focus on the algorithms again, continue to ignore users, upset the engines, and the cycle goes on and on.

So, the fix requires a change in approach. Concern yourself with user-experience first. Make sure users can use your website and that it is easy to do so, make sure the users you want (not just anyone) are the ones finding your site.  Make your site enjoyable and engaging with meaningful content.

Here are a few examples that draw out the tension between the two schools of thought:

Example 1: Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) versus Site-Speed

  • Many misguided SEOs push AMP as necessary for websites. However, AMP can (and often does) have negative outcomes for certain types of user experience and certain user expectations.
    • Improved, competitive page load speeds are necessary for engaging websites, but AMP is not.
  • Alternative action items:
    • Reduce the number of images / media where appropriate, and optimize image sizes. Almost every site we analyze, excluding sites that use CDNs or other services to help dynamically optimize images, could shave seconds off the load time by removing unneeded images, or reducing the size of their images and optimizing them for web experiences.
    • Audit 3rd party services that impact load time.
      • As we move to more cloud-based website CMSes, digital platforms, and ecommerce software, there has been a rise in the volume of 3rd party services utilized on site, often slowing load times by requiring queries and responses of independent server environments (which shouldn’t take that long, but often does).

Example 2: Chasing False Flag User Experience Metrics

  • After a round of UX improvements suggested by our team were implemented, a client complained about dropping metrics like pages-per-visit and time-on-site.
  • While these two metrics did fall, typically indicative of a negative outcome, repeat visits, conversion rates, and conversion value for most goals improved, driving significant ROI in the effort. Customers were spending less time looking through the site, because the site supported accessing what they were looking for faster.
  • Action Items:
    • Ensure that your reporting identifies a hierarchy of goals to govern and inform decision making.
    • Look at ways to shorten your customer journey to get them to their desired destination. “Given where traffic comes from for page X, what is the desired next step the customer may have?”
    • Look at ways to lengthen your customer journey only if it’s likely to improve your ‘end’ goal. “What additional content or interactions should a customer have to help influence them towards our desired outcome?”


Pitfall #3: Isolating SEO from other business activities.

Alternative #3: Engage your SEO team like a core part of your digital efforts.

We still see too many clients and campaigns where it’s evident the SEO team has been off playing in a sandbox on their own. SEO is a reflection of how Google perceives your digital presence and its possible benefit to search audiences.

Google is pretty smart and has a pretty good way of evaluating what audiences will or will not like. Good technical, onsite SEOs are focused on improving your customer experience in a way that Google can see and score. Good offsite SEOs are focused on improving the reach of your brand to likely audiences (which happens to be the same goal as almost all of your other marketing services).

  • SEOs being excluded from PPC reporting or campaigns, especially when separate agencies are managing them.
    • Risk of negatively impacting organic outcomes by bidding on the wrong terms.
    • Risk of increasing cost of digital marketing by bidding on terms unnecessarily.
    • More immediate insights into valuable keywords and negative keywords.
    • More immediate insight into what drives CTR for your particular products or services.
  • SEOs not receiving inventory availability reports (for ecommerce brands).
    • Most ecommerce platforms will respond to out of stock in a particular way. SEOs who are not aware of how that response is generated may unintentionally ‘delete’ large portions of your catalog by permanently redirecting them when they throw a 404 error for being out of stock.
    • Plan for future keyword focus based on inventory changes or needs.
  • SEOs not communicating with top salespeople or lead intake teams / personnel as part of ongoing campaigns.
    • Top performing salespeople are often communicating key value propositions in a particular order or manner that is appealing to your likely clientele. What they say and how they say it should often be accounted for in key landing pages.
  • SEOs not communicating with customer service teams.
    • Customer service teams often act as human ‘search engines’ for clients unable to find what they’re looking for through the site navigation or other content. Properly optimizing or creating and optimizing pages for these queries can reduce customer service challenges / wait times by allowing customers to self-service using search engines like Google.
  • SEOs not communicating with marketing directors about broader marketing initiatives.
    • What are the big holidays or company events? Product launches? Any large press features? Most of these will have relevance to keyword queries that your clients are already using or a broader audience may be using. Involving your SEO team in the marketing calendar and plan will allow you to find more opportunities to maximize the value of existing advertising efforts.
  • SEOs not communicating with PR and social media teams.
    • PR Team:
      • SEO is highly valuable in preparing for reputation management / PR related events.
        • Action item: aggregate internally held properties and favorable content online and incorporate those into your link-building strategies. Ensure each is keyword-optimized (where possible) for reputation-related search queries.
      • PR teams are often ignorant of proper keyword selection and usage and will tend to use language developed internally at your company or at theirs, that has little real world bearing for your audiences.
        • Action item: provide your PR team with lists of keywords related to certain products or categories and ensure they’re incorporated into the materials that the PR team is releasing (as appropriate).
      • PR teams often ignore potential SEO value in media outreach or influencer efforts. Setup a process whereby your SEO team helps vet the value of properties or influencers based on search relevance or authority.
    • Social Media Team:
      • Social media content does not always directly influence a ranking, but most of its content will make its way into the index, which will result in Google better understanding the contextual focus of your site and or portions of your site.
        • Action item: ensure social media content creators are also prompted to use relevant keywords for posts relating to particular products, services, categories.
      • Brand distributed social content often acts as a prompt for user generated social content. Using keywords selected for SEO value in social media content may prompt more positive search contributions from your user base by extension (more links or citations with keyword relevance, trending on keyword related hashtags or terms, etc).

If you are considering whether or not SEO and digital marketing are right for your needs, we’d be happy to talk with you today and start developing your strategy. Our expertise in this industry is something we are proud to share and use to empower users and online businesses alike. Feel free to contact us now, or you can take a look at one of our many case studies to learn more about what we can do!

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