Check-List: Issues that Make SEO Projects Fail and How to Fix Them


Now that I have worked in SEO for almost 10 years I have seen so many promising projects and sites fail it’s really tragic. Especially as the issues are quite common it seems, I have encountered them again and again. It’s as if the learning curve starts at zero with every new SEO project. While I am progressing and the industry does as well

clients commit the same mistakes for years.

This is not just another list, it’s a stony path full of obstacles you have to overcome, some of them right from the start, to make your SEO project a success. Why not treat this as a check-list to ensure that your site gets the full benefit of long-term search engine optimization? What are the most common issues?


Starting SEO late (after launch)

Whenever a company is approaching me after they launched it’s already too late. SEO has to be taken into account in the planning phase while the concept of the site is taking shape and information architecture is prepared.

Contact the SEO way before considering your launch or relaunch or as early as possible. Don’t wake up one day in a new built store out in the desert without any roads leading to it.


Not doing market research, only keyword research

The first task of the SEO specialist is often the keyword research. It should be the second step, the first one needs to be the question: is there already a market for what we offer? Then, how crowded is it? Do we need to find a smaller niche? Can we sidestep the competition? When you are just focusing on fickle keyword rankings and ad-laden Google SERPs you are bound for failure.

Don’t start and stop at keywords. Keywords are important but not as important as they once were. They are not your sole path to SEO success. Focus on branding to get found via your name or products too. Research the market first before entering it through Google.



Implementing an SEO strategy only occasionally, when some time or resources are left, after all the “important work” is done. Get a content/social/search strategy first and then implement it continuously every day, week and month.

Implement SEO regularly. Daily measures should include content curation, weekly content creation, monthly infographics, contests e.g.


Anonymous outsourcing

Letting low cost third parties you do not even talk to directly do the SEO for cheap and without any deeper involvement in the process. I have done outsourcing in the past myself but it never worked properly because I was only talking to a third party and feedback to the actual client was impossible. Anonymous outsourcing works only for the manual labor of the lowest complexity. SEO tasks relying on direct communication are not among those.

Make sure to know the people by name who do your SEO and to communicate with them directly.


No hierarchy

Allowing everybody to mess around with SEO including accountants, CEOs, graphic designers, marketers, web developers, programmers, project managers, PR people, writers while the SEO is only a consultant having no power at all is a recipe for disaster.

Enable the SEO to make decisions that affect other departments too.


Lack of democracy

This is not the opposite of what I have been bemoaning in the “no hierarchy” item. There must be a clear hierarchy with the SEO reporting directly to the business owner (with SMBs), CTO (with startups) or project manager (enterprises). There also has to be a bottom up way of idea generation. When everything that’s done is implementing what the boss says because s/he’s on top and not the specialist who knows what their doing it won’t work.

Don’t assume you know SEO better than the people you pay for it.


Lack of resources

Many business owners seemingly assume SEO is done just by the search engine optimizer themselves like 15 years ago when it was just about “search engine submission” and “meta tag optimization”. These business owners have no resources on the content creation, social media or web development front. They are even surprised they need them.

Don’t assume SEO is some magic powder you add to your site. Intertwine the SEO process with the rest of your public activities.


Lack of trust

As SEO has a bad rep and most business people do not really know what SEO is about they often distrust the SEO practicioners. They do not implement key changes they’d have to in order to succeed. There is no such thing as a partially implemented successful SEO strategy. Sooner or later it will break down. I have seen strategies work for a while and then fall apart when the more advanced steps have been neglected or rejected.

Do not engage into a SEO campaign in case you don’t trust your partner to do it right. You have to follow the SEO advice completely or you will only partially succeed at most.


Too many SEOs involved

While many businesses fail to reserve resources for a concerted content, social media and search campaign they often pay two or more service providers for SEO related tasks. I even have seen cases where there was an inhouse SEO, an SEO consultant from outside and a company that not only did web design but was convinced to have to implement their own SEO measures.

An SEO is like a car driver, you don’t need more than one at the same time. S/he needs some passengers though to make the ride pay out.


Reliance on tactics not strategy

The latest SEO tactic to get axed by Google is guest blogging. Google says “large scale guest posting” is at risk of a penalty. Is guest blogging bad in general? No. I case you have relied solely on guest posting for links for a year now it’s a problem though.

Set up an SEO strategy that includes plans on how you will attract links and social shares naturally providing incentives to link to you. Do not just rely on short cuts.


Mistaking means for ends

Links, rankings, traffic are not the goals of SEO, they are in most cases just means to reach the actual SEO objectives. It’s very common to approach SEO practicioners with the requirement of link building and often nothing else. This way linkable assets like content, branding or freebies do get ignored.

Clarify your SEO goals, be it branding, conversions, ROI or profits. Then make sure that links, rankings and traffic lead to the sales funnel. It’s entry point should be your exceptional content etc.


Algorithm chasing

Even in case you take linkable assets into account Google is trying to get less dependent on links by relying more on other ranking signals. Be it actual usage of your site or the way quality raters are looking at it for example. With the ongoing or recurring Panda and Penguin and other updates it’s impossible to chase Google algorithm changes by now.

Many people are still cleaning up their over-optimized link profiles with exact or partial match anchor texts on links they have built after high PageRank didn’t suffice anymore. Will building branded links work for long?

Don’t just aim at tricking Google to believe people like your site and link to it. Make people link to it in a favorable way naturally. For example choose URLs and headlines containing the keywords you want to be linked with.


Following Google blindly

When it comes to Google you only get official announcements on what they want you to know. They will keep you in the dark on other crucial aspects of SEO in case it benefits them. Matt Cutts recommended using nofollow on internal links (so called PageRank sculpting) for years and then Google made it hurt your site actually without telling anybody. It got published accidentally almost a year later.

Do what Google does not what Google says. Google says use nofollow on more and more of your links, disavow and remove them? Think twice.


Treating content, conversions and social media separately 

While seemingly everybody is allowed to meddle with SEO on a site the search engine optimizer is often barred from other departments. Especially it’s difficult to make some meaningful changes when it comes to content, conversions or social media because they are run by people from other areas, be it writers, marketers or PR people who often do not understand or downright despise SEO. In case the don’t hate it they assume they are responsible for crucial SEO aspects and think they don’t need advice from the actual SEO guy.

Don’t limit your SEO efforts to basics like keywords, indexation or technical aspects. Expand the process to combine SEO with adjacent disciplines.


Ignoring content or doing nothing besides it

Many ecommerce sites don’t have any content at all. They just display packaging with ingredients written on it. A product description is not content. Only something that has a use by itself is content. Some brands are creating content and promoting but assume that’s it.

They say “content is king” and “just create great content” and “they will come” but content by itself won’t work without modern SEO. Everybody and their aunt has great content by now so how do you rise above the crowd, how do you differentiate? You do it by creating SEO initiatives to enhance your content visibility.

Don’t mistake the list of ingredients or descriptions of your products for content. Ask yourself, is this text or image useful by itself, or not? Do not assume content creation will suffice. Get it out there actively.


Forgetting your audience

Trying to get search and social media visibility all the time is a tedious and repetitive process. There is a term called “audience building” we hear not often enough on the Web. SEO and SMO have to lead to a regular audience or you are just getting “drive by” traffic that is gone as fast as it comes. Only faithful fans will link to you and share your content. You need to attract them!

Do not just optimize boring headlines for keywords or sensationalize for social media drop in visitors. Care for your returning visitors by giving them more of what brought them to you.


No branding

SEO and branding are two sides of the same coin these days. Creating a brand and personal brands on top of that is key for long term SEO success. Once people start searching for your brand you have won. Google can’t afford not to find you for your own name.

Other people are not allowed to pay for Google ads mentioning your brand. Google is ranking brands higher in general. In case you are solely relying on generic keywords like [seo company] you are just growing dependent on Google and a drive by audience of first time visitors who don’t know who you are.

Stop focusing solely on generic keywords, branding and SEO is almost the same thing by now. Create personal brands for your employees. Create new terms for products and services.


Improving the site but not the product

The best optimized site won’t sell if your product or service doesn’t deliver. Is it ugly? It it difficult to use? Does it break easily? Is it too expensive or cheap? Is it outdated, does the need for it not exist anymore (remember mp3 players)?

Try to measure where people actually stop converting in the sales funnel to improve your product.


Over optimization at the expense of UX

Some old school SEO is still heavily keyword driven and solely focused on Google. The actual user gets forgotten almost entirely. So when someone finally appears on site it’s so over optimized to get found that it’s barely usable let alone remarkable.

Make sure your SEO and UX efforts go hand in hand. Good modern SEO is often emphasizing proper user experience.


Measuring not enough or too much

It seems many people in the SEO industry obsess about Google Analytics, the by now cluttered and extremely complex web statistics tool. There are other tools that show you better and faster what portion of your visitors actually makes sense and converts. Looking up numerous metrics and often mistakenly breaking your complex Google advanced segments and goals leads to an informational overload on too many KPIs.

Keep a few important metrics in mind. There are also heatmaps, AB and user testing to find out what the people really click on your site and how to make them subscribe, download or buy.


Relying solely on Google search

Modern SEO is not just about Google. When you listen to clients you get the impression it is. A good SEO will make you independent from Google’s whims and gatekeeper traffic. Do not rely on Google search for your business. It can break down any day in case you do. Google might penalize you, change the algorithm or grab your market in case it’s profitable enough like ecommerce or travel.

Most notably Google displays less or no organic search results for many queries by now above the fold so search users need to really look hard to find you at all.

Always treat search traffic as “nice to have”. Get it while it’s out there but don’t assume it will be there forever. It most probably won’t. Build a brand, an audience and a community of loyal visitors on social media and on site.



Despite having enough good will and the best SEO experts there are still many reasons why your SEO projects can fail. Most of them are organizational and can be overcome by adapting to the outside reality of modern search and the Web as a whole.

Focus on what SEO is today not what it was 5 or 2 years ago or what your perception of it is. Don’t let the SEO doomsayers tell you that SEO is dead just because it didn’t work for them.


*Creative Commons image by Steve Jurvetson




2 responses to “Check-List: Issues that Make SEO Projects Fail and How to Fix Them

  1. Hey Ted! I couldn’t agree with you more about cmpanies having to be consistent with their SEO. Though SEO have gone a lon gway and it isn’t as easy to “game” the system, there are still tons of blackhats who are able to manipulate it.

    Clients should understand that being number one on the rankings is just one side of it… STAYING on the number one spot is the other.

  2. Hey Ted! I couldn’t agree with you more about cmpanies having to be consistent with their SEO. Though SEO have gone a lon gway and it isn’t as easy to “game” the system, there are still tons of blackhats who are able to manipulate it.

    Clients should understand that being number one on the rankings is just one side of it… STAYING on the number one spot is the other.

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