SEO mistakes may hurt website performance. Check out the 12 most common errors we see everyday, and learn what our team of SEO experts recommend to fix and avoid them.

Here are the most common mistakes we see:

  1. Expecting quick results
  2. Underestimating cost
  3. Copying the competition
  4. Neglecting technical SEO
  5. Focusing on search engines over customers
  6. Failing to set clear SEO goals
  7. Ignoring video SEO best practices
  8. Failing to optimize images
  9. Forgetting about local SEO
  10. Not having a mobile-friendly website
  11. Not monitoring and tracking SEO efforts
  12. Failing to keep up with SEO developments and trends

The power of SEO is undeniable.

Reports show more than half of all website traffic comes from organic search. That’s why marketers work hard to implement all the available tactics at their disposal. 

But proper, well-rounded SEO is also highly intricate, involving on-page, off-page, and technical aspects. A more generic approach can lead to a variety of SEO mistakes that slow down the optimization process.

Once you know some of the most common SEO mistakes out there, you can be sure not to fall for them.

1. Expecting quick results

One of the most common search engine optimization (SEO) mistakes we see is the “need for speed.”

How long it takes to see results depends on various ranking factors like the condition of your website, the quality of your content, and the number of backlinks you get. Focusing on fast results can undermine your entire SEO strategy, which leads to disappointment and unrealistic expectations.

When looking at SEO value, revenue is one of the most important factors. Alongside revenue, you should consider measuring the number of Market Qualified Leads (MQL’s) and Sales Qualified Leads (SQL’s) you generated using SEO. We find SEO can take at least four months to produce significant results.

Pro tip: If you want quick results in the meantime, pay close attention to your paid search ads. They can help with lead generation while improving your SEO efforts.

2. Underestimating cost

Don’t fall into the “too good to be true” SEO trap. Low-cost, high-quality, and fast-results SEO is the stuff fairy tales are made of. Anything from well-written blog articles and stellar SEO-friendly website design to proper competitor analysis requires time and investment.

Several factors impact SEO pricing:

  • Website size: A local business with a few pages will pay a lower price for SEO work than a large ecommerce site selling hundreds of products across multiple countries.
  • Competition: Some industries and locations are more competitive than others. For example, sportswear has large competitors like Adidas or Nike. Trying to beat them on page one will be tough, if you’re competing for the same terms with high search volumes.
  • Business goals: The goals of your website will determine the level of SEO required. In-depth SEO optimization across your website will require more time and resources than one or two simple tasks like website structure or maintenance.

SEO budgeting isn’t as straightforward as a paid search budget, so factor in expenses like website updates, long-form content (e.g., ebooks or whitepapers), a social media manager, and a content agency partnership or content manager.

It’s tempting to take the low-cost option by hiring a freelance “expert,” but doing so could hurt your ability to rank, especially if they don’t use a holistic approach to SEO.

“You want to make sure whoever is managing your SEO campaign follows white hat principles and that the content being created provides value for the end user and positions your company as an industry thought leader,” advises Rambod Yadegar, President at HawkSEM.

As in most facets of your business, you get out what you put in.

3. Copying the competition

We’ve talked before about the importance of monitoring your competition. Knowing their keywords, backlink sources, and high-performing content gives you a competitive edge.

But don’t copy your competition’s SEO strategy because it’ll lead to the following issues.

Dilute your brand identity

Every successful brand has its own identity. It’s about standing out from the competition and having a unique selling point that matters to customers. So while it’s important to take inspiration from competitors for your SEO, don’t just copy elements like content, page structure, or navigation. Otherwise, you’ll dilute your brand and risk consumers seeing you as an imitator.

Not understanding the full picture

When you copy what competitors do, you could miss the bigger picture. Sure, you see the content they produce on their blogs and social media accounts. But what you don’t see is their target audience, game plan for guest posting (backlink building), and offline strategies they may use (webinars, guest appearances on podcasts, etc.).

Also, just because your biggest competitor uses AI doesn’t mean you should. Beware of AI-generated content. At HawkSEM, every SEO campaign has a senior strategist leading the efforts to ensure there’s always a human managing and watching over the campaign and its progress.

Google penalties

The other danger of copying the competition is not knowing how sustainable its strategy is. Your main competitor could have achieved excellent results for a short time, only to be slapped with a Google penalty next month. The copycat will go down together with the culprit.

Also, if your content is too similar, Google may rank theirs over yours. Google wants content that adds to the conversation, not just regurgitation.

4. Neglecting technical SEO

We’re evangelists of technical SEO because it works. Yet, some marketers ignore it because it’s tricky to understand.

However, it’s too important to let fall by the wayside — impacts the performance of your website on search engines and improves user experience.

Technical SEO generally refers to things on your website like:

  • URL structures
  • Page speed and loading speed
  • Internal links and anchor text
  • Site security
  • Mobile-friendliness
  • Site architecture and navigation
  • Structured data
  • Meta data
  • Core Web Vitals
  • JavaScript & CSS issues

Conducting an SEO audit can give you a good idea of where your technical SEO stands. When you run a site crawl, there are dozens of technical issues these tools look for including:


Source: Hawksem

After an audit, pinpoint areas of weakness then address the issues and establish a framework to track site performance.

Pro tip: Use the insights from your audit to set benchmarks for your technical SEO. Log all SEO ‘fixes’ you undertake to refer back to them in the next audit. Make sure to schedule regular audits to check the health of your technical SEO. Over time, you’ll see website performance improve.

Check out our webinar recording, The Importance of Technical SEO, for more insight.

5. Focusing on search engines over customers

SEO is all about optimizing for search engines and your audience.

Google’s goal is to make search results as valuable to the user as possible. To make Google happy, it makes sense to adopt the same goal.

Writing for search engines may help you rise through the ranks temporarily, but it’s not the way to build solid SEO in the long term. Instead, focus on the customer and search intent in your content marketing. It’s about educating your audience, providing a streamlined user experience, and publishing accurate and relevant content.

A common SEO error marketers make is overusing keywords to trick search engines into ranking it higher—aka keyword stuffing. This tactic no longer works and can even penalize your content. Instead, create high-quality content that focuses on customers (and can capture data) by:

  • Creating valuable and engaging content that addresses the needs and interests of your audience
  • Using natural language and avoid keyword stuffing to ensure readability and authenticity
  • Prioritizing user experience by optimizing website speed, navigation, and mobile-friendliness
  • Encouraging interaction and feedback from readers to build a sense of community and trust
  • Crafting compelling headlines and meta descriptions that resonate with readers and entice clicks
  • Sharing content across social media and other platforms to reach and engage with a wider audience
  • Building relationships and providing solutions, rather than solely aiming to rank higher in search results

Pro tip: Use clear headings for your web pages and include jumplinks so readers can quickly find what they’re looking for (like we did in this article). A bad heading structure can increase bounce rate. Title tags are also important for searcher intent so research the right keywords to optimize title tags with.

6. Failing to set clear SEO goals

Aiming for the top spot on Google? So are millions of other website owners. The difference between those that make it and those who don’t is in the game plan. If you don’t have the right goals and the marketing strategy to get you there, then your site will fall into the depths of Google SERPs (search engine results pages).

Avoid vague SEO goals, such as “drive more traffic.” Map out clear SEO goals using SMART goals to ensure the proper structure of your campaign.

Let’s look at an example of SMART goals for SEO:

  • Specific: Boost organic traffic to the website using SEO
  • Measurable: Move up three places from the current position on SERP
  • Achievable: Higher organic traffic will result in heightened brand awareness and increase authority
  • Realistic: SEO efforts over the last 3 months have resulted in moving the first SERP so with extra work, a higher ranking is achievable
  • Timed: Increase website rank from 7 to 3 within six months

Also, take advantage of the OKR (objectives and key results) approach to break down big goals into smaller components. This creates specific, manageable, and trackable objectives that work towards the end goal.

For example, your company goal could be ‘Drive revenue through organic traffic.’ To achieve that through SEO, use the OKR approach to develop smaller tasks:

  • Use SEO to optimize the 20 top-performing blogs
  • Improve website navigation from blog to product pages
  • Run A/B testing on website pop-ups
  • Update FAQ pages based on customer feedback

7. Ignoring video SEO best practices

YouTube and TikTok aren’t just video platforms. They’re now search engines for users. So adopting SEO tactics for your video content ensures it gets found by your target audience.

But written content is one way to optimize — don’t forget about photos, videos, and graphics, which search bots also index in search engines (e.g., image search). Videos can increase your clickthrough rate (CTR), reduce bounce rate, and create quality backlinks.

Here are ways to optimize your videos:

  • Include an easy way for viewers to share the video
  • Have specific keywords in your video’s file name
  • Include your video in an appropriate HTML tag – Use the <video> HTML element to embed a media player to support video playback e.g. <source src=”movie.ogg” type=”video/ogg”>
  • Add closed captions or subtitles to videos with dialog
  • Choose an eye-catching thumbnail image
  • Create a dedicated page for your videos
  • Use stable URLs for video and thumbnail files – Google’s advice is to provide the same title, thumbnail URL, and video URL in all sources (sitemap, HTML tags, meta tags, and structured data) that describe the same video on the same page.
  • Provide structured data like logo and product markup

8. Failing to optimize images

Optimizing your images tells search engines what they are and how they’re relevant to site visitors.

According to MozCast Feature Graph, which tracks SERP features, 18% of Google SERPs show images (changes frequently). This is an opportunity to have your site’s images appear in the SERPs and drive more clicks. Ignore optimizing your visuals and risk losing this opportunity and being penalized for low-quality or overly sized images.

To optimize your images:

  • Choose the right size and format: Compress high-quality images to reduce page load times. And choose either a JPEG or PNG format.
  • Create custom or original images: Add original images, such as graphs based on original research or eye-catching images with bullets to provide value to content and gain backlinks.
  • Make images responsive: Make your images responsive so they resize on mobile devices.
  • Craft SEO-friendly alt-text: Use alt text that describes the image so if the image doesn’t load (or a person is visually impaired), it will inform the reader what the photo contained. Alt text also helps with page ranking.
  • Optimize description and page title: Your page title and description are part of Google’s image search algorithm so including them helps your page ranking.
  • Include images in your site map: Include images in your site map (or create one just for images) to help indexing to drive more traffic.
  • Use descriptive file names: Don’t use default file names. Instead, label all your images with text that’s related to the image and the content of the page it features on.

Pro tip: Make sure to include relevant target keywords in image descriptions and file names. This will help search engines identify the context for indexing.

9. Forgetting about local SEO

Local SEO is often sidelined to target larger populations across the country or world.

Not a good SEO strategy if you have a brick-and-mortar business or offer services locally.

Local SEO builds brands’ visibility and drives phone calls and foot traffic.

And it’s not just small businesses that can benefit. Larger companies with numerous stores across the world can use local SEO to target customers in every location they service or sell in.

For example, Caring Places Management has a dozen assisted living facilities in Washington and Oregon. It wanted to boost its organic presence and drive more organic traffic.

We worked with them to optimize existing content for location-based search terms and include local schema markup on community pages to improve SERP rankings for location queries. The SEO efforts resulted in an increase in organic traffic by 85%.

Pro tip: If your website is hosted on WordPress, look at plugins like Yoast SEO to help with content optimization.

10. Not having a mobile-friendly website

By 2028, smartphone users could grow to 5.1 billion — nearly three-quarters of the world’s population.

Despite this, many brands still neglect to optimize their websites for mobile SEO. A survey of web design agencies found that 88% of visitors leave a site due to slow loading, while 73% leave due to poor responsiveness.

It’s bad for user experience and hurts your search engine ranking, since Google uses mobile-first indexing.

The best ways to optimize your site for mobile is by:

  • Creating a responsive design: Design a responsive website so it adapts based on what a user is doing to provide a seamless user-friendly experience.
  • Optimizing and compressing images: Label your images with relevant titles, use relevant alt tags and compress images to help page speed.
  • Improving page speed: Review page speed across the site and see if any pages could be optimized to improve site speed. Check image size, the presence of ads or page elements for potential improvements.
  • Using standard fonts: Use standard fonts across your website for continuity and accessibility.
  • Learning optimal button placement: Use tools like HotJar to see where visitors are clicking and A/B test to find out the best CTA button placement for your site and users
  • Avoiding pop-ups: If you use pop-ups, make sure they don’t affect page speed or customer experience and set different pop-up types to see conversion rates.
  • Improving navigation: Review and optimize your customer journey based on testing navigation across the site.
  • Designing mobile-first content: Create content and images that work well on mobile in terms of layout and format.

11. Not monitoring and tracking SEO efforts

SEO takes time to show results, so monitor performance metrics using tools like Google Analytics to dictate whether your off-page and on-page SEO strategy works. Nothing’s more frustrating than putting months and funding into a campaign and it results in little to no quality leads.

It’s the reason we built our own tool.

ConversionIQ (CIQ), our proprietary AI software, granularly tracks the keywords your high-converting leads use. This way, we can optimize your ads and landing page content to attract more of those quality leads.

What’s amazing about CIQ is that it gives visibility into what aspects of a campaign work and where the fat needs trimming. This allows us to optimize towards a higher ROI. Tracking also provides insights about your target audience, so you can use that data on other marketing channels (such as SEO or PPC) to scale up.

Using the wrong keywords in your SEO efforts will attract low intent leads or no leads at all.

12. Failing to keep up with SEO developments and trends

Google changes its algorithm roughly 13x per day. Saying SEO is constantly evolving is an understatement.

But aside from algorithm shifts, we’re seeing other advancements that’ll impact how people search for information.

For example, Google’s RankBrain uses machine learning to understand user intent and deliver more relevant search results. Forbes believes this will impact search engines as they get more insights from user queries and deliver personalized search results.

Google is also improving search through its Search Generative Experience (SGE). The aim is to generate detailed search results (like a supercharged featured snippet) from several sources to create a snapshot. You can also create images from a text prompt using SGE.

This is the result using SGE when based on a query asking if Bryce Canyon or Arches National Park is better for families with young kids and a dog.


Source: Google

SGE could impact organic traffic by prioritizing AI-generated answers. But it could offer higher conversion rates for SEO if your focus is on being the most helpful search result.

“SEO can be an intricate and involved process. Make sure to work with an experienced team who has done it before, a team that stays up to date on the latest SEO trends, and most importantly, a team that has a proven track record of success,” says Yadegar.

A great way to stay on top of developments is to monitor algorithm updates through blogs such as Search Engine Land, HubSpot, SemRush and Search Engine Journal or follow experts on social networks.

SGE has the potential to shake up SEO, so sign up to Search Labs to get on the waiting list.

What are the top SEO tools?

The best way to optimize and track your SEO efforts is to use tools. Many are available — free and paid — so it can be overwhelming. So we compiled a list of the best tools for your day-to-day SEO activities.

1. Google Search Console

Google Search Console

Overview of the tool: Google Search Console measures your site’s search traffic to determine site health and performance.


  • Monitor index and crawling
  • Find and fix errors
  • Review links
  • Index request for any updated pages
  • Page experience reports


  • Free
  • Easy set-up


  • Page grader needs work

Who’s it best for? Digital marketers, digital agencies and SEO professionals at all levels

Price: Free with sign-up

Google also offers PageSpeed Insights, which reports on the user experience of a page and gives suggestions for improvements.

2. SEOptimer


Overview: SEOptimer is an SEO and reporting tool.


  • Full SEO site audit
  • Keyword research
  • Tracking tools
  • SEO crawler
  • Bulk reporting.
  • Embeddable audit tool
  • White Label reports


  • Easy to use
  • Detailed reporting
  • Website analysis


  • Limited features
  • Slow loading
  • Who is it best for? Marketers at all levels and digital agencies.


  • A DIY SEO package costs $19 a month
  • White label at $29 per month
  • White Label and Embedding at $59 a month.

3. Semrush


Overview: Semrush has a range of SEO tools from research to reporting to determine website health and performance.


  • Keyword research and generation
  • Competitive analysis
  • SEO audits
  • Rank tracking
  • Track backlinks
  • Online visibility insights


  • Useful and comprehensive SEO tools
  • Can help identify link building opportunities
  • Seven-day money-back guarantee


  • Free plan is limited
  • Paid plans are expensive
  • Who is it best for? Business owners, digital marketers at all levels, digital agencies and SEO pros.


  • Pro plan is $129.95 per month
  • Guru plan is $249.95 a month
  • Business Plan is $499.95 per month.

4. Ahrefs


Overview: Ahrefs is an ‘All-in-one SEO toolset’ for beginners and pros.


  • Competitors research
  • Find relevant long-tail keywords
  • SEO audit
  • Monitor ranking progress
  • Research content ideas
  • Identify link opportunities


  • Extensive web crawler
  • Daily keyword alerts
  • Advanced filtering options


  • Limitations on Lite plan
  • Web traffic stats not as robust as other tools

Who is it best for? Business owners, digital marketers, digital agencies and SEO experts.


  • Lite package is $89 per month
  • Standard $179 a month
  • Advanced $369 a month
  • Enterprise $899 per month.

5. Moz


Overview: Moz is a tool with a range of SEO solutions to help you increase traffic, rankings, and visibility in search results.


  • Site crawls
  • Rank tracking
  • Backlink analysis
  • Keyword research
  • Domain analysis
  • Link explorer


  • Custom reports
  • Some free SEO tools
  • Great for identifying crawlability issues


  • Navigation is complex
  • Can be expensive when you track many competitors
  • Who is it best for? Digital agencies and SEO professionals


  • Standard at $99 per month
  • Medium at $179 per month
  • Large at $200 per month
  • Premium at $599 per month.

6. Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog

Overview: Screaming Frog uses an SEO Spider Tool that crawls and audits websites.


  • Schedule audits
  • Find broken internal and external links
  • Analyze page titles and meta data
  • Visualize site architecture
  • Discover duplicate content


  • Simple interface
  • Affordable


  • Take some time to learn

Data exports can be clunky

Who is it best for? Digital marketers, digital agencies and SEO professionals.

Price: There’s a free version and you can also upgrade to a Premium plan for $259 per year.

The takeaway

Even the most experienced SEO specialists make mistakes. But it’s about what you do next that counts. Building better SEO strategies is possible when you understand the mistakes holding back your campaigns.

Use the insights in this guide to determine if your campaigns have avoidable SEO problems. If you’re struggling to audit your campaigns for these and other possible mishaps, then it’s time to bring in a pro.

Connect with our SEO experts for a free consultation today.

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This post has been updated and was originally published in October 2020.

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