Once again, we’ve updated the content for the Worst SEO Mistakes. Now the 25 Worst SEO Mistakes to Avoid in 2020, the blog was originally published in 2017 as just 10 mistakes. 

Check out these 25 major SEO fails, and learn why your site may not be ranking.

1. Being Intentionally Deceptive

“Black hat” practices or anything that tries to “cheat the system” are probably the worst SEO “mistake” someone can make.

We often see clients who unwittingly write copy with extensive lists including dozens of related keywords stuffed onto the page. Unknowing, unintentional errors like these will cause websites to rank lower in the search engines. These types of  SEO mistakes can be corrected.

By contrast, intentional deception will get your entire site banned from Google.

Cloaking, placing white text on a white background, sneaky redirects, and scraping content are all examples of these “mistakes.”

In reality, they’re more than SEO errors. They are errors in judgment.

Scraping is pulling content from other people’s sites. This is plagiarism. At our online marketing agency, we have had people steal our content rather than linking to it. That’s “black hat.”


Cloaking is even worse. Cloaking is the practice of sending one type of data to  Googlebot and another to users. An example of cloaking that Google provides: sending cartoons to Googlebot and pornography to users. Fortunately, we have not run into any cloakers at our digital agency.

In sum, don’t act like scum.

Keep your website and SEO practices “white hat.”

2. Blocking Googlebot From Searching Your Site

Why would your public site be blocked from search engines? When developing a site, you want to block the search engines from crawling it. In this way, a half-baked site won’t get found by a prospect or customer. Many web developers will not host the site in a live environment. Others simply block Google (and other search engines) from finding the site.

We’ve seen this Googlebot blocking mistake firsthand. While reviewing a site’s analytics (apparently no one else ever had), we  found that 0% of the search traffic was organic in a year’s time. Turned out, the “allow search engines to crawl this site” toggle was still in the “off” position on WordPress. When individuals typed in the URL, the site was there. But for a year, Google hadn’t been crawling it. Yikes.

In sum, be sure search engines can crawl your site.

Better yet, and a Google best practice, submit your sitemap to the major search engines.


3. Posting Low Quality Content

Is your content unique or original? Are you providing commentary or new insights? If so, Google will rank your site higher.

Quality content is one of the three most important factors in the 200+ factors in the ever-changing Google algorithm.

If you’re going for simplicity and few words on the page, you’re not likely to rank very well. We see this a lot. Web designers want a clean, simple look. Clients say, “My prospects/customers/visitors won’t read.” It’s an SEO mistake.

Users do read, and they don’t. Research shows that people scan content on the web, typically in an F-pattern. Furthermore, they do slow down and read paragraphs that interests them. Bullets, numbers, brief sentences short paragraphs, bolding, and images all help to break up text-heavy pages. They engage the reader.

What’s more, research indicates that longer content is more likely to rank on that coveted page 1.

In sum, write well; don’t be afraid of word count.

4. Disregarding User Intent

User intent is what RankBrain is all about. Since 2015, Google’s RankBrain uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to help determine what content Google serves up.

What does this mean? It means Google wants to match what a person is querying in the search box to what they really want. If the Google-er doesn’t click on any of the search returns and then rewords the query in a different way, the machine “learns” about the user’s intent.

In reality, 15% of all queries have never been queried before. RankBrain helps Google match the queried words with a complicated mathematical formula. If unsure, RankBrain will return a few varied responses. Again, it learns from what Google-ers click.

Important, RankBrain is also one of the top 3 factors in the Google algorithm.

How can you know user intent?

We look first at keywords. Which keywords are being queried and how frequently?

Second, we search those keywords in Google. We observe what the search engine returns are. Then, we scroll down to the bottom of the page and read the phrases “Searches related to…”  Right there, on the SERP (search engine return page), Google is telling us what RankBrain believes the user intent is.

To illustrate, we have a client that sells prepared food. They will need to distinguish the user intent for their branded prepared food vs. the user intent of searching for a recipe.

Just for sake of example, let’s say they sell pulled pork. Googling “pulled pork,” we get 10 pulled pork recipes followed by three eateries near me.


At the bottom of the SERP, “Searches related to pulled pork” include 7 more recipe-related returns (eg, best, easy, slow cooker, etc) and “pulled pork smoker.” The “pulled pork smoker” returns smoker directions, 3 how-to videos, and 7 more recipes.

This data tells us that the “eateries” location-based data is very important for this purveyor of prepared food: “pulled pork near me.” Similarly, “Buy pulled pork.” A location-based strategy is key for them. Simply, using the keyword “pulled pork” would be an SEO mistake, because users who Google that term are usually looking for recipes.

In sum, give users what they want, when they want it, and how they ask for it.

5. Ignoring Links

Links to your site are critical. In fact, along with quality content and RankBrain, links are also one of the top three factors in the Google algorithm.

In our experience, links are elusive. Link building schemes are an SEO mistake that will destroy your rankings. Additionally, many sites that may link to you may have “no follow” links to your site.

Instead, you want to get sites to link to you naturally. Supposedly, good content will automatically get links. But in our experience that is not necessarily the case. This seems to only hold true for the “big boys.” People link to articles in Forbes, Business Insider, or other major publications or industry blogs.

We work with small- and medium-size businesses. When we run initial audits on prospects or clients, the link building score is almost always in the red zone or “poor.”

To illustrate, we have a client with nearly 12,000 linking domains. Sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, the data indicate that its average competitor has almost three times the number of links. Relative to its competition, the company has few links.

The best that we can tell, linking requires either a niche industry or publishing beyond your website or blog. Public relations activities, publicity campaigns, and local SEO campaigns may be useful.

In sum, links matter a lot.

But getting them isn’t so easy for the little guy.  Stay tuned while we continue to crack the code for the little guys. 

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