Ignoring the fundamentals is like only going to see the doctor when you’re sick.
Yes, you should see your doctor for regular checkups.
However, many of us forget to do that.
We don’t bother until we actually have a problem.
But if you want to optimize your health, you need to fix all the fundamental problems first.
You can’t train for a marathon if your body isn’t in optimal shape to start with.
Winning the game of SEO is no different.
You need to identify and fix the fundamentals first, before you can achieve higher rankings and traffic.
Tinkering with A/B tests to get incremental improvements when you have no content or backlinks?
That effort is wasted because you have no foundation to build on.
Follow this guide to help you take care of the most common SEO problems and set your website up for success.
8 Common SEO Problems That Are Killing Your Rankings and Traffic
1) You Don’t Understand Your Market
The first and most fatally common SEO problem isn’t really about SEO. It’s about your market.
If you don’t understand your customer, your keywords and your products, then your website will struggle to convert.
Symptoms that you’ve fallen victim to this problem:
- You launch new landing pages, and none of them convert any traffic. Yes, experimentation is part of the game in SEO. But when you keep falling flat over and over again, that’s a symptom of a deeper problem.
- You take hours and hours to create content and then nobody in your niche links to you. When you understand your market well, content creation (and promotion) goes by quickly.
- Your client is micro-managing your SEO projects. This makes the work frustrating and means you can’t even think about trying to charge higher prices.
So what’s the solution to this problem?
Use a simple mental model developed by one of the most respected copywriters of the 20th century. In his classic book “Breakthrough Advertising,” Eugene Schwartz lays out an customer awareness model. At each stage of awareness, your marketing and SEO levels need to adjust.
Here’s a simple overview of the five levels of awareness and how that insight helps you with SEO:
1. Most Aware: At this level, prospects know about your brand and website. They might’ve visited the website the other day or purchased from you in the past. Out of all your prospects, this is the smallest and “hottest to buy.”
With SEO, your goal is to lure them back to your website. Optimizing for branded keywords such as your product names will help with this. For example, if I want to know the latest books from an author I’m familiar with and enjoy reading, I’ll simply search for their name in Google.
2. Product Aware: At this stage, you have an interested but unconvinced prospect on your hands. You need to do some work convincing them on why they should choose you.
In SEO, publishing content like reviews and product comparisons will help you to convince customers to buy from you. For example, a product aware prospect might know they need a word processing tool, but don’t know whether Microsoft Word or Google Docs is the right choice for them.
3. Solution Aware: At the third level, the prospect knows there are various options in the market to help them. To continue with the previous example, they might have a shortlist of half a dozen word processing tools that they’re aware of.
In this case, you’ll need to work a lot harder to get selected. In SEO terms, targeting informational keywords and providing in-depth content is a good bet.
4. Problem Aware: At this stage, you face a challenge! The prospect is in the market trying to solve a problem, but they don’t know what the solution is.
For example, a prospect might be training for a marathon, but they don’t know whether they should buy training equipment, read a book, get a personal trainer or something else. Targeting this segment with SEO requires publishing content that focuses on specific problems and solutions.
5. Completely Unaware: By far, this is the largest segment of the population. It’s also the most difficult to convert. These prospects have no idea your brand exists, or that you can solve a problem they have.
In SEO, focusing on longtail keywords will help you access this market. Because of how challenging it is, I’d suggest ignoring this segment entirely until you’ve mastered the first four levels.
If you’re brand new to a market, you may not have enough information to use this customer awareness model. In that case, I recommend phone research.
Get on the phone with at least five recent customers and ask them questions about how they discovered your product and website.
2) Your Keyword Analysis Falls Flat
Does this scenario sound familiar?
All of your keywords are impossible to rank for, no matter how hard you try.
It’s a problem that many SEO novices hit. They see a few high traffic keywords, get excited about the opportunity and start trying to rank for them.
But fundamentally, that’s an unbalanced approach.
Instead, you need to take a portfolio approach to your keyword analysis and research. Your initial list of keywords should include a variety of different keyword types, such as:
- Branded Keywords. These would include your brand name, product name and URL.
- Longtail Keywords. These are longer keyword phrases of three words or more. They’re usually easier to rank for because of their lower search volume.
- High Competition Keywords. You should still include high traffic, competitive keywords in your strategy—just don’t make them your sole focus.
Then, once you have your keyword list developed, you’ll need to validate it with your market. You can do this by:
- Checking monthly search volumes
- Looking for search patterns in your analytics
- Adding a question to your order form to ask buyers “What did you type in to Google to find our website?”
3) Your Expectations Clash with Realities
Online marketers love to talk about fast results.
Take Justin Mares for example. He launched a new online marketing business a few years ago, and had sales coming in within two weeks. An impressive result—which you can read about in his fascinating article.
Unfortunately, that kind of speed is unlikely to occur in SEO.
In my experience, SEO success usually takes months, if not years. If you’re expecting to launch a new SEO campaign and see a flood of traffic in a week, you’re going to be disappointed.
Going in with the wrong expectations makes you more likely to give up long before you see meaningful results. Even worse, you’re likely to be distracted by vanity metrics like the number of pageviews.
Luckily, the solution to this problem is simple.
Adjust your business expectations to align with what you can realistically achieve with SEO. You can pull in significant traffic in 6-12 months once your backlinks and brand start to grow.
If you’re discouraged by that reality, there’s something more you should know about search traffic:
For example, I published a blog post on my website several years ago which, to this day, continues to pull in hundreds of people per month. I’m not doing anything to promote it and yet it continues to pull in new traffic.
In comparison, online advertising like Google or Facebook Ads will stop delivering traffic the second you turn them off.
Tactical Tip: Prospects that arrive on your website from search might not be ready to convert right away. Don’t let them bounce! Set up an email capture form with an appealing offer (e.g. a discount, free download, etc.) so you can remarket to them later.
4) Your SEO Agency or Service Provider Isn’t Up to Scratch
This is an unfortunately common problem that many businesses have.
You decide to outsource your SEO to an agency or freelancer. You wait a few months while they work on your behalf. Then, that sinking feeling hits you… Nothing is happening in your business. You’re not seeing more sales, leads, not even more traffic.
Here are some of the most common signs that your SEO service provider is failing:
- Poor communication. No reports, check-ins or calls happen unless you request them. You shouldn’t have to pull teeth to get information about what’s happening on your website.
- They speak in SEO jargon. SEO pros are like any professional—they’re proud of their expertise. But that pride becomes a problem when they speak in jargon. It shouldn’t prevent you from getting answers.
- They won’t explain their process. This is a warning sign they may be engaging in black hat tactics that Google hates.
- Their prices are too good to be true. Top notch SEO and internet marketing professionals charge high prices to deliver results. If you find that your SEO provider is charging discounted prices, they may not have the margin to provide high quality.
How do you avoid the mistake of working with ineffective SEO professionals and agencies?
Start by asking them these questions:
- How long before I see results? You should expect to see a timeline of months. If you’re being promised results in days or weeks, it’s a sign they’re not going the white hat route.
- What do you see as the greatest challenge for this project? This question helps you see if the provider has given some thought to your needs.
- Can I talk to some of your past clients? Use this question wisely and only if you’re close to making a decision.
It’s also smart to keep an eye on any SEO provider you hire to work on your website, beyond what they’re presenting to you in their reports.
Monitor Backlinks will track backlinks, keywords and competitors so you always know what they’re up to. You’ll be able to see new backlinks they’ve earned for your site, the keywords your site is ranking for, and how you compare to your main competitors.
Try it out free for 30 days to monitor the work your SEO provider is doing on your website.
5) Your Website Has No Backlink-Worthy Pages
Why should anybody link to your website?
If your answer is something like, “Because we have great products,” then pay close attention.
That’s not enough to win in SEO! That’s simply the price of entry to compete.
If you want backlinks and the high-quality search traffic they bring, you need to have content that’s worthy of links.
Let’s look at an example to illustrate how valuable content can work wonders in attracting backlinks. Using the “Top Linked Pages” report in Monitor Backlinks, you can see which pages on your site are getting the most backlinks.
This example site has done very well to get 36 backlinks to the homepage and over 20 backlinks to two high-quality posts.
As you can see, you need to build link-worthy assets on your website.
Not sure how to get started? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with these two guides:
- 5 Types of Content That Draws Backlinks Like Flies
- People Also Ask: How to Use PAA Boxes to Create Linkworthy Content
6) You Don’t Know What Your Competitors Are Doing
Can you name your top 3-5 competitors? Even more importantly, have you studied those competitors from an SEO perspective?
Failing to understand your competitors is a common problem in SEO.
Just put yourself in the shoes of your prospects when they do an online search—they see half a dozen or more businesses that claim to be the right choice for them.
To convert knowledge about your competitors into an advantage, you need to track their moves and reverse-engineer their SEO approach.
This will help you spot new SEO opportunities, as well as help you cure “blank page syndrome” when you can’t come up with any new SEO ideas.
I recommend using Monitor Backlinks to track your competitors’ backlinks and keyword rankings. All you need to do is add your top competitors to the tool for tracking, and the data will appear.
You can find plenty of new SEO ideas just by seeing where your competitors are getting their backlinks from and the anchor texts being used.
Then, once you become comfortable studying your direct competitors, look at your indirect competitors too.
If you were an SEO agency for example, you might look more broadly at marketing companies with different specialties like graphic design, PPC and branding for even more ideas.
7) Your Website Has Few or Ineffective Conversion Opportunities
Strictly speaking, you might not consider this to be an SEO problem. Hear me out though.
Why are we doing SEO in the first place?
Ultimately, it’s a means to drive a business outcome like increase sales or generate leads. If your SEO efforts drive traffic that doesn’t convert, then I would question the value of that traffic.
Solving this problem requires you to look at your website. What conversion opportunities are you taking advantage of?
Let’s look at the Monitor Backlinks homepage as an example.
You can see the conversion opportunity “Start your free trial”—it’s impossible to miss!
Most websites will have a primary and secondary conversion opportunity at a minimum. The primary conversion is your number one objective—usually a purchase, filling out a lead form, or starting a free trial like in our example above.
The secondary conversion opportunity is usually a nurturing process, such as signing up for an email course or registering for a webinar.
Once you have your primary and secondary conversion mechanisms in place, you can work on optimizing them. That might mean using A/B testing software like Optimizely, or simply adding additional calls to action with pop-up marketing tools like OptinMonster.
8) You’ve Neglected On Page SEO Opportunities
A poor user experience kills SEO results. That’s all there is to it.
Just consider one aspect of on page SEO: site speed.
(Use Google’s PageSpeed Insights to find out yours.)
If your website takes more than a few seconds to load, your traffic is going to bounce. Everyone who bounces from your website is a lost opportunity—a prospect that didn’t see what you have to offer.
Good on page SEO and design is what will help you lower that bounce rate and capture more leads and sales.
Here are a few tips to point you in the right direction:
- If your website has a lot of images, compress them! This is one of the easiest ways to speed up your website.
- Avoid duplicate content—it degrades the user experience. All content on your site should be unique and original.
- Make sure title tags and meta descriptions are all unique.
- Fix broken internal links.
- Consider using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) if you run an extensive website. (Ever wondered how Netflix can deliver content so fast? Part of the answer lies in using a CDN.)
You might also want to use our 13-point on page SEO checklist to make sure you’re not forgetting anything important.
Fixing these common problems is a good first step to success.
What’s next after you handle these mistakes?
Keep up your new and improved SEO habits.
Publish great content, research your competitors, get more backlinks.
That’s how you work your way up to the top!
Bruce Harpham provides SaaS marketing services to B2B SaaS companies so they can get high quality leads. He is also the author of “Project Managers At Work.” His work has appeared on CIO.com, InfoWorld and Profit Guide. Read his B2B SaaS marketing case studies from ClickFunnels, Close.io and other companies.