17 content optimization mistakes affecting ROI

Content optimization directly impacts ROI. The better the content for users and search engines, the more it drives results such as visibility, traffic, conversions and loyalty.

Even Ross Hudgens confirms it to be a mature content marketing strategy.

 That’s why we now see people adding content optimization to their budget requests.

I’m not asking you to spot the mistake in the above tweet but to see a significant amount dedicated to content optimization.

Now that SEOs have the budget for content optimization and know how to optimize content (even for featured snippets), let me showcase the mistakes that happen directly or indirectly when planning and implementing content optimization. 

I was able to find 17 of them. Let’s get straight to it.

1. Not doing audience research

The biggest mistake while optimizing content is not considering for whom this content needs to be. If the audience reading your content is not right, how can you expect ROI?

Every business and industry/segment has different audiences that read the content. 

For example:

The publishing industry

A publishing site like Search Engine Land would target the audience such as:

  • SEOs at all levels (entry, intermediate, experienced, managerial) to learn and inspire
  • PPC professionals at all levels (entry, intermediate, experienced, managerial) to learn and inspire
  • Business owners looking to market their SEO or PPC related products

Service industry

A marketing agency like Missive Digital would target the audience such as:

  • Business Owners of SaaS, IT, and B2B companies
  • Marketers at all levels (entry, intermediate, experienced, managerial) to learn and inspire about marketing

Product segment

A talent-hiring platform like Codemonk would target the audience such as:

  • Developers of all technologies looking for jobs
  • Project heads of global enterprises looking to hire remote talent

When I first thought about writing content on “top fashion eCommerce brands,” I found a lot of competing blogs that were talking about which fashion brands to buy from.

But, the target audience of eComKeeda is the eCommerce business owners. So, it was tricky to target that keyword.

Vatsal Shah and I concluded that rising fashion ecommerce business owners would be keen to know how the top online fashion brands became successful.

We decided to write the content showcasing the behind-the-scenes story of every top online fashion brand and their life-changing decisions. 

The result is in front of you. We still own that featured snippet.

You can optimize your content for a specific audience and get a much higher ROI. It doesn’t matter what keywords you use, as long as they’re relevant to the people who will be reading them!

2. Not optimizing for users’ reading intent

Being an SEO, you care a lot about user search intent; what goes missed is their reading intent – the “Why” of a person reading the content.

For example, this week, we optimized content for “ReactJS developer skills.” When we received the blog for optimization, we saw it had the section, “What is ReactJS and its benefits.”

My team member quickly messaged me about whether we should have that section considering the topic and the users’ reading intent.

We removed that section before it went live, as we should understand that people coming to read about ReactJS developer skills are well aware of the basics of ReactJS. You don’t need to waste their time and effort there.

Before optimizing, think twice about why a person would continue reading your content, improving content metrics.

3. Not analyzing the right data in Search Console

Today, every SEO is looking for quick hacks. Here is one I found recently,

Aisha Preece has suggested a great hack, but we need to choose those high-impression queries carefully.

Here is a list of the top 10 queries on Google Search Console (GSC) to optimize the content, “X Benefits of Full Stack Development.”

The highlighted user search queries have the highest impressions. If we choose them to optimize the content for them, we end up making a mistake that would cost not just our content creation but optimizing and link-building effort, leading to negative ROI.

Why? Because the user’s searching and reading intents behind those keywords won’t match the topic that we are optimizing. 

The people searching information for the query “hire full stack developer” are not looking to understand the benefits of full stack development but to hire a developer doing that.

4. Not analyzing user behaviors

Most content optimization sticks to looking at GSC and optimizing keywords in any way possible.

But ROI doesn’t stick to keyword rankings, and it goes beyond traffic and conversions. 

While conversion is still the most significant ROI metric, most SEOs skip looking at conversion optimization tools to see how people behave on the content they’re looking to optimize.

Forget conversions if that’s too high. Think of content metrics such as engagement rate, engaged sessions per user, and average engagement time. The content you optimize should be improving these metrics too.

You need to look at what makes your audience read the content more, whether they find images interactive, whether that highly creative pop-up is annoying and much more.

Unless you know these things, you only optimize for keywords, not conversions. And honestly, better keyword ranks don’t guarantee business. Avoid making such a content optimization mistake.

5. Not analyzing your competitors thoroughly

I often see SEOs considering the following things while doing a competitor analysis for content optimization.

  • How many words they have written
  • What headings they have used
  • The keywords they rank for
  • The backlinks (but least important)
  • The media they have added

The biggest mistake we make here is looking at what our competitors have added. We should be looking at what they haven’t. After all, outperforming them would drive excellent results.

For example, when we were doing competitor research to optimize the content on “top fintech apps,” everyone talked about the fintech app. None of them wrote about which type of fintech app it is.

We added that line for every app in the list, and we got the featured snippet for the most competitive and high-impression keyword.

You should be looking at the right things in the right places.

6. Not defining a content optimization structure in advance

A mistake we commonly see across agencies, publishers, and sites with more than 1000s of blogs to be optimized.

Every site is different, and so is its content optimization strategy. But, what can be the same is the structure you use to optimize your content.

Recently, we came up with a structure that we created to use across different projects and teams. 

Note: Content optimization structure example on Google Docs.

Like any other task, having a structure for content optimization eliminates any chances of missing out on an important aspect and improves how efficiently it’s implemented.

7. Skipping the tech content audit 

What if the optimized content has a poor user experience on the mobile site? The content has media that take years to load. Navigating from one page to another is a puzzle for the user.

Do you think such issues will sustain the user on the site for more time? Of course, not.

How can you expect that content to improve performance metrics?

Get the technical audit done. If you have done it already, that saves time. 

But, in a case like ours, when you have got a project only for content optimization, I would suggest you follow the below tech content audit steps by Tory Gray and Tyler Tafelsky.

  1. Ensure your JavaScript content is fully accessed and rendered using SEO Spider Software.
  2. Audit core web vitals (as you already have access to GSC) and optimize for page speed using the Page Speed Insights tool or the Chrome Web Vitals Extension (to save some time).
  3. Audit index bloat and keyword redundancies, and prune mindfully using sitemaps.
  4. Determine (and improve) pages where you’re losing users using Google Analytics.
  5. Leverage content gaps inspired by competitors and keyword data using an SEO tool
  6. Consider non-SEO segments and overall conversion value using the SEO Spider tool integrated with Google Analytics API.

If the doctor doesn’t know your problem, it would be difficult to suggest the medication. And, you know the implications of incorrect medication, right?

8. Mapping irrelevant keywords

This is one of the most common content optimization mistakes I have seen, experienced and rectified.

We invest a considerable amount of time training new joiners on how they don’t have to choose money keywords when optimizing a blog and vice versa.

If you go back to your past and current optimization docs, you will see a mix of both blog and money keywords to be used in the blog.

With this, you’re confusing search engines on which page to give importance for ranking the target queries and also inviting keyword cannibalization issues.

With such issues, the blog page won’t be able to educate the audience, and the money page won’t convert. Ultimately, your content optimization effort would not result in a positive ROI.

9. Choosing a non-user-friendly content flow

How do you say if the content has a non-user-friendly flow? By comparing the topic and its users’ reading intent with the content flow.

For example, let’s take the blog example, “The best smart TVs to buy in 2022.”

The content is good, so it has most queries on page 1 or around it.

Following is the content flow where the buying guidelines are on the top of the list of best smart TVs to buy in 2022:

We don’t mind putting the buying guidelines on the top if it’s short, but this buying guideline is of almost two scrolls on the desktop. These scrolls would get doubled on mobile screens. It might distract people from coming to the point on why they’re recommending the presented smart TVs.

We recommended changing and having the list before showcasing the buying guidelines to win users’ hearts and even the featured snippets.

You need to understand why a person is landing on your page and what you should do to avoid distracting them. Otherwise, such a mistake can make you stay away from page 1.

10. Missing out on contextually adding internal links 

Another huge mistake happens on internal links that directly impact your SEO ROI. This mistake happens in two ways,

  1. When you link to a page on an irrelevant anchor text
  2. When you put “Read more:” links instead of putting them on the anchor text

For example, while optimizing the content on “6 Commonly Referenced Data Governance Frameworks in 2022,” we found that the internal link to the data governance definition is given at the end, asking people to go and check out that blog to understand in detail.

Because this is a definition, a well-utilized anchor text would be the best to drive significant value for the linked blog. We recommended changing the link placement where the definition was just starting.

In another case, we recommended removing the read more section on another blog for the same client because they already gave that link in its respective section on the relevant anchor text.

Now you might wonder how to decide if we should add a Read More internal link or a keyword-focused anchor text.

In my opinion, you need a “Read More” section when you think the linked content would help the user move to the next customer journey stage. 

But, if you’ve used a target keyword of another page in a sentence for the first time, you can choose to make it an anchor text. If you use that keyword to ask them to go and check out the content, you’re inspiring them to leave reading the current page and move on to the next.

Contextualize the links you put on your pages to drive the most value. 

11. Updating only dates, years and keywords

Many SEOs think optimizing content means updating only dates, years and keywords.

Changing the title from 2021 to 2022 is not a content optimization; it’s only title optimization.

Just putting some keywords in the content doesn’t make it content optimization. 

If you think in this way, you’re making a huge mistake because you won’t see any ROI even after optimizing content.

Content optimization also includes:

Adding missing parts

The introduction of a blog helps the user get the context of the blog, and the conclusion gives them clarity on what they learned and what they should be doing about it.

And, if such necessary information is missing, you need to add them.

Adding new section

You can add a new section if you feel the content is incomplete for a user to get enough value. Here is how you can suggest them.

Writing a new blog and cross-link with each other.

Sometimes, you create a guide-like content where you have different sections, which can be explained in detail but not in that guide. In such cases, you need to write a separate blog and use its summary in that guide-like content.

With this kind of content optimization, you get the opportunity to rank for another blog and pass the internal link juice to the guide-like content and vice versa.

We often call it a Hub and Spoke model, which Andy Chadwick explained in detail how you could use the right way.

Removing unnecessary or stale content

Content optimization is certainly not only about adding new things but even removing the things that can hamper the actual ROI. The way we think, removing zero-performing content can drive great results.

Dana DiTomaso says in a blog post by Andy Crestodina,

“Sometimes you’ll find several blog posts on the same topic but they’re all mediocre, so none of them rank. If the content is still something you want to keep, then combine them into a much better post and redirect the old posts to the new one.”

Following are the scenarios where removing the content makes more sense:

  • When your content has less than 10 or 20 impressions a quarter.
  • When most of your content has definitions and benefits to refer to. Not every content needs that.
  • Trends, best practices, and quick hacks change from time to time.

Changing the length of a section

As content curators, we don’t believe in more extensive introductions or brief explanations in a how-to guide. In such cases, we suggest changing the length of the section considering the content metrics.

Adding visuals

Add them if you feel your audience would benefit from looking into videos, product GIFs, infographics, and more.

Most content that we have featured snippets for has some visuals for sure.

12. Missing out on image optimization

Adding images is one thing, but optimizing images during content optimization means ensuring those images are,

  • Added contextually (and not just the stock photographs)
  • Named appropriately (and not just logo-1.jpg)
  • Described properly with proper ALT attribute (and not just logo-1)

I shared more on my strategy for optimizing image ALT attributes in this presentation.

13. Being strict on external links

Either people don’t put external links, or if they put, they always consider them making “nofollow.”

Here is what the Google guidelines have on the “nofollow” attribute,

“Use this attribute for cases where you want to link to a page but don’t want to imply any type of endorsement, including passing along ranking credit to another page.”

For example, in one of my blogs on eCommerce FAQs, we made all the brand links to “nofollow.” The blog has been on featured snippets for over three years now. 

But, for a blog on content-driven commerce written by Vatsal Shah, we didn’t make all the links “nofollow,” and it’s still at rank #1 for over two years now.

Let’s look at another blog on eCommerce entertainment. It’s on rank 1 for over two years with a mix of “dofollow” and “nofollow” external links.

You should not hesitate to use external links if you think they can add value to your content. 

You can choose whether to nofollow them or not, based on your experience.

14. Optimizing for SEO plugins

Ah! This one is amazing. 

When interviewing candidates for the SEO roles, I ask them, “I see you’ve done content optimization. Can you please share how you do it?”

Candidates are like: “We look at the SEO plugin, whether Yoast or Rank Math, and optimize the content to achieve the green color in the scorecard.”

I’m clueless when I hear that.

If we don’t optimize our content for the search engines, don’t do it for plugins as well.

15. Over-optimizing content

Thankfully, this is no longer a common mistake. 

But while I was writing this article, one of my team members asked if we could tell our client that they had stuffed a keyword.

That’s when I decided to add it to this comprehensive list of content optimization mistakes.

There is no keyword density to focus on today, but the keyword should be added naturally and not in every sentence.

Readers are smart enough to identify if you’re faking what you’re saying when you stuff keywords. If users leave your site with such an experience, you lose them forever.

So, just stop it if you’re even thinking about it.

16. Not thinking about building links

I have experienced and heard a lot of case studies where a site is ranking without building links.

But what about conversions, thought leadership, and brand authority? That comes with building links.

Be it any business (even my agency), mostly leads convert from repeat visitors.

They have visited your website, researched your business on different platforms and then come to your website again to put the inquiry.

For all the content you create and optimize, you should think of distributing it on the right platforms to make the most out of it.

Again, ranks don’t guarantee conversions, but the authority does.

17. Skipping the performance monitoring

Last but not the least mistake of content optimization is not monitoring the performance of the content optimized. 

How will you come to know if the optimization worked? Whether it drives more engagement or conversions? Content metrics come into the picture. You can use various SEO tools, Google Analytics, Search Console, SEO spider software, and more to monitor the content performance.

But, what’s more important is how often you track it.

We have this tracker, where we monitor the performance every week after the content is updated as per the optimization suggested.

Use my MOM (Monitor -> Optimize -> Monitor) approach to improve results. I coined this approach during my talk on boosting organic traffic using featured snippets at Whitespark Local Search Summit 2021.

Optimize your content wisely.

The above 17 content optimization mistakes help you stick to what is suitable for your audience and brand more than the search engines. After all, publishing content is only 20% of the task. The rest, 80%, is optimizing it to own featured snippets.

Go, and download this infographic to circulate among your team and friends for them to keep handy.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.

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