5 Common On-Page SEO Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)

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Search engine optimization is more than inbound marketing, or just a way to bring people to your website. There is a huge overlap, but there is a unique and technical side of SEO that’s often neglected, particularly by casual followers of the niche.

If you ever want your web pages to rank high on search engines, it’s important to learn the basics of SEO (and some of the advanced stuff, too). Unfortunately, most people don’t. They struggle with SEO and make costly on-page SEO mistakes.

But you don’t have to be like them.

In this article I’ll cover the most common on-page SEO mistakes that are likely hurting your search engine rankings, and show you how to fix them. Ready?

1. You’ve got duplicate content on your website.

According to research by SEMRush, 50% of websites have a problem with duplicate content. Duplicate content is simply a substantive block of “content that appears on the Internet in more than one place.”

It could be a chunk of copy in two places on your website, or the same blog article published on multiple sites, for instance. In all cases, it’s a problem.

Common On-Page SEO Mistakes


A few years ago, Google introduced the Hummingbird update (and has improved it regularly since) to more easily determine the quality, relevance, and uniqueness of a page’s content before ranking it.

When’s there’s duplicate content, Google picks the page they think is “best” to include in search results, and sometimes drops the rest entirely. In other words, having duplicate content on your website will cause multiple pages on your site to fight for the same position in search rankings, which will hurt you.

According to Ric Dean at Caffeinated:

“The only way to clean up ‘duplicate content mess’ is by identifying the unoriginal content published on your website. Take it down, and create high-quality, original content in its place.”

So how can you find duplicate content to fix it? Tools like Siteliner will scan your site (up to 250 pages for free), and show you any pages that have similar or the same content. Then use Ric’s advice to fix any issues.

Siteliner Duplicate Content Example

2. Some of your images are broken or missing Alt tags.

From the same study mentioned above, 45% of websites have images without Alt tags, and 10% have broken internal images (images that do not display correctly). Images are an integral component of content marketing but can also be a source of SEO issues.

Broken Image Example

PC: Treehouse

Alt tags help search engines understand what the images are about. They offer textual descriptions of images, making it possible for search engines to categorize and index them. Most content management systems have a place for you to easily add Alt tags (or Alt text, which is the same thing) to any image used.

Keep in mind that broken images and missing Alt tags cause the same problem as broken links. Broken links are a dead end for both search engines and web users. They can downgrade your page rank because they create a very poor user experience.

It’s always wise to include Alt tags and correct any broken images. But how can you tell if you have any broken images or missing Alt tags on your site?

SEO Chat has a free tool that will scan both images and links on a web page, and show you what needs to be fixed. Enter your site, and see if any pages need your attention.

SEO Chat Broken Links and Images Analysis Free Tool

3. You’re nofollow-ing your own URLs.

At some point, you may want to keep a web page hidden from search results. This can be important when you need to prevent duplicate content issues, hide customer-only pages, and more.

It’s fine to do, but you should understand that a “nofollow” tag alone doesn’t prevent web pages and backlinks from being indexed by search engines. It does, however, clutter your site and can hurt your SEO.

Unfortunately, many make this simple mistake. If you want to hide a page from search engines, use this tag instead: <meta name=”robots” content=”noindex,nofollow”>. Just add it to the HTML head of that page.

This tells search engines “Hey, we want you to ignore this page.” So they do, and move on to the next page.

How to NoIndex a Page Example

PC: HubSpot

A couple of free tools to help scan your pages for nofollow pages are Varvy’s Link Count / Nofollow Tool and Igorware’s No-Follow Chrome extension. If you see any nofollow-ed pages that need to be noindex-ed, fix them!

4. Outbound (external) links are used incorrectly.

External links (hyperlinks directed to pages on a different website) can help or hurt the authority search engines assign to your website. However, this doesn’t mean that you should never link to any other site.

The problem occurs if these outbound links are low quality, use the keyword anchor text you’re trying to rank for, or are placed where they are easily confused with internal website navigation (like in your website header or footer).

External Links vs Internal Links for SEO

PC: Moz

Keep in mind that outbound links in the primary content aren’t an issue, but it’s wise to screen them and ensure they are high quality. If your site contains links to ‘bad neighborhoods,’ it can easily get pushed down in search rankings by the anti-spam algorithms and Google’s spam team.

To find which links on your site might be hurting you, use tools like Moz’s Link Explorer or Ahrefs to scan your link profile. Once you know what’s on your site, you can pick and choose what to keep or fix.

You want your external links to have a Domain Authority or Domain Rank of 50+. This shows search engines that your site is linking to other highly respected sites, which makes you look better. Linking to sites with lower ranks is okay, but try avoiding links to any sites with a DA or DR below 20.

5. Your internal link structure is confusing.

While there is more than one way to correctly structure your internal links, there are a thousand ways of doing it wrong, too.

According to Google guidelines, you should build your website with a logical link structure. A viewer should be able to reach every page of your website (or at least all the important pages) within three clicks.

Good Site Structure Provides Sitelinks

PC: Kissmetrics

Your modern content management system (like Wordpress, Wix, or Shopify) can handle this task automatically. However, this functionality can get broken sometimes.

One dangerous belief is that you should add a canonical tag to multiple pages that contain the same content. Well, the truth is that you should only add a canonical tag to one web page that contains the post, or leave the issue untouched.

Canonicalizing multiple pages with the same tag heightens the risk of erasing the links on these pages (and all their SEO benefits) from search engine indexes.

An entirely flat link architecture is also a common issue.

Some people believe that every web page should be accessed via every other page on your site. This can be an issue for anyone with more than a few pages on their site. From a user’s standpoint, this results in issues by making it pretty hard to find the appropriate web pages.

If everything is accessible from every page, how do users know where to go? Just as important, how do search engines know which pages are most important to show in search results?

Good Sitelink Structure Example

PC: Kissmetrics

Search engines can also experience this confusion and find it difficult to interpret your site. Unless your site has a clear hierarchy, they will have a difficult time parsing which web pages on your website cover which topics, the most important, and so on.

Keep in mind that there are more than 200 ranking factors to Google’s search algorithms, and they’re being updated daily. Therefore, a categorical hierarchy allows search engines to understand your website semantically, an important aspect of ranking.

Now that you know what to do...

Well, it’s up to you. Do you find yourself making any of the common on-page SEO mistakes? Don’t worry!

It’s never too late to do the right thing. Use the tips above to fix the on-page SEO issues on your website, and enhance your chances converting visitors and ranking higher on search engines.

Related: 5 Local SEO Tips to Boost Your Small Business Presence