Most financial and professional services firms, even those that market primarily to other businesses, acknowledge that earning top online search results is critical. In some business categories (banking and insurance, for example), consumers search online for ideas and information about companies to do business with, while in others (financial advice, accounting, law), people use websites to validate referrals and financial product and service recommendations.

Search engine optimization is a key priority for most organizations. Yet many have Google penalties that limit the traffic the search engine sends to their sites. 

So why do so many companies do things that sabotage their SEO? It's usually because they're not aware of the simple digital errors they're making.

Here are some of the most common mistakes companies make that impact their search rankings negatively, along with what can be done to avoid — or fix — them.

1. Monitoring traffic into the site without checking what the traffic does once it's there. It's great if you earn high conversion rates when you promote links to pages on your website on Facebook, Twitter or other social advertising channels. However, if the majority of your traffic bounces or doesn't take action (for example, rarely clicks on links), your site will suffer in search rankings. 

Regularly monitor end-to-end traffic for all your campaigns. Ensure that the visitors entering your site have a satisfying experience after they arrive. If you're seeing high bounce rates, too little time on page or too few visitors continuing on to other pages, it's time to improve the content or on-page experience. If metrics aren't enough to help you track and solve problems, online recording and heat-mapping software could help you pin-point specific issues.

2. Believing that having good content is enough to rank. Many content marketers think that great content is all it takes to earn high search engine rankings. Every now and then, a terrific article, video or infographic will rank high with little or no effort. However, this is the exception and not the rule. 

The truth is that back-end and on-page optimization are required for a piece of content to rank. Great content that Google and other search engines can't scan or that’s delivered by a slow server most likely won't make it to the top of any search recommendations.

3. Duplicative content. Does your financial or professional services company sell products or services that are similar? Perhaps you offer funds, investment options, insurance policies or accounts that include many of the same features with a few variations or enhancements. Or maybe you sell comparable products or services through multiple channels. If that’s the case, you could register as having duplicative content on your site. 

If this happens, your website will likely receive a significant penalty from Google and other search engines (thirty percent of potential traffic or more). In order to avoid this, make sure all your site content is significantly different. It's hard work to come up with original ways to say the same thing, but if you want your individual products and services to show up in search, they have to be viewed as unique by the engines.

If you can't do this, pick the pages you want to “win” in search and tag the rest so they’re not tracked by the engines.

4. Duplicative titles. Similar to the issue above, page titles that are too much alike can cause problems with search engines. If similar products and services or article subjects use titles that seem very much alike, change your approach to titles to be more descriptive so each piece of content will be viewed as original and not duplicative. 

Tip: Use the kinds of phrases that your consumer base would use to search for the product or service in title tags. Taking a more conversational approach will lead to more title variation and make it more likely your product will top the search results for it.

5. Link-building gone wrong. One of the most effective ways to make your site seem “credible” to search engines is to have other “credible” sites reference it and link to it. (Similar to “real," non-digital life, online authority is passed on by recognized authorities to emerging experts.)

Unfortunately, some firms have used or are still using cheap tricks and less-than-reputable methods to build links. If your site is being linked to by ones that focus on topics not related to your industry or that are of low quality, search engines will track the activity and penalize your site.  (For example, if your financial or professional services website is being linked to from a site that rates mattresses, you will likely have a Google issue.)

To avoid this, use software that tracks links to your site and check to see if they seem like logical and high quality connections. If not, contact the sites and ask them to remove the links. If they ignore you or refuse, you could be forced to go through a complicated and labor intensive process that involves contacting Google and proving, in writing, that you worked diligently to eliminate the bad links. Sometimes this is the only way to get rid of a bad-link related penalty.

6. Bad URL structure. Many older CMS applications generate URLs that are meaningless. They're anonymous strings of letters and numbers that make no sense to search engines. If this happens on your website, take the time to customize your URLs so they're clear, scannable and communicate the content in the page. A good URL will help ensure your page is selected by search engines, and by readers, as well.

7. Keyword stuffing. Google killed this old SEO manipulation play years ago, yet sites still try to load their sites with keywords, using them over and over again, hoping it will help the page rank higher. It simply doesn't work because it usually results in terrible copy people can't read, which causes them to abandon the site. This could lead to a penalty. Review the content on your site regularly. If it seems too repetitive, cut back the excessive key words. It could help improve rankings and reduce the likelihood of a penalty.

8. Broken links. It happens on even the best-maintained websites. Someone works on the site and accidentally breaks a link. This common issue is a clear signal to search engines of a bad user experience. They won't send traffic to pages that dead-end in bad links. It's easy to avoid this simple issue by checking the pages of smaller site regularly. Software is available that makes the process easy and less time consuming for bigger sites.

SEO isn't simple. It has increased in complexity as search engines more and more try to read, and even pre-suppose, the thinking of the human brain. Despite this complex back-end logic and processing (or maybe because of it), small avoidable errors can impact search rankings in a big way. Check out Carpenter Groups's vision of how SEO fits into a broader digital strategy. Then contact us to learn how we could help you improve your firm’s search rankings.