Hubspot recently hosted a live Q&A session with Rand Fishkin, CEO of SEOmoz, and Dharmesh Shah, CTO of Hubspot, about search engine optimization and tips companies can use to improve their SEO strategy. They discussed a wide range of topics, from common SEO mistakes to the benefits of blogging to crafting a mobile optimization strategy.

Here are highlights from their presentation, including key takeaways about search engine optimization and implications for today’s marketing manager.

What are the top three things that you see most companies doing incorrectly when it comes to SEO?

1. Thinking a website has to be “algorithmically perfect”

Unfortunately, when it comes to optimizing websites, companies put too much emphasis on making a website that’s “perfect” for search engines. Business owners focus too much on Google, Yahoo and Bing’s recommendations and ranking formulas, and not enough on customers and providing user value.

Search engine optimization isn’t about using a keyword phrase a certain number of times; it’s not about making sure other websites link back to your site using the same exact link text with the same exact target keyword each time. SEO is about providing people with useful, relevant information.

Instead of chasing elusive search engine algorithms, companies should really focus on creating a valuable product or service, building a unique and compelling brand, and providing customers with an awesome online experience.

2. Targeting the most popular keywords

A marketing manager at a web hosting company might think it would be great to rank #1 for a popular term like "web hosting."

Unfortunately, these popular search phrases pose some issues. First, these phrases are extremely competitive. Imagine the effort it would take to try to usurp GoDaddy. And, in many circumstances, a brand-new company probably won’t be able to take the #1 spot away from a company like GoDaddy that has a well-established brand and website.

Also, search terms like “web hosting” make up a small percentage of all searches performed on the web. The majority (about 70%) of searches are in the “long tail.” Plus, long tail keywords tend to convert better, because they catch people at later stages in the buying cycle.

So, rather than go after the most popular keyword phrases, businesses should think about going after search traffic in the “chunky middle” and “long tail.” In our web hosting example, this means targeting keyword phrases like “Wordpress web hosting” or “fastest Wordpress web hosting.”

3. Building links instead of earning links

Don’t take the shortcut to links and pay for directory submissions or link farm schemes. Buying links from a less than reputable source won’t really help your website. And thanks to Google Penguin and other search engine algorithm updates, your site can be penalized and dropped from search results completely.

Earning links is hard, but worth it and the better thing to do for search engine optimization. Focus your efforts on creating great content and promoting it (in the right ways and on the right channels), and links will follow because people enjoy your content and want to share it.

What is the best measure to use to determine success/failure of an SEO campaign?

It’s most helpful to look at website metrics that show business value.

For example, if you want to track results for non-branded search traffic (keyword phrases that don’t include your company name or variations thereof), look at data like:

  • How many leads came from term x?
  • How many leads made a purchase?
  • What was the purchase value?

Should I still bother blogging?

Blogs continue to be an excellent opportunity to establish authority and thought leadership in your company's niche.

There's also a window of opportunity in blogging today. The growth rate of blogs has diminished in the last few years, while the number of people reading blogs is on the rise. More people are reading; fewer people are writing. More eyeballs, less competition – a blog is definitely a worthwhile investment.

How does one develop an effective SEO strategy around mobile?

First, think about the site itself (i.e., technical aspects). Make sure website load times are fast. A responsive design (one that scales to fit different device screen sizes) is also helpful; it ensures people can read and use your website whether on smartphone, tablet or PC. (Plus, Google recommends responsive design as part of a mobile search engine optimization strategy!)

Also, think about keywords. Mobile searches tend to have location-specific intent. Where appropriate, incorporate geographic terms in page content or meta tags. For example, include a location (Richmond, Virginia for example) in your <title> tags.

Ultimately, an effective web SEO or mobile SEO strategy focuses on humans, not algorithms. Search engines are trying to rate the quality of the experience your website provides; essentially, they are "measuring user happiness." Put the user and their needs first.

How does your SEO strategy stack up? Are there mistakes you can fix or new strategies you want to try?

Not sure where to start with search engine optimization? Request a free website evaluation today!