10 Most Common SEO Problems (& How to Solve Them)

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Last updated on October 19, 2023

People forget SEO is a craft. Just trying to do SEO isn’t enough. Sure, it puts you ahead of many. But you’re probably doing some (or all) of it wrong unless you’re super experienced.

It’s like carpentry. With zero experience, you can sit down and “do” carpentry. But you’re not going to like the result.

People either forget or don’t understand that SEO takes practice, trial and error and experience. In other words, it takes hard work. And they’re surprised when they end up with SEO problems.

I’ve been doing this for more than a decade. I’ve seen and solved every type of SEO problem you can imagine.

So today, I’m going to show you the 10 most common SEO problems and EXACTLY how to solve them.

Let’s do this.
10 Most Common SEO Problems And How to Solve Them - Tom Desmond

1. Keyword Cannibalization

If you’re picturing bloodthirsty zombies, you’re not far off.

Keyword cannibalization happens when you’ve got two pages competing for the same keyword in search engine rankings.

Usually, you have one page that you wanted to rank for that keyword. And then you have the zombie page creeping up on that page in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

They fight. And in doing so, they limit their capacity to rank well for the keyword at all. They’re cannibalizing each other.

Why does keyword cannibalization happen? It’s often accidental, but you’ve probably targeted the same keyword with two different pages. Or you’ve let your content topics overlap a bit too much.

You’ll notice that you are dealing with keyword cannibalization when you see two pages going in and out as the “ranking” page in your keyword tracking tool.

How to Solve Keyword Cannibalization

The good news is that there are multiple ways to solve this problem. Your method will depend on what you want to do with the zombie pages competing with your other pages for rankings.

Once you’ve identified the pages cannibalizing each other, you can do one of the following to fix it:

  • Delete the page you don’t want to rank. If it’s not a useful page in any way, you can always delete it and redirect it to the page you DO want to rank for the keyword in question.
  • Merge the pages. If the page that’s competing with your primary page for a ranking is useful in some way and is topically related to the other page, you can always combine the content of the two pages. Pick the URL you do want to rank, and publish the newly merged content there. And redirect the URL of the now-merged content to the new URL.
  • De-optimize the offending page. If both pages should still exist on your site, you can remove all instances of the keyword in question from the page that shouldn’t be ranking for it. Before long, it should fall out of the rankings and stop cannibalizing your other page.

2. Poor, Lacking or Under-optimized Title Tags & Meta Descriptions

Title tags and meta descriptions are the titles and brief pieces of text that appear in the SERPs for your pages.

Title tags are a Google ranking factor. That means Google uses them to decide how to rank your content.

Meta descriptions are not a Google ranking factor. But they DO indirectly affect your performance in search because they can convince readers to click your SERP listing AND Google will bold users’ search queries in your listing, making it stand out more.

This is done correctly:
title tag and meta description

In other words, title tags and meta descriptions are a HUGE deal when it comes to SEO. But many people are either doing them wrong or not doing them at all. That’s a major SEO problem.

How to Solve Bad Title and Meta Tags

This one isn’t too technical to solve. The main issue is that it takes some legwork.

Here’s the step by step:

  1. Install a common SEO plugin like Yoast or Rank Math. (These help you easily add title tags and meta descriptions.)
  2. Pull up your website’s XML sitemap. (Usually, you can find it at https://yoursite.com/sitemap.xml.)
  3. Put each page and post into a spreadsheet where you can easily manage them.
  4. One by one, check each page for a title tag and meta description. Each page should have one of both. Whether you’re editing existing titles and descriptions or adding them from scratch, keep the following in mind:
  • Title tags should be under 60 characters to avoid being cut off in search results.
  • Meta descriptions should be under 155 characters.
  • Both should contain the page’s target keyword.

3. Pages Not in Google’s Index

If Google isn’t indexing your pages, it’s not showing them in search results. That’s the most basic point of SEO, which is why this is such a huge SEO problem to have.

It’s normal for Google not to index EVERY page on your site. But if it’s not indexing important pages and posts that you want to show in search results, you have a problem.

You can get a bird’s-eye view of your overall indexing situation in Google Search Console (GSC).

And if you want to check whether an individual page is indexed, you can either pop it into GSC or search the URL on Google with “site:” in front of it.

If it doesn’t show in search results, it’s not indexed.

How to Get Indexed

If you’re dealing with a handful of pages that aren’t indexed, you can simply ask Google to index them right inside GSC:
Request indexing in GSC

But if you’re running a massive site with hundreds or thousands of pages that aren’t indexed, you might need to take a somewhat more technical approach.

Basically, you’ll need to check your robots.txt file to make sure it’s not telling Google to exclude certain pages.

And then you’ll need to optimize your crawl budget by adding a “noindex” tag to every page you DON’T want Google to index.

That helps Google use its resources more effectively to crawl and index the pages you DO want indexed.

4. Bad Link Building Strategy (or None at All)

Many people get hung up on on-page and technical SEO and forget all about off-page, which basically boils down to building backlinks.

That’s a big mistake. Google’s original algorithm was built almost entirely on the power of backlinks, and they’re still the absolute most important ranking factor today.

(I’m sure some other SEOs would love to argue with me about that. But I’ll go ahead and guarantee they’re fighting me about it because they haven’t figured out how to build great backlinks yet.)

But having a bad link building strategy is as bad as (or worse than) having no link building strategy.

So, if you’re waiting for the links to roll in “naturally” or buying thousands of backlinks on Fiverr for cheap, you’re in “terrible link building strategy” territory.

And if you haven’t so much as thought about backlinks, you’re in “no link building strategy” territory.

In either case, you’re not going to get the SEO results you want until you solve this problem.

How to Fix A Bad Link Building Strategy

The way you solve this is to actually have a link building strategy. And to make sure it’s actually a good strategy.

Fortunately, I’ve published several in-depth guides to building your link building strategy:

Follow the steps outlined in these articles, and you’re golden.

5. Suspicious Anchor Text

Maybe you DO have a link building strategy. So you’ve solved your SEO problems, right?

Probably not. For starters, have you checked your anchor text profile?

(For those who don’t know: Anchor text is the clickable text that accompanies a link. Google analyzes the anchor text of backlinks to inform where and how it ranks various pages on your site.)

The most common problem I see regarding anchor text is that it’s totally obvious to Google that you’re paying for backlinks.

How is it obvious? Because you’ve got a bunch of unnatural, keyword-stuffed anchor text in your backlink profile. And not enough natural-looking anchor text to cover it up.

Google hates that. It’s a huge violation of Google’s guidelines to try to manipulate search results with backlinks and anchor text, which is why you have to have a backlink and anchor text profile that looks natural.

Otherwise, you risk getting a manual action or algorithmic penalty that removes some or all of your site from Google search results.

How to Solve Funky Anchor Text

To solve this problem, you have to actually look at your anchor text profile. Any of these SEO tools will do a handy job of pulling up all of your backlinks and pieces of anchor text:

Plug your domain in. Find the part that shows your anchor text profile. And start reading anchors.

Here’s what it looks like in Semrush:
anchor text profile semrush

What are you looking for? Mostly, you’re looking for anchor text that looks and feels natural — like it would occur in the wild without you paying for the link or otherwise manipulating the anchor text chosen.

And if you have some anchors that don’t look natural, you need to have plenty of cover for them.

If you identify a problem here, the solution is to build more backlinks with natural anchor text.

6. Wasted Effort on Low-Quality ‘Cover’ Links

Perhaps you’re way ahead of me on the anchor text issue. You’ve been building cover links for years, and you’re all good.

Maybe. Maybe not.

I mean, if you’re building crappy “cover” links — meaning you’re getting them from low-quality websites — they are likely not all indexed.

Remember: Google wants to index good content. So if the content that contains your cover links is not good, it probably won’t be indexed.

And that’s a problem because it means Google is not counting your cover links as it evaluates your backlink profile. Only links in the index get counted.

That means your backlink profile probably isn’t as natural-looking as you think it is, and you’re at risk of a penalty.

How to Solve Low Quality Cloud Cover Links

The solution here is simple: Build your cover links with as much care as you build your bread and butter links.

That means you might have to pay a little more or work a little harder to get your cover links. But if you make sure they’re on high-quality, relevant websites that get real organic traffic, they’re MUCH more likely to be indexed.

7. Improper Language Localization

If your website serves people who speak a language other than English, you probably need to have content that’s in that language.

That’s obvious. And it’s why so many people go ahead and publish content in Spanish or other widely spoken languages.

The problem? They leave it at that. And Google doesn’t know when to serve the translated content or the original content.

That means Spanish speakers may be getting your English content. Fill in the blanks for whatever languages you’re dealing with.

There’s a technical SEO fix for this problem, but it’s pretty complicated. And that’s why most people leave this problem unsolved.

How to Solve Banged Up Language

You’ve got to implement hreflang tags. And do it properly.

Hreflang tags tell Google when and where to serve content that’s in different languages.

Most SEOs agree that this is one of the most complicated SEO tasks. But once you get it right, you don’t have to worry about it too much in the future.

The easiest solution, if you have the budget for it, is to hire a technical SEO freelancer to do it for you.

But if you want to take a stab at it, prominent SEO Aleyda Solis has created a free tool that will generate hreflang tags for you. Plug your information into the hreflang generator tool.

Then, add the tags to your webpages. Problem solved.

8. Sh*tty Content

You’re not going to get away with having low-quality content. Many have tried. All have failed (eventually).

That’s because Google wants to serve the best content to its users. If your content isn’t the best, it’s not going to get served in search results. Simple as that.

But great content is expensive and hard to create. That’s why so many websites struggle with this SEO problem.

How to Solve the Lousy Content Problem

The solution here should be obvious:

You’ve got to publish great content. Whether you write it yourself or buy it, it has to be AWESOME.

In fact, it should be better than anything else on the SERP for the keyword you want to rank for.

If you can’t afford that kind of content at scale, commission or create it over time. Do what you can when you can, and you WILL get results eventually.

9. Forgetting Conversion Rate Optimization

Traffic is one of the easiest SEO traps to fall into.

You see traffic increasing over time, and you think your SEO is working. It IS working, but if that isn’t translating to more revenue for your business, it’s not working for you.

If you’ve got a ton of Google traffic but it’s not helping you achieve your business goals, you’ve got a problem.

More specifically, you’ve got a conversion problem. Not enough people on your site are actually calling you, filling out your form, signing up for your newsletter or whatever you want them to do.

How to Fix Poor Conversion Rate

The answer to this issue isn’t to increase traffic. Think about it:

If you get 10,000 people on your website every month and only one of them converts, you’d have to get 20,000 website visitors to get just ONE more conversion.

The time, money and effort it would take to do that isn’t worth it. Instead, focus on conversion rate optimization (CRO).

CRO is an art all to itself. It’s separate from SEO but inextricably linked to it.

Start with the basics: Visit your site as if you are a random visitor. Ask yourself:

  • At all times, is the visitor easily able to contact you via phone, form or chat?
  • Is the value the website is offering to the visitor clear?
  • Is it clear that you are an expert at what you do or that your product or service is the best in quality, value or both?

If the answer to any of those questions is no, make changes to your website until the answer is yes. Before long, your conversion rate will increase.

10. Broken Links and Improper Redirects

Google hates broken links. It also hates improper redirects. If you have these issues on your site, you have a major SEO problem.

And let’s not forget: It’s also a user experience problem. People don’t like sites that are slowed down by redirect chains. And they hate landing on pages that 404.

How to Solve Busted Up Redirects

This one is pretty easy to solve. Fire up your SEO tool of choice. Plug in your domain. And find the part that talks about broken links.

Go through the list of 404s on your site. For each, either reinstate the missing page or set up a redirect so the page no longer 404s.

Also check your existing redirects.

Do you have any redirect chains or loops? Chains are multiple redirects right in a row. And loops are redirects that point back to each other in an infinite loop.

If you have either issue, redirect to the proper page. Problem solved.

Solve Your SEO Problems, Secure Your Search Engine Dominance

SEO is all about solving problems. And I promise you this:

If you stick with it — never giving up even when you feel like you’re facing a new SEO problem every week — you WILL see results.

The secret? Other than deploying the tactics I’ve shared with you in this post, the secret is that most people DO give up.

The SEO problems stack up, and at some point, they decide it’s not worth it to keep solving them. Don’t do that — giving up is the only way to ensure you’ll fail.

Instead, keep building great backlinks, creating great content and optimizing your site. The rankings (and revenue ) will come.

Thanks for reading this post!

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