Most business owners rely on traffic from search engines to drive sales. But whether you are an SEO guru or a novice looking to extract a few more leads from your search engine marketing efforts, chances are good that you are making at least one of these incredibly common--and potentially damaging--SEO mistakes:

1. Creating duplicate content. Google hates to see identical--or even very similar--content on more than one webpage or more than one website. It will rarely feature both of those links on a search engine results page, because that doesn't add value for the end-user.

Make absolutely sure that you do not copy and paste the same text--even if it is relevant to both pages--in more than one location on your website. More importantly, make sure you always post fresh, unique content (never let your Web designer snag content from competitor sites and then forget to replace it). Worried others might copy your content? Google does a darn good job determining who published it first, but services like are helpful for protecting your content from copycats.

2. Stuffing keywords in anchor text. Besides having a clean website structure and a good collection of unique, relevant content on your site, the secret to ranking highly on Google (and elsewhere) is the quality and quantity of links from other sites to yours. The actual clickable (blue underlined) text that links to your site is known as the “anchor text.” One of the newest hazards when it comes to Google’s algorithm is when the anchor text of links to your site are too keyword-rich. It makes it look like you are trying to game Google.

Here's a quick example: Let's say your company is and you want to rank highly for the keyword “leather wheelie bags.” You get your friend who runs the blog to link to your site. A general link (“Check out a great luggage store at”) is good for SEO. But you are over optimizing if the anchor text is stuffed with keywords (“They have leather wheelie bags at this site”). If this happens across dozens of blogs due to your concentrated SEO effort, it looks unnatural, and Google may penalize your rankings.

3. Failing to put keywords in URLs. Adding keywords to URLs isn't a new concept, but it's an easy and effective SEO strategy that many companies still ignore. In short, you need to make your URL structure verbose and keyword-rich. Ideally, a customer should be able to look at your URL and tell what that webpage is about.

In other words, instead of this:

Use this:

Having these keywords in the URL helps signal to search engines that this content is relevant to those search terms.

4. Buying links. Bottom line: The tactics that were successful in 2008 don't work anymore. It used to be that if you wanted to rank highly for the keyword “leather wheelie bags,” you threw some content on your site related to that keyword, and then bought links from blogs and other sites with the anchor text “leather wheelie bags.” Soon enough, you zipped up to the top of the search rankings.

But those days are gone, and no smart SEO strategy involves going head to head with the legions of Google’s engineers. Nowadays, successful strategies have nothing to do with “gaming Google.” They involve creating good, shareable, unique, relevant content. Though there are no shortcuts in this strategy, you won't have to worry every day about Google giving you the boot.

Avoid these four mistakes in your SEO efforts, and you'll be rewarded with higher rankings from Google, more traffic, and better results.