I bet that if you Google “SEO Tips“, 99% of the lists you come across will contain step-by-step recommendations for optimizing your content, getting back links, increasing social signals and leveraging citations. And yes, those recommendations are right on-target for increasing the optimization of your website for search engines.

But there’s something missing. Something so important that ignoring it has the potential to drive your perfectly-writen content down in the search engine results pages (SERPs) faster than you can say “Google algorithm”. More on that in a moment.

First, it’s important to understand that few, if any, people outside of the Big G have direct knowledge of how the incredibly complex ranking algorithm works. For that matter, even if you did get the entire thing dropped in your lap, you can rest assured that in a few days or weeks, things will change. The search results algorithm is always changing, always improving, in an attempt to provide the human searchers with more meaningful results.

And, yes, informative, well-written content that is socially-shared and gets quality, relevant and authoritative backlinks fall deep into the “secret sauce” of SEO. But that alone is not enough. There’s a problem with your website that you probably don’t even know about, something insidious lurking in the code and the HTML the makes your site work. You could spend all day navigating your menu and possibly never find it. And that’s what makes it so difficult for business owners…you have to find a problem that you don’t even know you have.

What’s the problem? Well, put simply, the problem is errors with your site like duplicate content, duplicate page titles, missing meta information, page titles that are too long and links to content that doesn’t exist…to name only a few.

You see, each of these things (and many others) confuses poor Google…and when the Goog gets confused, bad things happen to you. Things like poor rankings or not being included in rankings all together.

How? Why? Here’s a quick example. If your website has two pages that Google’s search algorithm perceives as duplicates of each other, Google is going to have a hard time figuring out which of those pages to rank in the SERPs. Further, your optimization juice gets diluted. The algorithm looks and says, “I’m not sure what to do with this duplicate content, so I’ll stick it here on page three for a while and hope the website owner figures it out”. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, I really don’t know exactly what the algorithm “thinks”, but it’s an educated guess.

So what do you do? I hate to oversimplify, but you need to fix the problems. While you might not be able to find the problems simply by eyeballing your site, there are many tools available to help you. MOZ, Google Webmaster Tools and others can find many of the problems that need resolving.

Take a look at this. A very large client contracted usĀ for a variety of services. One was to go through their website and resolve issues. There were nearly a staggering 3200 issues with their website. Let that sink in. 3200 problems keeping them from ranking they way they deserve, based on their high-quality content. Here’s a line graph that shows their website problems that needed attention. Can you pinpoint the time when we started working on their problems?

Solve duplicate content and title problems for better SEO

Astute observers will notice that on June 3, there was a dramatic drop in the number of problems. On the far right is the crawl from just last week where we are at just about zero problems. In a very short amount of time, just about a month, we plummeted from 3200 problems to zero. Now that makes us happy. Very happy. And while it’s too soon to tell how their SERPs will be affected, that’s the next step…track the SERPs. No matter what, a problem-free website is a happy website.

Look, I know problem solving is not as captivating as writing that incredible blog post you’ve been penning in your head. I get that. But sometimes you need to buckle down and look at some of the underlying problems of your web property that could be holding you back in the rankings. Find and fix what’s broken, over time, Google will reward you.