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13 common SEO website issues and how to solve them

Search engine optimization (SEO) is never complete—just ask Google.com: it doesn’t even follow its own guidelines for mobile performance, a critical ranking factor.

But by avoiding the most common technical SEO mistakes and keeping the user experience (UX) top of mind, you put your website in the position to rank higher and earn the organic clicks it deserves.

Last updated

31 Mar 2023

Reading time

12 min


This guide shows you how to identify and fix 13 common SEO website issues using free and freemium tools. Stay on top of SEO performance to increase your online visibility and drive business growth by satisfying search engine algorithms and your website visitors.

Improve SEO by focusing on the user experience

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, Feedback, Surveys, and Interviews to reduce bounce rates, increase time on page, and create better content.

What are ‘SEO issues’, and why should you fix them?

Common SEO problems usually fall into three categories:

📝Note: you’ll never get a perfectly ‘SEO-ed’ website (😭), but fixing common SEO and UX issues lets you improve visibility, get more qualified traffic, and, ultimately, generate more leads and sales.

13 common SEO issues with solutions

Use this checklist, based on information from Google’s Search Essentials and Bing’s Webmaster Guidelines, to find and fix common SEO issues and improve your rankings:

1. High bounce rate

2. Slow site speed

3. Broken internal and external links

4. Low-quality content

5. Missing or unoptimized title tags

6. Poor site structure and navigation

7. Missing SSL certificate

8. Missing image alt tags

9. Missing or outdated XML sitemap

10. Lack of schema markup

11. Duplicate content

12. Missing hreflang attributes

13. Poor mobile experience

1. High bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of website visitors who leave after viewing a single page.

Website bounce rate shown in the Hotjar Dashboard

Why it’s bad for SEO: a high bounce rate signals to search engines that users don’t find your content useful or relevant to their search, leading to lower rankings. 

How to fix it: use a traditional analytics tool like Google Analytics to find the pages on your website with the highest bounce rates.

Next, use a behavior analytics tool like Hotjar Recordings to view users’ actions before they bounce. When you see why users bounce—perhaps they got fed up waiting for the page to load or were confused by a broken link—you’ll know exactly what to fix to lower the bounce rate. 

If you’re still not sure what’s causing high bounces, ask! Set up an exit-intent survey using a tool like Hotjar Surveys and ask people why they’re bouncing. A simple, open-ended, single-question survey gives you plenty of insight into what’s going through visitors’ minds as they browse, even if you only get a few responses.

2. Slow site speed

Site or page speed is a measurement of how quickly your pages load and render for users.

#Analyzing real users’ page-load times using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool
Analyzing real users’ page-load times using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool

Why it’s bad for SEO: slow page speeds frustrate users, increasing the likelihood they bounce (see above). What's more, Google measures your site’s Core Web Vitals to determine website load time for real visitors and uses this data to increase or decrease your search rankings. 

How to fix it: enter your domain name into a page speed testing tool like Google’s PageSpeed Insights and select ‘Origin’ to analyze how the entire website performs against Google’s Core Web Vitals assessment on desktop and mobile. 

If you’re not scoring 100/100 (you won’t!), scroll down the page to view load speed improvement suggestions. For example, you may need to minify JavaScript and CSS or use a caching tool to improve your scores.

Broken links (aka dead links) are links to pages that no longer exist. They can be links to your own site (internal) or another website (external).

#An example of the broken external links on Hotjar.com
An example of the broken external links on Hotjar.com

Why it’s bad for SEO: all broken links cause a poor user experience, and broken internal links also stop search engine crawlers from finding and passing authority to other pages on your website.

How to fix it: run a website crawl using a tool like Ahrefs’ free Broken Link Checker to generate a list of broken outbound links, whether internal or external. Edit your website to remove or swap out any links that don't resolve or go to a 404 page. 

To fix broken inbound links (i.e. broken links pointing to your domain from other websites), you’ll need to reach out to the site owners to change them. A quicker fix is to 301 redirect any broken inbound link to a relevant live page. 

💡Pro tip: sometimes, users click on page elements they think are broken links, affecting UX. Find them by using the Hotjar Recordings tool on your website and filtering the results by rage click to watch sessions of frustrated users. You’ll see first-hand what makes people click (and click and click), so you can improve your page design to remove friction and help people get to where they actually need to go.

4. Low-quality content

Low-quality or ‘thin’ content is, according to Google, unhelpful, unreliable, and search engine-first.

Why it’s bad for SEO: poor content leads to bad user experience signals like high bounce rate and low time on page. These signals, alongside real human search quality raters, cause search engines to suppress content on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

How to fix it: familiarize yourself with Google’s helpful content guidelines and make sure you can answer ‘yes’ to questions like, “After reading your content, will someone leave feeling like they've learned enough about a topic to help achieve their goal?” 

Instead of guessing if your content is helpful, you can simply ask your readers directly. Use a website feedback tool like Hotjar Feedback or Hotjar Surveys to ask visitors if they’ve found what they needed and, if not, what they were looking for. Worst-case scenario, you’ll get plenty of good keyword ideas for future content.

Using our own on-site survey on our help documentation helps us improve the content

5. Missing or unoptimized title tags

A <title> tag is an HTML page title shown as the title of a search result.

How the <title> for our guide to recordings looks in the SERP

Why it’s bad for SEO: page titles are the largest element on the SERP, and people read them to decide if your pages are worth clicking on. A long or unoptimized title could make you lose out on clicks. What’s more, search engines use SERP click-through rate (CTR) to decide which pages should rank highly. 

How to fix it: first, make sure your pages use title tags by inspecting the source code (in Chrome, go to View > Developer > View Source and search for ‘<title>’). Add or optimize your titles to describe the page contents and give people a reason to click through.

Google (or Bing) your primary keyword, and imagine your title competing for clicks with the top results. Use a SERP preview tool like this free one from Portent to play around with title ideas that fit the recommended length and visualize how they'll appear on the SERP. 

📝Note: most search engines rewrite page titles, but there’s less chance of this if you write good ones yourself first.

6. Poor site structure and navigation

Site structure and navigation refer to how your web pages are organized and connected using links and menus.

Why it’s bad for SEO: poor navigation means people won’t find what they're looking for, making them more likely to get frustrated and bounce. 

As we mentioned above, a high bounce rate indicates to search engines that your website's not worth promoting. Poor site structure also makes it harder for search engines to index your site and pass authority to important pages. 

How to fix it: use a heatmap tool like Hotjar Heatmaps on your website to visualize where people click on your menu and page links on desktop and mobile. 

Are you getting clicks where you want them? Are you wasting space on menu categories nobody clicks? Use these insights to get better ideas for navigation improvements and A/B tests instead of trying to guess what might work for your users.

#A Hotjar heatmap on Swiss Gear—and the changes the team made as a result
A Hotjar heatmap on Swiss Gear—and the changes the team made as a result

For example, The Good, an ecommerce CRO agency, used Hotjar Heatmaps on Swiss Gear's ecommerce website to improve site navigation. Heatmaps showed mobile users using the drop-down menu to navigate between pages, adding an extra click to the process. The team split-tested other solutions and ended up rolling out a menu-driven homepage, decreasing mobile bounce rate by 8% and increasing time on site by 84%.

7. Missing SSL certificate

An SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) certificate encrypts the connection between your website and visitors—you’ll usually see https:// or a padlock icon in the browser if it’s working.

#This caption is being securely delivered to your browser
This caption is being securely delivered to your browser

Why it’s bad for SEO: a missing, broken, or expired SSL certificate can lead to visitors getting a ‘not secure’ warning on popular browsers like Google Chrome, which is likely to increase your bounce rate. Additionally, search engines use HTTPS as a positive ranking signal.

How to fix it: check if you have an SSL certificate by entering your domain into a free SSL checker tool like Why No Padlock. If you don’t, set up one through your website hosting provider or a certificate issuer like Let’s Encrypt.

8. Missing image alt tags

Image alt tags are HTML tags that attach a written description to images and can be read by search engine crawlers and accessibility tools like screen readers.

Image alt text for the main illustration on our guide to heatmaps

Why it’s bad for SEO: missing alt tags make your content less accessible to users with screen reading tools or low-bandwidth connections. That's—you guessed it!—bad for user experience and could increase your bounce rate.

Search engine crawlers also use alt text to interpret a page’s contents, so leaving it out loses you the opportunity to give them more clues about how relevant your page is. 

How to fix it: to check if you’re using image alt text, visit your website on Google Chrome and use the built-in developer tools to run an accessibility check (View > Developer > Developer Tools > Lighthouse). 

Follow Google’s image guidelines and create descriptive alt text (e.g. ‘an image of a website heatmap showing user clicks’) instead of keyword-stuffing (e.g. ‘heatmap, heat map, HEATMAP’).

9. Missing or outdated XML sitemap

An XML sitemap is a file that catalogs your website’s pages—or other content like images, videos, or news—and when they were last modified.

#How our XML sitemap looks when viewed in a browser
How our XML sitemap looks when viewed in a browser

Why it’s bad for SEO: search engine crawlers, including Googlebot and Bingbot, use XML sitemaps to crawl and recrawl your content. A missing or outdated sitemap could mean it takes longer for search engines to find your pages (or page updates) and rank you accordingly. 

How to fix it: create an XML sitemap using your CMS (for example, with a WordPress plugin like XML Sitemaps) or an XML generator tool like XML-Sitemaps.com

Check that search engines know where your XML sitemap is located by submitting it to Google Search Console’s sitemaps report and Bing Webmaster Tools’ sitemaps tool.

10. Lack of schema markup

Schema markup is structured data (aka microdata) that helps search engines read and categorize content entities like a product listing or an FAQ section. The structured data standard is managed by Schema.org.

Missing schema markup on our guide to UX design

Why it’s bad for SEO: without schema markup, search engines can’t classify your website content. You’ll miss out on rich snippets—coveted SERP real estate that improves CTR, like review star ratings or product prices.

How to fix it: check the schema markup on your existing pages using Schema.org’s validator tool and check which rich snippets your page can generate by pasting any URL into Google’s Rich Results Test. To implement schema markup, follow the relevant guide from Schema.org’s full list of available schemas.

11. Duplicate content

Duplicate content is any piece of content that exists in multiple places on a single website or across multiple sites at once.

#A tiny bit of scraped Hotjar content found using Copyscape
A tiny bit of scraped Hotjar content found using Copyscape

Why it’s bad for SEO: duplicate content can lead to the wrong page being ranked in search engines or waste your site’s crawl budget (the resources a search engine is willing to spend crawling your website) on irrelevant pages. 

How to fix it: use a site audit tool like Siteliner to crawl your website and find duplicate content. Look at duplicate pages and add rel=canonical tags to let search engines know which page should be indexed. Add a noindex tag to duplicate content you don’t want appearing in search engines.

To find out if your content has been published on external websites, paste some body text into Google or use a duplicate-content-checking tool like Copyscape. If you find someone’s scraped entire pages from your website, contact the site owner, domain registrar, or hosting provider to get the duplicate content removed.

12. Missing hreflang attributes

Hreflang is an HTML attribute that specifies a web page’s language and geographical target.

#Hotjar’s German-language homepage
Hotjar’s German-language homepage

Why it’s bad for SEO: if your website is serving content in multiple languages or locales (e.g. US English and UK English), missing or incorrect hreflang attributes could lead to the wrong content ranking in different countries, negatively affecting SERP CTR and bounce rate. 

How to fix it: use an hreflang testing tool like Hreflang Checker to check if you’ve got hreflang tags on your pages. Add hreflang elements to your page header to indicate every language and region variant of a page.

13. Poor mobile experience

Mobile experience measures the UX of mobile device users who browse on their smartphones or tablets.

Our guide to open-ended questions passes Google’s mobile-friendly test

Why it’s bad for SEO: Google uses mobile-first indexing, which means they use your website’s mobile performance and UX to decide on its ranking—even for desktop users. Giving visitors a poor mobile browsing experience hurts your search engine rankings across all devices. 

How to fix it: use Google’s mobile-friendly test tool to check how the search engine grades your mobile usability. You can fix common mobile website issues with a website analysis platform like Hotjar. Looking at how real mobile users browse your website shows you what bugs need fixing and gives you ideas to improve mobile UX.

For example, Materials Market, a construction supply website, used Hotjar Heatmaps to optimize their store. A scroll map on product pages showed that most mobile users weren’t scrolling down far enough to see a CTA. The team moved the CTA higher up the page and helped raise the conversion rate from 0.5% to 1.6%.

#A mobile scroll map showing mobile users missing a key CTA
A mobile scroll map showing mobile users missing a key CTA

Mobile-first design optimizations like this one help you convert more visitors into customers while also satisfying Googlebot and supporting your SEO efforts. Win-win! 

Make UX the centerpiece of every SEO project

Most common SEO issues and mistakes can be fixed with simple technical changes—and there’s no lack of helpful SEO guides for beginners, starting with SEO writing.

But once you’ve covered the basics, there’s not much more you can do to rank better with website code alone. The secret to continual ranking improvements isn’t technical: it’s human

Start with Hotjar by using Heatmaps and Recordings to watch real users in the wild: what content do they respond to? What makes them bounce? Then, reach out and talk to real customers: ask them for feedback, launch surveys, and run in-depth interviews

Use their words to inform your keyword research and organize your content marketing ideas around their pain points and jobs to be done. This way, you give users and search engines what they want.

Improve SEO by focusing on the user experience

Use Hotjar Heatmaps, Recordings, Feedback, Surveys, and Interviews to reduce bounce rates, increase time on page, and create better content.

FAQs about common SEO issues