In some ways, SEO is one of the modern marketing’s most difficult to get a bead on. Search engines and SEO techniques evolve so rapidly that keeping up with developments can seem overwhelming. Fortunately, certain fundamental rules of SEO seem fairly permanent. By the same token, certain SEO mistakes are seen again and again, despite the volumes of best practices information that exists. Here are a few of the most common SEO mistakes that separate hobbyists from SEO professionals. Though far from exhaustive, this list is a good starting point for an ongoing discussion of SEO best practices.

Mistake #1 Poorly Written or Missing Titles and Descriptions

Titles and descriptions are one of the first things most SEOs are taught to pay attention to. However, creating well-written, focused titles and descriptions seems to still be a problem for many websites. Pinning down the right page title can make a huge difference in search engine rankings and a solid description is the difference between earning a click and being ignored. All too often, vague or non-targeted titles can lead to less than optimal rankings. Many people forget to include descriptions altogether, which will put their page description at the mercy of Google, and that’s never a good thing.

Follow These 3 Simple Tips to Create Killer Titles and Descriptions:

1) Don’t leave them blank. This might seem obvious, but make sure each page on your website contains a relevant title and description.

2) Work in appropriate keywords based on your research, but be careful not to fall victim to keyword stuffing. Keep them short and to the point. Think about the intent of your ideal customer.  What are they looking for and how can you fill that need? Use this to guide their creation and drive more clicks to your content.

3) Consider the emotional impact of your titles and descriptions. It’s not all about keywords.  Remember that the search result is likely the first interaction a searcher will have with your brand and your site. You should always keep your brand’s image in mind and convey the message accordingly.

Though choosing more focused titles can require making tough decisions, the outcome is almost always worth the effort. Remember to take the time to give each and every page its own title and description. This might seem onerous or time-consuming, especially for larger projects, but this is the kind of detail-oriented work that differentiates SEO experts from amateurs.

Mistake #2 Paying For Backlinks

One of the most common services anyone looking for SEO wants is link building. Questions like “Can you build links to my site?” and “Can you create link bait for me?” show how highly valued link building is for just about all website owners. Because of this, backlink audits often uncover some super shady links. Many times they’re the result of the webmaster trying out a link broker or buying links in one off shots on something like Fiverr.

The problem, of course, is that they’re exposing themselves to a possible Google penalty, if they haven’t been hit with one already. Also, if one comes down later on, the wrong person can be blamed. It creates a pretty sticky situation.

The bottom line is: in 2014, if you’re thinking of paying for backlinks, don’t do it. It’s as simple as that. If you have the money to burn and want to get serious about building some backlinks, here are some alternatives:

1) Hire an amazing copywriter. Seriously. This is one of the best investments you can make. Hire someone who has not only the writing chops to create some amazing content, but also some marketing savvy to help this copy sell. You’ll build links and give Google what it’s really after: solid, relevant content that ranks.

2) Pay a developer to create some serious, interactive content. Later on in this piece we’ll discuss the idea of deserving to rank. Nothing deserves to get links and rank better than attractive, useful graphics or applications that give people what they want. Make sure you understand your market and the types of people most likely to share your content and hit the ground running. You’ll be laughing all the way to the link bank.

3) Hire a super smart, super above-board marketer to help facilitate numbers 1 and 2. Let them pick the talent and help get the content out there and promote it. Bonus points if they can create the content as well.

Stop looking for the quick win and cheap option and really take your marketing seriously. You’ll create a lasting brand and are guaranteed to make more money in the long run.

Mistake #3 Lack of Focus

Lack of focus is another all too common problem in modern SEO campaigns. You should never try to rank a single page for too many different terms simultaneously. It’s important to remember that, as you build your site, keep in mind what you want to target. Arrange your site accordingly and make sure to give search engines a relevant page to rank. You can’t rank one page about both dogs and cats. It’s just not a smart way to approach things.

Make sure to audit your content and your whole website as you’re building it. If you find that pages are losing their focus, consider making new categories or pages to accommodate the different topics. Your SEO success will go through the roof and your frustration will tank. Guaranteed.

Mistake #4 Unreasonable Expectations

This is, without question, one of the most difficult issues you might have to come to terms with as a site owner. It’s really hard to be realistic and self aware and not let emotions get in the way of common sense and logic.

SEO isn’t a magic bullet. To run with the big boys these days you have to deserve it. It’s important to take a hard look at the work you’ve done compared to other sites in your space and ask yourself, “Does my site, in it’s current form, deserve to outrank my competition?” It’s hard to be honest sometimes but there is no other choice.

If your site design is terrible, your prices are too high, you haven’t created any useful content and you haven’t taken score of the competitive landscape, address this first. Only then can SEO help your site bring in sales.

If you can avoid these common SEO mistakes, you’ll separate yourself from the amateurs and be well on your way to building a profitable online business.