They say that ignorance is bliss and knowledge is power but somewhere between these clichés there’s a spot reserved for individuals who possess a little too much knowledge to be blissful but still only enough knowledge to be dangerous.
SEO, as an industry, is known unfortunately for the mass of rumours, myths, mistruths and unscrupulous gurus. This in part stems from the search engines’ unwillingness to discuss their algorithms (this lack of disclosure is completely understandable). This breeds a culture of myths where newbies and veterans alike get caught out by nothing more than hearsay that gains traction.
The aim of this post is to try and dispel some of the more widely held SEO myths:
#1 – Google is the Only Search Engine
Google may be the largest search engine but you shouldn’t ignore the others. Image Credit
It sounds ridiculous to say and whilst Google is the biggest of the search engines, Bing has certainly cornered a fair percentage of the market – some say as high as 30% of all US searches are powered by Bing. This means that while you should undoubtedly concentrate your SEO efforts on pandering to Google, you shouldn’t completely ignore Bing.
Many of the techniques and principles are the same across the search engines but you should also do things like register your website over at Bing’s Webmaster Center Tools.
#2 – You Need to Submit Your Website to Google
This is a myth that has been around as long as Alta Vista.
There are hundreds if not thousands of hosting companies, SEO companies and web designers offering to ‘submit’ your website to all the major search engines – and charge you for the privilege.
The fact is you just don’t need to submit your website to Google or any other search engine. Inclusion in search engines is free and usually automated. Google very often finds and indexes your website as a result of visiting a link contained on another web page.
#3 – You Can ‘SEO’ a Website Just Once
Search engine optimisation is rarely a one-time thing – we understand why people hope it is, since cash, particularly in small businesses, is precious. However, a website’s search engine performance needs regular attention.
This might sound like the plea of a salesman pitching a monthly retainer but the simple fact of the matter is that Google et al tweak their algorithms and search results constantly, not forgetting the fact that your competitors are likely to be investing in improving their websites too.
All of this can have a dramatic impact on your website’s performance in the search results. If you’re not investing in SEO on a regular basis then you’re falling behind.
#4 – You don’t need to worry about SEO
There are some people who will tell you to completely disregard SEO, saying that they’ve never given a fig about the search engines in their life and they’ve done alright.
Granted, some brands, rockstars and superstar bloggers can get away with not bothering. For everyone else however, optimising your website and working towards better search engine visibility is essential. Whilst you shouldn’t do things or make decisions solely on the basis of search engines, you should certainly contemplate them and understand how they work and what they look for because they are a truly astounding source of traffic.
#5 – Your Rankings Don’t Matter
The advent of personalised search results has reduced the importance of rankings somewhat but they aren’t obsolete by any means. They may not give you a 100% accurate picture but they are a fair indication or approximation of where your website ranks for the majority of users.
We understand why this myth came to be, and we accept that any SEO worth their salt should be focusing their attention on more than just rankings these days; overall search visibility, conversion rate and search engine traffic are core success metrics in many’s eyes.
But don’t forget that the lion-share of searchers will leave Google via the first page of results so knowing where your website sits is a very useful indicator indeed.
#6 – An XML Sitemap Will Boost Your Rankings
We imagine this started life as the perfectly legitimate advice that having a sitemap is a good idea from an SEO perspective – it certainly is a best practice.
However, whispers across forums and blogs likely transformed this into the myth that a sitemap would boost your rankings. The suggestion that a sitemap will give any page on your website a boost is pure fiction – search engines use your sitemap to learn about the structure of your site and to increase coverage of your webpages.
#7 – Keyword Domains Trump All Other Tactics
Keyword domains don’t hold the same power as they once did. In fact, the idea is somewhat dated. Image Credit
In case you are wondering, a keyword domain is a domain that includes a keyword you wish to target, for example cheapwidgets.com.
Registering a keyword domain was, at one time, a reasonable SEO strategy (not one that we favoured, but nobody can deny that it worked) however since Matt Cutts announced in 2010 that Google would be looking into why keyword domains rank so well and the search engine’s subsequent ‘tuning down’ of the power of keyword domains, this has become a far less effective strategy.
We will accept that in some markets it will still work but this isn’t going to be the case for very long since in most verticals and particularly on competitive keywords, Google has all but wiped out the keyword domains that didn’t really deserve the rankings they had suggesting they’ve gotten wise to the tactic.
If you’re looking to establish a solid foundation for your website then it is far smarter to opt for a brandable and memorable domain rather than attempting to shoehorn your target keywords into a long, often hyphenated, difficult to remember and spammy looking domain.
To be clear, if you own a keyword domain, it’s not going to count against you, you just need to embark on a proper promotional campaign including link development and social media marketing in order to build the authority and profile of the website.
#8 – Copying a Competitor = A Strategy
There is a widely held belief that firing up OpenSiteExplorer and taking a look under the hood of your competitor’s website constitutes an SEO strategy – it really doesn’t.
Replicating your competitor’s link profile or search strategy is rarely a smart move and may even count against you. This is because a technique or linking method that works for them may not work the same way for you.
There’s nothing wrong with learning from your competitors, as the old saying goes “Learn from the mistakes that other people make” and with the wealth of data available, it is a smart move to understand what your competition is doing and develop your strategy accordingly.
#9 – Meta Data is Worthless
Less important, yes. But worthless? No.
We’ve seen Google ignore meta titles and descriptions when it thinks there is a better one to use but by and large it will take your hint as to what the page is about.
Wouldn’t you much rather your preferred title and description were used rather than what Google can pull from the page itself? Meta data is your chance to convince searchers to clickthrough – it is your platform to engage and standout.
With the launch of Google+, each time a link is published on the social network, a title and description is scraped. If your website doesn’t have any data then Google will pull in whatever it can find, and your link could end up looking pretty ugly.
#10 – You Can Learn SEO by Reading Up
In every industry there are ‘gurus’ and the world of SEO is no different – wannabe experts who’ve got their website ranking for a brand term and suddenly think they’re qualified to teach others “how to get page 1 rankings”.
There are some gurus out there who spend more time theorising, pontificating and regurgitating opinions of others than they do actually SEOing, consequently their knowledge and advice often leaves a little to be desired.
Be careful who you take advice from and try to divide your time 10/90 so for every 10 minutes you spend studying SEO you should spend 90 minutes actually doing it. The best way to learn SEO is to experiment yourself.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some sharp minds out there, in fact there are many SEO blogs out there worth checking out.
With Google’s recent announcement that they will support the rel author attribute, trust and authority will start to play a bigger role in SEO in the future. This should help to increase the visibility of the true experts out there – which will be a good thing for everyone.
#11 – Google Adwords Can Hurt/Help Your Rankings
There is a definite conspiracy theory that advertising via the Google Adwords platform somehow impacts on your organic search rankings. There seems to be just as many people who believe the exact opposite. That fact alone should tell you that there is absolutely no truth to this.
Nevertheless, it is a myth that continues to spread despite the fact that Google has reiterated time and time again that “Google’s advertising programs are entirely independent of the unpaid search results.” (source)
It is understandable why some people believe this to be a fact but in reality having worked on close to 250 campaigns (which included a mix of SEO and PPC), honestly, there is no visible correlation whatsoever between Google Adwords spending and organic rankings.
#12 – Google Will Never Figure Out What I’m Up To
Be very mindful of the footprint you are leaving… Image Credit
Google is very advanced – there are undoubtedly some areas they could improve on – but by and large as each year passes their algorithm gets smarter and smarter in order to deliver better and better results for users.
Find the balance; develop a strategy that gets the results you want without pushing it too far and earning yourself a penalty or worse still a ban.
Google is very quick to recognize patterns in linkbuilding for example; if they detect anything unnatural or untoward then you could be in for a nasty shock.
With the recent Panda update, Google has also advanced a great deal in the way it views content; it has certainly gotten better at identifying duplicate and thin content. One could even argue that Google, is now very close to ‘understanding’ what makes content high-quality, making the need to be an authority and true expert in your market an ever increasing necessity.
Be mindful of the footprint you are leaving – build for the long term where possible and if you are going to dabble in the edgier tactics then make sure you know what you’re doing.
#13 – Scraping is a Content Strategy
Despite all the recent Panda update noise in the online marketing world, there are still some webmasters out there that are scraping content.
If you don’t know what scraping content is then in essence it is a process whereby content is pinched from a website and republished on another.
Filling your website with other people’s unique content does not constitute a strategy; it will get your website flagged for spam probably faster than any other tactic.
We readily accept that sometimes scraped content outranks the original but this occurs more and more infrequently. To see scraping as a viable content creation technique is unethical, often illegal and just plain crazy.
Google and Bing actively encourage creating high-quality content and since the good stuff tends to be what attracts and engages real people then common sense tells us it will always be the best strategy.
#14 – Keyword Density Rules
We simply had to include this one. Despite this myth repeatedly being buried, keyword density always seems to find its way into the conscious minds of newbies and intermediates alike.
Back in the early days of search engines, there was a magical keyword density percentage that each page should fulfil in order to rank well. If things weren’t going well, you’d just add more keywords, simple.
The effectiveness of this technique died out a long time ago and yet we still see websites trying desperately hard to jump through a hoop that doesn’t exist.
Write for humans whilst interweaving keywords naturally into your text. Saturating your copy with keywords is a shortcut to switched-off visitors.
#15 – You Should Crank Out as Much Content as Possible
Creating content, unlike working on the factory floor, is not about sheer output quantity. Image Credit
There was a time where churning as much content out as possible was an arguably effective strategy. Want to target a new keyword? Just create a new page, rehash the text from a closely related page and Bob’s your uncle; you’ve got some extra-long tail search traffic.
However, since Google rolled out their Panda update (which they’ve labeled a high-quality sites algorithm) they issued some guidance as to what they expect high-quality might look like.
They published some questions that help you to better understand Google’s mindset when they set out the aims of the Panda update. One of these questions was:
“Does the site have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?”
This is a direct attack on the aforementioned strategy and gives you all the more reason to consolidate your unruly content archive into a neatly organised, engaging and informative series of knowledge hubs – your visitors will love you for it too.
Publish content that adds value for the end user rather than content designed solely to feed search engine spiders – the spiders have lost their appetite for junk.
#16 – There’s an Ideal Wordcount
We can’t say for sure the actual origins of this myth but the truth is that there really isn’t a wordcount requirement for SEO.
If you produce a piece that is too short then you run the risk of not covering the topic in enough detail which can be a turn off for the people reading it and can also be a turn off for the search engines.
If you produce a piece that is too long then you run the risk of it being perceived as boring or un-readable which will have a negative impact on the social/viral capabilities of the piece – which could have a knock-on effect to your rankings. A long and boring piece of content may also prove a complete turn-off to visitors who immediately leave your website; this ‘bounceback effect’ will impact on user data which Google then reworks back into how it ranks your website.
The answer is that you should produce content that is just right – no need to worry about how many words it is, just cover what needs to be covered, edit and proofread it then publish it in a user-friendly format.
#17 – It’s All About Great Content
We truly wish we could tell you that Google and Bing were smart enough to recognise great content alone –we could all build fantastic websites and people would flock to our doors to devour our content.
Sadly, we’re not quite there yet and whilst high-quality content is a big (and ever-growing) part of SEO, it isn’t the whole shebang. You’ll still need to get involved in other areas if you are going to succeed in the search results.
Having an attention strategy for your website and content is paramount to SEO – without it, any time or resources invested in content will potentially be wasted.
#18 – PageRank is the Only Metric That Matters
Google has long been telling us not to obsess over PageRank (PR) and yet many continue to do so. It just isn’t the metric it once was.
Sure, it is interesting as a concept to understand and it’s interesting to know the published PageRank (See myth #19) of your own website but don’t judge everything you do by PR.
There are over 200 ranking factors that Google uses to determine where your website appears in the search results, PageRank is one of them and is therefore only a very small part of your website’s performance.
When it comes to building links, it can be easy to get drunk on the PageRank as you seek out ‘high-PR’ websites to attain links from but remember that there is more to a link than its PageRank; think traffic, neighbourhood, context, type and position to name but a few link quality metrics.
#19 – Toolbar PageRank and PageRank Are the Same Thing
To many, PageRank is PageRank but in actual fact it has long been accepted that there is a published PageRank, often referred to as toolbar PageRank, and an internal PageRank which Google uses behind closed doors and doesn’t actually publish.
Toolbar PageRank, inherited the name because of its appearance in the Google toolbar, is actually a snapshot of internal PageRank data so is very often out of date since it is only updated intermittently throughout the year.
This added confusion helps to reinforce the point that you shouldn’t ever see PageRank as the king of all metrics.
#20 – Quantity of Links is What Matters
Building links isn’t just a numbers game, it’s a metrics game – relevance and quality are more important. Image Credit
This myth stems from the principle that a link was a vote for your website and therefore the more votes (links) your website got; the more popular it must be and therefore should rank higher.
Sadly, not all links are created equal.
We can see why some people are quantity obsessed when it comes to links because as consumers we have been brainwashed to assess value by volume; big household brands have drummed into us that more = better. However when it comes to building links, it’s the quality that counts.
#21 – No-follow = Not Worth It
The no-follow attribute provides a way for webmasters to tell search engines not to follow any links on a page or a specific link on that page.
It tells the search engines that you don’t editorially vouch for the website you are linking out to and therefore no anchor text, PageRank or any of your website’s authority should be passed on. No-follow is in essence contraception for links.
This has led to the widely held belief that a link that is no-follow is not valuable. In my opinion, links that are no-follow are still valuable for two reasons:
Many leading websites no-follow their links but the traffic and exposure opportunities alone still make the link worthwhile.
Furthermore, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that search engines assess how natural your link profile looks and since generally speaking a website will pick up some no-follow links naturally, it would look wholly suspicious if your link profile consists only of do-follow links. (See myth #12)
The fact is that search engines and their algorithms evolve all the time but the fundamental principles remain almost the same – create a high quality website that delights, engages and provides value to an audience whether that be your readers or your customers.
That is All
So that does it for this myth-busting look at the world of SEO. What SEO myths have you heard that were not discussed? Which of the myth-busting dissections do you disagree with? Have you fallen victim to any of these myths before? Hit us up in the comments and let us know!
James Agate is the Founder and Head of Search at Skyrocket SEO - an international, high-performance SEO consultancy. James contributes to a number of leading blogs and online publications on the topic of SEO. Follow James on Twitter