A lot of people new to SEO view it as some kind of unfathomable trickery practised by wizard-like nerds, who somehow know how to manipulate Google’s algorithms to give search visibility to any website they desire. Those who have had their fingers burned after using an unscrupulous agency or consultant often view SEO as essentially a scam peddled by conmen.Read our guide to outdated myths around SEO and find out what search engines really want Click To Tweet
Both views are unfortunate, and here’s why: SEO is essentially the practice of structuring and promoting your site effectively; it’s not about tricks or deceit. if you’re a small business, inbound marketing is in many cases going to decide the potential of your company. Get it right, and you will grow your traffic consistently, from the audience you want, for free. Not having an SEO strategy is not an option if you want to be successful.
Confusion and misinformation
There’s a certain irony that Google is not always the best place to go to learn the truth about SEO best practice. This is because pages that have been around for a while and garnered high-quality links over time will often rank on the first page of search results – and while the information in them was accurate when published, SEO moves fast because of constant algorithmic changes. That information may now be outdated or no longer as relevant as it was. Look carefully at the date of publication, and give preference to credible sources such as Moz, Koozai, SEMrush and Search Engine Land.
What was once gospel in SEO can now be bad practice, so don’t always follow the first advice you get. In particular, bear in mind the following six falsehoods:
1. Meta keywords are useful
Meta keywords are a type of html tag where you can specify particular keyword phrases the page is targeted for. Back in the day, these were a fundamental part of on-page optimisation (the idea being you could flag keywords not actually on the page, to help classify the content). But then it all got very spammy, very quickly.
Google, Bing and most other search engines now completely ignore these keywords, and have done for years. In fact, there are two reasons why no meta keywords are better than some:
- they indicate to the search engines what keywords to penalise the page for if manipulation is observed;
- your competitors can easily see what keywords you are targeting.
2. Buying online ads can positively affect your rankings
For some reason it is still widely believed that having pay-per-click (PPC) ads for a keyword will help you to rank higher for that keyword in organic search.
Really? Just think about that for a second, and how open to abuse that would be.
If that were the case, large companies with significant marketing budgets could effectively buy their way to the top of the organic rankings. The immediate effect of this would be to completely discredit the relevancy of that search engine, with users starting to see less relevant results. That’s the one thing search engines don’t want their users to experience. All the major search engines are therefore very careful to ensure that paid advertisers get no ranking boost, no matter how much they spend.
That said, there is a caveat here. PPC ads take up space at the top of the page, so by taking an ad, you could in theory displace a competitor’s organic page below the fold in the search results. If your page remained in the organic listings above the page, clickthrough rate might increase.
3. Keyword density is important
It’s still possible to uncover on-page optimisation resources that suggest you should aim to have around 4–5% of the words in your page copy contain your target keywords (or close variants thereof). This advice is the main influence behind so-called ‘Spamglish’ – where the same phrases are repeated insistently in an unnatural fashion, causing the flow of the writing to jar or even become incoherent.
The message here is simple: write for people and not for search engines. Spamglish articles are not going to get shared or linked to, because the quality of the content has been ruined. Write naturally around a theme and keyword variants will appear automatically. Where you do use keywords, aim to place them in the most important areas (meta title, H1, first paragraph etc), rather than just spraying them throughout the article.
4. The more links you have, the better
Wrong. Quality wins out over quantity every time. A couple of links from the body text of contextually relevant high-authority pages will give you far more ranking potential than 20 links from low-quality sources such as link farms, private blog networks or forum comments.
5. Social media signals can increase rank
Your business needs a social media strategy, as this is a great way to build your audience and communicate with those people, generate traffic to your site, offer customer support, or get your promotions noticed. But Google is on record saying that social signals do not count as a ranking factor. Here’s Matt Cutts, Head of Web Spam at Google, on why:
6. Guest posting on other blogs is always a bad idea
That man Matt Cutts again caused a bit of a storm in January 2014 when he announced that the practice of gaining links from guest posts on blogs should stop. As with many now-defunct linkbuilding methods, Google’s concern was that this practice was being abused, with many paying for a guest post, or posting on numerous low-quality sites purely to create optimised links back to their webpages.
It’s worth remembering what Google is trying to stop here. They want to prevent spammy guest posts written only to get a link, or posts that are clearly paid for. They are unlikely to have an issue with informative posts that you publish on authoritative sites who scrutinise their guest bloggers carefully.
Publishing on blogs is a great way to get exposure to a new audience, establish your authority and build your brand. Just don’t be spammy. Post on quality sites that are relevant to your customers, and be very selective with links (nofollow them if you want to be extra careful). Think of it as earning reputation rather than linkbuilding.
Did any of these SEO myths surprise you? Please share your thoughts or leave questions in the comments below.