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SEO is a highly complex and ever-changing marketing discipline. As a result, myths often creep in and begin to errantly guide the SEO practices of less experienced practitioners.
Most of these myths are old practices and hacks that Google has long since invalidated with updates to their algorithms, while others are simply an over emphasis of smaller elements in the much bigger SEO picture.
Either way, when put into practice on your website, many of these myths will mysteriously frustrate and stunt the growth of your organic Web traffic.
1. The #1 Rank is Everything
This is a myth perpetuated by the sales copy of snake oil-selling SEO charlatans. Get Ranked #1 for Your Keywords is the tagline of thousands of these shady SEO firms and consultants.
The truth is, it’s near impossible to rank #1 for the most highly competitive keywords on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). And often the less competitive keywords, where you can rank #1 position, aren’t worth the effort.
In addition, there is some research supporting strong click behavior and conversion in a variety of positions all the way through the top slots on subsequent search result pages.
There are also lots of opportunities to level the playing field leveraging the features of universal (i.e., mixing Local, Image, and Video results) search, rich snippets, and appended author profiles; all of which significantly raise click-through rates.
2. Keywords are No Longer Relevant
This myth is gaining strength, especially among less technical marketing agencies.
As Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated it has become less susceptible to keyword tricks, but that doesn’t lessen the relevance of keywords.
Keywords and text are the still the most measurable indicators of relevance to guide search engine indexing and results. Keywords are also the most reliable indicator of consumers’ request for products, services, and information.
Therefore, keyword research is critical to learning the language of your customers. Without this research and intelligence, you’re simple producing content, products, and services in a vacuum and hoping for the best.
You would be shocked at the number of times I have had clients using, and consequently ranking well, for insider-type keywords. The result? They were drawing in industry insiders and even competitor traffic, but completely missing their potential customer base.
3. Keywords Need to Be an Exact Match
The need to target exact keyword matches with your SEO is a very common misperception.
In my opinion, SEO keywords are better thought of as clusters of related concepts versus discrete keywords. Trying to rank or create content for an exact keyword is both frustrating and fruitless at the same time.
This is also the reason and source of the mountains of horrible SEO articles, littering the Web, devoid of character, rarely ranking, and offering no value to consumers.
Avoid loading up your website with this kind of thin content, obviously meant only to serve an SEO motive. A website full of exact keyword content is more likely to look like a content farm, both to Google and to customers, than a website to serve customers.
Google hates low quality content websites produced by this kind of keyword-exact SEO tactic and is highly likely to penalize the website.
Focus on putting yourself in the shoes of those doing the keyword searches. Then, create content that answers their questions in the most authentic, simple to understand, and complete way possible. This SEO keyword strategy is a winning formula for growth.
4. Meta Tags are Very Important
As search engine algorithms increase in sophistication, they become increasingly less dependent on clues provided by webmasters.
Google and the other search engines are using meta data and meta tags less and less to index and rank websites. Yet, the mythical importance of meta tags, particularly meta keywords, continues unabated.
In the interest of providing you, the reader, the best value for your search, (as authors should strive to do with any piece of SEO-related content) here’s the truth, straight from the horse’s mouth–Matt Cutts, Google’s Head of Search Quality team:
5. On-page SEO is All You Need
Before I dive into this one, I don’t want there to be any confusion about the importance of on-page SEO. Well-structured Web pages are highly valuable to Web visitors and search engines, however, it’s not the end of the game.
Search engines look for hundreds, possibly even thousands of indicators and signals to determine your Web pages’ quality, relevance, and ranking position.
Therefore, ending your SEO strategy at the individual page level is stopping short of giving your website the opportunity to reach its full potential.
A healthy blend of on-page optimization and off-page SEO techniques, like link building, PR activities, and social media syndication, develops a strong holistic strategy for positioning your website in front of customers.
6. More Links are Better Than More Content
This is another one of those SEO myths that are the result of overemphasizing a truth, to the detriment of the whole.
Yes, link building is terribly important, but it’s only effective in to the context of a larger SEO strategy.
For example, if you have ten pages and hundreds of links to each you’re very unlikely to outperform a website with hundreds of pages and a handful of high quality links to the majority of those pages.
The truth of this example is grounded in numerous elements of the bigger SEO picture. Perhaps the most powerful of these factors is that search engines gain an understanding of your website’s value and relevance based on both external signals like back links, and internal signals like the breadth and depth of content.
The short lesson here is to avoid stunting your website growth with too much focus on one good thing, to the detriment of other good things.
7. Content (or Design) Trumps SEO
This is a myth born in the bowels of business development teams with advertising agencies.
To ignore SEO in the development of content or design is to ignore the preferences and expectations of your customers. SEO should be an integrated component of any content marketing or design project related to your website.
SEO is more than just optimizing for search engines–it’s optimizing for what your customers are looking (searching) for on the Web.
SEO can be a powerful part of the creative process, putting consumer intelligence into your content marketing and web design. Integrating keyword research and analysis into the content and design process will attract and convert the traffic you gain from search queries at a much higher rate than without an SEO focus.
8. The More Indexed Pages the Better
In the SEO process, it’s wise not to confuse quantity over quality.
Flooding the Web with useless pages is not something that Google or any other search engine likes.
Sure, temporarily, you might be able to sneak a few junk pages into the SERPs or get an automated web scraper or script to bump the number of ranked pages, but just know that Google will be gunning for you!
Efficiency is the name of the game in SEO. Quality content is enormously expensive, both in terms of money or time. Therefore, your objective is to maximize the impact of each and every page you have indexed–large or small in number.
That means that each page should be targeted at a particular keyword market, have good on-page optimization, and quality backlinks and social signals indicating that it’s a valuable resource.
The more time you maximize this combination the more likely search engines are going to position your page in a favorable position to capture search traffic.
9. Setting Up Websites to Link Back Help SEO
I’ve said this a couple of times in this article, but I’ll reiterate it again.
Anytime you litter the Web with websites and/or pages for the sole purpose of gaming search engines–you’re setting yourself up to lose.
Techniques like Webrings and Link Wheels are dangerous tactics from the Wild Wild West days of old-time SEO. Search engines have become much smarter at sorting out related websites, and discounting links between similarly controlled websites.
There are times when microsites make sense, but make sure that your objectives are business and consumer value related, not SEO trickery.
10. SEO and Social Media are Unrelated
This might have been true in the early days of social media, but since then, Google and other search engines have recognized the power of the people to sort out the best of the Web.
Today, social media and social signals, as they are often called in the SEO world, are inextricably interwoven. For proof, check out this oft-referenced Danny Sullivan article on what social signals search engines use in ranking web pages.
Here is a little more detail from Google’s Matt Cutts on the role of social signals and search engine rankings:
11. SEO is Not a Usability Issue
Search engines optimize results for users, helping them efficiently and effectively find what they’re looking for on the Web. SEO should do the same thing, but for search engines, helping them efficiently and effectively find and index what should be ranked in relevant searches.
Therefore, using nothing more than simple logic, SEO is a usability exercise, by definition. Organic search remains one of the top means of navigation on the Web and probably on your website, assuming you make it available (as you should). And for good reason, navigation is one of the most important usability concerns of any UX expert.
The very core of SEO is about organizing content in a logical and easy to find manner.
If you’re in UX, I would highly recommend adding an SEO expert to your team. You’ll be amazed at how happy your users will be about it.
12. SEO is Set It and Forget It
I saved the debunking of one of the biggest and worst myths for last: SEO is not a set it and forget it practice.
SEO is an evolving process. The Web is an ecosystem, always reshaping and reinventing itself. In response, search engines and Web users are always reacting and changing their behaviors. Even your own website is most likely a dynamic place that radically changes over time, based on your reactions to the market and customer needs.
This dynamism, this constant change, makes SEO a process that needs continual observation, testing, and revision for best results.
Simply creating an effective SEO framework today and walking away will leave you scratching your head in a few months when your website is mysteriously hemorrhaging organic search traffic.
For the best SEO results: keep learning, observing, testing, and adjusting to stay on the cutting edge of improving user experience on the Web.