Organic search is an extremely valuable marketing channel for brands and businesses to reach and influence consumers throughout the purchase funnel and increase revenue. But it’s also misunderstood. Those who don’t fully understand the practice of search engine optimization (SEO) may find it confusing. Having the wrong information can ultimately harm your strategic planning and implementation. It’s time to separate fact from fiction and bust some of the biggest SEO myths.
Disclaimer: these are general rules of thumb about how these myths work and the realities that follow. As in all things SEO, there are exceptions to every rule. However, we’re just covering the general principles and applications that will cover most users.
Also the term SEO is used here to refer to all things related to organic search marketing. Since there is no common agreement on what the industry is named today, this is the most inclusive description.
Myths vs. Realities
MYTH: SEO Is Dead!
“I can stop worrying about SEO.” This is one of the most overused pieces of click-bait in the digital marketing industry. Publish an “Is SEO Dead?” piece and thousands of readers come running, either to tell you NO! or to make sure it isn’t.
REALITY: The definition of what SEO means is always expanding. Whether you call it online marketing, digital marketing, inbound marketing, or website visibility, all of these terms are addressing some or all aspects of SEO. Why? Because as long as search engines and social media use algorithms and paid advertising there will always be some facet of this type of marketing. Long live SEO!
MYTH: SEO Is Voodoo, ‘Bovine Feces’ Or Magic
“We did SEO once.” SEO is not any of the above. It is based on a complex set of algorithms with over 200 main “signals” and thousands of variations within each of those signals. This means that SEO is based on math and processes. This means you can reverse engineer, test, and review how it works.
REALITY: SEO is a complex practice that requires continual learning. Google provides paths to follow, but SEOs must figure out how to navigate those paths. So your SEO team or provider likely spends a lot of time reading, reviewing, researching, and testing. However, though refined, core SEO principles never change and algorithms are machines. It’s only when you hire someone who doesn’t understand these complexities when SEO will seem to be voodoo, “bovine feces,” or magic.
MYTH: Black Hat SEO — Burning Bridges
“Isn’t black hat SEO Illegal?” No, black hat SEO isn’t illegal, it is just against Google’s rules. Now, going against Google’s rules might be bad for your website’s longevity, but it is hardly illegal.
REALITY: Black hat SEO is simply a set of tactics used to game the algorithms to get your more placements and positioning. These tactics, however, will likely get a site penalized if not done well and even then it is a risk. So the ethical issue is not if you use them, but if your SEO revealed that they were using these methods. If so, then by all means go for it if you feel it is the best method. You should, however, never (really never) use it on a domain you cannot risk losing as that is a risk that is always on the table with this strategy.
MYTH: Google Hates Me
“Why can my competitors do that and I can’t?” Google doesn’t value all websites the same, at the same time, or in the same way. Just because your competitor seems to have gotten away with it, doesn’t mean they have done so. It also doesn’t mean Google has it out for you.
REALITY: What your competitors’ sites do has no bearing on your site. It also has no bearing on how you should plan your strategies, design your website, or launch your social media plan. While it is good to know what you are competing against, more often than not what they do has little to do with what you need. Best to look at your own metrics and develop a plan that will get you where you need to go. Noting yes, Google may not seem fair when your competitors are doing that thing you were told not to do. However, you also won’t get that Google slap when the time comes – and it will likely come. So count yourself lucky!
MYTH: Don’t Use Google Tools
“Google tools hurt my site rankings!” The rumor goes that Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools take the data they get and they use it against your site. Penalty? Must be your analytics.
REALITY: No. As of 2013, only 13 percent of sites used Google Webmaster Tools. Using this data as a ranking factor in the algorithms would result in a lot of false comparative information and poor decisions on Google’s part. What Google does, however, is measure metrics such as time back to search and how long a user was on the site if they have Chrome Toolbar installed. These can affect your site health, but the data collected by Google tools isn’t used for these purposes.
MYTH: If You Build It, They Will Come
“Great content is all you need.” This is sadly one of the most pervasive myths and just a “Field Of Dreams” that can make sure your brand fails to reach consumers.
REALITY: Great content is a must. But just as a beautiful bridal gown cant actually get you to your wedding, neither can great content get you to your goals – whether it’s creating brand awareness, persuading people to buy, or being purchased. Unless you can produce large amounts of content and you’re in a viral market/industry, then you need links. Links as like the car that gets you to the wedding on time, or what drives your target audience to your site.
MYTH: It’s a Popularity Contest
“Share it and they will come!” The idea here is all you need is to get a lot of social shares and the search engines will think your site deserves more position and traffic.
REALITY: This one is a mixed bag. While social shares can assist with the getting you brand visibility, an active following and links once the post escapes the social ecosystem they don’t directly assist your traffic and reach in the search engines. Though with Google getting the Twitter firehose again, that could change and is worth keeping an eye on.
MYTH: There’s No Place Like Home
“Who needs mobile?” Mobile traffic is the becoming one of the largest referral sources. If you aren’t mobile ready, you’re missing out on a large amount of traffic you might otherwise be getting. How much depends on your niche and market, but either way, it isn’t a pittance.
REALITY: Google is giving a bigger boost to mobile-friendly pages, starting April 21. Pages that are mobile-unfriendly will lose visibility in Google mobile search. What can you do to make sure your site will survive?
Mobile SEO Now, a guide from Momentology and Linkdex, provides everything brands and businesses need to know about the latest changes.
MYTH: Make A Fast Buck
“Fast SEO is good SEO.” There is an old saying; “You cannot get a baby in one month from nine pregnant women.” Neither can you get to your goals in SEO by going faster than the speed limit. Everything takes time and a good SEO plan will use that time for an advantage.
REALITY: SEO is not a mad dash race to the finish. It is a slow climb with peaks and valleys. Why? The most important word in all of search is the word “natural.” Google looks for issues by seeking out unnatural patterns like accelerated link growth with no correlative event. Doing all your SEO quickly, especially links, isn’t likely to bring you the long-term results you hoped. Proper SEO helps not only in getting you positioned, but also in getting the Google bot interested in coming back often. So take your time and relax. Take the long way home.
MYTH: A Penny Saved Is A Dollar Earned
“SEO is more like, ‘penny-wise, pound-foolish.’ ” SEO isn’t cheap. In an informal poll, SEOs revealed they spend about two hours of each day keeping up with industry changes. This means purchasing SEO services isn’t about the services, but the knowledge behind them. You’re paying for a knowledge base. The service is just the method.
REALITY: Get SEO cheap come-ons are typically how snake oil salesman sell their services. Cheap is almost never quality and almost always uses SEO “tricks” in an attempt to game the system. However, these techniques are more likely to get your domain burned out of the index than they are to bring you sustained traffic and conversions. Can you get inexpensive services? Sure that is based on business pricing models, but 1,000 links for $99 is only going to bring you pain and suffering in the long run. There are some rare use cases for this approach, but never on your cash register.
MYTH: Too Big to Fail
“Do you know who I am?” Some sites, especially big brands, think they are too important to the search results to get a hard Google slap.
REALITY: While big brands weather their punishments by the mighty hand of Google and Bing better than small businesses, your site can still suffer huge losses in visibility and traffic if hit hard enough. In fact, Google has even slapped its own sites for violations of the “rules.” No site is too big to fail. There are no special snowflakes. Bigger ones take more time to melt, but if your rankings vanish how many people will you have to fire while waiting to get your traffic back?
MYTH: I’m a Special Snowflake!
“Everyone knows our brand. We don’t need SEO.” The idea that your site is so well known you don’t need SEO is one of the more dangerous myths.
REALITY: Big brands usually get large amounts of traffic. This does not mean you are performing well. For example, Walmart may think it doesn’t need to worry about SEO until its electronics stop coming up in search and it’s losing sales to those who do consider SEO a business priority. We once had to tell a site that their 30 million visitors a month didn’t make them a big brand in their vertical, but a small one. SEO is the foundation on which your site becomes widely and relevantly visible. All sites benefit from a proper foundation and strategic digital marketing plan.
MYTH: Money Can Buy You Love
“I buy paid search ads from Google AdWords so I’ll rank better!” This may be the biggest conspiracy theory, one that’s popular in forums and late night bar chats. But it has no merit.
REALITY: There is a long held myth that if you buy paid ads in Google that it will help you rank better in Google. This simply isn’t true. The two divisions are completely siloed at Google. They do not relate. There are even FTC laws that prevent it. Now there is a well-known synergistic affect from buying your brand terms and ranking in the top of those results at the same time. The idea is, subconsciously people infer status and brand authority when this happens, so you might see an increase in traffic which can help increase organic placement and overall results, but this is not from buying the ads themselves.
MYTH: Who Needs Links Anyway?
“Why does my site need links, if I have an awesome site and great content?” Some people think Google will reward your for publishing awesome content. Well… no.
REALITY: Organic search visitors won’t come because no one will know you exist. Without links, no one will see your site. Why? Google still actively factors links heavily in your site value. Which means if they don’t see other sites linking to you, they don’t give you a board view in Google. Not acquiring links to your website means you also won’t have traffic, visitors, or revenue. When you build links, bring in the experts who know how to get good links that won’t do any damage to your site. For more on links, see Link Building Now: 5 Key Points You Need To Know.
MYTH: Fresher Than a Daisy
“Freshness is close to Googleyness” This myth revolves around the idea that websites have to change their site every day to make sure they have fresh content or Google will get bored and stop crawling the site. It might even get devalued.
REALITY: Whether or not you need fresh content (daily/weekly/monthly or ever) is tied to the site type. While news sites need fresh content every day and a lot of it, your site on how to make pretty cakes might not. Why? Your site type tells Google whether they should expect new content and how often. A news site needs to add new content every day will be expected to, where as a site on an “evergreen” topic might not. It also depends on how big the site is and its industry. A small mom and pop store in a non-competitive market can get away with a few blog posts a month, whereas a large publisher cannot.
MYTH: A Tall Tale
“Sharing is caring.” The idea here is that links to sites other than my own are bad. All internal links point inward and for the ones that point outward the belief is you nofollow them to keep your site link juice from leaking out.
REALITY: Links to other sites are good. Google likes to see you being an active part of the Internet community. Sharing links helps them find other sites as they crawl yours. Keeping all your links inside your site or by adding no follows traps their bot and gives them no link information. Now, you must always put a nofollow directive on all ads and it is good to be careful about to whom you give your link juice, but do share. As in all things however, moderation is key. Don’t overshare, just a few links here and there and even better yet, to sites that don’t compete with you.
MYTH: GTLDs = Big Win
” Give me the new GTLDs!” This myth is says that by buying the new GTLDs you will help your rankings. For example, if I am a Las Vegas Hotel and buy “.Vegas” I will blast past all my competitors.
REALITY: No. Buying a GTLD will not help your site, in search in most cases, in fact it might even hurt it as “.coms” are still the best ranking domains. Now there are ones like “.sucks” you might want to buy to protect your company name and if you are a hotel in Las Vegas that new domain might be easier for your clients to remember. However, in most cases, you would do better to redirect it to your “.com” and only use it in advertising.
MYTH: We’re Number One!
“Ranking number one is all that matters.” Because it feels good when we see our site at the top of the engines, we can be led to think this is all that matters. In fact, you typically have no idea where you are in the engine because of factors like personalization and geolocation.
REALITY: Being number one is not what it was 10, or even three years ago. With personalized search moving our clicked on links up the page and other factors such as geolocation changing what we see, being “number one” is relative. Now add to that what are you number one for? Sure if you sell baby buggy bumpers you will be thrilled to see your site number one for little red baby buggy bumpers, is that as valuable as baby buggies or baby bumpers? Your analytics and conversion tracking will give you a much better picture of how your site is doing for your business than positioning.
MYTH: That’s a Wrap
“OK, I’m done.” Some people believe that once you’ve done SEO, you’re done with SEO. Except…
REALITY: SEO isn’t something you add later, pause, or stop unless you want to stop growing or even more likely, lose the gains you have made. SEO today is what your radio, TV, Yellow Pages and signage did 15 years ago. It is a big part of your marketing plan. Don’t neglect it. In the end what you save will be far less than what you would have made, had you stayed the course. Organic search is still one of the best methods to reach you customers and they are typically more engaged than other traffic referral types.
MYTH: SEO Is All You Need
“My SEO is good, why am I not making money?” SEO is a big part of the online marketing picture. However, it isn’t the only part.
REALITY: Your traffic is up. Your site is bringing in more traffic than it ever has, but you are not feeling it in the wallet. What’s wrong? This is a complex bag of potential issues. The first places to look however are pretty simple. First, how well is your site in converting that traffic? Have you reviewed the conversion process and looked for issues? Have you done a usability review? If your site is not delivering what it promises to the user, they will come and go like there was a revolving door. What else? Business processes and booking engine issues are two of the most common problems companies face when their site isn’t converting visitors. From your customer service, to how your error messaging works, to the length of your forms, to button colors; all of these can affect how much money your site makes. Make sure you have reviewed your internal issues as well as your site’s when looking to the money issue.
MYTH: Google, I said NO!
“The Robots.txt and the NoIndex tag are interchangeable.” Or “Why are my pages showing in the Google index, I told Google not to go there?” The noindex and robots.txt do very different things and which one you chooses matters.
REALITY: We all have seen those sites in the search engines that has the message the description is unavailable. Now you have that issues, but you are confused because you used the robots.txt disallow directive to remove that page from Google. Why doesn’t Google listen? Actually, the robots.text only disallows the crawling of your page, but not the indexing of the page URL or link. However, using the robots.txt means Google can’t get to the noindex tag that you put on that page as well. If you want a page to be removed from the search engines, remove the robots.txt directive and let Google get to that noindex tag.
MYTH: Schema Is Just A Buzzword
“I don’t need schema, that’s just padding someone’s hours.” Schema is a tagging of your content on the code side that helps the search engines find things on your site that otherwise might be lost to them.
REALITY: While we can easily see content like address and phone number on the front-end of a site, sometimes this is buried in a mound of code and scripting that makes it hard for the search engines to discern is this your office number or just a reference. Schema allows the search engines to better understand your site and therefore better index your content. The downside is this data can also be used to divert traffic from your site in a piece of the search engine results page known as the Knowledge Graph. So definitely use schema, just be careful where and when.