SEO Myths: The Ultimate Guide

Mis­in­for­ma­tion about organ­ic search can harm your dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing efforts. We bust some of the biggest SEO myths to sep­a­rate fact from fic­tion.

Kristine Schachinger By Kristine Schachinger. Join the discussion » 0 comments

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!

SEO Now 2015 Banner (momentology)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.

Kristine Schachinger

Written by Kristine Schachinger

CEO

Kristine has worked for 18 years in the creation, development, implementation and maintenance of websites in all sectors including government, academia, entertainment and e-commerce with a focus on usability, architecture, human factors, W3C, Section 508 and WCAG accessibility compliance as well additional specializations in SEO, ORM and social media. Currently focusing on monthly SEO Support, Site Audits and Penalty Recovery working with small business to Fortune 500 companies on increasing their website visibility and online presence.

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