We’ve heard just about every SEO old wives tale out there. It’s strange how some even emerged in the first place, let alone why they’re still around many years after they’ve been debunked by pretty much every serious SEO expert out there.
SEO myths persist for a number of different reasons. One such reason is just how much SEO advice is out on the internet peddled by self-proclaimed experts. In an age of fake news peddled on social media, it’s not surprising that some of these myths can be hard to quosh.
Of course in some sense it’s understandable how some of these myths gain credence and take hold. Many small businesses are rightfully wary about committing what for them is a significant amount of money to something they know little about so it’s understandable they’re looking for quick-and-easy solutions for a modest budget. There are so many cowboys out there looking to take advantage of these two facts so peddling falsehoods is in their interest.
Another reason is that there is a significant misunderstanding of how SEO works with Google’s increasingly obfuscated search algorithm. In all this confusion, the good advice gets caught up with the bad advice, leading to even more persistent myths.
To help you make sense of the chaos, I’ve listed the ten of the most prominent SEO myths and the actual truths underneath each one.
1. SEO Is Dead
Probably the most oft-repeated myth about SEO is that it’s dead. Throughout the years, the supposed deathblow to SEO has also changed. Most recently, declining click-through-rates (CTR) in search results pages (SERPs) have been a cause for concern.
The decline in CTR can be attributed to various factors, such as Google providing answers to popular questions directly at the top of the results page, making it so users don’t have to go to a website to get the information they need. Google is also taking up more SERP space with paid ads, knowledge graphs, shopping carousels, store locations, and articles from big brands prominently featured at the top of the SERPs.
While these changes should be addressed, they don’t mean SEO is dead. I wrote an in depth article for Jeff Bullas’s blog in December 2018 on how SEO isn’t dead but evolving and the distinction is a very important one.
In the face of Google’s search algorithm becoming more and more opaque and what I call it’s ‘colonisation of the SERPs’, SEO has had to adapt to become more flexible. Savvy digital marketing specialists are adapting to an increased emphasis on personalised SERPs, voice search, app linking, machine learning.
And with over 3.5 billion Google searches a day and rising, there will always be a need for SEO, whether or not CTR continues to fall over time.
2. SEO Is A Scam
The myth that SEO is a scam doesn’t necessarily come from the perceived notion that the industry is filled with scammers actively trying to swindle businesses out of their money.
What tends to happen is there are these SEO “cowboys” with enticingly low rates promising the world to prospects and clients, only to fail to deliver actual results. It’s not so much done out of malice but more out of unearned confidence in their limited capabilities. No regulation in the industry doesn’t help the proliferation of these cowboys.
SEO does work, provided you have the right benchmarks, reasonable expectations, and a commitment to applying “white hat” strategies instead of “black hat” tactics.
White hat SEO is basically following best practices such as building links from relevant and authoritative websites and optimising the user experience (UX). Black hat SEO is using underhanded techniques, specifically in link building to game search results such as buying links or deceptive redirects.
3. Links are all You Need to Rank
Everyone with any experience in digital marketing has probably heard the words “content is king”. That seems to have fallen on deaf ears when it comes to many people who think that links alone will allow your website to rank in Google.
Such a common myth still this one and an aftereffect of a period in time, when mass link building could make your website rank well. That time has well and truly gone and anyone that tries to sell you links as if they’re some kind of panacea to all your website ranking woes is either ignorant or trying to pull a fast one.
The truth is that links are important but only in conjunction with high quality content. Often just producing high quality content is all you need to rank if competition is low enough. On many competitive keywords though, you will need to do some link building, no matter how amazing your content is.
We have seen how links work perfectly in conjunction with high-quality content again and again. We saw a huge lift in search rankings working with an online vintage jewellery store by applying this dual approach. By building long-form guides and articles and then building links on authoritative sites back to those guides the client saw a 263% increase in year-on-year organic search traffic and 94% increase in revenue. The simple fact is that if done in conjunction and quality is kept high, this tactic can produce tremendous results.
4. Keyword Density Matters
Keyword density pertains to hitting a certain percentage of keywords in the content on a page. The more keywords there are, the higher the ranking.
There was a time when the above line of thinking did provide pretty fast results, but that time has long since passed. In 2020 Google’s algorithm has been updated to the point that there is simply no need to stuff a page with keywords. Meta keywords, keywords in URLs, keywords in images’ alt text—these don’t factor into a page’s ranking either.
This doesn’t mean keywords are useless and that they shouldn’t appear at all. They still serve the important purpose of providing context so that search engines know what the pages these keywords are in are about. Keywords have to be relevant. They just don’t need to be mentioned a specific number of times.
5. Guest Posting is Dead
When the former head of Google’s webspam team Matt Cutts said that “guest blogging is done” back in 2014, the effects of that statement reverberate to this day. There are still people who think guest blogging, or guest posting, is a harmful link building tactic.
Cutts himself clarified not long after that only guest posting done solely for SEO purposes was going to be made irrelevant in Google’s algorithm.
Proper guest posting would be to write posts for websites that are relevant to your business and get a good amount of traffic to register as authoritative. Guest posting in any random blog that has no unique content is not helpful. Remember that it’s ultimately about building relationships with thought leaders and influencers in your specific community.
Ever since the Penguin update 2012, creating mass link building campaigns with over-optimized anchor text and no quality control has become SEO suicide. That being said, it does pay to optimize links in guest posts, but only if you vary up your anchor text and use long-tail key phrases as well. Also, avoid peppering your target pages with links. Instead, link out to blog pages, guides, and informative cornerstone content. If your site is well structured with good internal linking, this will help pass authority across your site and improve your overall domain authority.
6. Social Media Can Help Websites Rank
Much has been said about the value of social media to SEO, and while there is definitely some truth to that, it’s a myth that posting on social media and getting shares helps websites rank.
Our old friend Matt Cutts made a video back in 2014 directly addressing how much social media pages factor into search rankings. The short answer is the same is true today and they don’t. Social shares aren’t treated as links.
However, social media posts do give excellent exposure that can lead to other sites linking out to your website, which in turn affects its rank. We call this an “indirect ranking signal” because it doesn’t directly get picked up by Google’s algorithm but it tends to generate other signals that do (like backlinks and referral website traffic).
7. Do What The Big Brands Do
If successful, established businesses are executing an SEO strategy, it should follow that they must be doing something right and that it’s worth copying, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.
Big brands have metrics on a vastly different scale from small to medium-sized businesses. You can’t even tell for sure that their SEO works, as big brands’ overall discoverability on Google doesn’t tend to tank on a failed strategy. This is because their brand name recognition drives the vast majority of traffic. Their massive domain authority and internal resources also tends to keep them at the top of the SERPs for more targeted keyword search.
Trying to emulate this pointless but there are things small businesses can learn from brands when it comes to digital marketing tactics and growing brand awareness (something SEO can certainly help with). If you think there is merit to a certain tactic a big brand is doing, do A/B testing first on a part of your website to see if it works for you before fully committing and finding out the hard way.
8. You Need Fresh Content
Google likes fresh content, so it sounds like common sense to keep posting new content or at least, updating your pages to maintain and improve your search rankings.
Ok so this is actually true, Google does tend to rank fresh content higher, but it’s also misleading. The fact of the matter is that Google only favors freshness for search queries that people are constantly using to stay updated on, such as news and certain products like mobiles and other gadgets.
If you have evergreen content, it’s a good idea to update it and keep it fresh. However, only do so when vital new information comes up that keeping the content as it is would be doing a disservice to visitors. Creating fresh high-quality content is not a surefire way to get discovered though. Content strategies need to have solid keyword research behind them to identify how hard it will be to get it to rank and whether there is even search volume there in the first place.
Other optimization tips for old content are replacing outdated or broken links with relevant working ones and re-releasing updated content.
9. You Only Need to Do SEO Once
The technical on-site optimization aspect of SEO where site structure, metadata, loading speed, UX, etc. are applied can give the impression to those unfamiliar with SEO that it only needs to be done once.
You “fix what’s wrong with the site” and that’s all there is to it. With the site now “optimized for search,” you don’t have to touch it anymore and it will continue to rank highly until the end of time.
This is a very common SEO myth and tends to play into the hands of churn and burn SEO cowboys who are all about getting clients on board for a few months, getting some initial gains and then quickly moving on. Yes there are often major onsite issues that once they’re done, they’re done, but that will only ever get you so far.
SEO is an adaptive process, as Google’s algorithm is constantly changing and sometimes those changes can cause sites to drop and others to rise. Leaving your site as is after doing SEO once will make it vulnerable to these inevitable algorithmic changes, as supposed best practices quickly become outdated or modified.
Another factor to consider is that SEO doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You may be surprised to hear that your website probably isn’t the only one offering your products or services and if your competition is doing SEO and you stop, then guess what? Yeah you’ve got it, they’re going to overtake you.
It’s often overlooked by many people that when their site drops in the search results it’s down to other websites rising. Engaging regular content drives good SEO and if you take your foot off the gas, you’ll soon find your site losing ground in the SERPs to competitor sites that are adapting to algorithmic changes and pumping out lots of great content.
You’ll only ever get so far with a single SEO injection. It’s a long-term investment so keeping at it ensures you’ll be reaping the rewards for years to come.
10. The More Blog Content, The Better
Regular content is good, so what could be wrong with driving up the output of blog posts, especially if you can cover a whole range of topics?
Again, this is true but it’s missing the more important factor which is quality. Quality remains the top priority for content and if you end up sacrificing it just to pump out as many articles as possible, you won’t be seeing much of a return on investment from all that effort. You are better off writing one excellent long-form blog post a month that you are confident will become a trusted resource, instead of writing a couple of low-effort articles a week that won’t get much traction.
It’s also more beneficial to stick to one or two topics where you can show your expertise. Google will take note of you focusing on a subject matter, and that will positively contribute to your search rankings.
Finding an SEO Company without the BS
SEO is a powerful weapon in your digital marketing arsenal and if done right can do wonders. It’s not easy to know what is right and what is wrong, when there are so many myths out there. It’s understandable that companies are wary of the entire SEO industry if they’ve been burnt once. If a business is very reliant on search engine traffic then dodgy SEO could seriously impact your revenue if they end up getting your site penalized.
SEO can be scary and confusing to the uninitiated but partner with the right agency and it has the potential to make you and your business a lot of money.