You want to drive a lot of traffic to your website and you already know that search engines are a powerful referral source. However, secretive Google algorithms, unscrupulous “SEO experts” and the plethora of varying industry resources have made it difficult to get a clear picture of which search engine optimization (SEO) activities bring you value. What’s worse is that your current website could be diminishing your rankings on search engine results pages (SERPs) due to any number of reasons.
In an effort to clear up at least some of the noise (and search punditry is loud, I know), I’ll be debunking 10 common SEO myths:
1. Google endorses and/or collaborates with search engine optimization experts/firms
Have you been contacted by an “expert” who “has a special inside agreement with Google” or claims that they’ve been “endorsed” by the search company? Don’t give them the time of day. Google explicitly states: “There is no priority submit for Google.” Additionally, Google never endorses SEO experts, as illustrated in this video from their Webmaster Help series.
Solution: Use Google’s guide for vetting SEO experts. You should expect a transparent process and detailed reporting on the effectiveness of an SEO firm’s efforts. It’s important that I note that there is official Google certification their analytics tool. I recently received my Google Analytics Individual (GAIQ) after I took the “official” test. Professionals with any kind of Google certification should be able to present a Google-verified certification number. Other certifications relate to AdWords and App development, both of which have no bearing on organic SEO.
2. PageRank is highly relevant to your site’s search rankings.
PageRank is a feature of the Google Toolbar that offers a score of 1-10, indicating the “importance” of the page. Because the ranking score is only updated a couple times each year and search rankings can change by the day, PageRank isn’t a useful metric when making adjustments to your search strategy.
Solution: Instead, use the array of metrics available in your website analytics software (such as Google Analytics) to learn which keywords are driving traffic to your site, and how that traffic is performing. Also, there are many tools available online that use a broad spectrum of metrics (including data from Google) to report on your search performance.
3. Using the “keywords” and “description” meta tags in the header of your website will help boost search rankings
There are meta tags (descriptive HTML tags that are placed in the header of your webpage to pass information which is not displayed to the user on the rendered page) that help your website perform better in search results, but neither the “keywords” nor the “description” tags do. As verified by Google in this video, the search engine had been ignoring the meta keywords tag for some time due to rampant, spammy abuse. While the “description” meta tag is sometimes used by search engines to display as a snippet under the corresponding search result, it does not factor into page rank.
Solution: Save your gem keywords for the title tag and the body of your page. If they’re appropriate to the content of your website, users will benefit from seeing them anyway. Similarly, approach your description from the perspective of a search engine user. Give them a clear description of what they’ll get when they click through to your site and present a strong call to action.
4. Reciprocal links help boost search engine result page rankings
“I’ll link to you if you link to me” is not an effective back-linking strategy. Search engine companies house some of the most powerful computers on Earth which are, in part, designed to identify (and potentially penalize) this kind of behavior. In fact, you could be further harming your website’s ranking by linking to low ranking or spammy websites.
Solution: Link to websites only when it’s appropriate (ex. reference, news story). If you must cross link with a partner or sponsor site, try to relegate the link to a single page, rather than in the footer of every page on your site. Earn reputable back links by creating “link bait” (interesting content) or employ a good PR strategy to earn press coverage.
5. SEO is something you do when you launch a new website
In fact, quite the opposite. Not only is “optimal optimization” nearly impossible to achieve for most websites (especially on your first try), but it’s a job all its own keeping up with the changes made by popular search engines. As shown by this Wired Magazine article covering the history of Google Algorithm updates, search engines frequently make updates to their indexing algorithms.
Solution: Search engine optimization, among many other aspects of managing a website, must be held to the tenant of “perpetual beta.” Use webmaster tools and website analytics to analyze the performance of traffic referred to your website via search. Try updating content, keywords and site structure for underperforming aspects of your site.
6. Your homepage should be the focus of your search engine optimization efforts.
If your website is one page, sure. Otherwise, the subsequent pages of your site are undoubtedly more specific than your homepage and are therefore more likely to provide the user exactly what they’re searching for. This is illustrated by a commonly accepted concept called “The Long Tail”, which states that searches performed by users using popular search phrases make up only 30% of search volume. The remaining 70% is comprised of a vast amount of very unique keyword/keyphrase combinations, often resulting in highly targeted search results. [http://www.seomoz.org/beginners-guide-to-seo/keyword-research] Your homepage, as it typically covers the entirety of what your site has to offer, will likely be indexed in broader terms.
Solution: Give your website a holistic treatment. Each page has a chance to perform well in search, and therefore you should use all pages as an opportunity to entice users to take valuable action (sign up for a service, buy a product, subscribe to a newsletter etc.)
7. Use SEO keywords on your website as much as possible
If we were to title this article “SEO, Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Google and Keyword Myths Busted” we would have committed a heinous act of “keyword stuffing.” Throughout Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (PDF), they warn against employing this kind of behavior. The myth of “keyword stuffing” comes from simpler search engine times, when there was a commonly held belief among SEO experts that rankings relied upon “keyword density” (how many times a keyword/keyphrase appeared) as a means of ranking.
Solution: Certainly use your star keywords, just don’t be obnoxious about it. A good measure of your keyword usage is reading your page title, URL, headings and body content: if it seems repetitive or overly descriptive (“Buzzword bingo!”), you could be abusing target keywords. Take this article for example: it’s a relatively natural narrative (I hope), but surely Google understands that the content pertains to search engine optimization.
8. Links to your website from social networks do not effect rankings
This was true up until earlier this year when Google confirmed that the search engine had started including links from Twitter users as a factor for ranking. And here’s hoping that Justin Bieber links this article, since they’ve started to analyze social media users’ “influence” as a means of weighting backlinks from them. In fact, Google recently bought PostRank in an effort to further delve into the “social influence” sphere, so stay tuned.
Solution: If it makes sense for you or your business and you haven’t already done so, jump into that social media game. Have a strategy in place for being part human, part public relations officer and part “backlink building machine.” Mashable is a good place to get some ideas.
9. Flash websites kill SEO
Once revered for its unrivaled capabilities in website animation and media handling, Flash is now under fire for Apple iOS’s lack of support and the fact that it hasn’t always been search engine friendly. Earlier in its development, Google could not crawl/index any content residing in a Flash file. In June of 2008, the woes of web developers reliant on Flash were put at ease by the release of a new algorithm from Google, allowing it to index text, discover URLs and other essential crawling features.
Solution: From a search perspective, feel free to use Flash for your website. Now if only Apple would allow Flash to show on its iPod, iPhone and iPad…
10. You need to regularly update your homepage to stay highly ranked
This myth is founded on the premise that if your homepage is regularly updated, search engines may crawl the page more frequently. While this is true, the crawl rate of your web page has no bearing on its rank in search engine results. Take the “logged-out” homepage of Facebook for example. Changes are rarely made and there is no timely content.
Solution: To be clear, if you’re updating your homepage to try a new scheme for search engine optimization (ex. new content, new titles, different keywords) by all means, make the updates. However, the idea that frequent activity in and of itself on your homepage will boost rankings is simply not true.
Bottom Line: Focus On SEO Facts and What You Can Accomplish
This is by no means a comprehensive list of all the misaligned perceptions of search engine optimization. The search companies give us plenty of rules to play by, but the industry is flush with experts running their own experiments, supplementing those rules with their own “golden SEO techniques.”
Lest you be caught up in the fervor and become a full-time search engine marketing expert yourself, I recommend you identify how much time you can commit to SEO. If you don’t have much, stick to the fundamental aspects of good website optimization. If you can commit more time, do some basic keyword research and keep tabs with your site analytics. Make changes accordingly.
Jared Brickman is a digital specialist at Greteman Group. Visit his website for contact details. When not glued to a computer, Jared enjoys playing piano, outdoor adventuring and listening to east coast underground hip hop.