Dropping outdated beliefs that no longer serve us frees up energy so we can move forward. While this type of advice is often associated with personal development and relationships, it’s also true for search engine optimization (SEO) techniques. That’s because focusing on outdated tactics zaps resources and energy when it could be directed towards creating a strategy that produces results.Many factors influence what works today compared to what worked in the past. Part of that involves radical changes to search engine algorithms that have made many of the old rules irrelevant. On top of that, modern digital marketing techniques have also influenced where traffic is sent and how websites are ranked.
This article is going to outline some of the top SEO myths and give you tips for what still works, so you can drop any baggage that’s weighing down your website ranking.
Myth #1: Content on my website is all that matters
This myth is analogous to the idea that “it’s what inside that counts”.
While that may be true in many aspects of life, content marketing - while super important - is not the only important factor. That’s because search engines also rank the experience your site provides. This includes many factors such as:
- Site and page speed
- Site security
- User experience
- Time spent on the site
- Backlinks / Off-page SEO
- Domain age
- Domain authority
Besides the above factors, SEO services should also include other site and page-level elements like keywords, domain history and branding signals. Keeping up to date with the changes can be a challenge because there are literally hundreds of factors to consider. Thankfully, many of them fall in line with good website and coding practices. Once they are learned and implemented they can become part of the content-creation process.
Myth #2: Meta descriptions have a huge impact on search rankings
A meta description is a small paragraph that is coded into the HTML of a page that briefly explains the content of the page. These often appear in search engine results pages (SERPs) and may be used to create preview snippets - the blocks of information people see after a result.
Back in 2009, Google announced that meta descriptions (along with meta tags and keywords) have no influence on search engine results. While they may not have an explicit effect in the SERPs, we believe they still matter because users see them.
A well-written and effective meta description can make a big difference between a click and a pass. Since clicks improve rankings overall, meta descriptions do deserve some special consideration during the content creation process.
Myth #3: Links don’t matter
Content needs links to rank, whether they are external or internal to your site. To understand their importance, it’s important to consider how search engines work.
Bots like Google crawl sites to discover content. During this process, they analyze the structure of a page and create a map of its posts and pages. Internal links are vital to this process because they allow search engines to establish a hierarchy on your site where they assign value to the most important content. This is why a well-planned and executed internal link structure can really boost your SEO.
Pages and posts that have multiple links send signals to search engines telling them that the content is important and of high-value. The same holds true for external links. When other sites and social media networks link to pages and posts on your site, search engines count this as a “vote” for the importance of the content.
Conversely, links from untrusted and low-quality websites send “negative” signals to search engines that may hurt your ranking. This is sometimes referred to as “black hat” SEO - a set of practices that are “unfair” when compared to the “white hat” practice of link building mentioned above.
Since these bad links may negatively affect your site, they must either be removed through a manual request or disavowed through the use of applications such as this tool in the Google Search Console.
Also consider “Nofollow” links. These are links with a special HTML tag applied to them that tell search engines to ignore that link. Since these links do not pass any ranking, they do not impact overall search engine rankings. The use of Nofollow is important in order to avoid having search engines categorize your site as webspam. Since both the site hosting the link and the site being linked to can be penalized, the use of Nofollow is critically important.
Myth #4: Local SEO doesn’t matter
Local SEO targets customers in a specific area. While this may not matter to a decentralized business that sells globally, it’s super important for a local business.
A local SEO strategy comprises a set of online marketing practices and tools that can be used by businesses to get their products and services in front of local customers while they are looking for them online.
While there are a variety of different ways to implement local SEO, it differs from standard SEO because it must zero in precisely on your target demographic and the keywords they are using to find local products and services. In addition to implementing SEO on your website, a good local SEO strategy should also involve link building from local directories along with implementing social media practices that drive traffic to your site.
Another part of the process for getting ranked highly in search engines is to establish algorithmic credibility. In the physical world that meant building a reputation through word of mouth. In the digital world, it requires convincing search engine algorithms that your business, website and content creators are credible. This can be accomplished through your website structure along with link building within your site and to external sites.
Myth #5: SEO is a one-time thing
Search engine algorithms are always changing according to their own goals that determine how content should be ranked. Keeping on top of algorithm updates is a long term game. That’s why SEO is definitely not a “set it and forget it” endeavor.
Effective SEO that produces results is an ongoing process that keeps up to date with the changes in how search engines work. Competition is always increasing - especially in today’s environment. That’s why the most reputable SEO agencies stay up to date with the latest search engine developments so their clients are always a step ahead of the competition.
Myth #6: SEO and inbound marketing don’t mix
Saying that SEO and inbound marketing don’t mix is analogous to claiming that a quality dinner doesn’t mix with fine wine. While you wouldn’t pour your wine over your food, the two can complement each other in a way that adds more value than if each were to be consumed separately.
For those who don’t know, inbound marketing is the practice of creating a marketing strategy aimed at bringing customers to you rather than the other way around. It is built on techniques that zero in on your target market through the creation of content that specifically addresses their needs.
When combined together, both SEO and inbound marketing make an unbeatable combination by attracting visitors through organic search, increasing your conversion rate, and creating raving fans that can promote your products and services. And the reality is that it's really not a question of choosing one or the other - today’s competitive environment requires both.
Myth #7: It’s all about quantity
More content does not necessarily produce results. Quality matters above all because generalized content that is written poorly - no matter how much there is - can be boring and ineffective.
This old myth can be seen everywhere on the web - especially on websites that contain massive amounts of content for the purpose of attracting traffic through “keyword stuffing”. This outdated practice literally involves “stuffing” as many keywords into the content as possible to increase keyword density. Most of the time this looks forced or awkward, and for experienced web users it may seem obvious.
Nothing can really replace quality content tailored to a specific audience. Not only does it create an impact, but it is also more likely to be shared. This ultimately improves rankings more than keyword stuffing ever could.
Myth #8: Page speed doesn’t matter
Search engines like Google may penalize websites that load slowly and may even start placing a badge of shame in Chrome to alert users. This will be accomplished by Google by analyzing historical load latencies of websites and flagging them.
Besides being identified by search engines, slow websites may also be punished by users that click away due to large amounts of popups and other scripts running in the background. Since user experience is an important factor to search engine algorithms, it’s important to optimize loading times so visitors do not click away quickly.
Myth #9: When Google says that something isn’t a ranking factor then you can ignore it
Sometimes we hear news from Google stating that something isn’t a ranking factor - like the meta description example in Myth #2. That doesn’t mean we should ignore it because, while it may not be an explicit ranking factor, it is probably still relevant.
To put it simply, an explicit ranking factor means that the algorithm doesn’t take that factor into account, however it may still be correlated with a higher ranking.
Word count is a great example of a factor that correlates with higher Google rankings. Despite being stated in a Google Webmasters YouTube video that word count was not a factor, we know from consistent experience and evidence that comprehensive content ranks higher than short posts.
This is just one of many examples of factors that should be taken into account even if they are not explicitly considered by search engines like Google.
Myth #10: I don’t have to worry about website structure
Technical SEO that affects website structure is a very important factor in rankings because search engine bots must be able to read a website clearly in order to index its contents. Some key considerations include:
- Ensuring your robots.txt is not blocking search engines
- Removing all 404 errors (that can act like dead ends)
- Ensuring the website is secure via SSL
- Including an XML sitemap
Technical SEO, when combined with a comprehensive link structure, will ensure that your site is easily discovered and indexed by crawlers. Since some of this involves server files, a qualified SEO company can help with all the technical details.
Myth #11: Keywords don’t matter anymore
Keywords and keyword research played a very important role in the early days of search when things were more simple. Some SEO professionals now argue, however, that they are not as important these days because algorithms are advanced enough to figure out what the content is about without requiring specific search terms. Some even go so far as to advise that relevant title tags and a meta description are all that’s required to have content indexed correctly.
While that may be somewhat true, it doesn’t mean that keywords are no longer important. They are just one of many factors that are taken into account by algorithms when ranking a website. Keywords are still an important part of creating content - especially long tail keywords - and these should be used naturally so they are able to inform search engines about the content of your posts and pages.
Myth #12: PPC doesn’t affect your SEO
Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising such as Google Ads is not supposed to directly affect SEO, however we have seen evidence that it does through our own ad campaigns.
Time and time again we have noticed that if we run ads to a specific page, the site’s ranking sees a boost. This is particularly true if the user experience is positive in terms of the time spent on the site and the click rates to other pages.
SEO is a complex and long-term game. It requires an understanding of how search engine algorithms work and connecting those practices to content created for humans. Understanding what works today is critical to long-term success and one of the first steps required is to drop outdated myths weighing down your website so it can rank higher.
Ashley Quintana, M.S., B.A.
Ashley Quintana is a co-founder of BridgeRev. In her role, she develops, leads, and executes digital marketing strategies for the company’s growing client base, including a Fortune 500 subsidiary and an NBA basketball team. Ashley’s work can be found in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, and she is an OKC.biz 40 Under 40 honoree for her leadership in business and community. She frequently speaks at universities, churches, and conferences on marketing, diversity, and business.