Because of the relatively vague nature of SEO – relative to paid channels, that is – the field is more open than others to opinions…which can start off informed but, without checks and balances, can morph into myths over time.
But the field evolves like crazy, so yesterday’s myths aren’t the same as today’s myths. Some of these myths have been around before 2014, while others have recently surfaced. The listed myths are ones that are either buzzing around the industry or that brand managers have brought to my attention. Numbers 4, 8, 10, 11, 12 are some of the newer myths that have recently surfaced.
Whenever Google releases an algorithm update of any kind, speculation begins in the industry about how to update on-page/off-page factors to play into the new algorithm tweaks. I assume in the near future we’ll hear and see more myths arise regarding mobile, entity relationships, and the ever-changing visual nature of Google SERPs.
In today’s post, I’ll examine what I believe to be the prevailing myths in the SEO industry – and I’ll look at the reality behind them.
1) SEO is dead
This thought is commonly thrown around and while not new to 2014, it still is around; actually, it might even have been heightened over the past several years. Just type in ‘SEO is’ within Google and check out the autocomplete results, which are largely based upon search volume: seo is dead, seo is bullsh*t, seo is dead forbes.
The fact of the matter is, public opinion seems to have SEO dying, year-over-year (and subsequently coming back to life each year…?). But SEO isn’t dead. Yes, it has changed, which brings us to our next myth…
2) SEO is just about the organic landscape (on-page & off-page opts)
This certainly started with a grain of truth. SEO used to be solely about the organic landscape, only working on optimizing direct on-page elements (title tags, h1 tags, meta descriptions, etc.) as well as direct off-page elements (link building). Now, however, there’s the Umbrella of SEO. This SEO Umbrella consists of user experience testing, blogging efforts, public relations efforts, email marketing, and social media promotion.
As SEO professionals move away from simply working towards achieving placement within the SERPs, their day-to-day is more about being brand managers and ensuring that the client’s digital footprint is as far-reaching and accurate as possible. In short, if you write content regarding your brand/website, you can benefit from an SEO engagement.
3) There’s some magic bullet that exists for SEO
This is an oldie and a persistent goodie…but there is no magic silver bullet that will kill the SEO Werewolf. A lot of people are under the assumption that you can change one attribute on your website/webpage and from this alone achieve beneficial ranking changes.
For the most part (large technical fixes being the exception: unblocking a page from robots.txt, for example) this is simply not true. SEO isn’t about finding that one loose screw and turning it, but rather turning a multitude of screws while in tandem pulling levers to get your webpage to function as one holistically optimized page theme for the spiders to understand.
4) I need to rank #1 organically
In 2012, you may have a good point here. In 2014, ranking #1 is no longer what it used to be. Just look at the new visual nature of the SERPs, where on some queries the #1 ranking spot is actually below the fold on certain screens.
New updates are pushing down the organic results: PLAs (which are now above text ads); the Google Carousel that appears on local queries, music tracks, etc.; the Google Answer Cards (that literally scrape content from websites to render at the top of SERPs). Ranking high on the SERPs is going to be more beneficial than not, true, however the benefit has changed and now SEOs can and should affect more than just ranking increases
5) Sending any paid media to the engines will give you a boost in organic rankings
This myth comes from those who believe that if you are involved in AdWords/Bing Ads, you get an inherent boost in organic rankings. The problem is, the only correlation whatsoever between running organic efforts alongside paid efforts is that cannibalization doesn’t happen, meaning higher click-through rates have been established when you organically rank next to one of your paid ads within the SERPs.
6) SEO tools are all you need
SEO tools are great for tracking and management. Additionally they can provide you a one-stop shop for seeing side-by-side SEO metrics such as rankings next to analytics. The problem with SEO tools comes when you have a brand manager who thinks that said tool is all they need.
Tool suites will likely have what they’ve deemed as best practice recommendations, based on an automated system. As SEO professionals, we understand that while there can be some continuity between verticals for best practices, there are many optimizations that hold true for one vertical over another.
Moreover, tools have some pretty universal shortcomings: they don’t alert you to algorithm updates or potential penalties incurred, and they tend not to have deep content insights for competitor websites.
7) SEO is “set it and forget it”
Many people are under the assumption that SEO is a one-time update, consisting of updating your website to the current best practices and then no longer needing SEO services. SEO is truly best when run as an ongoing engagement. The engines take time to recognize and index website updates. We’ve seen some sites take several months for changes to take effect within the SERPs.
With constant algorithm updates and tests, you can’t update your website for today’s best practices and then turn a blind eye towards tomorrow’s . And I’m not even touching the fact that fresh, relevant, frequently updated content is not a one-time endeavor.
8) Marking up my content (microdata) will help it rank
We haven’t identified any direct causation between Schema markup and higher organic rankings. With that said, website markup should still happen. It does help the spiders to further understand your content and entity relationships; it also has the potential to be visually pulled into the SERPs for enhanced click-through rates.
9) UX and SEO are separate efforts
This can be viewed as more of an opinion than a myth, but brand managers still hold this view of UX & SEO. The two play together very closely, with UX helping to improve some SEO metrics such as time-on-site and bounce rate, to name two.
Consumer psychology studies have been performed for insights such as button shapes and colors to help influence how users interact with the website, which all ties back into the ‘stickiness’ or health/authority of the website and overall SEO benefit.
10) Social media signals directly drive SEO
Google used to have access to the Twitter fire hose, but that relationship ended back in 2011. The social data Google does have access to is its proprietary social network, Google+.
However, no direction causation has been seen from +1’ing a post with higher organic rankings; only correlation has been seen with the notion that content that ranks well is likely popular and beneficial and will also fare well via social networks (Google+, for example).
11) Author rank is real
As it stands today, there has been no confirmation of Author Rank and how it may tie in with Google’s algorithms. Many people confuse Author Rank with Authorship, and they are very different. Authorship is the visual markup you see within the SERPs that anyone can do, which involves HTML code placement. The idea behind Author Rank is to attribute certain values to authors who then can become authorities for topical areas, thus likely having their opinions/answers given more priority within the SERPs.
This has yet to manifest, so it may still live in the myth realm…but it’s likely to manifest soon.
12) LINKS ARE DEAD!
As soon as Google and Bing came out and said they recognize social signals as ranking factors (initially noted, now most are skeptical) many people flocked to the camp that said links are either dead or are dying. Within days, some case studies arose of content initially ranking very well with only social shares and mentions, and zero links.
Another factor nudging this myth along is that Yandex, the main search engine in Russia, has an algorithm that doesn’t place value upon links due to the huge spammy nature of Russian websites. (I’m not sure how wide spread this knowledge is, but this could contribute to the myth/opinion that links are dead or being devalued.)
Turns out, links are still very significant in SEO. There’s a focus on link quality that has evolved over the years, and penalties resulting from black hat linking practices, but good links still help to produce good traffic.
13) SEO is only reactive
This goes to the notion of brands thinking that after their website has been hit with a potential penalty is the appropriate time to engage in SEO services. And this is just fine – as long as you’re willing to either incur a penalty or be non-competitive for traffic in the first place.
SEO should ideally be proactive rather than reactive.
14) You should put your trust in SEO gurus for all the insight you need
There are simply just too many bloggers or self-proclaimed “SEO Gurus” (seriously, what does that even mean…?) out there publishing opinions on the web to take everything you read literally. Whenever people who are looking into SEO for their site read something on the web, it should be taken with a grain of salt. (Yes, that even means taking this article with a grain of salt.) You should never trust a single source, but rather use the information you find there to see if it also is resounded elsewhere.
I’m hoping this stirs up some good discussion. Are there myths I should have added – or myths you’d like to quibble with? Leave a comment!