A question came out at a radio station: “Is it true that Mercedes cars are being given to citizens in Moscow?” The radio answers: “In principle yes, it is true, but it is not Moscow but Leningrad, not Mercedes but Ladas, and they are not given to but stolen from.”
Much like in the case of this joke, a lot of the beliefs that are popular about SEO are only true “in principle” and some turn out not to be true at all. Some of these ideas may have started as true, while others have always been incorrect or inexact. Either way, it is time for a quick reality check as we put 10 of the most popular SEO myths and misconceptions under scope.
Myth 1 – Links Are Great to Measure Site Popularity!
It’s not that the number of links that send back to your site (backlinks) doesn’t matter, it’s rather that they’re the wrong indicator to use when measuring “popularity”. Take movie box office scores for instance. Setting a box office record is a big deal for a movie, but it isn’t the equivalent of setting a popularity record. Box office numbers tell you how much the movie earned from ticket sales, not how many people went to see the movie. Which matters, because movies that have longer showing periods can earn more, and so do movies that are shown in 3D, because the tickets cost more. So if you want, it might be more useful sometimes to look at the number of tickets that were sold, rather than the earnings from ticket sales. In a somewhat similar manner, the real measure of your spread would be the number of referring domains, i.e. the number of sites linking to your own site. If you have a large number of backlinks but a rather small number of referring domains, it’s quite possible that Google will see this as shady, and even suspect an intentional strategy on your part, such as a paid linking scheme.
If you want to become the popular kid in school, it’s not helpful if just one friend keeps talking about you, in fact, it might be damaging. What you really need is a lot of people talking even a little bit about you.
Myth 2 – Guest Posting is Dead!
Imagine you could write a book that was good enough that it made your favorite author notice it. Better yet, they read and like it and even offer to write the introduction for you. That’s pretty good, right? Now imagine instead that your favorite author invites you to write something for their next book. And you can even mention your own book, or at least the fact that you’re a writer. Now that’s great! You get so much more attention from being featured in someone else’s already famous work. But what if you use this opportunity to talk only about your book? You don’t really try to add something to the book you’re guest writing for, you just focus on promoting yourself. It’s really tempting to do that, and even more so when we are talking about guest blogging and guest posting online. Which is why earlier this year Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, called out guest posting on his blog and suggested that we all find better ways to draw attention upon us in the online world – or better uses for guest posts. Use it to build relationships with other people and other companies, use it to craft an image for your brand through carefully picked associations with other brands, use it to define your identity as an organization. Just don’t use it for a hurried, obvious, self-centered plug.
Myth 3 – SEO is Dead!
The answer to this myth is quite straightforward: No, SEO is not dead. But maybe the idea – or some idea – behind the original meaning really is dead. It’s becoming harder and harder to actually “optimize” the results of search engines by means of shady tactics. The main condition for becoming highly ranked is starting to become, well… that you are actually that good and that relevant. Or, as long-time SEO Jill Whalen said when she quit the industry last year:
“Google now works. The tricks to beat and spam Google no longer work as well. Today’s SEO blogs and conferences are bursting with SEO consultants talking about how, when you create amazing websites and content for your users, the search engines will follow. This means, my friends, that my work here is done.”
Some have even gone so far as to declare the term dead and propose new concepts to take its place (such as OC/DC: optimizing content for discovery and conversion). But SEO has been about so much more than trying to manipulate the results and rankings all along.
As long as there will be search engines, there will be a desire to “optimize” them, whatever that will mean at any given point in time.
Myth 4 – Black Hat SEO Does Not Work!
It depends on what “work” means. A lot of black hat tactics will get you higher in the search rankings on a short-term. Tactics such as packing long lists of buzz words on your page, regardless of whether they actually relate to your content and field of business or not, putting lists of keywords in a color that is the same as the background, in the hopes that these lists will be indexed by search engines, or even including links to pages that the user will never be able to actually see will likely help you rank higher for a couple of days. Are you going to get away with it in the longer run? Most definitely not. You will end up being penalized severely by search engines, and the use of these techniques could even result in your web page being banned from the search engine.
Myth 5 – Anchor Text is Dead!
It’s easy to see anchor text as spammy and unreliable, but when done right, it still matters. When anchor text appears naturally in a post, it helps search engines verify both your site and the site you are linking to. If an anchor text is specific (e.g.: “black hat SEO problems” instead of “click here” or even “SEO”), it gives a naturalness vibe to your page. At the same time, you shouldn’t try too hard to make your anchor text a search engine magnet or target by using commercial keywords. Most recommendations on the matter suggest that no more than a third of all anchor text instances should be targeted. Whether an anchor text is targeted or whether it simply happens to fit remains, of course, a delicate issue and generates a lot of interpretation. Which is why you should focus as little as you can on trying to get traffic and clicks from the anchor text, and as much as possible on choosing anchor text that makes sense and is relevant to the link. As for the linked site, if the anchor texts that link to a certain sites are somewhat varied, this might be another indicator of natural site-building. When all the backlinks are anchored with the same text, it is likely that something at least unnatural is going on, if not shady altogether. Anchor text is still relevant, you just need to pay attention to how you use it.
Myth 6 – Disavowing All Your Links Will Fix Your Problem!
It’s fairly easy to control the way you build your own website so that you don’t do anything against the rules. At any rate, it’s easier than controlling what others might do in the way of influencing your page’s ranking on search engines. What if for one reason or another, a link to your site is found alongside a myriad of other links in an attempt of another site to get their 15 minutes of fame? What if the way your site is linked from another page is through some shady anchor text? What if you get penalized on account of backlinks you had nothing to do with? That’s when you should use Google’s disavow tool to mark those links and only those links to be disavowed by the search engine. If you haven’t been penalized yet, and just want to stay on the safe side, it’s best to try conventional methods first, for instance a reconsideration request. If you decide to use this tool as a heal-all solution because you’re in a hurry, or scared or simply unsure what to do, disavowing all the links in an attempt to “clear your name” with certainty will not return the desired results. On the other hand, you might actually get penalized by Google, because the move seems unusual. On the other hand, you might lose any standing in the search engine ranks anyway because now there’s nothing linking to you so there’s very little to put you in the center of the map. The disavow tool was created to fight unnatural links, and that’s all you should be using it for.
Myth 7 – Disavowing Only “Some” of Your Unnatural Links Will Fix Your Problem!
Since you don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water, do you have to throw out the bath water at all? What happens if you just disavow some of the unnatural links, won’t that be seen as a sign of good will or at least get you some forgiving? It’s very likely that the answer to all of these questions is “no”. You will just lose time waiting for an answer from Google which will probably be a refusal because the uploaded disavow file is incomplete. If you don’t know which links exactly you should disavow, the very first step would be to conduct a link audit. Include everything that’s necessary in the disavow file, but nothing extra.
If there’s one thing Google frowns upon more than unnatural links, it’s the shallow use of the Disavow tool to reduce the problem of unnatural links.
Myth 8 – No-Follow Links Don’t Count!
Not with that attitude they don’t. Sure, they don’t bring you the big points, the “link juice”. That doesn’t mean they’re not helpful though. For starters, the issue seems to be a bit more complicated than it meets the eye: while Google abides by the no-follow instruction, it has been suggested that there’s a more complicated dynamic at work, and where a site is linked by both do-follow and no-follow links, both may have an impact. Even if we were to ignore it, the fact remains that, no-follow links make you more likely to seem natural; they show that easy points are not all that you’re interested in, and Google may even check naturalness based on a do-follow – no-follow ratio. Last, but definitely not least, these links can still bring you traffic, which is really what you’re after. Plus, a lot of comments and even posts can be no-follow and still create buzz and social activity around you, which matters towards referral traffic. Remember: you’re trying to build an image that’s strong enough to get you high in the rankings, not get high in the rankings so you’ll have a better image.
Myth 9 – Negative SEO Does Not Work!
Various mistakes such as incorrect redirects, duplicate content, de-indexing your own site, are some of the most frequent reasons for concern, along with black hat SEO tactics. But outside enemies may be on the rise, too! At the very least, the change in tone in Google’s official wording on the matter may be a forewarning. In 2012 Google changed its position on the issue of negative SEO from:
“There’s almost nothing a competitor can do to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index”
“Google works hard to prevent other webmasters from being able to harm your ranking or have your site removed from our index.”
So what could happen? The two most obvious examples would be that malicious parties could try to either leave spam anchor texts on your site, or use low-quality links to point to your site. Either way, these attacks shouldn’t work or do any irreversible damage if you keep a close eye on your links, both inbound and outbound. If damage is done before you identify it, you could still try to fix the situation either manually, by submitting reconsideration requests or semi-automatically, by using the disavow tool.
It also helps if you’re aware of your own site environment:
- Is your website fairly new?
- Are you on a competitive market?
- Have you been using a brand-building slow-growing strategy?
In the end, it comes back to the decisions you make. For now, guarding yourself against negative SEO is still in your power. You can easily get alerted by e-mail when such a think might happen.
Myth 10 – SEO is Easy!
It should be pretty clear by now that it is not! It becomes more and more complex with the layer of abstraction that is added to it. Google aims to make the technical signals harder and harder to read. It took away the ability to get keyword data for users arriving to websites from Google searches. It made fewer and fewer updates to the Pagerank in the past years (5 updates in 2011, 4 in 2012, 2 in 2013, none so far), leading some to speculate that Pagerank might even go away for good. But it also geared its algorithm towards understanding conversational search queries or personalizing search results. By all accounts, SEO isn’t what it used to be. It takes a clearer vision, better crafted site architecture and a more genuine interest towards providing quality content.
SEO just got a whole lot more interesting. And it’s here to stay!
What myths or misconceptions would you like to add to this list?Photo credits: 1 2 3