Search engine optimization (SEO) might be the most misunderstood aspect of digital marketing. On the one hand, many clients think of it almost like voodoo — they want to hire an agency that will boost their search engine rankings. They don’t know how that happens, and they don’t really care to know. They just want results.
On the other hand, many marketing agencies take advantage of the gap between what most clients know about SEO and what the field actually entails. They make all sorts of promises based on fancy technical jargon they know the client won’t understand, but if you evaluate their claims based on a thorough understanding of modern SEO, they’re essentially selling snake oil with motormouth talk.
For your edification and protection, then, we’ve rounded up eight SEO myths that keep hanging around like a bad case of bronchitis. Read on and never fall victim to huckster SEO “experts” again.
Myth #1: You Need to Rank on Page One for Your Top Keywords
Many business owners (especially those who’ve dealt with a marketing agency or two) know enough about SEO to understand the concept of keywords. And when they set their sights on a keyword, they want the big kahuna: if they’re an auto body repair shop, for example, they want to rank number one in Google for “auto body repair.” Imagine the deluge of traffic such a ranking must bring, pouring over your website like a never-ending summer rain.
But in most cases, if you did achieve the nigh-impossible and elbow your way to the top spot for these relatively generic high-competition keywords, you’d find the traffic isn’t as voluminous or meaningful as you expected. The problem is these keywords, while shiny and attractive on the surface, are usually quite vague and don’t imply any intent or readiness to convert or even to click on the part of the searcher.
As an example, we have a law firm client who ranks within the top five results in Google for “law offices in charlotte nc.” An enviable SEO result for most law firms, but do you know how many monthly visitors that keyword brings to their site? Five.
Meanwhile, the same law firm has a blog article that ranks number one in Google for “how severe does a custody agreement violation have to be before a court will help me?” The number of monthly visits this absurdly long and specific keyword brings to their site: 71.
Don’t just take my word for it, either. Check out this blog post from SEO authority Moz, a company digital marketer generally treat with deity-like reverence. In the article, Moz contributor Cyrus Shepard said that Moz’s #2 overall ranking in Google for the term “SEO” — an achievement that would send most digital marketers and SEO specialists into a gibbering, drooling frenzy — contributes far less traffic and far fewer conversions than the thousands of other, more focused “long-tail” keywords like “seo audit” and “moz seo guide” that bring search users to the Moz website.
“Moz typically ranks #2-3 for ‘SEO,’” Shepard wrote. “It sends good traffic, but not nearly as good as the thousands of long-tail keywords with more focused intent. In fact, if you went through our entire keyword set, you would find that ‘SEO’ by itself only sends a tiny fraction of our entire traffic, and we could easily survive without it.”
Myth #2: You Should Jam as Many Keywords as Possible Into Your Search Engine Optimization SEO Digital Marketing Website Blog for Search Engine Users Who Google Your Google Keywords
Keyword stuffing — the practice of jamming desired keywords into a piece of content as many times as possible, like we did in the section headline — is the equivalent of the hoariest old urban legends you still hear people repeating, like “we only use 10 percent of our brains!” or “the average person swallows 5 spiders a year while sleeping!”
To be fair, keyword stuffing did actually work at one point, but its heyday didn’t last long, and it hasn’t benefited a website in ages. Search engines like Google quickly realized that letting people manipulate SEO this way led to search users encountering low-quality, spammy content, and the engines updated their algorithms to put the keyword-stuffing content chop-shops out of business.
Today, Google designs its algorithms to focus on the quality, relevance, and user-friendliness of content. Since keyword stuffing almost always compromises these three elements, it’s much more likely to hurt your search engine rankings than help.
Myth #3: You Need to Agonize Over Keyword Density
Even many digital marketers still believe keyword density (the number of times your keyword appears in a piece of content) matters for SEO, and content publishing platforms like WordPress still come with tools that provide metrics and feedback about keyword density.
However, we already established that Google and other search engines updated their algorithms to discourage and penalize keyword stuffing. One of the ways they accomplished this was to design algorithms that looked for subtler clues about content relevancy and quality.
Today, search engine algorithms don’t worry about how often a given term appears in your content. They take a much broader picture of your website content that includes not only keywords but links, related terms, images, and other bits of contextual information.
That’s not to say keywords don’t matter. It’s still important to try and understand the terminology that your audience uses and will likely plug into a search engine so you can emphasize that terminology in your content (which is why keyword research is still important). But once you’ve identified your keywords and referenced them early in your content, don’t worry about dropping them into every paragraph at the expense of readability, variety, and flow. Just concentrate on writing a great piece of content that readers will find helpful and relevant.
Myth #4: Link Directories Provide a Quick and Easy Way to Boost Your Search Engine Rankings
Link directories are online catalogs of websites. They claim to help search users find the websites they’re looking for, and they exploded in popularity as search engines became the primary means for people to find content on the web. These directories promised webmasters fast and easy links that would boost their search engine rankings — for a price.
It’s not hard to see why Google didn’t take kindly to link directories. After all, Google’s engineers and algorithm designers work hard to connect users with the content they’re searching for, so giving them a search engine results page full of website directories basically amounts to an admission of defeat. And link directories aren’t great for search users, either. Do you really want to plug in a search term just so you can comb through directory listings to find the website you want?
Today, search engines have made every effort to cut out the middleman and make link directories obsolete except in certain niche fields. In fact, your site can even receive a penalty in search rankings for accumulating too many paid directory links.
Myth #5: Get a Guest Blogger for Every Day of the Week
Google likes to see that your website is continually publishing fresh content. Of course, constantly serving up new high-quality blog articles takes plenty of work and dedication, which is why many websites turn to contributions from guest bloggers to keep their blog fires burning and provide a steady source of links.
Unfortunately, as with so many other SEO tactics, shady marketers quickly found the most exploitative uses for guest blogging, clamped on like leeches, and started sucking. While there’s nothing wrong with guest blogging in principle, the practice got so out of control that marketers started submitting the same guest posts to hundreds of websites via mass emails. These websites often posted the content happily and without question, creating vast deserts of duplicate content.
Even though cookie-cutter, mass-produced guest blogs provide no SEO benefit today, there’s still a seedy cottage industry of marketers submitting guest blogs to any vaguely relevant website they can crawl. We get unsolicited email submissions for guest blogs every week at LaFleur, and we’ve yet to publish a single one.
So how do you determine which guest blogs are worthwhile? For starters, just ignore the unsolicited, automated emails you receive that offer you an already-finished piece of content for your blog. Most likely, this “guest author” is submitting the same piece of content to hundreds of websites, and there’s a good chance the content isn’t even original. Posting this type of pre-written content is more likely to get your website dinged for hosting duplicate content than to provide any sort of boost.
You can take a guest blog opportunity seriously if it comes from a respected peer or professional whose background and skillset puts them in a position to deliver relevant content to your readers. If a guest blogger has a CV that checks out, and if they come to you with an idea for a guest blog that they’re willing to flesh out or tweak in a collaborative process, these are much better signs than a promise of ready-made content from a typo-ridden email that has your website name and the title of one of your blog articles awkwardly pasted in.
Myth #6: To Every Keyword Variation, a Website Page
Another outdated tactic involves creating a separate page for every keyword variation you’re targeting. You can still see this on many older websites — often those for smaller local businesses who chose the wrong web partner at some point in the past and can’t afford to update.
For example, a record store suffering from this problem might have separate pages for used records, vintage records, used LPs, used 45s, used 7”s, classic LPs, and so forth. As you can imagine, this makes navigating the site a nightmare, but many business owners got fast-talked into sacrificing their site’s usability for the sake of increased search engine performance.
Unfortunately, business owners who got stuck with sites like this are now getting the worst of both worlds. Google has long since changed its algorithms to punish website structure like this, so sites that contain dozens of pages for separate keyword variations now appeal to neither users nor search bots.
If you’ve already got a website with an unruly structure containing dozens of redundant pages, it’s time to clean house. You need to merge the superfluous content into the smallest practical number of relevant pages and create 301 redirects for all the old pages you’ve deleted. Until you do so, you can expect your search engine performance to suffer.
Myth #7: Your URL Should Match Your Keywords, Not Your Brand Name
Like many other outdated SEO tactics on this list, exact-match domains (EMDs) had a hot moment in the sun some years ago, but now they shamble on as a zombie SEO practice that delivers no value but refuses to die.
An EMD is a domain name that matches the keywords you’re targeting rather than your business name. So, instead of choosing a straightforward domain name for Mike’s Banjo Repair in Chicago, like mikesbanjorepair.com, you’d choose a keyword like bestbanjorepairchicagoillinois.com.
For a while, these types of URLs delivered an outsized SEO boost, and websites that used them could find themselves ranking on page one for desired keywords in a matter of days. Before long, though, Google updated their algorithms to account for this practice (are you sensing a pattern yet?), and today exact-match domains provide zero SEO benefit. In fact, they may discourage traffic to your website since they make it harder for visitors to remember your site’s URL and generally make your site look a bit sketchy to users.
The only reason to use a keyword-based domain is if your business’ name isn’t available as a domain name in any reasonably close variation and you need to think outside the box. You also might want a keyword-driven domain if your business has an unusual or difficult-to-spell name that users might struggle to type correctly as a URL. Otherwise, stick with a domain that matches your brand name.
Myth #8: High-Quality Content Is All That Matters
Say what? Regular readers of our blog might find this one surprising since we constantly emphasize the importance of high-quality, relevant content for SEO and for digital marketing in general. But search engine algorithms today are more sophisticated than ever, and they take a highly holistic view of your website.
More than ever, search users want options for how they consume their content, and many of them prefer visual content such as videos and infographics. And relatively few users read more than the first few lines of a piece of content, so if the structure and visual appearance of your website don’t invite them to stay and poke around, you’ll see a sky-high bounce rate (the percentage of users who quickly leave a page after arriving), which many SEO experts believe can harm your search engine rankings performance (and will certainly hamper your conversion rates).
So, you can pour your soul into lovingly-crafted blog articles twice a week, but if you’re serving them up on a slow-loading website with clunky navigation that receives few if any links and contains few images or videos, don’t expect great SEO results.
Still Need Help? Contact the Certified SEO Specialists at LaFleur
At LaFleur, we trade in straight talk and solutions that work, not jargon and shell games based on a client’s inexperience in a given area of digital marketing. We’re always happy to explain the concepts and strategies behind SEO and other digital marketing strategies in plain English so you know what you’re paying for and why.
If SEO still feels like a mystery because of poor website performance or a lack of transparency from your current marketing partner, call us today at 888-222-1512 or fill out our convenient contact form. We’d love to chat about what you need and how we can help.
Kim, L. (2016, June 9). Do website engagement rates impact organic rankings? Moz. Retrieved from https://moz.com/blog/do-website-engagement-rates-impact-organic-rankings
Shepard, C. (2015, March 9). 10 SEO myths that friggin’ tick me off. Moz. Retrieved from https://moz.com/blog/seo-myths