SEO Myths 27 Experts Say to Stop Buying

Posted Wednesday, June 11th, 2014 in Search Engine Optimization by .

expert only

I know what you're thinking. "Really? Another SEO myths post?"

Here's why this post matters.

After doing some digging, I realized that while there are tons of posts about SEO myths, nobody has ever put together a collection of SEO myths shared by a list of industry experts.

Weird, right?

I dug and dug through the Google search results, and I couldn't find a single post like this.

So, I figured I better get started on that. I emailed top experts in the SEO industry, and I asked them what they thought the biggest myth was. Below, you'll hear from experts like Barry Schwartz, Rand Fishkin, and companies like Raven Tools, Screaming Frog, and Conductor, and many other professionals I have loads of respect for.

I couldn't be happier with the results. This ended up being anything but another generic "avoid these SEO myths you already know about" post. While a few of the answers are well known, they're important enough to deserve the repetition.

The rest aren't so obvious.

Also, to make things a bit different from the usual "list of expert responses" post, I've also added by own thoughts after each expert's contribution.

Let's dive in.

 

Barry Schwartz

Barry Schwartz

The biggest myth I see is that ads impact organic rankings.

Barry Schwartz is the founder of Search Engine Roundtable, the CEO of RustyBrick, and the News Editor at Search Engine Land. You can follow him at @rustybrick.

My thoughts: While this myth isn't common among actual SEO professionals, there are a striking number of people outside the industry who think people pay for placement in the search results. There are also a lot of people who think Google actually sells your personal information to advertisers. These are both wrong, in case you were wondering.

 

Rand Fishkin

Rand Fishkin

Hi Carter - I think one of the biggest myths in SEO is that we can do "just SEO" and expect to achieve great results. Once upon a time, this was true. SEOs could maintain a narrow set of tasks - keyword research, content optimization, link building, site audits, etc - and get the rankings and traffic they were after. But today, SEO is deeply wedded to usability and user experience, social media, public relations, community building, email, and even advertising. All of these channels benefit from working together, and none more so than SEO.

Hopefully, as we advance as an industry, we'll come to see SEO in a more holistic light, and help that knowledge spread to others, too.

Rand Fishkin is the co-founder of Moz, ArtOfSEO, and Inbound.org. You can follow him at @randfish.

My thoughts: As a strategist, I agree with Rand. From a purely technical standpoint, however, it's worth noting that spammers can and still do occasionally show up in competitive search results doing "just SEO," although the kind of SEO we're talking about is something I wouldn't recommend getting involved with, especially if you want your rankings to last.

 

Matt Siltala

Matt Siltala

"Just create good content and you will rank" We hear that line over and over on blogs and even during industry conferences. There is so much more to "SEO" and "ranking" then having good content. These days its not about ONE piece of the marketing puzzle, it is about putting ALL those pieces of the marketing puzzle together that helps your site succeed.

Matt Siltala is the President of Avalaunch Media. You can follow him at @Matt_Siltala.

My thoughts: I would add that "content" as it's currently conceived isn't even necessary for good, "white hat" SEO to be successful. I wrote in depth about this in "The Cult of Content." The central point is this: many of the most successful sites on the web are not content sites.

 

Julie Joyce

Julie Joyce

I think that the biggest myth in SEO is that links aren't safe and good unless they're editorially given. I've seen plenty of dangerous links that were given editorially and I've seen plenty of amazing links that were purchased. If links that violate Google's guidelines can survive a hand review, they're good links in my opinion.

Julie Joyce is co-owner of Link Fish Media, and co-founder of SEO Chicks. You can follow her at @JulieJoyce.

My thoughts: It should go without saying that I don't recommend buying followed links. However, as far as the algorithm is concerned, Julie is 100% correct. There's a difference between what Google's guidelines say and what Google's algorithms and employees are capable of. It's important to be aware of that difference. For the record, my position is that a link isn't worth building unless you would build it even if you knew for a fact that Google would ignore it. But that's a strategic position. It's not 100 percent motivated by SEO.

 

David Wallace

David Wallace

I feel one of the biggest SEO myths is that everything Google (i.e., Matt Cutts) tells us is the Gospel truth. Matt Cutts is very good at being "politically correct" and spreading F.U.D. (fear, uncertainty & doubt). Therefore while yes, it is in a site's best interests to follow Google guidelines so as to avoid a penalty, one shouldn't stress too much over all the little details that Cutts puts out. In my opinion, one of the reasons why Google works so hard at "trying educate SEOs and webmasters about spam" is that they still are not 100% able to combat it effectively and it is a whole lot easier to scare everyone into submission than to build an algorithm to combat a particular practice they don't like. In light of this, I feel that everything Cutts puts out as advice and warnings should be taken with a grain of salt.

For example, if we took everything he put out literally, we would never try to obtain an inbound link by any "manual effort," we would never allow anyone to contribute to our blogs (guest blogging), we'd be afraid to share things socially with the intent of getting others to share as well, and we'd be afraid to put out any new content in fear that "Google might not like it." We as marketers must remember that "marketing is war." So Google is not necessarily our friend, although many of us indirectly make a living because Google exists. The old adage comes to mind, "Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."

David Wallace is co-founder and CEO of SearchRank. You can follow him at @DavidWallace.

My thoughts: My position isn't much different from David's. As far as I'm concerned, the real question you need to ask yourself is how much sense your SEO strategies make if you take the non-SEO perspective. If your strategy works outside of SEO, there's no harm using it as an SEO tactic. If the tactic relies 100 percent on search traffic, that's not necessarily a red flag either, but you need to be aware of the fact that it's never guaranteed, and is probably temporary. If the tactic actually hurts your branding in exchange for search traffic, on the other hand, don't do it.

 

Alan Bleiweiss

Alan Bleiweiss

The biggest myth in SEO? Over-reliance on the power individual signals have.

They used to religiously say “let us figure it out”. Over time, they’ve added more and more ways to say “this is what my site is about”. Yet unless you know precisely what you’re doing, even playing with those additional signals (schema, canonical tags, noindex instructions, GWT parameter instructions…) will just make a site more of a mess, and Google will screw it up even worse than had you not used them at all.

Great example - in one of the most recent site audits I performed, Google incorrectly indexed URLs and incorrectly failed to index other URLs the site was communicating as important based on Canonical tags.

They simply ignored most of the canonical tags across tens of thousands of URLs, and instead, seemingly randomly chose to index a high percentage of URLs that have more than a few variations of several faceted navigation filters in the URL string - and each variation where they chose to index thousands or hundreds of URLs, they failed to index many others.

So don’t assume that just because Google allows us to send a particular signal that their system is going to understand, let alone respect that signal. And if you don’t know what you’re doing at the highest level, don’t mess with things like Webmaster Tools parameter entries, let alone any of the many other “advanced” directive or “hint" resources.

Alan Bleiweiss is in charge of Alan Bleiweiss Consulting. You can follow him at @AlanBleiweiss.

My thoughts: This is my opportunity to add that too many SEOs rely excessively on links because they believe that they are the "most important" ranking factor. (Although for some the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction.) SEOs are an important ranking factor. But, oftentimes, a site can grow its search traffic a lot faster by simply increasing the number of pages on the site to target a larger variety of search queries. It's a case by case thing. Sometimes links are priority number one for a site. Sometimes other signals matter a lot more. It's not as though SERPs are organized neatly by domain or page authority.

 

Annie Cushing

Annie Cushing

I think the biggest myth I've seen is that a site needs to have a flat architecture (i.e., everything in the root folder). This makes for a bad user experience, bad architecture, and poor topical focus.

Annie Cushing is in charge of Annielytics. You can follower her at @AnnieCushing.

My thoughts: Rather than dumping all of your links on the home page, or burying your pages in micro-categories, I would say that the ideal site hierarchy has just enough categories to maximize the flow of internal traffic to your pages. Too many links on the front page means analysis paralysis. Too many deep links means users can get burnt out. Roughly seven options (max) is a good number for navigation, for psychological reasons. Only your most competitive pages need a link directly from the home page for SEO.

 

Adam Sherk

Adam Sherk

I primarily work with publishers, so I'll address a common myth among editorial teams: adding lots of keyword tags to an article or blog post helps it to rank well for all of those terms.

I'm not saying that keyword tags have no SEO value. The tag links facilitate crawler discovery and internal link support for deeper content and can help to organize a site into topical silos. In the CMS the tags may be tied into other elements like the Google News keywords tag, and they often have backend uses that are not related to external search.

So limited-scale, appropriate use of keyword tagging makes sense. It's the full-on "tag-o-rama" that some sites employ that is not doing them much good. And in the extreme it can even be harmful; adding tens of thousands of low-value pages with minimal or overlapping content can be detrimental in several ways.

I think it all dates back to the early days of blog search when tagging was an important part of gaining visibility on sites like Technorati. As things shifted to the main search engines this just didn't matter much anymore, but the practice has persisted and even grown.

So I try to encourage editorial teams to establish a smart, conservative policy when it comes to tagging.

Adam Sherk is in charge of AdamSherk.com, and acts as VP of SEO and Social Media at Define Media Group. You can follow him at @adamsherk.

My thoughts: This goes along well with Annie Cushing's advice on avoiding a flat site hierarchy.  My response here is similar. If you have much more than seven keyword tags you're probably not doing it for navigational reasons, and what you're doing isn't helping your SEO either.

 

Aaron Bradley

Aaron Bradley

The biggest myth in the SEO industry is that search engine marketers rely too much on search engine rankings as a success metric. This mythical assertion is invariably used as a segue to explain why rankings are an unreliable and wrong-headed metric by which to judge the success of your SEO efforts.

This affords the blogger or speaker the opportunity to list the many metrics he or she considers more important than search engine rankings, like traffic from organic search, or search-assisted conversions. A heap of laudatory comments or deafening applause follows. Thank heavens somebody has finally told it like it is - rankings suck!

The truth is no professional search marketer of any consequence has used rankings as their primary metric for a very long time. It's a myth perpetuated explicitly for the purpose of debunking the importance of rankings: in other words, a myth (rankings are overrated by SEOs) used to bust what's framed as a myth (rankings are a valuable metric) that isn't a myth (rankings are actually a valuable metric). Ay, caramba!

Aaron Bradley is the independent search marketing consultant in charge of SEOskeptic.com. You can follow him at @aaranged.

My thoughts: This Inception-level myth is an interesting one for sure. It's true that SEOs used to rely too heavily on rankings as a metric, but the industry has moved past that. However, I think it's important to add that a lot of potential clients still think SEO is all about rankings, and this is probably why this gets brought up so often. Another thing I would add is that some SEOs should probably spend more time looking at rankings, especially all those obscure queries that send virtually no traffic. How those rankings behave tells you something about what Google thinks of your site, even if they don't immediately impact your bottom line.

 

Jon Rognerud

Jon Rognerud

SEO Myths:

1. Apply the H1 tag on pages and you'll rank

2. Create an XML sitemap and submit to Google Webmaster and you'll rank

3. Create fresh content often and you'll rank

4. Run Adwords and you'll rank in SEO

5. Link building will make you rank (only if done with quality, relevancy and engagement in mind) ;-)

6. Keyword density is important

Jon Rognerud is the online marketing consultant and trainer behind JonRognerud.com. You can follow him at @jonrognerud.

My thoughts: Most of these can help your SEO (not Adwords or keyword density), but those who think that they are the key to successful SEO have a strong case of myopia. Most of these have only limited impact in isolation. Yes, that includes link building and fresh content.

 

Kenny Hyder

Kenny Hyder

I would say the biggest myth in SEO is that SEO is about ranking sites.

When I first started in the industry (circa 2005) it was, and it was simple - do you know the tricks that make a website pop up in Google? But since those days are long gone, I and many of my colleagues have grown to become efficient marketers, not just SEOs. The same way keyword stuffing doesn't work in Google anymore, neither does thinking simply about the ways to make a website rank. For SEO to be effective, you must have a complete understanding of how all of the pieces fit together in context of the brand you're working with. Yes, we still do want to have our websites rank well - but it's being able to integrate organic search into the marketing mix that makes it work.

Kenny Hyder is in charge of Hyder Media. You can follow him at @kennyhyder.

My thoughts: Does this contradict what Aaron Bradley said? I don't think it does. I actually think Kenny is saying pretty much the same thing. SEOs have moved on, but a lot of potential clients still seem to think SEO is just about rankings.

 

Chris Silver Smith

Chris Silver Smith

What's the biggest myth in the SEO industry? I think it's a persistent one that's been around a while -- that "SEO is dead." or, "SEO is dying." I probably contributed to this some by predicting back in 2006 that SEO would eventually be eclipsed by user-centered design. I feel a little bit vindicated about that prediction, because many search engine marketers have moved from working on short term technical tricks to focusing more on quality and content-building. The recent years of Panda and Penguin updates have certainly impacted some of the organic strategies people have been using, and in that sense less-sustainable approaches probably have moved into the "endangered animals" lists or have become outright extinct. But, this realistically means that only the agencies that can't evolve from less-sophisticated methods are at risk. The likelihood is that organic ranking experts will continue to evolve more into usability and user-experience proponents, as well as content development advocates.

Chris Silver Smith is CEO of Argent Media. He's also in charge of Silvery.com with it's associated blog at Nodal Bits. You can follow him at @si1very.

My thoughts: Obviously, nobody who calls themselves an SEO believes that SEO is dead, but we do tend to hear this outcry from people outside the industry practically any time a Google employee sneezes. The truth is that SEO is very much alive, and while it tends to overlap with other disciplines more than just about anything else, I still believe it is also distinguishable from other aspects of digital marketing.

 

Nicolette V. Beard

Nicolette V. Beard

The biggest SEO myth is believing that linking out to other websites will hurt you. You alluded to this in your article for MarketingProfs. Linking out indiscriminately may hurt you, so you want to conduct thorough research on the linking destination before adding a link. And, of course, you can use Raven for that using Backlink Explorer. (shameless plug)

But, remember, links also represent content and provide your user context. When in doubt, ask yourself this question: Will this link help inform or inspire my visitors?

Nicolette V. Beard is Sr. Digital Marketing Specialist at Raven Tools. You can follow her at @RavenNickiB, and you can also follow @RavenTools.

My thoughts: I believe this myth harks back to the very old idea of "link juice," and even then it was a misconception. While it may be true in some circumstances that a link from a page filled with outbound links won't necessarily be as valuable as a link from a page with just a few links, I doubt this is a hard and fast rule. It's certainly not true that those outbound links are somehow going to "bleed your link juice" and hurt your rankings. The only reason not to link out is if it looks really suspicious, or if you're concerned it's going to send users away from your site.

 

Dan Sharp

Dan Sharp

Due to the opaque nature of algorithms, SEO and Google there will always be some myths in this industry. While I am not sure this is the biggest myth, certainly one would be the extent at which social signals play a role within scoring in the search engines.

Social signals alone won’t drive rankings in the search engines for competitive queries, whereas still see quite the opposite for links. I believe the role they play right now is still pretty small. Obviously a social media strategy is still really important when reaching your audience, engaging with them and sharing your content or message etc. But just don’t expect all those likes, shares +1’s to equal great rankings. Like most, I do believe will play a larger role in the future, but I think the search engines are still in their infancy right now using this as a signal.

Dan Sharp is Founder and Director of Screaming Frog (which I use pretty much everyday). You can follow him at @screamingfrog.

My thoughts:  This myth absolutely drives me nuts and I've ranted about it in the past. I've even argued that there are a few reasons to expect social signals never to become a direct ranking factor. The future might prove me wrong on that one, but without a doubt, social signals don't impact rankings as things stand. They're also terrible as a platform for audience retention. Use them for referrals. That's what they're good for.

 

Dave Cooper Peiris

David Cooper Peiris

I think one of the biggest myths in SEO is the idea that you just need to create great content in order to build links and rank well. There are thousands of blog posts out there about how “content is king” and there seems to be an idea that if you build it, they will come, but unfortunately this isn’t the case. This is especially true for small businesses. When you’ve got a large audience who are willing to promote things for you, then the interesting things you write or build will have a better chance of taking off easily, but for most clients you need to dedicate a large portion of your time to promoting the content that you’ve created. In many cases, it takes more time to effectively promote the content than it does to actually create the content in the first place - and so if you only do one, you’re only doing half a job.

Another myth that we have in SEO - or at least, I’d say, a flaw in the way many of us think - is that it’s all about rankings and traffic, when really it’s about the revenue that we make for clients. Seeing ranking positions for keywords moving upwards shouldn’t be our metric for success - for most clients, it should be seeing an increase in the revenue that we drive for them.

David Cooper Peiris is behind the tool SubmarineCRM, is a search marketing specialist at SharkSEO, and is the one who built Hackerbuddy. You can follow him at @SharkSEO.

My Thoughts: As I said earlier, I completely agree that there's more to SEO than great content, and in fact, that totally "white hat" SEO doesn't even need content as we currently define it in order to be successful. On David's second point, now are we seeing a contradiction with what Aaron Bradley said? Maybe. However, I think it's important that David isn't just talking about rankings, he's talking about rankings and traffic being used excessively, and he specifically mentions revenue. While it's true that the majority of SEO professionals no longer use rankings as their primary metric, I still believe the industry could be more revenue-conscious. (The hard part is getting that information from clients.)

 

Dan Shure

Dan Shure

I think the biggest myth (or misconception really) is the strong association between "Panda" and "duplicate content". The two terms are almost always used in conjunction or even in substitution for one another. But this is dangerous in my opinion.

At the very beginning, there was some talk about "duplicate content" as a factor of low quality content, but it's been taken way too far. The Panda algorithm is about way more than just the same text appearing in two different places. Especially now that the algo has evolved so much.

These automatic cognitive associations are fascinating to me. It's almost like Google (or someone?) trained us to make this association, but it's very limiting to think of Panda as only (or almost exclusively) duplicate content. I want to disclaim, I don't find many SEO specialists specifically making this error, but a ton of clients or general web marketing practitioners do it. It's a trap I'd recommend being aware of, and avoiding.

Dan Shure is Owner and Consultant at evolvingSEO. You can follow him at @dan_shure.

My thoughts:  I'd add that duplicate content as a whole isn't as big a threat as it's often made out to be. If you have a ton of links from external pages and all of them have the same content, yes, that's something to be concerned about. If you have a bunch of pages on your own site with duplicate content, penalties aren't your primary concern. The main issue is that Google may only place one of those pages in their main index. If those pages are actually meant to attract different kinds of users or target different kinds of queries, that's a problem.

 

Adele Coelho

Adele Coelho

It's NOT true that if you build it (content), they will come. You need to target your audience with relevant content, measure how they engage with your content, constantly refine your content process.

Adele Coelho is Senior Marketing Manager at Conductor. You can follow the company at @Conductor.

My thoughts: I'm glad this point keeps getting brought up, because it deserves repetition. No practicing SEO actually believes this myth, but tons of people outside the industry do.

 

Joe Williams

Joe Williams

As a seasoned SEO trainer I hear lots of SEO myths. Popular ones include Meta Keyword tags still being important and that you'll rank higher on Google if you spend big on AdWords. Not true, not true! But the one which bothers me the most is the assumption that getting a shiny new web design is a dead cert to boosting SEO.

Sure it can help if it's fixing SEO issues. But...

...the reality is it's likely to hurt your SEO a little in the short term even when the proper precautions are taken. You'll likely see a wobble in traffic for the first few weeks and when these precautions aren't taken it can have DISASTROUS affects. Think 25%+ loss in your site's SEO reputation and the same for organic traffic. Not what you want when you've forked hundreds or thousands on a lovely looking site!

The less SEO savvy website owner often isn't prepared and will rush a new web design makeover and forget the necessary precautionary steps to maintain SEO success.

Joe Williams is an SEO trainer and blogger at Zen Optimise. You can follow him at @zenoptimise.

My thoughts: The sad truth is that many web designers are ignorant of SEO, and the new HTML5 guidelines have made the problem worse. Redesigns can lead to issues like all of the pages on the site having the same title, H1 tags in the navigation and sidebar, and so on. These can seriously confuse Google. Remember that the search engine doesn't even necessarily follow directives properly. Counting on it to understand the point of the page without proper coding is putting too much faith in the algorithm.

 

David Brown

David Brown

Great question Carter. I could probably do an entire piece on SEO myths, but for the sake of brevity I'll say "SEO is all you need". I often times run across SEO newbie's saying that they have read, really all they need is to 'SEO' the site and they should be ranking. SEO is merely one part of a recipe. I can drive traffic to any site, but traffic, moreover qualified traffic doesn't just derive from 'SEO'. I know I run the risk of sounding like a broken record; however strong, relevant content, contributor outreach, quality design / UI (responsive), embracing new tech (Schema/RDFa), understanding your target demographic and getting inside their heads is "all that you need."

David Brown is President of Matrix Marketing (Neo1SEO.com). You can follow him at @neoblog.

My thoughts: While Rand Fishkin already touched on this, I have another thought to add here. Relying exclusively on the peculiarities of a search engine monopoly's algorithm is a bad business model. To be smart, you need to hedge your bets.

 

arnie kuenn headshot 2

Arnie Kuenn

Right now I think the biggest myth in SEO is around the value of social mentions assisting in rankings or SEO. I know of well respected people in our industry quoting such figures as “30% of the Google algorithm is now based on social signals”, which is ridiculous. Various people on the Google team keep trying to dispel those myths at conferences and online. I don’t know if the content and social media experts wish it were true or are just uninformed, but I have heard these myths being perpetuated in just the last 30 days.

What we continue to see holding websites back is not the lack of social signals, it is unintentional duplicate content (and tags and meta), bad site structure, and bad backlink profiles. Often clients come to us for content marketing, but when we do a site audit we find all sorts of basic SEO issues that need to be fixed first. Oh and solid backlinks still matter – a lot.

Arnie Kuenn is CEO of Vertical Measures. You can follow him at @ArnieK.

My thoughts: I said it before and I'll say it again. Kill this myth, please.

 

debra mastaler

Debra Mastaler

My answer revolves around one issue, links using the rel=”nofollow” attribute.

First, the idea links using the rel=”nofollow” attribute are worthless is a myth, it's also a myth they don't impart some value to the page being linked to. Keep in mind what the nofollow attribute is supposed to do; block the flow of link quality and the ranking support anchor text provides. The link still works even with the attribute added so the link can still be counted and factored into traffic and usability equations.

There is no rule or search engine guideline that says you need a certain percentage of nofollow links in your back link profile. I think it is silly to assign a blanket percentage given the range and complexity of websites online, I would avoid this advice and any footprint a percentage may leave and just work to get links from good pages frequented by your demographic.

And finally, there is no such thing as a “dofollow” link, they are a myth. :)

The term “dofollow” is generally used to describe a regular link or one not using a rel=”nofollow” attribute. Saying “dofollow” in a “nofollow” conversation suggests there is a “dofollow” attribute which there isn’t.

Debra Mastaler owns and manages Link Spiel. You can follow her at @debramastaler.

My thoughts: I'd add that nofollow links may actually help your SEO. While they clearly don't influence the PageRank algorithm, they produce behavioral data. Amit Singhal's vague "we've also incorporated new user feedback signals" back in 2011 doesn't tell us much, but it does tell us that Google is using behavioral data to rank sites. In fact, ex-Googlers have confirmed that Google can track every click in Chrome. While I wouldn't overestimate how smart Google is at interpreting this behavioral data, we know it has some influence.

 

Dave DavisDave Davis

Dave Davis

In my opinion, the biggest myth in SEO is two fold. The first is that many believe that all that's needed to rank for a given keyword is a bunch of low quality anchor text links from dodgy sources. This certainly used to be the case but over the past 4-5 years, this has become a myth that has caused a lot of pain and hardship. As Google understands context and quality of a link more and more, there is less value in going out and "manually building links" than there used to be. All that effort is now much more worth while if you spend it on creating something of value that others will link to naturally.

Our clients who've had the biggest success were those who imagined that Google was a real person, was one of their customers and was monitoring them. They created content and resources for that person specifically. They forgot about links and spent their time improving their value to the customer. The links flowed in. There's so much old information on the web that those new to SEO find it difficult to decipher what works and what will get you into trouble these days. Google has won the war on search engine spam. It's time to do what they've been preaching all along. Focus on the customer. Eventually, when you deserve them, the links will come.

Dave Davis is Managing Director at Redfly Marketing. You can follow them at @Redfly.

My thoughts: This is another one of those myths that few practicing SEOs actually believe, but that many outsiders still fall for. However, I would add that, as others have said, the links aren't just going to flow in on their own, no matter how good the content is. You need to promote it. It's just important to promote it the way a genuine marketer would.

 

gianluca fiorelli

Gianluca Fiorelli

I think that our SEO industry has a very big and articulated mythology.

Some myths from the beginning are still here and pop up in blog posts or even in new tool descriptions. I'm thinking of what maybe is the most mythical myth of all SEO history: keyword density.

The keyword density myth is a terrific example of how one false thing repeated over and over can become a solid truth. So, I'd consider the keyword density myth the biggest one for its outstanding longevity.

Another classic myth of SEO is the one affirming that Adwords/Adsense influence organic rankings, when no study proved it. Well, we could say that Google favors Adwords so much in SERPs that it is pushing below the fold organic snippets, but that's not what the myth is about.

The Adsense/Adwords direct influence on rankings could win for the most tin-foil hat myth of SEO.

But the SEO mythology, as any other more serious one, evolves with time. That means that there are fresher myths that are the consistent reflection of the same SEO evolution.

Let me cite just two examples:

1) Social Shares have a direct effect of rankings. This myth was originated by the trivial ignorance of whoever invented it first and of all the others who still spread it. Ignorance in not being able to understand that correlation is not causation, and so perverting what serious ranking factors studies like the ones from Moz and Searchmetrics say.

2) If you implement structured data then your site has been optimized for Semantic Search and your rankings will have a boost. Reducing Semantic Search to Schema.org is like saying that if you attach four wheels to a tree trunk than you have a car.

Let's see what others myth we will be able to invent in the future.

Gianluca Fiorelli is in charge of ILoveSEO.net. You can follow him at @gfiorelli1.

My thoughts: I don't have much to add here; Gianluca's been pretty comprehensive. Suffice it to say, I'm glad he brought up the conflation of semantic search and Schema.org.

 

Aleyda Solis

Aleyda Solis

That "all" tactics that have been "penalized" by Google at some point are meant to be completely avoided and "harmful": From infographics to guest blogging. Crappy, non-relevant infographics or guest blogs with the only purpose of creating links without any added value, are not recommended and are really a waste of time and resources; but relevant, attractive, infographics, guest blogs, or any form or content that is meant to drive value, communicate, answer a need and connect with your audience is and will always be a valid approach to earn your users attention and endorsements.... it has been before Google and it will continue to be after Google; it's beyond the medium.

Aleyda Solis is founder of Orianti and blogs at AleydaSolis.com. You can follow her at @aleyda.

My thoughts: Aleyda tells it like it is. Google can take the SEO value out of an SEO tactic. It can't take the marketing value out of a marketing tactic.

 

Barry Adams

Barry Adams

The myth in SEO that grinds my gears the most is this new mantra that seems to have taken over the entire digital marketing community: 'build a brand'.

Yes I will admit that investing in a strong brand has all kinds of positive long term effects, but on its own it's a pretty useless statement. It overlooks a lot of the detail that needs to go in to effective SEO these days, especially on the technical side of things.

And most of all, building a brand has little value when Google decides it wants to take over your specific niche - as we see now in the UK in the insurance comparison sector, where Google inserts its own service in search results even when people are typing in branded search queries.

Yes, by all means build your brand. But if that's the sole guiding principle of your SEO efforts, you're not going to get very far.

Barry Adams is founder of Polemic Digital. You can follow him at @badams.

My thoughts: This myth is hilarious to me. I think it got started because, for a while, many SEOs were completely ignorant of branding. There was a movement in the industry to rediscover traditional marketing tactics and how they can help benefit your SEO. This movement was certainly necessary. Nowadays, though, "build a brand" is pointless as SEO. Businesses already know they need to build a brand, and most of them have been doing it for quite a while before they ever talk to an SEO agency. Tell them they just need to build a brand and they'll show up in the search results and they will laugh in your face. They have a brand. They're contacting you for the search visibility.

 

Dustin Verburg

Dustin Verburg

"We’re All Heartless Manipulators"

I know I’m probably taking this in a different direction than most folks in this article, but this is the SEO myth that bugs me the most.

In addition to my internet marketing work, I also write for some print and digital music magazines. I often see tweets, blog posts and Facebook statuses from some of my peers decrying SEO. It’s not rare to see a tweet saying “SEO should be illegal” when some crappy clickbait site posts a misleading title or, even worse, posts a really insensitive title after something tragic happens in order to gain a few clicks. These tactics work REALLY well, of course. It’s sickening. 

It also goes deeper—some of my peers have their titles changed from something relevant to something totally inane to gain some more clicks and that weighs on them, too. Freelance journalists and music writers usually hate the SEO intense model that certain big sites use for titles and the articles themselves and think that model values manipulation over good content. And it does. 

We’re not all like that, though. Most of my peers in the SEO industry are just trying to help out small-to-mid-level businesses gain some visibility. They write great web copy and optimize the more technical, on-page stuff to give those businesses a fighting chance in the SERPs. They do good work and that marketing boost helps those smaller sites compete in the big, scary world of the internet.

There are some sketchy-ass manipulators out there in the SEO industry, sure—but I’d wager that most of the actual scumsucking clickbait people don’t work in SEO proper. They’re editors and number crunchers trying to squeeze more dollars out of advertisers.

It’s weird being caught between these two different worlds, but I can safely say that most people I know in the SEO industry are thoughtful, ethical people who provide a good service and I respect the hell out of them.

Dustin Verburg is Creative Director and Community Manager at Linkarati. You can follow him at @DustinVerburg.

My thoughts: This opinion is common about marketers and marketing in general, of course, as well. As with general marketing, SEO is only noticeable to the average consumer when it's really bad. 

 

Dustin Woodard

Dustin Woodard

The biggest & oldest SEO myth is that you need to submit your website to search engines. All it takes is a single link from another website and the crawlers will find your site. If you can't manage to a get a link, then maybe your site doesn't deserve to be in the index anyways. Steer clear of any SEO firm or software that charges for "submitting your site."

Dustin Woodard is in charge of SEO Naturale. You can follow him at @webconnoisseur.

My thoughts: While this is an obvious myth to us in the industry, it seems to have lasted forever outside of it.

 

What SEO myths drive you nuts? Let's hear them in the comments.

Image credit: Ruth Hartnup

Carter Bowles


Carter Bowles is a strategist who leverages his technical knowledge of statistics (which he holds a bachelor's degree in) and his years of experience with SEO and content marketing to organize comprehensive marketing strategies.

  • http://www.addthree.com/ Miles Rossow

    I normally loathe "SEO Myths" articles, but you managed to make it engaging. I especially appreciated your thoughts after each point.

    One thing this drove home for me is that I definitely need to work on my "pitch" for convincing clients to consider SEO as an integral part of the decision making process for broader marketing initiatives. Rand said it best: "SEO is deeply wedded to usability and user experience, social media, public relations, community building, email, and even advertising. All of these channels benefit from working together, and none more so than SEO." In fact, I think this is the perfect topic for me to tackle next! :)

    • Carter Bowles

      Thanks Miles. Yeah, there are the "SEOs" who think SEO is all there is, and there are the "SEOs" who think that if you're a good marketer Google will take care of the rest. The truth is straight down the middle.

  • http://www.laurentbourrelly.com/blog/ LaurentB

    Well there is a great list (25 items) made by French SEO for a talk we did earlier this year.
    However, you are right it's not published online.

    • Carter Bowles

      Had me worried I missed something for a second there.

  • http://www.slmkt.com/ Nicolette Beard

    Outstanding roundup Carter and, I agree, a cut above the usual SEO blah blah. It is amazing how long many of these myths have been around. My hope is that this will be shared far and wide so that unsuspecting website owners will know who and what to stay clear of. Thanks for including me!

    • Carter Bowles

      No problem Nicolette. It would be awesome if this post could put an end to these myths, but let's be honest with ourselves. Myths die hard ;)

  • MDS

    You talk about how rankings aren't important, but other factors are. However, you ignore the obvious. If you don't rank (and rank highly) nothing else will happen as you won't be visible. Now, maybe you don't rely on search engines to bring traffic to your business. Good for you... then perhaps you don't need a website either. However, if you are strictly a web based business, then rankings are EVERYTHING because without them, you effectively don't exist.

    • http://www.northcutt.com/ Corey Northcutt

      Are you responding to a particular expert's response? A lot of people talk about a lot of things in this post.

      • MDS

        I agree with everything in the post, except the notion that rankings aren't important. I agree that it's not enough to rank, that you need to convert well, and reach the right audience. But if your business is a virtual business, and relies on search engine visibility to reach new potential customers/users, then the first thing that matters is rankings. If you don't rank, you won't have any customers, and the rest (ROI, conversions, user experience, content) is moot.

        • http://www.northcutt.com/ Corey Northcutt

          Did someone not agree with that notion?

          • MDS

            Read what Aaron Bradley wrote. I agree with the notion that rankings aren't everything, but not with the notion that rankings don't matter, which is essentially what he's saying.

          • MDS

            If I'm following what he's saying...

          • http://www.northcutt.com/ Corey Northcutt

            Aha. I think he's saying that total organic traffic, or better yet, organic revenue are better success metrics than a particular keyword's rankings. Really, you usually want to rank page 1 for thousands of keyword variations (many much "deeper in the funnel" than the most obvious short-tail target), which usually does more for the business than focusing on one or two 1-2 word terms. The latter is a common perspective that clients show up with and if they can't get off it, it's pretty much assured failure.

            Saying "rankings suck" could probably be put more eloquently though; I can see why you might take issue with that alone. :)

          • Carter Bowles

            I don't think you're following what Aaron Bradley is saying, MDS. He is arguing that "SEOs should move beyond rankings" is a myth, because SEOs already HAVE moved beyond rankings as a primary metric. As you can see from my response to his contribution, I too believe that rankings are AN important metric, and I'm sure Aaron would agree.

  • http://www.spydertrap.com/ Spyder Trap

    One of the largest myths to date is simply implied value of high organic rankings on specific keyword-retrieved SERPs. It's not always as it used to be, because the data isn't often publicized, especially coupled with performance actions, it's hard to get a good grasp on this. It does seem as though Google has done a steady job of quietly converting organic-to-paid, built trust in paid lists and because of this, it's no longer safe to assume that large organic campaigns can warrant ROI for your spend. Of course, it's not true for all industries and site-types, but it's definitely a myth assuming that traditional organic listings are still (most) valuable. ~Brent Rangen


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