As Web marketers or online business owners are inundated daily with information about search engine optimization (SEO). One expert says one thing, another expert offers completely different facts. This leads to confusion about what really is going on in the SEO industry.
We have conducted comprehensive research to determine what really works and what does not. Read thoroughly these 50 SEO myths and stop being fooled by so-called “SEO experts” that simply create empty buzz. SEO was, is, and will continue to be a vital part of online marketing strategy, no matter what.
Myth 1: Only the No. 1 rank matters
There continues to be a strong emphasis placed on topping search results, whether on Google Search, other engines, or even in social media. But surveys have shown people quite often will scroll down through the page. Being on top of a second page, for example, can still generate traffic. Also, search ranking is only one part of the puzzle. Google now places other results on the page such as social recommendations and local results, which means there are many more avenues open to you. Being in first place is no longer as crucial as it once was.
Myth 2: You can do SEO with no outside help
Doing SEO simply means that you follow a set of techniques and procedures to increase the chance Web users will go to your site. While it is true that anybody can learn these techniques, SEO can be complex — it touches many areas such as online marketing, coding, technical aspects and PR skills. Most business owners simply do not have all the skills required to do a great job at SEO. That is why so many agencies exist that offer help. IT workers and online marketers need professional aid to get great results.
Myth 3: META tags are very important
It used to be that every page on your site needed META tags to rank well. Those are small pieces of code that gave Google a list of keywords and a description. The search engine used the tags to find out what your website is about. Now, however, those do not affect your ranking at all. Google and Bing no longer use META tags to index sites. However, they are not useless. For example, your description tag will be the text that often appears next to the link that shows up on the search result, so it’s still a useful piece of the action.
Myth 4: Keyword-rich domain names are ranked higher
Back in the dotcom days, it used to be that Google placed a lot of importance on domain name and, if you could get a name that had your keyword in it, you would gain a big advantage over other sites. This is why a lot of companies in the late ’90s bought domain names for a lot of money. But now, the indexing process only looks at the actual content of your pages, and not the domain name. That name is still important, because people still get to see it, but it will not make you rank higher.
Myth 5: You have to submit your site to Google or other search engines
All search engines used to have URL submission forms where you could send your site to Google and others. In fact, they still do, but that process is unnecessary. The crawlers that these engines use now are sophisticated enough that any new site will be found in a matter of days, if not hours. The only time you would need to submit your site is if it was not indexed automatically after a couple of days.
Myth 6: Submitting a sitemap will boost your rankings
Google offers a webmasters interface and, from there, you can submit a sitemap, which is an XML file containing links to every page on your site. Some site owners take the time to submit such a file every time they make a change, but that is not necessary. Submitting a sitemap does not change your rankings, all it does is add pages which may not have been indexed already. If your site is typical and has links to all of the pages, it will not be needed.
Myth 7: SEO has nothing to do with social media
Before the advent of Facebook and Twitter, SEO was the one and only technique to get organic traffic. Now that social media is everywhere, the line is quickly blurring between the two. While some marketers still consider SEO and social media to be different beasts, the truth is, they are very closely linked. For example, Google now places its own social network, Google+, into its search results. If you can get enough influential people to talk about your product and link to your site, then their recommendations will show up in any Google search result that their friends do. This clearly affects SEO. On the reverse side, Facebook has started going after search as well, by recently introducing their Open Graph engine, which searches based on friends and interests.
Myth 8: Google does not read CSS files
Myth 9: You need to update your home page all the time
Some people think that by consistently updating their home page content they will rank higher, or, by not updating it, their ranking will drop. That is rarely the case, because if you have a sales page that offers a product, then there would be no reason to update that page unless something about the product changes.
Myth 10: The H1 header has greater value than the rest of your text
The structure of your page is seen by Google and other engines, but you have to realize that many sites are structured differently. As such, no one specific tag has more value than another. An H1 tag is simply a header that corresponds to a CSS entry in order for the user to see your page a certain way. It does not make Google rank your page any differently if you use H2 tags instead, or if your keywords are mostly in the text and not in a specific CSS tag.
Myth 11: Linking to other highly ranked sites helps your ranking
Some sites try to link to many other high authority sites to help their rankings, but that does not help at all. Google uses PageRank to decide how your site will rank, and that algorithm is based on how useful your site is to others and, as such, it will only look at how many other people link to you. Whether you link back to them is of no importance. Otherwise, any site could raise to the top simply by linking to millions of sites.
Myth 12: Using automated SEO methods is always black-hat or spam
Many people use automated SEO methods that do not fall into the black-hat area. Many companies have very big sites and they use automated scripts to do a lot of the grunt work of SEO. Whether or not a method is black hat or spammy is based on what the result is, not on how automated it is.
Myth 13: PageRank is the only factor that matters
The algorithm that Google uses to rank sites is PageRank, which determines how useful a site is to others. But the result also takes indications from hundreds of other inputs as well, according to what Google says. Some of these inputs are easy to see, like having your site being recommended by others on Google+. This proves that PageRank is not all that matters. The company is staying tight-lipped on how many inputs there are, and how important each gets weighed, but it is clear that there is more going on than just PageRank. With that said, however, it is still widely believed that PageRank is the most important factor, and a PR1 page is always better than a PR3 one.
Myth 14: SEO is spam
Many people who don’t deal directly with SEO think it is spam. The truth is, SEO is used by every large company and brand out there. This term includes a large array of methods and techniques, and those techniques have to be done in order to rank well online. Some methods, however, can be spam —this is black-hat SEO. The problem is, many marketers resort to black-hat SEO and, as such, it has given a bad reputation to the word itself. To avoid bad SEO, follow the terms of services that Google, Bing and other search engines publish.
Myth 15: The title tag is hidden from search engines
Most of what Google sees on your site is the text that is visible to users, such as what appears on the screen and is rendered in a web browser. As such, it would be easy to think that the title is not picked up. However, your title is very important for SEO, because that is the text that appears on the link people will click on. Not only is Google using it to help your ranking, but people will see it as well when they go to click on your site.
Myth 16: Usability does not affect SEO
The whole point of SEO is to gain traffic. As such, SEO goes hand-in-hand with usability, because this is what will make a difference in if someone is on your site for long. If your site is hard to use or navigate, it is very easy for people to go to the next search result. Also, the search engines themselves will look at layout and usability. If your site is hard to navigate for viewers, it will be hard for the crawler as well, and having a bad usability can definitely affect your rankings.
Myth 17: The .edu and .gov backlinks are the best
It is true that most .edu and .gov sites are well ranked and have a high authority, because those are typically official sites that are well maintained and contain no spam. The simple fact that they have a domain, which ends with .gov or .edu does not help your ranking at all. If you have a backlink on one of these sites, it will only be as good if the site is authoritative. Posting a backlink on an obscure .edu site will not help you any more than posting it on an obscure blog.
Myth 18: SEO is based on the quantity of links a site has
Believing that the success of a SEO campaign is to have the most possible backlinks is misunderstanding how ranking works. Any ranking algorithm, whether it is Google, Bing, Facebook, etc will rank sites based on many different factors. To do successful SEO, you have to address all of these factors, and having a lot of links is just one small piece of the puzzle. Also, each link has its own quality value. Often, a single link from a popular news site talking about your product will be much more valuable than spamming hundreds of links to unknown blog sites.
Myth 19: Backlinks are more important than content
SEO usually costs time and money and, as such, it is unrealistic to think you can do everything possible in every facet of online marketing. So often you have to make choices, and some may be tempted to focus on link building instead of content. However, the goal of SEO is to bring good traffic to your site. Quality is very important, not only quantity. Not having good content means your site has no value and, as such, it will quickly lose any benefit that the extra links gave you. In fact, the most useful backlinks are usually not those you have direct access to. They are reviews from celebrities in your niche, news sites, and anyone who already is an authority talking about your product. By having good content, those links can actually come by themselves, simply through PR or word of mouth. But a bunch of backlinks on low authority blogs will not help you and the ranking you may get from them will not last long because those sites will clean up those links. Instead, focus on your audience and try to know who you are writing for. By producing good content you are helping your site long-term.
Myth 20: Paid links will get you banned from Google
There are many ways to get links, and some of them include some type of payment. Not all paid links are bad — it depends on how the payment occurs. For example, many sites, including Google, offer advertising services. You can buy an AdWords ad with Google or go to another ad network — many sites offer their own ad services. While some of them will not give you any ranking, others might, and those are completely legitimate. Paying a site that focuses on your niche to have a link in a strategic location will likely not get you banned, however, you have to remember there are methods that will. Buying low quality links in bulk is one of the best ways to get your site removed from the index.
Myth 21: Good content is all you need
Just like building an army of links will not help you keep traffic for very long, having good content and nothing else is also not enough. Most people agree that good content is the cornerstone of having a successful site. By having engaging, useful posts for your visitors, you can ensure they will want to visit your site often. However, even a very good site has to do some SEO to get traffic. Branding is incredibly important for any site, and getting your brand out there through SEO is the only way you will get eyes onto your content. Your articles and posts have to be paired with good incoming signals, and that includes doing a lot of the typical SEO methods that will give you a good rank in the search engines.
Myth 22: Google actively penalizes certain sites
Myth 23: Google AdWords will give you preferential treatment
AdWords is a very useful program by Google that allows you to place an ad on other sites to advertise your own. It should be part of any online marketing campaign. However, AdWords by itself does not help boost your rankings. Some think that because a company pays Google, it will receive preferential treatment in organic search, but that is not the case. On any typical search page, you can easily see that organic results are separated from paid advertisements. A PPC ad campaign will give you a ranking in the sense that it will allow you to be seen on the ads side of the page, but it does not affect your ranking on the organic side.
Myth 24: SEO is something done once only
A lot of sites make this mistake. When the site is new and it has just been created, the owners will invest in SEO, and then think the job is done for good. But, just like marketing in the real world, SEO is not something you can do only once — it is a continual process that must be done over a long period of time, often the entire life of the site. This is because the Web is not a written encyclopedia, it is a medium that changes constantly. New competitors appear, search engines change their algorithms, new opportunities for marketing appear, and links that used to be good can become stale and unimportant. By constantly keeping an eye on your SEO efforts, you can ensure your ranking does not dip.
Myth 25: SEO companies can get guaranteed results
This is a very common yet completely bogus claim which some marketing firms like to use. They claim that by using their methods, your results will be guaranteed. But the truth is, no one can claim a certain method is foolproof for the same reason that SEO is not something you do once then forget. Everything changes online and you never know when something that used to work well will stop working. Some tactics are clearly better than others, but none is guaranteed. Also, if there was a magical way to get a high ranking, you can be sure that it would leak out at some point, and then everyone would be using that same tactic, making it worthless.
Myth 26: Placing too many links per page can penalize you
Some people have been told that a certain number of links on a page can be bad for your rankings. For example, placing more than 100 links on your landing page will result in you being penalized by Google. While it is true that spamming links on a page is something you should not do, and the Google bot has ways to detect when a page is a link bait one, you should not be afraid to create pages with lots of links. As long as they are relevant and part of the normal navigation of your site, there will be no penalty.
Myth 27: Internal links don’t matter for SEO
Many people think only about backlinks, but internal linking is also important. If your site has bad internal navigation, Google will detect that, and could penalize you. Take the time needed to create good internal links and an easy-to-use navigation system for your site. This is something that is easy to do — you should not skip this step.
Myth 28: Facebook ‘likes’ or tweets are the No. 1 factor in SEO
Social media has taken a central role in how people find information on the Web today, and the signals sent by these sites are fed into search engines in real time. No modern business should ignore social media, simply because of the amount of time people spend on Facebook or Twitter. However, no one social site is the holy grail of SEO. Getting Facebook likes can be important, but not any more so than the many other techniques that can be used. While many people spend a lot of time on social networking sites, they do so mainly to talk to friends, not to buy products — so the benefit of a ‘like’ is still not as understood as the benefit of ranking well on Google. You should never ignore traditional SEO to focus solely on social media.
Myth 29: Keywords are no longer relevant
Sites used to be created with a paragraph at the bottom filled with keywords to attract more traffic using something called keyword stuffing. In recent years, knowledgeable marketers have realized this is no longer needed — in fact it is a practice that is heavily discouraged by search engines. However, this does not mean keywords are not still very important. While you should not use keyword stuffing on a page, getting a good percentage of your keywords in your actual text is still crucial. When someone looks for a specific term on Google, the number of times the keyword appears on your page is still heavily weighed.
Myth 30: Using bigger headers will improve your ranking
Header tags such as H1 or H2 do matter because search engines look at the layout of your site. You need to have headers that both make sense and contain your keywords so the search engine knows what the content is about. However, the size or style of these headers, such as which CSS arguments you use, do not matter because Google and other search engines are interested in the content and usability, not the artistic style.
Myth 31: Keywords have to be exact matches
It’s true that words have to match what people type into a search engine, however, there are arguments for using words other than your selected keywords. For example, most words have a lot of synonyms, and people often type in those synonyms. By using a larger selection of keywords, you can be sure to catch those searches as well. And, while keywords will lift your site up in the results, having a clever title, something people would want to click on, will gain more clicks than repeating a list of keywords.
Myth 32: PageRank does not matter anymore
When Google became the top search engine, PageRank became the No, 1 criteria every marketer went after. It used to be, and may still be, the input metric that affects a ranking the most, but the company has been clear many times that sites are ranked on hundreds of different metrics, not just PageRank. That is not to say PageRank has no relevance — you need to keep an eye on your PageRank as well.
Myth 33: Google Analytics can spy on people
Google Analytics is the most popular analytics software used by sites around the Web and, as a result, some people think they are being spied on. But Google has said many times no personal data is being transmitted using Analytics. Indeed, if you actually use this service on your own site, you can see the data you have access to is all anonymous.
Myth 34: You should finish your site before starting to worry about SEO
SEO can be thought of as a form of marketing. While most marketing efforts are made after a site is completed, there are steps you should take before. For example, you should make sure you have a good layout, good navigation, META tags, titles, and so on. All of these are part of SEO and should be done while you are building the site. Also, remember search engines can find your site as soon as it is live, so you want your SEO to be ready whenever Google first crawls it.
Myth 35: Buying links, likes or tweets will help your site rank better
There are a lot of sites selling Facebook likes, followers and so on. Often, those services seem quite cheap, such as 10,000 likes for $10. However, in most cases these are not worth the money. First, they are usually fake accounts, bots that simply mass follow for a price. They are not real people which means no one will see those social signals and, as a result, they will not increase your ranking. Worse, many sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Google forbid these types of acts, and if you are discovered, you could be delisted.
Myth 36: Paid links always come from shady sites
In the case of bulk services, it is true that a lot of those paid links will come from shady sources, including bots or proxies. However, many reputable sites sell links as well, in the form of advertising or even preferential treatment. In those cases, you may have very legitimate links on high authority sites, and those can help your site rank better on search engines.
Myth 37: Google won’t find bad or spammy links
Some of the people who buy bulk links or who use automated methods to spam blog posts think Google will not find them and they will benefit from their black-hat practices. While individual bad links may not be discovered, the bigger risk is that the sites on which your links have been placed will be found and removed from the index, or that the actual algorithm will be modified to make those backlinks irrelevant. When that happens you may find a drastic change in your ranking.
Myth 38: You should not place too many outbound links
Some people think they should link to only a small number of outbound sites. There is only one case where linking to other sites can hurt you, and that is if you become part of a backlinks network for the sole purpose of raising your ranking. In that case, when one site is discovered, all of them may be hit. But in all other cases, Google and other search engines do not care how many outbound link you have, and there is no limit to how often you can link to other sites.
Myth 39: With good SEO you do not need PPC marketing
Some sites will spend a lot of time doing SEO and get great organic results, but even then PPC campaigns can be useful. Surveys show it often is not the same people who click on ads versus those who click on organic links, so it can be worthwhile to do both, if you have the money for it. Also, PPC links are guaranteed to cost you only when someone clicks. They also do not suffer from changes in algorithms like the Panda update.
Myth 40: You can manipulate search rankings
This is a myth many marketing sites attempt to promote: that they can somehow manipulate search rankings in a way that is outside traditional SEO. The whole point of SEO is to try to rank your better. If there was another method that actually worked, then by definition it would be part of SEO. The truth is, there is no magical way to manipulate search rankings, and usually when someone says they can, what they mean is that they will use black-hat ways to speed up your ranking. But using spam and other black-hat strategies mean your site is put at risk. You may have a boost now but pay for it later on.
Myth 41: A long domain name will rank better
Back when search engines used to look at the actual domain name for keywords, it was true that using a long domain name would help your site rank. However this has not been true in many years, and now your domain name should be chosen so that users will recognize your brand, not for SEO purposes.
Myth 42: Blog comment backlinks are always useful
There is lots of talk about leaving blog and forum comments as a way to increase your ranking. Several software tools also exist to do this automatically because this is the type of task that can be done by a bot very easily. There are two problems however. First, these backlinks will usually end up on low authority sites, and even if you add a lot of them, they will not help much. Worse, many blogs and forums add a tag called ‘nofollow’ which means any link you leave behind will not be taken into account at all by search engines.
Myth 43: .COM ranks always better than .NET or .ORG
Just like leaving a link on a .edu or .gov site does not automatically raise your ranking, using a .com does not help either, and is certainly not better than a .net or .org. Search engines do not take the domain extension into account when they rank sites. Instead, what matters is how much authority the site you leave a link on has. If you get a backlink from an important site, then it does not matter what domain extension it has.
Myth 44: Directory links don’t work anymore
Back before search engines were very sophisticated, most people would use directories to find sites. Yahoo had one of the most popular ones, and it is still used by some. Now, however, most marketers do not bother with directory links because they figure search engines are enough. But you have to remember that these directories can count as links as well. While the open directories are not very useful anymore, there are private or restricted directories that still operate in particular niches. If you find one and manage to get on it, this can be very powerful.
Myth 45: PageRank is the golden rule for SEO
When Google came out with PageRank, it instantly became the go-to metric for website owners. Since then, however, the search engine has varied the input signals it uses. While PageRank is still very important, it is far from the only metric. If you only focus on it, you will miss many good opportunities to get traffic. Instead, you need to use all of the facets of SEO.
Myth 46: More content is always better
Having good, quality content is one of the most important parts of having a successful site. If you can add content on a regular basis, then it helps you because you get more indexed content for people to find. However, adding more words for your articles just to have a better chance at appearing in rankings can be misleading. At some point, you run out of keywords and, if your content is long and boring to read, you may alienate your readers.
Myth 47: Articles are the best type of content
Articles are often seen as the best way to attract traffic, whether as blog posts on your own site or article marketing. But remember, your content will not be seen if no one knows it exist. While search engines will crawl your site, you still need to do basic SEO techniques to increase your traffic. While you should start with content, you cannot stop there.
Myth 48: Nofollow links are worthless
If you’ve experienced leaving backlinks on blogs or forums you may have found that many of them do not help your ranking because of the nofollow attribute. This is true, but that doesn’t mean all links that are nofollow are worthless. Remember, links have two uses: gaining ranking in search engines and leading people to your page. If you have a link in a prominent position on a popular site, then many people may see it and click on it, regardless of the fact that it has this hidden nofollow tag.
Myth 49: Google doesn’t like SEO
Because of how strict Google is and how it monitors SEO practices, some think that the company doesn’t like SEO. But this is not the case. All companies, big and small, optimize their sites. SEO is good because it helps people find relevant content. What search engines frown upon are black-hat techniques.
Myth 50: SEO is dead
Just like there are people who automatically assume that SEO is evil because of a few bad apples, others assume SEO is simply dead. It can be damaging to any online marketer, but it can also be easy to prove false. Simply looking at how large brands advertise, it is easy to see SEO is used everywhere. Companies spend millions of dollars tweaking their sites and online advertising campaigns because of SEO. So no, SEO is not dead and probably never will be as long as there are search engines.
Mikhail Tuknov is a president and founder of Internet marketing company Infatex.com, focused on helping businesses increase online sales, strengthening their overall brand and dramatically boosting website traffic through proven online marketing concepts, such as viral marketing, SEO, PPC and social media.