SEO is by far the most talked about, searched for and read about topic for web entrepreneurs. And so it should be, considering how vital it is to get SEO right for your business!
What’s puzzling, however, is that there are so many myths and misconceptions about SEO floating about. I mean, we all want to get SEO right, so why do these myths live on, acquiring the status of urban legend?
Some of them are hilarious, but some can really hurt you. They can keep you from improving your search traffic and website rankings, and hinder your best content marketing efforts.
Personally, I would hate to spend weeks perfecting one aspect of SEO only to realize a month later that it’s not even considered important by Google (and I’m sure you would, too!)
So I thought I’d write this post to debunk some of the most common SEO myths I’ve come across, and explain why you need to stop believing them today.
1. SEO is a scam
The myth: Fast-talking SEO consultants charge astronomical fees to provide services without any explanations that do almost nothing and may even penalize your website.
The reality: Sigh. SEO is not a scam. Check out Moz’s organic search improvement over SEO efforts of three years.
Sadly this myth probably came into existence because there are many dodgy SEO companies out there that make a profit spamming sites with your links, leading to a quick increase in rankings that rapidly drops when the sites linking to your site are deemed to be spammers by Google.
However just because there are unethical SEO companies that promise you top rankings in Google then leave you high and dry, that doesn’t mean SEO isn’t legit or ‘real’.
For decent companies making sincere efforts to increase website traffic for their clients and improve user experience, SEO is a continuous effort that helps them beat competitors and gain from high SERPs.
This myth is probably rooted in the false idea that SEO involves quick and easy wins with little effort.
It doesn’t. It’s a continual investment, but it’s worth it. Just stop making silly SEO mistakes and keep the quality work up.
2. Reacting quickly to algorithm updates makes you more successful
The myth: Every time Google updates its organic search ranking algorithm, you need to make changes to your site as soon as possible to stay ahead!
The reality: Every search engine out there is continuously working to improve its search algorithms – Google alters its search algorithm approximately 500 times a year. The only updates you need to worry about are the major algorithm updates.
When these happen, the smart thing to do is wait and see if your site has been impacted. More often than not, if you are doing SEO right, your site won’t have been impacted negatively anyway, and you could even see a boost!
There’s no such thing as the perfect search algorithm, so updates will always be around. Try to wait to react, read credible sources about what the update involves, and give yourself a couple of days or even weeks to make adjustments if necessary.
If it’s an update that the search engine will stick to, you will soon hear about best practices for adjustments from the company itself anyway.
I visit this site on a semi-regular basis to stay abreast of the latest web news, and you could also follow the Twitter accounts of SEO gurus. However, the main thing to remember is that in the instance of an update, no one wins a prize for panicking or revamping their site the fastest.
Make a note of where you are when the update occurs and compare your metrics after a few weeks.
3. If you optimize for Google, you’re covered for all sites
The myth: You don’t need to worry about optimizing your content for other search engines if you’ve optimized it for Google.
The reality: Google search may comprise more than 60% of the search market, but Bing’s share is improving steadily. Bing is a great example of a website that works slightly different from Google and deserves your attention.
Bing doesn’t value backlinks as much as Google: instead, it compiles rankings based on user engagement, social signals, click-through rates, page authority and keyword domains. Google doesn’t use metrics such as Facebook shares or Twitter Followers directly in search rankings. So you can clearly see that if you only optimize for Google, you’re not covered for Bing.
4. HTTPS isn’t important unless you’re selling stuff
The myth: You only need to bother with HTTPS encryptions if you’re in eCommerce, otherwise the original HTTP protocol works fine.
The reality: Wrong! At the start of 2017, the average worldwide volume of encrypted internet traffic finally surpassed the average volume of unencrypted traffic, according to Mozilla (the company behind the Firefox web browser).
That means when you visit a website, you’re more likely than not to see a little green lock right next to the web address that indicates it came to you via HTTPS, the web’s secure protocol, rather than plain old HTTP.
Google has said loud and clear that it will give preference to websites with the HTTPS prefix over others.
That’s because the encryption within HTTPS provides benefits like confidentiality, integrity and identity.
Ultimately, using HTTPS is better than leaving the web unencrypted and it’s been a priority for big sites like Facebook, Google, Wikipedia and The New York Times to switch to HTTPS.
We’ve passed the tipping point when it comes to encrypted vs unencrypted data, and organizations like Let’s Encrypt are now helping millions of companies add HTTPS to their sites for free.
5. H1 tags increase search rankings
The myth: Using H1 tags is a must-do when it comes to good SEO practice.
The reality: This is not at all true, technically. Whereas H1 tags do help to make content more organized for the reader and also make it easier for web developers to design your website, they don’t contribute to SEO directly.
Former Google software engineer Matt Cutts says in this video that it doesn’t matter whether you use H1 or H2. What matters is that your page contains relevant and useful information that will address the needs of your users.
A few years ago, H1 tags used to be one of the most critical SEO factors; today, however, they’re just a part of basic best practice and not a source of SEO differentiation.
6. Link-building is black hat and attracts Google penalties
The myth: Google hates black hat link-building!
The reality: This is hilarious, really. Google rewards your website for backlinks – the only proviso is that these backlinks have got to be from relevant and credible sources.
If you plant your website’s links on article farms, unrelated websites, spammy websites or websites with malware and other suspicious scripts, then yes, you can expect to be penalized for back-linking.
But in that instance, it’s actually spamming, not back-linking.
When you’re building quality links, you don’t need to worry about this SEO myth. Many people think that leaving comments on blogs is a black hat SEO technique, but that’s only the case if the comments only link to your website without adding value.
The key is to ask yourself if you’re adding value every time you leave a comment on a blog or link to a website in an article – if you are, then you’ve got nothing to worry about.
7. Content is king
The myth: All you need to do is create high-quality, useful content to rank well in search results without much help from SEO.
The reality: Look, I’m not going to bag out the ‘content is king’ mantra here for fear of upsetting too many digital marketers. But while publishing timely, relevant and well-researched content is great, it’s not going to get you to the top of Google alone.
Content is like one of many directors sitting on a board, waiting to make a joint decision. The other directors are equally powerful: some of them include quality backlinks, user experience and responsive design.
If your whole website isn’t optimized, crawlers could struggle to even find your content, which means it won’t show up in results at all.
Focus on content, for sure, but don’t be myopic about it, as you’ve got to take care of the user experience on the whole.
8. Hosting location is important
The myth: If your website isn’t located in the country you are targeting, you may as well forget about success.
The reality: While it is better to host your website in the company you are targeting, it’s not essential. Google is smart enough to showcase the right country version of your website to the right audience. And this study shows us that Google prioritizes quality information over local content.
That means ‘au’ links are shown to Australians and ‘nz’ links are shown to New Zealanders.
If you don’t already use a country code top-level domain (ccTLD), I suggest using Google Webmaster Tools’ geographic target setting. In the Webmaster Tools sidebar, simply go to Search Traffic > International Targeting, and specify the target country for the website.
For international websites, just select ‘unlisted’ from the tab below.
9. Having an XML sitemap will boost your search rankings
The myth: Installing an XML sitemap can help improve your search engine rankings.
The reality: A sitemap doesn’t affect the rankings of your web pages, although it does make them more crawlable.
Sitemaps give more information about your site to Google and therefore make sure it indexes quickly.
However, there’s never been any Google announcement or study-based outcome to suggest that XML sitemap submission improves your website’s SEO.
Use one to make sure all of your URLs are indexed for easy crawling as this can improve the visibility of your website in the long run.
I suggest trying a plugin like Google XML Sitemaps generator, which works great with WordPress websites.
10. With personalized Google searches, there’s no such thing as ranking first anymore
The myth: Since everyone’s search results are personalized, everyone sees different results and there’s no way to be ranked #1 anymore.
The reality: My request to all readers – please, don’t be mislead by such rumors. Here’s a trick to try at home.
Do five Google searches related to your industry’s niche, first using your personal computer (where, in all likelihood, you’re seeing personalized Google search results), and then by adding &pws=0 at the end of the URL of the SERP.
That depersonalizes Google.
Now notice the difference.
Chances are, there isn’t one. Because websites that are good enough to make it to Google’s top 10 are good enough to feature on any personalized searches, too!
The differences between personalized results and non-personalized results are relatively minor. The advent of personalization does mean that rank tracking may provide somewhat less authoritative data than before.
But in no way is it the end of SEO or does it necessitate a completely new look at SEO practices.
11. Keywords in comments and title tags provide SEO juice
The myth: The strategic placement of keywords in HTML comment tags and the title attributes of IMG and A HREF tags will help you win at SEO.
The reality: Rankings really don’t work this way.
First and foremost, comment tags specifically mean that the content is out of Google’s view for calculating ratings.
Secondly, title attributes are not supposed to help you with SEO.
This Moz article will help you understand the specifics of why precisely title attribute tags are not linked to SEO.
There are at least half a dozen more SEO myths I could add to this list, but these are some of the main ones I see causing confusion amongst digital marketers, programmers, webmasters, designers, small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Hopefully I’ve debunked a few myths for you or at least motivated you to apply a bit of critical thinking to the next one you hear.
There is no easy science to SEO, and because the digital landscape is constantly changing, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a lot of misinformation out there. But moving forward, stop giving time or energy to SEO strategies or techniques that have no substance behind them or probably came about because of a bunch of snake-oil SEO salesmen.
Which SEO myth ticks you off the most? Let me know in the comments below.