36 More SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To

The overwhelming response to my last article, 36 SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To, it prompted a followup feature, SEO Myths Reloaded: Clarifcations, Consensus And Controversy. In the process, I ended up with a significant number of additional myths: 36 to be exact. That brings us to a grand total of 72 SEO myths!

Now it’s time for some new (old) myths to add to my original collection, with thanks to Lee Odden, Duane Forrester, Ian McAnerin, Tony Adam, Hamlet Batista, Michael Geneles, Jeff Quipp, Mike Moran, Adam Audette and Christine Churchill for their contributions to the list below…

  1. SEO should be owned and managed by IT. While SEO implementation has its roots in the web development and IT departments of most companies, it’s a marketing discipline more than a web development discipline. Accountability for effective SEO might be multi-departmental in theory, but the reality is that most organizations budget, staff and manage SEO programs as part of customer acquisition, i.e. marketing and sales. Do not let IT lead your SEO programs. IT is the wingman for Marketing when it comes to SEO.
  2. SEO is a subset of Social Media. There are plenty of intersections between SEO and social media, but SEO is no more a subset of social media marketing than it is of public relations, customer service or media relations. Working together, effective SEO can boost social network growth and social media can facilitate link building. In this way, they are yin and yang but not super- or sub-ordinate to each other.
  3. Using Flash will tank your SEO. The cost of a myth like Flash being bad for SEO can be substantial, such as having a boring website that doesn’t engage visitors or attract any links. Flash isn’t bad for SEO, it’s the absence of text and crawlable links in sites that are constructed with a single Flash movie that creates problems. Some Flash content can be crawled, but it’s embedding Flash within an HTML framework that allows websites to have the best of both worlds: rich media that engages site visitors and the presence of text and links to provide search engines and visitors information they can use to understand the site content.
  4. SEO is a standalone activity. Many facets of web design, hosting, and so on can impact your organic results to more or lesser degrees. People tend to think that SEO sits in a silo and other things can go on around it without influencing the work required to increase rankings.
  5. First you get your site launched, then you add all the SEO goodness. SEO is not some bolt-on, like an outdoor deck you tack on to the back of your home. It’s more like the electrical wiring throughout your new home. Sure, you can build the house without the electrical and add it in later, but you’ll have to tear out the drywall to do it. Which might be fine if you like tripling costs and needlessly extending out the timeframe. SEO starts well before the site launches: it’s reflected in the functional specs, wireframes, mockups, content plan, and so on. And it continues for the life of the website.
  6. I just hired a killer SEO agency; they’ll hit a home run for me. The agency will perform to the incentives you provide it. If they aren’t sharing in the upside but instead simply doing dollars-for-hours consulting, then it’s in their own best interest to expend as few hours as possible and thus maximize the profit per hour worked. So if it’s not in the contract, then don’t expect them to do it. One can’t blame them, though, as they are consultants, not free advice givers. Still, don’t assume because you read three quotes and selected one that that agency will work with your best interests in mind. Some will, many will claim to. Their job is not actually to perform SEO, that’s just what they try to do. Their job is to increase recurring billing to build their business. Just like your job is to get more traffic to build your business.
  7. SEO is separate from SEM, social, etc. Actually, SEO is but one part of a larger overall marketing plan. It’s NOT the center, nor should it be. It remains a single tactic. To treat it separately and invest only in it is to run the race with blinders on.
  8. SEO is free. I wrote about this one a couple years ago on Search Engine Land. No SEO works for free, whether on your payroll or hired as a consultant, there is a cost. Ditto designers working on CSS changes, IT folks setting up domains and IP addresses, etc. There is a cost to turning the dials and moving the levers of SEO and to think it’s free is folly. Yes, it can be cheaper than paid search, but paid search can also convert faster and more frequently than SEO on many phrases, so there you go. Want really stellar conversion rates? Get a good email program running in house.
  9. I can hire someone with a year’s SEO experience and they can manage the work as part of their job. You get back what you put in, at a minimum. Put in less, get back less. The time it takes a neophyte to learn the details that make SEO work will be lost to your company. Add in mistakes and missed opportunities and you could be sinking the ship with your own cannons! Plus, if you don’t know SEO, how can you hire someone who does?
  10. Can you give me the top 5 things to do to rank better and drive traffic? For maximum effect, be sure to ask the question before they have had a chance to examine your site. This question is as frustrating for SEOs as “How much does it cost to SEO the typical website?”. I’d equate it to the unanswerable question: “How long is a piece of string?” Also, if you’re going to ask for the magic elixir for better rankings and traffic (and don’t forget “long life”), you might as well base success on the better objective of driving quality traffic — which is only understood through web analytics integration and tying in with post-click behavior metrics.
  11. Because someone is senior in the company, they must understand everything and are making decisions with a broad knowledge base inclusive of SEO. Case in point: the “CEO list” of keywords, a.k.a. the “trophy terms,” which may not be receiving any search volume other than from the CEO him/herself. Chances are there are better words to focus on that can drive a higher business return. Tread carefully here; you don’t want to upset the CEO.
  12. Spending lots of money in paid search helps your organic rankings. Maybe this one is too old and hoary to include here, but people still ask it. I still hear that all the time. Sometimes I wish it was that easy….but no. The two are unconnected.
  13. It’s either SEO or PPC. Nope, both have their place, and both have strengths and weaknesses.
  14. We have been around for a long time/are really famous, so we don’t have to do SEO. Uhhhh….no. I could write a book on the reasons why, but just…no.
  15. I learned a nifty new SEO trick/tactic from SMX/SEL/etc. and now I have the key to victory! Most of the advanced tools and tactics you learn at conferences and sites like this one only work after you have optimized the basic SEO building blocks of your site. Most advanced tactics build on the basics, not replace them. In fact, most advanced tactics won’t even work unless you have the basics in place already. The wider the pyramid base of your SEO, the higher your rankings can go.
  16. I’ve got lots of links, so I don’t need to build more. This is related to #24 from my previous article. Most engines look at several factors related to links, including age. Old (established) links tend to indicate authority, whereas new ones tend to indicate freshness and relevance. You can get by with either, but it’s best to have both authority and relevance.
  17. Kicking off an SEO program is a slow, many months long process. This is a self-serving myth that can buy the SEO firm or consultant a lot of time to keep you paying while they aren’t performing. “Be patient, just give it more time” can be a great stall tactic. This can be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. At Covario, we have been able to counter this tendency using automation and software solutions. For example, we consistently launch SEO programs on Organic Search Optimizer in 30 days or less.
  18. SEO is a major, time-intensive, costly IT initiative. Again, this can be the case, but not necessarily. Typically, IT barriers slow the programs down, but they don’t have to. There are simple, cost-efficient technological workarounds: server modules, proxies, SaaS solutions, etc.
  19. Google penalizes for duplicate content. I’ve long stated that it’s a filter, not a penalty. It may feel like a penalty because of the resultant rankings drop, but Google’s intention is not to penalize for inadvertent duplication due to tracking parameters, session IDs, and other canonicalization snafus.
  20. Tweaking your meta description is the way to optimize the Google snippet’s conversion potential. As I described in my article “Anatomy of a Google Snippet,” the snippet content can be cobbled together from data from multiple sources, including the meta description, the HTML source of the page (even from pulldown select lists), or from the Open Directory listing.
  21. Getting a link from a high PageRank domain will increase my PageRank and rankings. While this isn’t entirely untrue, as it will earn a level of “authority”…While the overall PageRank of a domain matters, the authority of the page you are getting a link from is more important, along with a whole range of other factors.
  22. Number of top 30 rankings for your site is a good metric for success. I’ve seen so many places that use rankings as the end-all-be-all SEO metric. While that bothers me, sometimes I get that you don’t have much more to go off of. That said, I wouldn’t attribute value to rankings beyond the top 10. Once you start talking about rankings at the bottom of page 2 or worse, it’s largely irrelevant. How often have you seen traffic of any significance to a page based on it ranking #26? Does that mean it’s folly to track rankings beyond the top 10? Not at all. It’s useful for tracking progress on efforts expended on (what started out as) a poor campaign.
  23. Google is looking at all the data they collect from toolbar, Chrome, etc. and using these signals for rankings. I’ve never seen a single instance where this has proved to be true…I’ve noticed many sites that are #1 in their category in regards to traffic and time spent online, yet they do not rank top 5 or even top 10 for some terms, even with good external links.
  24. SEO is a chess game. The spammers make a move, the search engines respond, and around it goes. Spam tactics may come and go, but best practices stay pretty constant. That said, SEO is kind of like a chess game where you can move both your own and your opponent’s pieces (muahaha!).
  25. Using a minimum of 40 tags per blogpost helps to increase your ranking in search engines. This was from a self-proclaimed marketing guru and SEO expert, if you can believe it.
  26. Registering every room + phone extension in our office building as a separate location with Google Places helped us rank for generic_search_term_here Can you believe an in-house SEO presented this at a recent conference? (*cringe*)
  27. The canonical tag is just as effective as 301 redirects for fixing canonicalization Not. really.
  28. Toolbar PageRank is an accurate window into the internal/real PageRank. It’s only an approximation into internal/real PageRank that is a valuable metric to prioritize the crawling and indexing of pages. Pages with higher internal PageRank are crawled more frequently and indexed faster. This isn’t necessarily true for toolbar PageRank. According to Hamlet Batista, the real PageRank should be a number between 1 and 0. Many pages with no toolbar PageRank actually do have real PageRank. Google simply takes a while to update the values or might decide to not show the real value. On the other hand, pages with very low internal PageRank (few or no quality inbound links) usually don’t even get crawled.
  29. Google uses the bounce rate as a ranking signal. The bounce rate metric primarily reflects how well-targeted a traffic source or keyword is or isn’t for the destination page. It doesn’t say much about the overall quality of the site, and is too noisy to be used as a ranking signal unless is part of the personalization feature.
  30. Flawless HTML validation can help improve your rankings. Take any popular search term and run a validation check against the top 10 results. Most of them will fail validation. Search engines are much more interested in the quality of the content on the page and are smart enough to overcome most parsing errors in HTML documents.
  31. Validating and cleaning up the HTML will drastically increase the speed of a site or page. The biggest bottleneck to overcome in site speed is not what you think! If you want to be blown away, read Google chief performance engineer Steve Souders’ books High Performance Web Sites (for primarily server-side stuff like caching reverse proxies and Gzip compression) and Even Faster Websites (for primarily client-side stuff like JavaScript optimization.)
  32. Google cannot detect artificial link schemes such as three-way links, viralinks, link wheels, blog link networks, etc. Natural link structures follow specific statistical distributions and so do artificial ones. Google and other search engines employ a small army of advanced mathematics PhDs (can you say “graph theory”?), and they can – and do – identify artificial link schemes and usually penalize everyone involved.
  33. That any agency can truly offer SEO without including some form of link building effort. There are many agencies (perhaps the majority) claiming to offer superior SEO, and do not engage in link building. With links thought to account for more than 50% of the algorithm, link building is crucial!
  34. SEO is about rankings, not conversion. Conversion is a critical component to SEO. I’m a big proponent of optimizing the elements that will improve clickthrough from the SERPs — shortening the URL length, getting bolded words (KWiC) into your listing, refining the title and snippet copy to include compelling calls-to-action and value propositions — particularly at the beginning of the title & snippet which are the most viewed pieces of the listing. There’s real money to be had in that end of SEO.
  35. Google gives extra weight to links from a few certain, more trustworthy top-level domains (TLDs) — specifically .edu, .gov, and .mil. Matt Cutts went on record on the topic of .edu links in an interview with me:

    “There is nothing in the algorithm itself, though, that says: oh, .edu–give that link more weight. It is just .edu links tend to have higher PageRank, because more people link to .edu’s or .gov’s.”

    In my view, it’s because .edus tend to be in pristine link neighborhoods that these links are so valuable.

  36. You can keep all your PageRank/link juice by not linking out. This may be conventional wisdom, but the math doesn’t work this way, as Hamlet Batista explains here. While keeping most/all links internally can help increase the overall PageRank of a site, the way the original PageRank formula works forces every site to give out link juice whether it does so explicitly or not.

Read part one of this series, 36 SEO Myths That Won’t Die But Need To.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO

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About The Author: is the author of Google Power Search, creator of the Science of SEO and co-author of The Art of SEO now in its second edition, both published by O'Reilly. Spencer is also the founder of Netconcepts and inventor of the SEO technology platform GravityStream. He also blogs on his own site, Stephan Spencer's Scatterings.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn



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  • http://www.seobocaraton.com SEOBocaRaton

    The banner at the link to covario.com/what-we-do/deployment-software/organic-search-optimizer when clicked brings you to a fake virus site, with drive by downloads etc.

    Thought you might want to know.

  • http://www.adventuresinsearch.com Elisabeth Osmeloski

    @SEOBoca- thanks for reporting that – I had actually seen the same thing when reviewing this article prior to publication, and I thought I *had* taken out offending links but realized I missed that one.. it’s gone for now at least & and I reported to Covario earlier as well. (and delinking your comment too just in case;)

  • http://www.ubl.org CurtisRCurtis

    Great list Stephan.

    Particularly #9 however I was not sure about the last sentence. I have had this conversation many times both with people who believe this is somehow possible and those who understand how fatal believing this can be.

    I re-read that last line several times. Is it possible this should have been \ Plus, if you don’t know SEO, how can you train someone else who doesn’t?\

    Sure someone like yourself can take a neophyte and with tutelage and time turn them into an SEO but for the ordinary hire, without guidance; it is just is not possible. Yet too many companies keep trying to do just this.

  • http://www.mediawhiz.com Marjory

    I agree that link building is crucial but just letting your agency do it for you is not a good idea. They can pick up the slack – for sure but if you’re going to do any serious link building, you have to build real connections and no agency can do that as well as you can do it yourself.

  • dtrz

    #9 if you don’t know SEO, how can you hire someone who does?
    So your only option here is to replace yourself with someone who does know seo to hire someone else that also has seo experience?

  • Stupidscript

    @CurtisRCurtis & @dtrz … Don’t hire people just because you like them, or you bought whatever line the prospect was selling.

    Every company starts out the same way … with one or two (or a few) people who have an idea and certain skills. Even from this stage, the person who understands tech the best will be the person responsible for fleshing out that aspect of the staff. This is a process of growing and learning, and you will make many missteps at first. How well your company does at this stage will be a direct result of your ability to recognize when you have made a hiring error and the speed with which you correct it.

    Think about it … if you need a person who writes code … how can you possibly hire a quality coder or tell whether they are doing a good job for you if you do not have some understanding of the “best practices” in that area? Preferably you would have a very solid understanding of programming, given the vast number of details that come into play when developing any robust piece of software.

    Otherwise, I could tell you that I do SEO better and faster than anyone on the planet and you would have no choice but to believe me … if I were a good enough salesperson. I see it happen ALL the time. Seriously. ALL the time. Four out of five new tech hires will be completely unusable and only last a couple of months with the company if hiring is done by an ego and not by a professional.

    If you are a normal business person who just wants some SEO work done, then you do run the risk of hiring someone inappropriate, or who is a complete idiot, because you are very likely to be susceptible to sales pitches. Face it … you are. In that case, you self-educate until you have a good grasp of what SEO is and isn’t (like reading articles such as this one), and then you ask around and finally start churning through candidate after candidate, running down your checklist of the “important stuff”, and being exTREMEly involved in discussing goals and reports very frequently to be certain that your goals are being met. If they aren’t, grab whatever experience you just gained and do a better job hiring your next SEO.

    It’s on you, the uninformed, to recognize your ignorance and to take action to protect your company and yourself from making a bad decision. At least you need to be very open to the idea that you will make several bad hires before you stumble on the good hire. It’s a progression, if you’re starting from scratch, and you don’t get anywhere if you make a bad decision and stick with it out of stubbornness or a preference for ignorance and denial. It’s hard work and its very time-consuming, but it must be done until you have someone whose work proves itself and who you can then trust to be on your side in future hiring decisions.

    If your company is mature enough to have a CEO (unless its a vanity title in a tiny company) … do NOT let them anywhere near the hiring process. That’s not their bag, and the rest of the company will be paying for their arrogance. (Sorry, CEOs … but it would be arrogant for you to believe that you were more capable of hiring a proficient technical person than the staff you hired to do that for your company. HR professionals will always be better at hiring than a CEO, because that IS their bag, and it is NOT that simple, no matter how smart you think you are.)

  • http://www.ubl.org CurtisRCurtis

    @Stupidscripts Some great comments. Well put; especially your comments about not letting the CEO doing the hiring!

 

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