Top Ten Organic SEO Myths

SEO myths get crazier every year. Some are based partially in reality, and others have spread because it’s often difficult to prove what particular SEO action caused a resulting search engine reaction.

For example, you might make a change to something on a page of your site, and a few days later notice that your ranking in Google for a particular keyword phrase has changed. You might naturally assume that your page change is what caused the ranking change. But that’s not necessarily so. There are numerous reasons why your ranking may have changed, and in many cases they actually have nothing to do with anything that you did.

Mixing up cause and effect is one of the most common things new SEOs do. If it were affecting only their own work, it wouldn’t be so bad, but unfortunately, the clueless often spread their misinformation to other unsuspecting newbies on forums and blogs, which in turn creates new myths. It’s always interesting to see how people are so willing to believe anything they have read or heard without ever checking it out for themselves.

Here are 10 of the most common organic-SEO myths:

Myth 1: You should submit your URLs to search engines. This may have helped once upon a time, but it’s been at least 5 or 6 years since that’s been necessary.

Myth 2: You need a Google Sitemap. If your site was built correctly, i.e., it’s crawler-friendly, you certainly don’t need a Google Sitemap. It won’t hurt you to have one, and you may be interested in Google’s other Webmaster Central Tools, but having a Google Sitemap isn’t going to get you ranked better.

Myth 3: You need to update your site frequently. Frequent updates to your pages may increase the search engine crawl rate, but it won’t increase your rankings. If your site doesn’t need to change, don’t change it just because you think the search engines will like it better. They won’t. In fact, some of the highest ranking sites in Google haven’t been touched in years.

Myth 4: PPC ads will help/hurt rankings. This one is funny to me because about half the people who think that running Google AdWords will affect their organic rankings believe that they will bring them down; the other half believe they will bring them up. That alone should tell you that neither is true!

Myth 5: Your site will be banned if you ignore Google’s guidelines. There’s nothing in Google’s webmaster guidelines that isn’t common sense. You can read them if you’d like, but it’s not mandatory in order to be an SEO. Just don’t do anything strictly for search engines that you wouldn’t do anyway, and you’ll be fine. That said, the Google guidelines are much better than they used to be, and may even provide you with a few good tidbits of advice.

Myth 6: Your site will be banned if you buy links. This one does have some roots in reality, as Google (specifically Matt Cutts) likes to scare people about this. They rightly don’t want to count paid links as votes for a page if they can figure out that they are paid, but they often can’t. Even if they do figure it out, they simply won’t count them. It would be foolish of them to ban entire sites because they buy advertising on other sites.

Myth 7: H1 (or any header tags) must be used for high rankings. There’s very little (if any) evidence to suggest that keywords in H tags actually affect rankings, yet this myth continues to proliferate. My own tests don’t seem to show them making a difference, although it’s difficult to know for sure. Use H tags if it works with your design or content management system, and don’t if it doesn’t. It’s doubtful you’ll find it makes a difference one way or the other.

Myth 8: Words in your meta keyword tag have to be used on the page. I used to spread this silly myth myself many years ago. The truth is that the Meta keyword tag was actually designed to be used for keywords that were NOT already on the page, not the opposite! Since this tag is ignored by Google and used only for uncommon words in Yahoo, it makes little difference at this point anyway.

Myth 9: SEO copy must be 250 words in length. This one is interesting to me because I am actually the one who made up the 250 number back in the late ’90s. However, I never said that 250 was the exact number of words you should use, nor did I say it was an optimal number. It’s simply a good amount to be able to write a nice page of marketing copy that can be optimized for 3-5 keyword phrases. Shorter copy ranks just as well, as does longer copy. Use as many or as few words as you need to use to say what you need to say.

Myth 10: You need to optimize for the long tail. No, you don’t. By their very nature, long-tail keyword phrases are uncompetitive; meaning that not many pages are using those words, and not that many people are searching for them in the engines. Because of this, ranking for long-tail keywords is easy…simply include them somewhere in a blog post or an article, and you’ll rank for them. But that’s not optimization.

Before you go spreading these myths or any other SEO info that you believe is true, test it many times on many sites. Even if it appears to work, keep in mind that it may not always work, or that there could be other factors involved.

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 | SEO: General

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About The Author: is a pioneer in SEO, beginning in the field in the early 1990s and founding High Rankings in 1995. If you enjoy Jill's articles at Search Engine Land, be sure to subscribe to her High Rankings Advisor Search Marketing Newsletter for SEO articles, SEM advice and discounts on industry events and products.

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  • http://www.stephanmiller.com eristoddle

    I run an ecommerce site I have actually seen an initial drop in sales after an update.

    This, I think, due to the fact that an update of one category will change the order of products on the pages. So people may get to the site, but the product they are looking for is on a different page now, so back to Google they go.

    Once the site is fully indexed sale go back up and then increase due to the new products. So having a Google sitemap in place does help this process to speed along.

  • http://www.craftcentral.com stevebrocons

    Yes I agree that most of them are myth
    Infact nobody is sure what may click and what may not. If something works it becomes a learning experience and a myth for everyone else. another common one which I heard is Title should be in title case and without special characters.I have so many pages with & coming at top on google.

  • cherie

    Excellent article!!

    My husband and I own and slave away at a web development firm and quite frankly, SEO is the bane of our existence. Everyone wants to be #1 in google. There is no thought process past this magical point. It’s like being #1 guarantees millions in sales. People don’t take into account that being #1 gets you nowhere if…
    1. No one clicks your link when you’re up at the tippity top there.
    2. Your site is fugly so when they do land there, customers immediately run for the hills.
    3. You have crap photos so no one in their right mind wants to purchase your blurry, out of focus, pixelated, shot in the dark in your bathtub products…
    4. You have lousy descriptions that do not adequately define the products you are selling.

    IMO, while it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a good SE ranking, it’s not what your business should be based on. SE ranking is not the end all to beat all when it comes to websites and sales.

    Get a good product, package it well, take professional photos, and get it into the hands of people who like to talk.

    Viral marketing is the wave of the future…

  • Red_Mud_Rookie

    I think you’re generalising a bit on some of your points… If you have two sites that have an equal number of quality inbound links, I think the site that addresses the following myths will come out on top:

    Myth 3: You need to update your site frequently.

    It might not have a diret influence on SEO, but it certainly boosts authority status which indirectly boosts SEO.

    Myth 4: PPC ads will help/hurt rankings.

    Greater visibility in the search listings drives brand awareness which in turn improves CTR.
    We have seen a clear correlation between SEO traffic and AdWords spend where an increase in budget for our adwords campaign resulted in an increase in SEO traffic.

    Myth 7: H1 (or any header tags) must be used for high rankings.

    Using relevant keywords in the tag boosts the page relevance for that search term.

    Myth 10: You need to optimize for the long tail.

    Easy pickings when they are part of the long tail and if they become more popular you will have already built up your authority status thereby giving you a head start.
    Many of the long tail search terms convert better because they tend to be longer and more specific to what the user is searching for. If you can provide a page with exactly the right content in relation to their search term you are more likely to convert them.

  • http://proevogeeksmudge.blogspot.com/ Blaume

    Hey there,

    Superb article!

    Very helpful indeed Jill. I am a budding SEO type and have found what you wrote really interesting. Myth 2 was particularly useful.

    Thanks again.

    I referenced to your article and your site as I loved it so much.

    Have a good weekend

    Blaume

  • http://www.oldschoolseo.com oldschoolseo

    Cherie,

    In reference to your comment: >

    I would venture to say Social Media Marketing is more the wave of the future than viral. Unless of course, you consider SMM a form of viral marketing, and in that case, we agree.

  • http://www.oldschoolseo.com oldschoolseo

    Good stuff Jill,

    My 2.0 cents:

    Myth 1: Amen! (did you read my upcoming article? I said the same thing).

    Myth 4: PPC ads will help/hurt rankings.

    I have to agree with Red_Mud_Rookie here. It’s not a direct correlation, but it is a factor that affects it in a round about way, and I have seen it first hand as well.

  • http://www.geeks.com geekmike

    Nice piece Jill,

    I would like to see a follow up….”Top Ten Undervalued Optimization Tips”

    Thanks for your work!

    -michael

  • http://www.joelane.com/ Joe and Colleen Lane

    Great article. We used your article as the source for seo myths in our real estate blog today. Keep up the good work. :)

  • http://www.suzukikenichi.com/blog/ 海外SEOアナリスト

    Excellent article.

    I have blindedy followed some of the myths because somebody was saying thye were effective.
    What is important is to experience by ourselves not to hear what other says.

    Thank you very much.

  • http://www.web1.co.nz/ plinz

    Jill, having followed your published information for a number of years, 9 of the 10 myths make sense. My issue would be with Myth 9: SEO copy must be 250 words in length.
    I agree that the number of words is irrelevant, but the content still must be there with the phrases you want to be found with by your target market. It is not “what you want to say” rather than “what your market wants to see”

  • http://www.highrankings.com Jill

    Thanks for all your comments, guys!

    Remember, in an article like this, I try to keep it to a manageable number of words so that everyone will read it, which makes it perhaps not as detailed and explanatory as it would be if I were perhaps doing an in-person presentation on the issues.

    cherie: You make some good points that ranking is not the be all end all of your site. This is very true. But also, this is why it’s important to optimize for more than just one or two pet phrases. Optimizing for hundreds of phrases is a much better strategy.

    Red_Mud_Rookie: You disagreed with Myth 3 and said:

    Myth 3: You need to update your site frequently.

    It might not have a diret influence on SEO, but it certainly boosts authority status which indirectly boosts SEO.

    Really? How do you know this? I have trouble imagining how that could be a proven fact.

    You also said:

    Myth 4: PPC ads will help/hurt rankings.

    Greater visibility in the search listings drives brand awareness which in turn improves CTR.
    We have seen a clear correlation between SEO traffic and AdWords spend where an increase in budget for our adwords campaign resulted in an increase in SEO traffic.

    Absolutely agree! But that’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about the people who think that Google might boot their organic listings in order to get them to buy more ads, and that sort of thing.

    You also said:

    Myth 7: H1 (or any header tags) must be used for high rankings.

    Using relevant keywords in the tag boosts the page relevance for that search term.

    I’d sure love to see your test results in which you were able to prove this. Because I sure haven’t been able to prove it one way or the other and I’ve been looking at it for a long time. If anything, I’d have to conclude the opposite from my tests.

    And lastly you said:

    Many of the long tail search terms convert better because they tend to be longer and more specific to what the user is searching for. If you can provide a page with exactly the right content in relation to their search term you are more likely to convert them.

    Absolutely. But like I said in the article, that isn’t optimization, IMO.

    Plinz: You said:

    My issue would be with Myth 9: SEO copy must be 250 words in length.
    I agree that the number of words is irrelevant, but the content still must be there with the phrases you want to be found with by your target market. It is not “what you want to say” rather than “what your market wants to see”

    Absolutely! Of course you need content. It just doesn’t have to be 250 words of content!

  • http://www.jaankanellis.com Jaan Kanellis
  • http://vocabulary.co.il johnegood

    The myth that I encounter the most is:

    “I don’t want to waste my google juice by putting outgoing links on my site”.

    Many people believe that their search engine power is like water pressure: if they let some of it point outwards they lose the built-up steam

  • Chua Lay Hoon

    Interesting article on the myths of seo covered.  Many marketers will be surprised by how much they know might turn out to be wrong afterall.

 

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