Demystifying the Myths of SEO

Every day a new search engine optimization myth is born; unfortunately, not every day does an old myth die off.

The net result is a growing population of myths. These are nearly impossible to squash because snake-oil salesmen keep perpetuating them — bringing them back from the brink, even.
I’m going to do my part in fighting this menace and spreading the truth — by exposing some of the more insidious myths.

And now, without any further ado, the list of general SEO myths…

SEO is a black art. And it’s done, usually in a dark room, by some rogue SEO consultant, without requiring the involvement of the client / rest of the company. If SEO were like that, our lives would read like spy novels.

SEO is a one-time activity you complete and are then done with. SEO is ongoing. Just like one’s website is never “finished,” neither is one’s SEO.

Automated SEO is black-hat or spammy. There is nothing wrong with or inappropriate in using automation. It would be impossible for a company to scale their SEO efforts across the mass of content they have published on the Web. Chris Smith paints a compelling picture for SEO automation in this classic post.

Using a service that promises to register your site with “hundreds of search engines” is good for your site’s rankings. If you believe that, then you may also be excited to know there is a Nigerian prince who desperately needs your help for which you will be richly rewarded.

The clickthrough rate on the search results matters for ranking. If this were true then those same third-world link builders would also be clicking away on search results all day long. 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*)

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. Bounce rate can reflect one of three things or a combination of all:
1) The searcher didn’t express the intention clearly, i.e. poor query
2) The search snippet promised something the page doesn’t deliver, poor snippet
3) The page did live up to the promise made on the snippet and provided a quick and complete answer to the searcher’s query. For these reasons bounce rate is ineffective as a ranking signal.

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. 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.

Spending lots of money in paid search helps your organic rankings. Sometimes I wish it was that easy but no, the two are unconnected.

It’s either SEO or PPC. Nope, both have their place, and both have strengths and weaknesses.

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.

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.

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.

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. SEO starts well before the site launches and continues for the life of the website.

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.

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.

SEO is free. I wroteaboutthisone 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.

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. The time it takes a neophyte to learn the details that make SEO work will be lost to your company.

Since the advent of personalization, there is no such thing as being ranked #1 anymore because everyone sees different results. Although it is true that Google personalizes search results based on the user’s search history, the differences between personalized results and non-personalized results are relatively minor. See for yourself by testing your queries — the second time adding &pws=0 to the end of Google SERP URL.

Don’t use Google Analytics because Google will spy on you and use the information against you. This one comes straight from the conspiracy theorists. Google has made numerous assurances that they aren’t using your traffic or conversion data to profile you as a spammer.

We have been around for a long time/are famous, so we don’t have to do SEO. Uh, no. I could write an entire book on the reasons why.

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 only work after you have optimized the basic SEO building blocks of your site. Most advanced tactics build on the basics, not replace them.

Kicking off an SEO program is a slow, many months long process. This can be the case, but it doesn’t have to be. 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.

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.
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 (aka the trophy terms) may not be receiving any search volume other than from the CEO him/herself.

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 movebothyourownandyouropponentspieces.

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 search results — 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.

Our SEO firm is endorsed/approved by Google. If an SEO firm asserts “We are Google approved”, turn and run. Google offers no such endorsement of SEO firms or consultants.

Stephan Spencer is author of Google Power Search, co-author of The Art of SEO, and founder of Netconcepts (acquired by Covario).