All industries change over time, and with this evolution certain outdated myths and misconceptions can linger. Perhaps the myth was based on a practice that was once recommended and no longer is, or maybe conventional wisdom for adjusting to new developments is just plain wrong.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is not immune from this phenomenon. If anything, myths are even more widespread in the digital marketing world since algorithm updates, internet trends and technological innovations are key components of the industry.
Whatever the cause, over the last few decades we’ve witnessed certain SEO myths that pop up and remain frustratingly persistent.
Myth #1: The more keywords I use, the better my page or site will rank
Once upon a time, not long ago, it was conventional wisdom to find a desired keyword and then use that keyword as many times as possible in the content in order to get ranked for that word or phrase.
For example, let’s say you were a realtor in Southern California and you wanted to target the search phrase “homes for sale in Los Angeles.” A digital marketer from back then might have written something to the effect of:
Those looking for homes for sale in Los Angeles have specific needs. Homes for sale in Los Angeles offer unique opportunities for buyers, so if you’re looking for homes for sale in Los Angeles, call us today.
A realtor might use this target phrase in as many sentences as possible, or even list a big block of target keywords and phrases at the bottom of the page. Then, each phrase would be bolded, with a link back to the main page where all the homes for sale in Los Angeles were listed.
This practice is known in the industry as “keyword stuffing,” and it certainly won’t help your site rank nowadays. In fact, it’ll likely do the opposite as Google and other search engines frequently penalize sites that engage in this outdated practice.
Years ago, search engines figured out that these “stuffed” pages weren’t what users were looking for. Therefore, the search engines started penalizing sites if their “keyword density” exceeded a certain proportion of the content. They no longer automatically rewarded you for a link on your keyword if it was done repeatedly in a small space or if the link didn’t go anywhere relevant to the keyword.
Myth #2: The amount of traffic to my site is the only metric that matters
This is another common misconception we encounter—that Google rankings are determined exclusively by a website’s traffic. On the contrary, other key performance indicators (KPIs) are used to rank a page, which in turn can generate higher traffic volume.
In addition to evaluating a site’s keyword density, today’s search engine algorithms look at user engagement metrics such as how long visitors spend on your page. If users immediately click off (“bounce”) because the content is unreadable or not what they were looking for, the page’s rankings will suffer. For this reason, you should carefully watch engagement metrics like your bounce rate and average time on page, and seek ways to improve those analytics.
Myth #3: Keywords are no longer important
As search engines keep getting better at figuring out exactly what people are searching for, we’ve seen myths crop up on the opposite end of the spectrum, too.
Now, some of our clients come to us with the mistaken belief that keywords are no longer important. Using links with your keywords means nothing, and backlinks don’t matter.
Well, unfortunately, such myths can be just as harmful (if not more so) as keyword stuffing.
It’s true that search engines are becoming more adept at discerning what a page is about without the exact use of a particular keyword. What modern search engines are trying to do is understand the specific context behind a search term. The ability to know a searcher’s history—which admittedly can get a little creepy at times—also helps search engines get a sense of what a user means by a search term.
In some cases, even semantic search terms and phrases can be enough to get your page to rank for a target keyword. But that doesn’t negate the value of using high-value target keywords tastefully on your page, including the H1, subheaders and the meta-tags.
Thankfully, you don’t have to stress anymore about getting your target keyword into the content 15 different times. And if it’s a phrase, you can tweak a word in order to make it flow smoothly in the context of a sentence, knowing the search engines are smart enough to still pick it up. But that is a far cry from saying that keywords don’t matter at all.
You still want a basic keyword to build your content off of by using it in the H1, subheaders, meta-tags, and in the first 100 or so words of the page copy.
Myth #4: Meta-tags don’t matter either
The same crowd that believes keyword strategy is outdated also tends to say that meta-data—the title and description of a page that shows up in the organic search results—is unnecessary. But that’s not true either, for a couple of reasons.
The precious and valuable space you get on an organic search results page is not to be taken lightly. Achieving a page 1 ranking is a success, and it’s your chance to tell searchers who are interested in your target keyword what’s on your page and why they should click on it rather than the 9 other listings (plus paid ads).
So our question is:
Why would you want to let a search engine bot control how your page is presented to users?
If you don’t create the title and description tags for your page, the search engine will pick some random content from the page. Maybe it will be good, or maybe it won’t. Given how hard you worked to get the page ranked, don’t you want to be the one who decides what searchers see?
Myth #5: Backlinks (paid or not) are the best way to get ranked
When it comes to backlinks, internal links and linking strategy, misinformation abounds—most due to folks looking for an easy “backdoor” to get their site ranked quickly. Such approaches commonly give rise to “black hat” SEO practices that can get a site penalized.
When it comes to keywords, the best way to avoid getting tangled up in SEO myths is to think like a human being, rather than a search engine. Produce the kind of content a real-life person who is searching on your targeted phrase wants. Provide them with links they are likely to find valuable.
In some ways, search engine algorithm changes in recent years have de-emphasized the importance of using internal links to point to other pages on your website. It’s no longer a hard-and-fast rule that you must have a link with your keyword. That said, it can still be valuable to have one.
Take our example of the spammy “houses for sale in Los Angeles” from above. If the realtor has a listing page on their site with all the available properties in L.A., then it can certainly be valuable to the user to link to that page. But rather than linking every single time they use their keyword, once or twice is good. Search engines will still notice. Better yet, design an eye-catching call-to-action button to improve conversions and boost the page’s engagement metrics.
Partner with an SEO company that can separate myths from facts
Search engine optimization is a complicated and ever-changing practice. But for you it can be simple—put the time in or hire an SEO company that understands the fundamentals and knows what methods are truly worth your investment.
What SEO myths and misconceptions have you encountered?
Let us know in the comments below, or via Facebook.