Mything the point: 10 erroneous SEO strategies exposed

Google's recent Panda and Penguin updates to their page ranking algorithm shook many web marketers and search engine optimisation (SEO) agencies worldwide. Many totally dropped their keyword and link-building obsessions, and obsessed instead over quality content.

That's not a bad thing. For a start, it has weeded out (some of) the SEO sharks who promise to 'get you to #1 on Google'. (C'mon, you've seen the ads.)

But the downside is that it's left many a small-business operator — who handles their own SEO — confused and unsure about whether or not he or she has transgressed some Google yellow line, and what is now considered best practice and what is simply a waste of time.

What follows are 10 myths exposed about what does and doesn't make Google tick.

Site submission.

One of the most common offers we see from SEO agencies and web marketers is that they 'will submit your site to Google'. Wow. Thanks. Really. For, well, literally for nothing. The idea that you need to specifically submit your site to Google to have it appear in search results is nonsense. Google will find you.

It might be a nice offer for your web designer to 'throw in' site submission (hey, we do it!), but its dollar value is zero. A specific submission to Google may — may — get your site indexed and ranked marginally faster, but submission in and of itself guarantees nothing. What you, or your web designer or SEO agent, should be paying more attention to is telling Google what pages you do and don't want indexed. You want your most important pages to take the lead, so letting Google know which pages are the most important and which the least important is a crucial part of SEO strategy. This can be done via a 'robots.txt' text file.

SEO needs to be done by an IT expert.

The abbreviation does it no favours: SEO sounds like geek's business and belongs only in the hands of tech heads with hardcore nerd cred. Yes, there's some nerdy stuff involved such as site maps and redirects, but the technical side of things is only one element of successful SEO. In the long run, it's more important to develop a continuing content creation strategy and then wrap your SEO around that, not the other way around. Remember, your IT guy dresses up as Doctor Spock and possibly has a large collection of Barbie dolls. Nothing wrong with that, but is that who you really want managing your SEO strategy?

Links versus content.

'Twas a time when links back to your site was the be-all and end-all of SEO strategy: the more links to your website from external sources, the more popular you must be, the higher your site ranked.

That was a long, long time ago.

Backlinking is still important, but if you have a budget to establish your website's authority, I'd say "Hire someone to write for you". (Someone like, well, me.)

Too often link building strategies focus on the number of inbound links rather than on the quality of those links. But backlinks are no longer a numbers game: more important, as far as a linking strategy goes, is to make sure they are quality links from good sources and that they link to relevant pages and content. Blind links that have nothing in common with your site or business do more harm than good.

Quality content and quality user experience are the attributes Google wants to promote, so while link-building is still valuable, quality content is non-negotiable.

Meta descriptions no longer matter to SEO.

This is a good example of page rank being perceived as the only pursuit of SEO, when in fact it is far more complex than that. Okay, okay: back in 2009 Google announced that meta descriptions (and meta keywords) had no bearing on a given site's ranking. A meta description is a beneath-the-surface attribute of a web page that concisely (like, in 30 words) describes what that page is about, and which typically appears in a search results pages where they are presented as previews or snippets beneath a site's listing.

But given that Google doesn't pay any attention to that description, why bother, right?

Wrong. Even if Google doesn't pay attention, customers do. These meta descriptions are a prime opportunity to separate yourself from the rest of the riff-raff on a given search results page and to convince people that your site is worth clicking to.

Getting your site ranked highly on Google is only half the battle; you still need to convince people to click through to your site and meta descriptions are a premium place to do it.

Keyword density in the new, umm, keyword density.

The idea here is that Google no longer searches for variety of keywords but instead searches for how many times a given keyword or keyphrase is mentioned on a given page. Because, say, if the phrase 'logo cheese' is mentioned a dozen times then that page must be about logo cheese.

Trying to shoehorn content into this notion makes for very awkward, sometimes nonsensical, sentence constructions. Worse, it doesn't work. Google is not that stupid. Sure, you should aim to write a killer headline that clearly forecasts the content or article to follow, but that's simply good writing. Forcing it to fit a clunky, unmemorable keyphrase because you think that's what people will search for is muddleheaded.

Write for readers, not for search engines.

H1 is the most important on-page SEO element.

This is similar to keyword density. The idea is that the title tag (such as the heading element, H1) identifies certain text as particularly important and therefore Google will index it because, well, it's so important as to have been given an H1 title tag. This kinda used to be the case, but when Google woke up and noticed entire sites written as H1 headlines they smelled hooey.

It makes sense to use heading levels to present well structured content, something both reader and Google will appreciate. Again, that's simply good writing. Writing for readers foremost and using structure and pacing to present your most important concepts up front and closer to the top of the page is not a bad strategy. But overusing heading levels can make your content look disingenuous and may be penalised by Google accordingly.

My homepage needs oodles of content.

Depends on what you mean by 'oodles'. Think of your homepage as the H1 heading for your entire website. It has to talk to your customers: why are they here and what can you do for them? Keep it as simple as it needs to be: what value will the visitor find here? If your name is Dropbox and your value proposition is all about simplicity, then a login is all you need.

For most, though, a bit more content and context is necessary. Visitors should leave satisfied, neither over- nor underwhelmed. How much — or how little — content this requires is really up to you. Remember: it's all about quality of content, not quantity.

Google won't notice.

So you've been exchanging links with clients, relatives and friends to try to push your site up the page rankings. Just a few, mind — not, like hundreds or thousands. You're not, after all, some huckster trying to game the system, right. And besides, Google won't notice.

This was Google's dilemma: backlinking (as described in the previous paragraph, even though you might not call it that) connected lots of different sites to lots of other different sites, regardless of quality or even similarity. This led to very poor search results. Consequently SEO (and, by implication, Google) developed a poor reputation. Poor results meant poor accountability for Google's source of income, GoogleAds, which meant, horror of horrors, Google's earnings took a hit. Clearly that wasn't acceptable and they took what steps were necessary to promote usability and a quality user experience ahead of mere backlinking.

So, regardless of how little or how much you've indulged in it, Google (which is, don't forget, just an algorithm) may see it as manipulation and punish your site accordingly.

And Google knows. Google knows!

It's all about rank.

Yes, there is a strong correlation between search results and clickthroughs, but page rank is not the sole-goal it used to be.

Studies have found that users typically favour the top three search results on a page; however, it has also found that this same behaviour is displayed for the top three results of any page in the first 10 or so pages of search results. Further, with new tools that allow for 'rich snippets' and author tags in search results, top-three results are being displaced by display strategies that make use of these new tools.

Even before these new tools, however, ranking in and of itself was no guarantee of success. Remember Lots of fanfare, bucketloads of investors' money. Absolute dog. Top ranking, died on its first day of trading. The trick is not just to get ranked: you've got to get them through the door and make a sale. That's what SEO is really all about.

That I have 10 myths to expose.

Actually, I only have nine.

In brief

More than just a quick *ank

We believe in content creation strategies that deliver organic SEO results. Every study — every study — shows that organic SEO, while perhaps slower, delivers better commitment and better results from prospects and customers.

We don’t muck around with Google AdWords and quick-rank black-hat SEO tactics because long-term they don’t work. In fact, the latter may even work against you. (Increasingly that’s more than a maybe; it’s probable.)

If you want SEO results that deliver long-term benefits like commitment rather than just clickthroughs talk to us today about a focused content creation strategy.


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