20 SEO myths you must leave behind
If there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t realized, we at Aukera decided that February should be the month of #SEOmyths. If the Discovery Channel can have a program called MythBusters, we don’t see why we can’t dedicate a month to doing the same 😉
Every day we’ve dissected and analyzed the most popular SEO myths in order to determine how much is truth and how much is urban legend. SEO and social networks, dangerous migrations, rookie SEO experts, keywords in bulk, WordPress and its miracles, buying links, and Google SEO “certifications”: these are just a few of the subjects we’ve talked about.
Do you want to find out about all of them? Here’s a list:
- SEO myth #1: “The more domains we use, the better”
- SEO myth #2: “Exact-match domains are great for SEO”
- SEO myth #3: “Manufacturer’s product descriptions save me time and effort”
- SEO myth #4: “SEO is about bringing people to the website. What happens afterwards, isn’t important”
- SEO myth #5: “SEO begins once the website is finished”
- SEO myth #6: “Social networks? That’s not what SEO’s about”
- SEO myth #7: “The hosting guys know how to handle migration”
- SEO myth #8: “I’ve done an SEO course. I’m an SEO expert!”
- SEO myth #9: “It’s important to use the canonical link on every page”
- SEO myth #10: “We can appear in Google results when someone searches for the competition”
- SEO myth #11: “I know my business, so I decide which keywords to use”
- SEO myth #12: “WordPress offers better positioning”
- SEO myth #13: “We don’t need SEO, everybody knows our brand”
- SEO myth #14: “SEO is much more profitable than SEM”
- SEO myth #15: “You must never buy links”
- SEO myth #16: “The secret to good indexing is making a good sitemap”
- SEO myth #17: “The more pages Google indexes, the better!”
- SEO myth #18: “Local SEO means making a page for each city”
- SEO myth #19: “You can do SEO without involving the client”
- SEO myth #20: “Google-certified SEO agencies”
SEO myth #1: “The more domains we use, the better”
Who hasn’t felt this temptation? It’s sales season and Tom’s Toy Shop, which specializes in puzzles, thinks the best way to organize its online catalog is to create a new section. So Tom sets up a new subdomain: sales.tomstoyshop.com.
Fantastic! Now there are seven domains and/or subdomains amongst which we have to divide our SEO efforts:
www.tomstoyshop.com, blog.tomstoyshop.com, photos.tomstoyshop.com, sales.tomstoyshop.com, puzzlesonline.net, woodenpuzzles.net, blog.woodenpuzzles.net.
What does this generally achieve?
- To divide by seven the amount of “link juice” transmitted via external links (as Google will treat these seven domains/subdomains as separate entities).
- To multiply by seven the amount of effort required for strategy, social media, content, etc.
- To multiply by seven the amount of problems related to duplication, security, maintenance, etc.
That doesn’t sound like fun! 🙂
So we should think hard about whether it’s really necessary to use alternative domains or subdomains. After all, the ideal thing would be to commit to a domain and then strengthen that brand via online channels. The payoff is much better in the long term.
SEO myth #2: “Exact-match domains are great for SEO”
It often happens: a client will tell you that, as part of his “amateur SEO strategy” (which obviously hasn’t worked, or else he wouldn’t have had to hire you), he’s bought a load of exact-match domains (EMDs).
The first thing he did was redirect all those domains to his “real” domain, the one that hosts the content, his company website. All of this serves no purpose whatsoever, because an empty domain doesn’t give Google anything:
- It offers no link juice, because no other domains link to it.
- It offers no relevance, because there’s no content to contextualize the subject.
The best option is to focus on generating quality content and garner links from “real” external sites that deal with subjects related to our business.
SEO myth #3: “Manufacturer’s product descriptions save me time and effort”
I’ve got an online store with hundreds – no, thousands – of products. And the manufacturer, out of the goodness of its heart, has given all its distributors a file containing all the information we could need about its products: photos, titles, specifications and, above all, really interesting descriptions.
Why wouldn’t I use them, if they save me so much time?
The answer is simple: because you’ll just be another content duplicator. Google will find the same text (i.e. virtually the same page) over and over again, in dozens of domains selling the same products. How can anyone tell which of them offers a better user experience?
Take the time to personalize your descriptions. Yes, we know it takes a lot of time and effort, but you’ll make yourself stand out from your competitors, give Google fresh content, and if you do your keyword research well, you can personalize your descriptions using terms that are semantically rich for your particular niche.
SEO myth #4: “SEO is about bringing people to the website. What happens afterwards, isn’t important”
At first, SEO was all about achieving rankings.
Then it was about achieving traffic, which rankings couldn’t always guarantee.
Later, we realized that traffic was useless without conversion.
Now it’s all about user time. The user decides whether the search results are good or bad, and if the user doesn’t click on our snippet, or needs to visit another search hit in order to find what they need, Google will reorder its rankings so that we don’t appear.
So although it’s important that users visit our site, they also need to find a solution for whatever prompted their Internet search in the first place. To achieve this, we need to master several disciplines, and usually work as a team: design, copywriting, usability, 2.0 culture, social media…
Always remember to bear in mind the user’s search aim in order to fulfill it to the fullest extent possible. This will improve the social signals detected by Google and improve your rankings.
SEO myth #5: “SEO begins once the website is finished”
The SEO process starts with the design of the website architecture. Or, to put it another way: we need to bear the SEO strategy in mind in order to determine what pages the website will have, how they’ll be linked, what the navigation menus should be like, how the different URLs will be generated, which of them should be indexed, what additional information we should include, our medium-term content strategies, etc.
When an SEO consultant visits a website that’s already up and running, the first thing they think is: “If only I’d been there to tell them how to construct the site, then I wouldn’t have to deal with this mess…”.
When a website has been developed without any input from an SEO expert, we can usually expect very limited results in terms of positioning. What normally happens is that the SEO consultant ends up proposing things that conflict with the development that’s already been done, resulting in double the work, frustration and misunderstandings.
So the moral of the story is: call the SEO consultant before you design your website!
SEO myth #6: “Social networks? That’s not what SEO’s about”
Although Google did say (and of course we believe them… don’t we?) that social signals don’t “directly” influence search rankings, frequently shared content has several advantages that will have an indirect influence on those rankings. For example:
- Improved branding: your brand will become more recognized and CTR will increase in Google.
- Greater reach: more opportunities for other users to link to your content.
Don’t believe it? Look at this 2013 correlation between social signals and rankings. Coincidence?
SEO myth #7: “The hosting guys know how to handle migration”
A short while ago I received an email from someone that some time ago requested an estimate for SEO migration. They eventually decided to leave the migration in the hands of the “hosting guys”.
The email’s subject header (this is true) was:
“Thousands of 404 errors”
We all have our own specialties, and for an SEO migration we need to bear a great many things in mind:
- 301 redirects between old and new URLs.
- 404 page optimization (because it will be necessary).
- Preserving the most valuable external links.
- Documenting the SEO starting point.
- Managing with Search Console.
- Ensuring the analytics continues to receive data.
- Checking the subsequent indexing status.
And all this just to change domain. If we also change the page structure, add new languages, migrate the server, etc. then the fun will really start!
SEO myth #8: “I’ve done an SEO course. I’m an SEO expert!”
There are many SEO courses. We’ve even organized one ourselves, and very good it was too, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves: no one finishes a course and becomes a professional overnight. Training alone is not enough; we need practical experience. Of course, we’re all free to write whatever we like on our LinkedIn profiles. But for heaven’s sake, let’s not mislead our clients, because they’ll end up disappointed and start bad-mouthing our industry and our profession.
Here are some roles that simply aren’t credible for someone without demonstrable experience:
- “Online Marketing Specialist”: digital marketing encompasses so many disciplines that the term “specialist” is too broad. You might not know about anything else, but sadly, that doesn’t make you a specialist in the one area you do know.
- “SEO Expert”: SEO is a discipline that requires many years of studying theory and putting it into practice. If you haven’t had time in which to make mistakes, you can’t be considered an expert.
- “SEO, SEM, SMM, Community Manager, Website Developer and Graphic Designer”: a Jack of all trades is most definitely master of none. One size does not fit all, and professionally speaking we should always avoid spreading ourselves too thinly.
- “SEO for my blog”: that’s like saying “chef for my own breakfast”. If we’ve only ever done SEO for our own projects, our experience is too limited to be extrapolated out into the professional world. If I can fry eggs just the way I like them, that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a good cook.
- “SEO in London, SEO Expert, Website Positioning in London”: well, at least you’re trying… 🙂
Sometimes it’s better to be clear and honest, especially in a sector that’s so frequently affected by “bubbles” and smoke-and-mirrors. If you don’t have much experience, say that you’re undergoing training and would like an opportunity to put what you’ve learned into practice.
SEO myth #9: “It’s important to use the canonical link on every page”
Do you know exactly how the rel=canonical works? I doubt it. You think you know, you think you understand it and that it’s incredibly useful… but maybe you’re wrong.
Setting up a “canonical” URL enables Google to distinguish between two pages that have the same content but are reached via various URLs. That’s why many CMSes and developers have elected to include the “rel=canonical” element by default on all their pages, directed at themselves.
What they don’t tell you is that Google’s resources are limited, and their crawlers will only spend a certain amount of time examining your website for new content. Using canonicals won’t stop crawlers from wasting their time on a series of identical pages.
For this reason, instead of using canonicals for everything, we need to optimize the website and eliminate (or redirect) the generation of duplicate pages or thin content that don’t add any value from an SEO perspective.
Something else they don’t tell you is that using canonicals can produce unexpected results. For example, combining a noindex with a canonical can result in the de-indexing of the “good” page! :O
Therefore, we should only use canonicalization when there’s a reason to, and only on those pages where it’s needed. And only under adult supervision!
SEO myth #10: “We can appear in Google results when someone searches for the competition”
This deluded client thinks the Internet is like the Wild West, and after hiring you the first thing he wants you to do is “make sure my company appears when someone searches for my competitors”. What a guy.
In the real world, he’d never dream of creating a radio ad in which he used his competitor’s brand. Oh, but that’s the real world; the Internet is something else, more like a game, or a joke, right?
Nowadays, trying to gain ground by using a branded search with a competitor’s name is (almost) impossible. Why? Because Google no longer focuses exclusively on the keywords we use on our website or the texts that link to our webpages. It’s no longer possible to position ourselves for any given term by simply using links and more links.
Google knows what users want when they search for something related to “Company X”; namely, that they want to visit that company’s website.
In other words, the search results are dictated by the user’s search intentions, and so Google knows it shouldn’t include our website among the search results.
That said, we can always use Adwords to get one over on our competitors. Using branded keywords is something of a legal grey area, but in practice, until someone makes a fuss, Google will look the other way. So maybe the Internet isn’t so very different from the Wild West after all!
SEO myth #11: “I know my business, so I decide which keywords to use”
Want to know how to a spot a company that can’t do SEO? If it asks its clients what keywords they want to use to position themselves, the answer is obvious – and even more so if it sells its services by weight, like peanuts. “Basic service, 5 keywords; Platinum Service, 20 keywords”. Avoid like the plague!
This is how we end up with scenarios in which a shoe shop declares that its keyword is “buy shoes” (even though the shop doesn’t sell its shoes online), and the pseudo-SEO company will busy itself creating dozens of link farms using that selfsame keyword, and then… Great Scott! We’ll have traveled back to the 1990s!
…with the problem being that nowadays, none of that stuff works any more.
Clients know a great deal about their particular business, but not so much about Internet usage habits. The client’s knowledge should be absorbed by the SEO agency through meetings and constant communication.
SEO myth #12: “WordPress offers better positioning”
Maybe this myth is a little more controversial than the rest. I don’t have anything against WordPress; in fact, it’s a CMS that we use in a great many projects (in addition to Tag Manager, of course). However, people often seem to ascribe it mystical qualities that aren’t quite reflected in the world of real experience.
Why is WordPress a good option when there’s no input from an SEO team during development? Because it takes into account certain elements that are otherwise commonly ignored:
- Hierarchical architecture.
- Multiple browsing options.
- Default use of taxonomies and folksonomies (categories and tags).
- Good practice with regard to automatic title or URL generation.
- Simple, frequently updated SEO plugins.
However, Google doesn’t “reward” sites simply because they were built using WordPress. In other words, an optimized website that was built bareback (i.e. without using a standard CMS) will still have the same opportunities to achieve good positioning.
SEO myth #13: “We don’t need SEO, everybody knows our brand”
Looking at the Analytics dashboard of organic traffic for a major brand simply takes your breath away. Nearly all the traffic arrives from simple branded searches, as the real driver of the site’s popularity are the company’s mass media campaigns involving TV, radio, the press, billboards and the like.
However, SEO still has relevance for major brands. Obviously NOT the same kind of relevance it has for smaller brands and those for whom organic is everything, but even so, big brands need SEO for the following reasons:
- Branded SEO: many branded searches aren’t simply for the brand name (e.g. “Adidas”), but also incorporate an informational component (e.g. “Adidas sizing”). If the brand doesn’t have a page explaining the sizing of its clothes, a competitor or informational website could take over these searches, meaning the brand would lose control of them.
- Short tail: every SEO course will tell you that it’s important to focus on long tail, as short tail searches are too competitive and not segmented enough. Although that’s true, for a major brand (e.g. Coca Cola) it would be useful to appear in generic searches such as “soda” or “cola”, because it can afford to and because, once again, it has branding value.
- Online reputation: it’s not only about improving position exclusively for transactional or branded searches, but also about gaining more control over the online impression that users are getting of the brand through their searches.
- SERP experience: although users may be able to find you anyway, the brand experience begins with the search results. Therefore, we need to take care of things such as rich snippets, sitelinks, knowledge graphs, etc.
- Content marketing: whether you’re a major brand or not, people will still want content and to be told a story. There are users at the top of the funnel that the big brands want to attract in order to generate brand preference and create loyalty.
SEO myth #14: “SEO is much more profitable than SEM”
It’s time to turn the spotlight away from SEO and speak up in favor of search engine advertising (yes, that’s right, I’m thinking of Adwords). Those of us who work in SEO have always argued that SEO is more profitable in the long term, because it retains its impact over time.
OK, so it’s clear that SEM ads will stop appearing as soon as you stop paying. Similarly, however, the impact of certain SEO activities is often temporary, as they involve content that needs to be kept fresh, while increased competition means you have to keep your nose to the grindstone. SEM also lets you do the following:
- Gain position in a very short space of time.
- Free yourself from dependence on a highly optimized website.
- Conduct endless experiments in terms of keywords and copies.
- Use different webpages and domain names for the same purpose.
- Segment your offerings more easily based on user type.
So does that mean SEO isn’t important? Actually, we think it’s much more important. But as to whether it’s more profitable or not: who knows? The fact is that SEO is inextricably linked to certain concepts such as usability, copywriting, technical configuration, etc. This means that a website optimized for SEO is a better website, which is something that cannot be said about SEM.
As always, the best option is a happy medium. The trick is to successfully balance the marketing mix of SEO+SEM and adapt it to suit each project in order to achieve the best possible results.
SEO myth #15: “You must never buy links”
No, we haven’t gone crazy! Raise your hand if you’ve ever bought links…
We can be politically correct for the rest of our lives, but that won’t change the fact that part of SEO involves buying links. Well, someone had to say it!
Of course, we shouldn’t ever base a strategy around it, but there are many circumstances where buying links is more than justified:
- Extremely specialized niches where link baiting is difficult.
- Results are demanded in a ridiculously short space of time.
- Very competitive areas (where everyone does it… misery loves company).
- Very segmented targets around one or more specific websites (and which allow link$).
In fact, even Google’s in on it; that’s why it “invented” the famous nofollow. But because we’re the bad guys, we don’t use it! 🙂
Seriously, paid links are like a drug, and should be consumed in moderation. But who isn’t naughty once in a while? Raise your hand…
SEO myth #16: “The secret to good indexing is making a good sitemap”
How many times have you read in an SEO blog that making a good sitemap is vital in order for Google to index the content you want from your website?
OK. Well, forget all that, because we’ve got news for you: Google can find ALL your content without breaking a sweat. It doesn’t depend on you at all; in fact, it doesn’t even need you, or your sitemap! 🙂
We’ll take this opportunity to debunk some other small myths about sitemaps, because:
- Google can find all your content without a sitemap. In fact, crawlers follow internal links, so all of the pages will be found. If it’s linked, it’ll be found.
- Google will index content even though it’s not on the sitemap. Some people still think the sitemap is like a robots file that tells Google (by omission) which pages it doesn’t have to index!
- Including something on the sitemap won’t make Google find it any quicker. Google won’t be rushing to check your sitemap every time it’s updated. You’ll have to wait until the crawler visits your site and finds the content (the closest thing Google has for “forcing” indexing is the URL Submitter).
In practice, one of the few benefits of sending a sitemap to Google is using the Search Console (formerly known as Webmaster Tools) to find out how many of the URLs we’d like to index are in fact indexed. In other words, it helps us check the health of our indexing.
And while you’re about it, take the time to check the sitemap has no incorrect URLs before sending it.
SEO myth #17: “The more pages Google indexes, the better!”
This might be true when, and only when, the pages are relevant and unique. However, lack of optimization on the part of content managers often means that thousands of pages with little or no value are crawled and indexed.
Here are some typical examples:
- Endless lists and paginations of all kinds.
- Calendars that generate a page for each day of the year.
- Pages generated via user interactions or searches.
These “junk pages” or “thin content” only serve to tie up Google’s resources, which are substantial but not limitless. That’s why one of its priorities is now to detect sites that generate high-quality optimized content and differentiate them from those that make it waste its time and resources.
Nowadays, one of the main tasks involved in SEO is “crawl optimization”; in other words, making life easy for the crawler.
Doing this allows Google to better understand the actual content of our website, determine which pages are the important ones and categorize our site as healthy and therefore trustworthy. It also encourages Google to visit the site more often and spend more time looking for new pages.
And most of all, it works! In every case where the first SEO recommendation has been “get rid of pages from the index”, crawling statistics have improved and SERP visibility has increased! 🙂
So we can actually say that YES, the more pages you index the better, provided they are:
- Quality pages with relevant, unique content.
- Semantically optimized to appear in search results.
SEO myth #18: “Local SEO means making a page for each city”
SEO in London
SEO in Manchester
SEO in York
SEO in Edinburgh…
Sound familiar? Of course it does: a heap of links (generally in the footer) to pages with exactly the same content, except for the fact that “London” is replaced by “Manchester” and so on. Apparently, this is “local SEO”.
Well, here’s another bombshell: Google knows where you work.
In other words, you can’t trick it. If you don’t have a business that’s physically located in Manchester, it’s increasingly more difficult to gain good positioning in localized searches for Manchester. And the reason for this is because, if someone searches for “SEO in Manchester”, it’s probably because (surprise!) they’re looking for a Manchester-based SEO.
Focus your efforts on searches where the user’s actual search intentions match up with the content of your website and the nature of your business, and then concentrate on local SEO using platforms such as Google MyBusiness while giving consistent local signals to the search engine.
Of course, it’s a different matter entirely if your website is a directory, with details of professionals in each city: in that case, having multiple links makes sense, especially for searches in which the user’s intention is to obtain a list of options (e.g. a user searching for “hotels in madrid” will expect to find an aggregator containing details of the best hotels).
But for the love of God, please leave that footer alone and put the links where they’ll be useful for the user!
SEO myth #19: “You can do SEO without involving the client”
This is less a myth and more an enormous lie. “Of course, don’t worry; we’ll do the SEO for your website without having to waste any of your valuable time”.
Seriously? You want to improve a company’s positioning without working in close collaboration with the people in charge, without forming a team with them? That’s simply impossible!
Arranging face-to-face and telephone meetings, not to mention exchanging hundreds of emails, is vital in order to:
- Gain a perfect understanding of the specifics of the company’s business, market and competition.
- Plan new long-term strategies and ensure everyone is on the same page.
- Learn about the new products or services the company is developing.
- Find out about new developments, trips, awards, etc. in order to integrate them into the online strategy.
- Periodically report results and agree on new actions to take.
- Adopt new ideas proposed by sales and/or marketing staff.
- Identify and tackle seasonal variations in order to make the best use of them.
Not involving the company’s staff seriously limits what can be done in terms of SEO, and that’s no good at all for the majority of competitive online scenarios faced by companies today.
So, rather than mislead your clients, the next time they say: “Yeah, but we don’t have the time to focus on things like that”, you should start to question whether or not you really want them as a client.
SEO myth #20: “Google-certified SEO agencies”
There’s no such thing as a Google-certified SEO agency (or expert). Period. So all those agencies trying to give the impression they’re Google-certified are simply lying.
Every potential client should be aware that certain Google certifications do exist:
- Google Analytics: there are hundreds of certified professionals, but only a few certified agencies.
- Google Tag Manager: currently there are only certified agencies, and few of us at that.
- Google Adwords: there are hundreds of certified professionals and lots of certified agencies.
Google also has partners for certain services, such as Google Apps, although they lie outside the scope of digital marketing.
The truth of the matter is that Aukera is certified as an agency for all these services, but when it comes to selling an SEO project we all need to be clear and explain that Google doesn’t regulate suppliers. It only establishes guidelines for good practice, which some agencies follow and some ignore.
Recently, Google once again stated that it’s not planning to offer SEO certification. So Pinocchio, stop claiming you’re a Google SEO Partner!
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