The search engine optimization (SEO) industry is riddled with myths and misconceptions about how to get the best page rank on Google. Read our tips to see how user experience is at the heart of good SEO.
SEO myth #1:
Master the algorithm.
Google and other search engines use complex algorithms to determine which websites will appear in search results and in what order. But that doesn’t mean that you should focus on mastering the algorithms. Google wants its users to have the best possible experience and you should too. Many of Google’s 10,000 signals are related to what users want and expect on a website. Developing content that address your users’ needs will take you much further than trying to satisfy an algorithm.
For example, at one point Google put weight behind the words used in the first paragraph of a web page because people naturally mention the main topic of a page in the first 100 words. Today, Google rewards mobile-friendly sites because more people search from their phones. It’s all about providing the web experience users naturally expect.
SEO tip: Focus on meeting your users’ needs and Google will reward you.
SEO myth #2:
Web design doesn’t matter.
Do attractive websites rank better on Google? Not technically, but the same things that make a site attractive and user-friendly will improve your appearance in searches: well-organized content with headings, logical site structure with simple URLs, mobile-friendly sites that are easy to use on any device.
We all appreciate these things when we’re searching the web, and Google knows they make for a more pleasant web surfing experience. Prioritizing good web design and positive user experience will help your website succeed.
SEO tip: Design your website for your users, not for a search engine.
Repeat keywords frequently.
Once upon a time, keywords were one the most significant factors in search engine optimization. Because of that, many still believe that the best way to rank on Google is to repeat your keywords as often as possible. Not only is this practice ineffective, it can actually hurt your SEO performance. Imagine saying a friend’s name in every sentence you said to them:
“So, Hannah, how have you been, Hannah? Any fun weekend plans, Hannah? Hannah, we really should hang out more often.”
This type of keyword stuffing is unnatural and awkward to read, and Google is smart enough to catch it. Search engines use keywords to tell what your web page is about and determine if it’s relevant to a search query. Google compares the frequency of a term on your page to the term’s frequency in general. Google also recognizes synonyms and word variations, (vet, veterinarian, veterinary, etc.) so you don’t need to obsess over keyword density percentages.
SEO tip: Web copy should sound natural and audience appropriate.
SEO myth #4:
The more links the better.
The complex search engine algorithms boil down to answering two questions:
1. Is this web page relevant to the search?
2. Is this website an authority?
Links from other websites back to your page are one way Google determines the PageRank or authority of your website. Unfortunately, people have the misconception that any link is a good link. This leads to spammy comments, link farms, and sketchy companies selling links in bulk. However, Google says not all links are equal.
Remember, Google rewards natural practices: linking to a brand’s homepage when you mention them, linking to another page of your own website that’s relevant to this page’s content, or a blog post linking back to you if they quote you. Search engines will actually penalize your site if it’s using black hat link building practices.
SEO tip: The easier a link is to get, the less it helps your search performance.
SEO myth #5:
Results happen immediately.
Search engine optimization is a long-term game. It takes time to create rank-worthy content and build your website’s digital reputation. Don’t expect your website to appear on the first page of Google results the day it is launched. Before revamping your website or launching an SEO campaign, make sure you know how you’re currently performing. Then check back after one month, six months, and 12 months to see how much things have improved.
Remember that your end goal is never to rank on Google. You want to drive traffic to your website in order to reach your true business/organizational goals, and ranking well on Google is just one way to do that.
SEO tip: Remember SEO is just one of many tools in your marketing toolbox.
SEO myth #6:
SEO is all about SEO.
That’s not a typo. While SEO officially stands for search engine optimization, it also has come to refer to the practice of driving traffic to your website through search engine results. In researching this blog, I read posts explaining the technical difference between SEO and other related practices. They said things like:
Meta descriptions (the preview text you see on a search page) don’t affect SEO. Google has said it doesn’t read page meta descriptions and they don’t factor into page ranking. That’s an on-SERP function and not an SEO function.
Guess what? Google’s crawlers don’t read the text in meta descriptions, but humans do!
Most of our web clients don’t care about the differences among SEO, SERP, SEM, and SEA. They use the term “SEO” to mean showing up on Google and getting people to their websites from there. Having a well-written page description is one of many not-technically-SEO practices that will help drive traffic to your website—and increasing web traffic is the whole point of SEO anyway.
SEO tip: Don’t let web jargon distract you from your goals.
SEO myth #7:
You can trick Google.
Every time Google or another search engine releases information about its algorithms, people try to manipulate that info into better search performance. While it’s normal and appropriate to make updates based on new info, it’s not okay to try to beat the system dishonestly.
For example, when it was shared that keyword density affects search results, some sketchy web developers started writing keywords in white text that humans couldn’t read but search crawlers could. This is obviously an attempt to trick Google and it will get your site banned.
Similarly, when folks heard that heading tags helped Google determine what a page is about, they started writing entire blogs in title tags. Imagine the text of an entire book written in big letters on the cover. That would be nearly impossible to read! Google immediately caught on and started penalizing the practice. Underhanded practices do not work so don’t go there.
SEO tip: If you’re trying to deceive Google, you will get caught.
SEO questions answered:
What is SEO in simple words?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. It is the technique of helping search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) understand what’s on your website in order to position your web page higher in the search engine results.
Does SEO really matter? Does SEO work?
Yes and yes. If no one can find your website, there’s no point in having one. Too often, DIY web builders make mistakes that prevent Google from seeing your website. SEO is an essential part of building or revamping a website, but that doesn’t mean everyone should invest in large-scale SEO campaigns.
What should be avoided in SEO?
Avoid doing anything to purposely deceive search engines. Black hat techniques will get you penalized by Google.
How many times should you use a keyword on a page?
There is no magic number of times to use a keyword or phrase. Google recognizes synonyms and keywords that are near each other in text but not an exact match for the search query. Keep it natural.
Is more text better for SEO?
Not always. Some studies have shown that pages with 2,000+ words appear higher in search results but only if they are well-written and well-organized. Focus on sharing concise, readable information rather than hitting a word count.
Does paying for ads help your search results?
No. The most clicked results are organic, meaning not paid-for. In fact, paid ads in search results only receive 3-4% of clicks. Google has said repeatedly that having paid ads will not improve your organic results.
Is there a full list of SEO do’s and don’ts?
Northcutt maintains a regularly updated list of Google ranking factors that is very well cited.
What SEO myths have you heard? Do you have questions about web development and getting ranked on Google? Share with us in the comments!