One of the challenges that the world of SEO presents us with is its lack of clarity. The search engines obscure their algorithms, and as a result, SEO is really a best practices game. You can learn more about what works best by constantly testing ideas on your site, but ultimately your overall SEO strategy will be part art and part science.
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Layer on top of that the fact that the search engines continuously tune their algorithms, and the result is an unstable landscape. Worse still, there is tons of misinformation published, often as the result of the ignorance of the author. Some SEO myths have been with us forever, but today I plan to focus on the newer myths that have been emerged only in the past few years.
7 New SEO Myths
1. All Guest Posting is Bad: This myth is the newest of them all, and it was spawned by Matt Cutts blog post of January 20th, 2014 called: The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO. In this post Cutts details the many ways that people have abused the concept of pursuing guest posts to obtain links to your site. In fact, he goes so far as to say: “stick a fork in it”.
However, it is foolish to translate this into the notion that all guest posting is inherently evil or bad. The article you are reading right now is effectively a guest post. However, I don’t publish articles here to obtain links for SEO, I do it because I value the Forbes audience, and because of the reputation and visibility benefits it brings.
If you are pursuing guest posting make reputation and visibility your primary goals, and you should be just fine. Might there be some SEO benefit? Possibly, but you will make poor choices if SEO is your main goal. Let any SEO impact be a side effect rather than the primary goal and you will be far better off.
2. Social Media Signals Drive SEO: This one has been popular for the past few years, and you will see articles that argue that social media is the new SEO. Nothing could be further from the truth. There are many reasons for engaging in social media, and your business almost certainly should have a social media strategy, but don’t do it because you think it will drive your rankings in the search engines. For some backup of this, you can reference these two articles:
- Google’s Matt Cutts: Are pages from social sites ranked differently?
- The Totally Mathematical Reason Social Matters to SEO
Pursue social media as a way to build your own visibility online. Find out what social media sites have your target audience on them and develop presences on them as a way of connecting with them. Google has repeatedly denied any use of social signals as a ranking factor (other than personalized search using Google Plus) and Bing has abandoned even the personalization aspects of social signals and has instead decided to show social media information in their right sidebar.
3. Link Signals Are On Their Way Out: There are many who believe that link based signals are no longer a good ranking signal, and that Google must find an alternative. The Russian search engine Yandex recently abandoned links as a signals, and that only adds fuel to that fire.
The fact is that inbound links to a web site remains a very strong ranking signal, and it will remain that way for some time to come. The search engines won’t move away from using links as a ranking signal until the have a better signal source, and they don’t have that yet. In fact, Google’s Matt Cutts recently confirmed that they have tested a version of Google that does not use links as a ranking factor, and they abandoned it.
4. Google’s Search Results Are Broken: Another popular myth is the notion that Google has a severe problem with their search engine, but nothing could be further from the truth. Here in the US their market share remains quite steady at 67.6% (source: comScore, January 2014 data), and internationally in most countries the Google market share is 80% or higher. Google’s search business does not currently face a major threat.
5. AuthorRank is a Ranking Signal: In June 2011 Google announced Authorship Markup. This new initiative involved a method for tying content you publish to your Google profile page, which in turn provides Google better methods for tracking what you publish online.
This rapidly led to speculation that Google would track the authors who were the most authoritative and reward them with higher rankings. Google unwittingly fueled this speculation with their own statements. The most famous of these was the following statement from Eric Schmidt:
Within search results, information tied to verified online profiles will be ranked higher than content without such verification, which will result in most users naturally clicking on the top (verified) results. The true cost of remaining anonymous, then, might be irrelevance.
However, little evidence has emerged that there is much happening with that as yet. The only exception is that Google’s Cutts verified that they use an AuthorRank like concept as part of their In-Depth Article feature:
An example of that can be seen here:
This is a pretty sparse application for AuthorRank, and all evidence suggests it is rare when individual authors get included in the In-Depth Article results. You should put a lot of effort into your authority online, but do it for the sake of building your visibility and reputation. Do implement Authorship markup as well, as there are other benefits to that, including getting your author photo showing in the search results next to your articles:
This is definitely worth doing, but don’t expect short term SEO gains, and invest for the long term.
6. Correlation Studies Tell Us What Google Uses as Ranking Factors: Ever since Moz started publishing their search engine ranking factors correlation studies (you can see the 2013 edition here) people have been assuming that these studies show us exactly what Google uses in its algorithm.
It is important to remember that these studies measure correlations. They don’t show whether or not any of the tested factors are actually used by Google in their algorithm. Notice the strong correlation between +1s on Google Plus and ranking, as it is the 2nd strongest correlation in this study:
However, the reality is that the correlation here is that content that is likely to be given a +1s by a lot of people is probably pretty good content, and that pretty good content is also likely to obtain a significant number of links. Note that link related signals make up the rest of the 10 strongest correlations in this study. You can see what Moz’s own Rand Fishkin has to say about correlation studies in this video.
Correlation studies are very useful if used the right way, as an indicator of when you are doing useful things as a marketer, but they can actually hurt you if you draw the wrong conclusions.
7. SEO Today is Only About Creating Good Content (the Rest Will Take Care of Itself): This myth is a new one on the horizon, and comes from people rebelling against SEO abuses of the past. It is true that creating good/great content is a part of the puzzle, but you still need to architect your site so Google and Bing can find it, there is still a role for keyword research, you probably should be implementing Schema on your web site, and a lot more.
You also need to market your site in some manner to build your reputation and visibility. The ranking algorithms still use inbound links as a major ranking factor, as it provides the search engines with information on which sites are the most valuable in response to a given search query.
Any one of these myths could be addressed in a full length article, but my goal today was to draw a bigger picture of how you need to process the claims that people make about SEO. People overreact to things that they see and hear, and it is important to evaluate any new claims with a critical eye. Rand Fishkin put together a great presentation on Why Great Marketers Need to be Great Skeptics that is worth flipping through.
You should be slow about making changes to your SEO plans based on any new claim. When you have an SEO strategy that is working for you, stay with it, and only adapt new techniques when the market has proven them out. If your current SEO strategy is not working, learn the fundamentals first, and stick with those until you get something that works. The latest new crazy idea is rarely the right way to go.