Unfortunately, the SEO world is like the Wild West… many marketers who hire SEO “experts” are taken for a bumpy (and expensive) ride. (Yeehaw…no thanks!) SEO is cloaked in so much confusion that it’s easy for SEO firms, freelancers and developers to get away with doing poor SEO while still managing to collect money from marketers.
For marketers who need high quality SEO, but don’t make a living out of following Google like a hawk, I’d like to debunk a few SEO myths. Believing these myths can be destructive to any company’s website and Internet presence.
1. Exact match keywords are “so 2015!” Not quite…
Google’s algorithms are placing less importance on exact keyword matches in copy, but websites with exact keyword matches still rank higher than those with just relevant matches (when all else is held equal). For example, for the term “gourmet coffee,” the websites that frequently mention “gourmet coffee” will outrank those that mention “specialty coffee” or “gourmet Joe” instead of “gourmet coffee.” (Note: Keyword matches will never compensate for bad content and overusing keywords.)
Keep your SEO copywriters. To rank for valuable search terms, you still need skilled wordsmiths who can use exact keywords plenty of times without sacrificing the quality of the writing.
When the focus on exact match keywords dwindles completely, Google’s focus will be on relevant keywords. You’ll still need good wordsmiths on your team to help you rank for these. (Quick note: While exact keyword matches in body text lose importance, Google is placing more value on exact matches in headings, links, menu items, and buttons.)
2. SEO is “going away.”
Where is it “going,” exactly? On a Caribbean cruise?
Marketers of all types (even including the non-SEO breed of digital marketers) say “SEO is going away!” This leaves SEOs asking, “Where do they think it’s ‘going’?” The answer is: it’s not going anywhere. The assumption that SEO is “going” makes sense because industry best practices are changing so quickly. The SEO of 2017 looks very different than the SEO of 2015.
So, yes, SEO best practices of the past have “gone away,” but only to be replaced by the best practices of today, which will soon morph into the best practices of tomorrow.
Don’t ignore SEO or think of it as a concrete set of best practices. Think of it as the science and art of predicting and following a constantly changing Google… in a way that pleases Google and your website’s users. Yup, it’s a rollercoaster! That’s why many marketers hate it…but SEO is here to stay, no matter how many fun and creative expletives people shout at it.
3. Sites with a lot of text rank poorly in Google search.
Cue the annoying buzzer…“Wrong!” Google loves websites with a lot of text…even if users don’t. Although Google hasn’t admitted that it ranks sites with a lot of copy higher, I and many other SEOs have found otherwise. (SEO studies come to the same conclusion.)
Don’t be afraid to have 500 words or more per page of your website. Is long text overwhelming to users? Of course…which is why website design is important. Here are a few solutions:
You can put the most important and relevant information near the top of the webpage, so it’s easy to see. Down below, you can add more copy for that small percentage of users who actually wants to read more. Use plenty of clear subheadings and break your paragraphs up into 3-5 lines to help users speed read your content easily.
You can also use tabs and text blocks to split your copy up by topic. This will only make one section of text visible at a time, when the reader clicks on that block or tab. Google will see that you have plenty of text on your site, but the user only sees the text that she clicks on and chooses to see.
4. Google is always forthcoming and truthful with algorithm changes.
Google makes plenty of claims about how certain changes impact or don’t impact rankings. Some of these claims are false. This isn’t my personal opinion; it’s a fact that many SEO researchers have proven, and most SEOs acknowledge.
Often, Google will claim that a certain type of characteristic or change to a website does NOT influence organic SEO rankings. SEO researchers who test this claim (using thousands of websites) will find out Google’s claim is false.
I’m not suggesting Google is malicious, but only that it operates with discretion. One reason for the secrecy could be to prevent unethical SEOs from abusing an algorithm update. Another could be to keep sensitive algorithms information from falling into the hands of competitors. The Starks protect their secrets from the Lannisters, don’t they? (Game of Thrones, anyone?)
Don’t assume that Google’s claims are always true…and use sources other than Google for your research on algorithm changes. If you’re wondering how algorithm changes impact your site, it’s best to read online publications like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Journal, Moz Blog, and Search Engine Watch, to name a few.
5. Organic SEO will yield short-term financial gains.
Don’t do organic SEO for a month and expect miracles, choirs of angels and $100 bills to rain down from the sky. Organic SEO’s purpose is to build your website’s credibility and authority with Google so Google will rank you on page 1 of search results…over time. Organic SEO will also bring you leads…over time. The longer you perform organic SEO, the better your results will be.
If you’re looking to be number one in search engine results next week and you want new clients from search right away, try Google ads. Google ads are a great short-term lead gen. solution…but they do have a downside.
The downside of ads:
Ads they do nothing to improve your website’s quality, authority and credibility in the eyes of Google. Once you stop paying for your Google ads, your website will disappear off of the front page of search results immediately (Poof, just like that!) if you’re not doing organic SEO with it.
Patience is a virtue with organic SEO! A good search engine marketing strategy will involve a mix of paid Google advertising and organic SEO, to cover your short and long term needs.
6. Your website developer does SEO.
Many developers claim to do SEO, but they don’t. No need to sharpen the pitchforks; this often isn’t malicious on their part. Often, even highly skilled developers don’t realize what true comprehensive SEO entails if they’ve never worked alongside SEOs to develop a website.
Plenty of developers claim they do SEO because they technically do dabble in it…but they don’t do it comprehensively. (This is similar to how many SEOs dabble in website development, but don’t do it comprehensively.)
For SEO, good developers write clean code, make sure websites are well organized, ensure the sites have fast load times, are secure and don’t break, etc. This is all vital to SEO, but it’s not nearly enough. Without an SEO to do the rest, your rankings will suffer.
A website needs an SEO and a developer working together. Expecting one person to be a good developer and a good SEO is like expecting your lawyer to do your accounting. Both fields are time consuming and changing rapidly every week. There isn’t enough time in the day for one person to stay up to date in the skills and and knowledge required to truly excel in both fields
7. Good content is all you need for high Google rankings. Focus on quality content and life will be sunshine and rainbows. (Oh…if only…)
I hope that this will be the truth one day…but today is not that day. The goal of every website should not be to just “to create good content that pleases users.” It should be “to create good content that pleases both users and Google algorithms.” Why are user preferences and Google preferences different? Is Google evil and trying to trick us? No.
Artificial intelligence isn’t advanced enough to judge good content as human users would, so pleasing Google and the user aren’t always one in the same. (This is why some sites with fantastic content still rank poorly in Google search.) Google uses algorithms to decide which content and sites are worthy of good rankings.
Algorithms judge sites based on thousands of factors (keywords, alt tag text, headings, anchor text, site maps, amount of copy, backlinks, etc.). This is why SEOs have to do a fun little dance and shuffle between pleasing the user and pleasing Google.
If an SEO ever tells you, “My plan is to create good content for you and the Google rankings will take care of themselves,” find a new SEO. An SEO who is also a content creator/manger should be able to create content to please your users and Google.
8. Plug-ins will do your SEO for you.
The assumption that one or a few SEO plug-ins will do SEO for you is, unfortunately, wrong. If it were correct, that would be glorious because would make SEOs’ jobs much easier…but SEO doesn’t work that way. Here’s why plug-ins can’t do SEO for you:
- Each plug-in focuses on a few specific aspects of SEO…but no one plug-in does everything. For example, some focus on title tags, meta descriptions, keywords, and headers. Others focus on backlinks and page speed. Others focus on website navigability, etc. No one plug-in will do everything that you need.
- Artificial intelligence isn’t advanced enough for apps and plug-ins to take over SEO entirely without human involvement. It will be a long time before AI can completely take over SEO. Why?One of the most important aspects of SEO is the human aspect. The human aspect of SEO involves the ability to manage the plug-ins and tools effectively and synergistically. It also involves the ability understand and empathize with the needs of the target audience. Most importantly, it involves using this understanding to develop content that speaks to the audience in the right places, in the right formats and at the right times…and changes along with the context.
- The quality of plug-ins fluctuates constantly. Plug-in updates dramatically impact the quality of plug-ins, so the quality of the same plug-in can rise and fall every time the plug-in is updated. A knowledgeable SEO will pick up on that. A layperson won’t. You’ll need someone with SEO knowledge and experience to manage all of the plug-ins, to work around their shortcomings, and to understand how to discern good plug-ins from bad ones.
Plug-ins can be a useful starting point for a website. They’ll help you start a few small SEO tasks, like setting up your title and meta descriptions, and alt tags, etc. Beyond this, think of plug-ins as tools…not as workers. They’re here to make work easier, but they won’t do it for you. You don’t have to be knowledgeable about SEO to use plug-ins, but you do have to be knowledgeable about SEO to use them correctly…in a way that will make them work for you.
9. You can outsource your SEO overseas for $5 per hour! We wish!
This idea so incredibly tempting…even for SEOs. As an SEO, it’s easy to imagine an entire army of $5 an hour employees doing all of the work for me while I sit on the beach drinking daiquiris and collecting cash. Ok…fantasy over! SEO doesn’t work this way.
The truth is this: the monotonous and repetitive parts of SEO (for example cleaning up messy code, inputting pre-assigned alt tags in 100 different places, etc.) can be outsourced. The other parts (for example, those that require a strong understanding of target audiences and content, or the relationship building aspect of backlinking) can’t be outsourced overseas.
At a minimum, as an SEO, you need to…
- Manage the outsourced work
- Ensure that it remains consistent with current SEO strategy (because SEO strategies change frequently as algorithms change)
- Be responsible for quality control in the outsourced work
Outsourcing is a great idea if you take the time to educate yourself on SEO, stay up-to-date with all Google algorithm changes, and mange your strategies according to the changes. If you can do this, you’re all set to manage your own outsourced SEO team. If you can’t, hire an SEO to manage them for you.
Keep in mind, any part of SEO that involves understanding your audience, creating or managing content, or developing a keyword strategy should not be outsourced overseas and should remain in the hands of a native English speaker (or a non-native speaker who has reached “native level” fluency).
How To Vet SEOs For Hire
Too many marketers are cheated in the Wild West of SEO. You don’t have to have a deep understanding of it to recognize a cheater. If you understand what questions to ask know how to recognize a fishy answer when you hear one, that’s half the battle.
When you hire an SEO, remember these few points:
1. Call References – Ask for references and speak to clients.
2. See Example Websites & Ask For Target Keywords – Ask to see sites that the SEO is working on now that have decent Google rankings, and ask them what search terms these sites are targeting.
The search terms they claim to be targeting should be terms that people would search on Google to find the product or service. The search terms they give you should not include the company or brand name because ranking for your own brand or company name is easy and often requires no SEO work. Search terms should also make sense to you and be relevant to the service/product the company provides.
3. Google Target Keywords – Google these terms yourself and see if the website actually ranks for these terms.
4. Interview SEOs About Strategy – Ask your SEO how he approaches SEO strategy and see if his answer seems legitimate. The most basic SEO strategy should involve at least the following elements:
a. Designing SEO content and navigation menus on the website in a way that drives traffic (a lot of visitors to your site) and conversions (clicks on calls to action)
b. Developing a sound internal linking structure on your site
c. Ensuring page load speeds are fast and technical aspects of the website are working well
d. Ensuring that your site is built using responsive design, loads quickly and functions well on mobile
e. On-page SEO should reflect the sales funnel. On pages that are informational and designed for prospective clients to learn about products, the search terms should be more general and shorter. (E.g. A bike retailer, on an informational page, might target terms like “mountain bike.”) On pages that are designed to sell a product, terms should be more specific and reflect buying intent. (E.g. Say the same mountain bike retailer sells a high end mountain bike like the Pinarello Bolide TT. The pages designed to enable users to order this bike should be targeting specific high purchase intent terms like “Where to buy a Pinarello Boldie TT”.)
f. Off page SEO should be used to build the credibility of your site through backlinks on high authority websites and business listings.
Whether you understand exactly what the list above means or not, you now know enough to find out if your SEO practitioner will focus on the right goals.
If you’re interviewing an SEO, it may be helpful to Google the terms in the list above to make sure you understand more about what they mean and entail. (If I explained them all, this article would be 10 pages, which is just cruel torture. I’ll save the explanations for another article.) Go and take on the Wild West of SEO! Now that you have a basic map helping you avoid some pitfalls, you may just enjoy the ride!
About the Author
Chiara Tedone is an SEO and content marketing manager. She develops and implements content and SEO strategies across all internet platforms, including websites, blogs, social media, email, online ads and more. Her strategies help companies improve their credibility, raise Google rankings, gain leads, nurture leads, increase brand awareness and conduct PR, all online. Chiara has developed and implemented strategies for mid-sized and small businesses in the following industries: restaurants, retail, education, healthcare, professional services, fitness, non-profit, animal care and sports.
She graduated from American University in Washington, D.C. in 2007 with a B.A. in International Relations and a minor in Spanish. In 2016, Chiara graduated from the University of South Florida with an M.B.A. and a specialty in Marketing. Visit Chiara’s LinkedIn profile for more info!