Common SEO Misconceptions

Over the past couple of years, I’ve run into certain misconceptions in this industry that I was able to investigate and run experiments on.  The thoughts that I share here come from years of analysis and documentation so with that, here are some of the most common SEO misconceptions that I most commonly see and some band-aids to patch up these unnecessary wounds.

[SEO is guaranteed]
There is not a single SEO consultant who fully understands Google’s, let alone any search engine’s algorithm.  Let’s just say it’s slightly more complicated than A+B=C and in fact, even the head engineers only know portions of the algorithm.  In a nutshell, SEO success is built off of educated trial & error but you do have to know what the heck you’re doing.

[SEO is simple]
Learning the fundamentals of SEO are simple because they simply don’t change.  Good SEO is not just about applying the fundamentals, but rather the quality of links that are built to the site.  This part is not as simple as you would hope unfortunately.  A general rule of thumb that I have is that there is a general correlation of the level of difficulty of obtaining an inbound link to the quality and value that it brings to your site.

[SEO has instant results]
This would only be true in the case that SEO were magic.  Contraire my friend, SEO is actually a very time-consuming process.  The earliest I’ve seen results on a website I have worked on has been a little over 4 months with an average being roughly 6 months.  Put it this way, one night of healthy cooking will not result in 6 pack abs the following day.  You need months of consistent healthy meals and solid exercise to see those kind of results.

[SEO is a one-time thing]
If you’ve ever invested any marketing dollars, you might agree with me that one single campaign is simply not enough to sustain your business.  I suppose if this weren’t true, large companies wouldn’t need to pay an entire marketing division to continually come up with new messaging.  SEO is no different than any other marketing channel in that on-going maintenance is required to keep your competitors from outranking you in the search engines.  Bottom line, SEO is not a one time thing.

[Participating in excessive link exchanges with other website owners is acceptable]
According to the official guidelines set out by Google and I quote “Excessive reciprocal links or excessive link exchanging (“Link to me and I’ll link to you.”)” are considered as link schemes.  I suppose to an extent this is OK as long as the two industries are relevant, but don’t put all of your eggs in this one technique.

[Stuffing the meta keywords tag with a ton of keywords adds tremendous potential to your search engine rankings]
This tag wielded some influence about 10 years ago, but not anymore.  That was until a few Viagra affiliate dummies decided to stuff their meta keywords tags with a ton of unrelated keywords.  Many people have run experiments with this tag (including myself) and the majority consensus seems to be that the meta keywords tag has no benefit in providing any benefit to your website.

[Pay per click campaigns will influence Google to give a good organic listing]
I’ve been surprised at how many companies seem to think that a pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns will entice the search engines to bump up your organic listings.  If that were the case, there would be nothing “organic” about the organic listings at all would there?  PPC campaigns are definitely beneficial and have their purpose, but my opinion is that they should be done once SEO is finished.

[A large quantity of links will get me top rankings]
Remember, I said “quantity” not “quality”.  This is what distinguished Google from every other search engine on the market.  They assigned every URL on the internet (that they could crawl) a unique rank termed “Page Rank” which calculates a value based on the quality of inbound links.  I always like to say that 1 inbound link from is much more powerful than 100 links from some random, brand new blog.  One important factor I don’t want to neglect is that if you want to obtain a ranking for “best Seattle restaurant”, getting other sites to link to yours with the keyword “best Seattle restaurant” as the anchor text of the link helps more substantially than if the anchor text was simply the name of your website.

[Higher PageRank = Higher search rankings]
I think those who obsess over PageRank are either brand new to SEO or haven’t spent enough time doing enough of their own research.  To be fair, the majority of the case studies I’ve performed have shown that the results that show up high for popular keyword searches does indeed have high PageRank.  Many times I’ve performed a search and a website with a lower PageRank actually outranks the website with the higher PageRank.  In my opinion, PageRank only tells me how effectively a website channels and distributes the domain PageRank through its internal architecture (how a site links to other pages within the site).  At the end of the day, it’s just one of the hundreds of ranking factors that the search engines use in their algorithms.

[Content should be written for the search engines only, meaning they should contain lots and lots of keywords]
Although I believe the idea of “keyword density” is now dead, I believe that the emphasis needs to be on the visitor.  One of the rules of thumb I still remember and believe to this day from my AP English teacher was that word choice is critical in any writing piece and believe it or not, a word that is used repetitively loses its punch.  Do you BELIEVE me yet?  😉  When you write content for your website, make sure it is tailored to users and not the search engines.  Your goal is to make the user come back to your website because the crawlers will come back whether they want to or not…after all, it is their job.

[Since Google has over 68% market share, optimizing for Bing and Yahoo doesn’t really matter]
It’s like an independent travel blog trying to compete against Expedia or Trip Advisor.  There’s no point right?  Wrong!  Not everybody likes Expedia nor does everybody like Trip Advisor.  Likewise, not everybody likes Google.  In fact, I had a client that got mad at me that I used screen shots of Google’s search engine results page in a report to show them their results.  The ranking factors overlap for the most part, but there are subtle differences that unfortunately do not mix well.  I will say that Google has started taking steps in the direction of awarding search engine placement for user experience.  I’ll share more on this in another article.

[You can avoid duplicate content penalties by changing and swapping around a few words]
There are so many syndication sites for people to submit their content to.  The question is how often do you submit your content to these sites?  Also, what the heck does “syndication” mean?  Ever seen a commercial that was played on two different television stations?  How about the same advertisement in two different magazines?  That is a prime example of syndication at its prime.  This unfortunately doesn’t work as well with content.  When Google detects duplicate content, it essentially looks at both sources and tries to determine who the original source is.  Google will typically pick the one they feel is the original and label the other pages as mirrors.  These mirrored sites automatically get a PageRank of zero.  I’ve seen this happen for the majority of syndicated sites, but there are others that have multiple copies of content over the internet that show a decent PageRank.  Conclusion, I think if you do want to syndicate your content, it might behoove you to actually re-write the content and either subtract/add a topic.

[There is no point in obtaining a no follow link because they have no value]
If you don’t have any idea what a “no-follow” tag is, it’s simply a link attribute that sits inside the link tag that tells the search engines not to pass any PageRank to the URL it is linking to.  Remember, each unique link to your site acts as a vote of trust in the eyes of the search engines.  So now that we’re all on the same page, what would the point be to obtaining links that have the no-follow attribute?  My testing has actually shown that no-follow links actually do help with your rankings.

[Keyword research is only needed if you don’t know your customers or products]
Keyword research is a necessity by all businesses regardless of size, shape, color, or smell.  Whether you have no idea who your customers are or you know your customers a little too much where it borderlines creepiness (haha just kidding), determining which keywords are actually being used in the search engines is critical.  For example, do you think “cheap flights” is a better search term or “cheap flight”?  A quick use of the Google keyword tool shows that “cheap flights” gets roughly 25 times more search volume than “cheap flight” does.  This was one of the simple changes that I made that caused a ridiculous 450% increase in online bookings.  Even large and very established corporations sometimes need to go back to the foundations beginning with good ol’ keyword research.

[Linking out to other pages “leaks” your page rank – so avoid it at all cost]
If you spend a little bit of time reading through very established blogs, one common trait I see all of them share is the fact that they freely link to other blogs and websites.  The average blog post from a popular blog has a rough average of 3-7 links to other websites.  Part of being an expert in your field is knowing the right resources to link to that will provide maximum benefit to your visitors.  Although the act of linking to other sites provides no SEO benefit, what I’ve noticed is that whenever I link to other blogs, I either get referenced in future articles from those sites or I simply get a unique visit with a “thank you” for the reference.  This part is a bit of speculation, but I like to think of each page on your website as a lake.  If there are lots of inlets and no outlets, the water become polluted (information becomes all one-sided and has no other insight).

[Site loading time doesn’t matter]
Recently Google has launched a new tool called Google Page Speed.  They’ve also made some statements that page load speed may definitely become a ranking factor in the future because it falls under the user experience category.  It makes sense that Google is going to put a heavy emphasis on user experience of a website as their job is to deliver the best websites for particular keyword searches right?

[If you have the keyword in the URL, you will rank #1]
I have dozens of affiliate websites that have exact match domains, meaning that the domain of the website is a strong keyword.  Once I made the website live on the internet, I linked to the website from one of my test sites that were already indexed and on day 19, it was on page one of Google for the keyword search even though I had built no links to it.  I let it sit for another 2 weeks and it got bumped to position #13.  I built a few links to the site and today it sits at #3.  I don’t anticipate beating Amazon anytime in the near future, but considering the ranking I achieved for such little SEO work, not too bad.  All this to say that having your keyword in the URL will help, it’s not the be-all end-all solution to your SEO strategy.

[The search engines see singular keywords and a plural keywords the same]
Remember how we discussed the difference in search volume for “cheap flights” and “cheap flight” earlier?  Many people think that singular/plural keywords are not a significant factor to look at but as we saw it can be a significant one.  Another example would be “Seattle restaurants” and “restaurants in Seattle”.  Guess which keyword gets over 6 times more search volume?  “Seattle restaurants” does even though “restaurants in Seattle would be the keyword I would use off the top of my head to target”.  So think of a few keywords that you think you would like to target, visit some of your competitors and “borrow” some of the keywords they are targeting, or simply ask your friends/colleagues what they might use to find you in the search engines.  Compile a list of these keywords and see if any of them overlap.  It’s likely that the ones that overlap will be your strongest keywords.  Then write as many singular/plural versions of those keywords and run them through the Google Adwords keyword tool.  Of course this is only 15% of the keyword research process, but at least it gives you a good idea of what the potential demand may be.

I’m very curious to know if any of these come as a shock to you?  If you have a fuzzy idea of SEO that you aren’t 100% sure on, post it here and I’ll address it in the comments section.

About the author

Maximus Kang is the Director of SEO Strategy & Founder of Ranking Channel, a Seattle-based SEO consulting agency. With enterprise level experience at Expedia and agency experience at Optify, his SEO knowledge covers a wide spectrum. He also started his very . Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.

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