Lifting The Lid on SEO Myths and Misconceptions

More than three years has passed since Google rocked the SEO world with the first of their animal inspired updates, Panda. Since then we have seen multiple iterations of Panda, penguins galore and even hummingbirds. Much has been written about each of these updates and their effects on businesses, online visibility and of course SEO.

The SEO community should know full well how things have changed and yet we are still seeing so many mistakes being made on a daily basis. Clients and those less comfortable with marketing rely on SEO & marketing agencies to educate, inform and guide them and yet from what we are seeing much of the information being given is wrong, outdated or just simply made up.

Enough is enough, I am going to put straight some of the most common myths and misconceptions I am seeing in the SEO world today. I will highlight some of the key mistakes agencies are making and some of the crucial information SEO and marketing agencies are giving to their customers.

Why am I highlighting these myths? Simply because I am fed up of seeing so much incorrect information being given, so much scare-mongering among marketers and in seeing businesses both large and small waste their hard earned money. If you think your SEO or marketing agency is leading you up the garden path see if you can recognise any of the below myths. Likewise if you’re an agency still selling outdated information then now is the time to shape up and become a better SEO/marketer.

Blogging

OK, so there is only one place to start, blogging. One of the biggest myths I am still seeing from agencies and so-called-experts is the need for “fresh content” all the time. Honestly if I hear those words one more time! The term “fresh content” simply implies saying something when you had something to say. Unfortunately the notion of “fresh content” has become so engrained in people’s perception of what is required these days that they are producing crap content daily. The very notion of a 500 word article three times a week is the single biggest myth that exists in the SEO/online marketing world today.

What did your mum teach you as a child, “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? All too often now we are seeing businesses producing content for the sake of it, if you asked why they are producing a 500 word piece of content for their blog for the third time that week they would most likely reply “because that is what Google wants”. NO! Google has been telling us for years that they want quality content, their primary focus is to “return the best results for users”. Do you really think a 500 word article you had produced by a VA (virtual assistant) or kid on work experience is going to come even close? I didn’t think so and neither will Google.

Now is the time to stop this content madness, instead adopt a policy of only saying something when you have something worthwhile to say. It will serve you so much better in the long term. I tell all my clients to focus their efforts on producing one great piece of content every four to eight weeks. Wait a minute, only one blog post every couple of months? Yep, that is what I am telling you! Imagine how amazing a piece of content you could create if you had weeks and weeks to research and put something amazing together without the need to be churning out crap every other day?

Let’s look at a quick scenario to build a clearer picture of what I am talking about. For a second let’s think ahead to Christmas, you will inevitably take some time off for the festivities and no doubt look back at your business and its performance over the year. Now would you rather have produced three blog articles every week, all very average and purely content for the sake of content that no one finds any real value in OR would you rather look back and think I have produced two or three of the best pieces of content in our niche, they are ranking well, receiving page views daily and offer real value to our customers and the wider niche community? I know which scenario has more business value and that I would rather have.

So I guess you’re wondering how you can find something worthwhile to say, I speak to a lot of clients who tell me their business sector is dull and there is no exciting ideas to be had – My first response is that they chose to work in that industry so there must be something in it. I am yet to find a business sector where I was not able to create something fantastic to blow the competition away.

Guest Blogging

Unfortunately this has become a dirty phrase for many, why? Because the very concept of guest blogging has been taken, ripped up and burned to the ground. So much so that recently Google’s head of Web Spam Matt Cutts came out and said “put a folk in guest blogging, it’s done”.

What exactly did Matt mean I hear business owners cry? Well if you’re even remotely in the SEO/online marketing industry you will know exactly what this means. The last few years has seen an explosion in what we refer to as ‘blog farms’, websites that have either been created or re-purposed simply for the aim of allowing a high volume of guest bloggers to add their article and crucially gain a link back to either theirs or a client’s website. These ‘blog farms’ offer no value to the Internet; the articles are nearly always low quality and yet it is another common place myth that these types of links still ‘work’. The question to be asking yourself or your SEO Company is… ‘They may work now, but for how long?’

As an agency we love ‘guest blogging’ with one rather major difference, we have a no-blog-farm policy that our team adhere to vigorously. Unlike many agencies who believe it’s all about numbers, we focus solely on the quality and so should you. It all comes back to the age old question of ‘do you have something worthwhile to say’. If you do then absolutely look into guest blogging as it provides some fantastic PR and brand building exposure.

You will notice in that last statement I did not mention ‘gaining of a link’, this really should not be your primary focus when guest blogging if it is then you will likely end up in the wrong guest blogging circles. Instead research where your customers or potential customers visit online, look for the authoritative publications in your niche, if you can’t find anything suitable then look a little broader, look to your local area – does the local newspaper have a requirement for insightful articles from nearby business owners. Are you seeing a common thread of questions across multiple niche related sites, do you have the answer to those questions, if so there is your opportunity to contribute.

With guest blogging the world really is your oyster and you’re limited only by your creativity and desire to inform and educate. You can initiate your guest blogging yourself or employ someone to do this on your behalf just be sure to stress the importance in your desire for quality over quantity and no blog farms.

Guest blogging is a fantastic way of gaining brand exposure, building an audience and yes building links, as with all things it only works well if done properly!

Social Media

This is one of those myths I hear people talking about every single day, social media is the new SEO. You have to be on social media if you want to rank, you have to be posting daily on Twitter/Facebook – Wrong! Now I will be the first to advocate the power of social media, as an agency we help businesses use social media in a better way all the time.

The problem with social media is once again a question of quality and people believing they ‘have’ to have an account on every social media platform out there. You have probably been told yourself that you have to be on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ etc. You may even have signed up for all these media platforms in a blind panic, but have you actually used them? Do you know what value they are providing or even the ROI you get for time spent on them? I thought not, don’t worry you are not alone; the vast majority of businesses out there have these accounts but don’t really know what to do with them. Worse still many adopt the policy of ‘quantity over quality’ and set about tweeting multiple times a day or even employing a junior to ‘pin’ or ‘post’ anything and everything they can find.

So how should you be utilising social media? First do your research, look which platforms your audience are using the most then cull the rest, funnel down your ‘social media efforts’ to a maximum of two or three platforms at first and then take the time to join discussions, read forum posts, comments, see what is receiving the most retweets, likes or pins and keep a record of that content title, concept and what in your opinion it was that made people engage with it. Next, have a think where you could add further value to that discussion, what could you do in order to go one better. Key questions to be asking when thinking about engaging in social media are:

  • What problem are people having?
  • What are the common questions being posed?
  • What is receiving the most engagement (shares, likes) and why?
  • What is not receiving any engagement, why not?
  • Who are the influencers in your niche on social media?
  • How often do these influencers post, what times/days?

We have seen it time and time again, those who perform best on social media, build the biggest following and have the most engagement are the businesses who take the time to do their research and produce great content – it really is as simple as that. There is no magic solution or quick fix and anyone who tells you otherwise is taking you for a fool. Like with anything you do, you will only get out of it what you put in. So if you want to build PR and brand awareness by using social media roll your sleeves up, log in and start making notes.

Paid Search

As an agency we value PPC and believe it can significantly help many businesses to grow and reach a new and exciting audience (especially if they are in a very competitive niche and only just getting started). However we are continually seeing a content marketing myth surrounding PPC and that is it will help your SEO by running a PPC campaign targeting similar key terms.

From our experience this is entirely incorrect; having spoken to many other seasoned SEO experts we are yet to see a single case of this being true. It is yet again another one of those myths that has come from some misinformed marketer and then done the rounds. Unfortunately many business owners get sucked into believing such myths and create pay per click campaigns.

If you are running a PPC campaign in the belief this will help your SEO efforts, stop now! It will not help and you will be better served by taking a look at what you are doing from an SEO standpoint and highlighting what it is about you and your business that is linkable and how you are promoting your brand.

Author Rank

If you’re not familiar with authorship markup back in June 2011 Google introduced Authorship Markup and since then savvy marketers and SEO’s have been implementing the code on their website in order to benefit from having their profile picture appear next to the content they produce and publish (sometimes) and increased rankings. Since the very early days of Authorship, Google has not promised it will show your profile picture nor has it said it will recognise and count each and every piece of content you produce online, however it is still widely believed that Google counts author rank as a ranking factor and for us the verdict is still out on this one and that is why we have included it as a myth as the evidence to date is thin at best.

A quote by Eric Schmidt shortly after Authorship was announced fuelled the Author Markup debate, he said:

“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.”

Despite this now infamous quote the real-world examples of Author Markup having a direct effect on rankings are thin at best, instead the simple facts remain if you are producing great content and have your authorship set up correctly you will rank as users will naturally gravitate towards you and Google will in time reward this effort with a profile picture in the search results and the social shares/links your content is receiving will increase the rankings.

Our advice when it comes to Authorship markup is if you haven’t already set it up, get started now as it’s never too late. If you have everything set up and not seeing your profile picture then produce better content and try a little harder to be a better marketer – Google will love you for it!

Outreach

As an SEO I spend nearly every day of my life doing outreach in one form or another yet many still believe in a mentality of “if I build it, they will come” this simply is not the case. You can produce the best piece of content in your niche but if you don’t tell people about it nine out of ten times it will fall flat on its face. Now obviously there are exceptions to that rule, the huge publications online that already have an engaged audience do not need to worry about outreach but for the rest of us this is a must.

There are many forms of outreach but it is undeniable the most effective is email outreach with social media in second place.

Keywords

Recently I was talking to a business owner (who shall remain anonymous) about keywords and he said to me “keywords don’t matter anymore anyway”. Needless to say I quickly put him right, though I know she is certainly not alone in her sentiment that keywords don’t matter. Keywords absolutely do matter and always will however not in the way they once did.

When I hear people say that keywords don’t matter I know what they actually mean is that they don’t ‘work’ in the same way they used to. You can no longer stuff as many keywords into your website as possible, nor can you target dozens of keywords with a single web page. Keywords along with just about everything to do with SEO has evolved significantly yet despite this Google is still a search engine and despite all their advancements ‘keywords’ will ALWAYS play a significant part of SEO and rankings.

The key when it comes to keywords is to keep it natural. If you’re producing good content that is related to what you are offering/selling then keywords show flow very naturally, if not then I would look at what you are producing and ask why.

As an online marketer or SEO you will almost certainly start any project with keywords in one form or another and you should continue doing this. If you’re a small business owner do not shy away from keywords but equally do not get hung up on ranking for a particular keyword or phrase instead focus on the content you’re producing around that keyword.

Anchor Text

Over the last few years the topic of anchor text has done the rounds on just about every SEO or marketing blog. SEO’s have invented their own ‘ideal’ ratio of anchor text, we have heard it all from having no more than 10% exact match keywords to at least 25% as natural URL’s the list of so called ‘perfect anchor text profiles’ is ended.

The truth of the matter is only Google’s algorithms knows what it considers natural and I am damn sure there is not a ‘one size fits all’ policy anyway so why worry about something you have no control or insight about.

Much of the anxiety about anchor text comes from companies and SEO’s who have previously created dozens or even hundreds of exact match anchor links before Google sharpened up its algorithm and now they are worried their anchor text is over-optimised. If you’re concerned about your anchor text you can look to manually change some of the anchor text links however in all honesty if you were creating high volumes of exact match links in the first place the likelihood is these links are not the types of links you want to still be associated with so you’re best off disavowing those links altogether.

Another option is to just ensure best practice going forward. For many years I have had a policy of not asking for any anchor text at all, I leave that decision for anyone who is linking to one of my clients. Sometimes they ask what we would like; our reply is always ‘whatever you wish’. This ensures a natural anchor text profile and I would point out at this point that Google pays as much attention to the context of the link i.e. where the link is coming from, what the text of the article is about and where the link is going. The anchor text is by no means the only factor Google looks at when evaluating a link.

Ranking Top

There still seems to be a real fascination among SEO’s and businesses that they have to be ranking top of Google search for a particular keyword. It is all well and good being at the top of Google but unless you know that keyword is the right term for your business then what is the point.

Appearing top is really only a vanity measure these days as localisation and personalised search means almost no two people will be served exactly the same results. There are now so many factors in play when it comes to rankings and instead of focusing on ranking top for a given keyword you should turn your focus to the total traffic number to your website, unique visits and their time on site as well as user journey to name but a few key measures.

There is a great deal more value for any business in evaluating their overall traffic and increasing this month on month and refining the ROI than putting all your time and energy into ranking for a specific keyword.

SEO Tools

There is a wealth of tools available for marketers, SEO’s and business owners; some are very good while others fall far short of what they promise. However while tools can help increase productivity, reduce costs and provide additional insight you should not rely on tools for everything and this is one of those common mistakes I see even the most experienced marketers make time and time again. With great tools comes a tendency to rely on them wholeheartedly and this can have a negative effect as there is no substitute for human interaction. As an example a website can surpass every metric test an SEO can throw at it but a quick look with your eyes can tell you almost instantly if it is a good website or not.

Here at The Evergreen Agency we have a bank of what we believe are some of the best tools available however we still use our eyes and gut feeling for much of the work we do and our advice to you reading this would be to do the same. If you’re working on some outreach, then eye ball your curated list before emailing. If you’re conducting an audit and worried you have crammed in too many keywords take a look at the site and read it back.

As with anything in life, tools are great… In moderation.

Outsourcing SEO

Businesses: I am going to look at outsourcing in two different ways, firstly from a business’s perspective as we are still seeing a small minority of SME wishing to outsource their SEO and forget about it. These companies are wishing to ‘buy SEO’ and are not embracing what SEO is or what it requires to work best. SEO should not be thought of as a ‘buy product’ it should be incorporated into the online marketing makeup of a business, SEO must be thought of as an integral part of a business’s growth strategy as without this an SEO’s job is extremely difficult.

As an agency we have in the past worked with businesses who refuse to grant access to their website, do not wish to add any value to the industry they are in and are only concerned with ‘building links’. This as a mentality is very outdated and as a result we no longer work with any clients who have such an attitude toward SEO.

My advice if you run a business would be to get to know your SEO agency or team, find out what makes them tick, what they find easy about working for/with you and what problems they are having and then help address them together.

It is also worth noting that if you are reading this and thinking ‘I do that’, if you’re paying an SEO agency and not really having any involvement I would question what they are doing for you as the likelihood is it won’t be particularly good or most likely add any real value to your business.

Agencies: Working in the industry, we know first-hand how valuable a virtual team can be, those additional team members who can lend a hand when needed without the overheads and responsibility of growing your team on a permanent basis. Having virtual assistants or VA’s is a great asset however one misconception we are seeing is the belief that VA’s can do all the work. If you’re being paid to provide a service, it is your expertise the client is wanting and while a VA can assist and provide support they should not be doing all the work.

We have seen countless examples of projects that have clearly been completed with a lack of expertise at hand and that is assisting in given the SEO industry a bad name. I am not saying do not employ VA’s, but make sure you give your time to the work at least in part to ensure it is of the required detail and quality. Your clients will notice the difference and be much more likely to become repeat clients and refer their friends to you.

Other myths to add…

Private blog networks – not the best way, not needed if you can build links!

Google algo changes – to encourage more paid ads – NO, Google wants to return best content

Rank in double time – Won’t work long term, business reputation online – worth the risk?

How many external links should I have per page – don’t worry, keep it natural

On-page / Off-page – which matters more

Content – Homepage needs A LOT of content, internal linking

SEO is too hard – Wrong, it’s easy!

Any link is a good link – NO!

SEO is expensive to be done the ‘right’ way – produce your own content, makes whole process easier.

SEO takes too long.

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