Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for positioning your website to get a steady ﬂow of visitors who are searching Google for your topic. But Google’s frequent and mysterious changes to its search engine algorithms keep the tactics and strategies of SEO in a state of ﬂux. Adding to the challenge of staying up-to-date is all the misinformation about SEO that ﬂies around the internet. “Knowing” the wrong things about SEO can lead to an even greater waste of time and money than not knowing the right things. “28 Popular SEO Misnomers” is here to spare you the pain of acting based on misinformation. You’ll be an informed consumer of SEO and won’t let anyone, either misinformed or ill-intentioned, to lead you in the wrong direction. Let’s begin.
SEO is a group of tools and practiced techniques used to take web pages to the top of search engine rankings for particular topics. SEO used to be very simplistic: pick your keyword, stick it in the right places on the page or in the code, maybe drop a bunch of links to your site in blog comments or junky sites across the web, and – POOF! There your page was, at the top. That era of SEO is gone. Yes, you still need to know how to pick keywords. Yes, you need to know the appropriate places to put them on your site and in the code. Yes, links (but not junky, spammy ones) are still important. But SEO is a much larger, more holistic process now. It’s connected to your search marketing strategy as a whole. It’s about building trust, relevancy, and authority in the eyes of the search engines and your visitors. And if getting to the top of search engine rankings is part of a business strategy, and is not just a game or an ego boost, you need to keep an eye on how it impacts your bottom line. Is it getting quality visitors to your site? Ones who take the actions you want, who become customers, subscribers or leads? SEO is not meant to operate in a vacuum. It’s a tool to monetize your web marketing investment. Make sure any SEO professional you work with is on-board with that. That’s what deﬁnes an advanced SEO professional, and separates them from the beginners and low-level hucksters.
Is your site a trusted source of information in your niche? Are you closer to a world-class doctor – or a quack? Factors include/may include:
Sounds like the factors are just naturally what you would want a site you visit to have, right? Right. Remember, Google wants its searchers to be happy with the results it provides them. Creating a stellar customer experience has always been a winning strategy, and that’s never going to change.
Probably the most common and fallacious Misnomer going around is that SEO is passé or a thing of the past. To believe this is foolhardy, to put it mildly. As long as Google, other search engines and online marketing exist, there is no way that SEO is going to be irrelevant. Will people stop searching on Google for their topic of interest? Will Google ditch its algorithm and start displaying random sites for search queries? No. What’s dead? Trying to game search engine rankings by aggressively deploying questionable and artiﬁcial tactics. If you’re doing that, stop. But if you want Google to think that your site is a great choice for a searcher’s question – that means that your site needs to be a great choice for a searcher’s question. You need to pay attention to your content, user experience (UX), branding, and conversion rate optimization (CRO). This holistic approach is what’s going to impress your site visitors and turn them into repeat visitors and clients. Good search engine rankings will just be the icing on the cake – your just rewards.
Maybe once upon a time. Design is very much a part of SEO now. In fact, Google pays special attention to the quality of the web design of a particular website. If the website is easy to get around, user-friendly and has top-class navigation, it is bound to rank highly on Google. Some of Google’s recent algorithm changes are related to webpage design (most importantly ad placement), which has bumped design to a signiﬁcant place on the SEO totem pole.
Guest posting has become a widely used technique for SEO, and with good reason. If your article or post is featured on someone’s website or blog, you not only gain online exposure, but the site owner will usually let you have a link or two back to your site. But be careful! Guest posting is usually only as good as the site or blog you post on. If it’s a junky blog that few people ever stumble across, your post won’t help your site much. If it’s an authority blog in your niche, of course you’d want exposure there. And Google will give you points, too. Here are some tips for effective guest blogging: Identify several blogs that are relevant to your business. Check each blog to make sure they have at least a PageRank of 1 and/or a Mozrank above 0.0 You should simultaneously make sure that the blogs you plan to get a link from have no more than 10 outbound links in the side bar, and no more than 4 outbound links in the footer Make sure there are absolutely no links going to websites related to SEO, porn (adult) sites, payday loans, diet pills, pharmaceuticals, or online gambling. If a blog has poor quality writing OR very low reader interaction OR shady-looking links, best to steer clear. And even once you ﬁnd good quality blogs, don’t make that *the only* strategy you use for SEO. Just like you wouldn’t consider hanging ﬂyers to be the be all and end all of an oﬄine marketing strategy, your search engine marketing strategy also needs to be varied to be successful.
As we mentioned strong, fresh, relevant content above in the SEO factors, it’s certainly clear that content is a major part of SEO. But if all you do is write, and write, and write some more, and don’t spend time promoting it and positioning it the right way, it’s doubtful that Google (or human beings) will pay much attention to it. Content is critical, but you need to know what to DO with the content.
No. Hell. No. You might have come across a homepage stuffed to the brim with copy, much of it looking a bit forced to human eyes. If you looked in the footer, you found even more junky copy, clearly stuffed with keywords. These pages are relics from the days when the search engine spiders were a little less intelligent. Now you get penalized for that. Or at the very least, not rewarded. You won’t be rewarded by the search engines, and human visitors will raise an eyebrow at your messy, stilted homepage. Not the best way to win a return visit or a customer. So what should be on your homepage? Have your keywords there, sure. But most important: make it clear to your human visitor what your page is about. If you would give people a 15-second test: scan the page for 15-seconds and tell me what the topic is – would they be able to tell you what the topic of your site/business is? If so, you’re good to go.
Outdated SEO thinking is that the more links a website has, the better its ranking will be. That’s so 2010. (And in internet years, that’s like style from the 1920s.) Link building is no longer a quantity game – it’s a quality play. It’s estimated that as many as 60% of the pages on the Internet are total spam (read: worthless, if not harmful, junk). In an effort to keep all that spam out of the search results, search engines attempt to evaluate the trustworthiness of a site. One of the factors is the links pointing at that particular site. If you have trusted links pointing at you, that’s a good sign that you’re trustworthy. If you have links from junky sites pointed at you, what does that mean you are? Yep. Links from spammy sites can actually hurt your rankings. (See Misnomer #15)
Okay, it’s true: all things being equal, the higher up on the Google results page you are, the more likely the visitor is to see and click on your site. But all things are rarely equal in a Google results page. Universal search (the inclusion of local results, news results, video results, etc. in eye-catching boxes) shook up the playing ﬁeld. Rich snippets (when Google adds expanded information to your site’s result, like ratings, price range or author information) can also drag the searcher’s eye away from the plain text results. While rankings are important (even if you have the most amazing site, but it never gets above page 15 for *anything*, that’s an SEO fail), focusing solely on rankings is both short-sighted and one-dimensional. What happens when people get to your site? Do they stay? Do they read? Do they become customers? If you’re page 1 for all your keywords and you get 1,000,000 visitors a day, but no one ever buys anything or clicks on anything, would you be happy? Have your eyes on the goal, and have rankings be the means to the goal.
Keywords and phrases containing the business’ location should appear in title tags, meta descriptions, and content. Simply targeting a city or state may not be enough to drive local leads. Going hyper local by targeting even more speciﬁc communities within your city can help get more customers through your doors. Our local SEO process analyzes where local website traﬃc is coming from and use that data to choose better geo-targeted keywords. The local SEO trend will continue to grow over the next few years as search engines are pushing to personalize results based on taste and location. The former is even more important because the majority of a searcher’s intent is typically local in nature (getting a haircut, ordering pizza or getting your car’s oil changed are just a few examples of speciﬁc local intent).
SEO has technical aspects, sure. Oftentimes you need to get the IT people involved when it comes to making code changes when they are necessary for SEO. But (to take an opposite example) if you would put the marketing team in charge of building your company’s website, you would end up with (at best) a really simplistic, barely functional site. Even if the marketing team needs to be involved in the copy and design strategy for a site, web development is a job for tech specialists. The same happens if you put in the tech team in charge of SEO. At most you’ll get some keywords on the site, hopefully in the right places. Are they the keywords that are poised to give you the best ROI? Are they realistic to compete for? Are they able to stay on top of all the changes Google makes when that’s not their area of specialty? Let each specialist help you in their area of specialty.
There is a common misconception that in order to improve your ranking and appear in search results you need to submit your website to Google. Google doesn’t need you to tell them about your website. It has a whole host of “search engine spiders” that “crawl” the connections on the web, reading all the code and logging it as they go. If you have a site, and don’t deliberately hide it from Google by putting instructions in code on your site, Google will eventually ﬁnd it. However, you can often help Google ﬁnd your site and/or your site updates faster by creating an account with Google Webmasters Tools. There you can request that Google “crawl” and log certain pages on your site. You can also tell Google other helpful information about your site, and they’ll give you helpful stats. So it’s worth doing. But again, it’s not necessary.
For the past two years, studies have been showing strong correlations between higher social signals (like Facebook likes and Google +1s) and higher rankings. In the case of Google+, if links to your site are shared on the social network, it may directly boost your site’s rankings. Additionally, since Google started putting such a large emphasis on personalized results, what you share on Google+ gets more of a chance of showing up in your Google+ contacts’ search results. Google is also moving in the direction of identifying authorities on particular topics, and giving the posts and articles they author a boost in rankings. The connections you specify between your Google+ proﬁle, your site, and your other social proﬁles give Google an idea about who YOU are, and how highly you’re regarded in the online communities. The indirect impact of social media on search in also signiﬁcant. If search engines are still primarily dependent on links to learn about a web page’s value, pages that are shared on social media usually end up being seen more and linked to more by those who see and read them. Whether the impact of social media on SEO is direct or indirect, it’s there. And the smarter the search engines get, the more web signals they will be able to take into account, and the impact of social will only continue to grow.
If by “not related,” you mean that one does not directly impact the other, that’s basically true. Investing in Adwords will not cause your organic ranking to rise, and Google doesn’t take your organic success into account in your Adwords quality score. But not so long ago, PPC and SEO marketing people practically saw each other as adversaries. In the regional parlance of my native state, PPC and SEO had an Alabama-Auburn like rivalry. Both were dubious and dismissive of the other side, and hence, both blind to the good and unique qualities the other side has to offer. PPC and SEO each have beneﬁts. When combined, they can work together as effectively as PB&J for increasing your website’s traﬃc for the right keywords. SEO campaigns can take many months to see ranking results. In contrast, PPC campaigns come online almost instantaneously. By using PPC, you can not only start getting traﬃc, but you can quickly and see which keywords attract the highest quality visitors, those that convert. Then you can use that information to know which keywords to target in your SEO campaigns. That way you potentially save months of effort trying to rank for certain keywords – only to ﬁnd out that the visitors that come through those keywords are low quality. PPC campaigns are usually hyper-targeted and have special landing pages written just for their ads. Even if you’re not running a PPC campaign, take a lesson from PPC and treat your site pages like landing pages. Optimize them not only for keywords, but for conversions – whether that is sales or lead generation. Test different kinds of copy and see what works the best. Take the best of both worlds for killer marketing success.
As said in Misnomer #7 above, the technical deﬁnition of SEO might be “get high ranking in search engines so more people visit your site.” But if you had 1 million visitors to the site and no one ever clicked, downloaded, contacted or any other signiﬁcant action, would you consider that a success or a failure? For SEO to be bottom-line effective, you have to look to the end of the line. Before you pour time and money into SEO, you might want to spend some time on conversion rate optimization (CRO). CRO is getting the most out of your website visitors. It’s ﬁguring out what changes to make on the site – whether it’s in the text, the images, the forms, or the check-out process – that will get a higher percentage on visitors to convert. Starting with CRO increases the impact of all future marketing, including SEO. If SEO would bring 1000 new visitors to your site a month, and your current conversion rate is 2%, SEO will bring you 20 new customers a month. If you can FIRST up that rate to 6%, the same time and money spent on SEO will bring you 60 new customers. Worth it, no? Food for Thought: How Effective are Your Calls-To-Action? Are your call-to-actions prominently placed? Is the language actionable? Do they entice people to click through? Are the offers being presented relevant to the content of the pages?
Keyword density is one of those Misnomers that has a long life. You’ll still see tools around that will let you check your keyword density for a page. The better ones will clarify that the tool is not to be used to search for a magic keyword density number, but to make sure your page is basically on target and is not “keyword-stuffed.” Google staff have said in oﬃcial Google videos that there IS NO magic number. Yes, you want to make sure your page is clearly about a certain topic. But if you keep mentioning the same keyword over and over, you’re going to hit a point of diminishing returns, and maybe even get your page a penalty for keyword stuﬃng. So follow the advice in Misnomer #10 above. Make your page on-topic, make it natural, give it some variations of your keywords. Read it to a human being and see if they can tell you the topic and conﬁrm that it doesn’t sound stilted. Then move on to the next page.
There was a time when buying links in spammy blog networks got you somewhere. Even once it wasn’t getting you quite as far, it may not have been harming you. And then site owners started seeing notiﬁcations from Google in their Webmasters Tools: “Google has detected a large number of unnatural links to your site.” Sometimes it stayed as a warning. Sometimes Google removed any power those “unnatural” links gave your site. Sometimes Google gave your site a manual penalty – a drop in rankings beyond even the effect of taking away that link power. A whole industry has sprung up of agencies that do link audits and help people contact webmasters asking to remove those links from their suspicious-looking sites. Google even created a “Disavow links” tool to let you tell Google that you don’t want links to your site from certain domains to be counted by them. “Oh, Google, I have sinned…” So, yes – spammy links can hurt your site. Give them a wide berth.
At one point, SEO blogs advocated publishing content frequently so that Googlebots would crawl your site more frequently. Unfortunately, this set off a trend where websites were quickly pumping out low-quality pieces of content. More is not better. All your website’s pages will get indexed, but whether or not they stay in the index is another story. If it’s a short, crappy blog post, indistinguishable from 1000 other posts on that topic found across the web, it’s not likely to attract links, shares, retweets, pins, or any other “sticky” search engine signals that help SEO. It may not stay in Google’s index for long. And even if it’s indexed, it will probably never show up on any visible search results page. You will get more mileage out of a single in-depth, well-researched evergreen piece of 1,500-2,000 words – with content your audience ﬁnds worthy of sharing or bookmarking – than ten 300-500 word blog posts strung together. Sites that resemble large scale content farms will get nowhere with Google and will not dominate the search terms you are after (whether they are your main keywords or long tail keywords). Far better to delete any low quality content and put less important content onto fewer pages. Concentrate instead on making the content on your site the highest quality you can and it will pay dividends in the long run. Misnomer #17. ‘Building a Spin-Off Microsite Will Help My Primary Site’s SEO’ Many of our SEO clients have come to us after having deployed this strategy. Not only has it not helped their primary domain, it’s also spread their SEO efforts thin. For example, a defense attorney creates a spin-off blog with a spammy name like www.nashvilledrunkdrivingattorney.com, then creates a series of blog posts and articles aimed at capturing ‘drunk driving’-related searches. But then your link building efforts have to be spread among two (or more) sites, instead of focusing on one, and having all the incoming links boost all the pages on that site. In addition, Google can see that both sites are registered to the same owner, so links from one site to the other may be discounted. The smarter strategy would be to silo content on the primary site in a user-friendly way . For the Nashville defense attorney, a section or category devoted to drunk driving defense would be the better move.
What is the Misnomer here? Adopting a successful mobile strategy will undoubtedly give your organization a competitive SEO advantage. A recent Mobile Path to Purchase Study performed by Nielsen on behalf of Google found that 74 percent of mobile users utilize a search engine during their purchase process, and that 83 percent of mobile users intend to make a purchase within a day. If you want to attract (and keep) mobile users when they ﬁnd your site on Google, make sure their experience when they reach your site is positive. Constant pinching and horizontal scrolling so they can read the text on your homepage is *not* a positive experience. There are three main types of mobile site conﬁguration. All are supported by Google. These are often confused and in practice mobile sites will blend the approaches. Responsive Web design (RWD) uses the same content for PC and mobile devices. All content is sent then reconﬁgured to suit the device using cascading style sheets (CSS). With a dedicated mobile site, the site detects the visitor device (using a tool such as dotMobi’s DeviceAtlas) and redirects them to a mobile-optimized site on a separate URL (e.g. from site.com to site.mobi or m.site.com). Adaptive Web design (AWD) or dynamic serving also detects the visitor device and serves a mobile optimized site, but this is done on the same URL (e.g. site.com).
Chasing and targeting the high-volume keywords is what’s known as a ‘rookie move.’ Spending time and money bringing visitors to your website for untargeted terms is beyond stupid if only a small percentage of those ﬁrst-time visitors are going to convert into repeat visitors (or customers). Use your resources to get targeted visitors. Who is your ideal client? What are they looking for? Being more speciﬁc will not only increase your chances of ranking (usually less competition), but will increase your visitor satisfaction and conversions.
Did you know Google Plus can help your SEO and get your website better placed on Google? Posts on Google Plus get their own URL, and links to and from that post are links in every sense. So if lots of people share a page from your website on Google Plus, that’s a lot of credible links pointing to your page now! And as we mentioned in Misnomer #11, the personalization of Google search results will also give a boost to the things you post when your friends search.
Do you know that “dogs” and “puppies” are closely related terms? So does Google. Google uses Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI), a method that associates words with other related concepts, to determine how to rank pages. A page that has semantically related words (in addition to the speciﬁc keyword you’re aiming for) is a clearer sign to Google that the page is relevant for that topic. And Google’s recent updates are pushing search more in the direction of being concept-based, as opposed to keyword-based. The Knowledge Graph, the Hummingbird update – all of these show Google trying to move away from reliance on speciﬁc words and variations and to better understand how concepts are related – the way humans make associations. So don’t build sites and pages that are hyper-focused on one word. Pick your keywords for each page, but have them in mind more as a topic, including related concepts. And in an environment where Google has many more options for pages that are “about” a certain keyword-topic, the authority of the page – who links to it, who shares it – becomes more important.
This is a companion piece to the previous Misnomers regarding search engine rankings. Often you ﬁnd website owners not only wanting to be ranked high, but at number one. The least they are content with is a top 3 ranking. Needless to say, it takes a lot of time, effort and resources to get to the #1 ranking for any particular keyword. Nowadays, it simply isn’t worth the investment. You can get the results you are looking for from your website without being ranked #1. There is no need for you to push towards the #1 ranking, though if you get there, it would deﬁnitely help. If you don’t, it won’t be the end of the world. Besides, the more you stress on this, the more you’ll be driven to employ black hat SEO methods.
The “Google Freshness Update” of 2011 informed the web world that Google was giving recently-published or updated content a higher weight for certain queries. One important point to bear in mind is that this update only affected “certain” queries: the queries where it’s important to have updated content. So for content relating to sports results, current fashion or hot news items, recency will be a factor. For content relating to anatomy or the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World, it probably won’t. And before you start on a writing spree, it’s worth checking that all your existing web pages are updated. According to Google itself, a “document whose content changes often may be scored differently than a document whose content remains static over time.” Update, re-write or expand on existing pages, and try to produce fresh content. But only make a big effort if you’re in a niche where timeliness would be important to a searcher – and if you actually have quality information to share.
Ever see Google results that have review stars? Prices? Recipes with images? Are you more tempted to click on those results, because they draw your eye and there’s more information? Those “Rich Snippets” are the results of semantic markup: little pieces of code that you put on your site to help Google understand your data better. And the results can increase your click-through rate when your enhanced listing shows up in Google Search Results. Semantic markup can help local businesses rank for local queries. Making sure a business’ geographic and contact information is listed correctly on their website should be the ﬁrst step when it comes to implementing schema onto a website. The Local Business section of Schema.org has a variety of categories that businesses can implement as part of the footer or contact page of their website, including address, phone, fax, operating hours, and even accepted payment types.
For small to medium sized businesses, video marketing can come off as something they don’t think they really need, or something that is way out of their company budget. This is due in part to the traditional view of video marketing being exclusively television advertisements. But small businesses can actually ﬂourish in the realm of video marketing, without ever running a TV-style ad. Publishing video content online can be one of the most eﬃcient and effective ways to market your brand to your consumer base. According to Axonn Research, “those who view such content are 85 percent more likely to buy than visitors who do not.” Video can provide an SEO beneﬁt as well. If you host your videos on YouTube, they have a chance of showing up in the YouTube search results. And all videos (even if they’re not on YouTube, although you may have to mark them properly) can show up in the regular Google results. Think of a search engine results page (SERP) crowded with text, links, ads, maps, etc, competing for attention. The video thumbnails stand out, possibly even better than the #1 result (according to some eye-tracking studies).
Black Hat SEO involves marketing techniques which are against the search engine’s guidelines. Employing these tactics can result in your site being penalized or banned from the index. This scary prospect results in people rejecting black hat methods outright without taking the time to think if these methods could be modiﬁed in an acceptable way. Oftentimes, there are effective white hat alternatives to black hat SEO techniques. Blog Commenting (otherwise known as ‘comment spamming’). Yes, please do not pollute the web with worthless comments that are only intended to get a link with certain anchor text. But why not play a more intelligent game? Find blogs in your niche and leave useful, informative and engaging comments that will cause those who read them to want to get to know you and the other things you’ve written. Paid Links. Buying or selling links that pass PageRank is an explicit violation of Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. Don’t join any program where you pay money and they put your link on (probably worthless) blogs they own. However, there is ambiguity over what the search engines consider a paid link. Is a donation to a charity a paid link? Is sponsoring an event a paid link? What about giving away one of your products that results in a link from high-authority website?
Focusing too much on your Google rankings is like being too wrapped in a co-dependent relationship – it’s just unhealthy. A healthy approach to SEO is sort of like the popular expression: You can’t love someone else until you learn to love yourself; in a similar fashion, it’s best to develop a strategy as if Google didn’t even exist. What content will actually help your customers? What will turn you into a beloved authority in their eyes? Here are some ideas of content types to get you started:
The intent of the searcher is also a key factor to consider when prioritizing your keywords. Assessing user intent is all about determining what the user wants and if you are able to meet their needs. After you collect search volume data, examine your list of keywords and ask yourself questions like: What’s the user’s intent behind a search query containing this particular keyword? Is their intent informational or transactional in nature (i.e., is the searcher collecting information on a product or service or are they poised to buy)? Where would someone searching for this keyword ﬁt into my marketing funnel? Will the user visiting from this particular search have a satisfactory experience? Will my content meet their expectations?the importance of keyword selection and seo
Will they take a prescribed next step or complete a website conversion goal, like sign up for a newsletter or start a free trial? A keyword may have high volume, but low intent to convert or complete a desired action. Or the keyword isn’t speciﬁc enough to attract a qualiﬁed user. So search volume alone should never be the only aspect that guides your prioritization efforts. Another critical factor is competition. Even if a keyword has high search volume and the perfect user intent behind it, if the search engine results page is ﬁlled with Apple, Wikipedia and other big names, you’re not likely to make it. Ever. Before you settle on keywords, make sure you (or whoever is doing keyword research for you) have checked the competition for any keyword you’re considering, and feel that your site has the chance to make it onto page 1.
Flagstone Search Marketing is an internet marketing agency based in Birmingham, Alabama. Flagstone focuses on cost-effective SEO, well-crafted inbound marketing programs, and affordable custom WordPress web design. Owner Carlton Smith has been focused on digital media content for more than 14 years, and has worked with many small businesses, law ﬁrms, state senators, as well as Fortune 500 companies. As an inbound marketing agency, Flagstone creates and manages demand generation programs for our clients. Our inbound platform includes integrated search engine optimization, email marketing, landing pages, lead intelligence and nurturing, social media marketing and contact management for every website or Content Management System (CMS). When we install our inbound software on your website, we track all traﬃc, user activity, and leads from your website and social networks so you can measure the impact of all of your programs in one place. Our Search Engine Optimization process is customized to address the unique challenges each website faces to performing well in the search engines considering speciﬁc factors such as: