Regardless of how privy you are to Internet changes, search updates, groundbreaking technology, or who’s who in the digital marketplace, one thing is perfectly clear – things are always changing. Even if you are Joe Shmoe and spend your days calculating numbers and waiting in line at coffee shops, you notice that ads are showing up in your email or if your newsfeed has been reformatted, and then you adjust the way you use the aforementioned technologies. You adapt.
SEOs need to be extraordinary at adapting, as well as extraordinary at talking about adapting. 2015 was no exception. A certain company with a mission “to make the world more inbound” has published its annual list of SEO myths. While we agree with some of the established myths, we felt that the superfluous nature of some of the myths required a different perspective.
1. “I must submit my site to Google”
This one is half true. No one is forcing you to submit your sitemap, nor is someone holding your SERP ransom if you don’t submit your site. However, it would be in your best interest to submit your website to Google through the Search Console. Your sitemap will just tell Google, “hey! I updated my site – feel free to check it out.” XML sitemaps also hold ownership information, which can be handy in a duplicate content battle.
2. “More links are better than more content”
This is a myth. Achieving backlinks that pass along valuable page rank isn’t about how many of them you have; rather, it’s about the quality of them. Instead of focusing on just links or just content, you should work on these two together. Prioritize creating unique and informative content for your website first, then follow it up with outreach that’ll help you achieve quality backlinks.
3. “Having a secure (https encrypted) site isn’t important for SEO”
TRUE! It is a myth that having a secure HTTPS encrypted site isn’t important for SEO. Even though this isn’t a major factor for ranking positions on Google at this point, it is becoming more important, especially for E-Commerce. Also, Google announced in 2014 that it was attributing a portion of their algorithm to SSL validation, so that would indicate that an SSL certificate might be something to consider for your website.
4. “SEO is all about ranking”
This “myth” is actually a “truth” – assuming we are using the most general sense of the word “truth.” “SEO is all about ranking” is an oversimplified – albeit correct – definition of SEO. SEO is all about user experience, and experience tells us that pages that rank higher are higher quality. Ranking is not determined in a vacuum, but it is the most often cited measurement of SEO success, because a higher ranking almost always leads to higher traffic. So, if you are measuring the ROI of SEO, SEO is definitely all about the rank.
5. “Meta descriptions have a huge impact on search rankings”
True – this is a myth. Well-written, optimized meta descriptions won’t help you with your search ranking, but they will make a difference when pages are being shared on social media. If you don’t have a meta description, link descriptions will often auto populate with the first 140 characters on the page – regardless of whether the 140 characters are relevant. Unique descriptions also indicate that you or the site owner really cares about all the aspects of the website.
6. “Keyword optimization is the key to SEO”
WELL… While keyword optimization may not be the one and only SEO tactic that unlocks the key to search engine success – it’s a big one. Search engines are getting more sophisticated, but they are still text bots, reading only text on your site. Without an effective and relevant keyword strategy your website will miss out on all of those potential visitors and customers who are actively looking for your services. And even if your pages are optimized for user experience, it won’t make any difference if your target audience never clicks on your webpage in the first place.
7. “Keywords need to be an exact match”
This is NOT a myth! Though it is apparent that Google is making strides towards deciphering a searcher’s true intent – even if their keywords aren’t the most straightforward – the search engine still needs keywords to determine what the searcher is looking for. Using exact keywords in your content makes it worlds easier for Google to determine that your webpage is relevant to the user. The only caveat is that keyword stuffing is a big no-no. Use these exact match keywords naturally in your content and you’ll be good to go.
8. “The h1 is the most important on-page element”
Actually, the h1 is the most important on-page element – it determines the page’s organization. Stylistically, the h1 indicates the page title, which is usually the page’s most noticeable element. Technically, the h1 indicates the page’s first heading. In the Search Quality Evaluator Rating Guidelines, Google identifies Main Content (MC) as a major factor in determining the quality of a page, and MC is often indicated to users and Google through the h1. We’ve moved beyond keyword stuffing h1s, but the h1 still gives basic structure to website, and that is important.
9. “My homepage needs a lot of content”
MYTH? Yes and no. “A lot” of content could mean “a lot” of different things. Bottom line, it’s crucial that you have enough content for visitors to understand what your site is providing to them. While a simplistic approach might work well for well-known brands, lesser-known companies usually have to provide a little bit more information up front.
Like most things in SEO, it’s all about striking a balance between what’s useful for Google and what’s useful for users. Too much bad content can lead to penalizations for keyword stuffing. Too little can lead to penalizations for thin content. Provide enough rich content so that search engines and humans alike can understand your message.
10. “The more pages I have, the better”
MYTH? Yes and no. Quality almost always trumps quantity in SEO world. Pages for pages’ sake won’t do you any good. You should only be looking at beefing up your site as part of an ongoing SEO strategy rather than throwing pages up right and left. Sure your site may be “bigger” but it’s certainly not more valuable. It might seem like a no brainer, but the value of added pages comes from what you do with them, not their mere existence. So, in short, having more pages will not secure a better search ranking. However, if these additional pages provide high-quality content, then yes—they will improve your site’s quality and utility.
11.“Good user experience is an added bonus, not a requirement”
This is definitely a myth. Look at Google’s Search Quality Evaluator Rating Guidelines, and you’ll see the word (and variations of the word) “user” 1300 times. Google is telling us that the user is the priority, and his or her experience matters when searching. We talk a lot about SEO, but not much has been said about SXO, or search experience optimization. You want your page to rank well in Google search, right? The search is a question, the click on the SERP is a promise – so your page better deliver.
12. “Local SEO doesn’t matter anymore”
Hubspot mentions that “local SEO matters, probably more so now than ever before,” and that is so true. Google has been consistently increasing the importance placed on Local Results. First it was the Local Snack Pack, then there were updates to Google Now, and most recently they have updated Google Maps to include Gas Prices, Office/Store Hours, and Store Traffic Graphs. This indicates that local optimization is becoming a must have for a strong online presence.
13. “Google will never know if I have bad sites linking to me”
Total myth. Google is getting better and better at detecting those bad backlinks you have pointing into your website. In order to avoid a penalty, examine your backlink profile through Webmaster Tools, determine which links violate Google’s guidelines, and ask webmasters to remove them. For the ones you can’t remove manually, make sure to submit a disavow file. A reminder of the types of backlinks you don’t want: Links included in spammy/low quality directories, links you paid for, keyword rich anchor text hyperlinks in guest/forum posts, reciprocal links.
14. “Images don’t require any optimization”
This is a myth! Think about how you search for an image. As smart as Google is, you can’t ask for a picture of a cat and have it actually know what a cat is. Just like websites, Google doesn’t see an image (although image search is becoming more sophisticated) – just text and language behind it. Having your image show up as a search result is one more way you can direct traffic to your website.
15. “Answer boxes only matter if you’re Wikipedia”
Complete myth. As Google gets more and more sophisticated, they continue to strive toward providing the best user search experience. Sometimes that experience is best delivered by providing a straight forward answer to a question right on the search results page. And why shouldn’t that answer come from you? Can’t let Wikipedia and WebMD take all the credit.
16. “I don’t need a mobile optimization strategy”
TRUE! It is a myth that you don’t need a mobile strategy. Mobile users search very differently from desktop users, even in the same industries and categories. The advent of voice-based search means search phrases are longer and more question and location based. Just think about your own search activity here – while you may search ‘buy red shoes Minneapolis’ on your laptop, your mobile search is more likely to be ‘where can I buy red shoes near me’. Is your site optimized for both?
17. “SEO is something I can hand off to IT”
TRUE! While both acronyms, it is a myth that you can just assign SEO efforts to your IT department. Having someone with IT knowledge as a part of your SEO team is advantageous, especially since people in IT see sites similarly to the way Google “sees” sites. However, the keyword planning, copywriting, and strategy development is outside the usual scope of work for IT. You won’t want to hand off SEO to IT, but it would behoove you to include the IT department when creating your next phase of optimization.
So, it turns out that 3/17 of the designated myths are actually true, with many more begging clarification between fact and fiction. However, the biggest truth to come from this mythbusters special is that your SEO strategy needs to have the user in mind, above all else. Let that be your guide as you develop your SEO strategy in the New Year.