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Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Eight Common Myths Debunked

By Evan Bailyn |

As a search engine optimization (SEO) expert, I have conducted almost 100 trial-and-error experiments to understand what works — and what doesn't — over the past seven years.

Here are the things that do not work, as taken from my new book, Outsmarting Google: SEO Secrets to Winning New Business.

Myth 1: Your Google Ranking is Based on Your Website

This is by far the biggest and most widespread myth. The reason for its staying power is the fact that SEO in the early days was all about your website. It was about the keywords in your websites code and the density of keywords on your pages. Google came along and changed the entire game with its concept of PageRank, which relied mostly on an external factor: links. Links were much more difficult to manipulate, which is why Googles results were famously relevant to your search and mostly spam-free. Today, the only elements of your website that really matter to Google are your meta page title, domain name, and URL structure.

The caveat here, is that nowadays Googles algorithm is much more about what you should not do than what you should do. The key is to operate your website as if youre not trying too hard. If Google finds too much evidence of optimization on your site, it will prevent an otherwise-trustworthy site from ranking.

Myth 2: Your Google Ranking Depends on Esoteric Web Coding

Here is another myth that can trace its roots back to the early days of the Web. In reality, SEO is not a technical skill. Just like in the last myth, the exception to the rule that your code will not affect your Google rankings comes when you do something that Google specifically doesnt like. The most common code no-nos are:

  • Anything that slows down your site
  • Site structures that are confusing and difficult for Google to spider
  • Redundant or sloppy code that slows Googles spiders down
  • Lots of broken links
  • Black hat tactics

SEO is not about the kind of code you cant understand. It's about keyword choice, links, meta page titles, URLs and aging.

Myth 3: Click-Through Rates Affect Google Rankings

This is a particularly tempting myth because it sounds completely plausible. The idea is that the more people who click your website in the organic search results, the higher it will rise. This methodology is not employed by Google for determining rankings because Google does not know anything about the way users behave once they have clicked a website. All Google knows is that they clicked it, and perhaps, came back to Google later. Googles actual strategy–relying heavily on inbound links to determine rankings–is much more reliable because links tend to be earned by people with real knowledge of what is on the other end of them. Most of us wouldnt post a link to another website without vetting it. And because links are built upon a deeper level of knowledge, they have proved over time to be a much more consistent gauge of value.

Myth 4: Pay-Per-Click Campaigns Affect Organic Rankings

Google is clear about the fact that no correlation exists between the paid results and the organic results, and for good reason: It would undermine consumers trust of the search results, making its system more overtly capitalistic than it already is. Of course, any kind of "pay to play" system would be patently corrupt, especially for a public company. If Google sold its results, it would lose its reputation as a trusted search engine in a matter of weeks. And besides, Google already uses AdWords to get people to pay for first page placement and is making a few billion dollars a quarter from it. So Google doesnt really need to meddle with its most sensitive asset, the organic results.

Myth 5: Google Places Affects Organic Rankings

Google Places–the local listings of Google–plays a special part in Googles search results. These listings often show up above the organic results, sometimes even amongst them, making them one of the most important sets of results on the page. Google has given increasing appeal to these local results, recently rocking the SEO world by making them almost indistinguishable from the organic results. Just like organic results, Google Places listings are ranked according to their own algorithm. However, that algorithm has nothing to do with the algorithm that orders the organic results. What does the Google Places algorithm care about? It cares about keywords in business names, reviews, and links.

Myth 6: PageRank Matters

Many people believe that PageRank is Googles rating of the importance of your website on a 0 to 10 scale. In reality, PageRank is a slippery, correlative measurement. It is a distraction from TrustRank, which is the real measure of a sites importance to Google. The fact that a PageRank bar is available for the Google toolbar is misleading–and somewhat mean–because it keeps people thinking about the wrong system. If I see a PageRank of 4 or higher, it indicates to me that the site has been around a while and has links coming to it. In short, PageRank shows whether a site is established.

Myth 7: Commenting on Blogs and Forums Is an Effective Link-Building Strategy

In 2004, it was a fabulous idea to comment frequently on high-TrustRank blogs and forums, discretely leaving your link at the end of your comment. As long as you wrote something intelligent, people figured that the link was just your usual way of signing off, and the links passed TrustRank. All was good. But then the spammers came in. From 2005 to this very day, there has been such a plethora of linking being done in the comment section of blogs and forums that a new category has been invented to describe it: comment spam. I will end any speculation that putting links in your comments works. Not only do most blogs mark all comments with a nofollow tag, which blocks the passing of TrustRank, but Google very likely de-emphasizes comment links anyway because the system has been so abused. There is no reason, in Googles eyes, to consider those links a vessel of trust. In fact, they are not.

Myth 8: Submitting a New Site to Google Is an Essential Way to Get It Recognized

This myth, like many of the ones before it, has been around since the early days of search engines. It used to be that search engines asked webmasters to submit their websites so that there was a better chance the search engine would index those websites. Today, technology is much better than it used to be, and submission is no longer important. Getting a single link from another website typically gets your site indexed by Google in less than a week. The only time when submitting yours site is a good idea is if you dont plan to get any links for your website, in which case, Google might not know about your site until you make such a submission.

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