All digital businesses know that SEO is essential to attract customers online, but beyond that basic understanding there are abundant myths about search engine optimization. The biggest underlying myth is that earning a high-ranking comes from finding the best arcane code to spam the system, which completely misunderstands the practice.
In truth, the best way for you to assemble a robust SEO strategy is to offer an excellent user experience. Assume that your readers are smart; they’re more likely to go to pages that are legitimately helpful. And definitely assume search engines are smart; Google and its competitors all want to give users that best possible experience. Their algorithms aim to help sites that deliver quality content and penalize spammers.
With this in mind, we can debunk bad practices and give your website the best tools to attract relevant customers.
Myth 1: SEO is all about keywords
Yes, keywords are essential to SEO, but they’re not the be-all-end-all. In Moz’s 2015 survey of Google search ranking factors, keywords don’t show up until the third factor and more than half of the described factors don’t even mention keywords.
As mentioned earlier, Google’s algorithm tries to favor pages that deliver the best user experience. The most influential factor described in Moz’s survey was “domain-level link features,” which is a measure of the page’s high-quality links from credible and highly ranked sources.
Google also takes into account features like readability, page length, security of encryption, and traffic. You’ll get small boosts from mentions on social media and larger boosts from mentions in news media. All of this prepares us to tackle the next myth…
Myth 2: Quantity matters more than quality
The basic ideas behind inbound marketing show that a single focused, high-quality post will do more for your ranking than a dozen rushed posts. Sometimes search engines will even decline to index a page that seems too similar to one they’ve already identified.
The quality-over-quantity principle holds true across SEO. A few relevant links to authoritative sits will do more for your traffic than a peppering of irrelevant, untested links. The same is true for keywords, which brings us to one of the biggest misconceptions in SEO…
Myth 3: I need to stuff my pages with one keyword
“Keyword stuffing” is a coined phrase and one that Google explicitly penalizes.
If for example you sell watches, there’s no amount of sentences with just the word “watch” that will give your page a top ranking. But if instead you use a long-tail keyword like “affordable waterproof digital watch,” you might be able to corner that niche, under the principles explained by HubSpot’s Rachel Leist.
What’s more: Google’s current algorithm understands synonyms and uses RankBrain machine learning to make sense of phrases it hasn’t seen before, and so it’s unnecessary to stuff a page with keywords. The algorithm is smart enough to look for the intention of the article behind the language. What matters more is staying on topic: mention the keywords early, give the appropriate context, and don’t meander.
Myth 4: SEO is all about getting a top ranking.
Even on the SERP (search engine results page), not all results are created equal. If I’m not sure the first result will answer my question, but the fourth result gets right to the point, I’ll click on the fourth result.
The measure of how often a page is opened after it shows on a SERP is called its “clickthrough.” One way to improve your clickthrough is by adding a strong meta tag in your page’s HTML. If a meta description is effective, the search engine will use it as the result’s description on the SERP. A good meta description gets right to the point and runs fewer than 155 characters, according to blogger Kristine Schachinger, although preferences vary slightly by search engine.
As an extra incentive, Bing and some other search engines are known to factor clickthrough into their rankings, although it’s unclear if Google does.
Myth 5: Answer boxes can only be bad for me.
Wikipedia might be the lead on answer boxes, but they certainly don’t hold a monopoly. You can corner some relevant answer boxes using classic SEO strategies and reap the benefit of superseding organic results.
Google’s answer boxes look specifically for pages that are structured and theme-relevant, according to Kirill Kronrod of Adobe. Perhaps the best way to accomplish both of these goals is to offer “how-to” guides in your area of expertise. The best guides will take on a specific challenge and solve it thoroughly while always staying on topic. As always with SEO, it’s about the user experience.