Today, I had someone ask me how to become an SEO because she owned a copy shop. They do websites on the side, and wanted to sell SEO services to her clients. My first thought was to tell this woman to get a prescription for Xanax before she did anything else. As we all know, becoming a competent SEO doesn’t happen overnight, and it can be completely frustrating!
And think about it: to really learn all the ins and outs of SEO is virtually impossible, and why there are SEO specialists. (Yes, like doctors.) Some SEOs specialize in architecture, others linking or PPC. But really folks, trying to sell SEO services when you don’t have a clue about any aspect of SEO is a very bad idea.
SEO does work, and any SEO worth his or her salt has proof. Yet, not everyone is cut out to be a constant student of the game. Things change on a dime and there are so many facets of the business to understand, no matter what you specialize in, that becoming a good SEO really takes years.
Can we all agree on that? Amen.
Most folks just want to learn a little SEO to get more organic traffic to their websites. This is good. Every webmaster should know a little SEO. I mean, just adding proper Meta data to your pages is better than having none at all. So, yes! Do those very important things, and leave the heavy lifting to the pros.
Don’t listen to all the dos and don’ts, either. Starting out, you aren’t sure about works and what doesn’t. Some of the things you’ll learn will actually hurt your site more than help it. So… Hoping that you want to make your own business better and are ready to go down the right path, here are some popular myths about SEO that we have all heard, but that should be totally ignored.
1. Bold and strong tags
Last year, I read an article on a reputable SEO site that said <strong> is more important than <bold> or <b>. I found this questionable. And today, I watched a video that corroborated my thinking. According to Matt Cutts that’s just not so! The <strong> and the <b> carry the exact same weight, as does <i> and <em>. Now, we don’t always believe what Google tells us, but I wouldn’t worry about running around trying to change your pages. You’re wasting your time.
Are <bold>, <strong>, <italics> or <em> still valid? Sure they are. I just wouldn’t go nuts using these enhancements for keyword phrases, unless the word is important in your copy and you want to indicate something important to readers. Use them! Just remember to follow people rules, not spider rules.
On the other side of the fence, if you have all these tags diligently coded into your pages so that there are too many for obvious keywords, I’d do some pruning. Having an overabundance of bold and italics text, it could be construed as “over optimization,” which went out with all the Google Panda/Penguin updates in 2012.
- Too many inbound links from sites you also own. A few are fine. 100 definitely is not.
- You’re using nothing but scraped content.
- You have more AdWords ads than real content.
- Hidden text (White text on white background that only spiders can see) on your page. Google really hates this, by the way. You’ll hear the wind whistle as the smack is nearly upon you. Big nasty.
- You have single product pages for every color of an item and separate locality pages for the same product. You can do this, but you’ll need to proper markup language on every page to make this work properly.
There are other items that will Taser spiders and turn them ugly, but the above items can really, really hurt.
2. Rel=”canonical” solves all ills
Rel=”canonical” should be used only on the original page where the original content lives. The tag is also helpful, if you have the same content on more than one page in your site. Be sure to use rel=”canonical” to alert spiders that yes, the second page is duplicate content, but here’s where the original lives. Please ignore.
This markup also comes in handy when you have more than one page for one article. People often think that they should use rel=”canonical” for all three pages.
Nope. If you have a three-page article, for example, and want Google to know about it, don’t think that you should use the rel=”canonical” tag, pointing to the first page from the last two. This will de-index your last two pages of content and you probably won’t want that to happen.
Instead, use rel=”previous” and rel=”next” for pages subsequent to the first. That way, you’re getting the most search bang for your buck. Rather than having your page rank diluted by three pages, it will keep page rank for the series of pages and give you a stronger position. You can learn more about these tags on the Google Webmaster Central Blog.
3. Preparing your website for search engines, rather than for people
I see this ALL the time. People hear that you have to have bold, italics, header tags, etc. They read they need to do this or that or the other thing, and guess what? If you build your site for spiders, you’re bound to have to change things time and time again.
Instead of creating a site that people will love, you’re probably losing readers and/or customers. Yes, by all means, still do some keyword research. You need to do this to see if the niche you want to market in will be profitable anyway. But you should also have three-to-five keyword phrases that work toward your purpose, and then use them in your content. Just don’t use them to the point where anyone would even notice. The writing has to flow!
Plus, you should still use Meta tags on every page. If nothing else, be sure to craft a good title and description. If a KW fits, great! Use it. If not, don’t try to stuff it in to make it work. This is just unnatural and confusing to spiders and visitors. Instead, think first about client experience. Make people happy. Don’t feed the spiders.
4. Guest blogging is a great way to get backlinks
You’re scratching your head, right? I mean, we’ve been hearing this for a couple of years or more now, and lots of people are still doing it.
I can’t totally deny that adding content to other websites that points back to yours is still a good thing to do. But, if you’re not writing for quality sites, you’re probably wasting your time.
Writing a guest post on just any old website won’t get the backlinks you’re looking for.
The website you write for should have a good reputation and be respected in its niche. The site’s homepage should have some page rank, or better, the page you’re posting to, though that’s not usually immediate. Plus, the website should get traffic. I wouldn’t waste my time writing for site with an Alexa score of more than 100,000. (I know that Alexa isn’t always 100%, but it’s a great rule of thumb.)
Writing for Joe Blow’s blog won’t get you where you want to go, not at all! So, don’t waste your time. Instead, put your time into creating killer content that people want to link to naturally.
5. It’s all about freshness
It really depends on the type of content you’re putting out there. For example, any search query about current SEO practice requires a response that is up to date. However, if the query is about something that is an evergreen topic – a recipe, a song lyric or information about a national monument, for example – the freshness factor doesn’t play as high a role in ranking.
It really depends on the search query. You have to decide the searcher’s intent.
Let’s take Hurricane Katrina, for example. Everyone in the U.S. and around the world knows what’s meant by that query. When it first happened, freshness was a huge factor. They were looking for news about the event. Today, when people type Hurricane Katrina into a search box, they’re probably looking for historical information. It’s not as important that the information be fresh.
E-commerce stores are another good example where the content doesn’t necessarily shift like it would for a blog, for example. So, when someone types in “black leather executive chair,” search engines will return any number of items, whether those items have been online since yesterday or forever.
Decide what your niche requires. If you’re writing about medicine, you’re going to need to concern yourself with freshness. If your site is about dog breeds, unless you’re writing about breeding techniques, you should still do well with some older content on your site.
6. All backlinks are good
Nope. Some are actually bad. Or, if you have a gazillion backlinks and they’re all from garbo sites, they won’t mean squat. Google doesn’t even count them! That’s how unimportant they are.
If you have only a few backlinks and they’re all coming from quality sites, your site will rank higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages) than another site with 100 links from low-quality sites.
So, what’s a low quality site?
Here are some aspects of a site that make it low-quality:
- Stale or thin content
- Too many links already on the page
- Sites in what search engines consider “bad neighborhoods,” so, spam marketers. Google considers sales pages and squeeze pages in this category. So, if you want to link out to those sites or they link in to yours, get rid of those links. This can also mean poor porn or gambling sites, though not all porn sites and gambling sites are spam. Offensive to some, maybe, but not spam.
- A new site with tons of backlinks that appeared overnight.
And so on. Here are some aspects of a high-quality site:
- Has well-written, relevant content
- High page rank, at least for the home page (at least PR3 or better, PR4 or higher)
- A site that gets lots of traffic
- A site that is very popular and gets lots of social media attention
Et cetera. You get the difference, right? I mean, a link from a WordPress site that’s still using the default theme is a link you DO NOT want.
7. You can change the structure of your site without a problem in search
I don’t care that your URL hasn’t changed. If you change the address of your pages, you’re causing a rift in the space-time continuum. Period.
One of my clients did this without my knowledge or advice. They completely changed their category structure in WordPress and didn’t redirect anything. It cost them $40,000 in one week! Why? Because every time someone hit a link in a Google search query, it came back 404. (Page not found.)
You can’t do that! Just as when you move your domain, you have to tell spiders that you’ve moved your content pages. You’ll lose backlinks and along with them, standings in the SERPs. If you’re doing big business, you WILL notice. It’s gonna hurt.
The Bottom Line
Remember that SEO changes constantly, so don’t listen to what people have said in the past. What worked then, won’t work now. The best thing for you to do, if you’re not a professional SEO, is to get Google Webmaster Tools SEO Manual and read it. Implementing the suggestions in there should be all you need to know.
Pat Marcello is the President and SEO Manager for MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ so you don’t miss a thing. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "SEO Strategy #1 for 2014: Be a Rock Star."