Top 10 Search Engine Optimization Myths

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a funny topic. Other than a select few people who work for search engine companies, few have a true yes or no answer. The search engine companies hold their cards close to their chests, and webmasters look at results of their campaigns to see which techniques worked with the search engines and which didn’t work. From this guessing, combined with constant algorithm readjustments by search engines, many myths have arisen over time, 10 of which we will cover in this article.

1) SEO is for Cheaters

[login]Many people do not think this way, but I am constantly surprised at how many people still believe this statement. Ten years ago, search engines were not nearly as smart as they are today, and many people found relatively easy ways to trick the search engines. That has forced the search engines to become smarter. The spammers responded with more resourceful techniques, the search engines got smarter in response, and so this loop continues. Unfortunately, that creates a misleading situation that puts the spotlight on the spammers, and not the people who are trying to create great content and bring attention to that content.

Due to the evolution of the search engines, fundamentals are becoming increasingly important. For most search engine optimizers, SEO now means creating superb content or products, and applying correct, well-advised and ethical techniques so that the right audiences can find the content which is right for them. Due to the quality of search engine spam detection, the search engine optimization professionals have been forced into actually playing a large role in creating a better web.

2) Page Rank

Page rank is a scale of 0-10 that Google attributes to a site. Zero is for new or spam sites, and the higher numbers are given to trusted authority sites. The page rank scale can be seen by adding the Google toolbar for Firefox. It comes with the little green bar which shows page rank for sites. People have been obsessing about page rank for years, but true search engine professionals often claim to not even bother to look at page rank. It is a largely misleading factor that was important once, but currently people are skeptical about how much the green bar can be relied on. When checking a site’s strength, it is probably OK to use page rank as one of the factors in measuring quality, but generally checking quality/quantity of back links (sites that link to the examined site) is a better barometer of how highly that site might be regarded by search engines.

3) No-Follow Links

People obsess about no-follow links. For those who are not familiar with this concept, some time ago Google introduced a link format like this:

Text User Sees

This means that if Google crawler came across this link, it wouldn’t transfer the strength of the link to the site which is being linked to. This created quite a stir in the webmaster community. People suddenly disregarded regular links and only wanted yes-follow links. People who were linking out began putting the no-follow tag into their outbound links in the hope that it will help them preserve their site’s strength. Not wanting no-follow links is a terrible mistake. First of all, other search engines like bing.com and ask.com claim to disregard the no-follow tag. Second, it is widely understood in the SEO community that even Google pays attention to the no-follow links.

My own practice has confirmed that belief. Additionally, if Google looks at the people linking to your site and all the links are yes-follow links, that just looks suspicious and you may even run the risk of being penalized. A natural looking set of links contains some no-follow and some regular links.

4) Linking Out

Many people resist linking out due to a belief that it will cause them to leak “link juice.” Link juice is a way to discuss the strength of a link. People think that they should link to pages that are within the site, thus making the internal pages stronger, rather than linking out to external sites and giving them link strength. But no man or website is an island, and it looks somewhat unusual to a search engine if it comes to a site which has absolutely no outbound links. What webmasters should do is link to trusted authority sites in their topic theme. That will send a trust signal to search engines. Intelligently linking out will help your site look more natural and trustworthy in the eyes of a search engine.

5) Social Media Links

Social media is a double-edged sword. Links re-tweeted and re-posted on various social media sites are getting increased attention from search engines because the people working on the search engines understand that those links represent entities which are currently popular. On the other hand, the people working on search and spam detection understand that social media is filled with spam, and marketing agencies specializing in “gaming” social media sites by advanced and creative spamming/advertising techniques. Ultimately, social media is becoming more of a factor in search rankings, and because there is lots of spam in social media, the search engines likely give a higher fault tolerance to suspicious activities because if they didn’t, they would have to penalize a very large number of people, and they can’t realistically do that. Just be careful not to push your luck.

6) SEO is Spam and Ruins the Web

Search Engine Optimizers do employ a number of techniques that may be seen by some as spam. They tend to get their sites linked to from just about anywhere they can get away with. Such practices have given SEO’s a bad name over the years. But SEO’s also make the web better. They create many links that unify the web and bring related content closer together, making it easier to surf, and increasing the chances of people finding what they are looking for. In many ways, while SEO’s are often responsible for spam or bad search result findings, probably much more frequently when we do surf to something interesting or find what we want via search, it is the work of SEO’s to help us find the content and we should appreciate it.

7) Paying for Directories

Paying for directories has been losing popularity over the years, and in May 2010, Google changed their algorithm in a way that dropped many sites which were ranking high largely due to techniques like paying for directory placement. That made paying for directories even less attractive that it was already becoming. Even if people pay to be placed in link directories, few people understand what value they are getting when they buy a placement in a directory.

Here is the breakdown of how sites should approach paying for directories. The best paid directory is the Yahoo directory and after that, the quality drop is quite steep. If you are a big and established site, likely not even a Yahoo directory listing will help you in any noticeable way because you are already at quite a peek. If your site is small or young, and needs that extra little boost, perhaps the Yahoo directory listing will provide just the boost you may need. If you have an appetite to pay for more directory listings, try to aim for vertical directories which focus on theme of your site. But paying for directories other than Yahoo is generally not recommended.

8) Reciprocal Linking

This once popular method has become nearly extinct because search engine companies try to destroy and discourage link-exchange schemes, but this approach still works extremely well. In fact, if a site links to other sites, but none of them link back, search engines see that as a little bit of an unusual occurrence and a bit of a red flag. It only makes sense that a site would link to other sites with similar content, and those sites would link back. So don’t refrain from linking back if it makes sense to do that. As a rule of thumb, when something makes local sense to do, don’t worry too much about search engines.

9) You Know Who Links to You

No matter how many tools a person can use to check which sites link to their sites, every tool shows different results. Some data always overlaps, some just doesn’t get found by different tools. Each back link finding crawler has different crawl algorithms and find different sites in different parts of the web. In order to have a more precise approximation for who is linking to you, try to use more than one tool to check who links to you. But in the end, some links will get lost and might not be indexed, or ever shown to you in a tool you use.

10) It Takes 6 months to Do an SEO Campaign

This is a common saying and in many ways it is true. First you have to create the content, then the search engines have to crawl and index that content, and then you have to build links from different part of the web to that content. Then it takes time to do analysis on the success of the campaign. So yes, if you took this approach it might take a number of months. But in a business environment, 6 months can be a lifetime. The truth is that Google has become so good and fast at ranking and re-ranking sites, and then distinguishing good links from useless ones, that it can take as little as 3-4 days to determine whether something you tried will work or not. In my experience, one of my sites got a Wikipedia link (very trusted by search engines) and 3 days later, I saw that site jump from the 6th page to the 4th page for a very difficult 1-term keyword I was targeting.

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