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Some days in the world of SEO, it feels like “Groundhog Day” – the classic 1993 movie where Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) repeats the same day over and over.
But instead of the day repeating, one question gets asked over and over and over. It usually goes something like this: what are some common SEO myths you always hear that need to be debunked?
The topic of SEO myths and conspiracy theories is popular. We recently featured an article on myths (11 conspiracy theories about search, Google and Big Tech) here on Search Engine Land and have published several others in past years. So we won’t go into any actual myths or debunking here.
The bigger question is: why does your boss (and/or your co-workers and/or your team) keep asking you about these SEO myths? Or how did your client hear about some random, long-ago debunked tactic? Shouldn’t they know better?
Well, no. Not always.
Part of your job is to understand and educate them about how search actually works – why E-A-T isn’t a ranking factor, why Domain Authority isn’t a metric Google uses or why LSI keywords are a ridiculous concept.
Read on to learn about the top reasons people believe SEO myths and how some SEO practitioners deal with them.
SEO myths sound believable when repeated enough times. Misinformation tends to spread in our industry. It’s shared in conference presentations, in blog posts, on social media, on podcasts and elsewhere. Before you know it, you’ve got a myth (or a new SEO boogeyman).
So if you find yourself in this situation, what should you do?
Holly Miller Anderson, lead SEO product manager, North America, at Under Armour, put it this way: “Educate. Don’t argue.”
“One of the best things SEO leads can do is to be as proactive as possible about educating your org and leadership team against SEO myths,” Anderson said. “Host talks as often as possible (i.e. lunch and learn style) about SEO myths and invite people to come in and hear some of the myths, share the ones they’ve heard, and provide different resources and proof.”
This creates a safer space for people to voice their opinion or understanding about SEO without being viewed as stupid, Anderson added. It also gives the SEO lead a forum to address myths in a non-threatening way.
SEO is “free traffic.” At least, that’s how many clients view it. At times, SEO is oversimplified, to the point where clients think all you have to do is x, y and z and then sit back and wait for all the rankings, traffic, conversions and revenue.
Well, often the “too good to be true” answers turn out to be just SEO basics. Table stakes. Everybody is optimizing their meta tags, answering questions, making mobile-friendly sites and trying to create “great” content.
Sometimes, even worse, these “easy answers” could actually be tactics that could inflict harm on your clients. And that’s something you never want to ignore, said Himani Kankaria, founder of Missive Digital.
“I’ll tell them that I won’t be doing it and won’t be allowing my team to do it as implementing the wrong things would cost the client, and then cleaning it up would also add cost,” Kankaria said. “On top of that, what’s the guarantee that cleaning up that mess would bring back results?”
The only way to fight bad information is with better information, said Keith Goode, principal SEO product manager at Cox Automotive.
“Developers and even some SEOs will sometimes discover a bad piece of advice in a blog from 11 years ago (e.g., PageRank sculpting) and won’t bother to do further research to find the content that disputes it or disproves it,” Goode said. “As a result, they’ll implement a change on their sites that produces unwanted effects.
“The way I fight this kind of misinformation is to provide more recent posts that disprove the bad advice,” Goode added. “Better yet, I’ll show them an article that directly quotes a Googler. Better still, if I can find the Google Developer documentation that counters the original claim, that settles it.”
You can find all sorts of information about SEO. There are endless help documents, articles, guides, studies, social media updates, ebooks, courses, podcasts, videos, and on and on. Talk about information overload!
But you know what else is easy to find? SEO misinformation.
Dave Davies, lead SEO at Weights & Biases, pointed out that most SEO myths originate from a kernel of truth. He said he has found that identifying that kernel and discussing why you haven’t engaged the tactic in this scenario is helpful.
“Additionally, some tactics did work but don’t now, and providing that context works wonders,” Davies said. “Think forum spam in the early 2000s, or keyword stuffing at about the same time. Come to think of it, SEOs really messed up the results back then. Sorry about that.”
Maria White, head of SEO at Kurt Geiger, said that communication is the best way to tackle misinformation.
“First, I gather documentation from trustworthy sources (Google and SEO experts who do a lot of research, like Barry Schwartz, Jason Barnard, Lily Ray and Marie Haynes),” White said. “I then use the document to let the client know why it is not a good practice and talk about the potential damage a myth or bad practice could have on a strategy outcome.”
There’s a belief that what ranks well on Google means that it is accurate and trustworthy. I’ve seen this happen plenty through the years. For example, when people quote a statistic, they often type in [keyword + stats], look at the number one result, find a stat, cite that roundup post and hit publish.
Except, when you actually check the sources, you realize that somebody at some point took a statement or statistic out of context, and it morphed into something that it never was.
But Google doesn’t always rank the best or correct answers. Google’s algorithms are unable to fully determine accuracy.
Luckily, plenty of SEO professionals track every shred of information that Google utters about SEO. Among them is Marie Haynes, whose agency documents everything Google says in blog posts, specific announcements, videos, hangouts, forums, and anywhere else.
“We store the information internally,” Haynes said. “For most SEO topics, whether they are myths or not, we can support our recommendations with a link showing what Google recommends.”
Aleyda Solis, Founder at Orainti, takes a similar approach.
“I refer to Google official documentation about the topic where it’s explained, if there is one, or look for a quote from a Google representative from a Q&A or event, where that topic was addressed and is clarified, along with my explanation/reasoning about it and a “real life” example with how it actually works if available, so they can see it for themselves.”
SEO checklists only take you so far. It’s your job to gather and process all the information, arguments and data we can before taking action. After all, the goal is to do what’s best for your brand, business, or clients.
So question everything. Be skeptical. Examine the who, what, where, when, why, and how of everything you read, watch, or hear.
Most of your clients just aren’t capable of critical thinking about SEO. They don’t have our experience, knowledge, and data. And though it may be hard, sometimes it’s important to be blunt, especially if the situation requires a radical change in thinking, said Kaspar Szymanski, co-founder of SearchBrothers.
“Most clients appreciate that my sole motivation, even when pointing out the flaws in their current SEO approach, is to help them and make their websites more visible for relevant queries,” Szymanski said. “What’s not widely understood is the fact that ultimately organic search visibility is all about signal input. Search engine optimization is in essence managing that signal input. The best advice that clients readily embrace is to manage what goes into search engines in order to achieve the best possible result.”
For those of us who have been in the industry for several years, we’ve seen some popular personalities and websites that have published some questionable, misleading, or downright incorrect information.
So we should produce better information as positive alternatives to learn from, according to Bill Slawski, Director of SEO Research at Go Fish Digital.
“Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation in the world, and some SEOs are much more interested in writing popular clickbait rather than something that may be more accurate,” Slawski said. “These authors can sometimes be successful in terms of being paid by toolmakers, but aren’t helpful to SEO customers who want successful businesses.”
Every media or publishing site occasionally gets information wrong. Most reputable ones admit and correct their mistakes. That isn’t always the case in SEO. Some people, when corrected, will ignore it or – worse – stubbornly stand by their harmful content.
What should you do when you have to deal with clickbait or wrong information? Find out where they came across the information. Then point them toward two or three easily verifiable resources that are extremely credible, said Michael Bonfils, global managing director of SEM International.
“My usual response is, ‘I wish it was that easy,” Bonfils said. “But in reality, this is what we do and how it works.”
In SEO, frustratingly at times, the answer often is “it depends.” That’s because what is considered SEO best practice in e-commerce SEO can be different from news SEO or local SEO or enterprise SEO.
No two websites, even in the same market, are exactly the same. Some strategies and tactics may work for multiple websites, but results will inevitably vary. Some SEO “best practices” may prove to be “worst practices” for some websites.
One solution here is to steer the conversation toward your existing goals and tactics, said Jes Scholz, group chief marketing officer at Ringier.
“Remind them how well the current strategy is working and doing both the current strategy along with the myth isn’t possible, either due to resource constraints or strategy conflicts or whatever it may be,” Scholz said. “Then give them the power by ending on a question of how to proceed.”
Davies said it’s actually good to question ourselves.
“We’re all testing all the time. As knowledgeable as I think myself to be, my instincts have been wrong at times,” Davies said. “Basically, while 9 times out of 10 you may be right, testing and finding that one may pay big dividends over time.”
The solution may be as simple as running a test.
“Find a set of pages where something could be tested with clear signs of search impact but hopefully low on business (pages with him impressions but low clicks often come to mind),” Davies said.
The key isn’t whether to bust the myth, but how you bust the myth, said Ryan Jones, VP, SEO, Razorfish.
“You have to let the coworker/client down easy. It’s possible that the myth could have been good advice or common theory years ago and they just haven’t been keeping up to date,” Jones said. “They might have hired a bad SEO before. You don’t want to make them feel guilty for that, but you do want to give them proper advice going forward. You just need to do it gently, and there’s also a time and a place.”
In other words, you can save the “well actually…” and combative tone for your next Twitter argument.
“Don’t derail a larger conversation to get into an in the weeds SEO discussion. A follow-up email or conversation may be warranted in that case,” Jones added. “Never lose track of the bigger goal of the project/discussion and don’t miss the forest behind the trees.”
Corey Morris, chief strategy officer at Voltage, said it’s important to be kind when addressing any myths or misunderstandings when a client or contact has misguided information about how SEO works.
“Take an educational approach,” Morris said. “By addressing the broader aspects of how Google works, what it rewards, and why things are (or aren’t) included in that, I can find an anchor point with them.”
Kevin Rowe, VP of strategy and product at PureLinq, has a standardized approach that includes, in part, a three-question litmus test for prioritizing and assessing risk against goals. Those questions are:
“It’s really important that you treat the client as if they are logical people that have good ideas and not uneducated in SEO,” Rowe said. “Just because we’re experienced SEOs doesn’t mean we always have the best answer.”
But what if a client is stubborn about an idea? Jason Barnard, founder and CEO of Kalicube, said you might have to stop working with them.
“Why waste time?” Barnard said. “There is no lack of smart business owners in the world who don’t treat SEO as a one-trick-quick-and-easy-win-every-time-with-no-effort. Let’s work with clients who want to integrate SEO into a wider business-focused digital strategy.”
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