Debunking SEO Mythology

In Greek mythology, the Hydra was a creature who could not be defeated, as each time one of its heads was cut off, two more would sprout back in its place. It seems that SEO mythology is no different; every time one SEO myth is debunked, two more SEO myths crop back up in its place, only adding to the confusion about search engine optimization.

Hercules was able to defeat the Hydra by cutting off its heads and then burning the stumps before new heads could grow back. What SEO needs is a hero, an SEO Hercules, to come and save us from the Hydra of SEO Mythology. Let’s go through some of the more pervasive SEO myths and see if we can put a torch to them.

Get the Facts

Myth: All I need to do is figure out the magic bullet, and I will be at the top of the search engines.

Fact: Search engines use over 200 factors to rank sites. No one factor will get you to the top. To get to the top, you must have a balanced search engine strategy encompassing many factors, both on page and off page. There is no magic bullet.

Myth: Search rankings are about link popularity. Get as many links as you can. Join Web rings, “free for all” (FFA) link exchanges, and get as many sites as you can to link to you through reciprocal linking back to them.

Fact: While link popularity is important if done correctly, Google is placing links under increasing scrutiny, and sheer volumes of inbound linking without regard to the source of the link and other factors hasn’t worked in years. It is not the raw number of links that matter, but the type of links. Links from trusted sites, relevant to your industry, with proper anchor text and relevant surrounding text and page content, to original content on your site are the ones that will help you.

FFA linking will most likely get you in trouble with the engines as they could interpret that as an attempt to spam the results. In addition to bleeding away all of your page rank to other sites, FFA linking will increase your chances of linking to a “bad neighborhood,” another thing which can get you into trouble. Never link to sites you do not know or with which you are not familiar. Remember, Google is smarter than you, you can’t fool them with unnatural linking schemes.

Myth: It’s all about “keyword density.” Be sure to repeat your keyword numerous times on your Web site. Keyword repetition increases keyword density and inflates your search engine ranking.

Fact: Structuring your page around some magic formula for key phrase density does nothing for you. Yes, your target key phrases should be included at least once on the page, as well as in your title and meta description elements, and in an H1 or H2 tag if possible. Other than that, forget about key phrase density. Create your Web content for human readers and write it so it makes sense to them. Whatever you do, avoid key phrase repetition, a known spamming technique sure to get you into trouble.

Increasing Your Odds

Myth: Repeated submissions to the search engines increase your rankings. It is a good idea to sign up for an automated submission service, which will regularly resubmit your site to 1,000 or more search engines each week.

Fact: Automated submissions are a violation of major search engines’ Terms of Inclusion and can get you into trouble. Search engines don’t need you to submit to them, set up a blog and get a few links to your site, and they will find you very quickly. Using Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, usually can get a new site indexed within a week. Just be sure to put a link on the blog to your site.

Myth: The meta keywords tag must include your target keywords. Search engines place heavy weight on this tag and use it to determine which keywords for which to rank your site.

Fact: Search engines that matter, such as Google, place zero weight on the keywords meta element due to historical spam. Yahoo appears to give it some small weight. In any event, use of the keyword meta element is of so little use, many SEO’s ignore it altogether.

Myth: Because links are so important to search rankings, I should go out and purchase a large number of paid links and submit to hundreds or thousands of directories in order to get more links to my site.

Fact: Google especially has cracked down hard on paid links in the last few months. To put it succinctly, they don’t pass page rank. If you want to buy a link from a site, only do it if you believe the link itself will be a good source of traffic (in other words, only do it for legitimate advertising purposes). Do not do it if your purpose is for that link to transfer page rank or increase your ranking, as it likely will not.

Additionally, hundreds of useless directories have been harshly penalized as well, so that links from within them are either not counted at all or given very little weight. Get links from a few well respected directories such as dmoz.org, Yahoo directory, Business.com, JoeAnt and others which have a manual review process. Automated submission services which submit to hundreds of directories are a waste of money.

Myth: I should write articles and submit them to article directories, because links from article directories have high page rank and are given great weight by the engines.

Fact: Article directory links in and of themselves carry little to no weight. The engines are smart and know that people spam these directories with useless content just to get a link. If you want to get relevant, trusted links to your site that actually mean something, create useful, informative, or educational content that people will want to link to. Articles are one form of such content, but only if they are good enough to get picked up by other sites. Other content which can serve as link bait is video content, tools and widgets, product reviews, top 10 lists, and interesting or entertaining blogs.

Matt Foster is CEO of ArteWorks SEO a search engine optimization company.

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