SEO changes incredibly quickly, and if you’re not full-time digital marketer, it can be hard to keep up.
Because things have changed so much in such a short time, there are a lot of ideas still floating around that aren’t actually up to date.
It’s very common for business owners and internet entrepreneurs to have at least a few inaccurate misconceptions about how SEO works in 2018, and about what you need to do to succeed.
In this post, I’m going to cover some of the most common SEO myths I’ve run across. I often talk to prospective clients who hold these misconceptions. Most of them are based on outdated SEO tactics that no longer work. This makes sense, considering that what worked in 2013 is often woefully ineffective today.
There are also misconceptions based on misinterpretations of how and why SEO has changed. Google’s algorithms may have gotten a lot smarter about shady backlinks, and content may be more important than ever, but backlinks still matter.
You still need an SEO strategy, even though today’s SEO is a lot more focused on quality content and on providing value to the user.
Here are 20 of the top SEO myths and misconceptions, fully debunked.
Myth #1: Don’t worry about SEO, just make great content.
What Google is actually trying to do is to provide the best results for any given search query, creating a better user experience. No one wants to search for something, then fail to find anything that actually answers their questions.
Pages that rank in Google have awesome content. But there’s more to it than that. You can’t ignore SEO completely, then expect to get any organic traffic.
Now, I do want to point out that organic search traffic may not be super important for every single business out there.
There are plenty of websites that drive traffic primarily through other channels like PPC, paid Facebook ads, or display ads on other websites. But it’s probably safe to say that for most websites, focusing on SEO is definitely worthwhile.
Myth #2: “I need to use exact match keywords in my content.”
There was definitely a time when this was true, but as Google has become more sophisticated, it’s no longer an issue. Recent technical developments, like latent semantic indexing, have helped the search engine gain a better understanding of context and relevance.
While it still can’t read your content exactly as a human being could, Google can understand that, for example, “digital marketing” and “web marketing” are different terms for the same thing.
This is actually great news for content creators. It means you don’t need to shoehorn awkward keywords like “how do I remove mold from my roof” into your writing a million times. You can write more naturally, which is much better for your readers.
Myth #3: “Meta descriptions are really important for SEO.”
You know that little snippet of text underneath each link in the Google search results? That’s called a meta description.
If you don’t create a designated meta description, Google will automatically generate one from the first few sentences of your content.
You can use SEO plugins for WordPress, like Yoast and All-in-One SEO, to customise the meta description, as well as the meta title, that will show up in Google’s search results.
In the past, meta descriptions really were a ranking factor. It was important to optimise these snippets of text for your target keyword. But this actually hasn’t been true since 2009.
But, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write a good meta description. It may not matter to Google’s algorithms, but it does matter to the humans who see your website on the first page.
You should craft the meta description for people, not machines.
Myth #4: “Keyword optimisation is the most important part of SEO.”
This is another thing that used to be true, but isn’t anymore. It used to be that to win at SEO, you needed to heavily optimise for your exact target keyword. We used to do things like create separate 500-word posts or pages for similar keywords like “dentist in Bristol” versus “dental practice in Bristol,” because these really were two separate queries.
But as Google has gotten better at recognising context, keyword topics that are related to one another can still come up for searches that aren’t an exact match. This is good, because it means you can optimise for your human readers instead. You’re free to use synonyms and related terms to make the content read more naturally.
Myth #5: “Link building is no longer important for SEO.”
Link building today is a lot different from what it was like in the past, but this myth couldn’t be further from the truth. Links are still a huge part of how Google decides what sites to show on the first page.
Getting good backlinks is a time-consuming process, and it’s definitely not cheap or free. But unless you’re trying to rank for an incredibly low-competition keyword, it’s one of the most important parts of SEO
Myth #6: “More pages will help my website rank better.”
There are sites out there that rank high for their target keywords, despite having only a few pages of content. Quality is much more important than quantity when it comes to SEO.
Create pages if they add value to your site, but their mere existence isn’t going to help your site rank.
It is true that Google does favor “fresh content” and relatively recent updates. This is where your blog comes in. You don’t have to post every day but a blog is a great way to keep adding new content to your site without creating clutter.
Myth #7: “I need as much content as possible on my homepage.”
One of the big developments in SEO in the last couple of years has been a move toward longer, more in-depth content. It used to be that 500 words was the gold standard for a blog post, and we’d create quite a few articles and post frequently.
But in early 2016, Brian Dean of Backlinko found that the pages that ranked first in Google tended to be closer to 2,000 words.
This makes sense. Not only is Google better at picking up on context and intent — eliminating the need for tons of separate posts and pages for related keywords — but longer content usually provides more value.
But with all of that said, none of this means that you need to fill up your homepage with 3,000 words of text.
Think of your homepage as a doorway into the rest of your website. When someone goes there, they probably want to navigate somewhere else on your site, like the Services page or the Pricing page.
No one’s pulling up your homepage to read paragraph after paragraph of exhaustive text content.
Focus on how your users are going to approach your site. In many cases, simplicity creates a better homepage user experience.
Myth #8: “I should focus exclusively on building more links, not on creating more content.”
Both content and links are vital to SEO, but without good content, what exactly are people going to link to? You really do need to put time and resources into content creation.
Remember that Google cares more about the quality of your backlinks than the quantity. One killer link from a high authority, respected website could mean a lot more for you than dozens of links that are easy to get.
Content isn’t just for SEO, either. It’s a part of inbound marketing as a whole — this means attracting people to your site with content they want to see. Creating blog posts, web pages, social media posts, and guest posts on other websites can all help you attract potential customers and build consumer trust.
Myth #9: “I don’t need to worry about optimising my images.”
Whenever you embed an image on your website, you can optimize it for SEO by using an HTML attribute called an alt tag. Alt tags are what search engines will see, since they’re not sophisticated enough quite yet to view pictures like a human would.
Adding alt tags to your images is super simple, especially in WordPress. For example, if you’re a plumbing company and you have a stock picture of your employees on your homepage, you may want to add something like “bob’s plumbing company team” as the alt text.
Myth #10: “I don’t need to be concerned about optimising for mobile.”
There’s no way around it: optimising for mobile is a ranking factor that Google does take into account. If your site isn’t mobile friendly, it could be harmful for your SEO.
Keep in mind that people are using their smartphones and tablets more often than ever before. For some people, their phone might even be the primary way that they access the internet.
Mobile internet use overtook desktop use back in 2016, and this trend shows no signs of slowing down. Your website needs to be as easy to use on mobile as it is on a desktop or laptop computer.
If you’re not quite sure, Google offers a mobile friendly test tool that can help you figure out whether your website qualifies as “mobile friendly.”
Myth #12: “I need to manually submit my website to Google.”
If your website is brand new, you can submit your URL to Google to be indexed. But as long as your technical on-page SEO is sound, Google’s crawlers will find and index your site just fine.
Myth #13: “Having a secure website isn’t essential.”
Ever notice how some sites start with “http://”, while others start with “https://”? You may also have noticed that the latter has become increasingly common.
That little “s” basically means that the user’s connection to the website is encrypted by something called a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). This prevents anyone malicious from intercepting your data.
In September 2016, Google announced that its Chrome browser would flag websites as unsafe if they didn’t start with “https://”.
Ever pull up a website on your browser, only to get a notification page that says it might not be safe? Chances are, you clicked on the “Back to Safety” option, rather than proceeding to the website.
If your site isn’t using SSL encryption, you could end up with a higher bounce rate. The good news is that you can get an SSL certificate easily, either for free or for a small fee.
Myth #14: “The goal of SEO is to get the #1 position on the first page.”
While it’s true that getting onto the first page for your target keywords is part of the goal of SEO, it doesn’t actually matter all that much if you’re number one or not. Just being in the top ten, which display on the first page, can cause your organic search traffic to skyrocket.
Think about it: when you do a Google search, you don’t just click the first result, and nothing else. You probably open a couple different links in new tabs, to find all of the information you need.
Plus, Google’s been adding more and more features at the top of the page that help the user avoid leaving the Google Search results page at all.
You may be familiar with the Answer Box you’ll get for certain queries.
There’s also what’s colloquially known as the “map pack,” for local searches related to brick and mortar businesses.
So even if you ignore the PPC ads at the top of the page, being in the #1 slot on Page 1 doesn’t even mean that your website is the first thing on the page, or that users don’t have to scroll down to find it.
Myth #15: “SEO is something I can let my IT guys handle.”
I must admit I haven’t run into this one yet in real life, but I’ve heard about it from other SEO professionals on multiple occasions.
Because SEO is related to computers and technology, some business owners do assume that it’s a task for the same IT workers who handle their servers or fix faulty desktops in the office.
It’s actually not. Now, it is true that you’ll find freelance web designers and web developers who offer basic SEO services — mostly technical optimisation — when you hire them to create a new website for you. It also works the other way: agencies and independent consultants specialising in SEO usually also offer web development services. So there’s some overlap there.
But these things aren’t quite IT, per se. The IT contractor who fixes your frozen office laptop may know very little about SEO, and even about web development. “Computer stuff” covers a very broad range of occupations and specialities.
Myth #16: SEO just isn’t working for me, so it probably never will.
While SEO isn’t the primary source of traffic for every website, it can work in the vast majority of cases. If you’re handling your own SEO and you’re not seeing results, keep in mind that these things take time.
This is especially true if your site is brand new. Although Google has never confirmed or denied its existence, many people have experienced a phenomenon called the “Google sandbox.”
What this means is that it’s possible that Google might filter your website for the first six months or so, putting it on a sort of “probation” that can prevent you from ranking.
If it’s real, the idea behind it would be to prevent spam sites that use the “rank and bank” approach. These sites use black hat tactics to rank quickly but temporarily for profitable keywords, collect their money, then rinse and repeat when Google brings down the hammer.
Even if the Google Sandbox isn’t a real phenomenon, SEO is still a long-term game. It takes time, effort, and in most cases, money. But over time, the results can be well worth the wait.
Myth #17: “Google will penalise my website for duplicate content.”
This is a really common misconception about SEO. In truth, duplicate content will never result in an outright penalty. Google has confirmed this numerous times.
What Google actually does is simply ignore and disregard duplicate content. So if you’ve plagiarised all your website’s content from elsewhere, don’t expect to rank.
But it’s perfectly natural to have a few instances of duplicate text here and there. Don’t stress about it.
If you’re not sure whether two pages are too similar to one another, try running them through Copyscape.
Myth #18: “Local SEO is just like national SEO.”
Local SEO does involve some factors and strategies that aren’t present when you’re doing a nationwide or international SEO campaign.
Simply having a website isn’t enough. You also need a verified Google+ My Business Page, one of the few instances where social media has a direct effect on SEO. With local, our big goal is generally to help get you into the “map pack” at the top, which gets the most clickthroughs and, on your end of things, the most sales.
In 2014, Google introduced a new algorithm for local search, called the Google Pigeon update.
It improved the distance and location parameters for local searches, making it more convenient for people to find services near them.
So local SEO does involve a distinct set of concerns that make it a different subset of search engine marketing than national SEO.
Myth #19: “I can have bad sites linking to me, without getting caught by Google.”
Most Google penalties are algorithmic, although they also issue manual penalties after your site is reviewed by humans. For that reason, it’s better to just play it safe.
Recently, the release of the Penguin 4.0 update changed the way Google handles bad backlinks.
This means it’s easier to recover from a penalty if you’re targeted by negative SEO, a blackhat tactic where someone sends bad links to a competitor’s site. After all, mistakes happen.
But with that said, your own SEO strategy should stick to whitehat techniques, along with the occasional “greyhat” tactics. PR, journalist outreach, guest posts, legitimate directory links, and other whitehat approaches to link building work well, and they will most likely stand the test of time.
Myth #20: “SEO services are nothing but snake oil.”
I’ve come across this one, and honestly, it kind of saddens me that scammers and spammy SEO companies have tainted people’s conception of SEO services.
There are bad SEO services out there. Those spam emails from overseas countries that offer to make you rank #1 for $150 a month are a perfect example.
There are also people out there doing freelance SEO consulting who have really good intentions, but who don’t understand modern SEO best practices nearly as well as they think they do. This happens because freelance SEO work has a low barrier to entry.
There’s no degree or certification, so anyone can label themselves an SEO specialist and start selling services to clients. This factor can complicate things quite a bit, especially if you’re using platforms like Upwork to try to find a freelance SEO consultant.
Saying Goodbye to SEO Myths
SEO is ever-changing, and over time, former truths become myths, and best practices become spammy and blackhat. If you’re not up to date, it’s easy to have a lot of misconceptions about what works and what doesn’t.
If you’re handling your own SEO for your website, the best thing you can do is educate yourself.
Fortunately, there are a ton of great resources out there that you can use to brush up on what’s current in the world of SEO.