Attending an ad:tech San Francisco panel on search engine optimization, one fact became apparent almost immediately: There is a ton of misinformation out there when it comes to SEO.
While iMediaConnection covers developments in search faithfully, we often leave it up to our readers to update their understanding of the field. But for this particular story, we elected to take a slightly different approach.
To address some of the more common misperceptions about SEO, we asked several SEO experts to tell us about the most common myths they hear from their clients.
Here's what we found.
Myth #2: SEO means optimizing only for Google
True, Google is the dominant search engine in many parts of the world, accounting for 60 to 90 percent of all search traffic; but if you think all search engine optimization is for Google, you have missed the online marketing love boat and should return to work at your mimeograph machine.
Yahoo, MSN and hundreds of special interest sites, along with vertical or category-specific search engines, are crawling and indexing your content. The art and science of SEO includes optimizing for vertical information sites, news and social groups as well.
So, what's the best SEO strategy? While being aware of technological pitfalls and linking advantages is important, stop optimizing for Google and start optimizing for your intended audience. Building search-friendly sites in a content-friendly environment is the best way to win.
Kevin Ryan is vice president, global content director at Search Engine Strategies and Search Engine Watch
Myth #3: Submitting your site to thousands of directories helps
I get countless spam emails promising to get me the top listings in Google by submitting my site to thousands of web directories. It's easy for anyone to start a web directory these days. Just buy some web directory software, and you're good to go. That's the danger! There is a proliferation of web directories from all the web entrepreneurs using web directory software, or some kind of PHP directory script.
Many web directories are brand new "out-of-the-box" and they don't have authority, aged domain, or a strong inbound link profile. So, submitting to these directories will not provide any substantial type of SEO lift you might hope for. The reality of the matter is that some of those submissions may actually put your site in a "bad neighborhood" and hurt your SEO efforts.
Here are some factors to look for in a quality web directory:
1) Quantity of inbound links
2) Quality of inbound links
3) Age of domain
4) Topical relevancy to your site
5) Human-edited is better than automated because editorial control tends to lend itself to quality
6) How frequently the directory gets crawled (check the Google cache)
7) The directory itself ranks in the search engines -- this can be a sign of authority and can drive clickthrough traffic
8) Are their links direct, static links or are they redirected to your site?
Bottom line: Web directory submissions do help. However, it's better to cherry pick a handful of the most reputable/authoritative web directories instead of taking the easy way and shooting yourself in the foot by using an automated process to submit your site to thousands of directories.
Myth #4: SEO is free
Just because it's not "paid search" (SEM), doesn't mean it's free.
The costs associated with SEO are:
1) SEO consultant
2) Programmer/graphic designer
3) Link development
4) Do-it-yourselfer's time (based on hourly rates)
Depending on the website and campaign objectives, an SEO campaign could cost a few thousand dollars per month to tens of thousands per month.
Metrics to measure SEO success are:
1) Keyword ranking
2) Website traffic
4) Brand awareness/brand engagement
Sandler's practice, which can be found at ShimonSandler.com, appears as the top result (behind a directory) on Google for the combined terms: "SEO Consultant."
Myth #5: Keywords need to appear everywhere
A popular myth (brought on by people reading old SEO information that is not relevant to the current marketplace and optimization software that was programmed many years ago) is that you should put your keywords everywhere to rank as best you can. The truth is that Google's current relevancy algorithms favor more natural writing that includes a more diverse and realistic set of text with more variation in it. Some common variation strategies include using both the plural and singular versions of a keyword, changing the order of words in a phrase and adding relevant modifiers to page titles and headings.
Four or five years ago if you wanted to rank for "credit cards" you would put that phrase in your page title, in an H1 tag on the page, and in most of your inbound anchor text to that page. If you wanted to rank for the same phrase today, you might put a modifier word or two in the page title, opting for something like "Compare Credit Cards Online." Within the page copy the heading might be something more like "Apply for a Credit Card Today." Rather than focusing on the core phrase, this strategy still gets you decent coverage for it, but also helps the page rank for a much wider net of related keywords, and it makes the page much less likely to get filtered. You should also mix up your anchor text as well, if possible. If every link to a site has the exact same anchor text it doesn't look natural.
Myth #6: SEO is a one-time event for a website
It's logical that a dynamically changing database of information (a search engine) requires recurring and systematic website optimization strategies and tactics.
SEO must be anchored with multi-disciplinary teams of interactive specialists who focus on website development, usability and search engine friendliness. In regard to SEO, we investigate how a search engine works to discover the requirements for acquiring natural search traffic. Our methodologies are described best in Google's Guidelines. Following the principles of this document and taking advantage of many years of compliance, we have modeled an SEO methodology utilizing both one-time and recurring modules to produce a list of SEO client observations of success over a 12-year period. These are the factors known to contribute to SEO success, and our team is constantly aware of this when serving client needs.
Usually, the first three-modules are one-time events: keyword research, diagnostic audit and diagnostic audit modifications. The remaining three modules are recurring by nature: website and competitive analysis, page editing and optimization and link building strategy implementation. The recurring components work in sync with the way search engines work. They come into play when creating new websites, dealing with competitive pressures, adding new or dynamic pages, changing content and ongoing link profiling.
Myth #7: SEO will take years to return results
A professional SEO process begins with a "needs assessment," documenting past, current and future activities related to natural search (SEO). When allowed to provide our process and methodology, complex websites have returned excellent natural search results within 30-90 days.
A critical path to quick wins is having proper measurement metrics in place. Benchmarking natural search status prior to SEO implementation is also important for setting up your SEM scorecard. Measuring lift is easily accomplished by measuring non-brand keyword traffic and/or revenue using web analytics and/or interactive marketing analytics.
The "SEO assessment and measurement process" is distributed to provide stakeholders with critical data about SEO expectations and ROI. Clearly, statements about SEO results and expectations have long been misunderstood or even abused within the search community, primarily due to a lack of professional guidelines and/or industry standards.
Companies seeking SEO services must look for SEM qualifications. SEO best practices are now available to mitigate abuses creating false expectations, and no one has to wait years to see results.
Bruemmer is a regular contributor on search for iMediaConnection.
Myth #8: PageRank is the critical measure of a site's success
PageRank was a rather defining aspect of early Google search. Today, however -- while PageRank still plays a role -- we use more than 200 signals in ranking search results. This means that webmasters who focus primarily on PageRank are missing the bigger picture and overlooking aspects of their website that they have more control over. Of particular note, PageRank is focused on the issue of a page's importance, whereas a larger component in determining search results is relevance. We aim to deliver results that are relevant to the query typed into the search box, the area where the person is searching from and, in many cases, even each person's own demonstrated interests, based upon search history.
At the core, though, what generally makes a site successful is original and compelling content and tools. For a given set of pages, PageRank may fluctuate, and rankings do shift as the internet evolves. But in the end, what's most important is consistently happy users: people who bookmark and share your site, who understand and respect your brand and who can confidently and seamlessly make that purchase.
Myth #9: Accessibility doesn't really matter
Too many webmasters have thought of accessibility as an afterthought, as a "nice to add" feature for the blind or for a hypothetically small number of people on dial-up or super old computers. However, folks browsing the web on an iPhone can't do anything on a site that has all its content and navigation in Flash. Business folks wanting to make purchases on the go using a low-bandwidth connection may find many of today's multimedia-heavy sites simply unusable. And, especially relevant to your page's ranking in search results, Googlebot cannot understand the meaning of photos or videos.
Site accessibility -- by users on a wide variety of browsers and connections and by search engine bots -- should be one of the first things webmasters focus on. If users can't effectively use your site, you lose business. And if Googlebot can't access or understand your site, you lose traffic.
Here are a couple of best practices: Make the bulk of your content and navigation text-based, optionally adding multimedia to spice things up. Next, test your site using mobile phone browsers and ideally even a text-based browser such as Lynx. We have more details in our official Webmaster Central blog, here and here.
Myth #10: Google has an adversarial relationship with webmasters and publishers
We view webmasters as our allies, and that's not just pie-in-the-sky idealism. Helping webmasters get great content into Google benefits everyone -- the webmasters, Google and our millions of users. That's why we created Webmaster Central, which features a collection of powerful webmaster tools, our official webmaster blog, a forum featuring Googler and non-Googler search experts and help documentation in more than two dozen languages.
We are, of course, a bit constrained in what we can disclose about the subtleties of our ranking algorithms and such, largely to protect against unscrupulous folks who attempt to deceive both Google and our users. I was a webmaster myself for many years, so believe me, I know that can be frustrating. However, we've been sharing an increasing amount of information with site owners over the last few years, providing insights into how Googlebot sees a site's pages, what keywords these pages most commonly show up for in our search results and so on.
Of greater importance, though, we've been supporting more two-way communication. We have a message center in our Webmaster Tools where we can, for instance, let webmasters know that their site has been hacked. And we have dozens of experienced Googlers from our Search Quality team who spend a lot of time reading and posting in our Webmaster Help groups and attending conferences around the world, answering questions and building up communities of search experts.
Michael Estrin is associate editor at iMedia Connection.
Myth #1: SEO is all about secret tactics
I talk to a lot of people about SEO, plenty of whom are new to it. I'd say the most common myth is that SEO involves all "secret" tactics requiring you to buy links or trick the search engines, and that no one in the industry can be trusted. In reality, there are a lot of simple but effective techniques that even the search engines will tell you to do that can increase traffic. And there are plenty of people who are not snake oil salespeople who can provide this useful service.
A good place to start the process is to look at your analytics. There are a variety of tools, including some from Google, that spotlight if you have problems being accessed by search engines. I also like a top-down approach. You start from the homepage and ensure that it is search engine friendly, then work your way back through the site going down the paths that are most important to your business.