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Search Engine Optimization Myths

November 16th, 2007

seo-myths.gifWhen it comes to search engine optimization, there is still a fair amount of misinformation out there in the form of various myths and misconceptions that people have about how to properly set up their sites for receiving search traffic. In this article, I will deal with some of the most popular and persistent myths that I have read about over the past few months, and correct these by providing you with more accurate information on these topics.

1. Search engine optimization is about tricking the search engines into giving you a higher ranking. No- in fact, if you’re really trying to trick the search engines with some type of black hat techniques, you could wind up doing more harm than good in the long run. Real SEO is about making your content relevant, useful, and accessible to the search engines so that it will achieve a good natural ranking for the keywords that comprise the main topics of your web pages.

2. SEO is something that I can work on a lot until my site gets a high PageRank, and then I don’t really have to worry about it. Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. Although it certainly helps to have a high PageRank, in order to maintain higher rankings and keep the traffic coming in, you need to make sure that your content stays fresh and relevant. If you have a blog, this means that you will still have to perform some basic SEO work on each page that you publish in order to optimize traffic potential. Additionally, SEO is an ongoing process because algorithms and guidelines keep changing, competing sites are added and dropped, and various types of multimedia are finding their way into search results. SEO is one of those things that you can never completely “finish”.

3. If I pay enough money to an SEO firm, they can get my site into the top 10 quickly. Unfortunately for those who simply want to “buy out” the top search results, it doesn’t quite work that way. A professional search engine optimizer may be able to make quality edits to your site, optimize its pages, and perhaps even help with getting quality inbound links, but these kinds of changes take time to be detected by search engine crawlers and factored into the rankings. Specifically, with Google it will take at least a few months before an inbound link is fully credited to your site for purposes of PageRank and “link juice”.

4. Having multiple domain names helps. Not really- each domain and its content is treated separately for ranking purposes. They cannot be added together to achieve a higher ranking. In fact, if you have multiple sites, it is important that you do not have the same (or substantially similar) text on two or more of them because you could be penalized for duplicate content.

5. In order to gain an advantage, you need to submit your site to thousands of directories and smaller search engines. This is the classic “more is always better” approach, and in this case it makes very little (if any) difference. Once your site is indexed by the “Big 5″ (Google, Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and Ask), you have covered over 95% of the search market. Trying to submit to all of the smaller directory sites out there will likely waste your time, and many of these sites are of questionable quality anyway.

6. Your site should be purely HTML. This is an idea that may have had some advantage to it in the past, but is now obsolete. Search engines have gotten much better at indexing dynamically generated pages (as is the case with WordPress and PHP) and URLs with multiple parameters. Also, we can now generate a sitemap for use by the search engines, which will ensure that our pages eventually get indexed.

7. In order to build popularity, you need to exchange links with as many other webmasters as possible. This is a particularly persistent myth left over from years ago when people didn’t know much about SEO or website marketing. Nowadays reciprocal link exchanges have very little value as far as PageRank or link juice goes. One-way links from relevant pages are worth much more, although you can still use reciprocal linking for the traffic benefits if you are careful about which sites you choose as link partners.

8. Putting a bunch of keywords in your meta tags can boost rankings. This is another one that had a grain of truth to it in the past, but is no longer valid. Today most search engines do not support meta keyword tags or give them very little weight. Optimizing your page’s title tag and body text is much more effective.

9. Having Flash on your site is bad for SEO. Actually, the presence of Flash graphics is not a bad thing per se. The sites that run into problems are those that use Flash as a substitute for quality content and do not have enough text for search engines to index (or have text that is not well optimized).

10. SEO doesn’t matter because PPC is better. While pay-per-click advertising with AdWords or Yahoo may be better for traffic in the short term, getting your site into the organic results is still a better long term proposition. Most searchers will click on one or more organic results before they will click on a PPC ad. Once your site ranked here, you will not only get a greater quantity of targeted traffic, but you won’t have to pay for it either.

Other Misconceptions and Clarifications

In addition to these ten points, there are some other SEO-related issues that webmasters have thought about but are still poorly understood. In this four minute video, Google’s Matt Cutts addresses lingering concerns such as multiple sites on the same server, use of JavaScript, and launching sites with large numbers of pages all at once.

Finally, this second video by Matt Cutts address a few more issues, namely whether SEO or “end user” (that is, actual human) optimization is more important, what to do about detecting spam, and the relative importance of “clean code” (in other words, having markup that complies with W3C standards).



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