Whenever I first meet with a client I always want to know what their level of SEO-understanding is, so I always ask them the simple question: “How do YOU think Google ranks websites?”
Over the years I’ve heard a very wide array of answers to that question. What this blog will focus on are some of the major misconceptions that small business owners have about SEO. Many people still believe that techniques that were in use 10 years ago are still important today. It’s also common for people to latch onto little nuggets of SEO-related info they’ve heard, but like the telephone game, the truth ends up being distorted.
In addition to discussing the common misconceptions about SEO I’ve noticed, I’ll also discuss what you should be doing instead of employing the ‘old’ or ‘conventional wisdom’.
The most common answer to my question is generally something along the lines of: “It has to do with keywords.”
The Misconception: META KEYWORDS
I have clients that talk about the idea of ‘putting the keywords on the backend of your website’. When they say this, they’re referring to the meta keywords tag. While many people (business owners, webmasters and even some internet marketing people) still place keywords in the meta keywords tag there is no major search engine that places any weight on this element. Google algorithm updates as early as Florida and Austin in 2003-04 targeted the meta keywords tag.
The Right Best Practice: TITLE TAGS
The best place to include your keywords is in your title tags, which are designed to be brief, 70-character descriptions of the content on a given page. You should have unique title tags for every page of your website.
The Misconception: KEYWORD DENSITY
The idea with meta description tags was to place the keywords where users couldn’t see the keywords. The notion of keyword density speaks to keywords that are visible to the user in the body copy of a website. Some people still think that the more often you mention a given keyword on your website, the better chance you have of ranking for that keyword. The reality is the opposite. If you go out of your way to try to write for search engines and include your trophy keyword phrase as many times as possible, it will negatively affect your rankings.
“If you’re looking for roofing in burlington or roofers in burlington, be sure to choose the best burlington roofer – YYZ Burlingtonian Roofer. When you have damage to your Burlington roof in Burlington, call a qualified burlington roofer to fix your roof in burlington ontario.”
The Right Best Practice: WRITE FOR HUMANS, NOT SEARCH ENGINES
Instead of doing that ↑ write for actual human beings instead! Why this idea was ever espoused is beyond me. It’s called ‘internet marketing’, so that means basic principles of marketing still apply. Including your keywords in your body copy definitely is important, but you need to include them in the copy naturally. You also want to include your keywords in your body copy so that when a user comes to your site, they see the keyword(s) they searched for, and they know that your site is indeed relevant. This has more to do with applying traditional principles of marketing rather than SEO.
The Misconception: DIRECTORY LINKS
There are still lots of internet marketing companies that surprisingly include ‘directory submission’ as part of their pre-packaged SEO solutions. Generally, the idea of ‘directory submission’ refers to the idea of submitting to a mass number (hundreds) of low quality sites that contain giant lists of websites. Sometimes they’re free, sometimes they’re paid. Google has taken many steps to discount the emphasis it places on directories, so this is not a tactic that is generally advised.
The Best Practice: INDUSTRY-SPECIFIC DIRECTORIES
Industry-specific directories won’t just take any old site. A site that’s submitted to it has to meet certain criteria, i.e, being a part of a particular industry. The fact that you’re receiving a link from a relevant source, and not just a catch-all web directory also helps. Any directory that you do submit your site to should not automatically accept just any website into their directory.
The Misconception: BUYING LINKS
Google obviously can’t tell definitively if you purchased a link, but there are certain factors that are indicative of a site that sells links such as when you’re able to customize your anchor text.
The Best Practice: EARNING LINKS
Instead of going out and buying links, you should focus on creating great, engaging, educational & entertaining content, marketing that content through social media, and earning your links because other people/websites naturally want to link to your content.
The Misconception: RECIPROCAL LINKS
We all know the phrase “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”, and this idea became very popular in the early days of the internet with reciprocal links. As early as 2005 with Google’s Jagger algorithm update, the value of reciprocal links decreased and search engines began to place more value on one-way links.
The Best Practice: LINKS FROM REAL RELATIONSHIPS
Instead of exchanging links with websites with whom your business has no real relationship, focus on getting links from businesses/organizations/individuals with whom you do have a real-world relationship. Sometimes these will be one-way links, and other times they will be (naturally-occurring) reciprocal links. Examples of these types of links include links from: charities to which you donate time/money, suppliers, professional organizations & chambers of commerce.
The Misconception: UPDATE YOUR SITE REGULARLY
“Google likes fresh content” is something that I hear a lot from clients. There is definitely some truth to this, but unfortunately a lot of people have taken this idea and twisted it around and have concluded that things like putting a date & time on your website, or periodically tweaking the copy on your website is a good thing. These practices won’t hurt you, but this is definitely not what Google has in mind with what they refer to as Query Deserves Freshness or QDF. Certain search queries deserve freshness. That means if you’re doing a search for ‘US Presidential Race’, Google will make sure that at least some of the results that show up is current and talks about #bindersfullofwomen, for example, instead of Truman vs Dewey. If you’re doing a search for ‘florists burlington’ or something informational like ‘pruning apple tree’ these queries don’t deserve the same amount of ‘freshness’.
The Best Practice: BLOG REGULARLY
The type of ‘fresh’ content that you should focus on is blog content. However, I’m not suggesting blogging for the sake of freshness. Pumping out low quality blogs just for the sake of getting something out there isn’t doing you any favours. As mentioned above, great quality content can help you earn editorial links that carry a lot of weight from an SEO perspective, and they can also help you rank for long tail (lower volume/less competitive) keyword phrases.
If I had to find the common element between all of these ill-advised SEO techniques, they all really have to do with fooling or duping the search engines – trying to take their own algorithm and turn it on its head. In 2012, that doesn’t work. Focus on developing great content, and giving what users want and providing them with a great user experience, and most of the other stuff will take care of itself.