SEO Myths: Debunked!

Is SEO the real deal or is it just snake oil? Let the magic and mystery be revealed!

Broc GailitOctober 18, 2019

Unfortunately, there isn't a magic pill for your website to rank in search engine results pages (SERPs), but Search Engine Optimization can absolutely give you a leg up in a competitive market. While the benefits of SEO are real, there are many common misconceptions about the extent of what it can do, how it all works, and the steps required to take action. Black hat tactics like link spamming and keyword stuffing are no longer effective and search engines are now smarter than ever. Inspired by conversations with real-world clients, below are 8 common myths debunked to demonstrate what SEO can and cannot do to get your online venture on the right track.

1. SEO is all about ranking as the #1 result in Google.

Every search phrase entered into search engines will present completely different results based on the intent of the search, location, time of day, and even individual search history. This means the number one result for you will be entirely different than result of the same exact search phrase for someone else. It's critical to understand the intent of searches in order to prioritize improving actionable metrics like click-through rates and conversion rates because ranking #1 for completely unrelated keywords does nothing to help your bottom line.

Best Hazy IPA in Oregon results.
Search results for "Best Hazy IPA in Oregon" from two unique users in separate locations.

2. Links get my pages ranked, so the more links I have the better!

Unfortunately, not all links are created equal.  Since Google's Penguin algorithm update in 2012, links from untrustworthy sites will get your site penalized by search engines. And on the other hand, links from topic-relevant sites of good authority hold more weight than links from irrelevant sites.  For example, acquiring links from the Brewers Association is ideal for a brewery while links from spammy and unrelated directory sites will negatively affect its ranking. A good link management strategy can help your business determine the good links and ditch any bad ones.

3. Images just make my web pages look pretty.

Your site's images actually provide search engines with valueable data to get your pages in search results.  To ensure your images are working to their potential, make sure they are using descriptive alt attributes, include informative titles and captions, are referenced in your main content, and the file names aren't something random like "IMG_15684984.JPEG".

4. Keywords are the key to SEO.

Google uses artificial intelligence with natural language processing known as RankBrain to understand the content of your pages.  There are no longer just a handful of keywords to rank, but thousands of long-tail variations with results dependant on time, location, and individual search history.

Understanding relevant and related keywords can help page's match search intent, but in the end, the overuse of keywords on a page, known as keyword-stuffing, will hurt your page's rank and can even lead to your pages being de-indexed in search results.Barleywine Keywords

Example of keyword research for "Barleywine recipe".

5. It's only important that my website looks great on desktop. I can worry about mobile optimization down the road.

The truth is that Google doesn't really care about your desktop site. They're only using one index when crawling your website and it is mobile-first. In 2015, Google released an algorithm update dubbed "Mobilegeddon" which pelanizes sites that aren't fully optimized for mobile. Modern sites also need to be optimized for speed to accommodate slow and unreliable connections of mobile devices.

6. Search engines "just know" when the text on my web pages contain things like events, business information, FAQs, how-tos, logos, reviews, articles, and recipes.

In addition to standard semantic markup (<article>, <figure>, <title>, <summary>, etc), search engines use very specific Structured Data to interpret your website's content. Including the correct Structured Data code behind-the-scenes on your web pages also makes your content eligible for Rich Results which greatly increase click-through rates in search results.

Example of JSON-LD Structured Data in use for Events Rich Results

7. SEO is a task best left for a techie or the designer I paid to make my website.  They'll "just add SEO" to my site and it's good to go!

The bulk of effective SEO is completely unrelated to any technical factors and is definitely not in the job description of any graphic designer.  While IT may be able to help with adding redirects, XML sitemaps, or JSON-LD, good SEO depends on your content correctly matching the what (intent) and why (context) of searches. The ever-changing nature of search algorithm updates makes SEO a moving target and therefore an ongoing process which requires regular research, analysis, exceptional content, and quite a bit of trial and error.

8. SEO doesn't affect Google's local results, they just show the top three businesses that are closest to me on Google Maps.

To the contrary, Google uses your business's prominence in their determination of your local ranking, which includes your position in web results. If your website is not search optimized, you are much less likely to appear in local results including Google Maps.