A content marketer’s handy guide to SEO truths, half-truths and downright falsehoods.
A whirlwind of somewhat opaque search engine changes have confused marketers. If you haven’t kept up with every single change, it’s likely you’re probably holding on to some outdated SEO beliefs which could be harming your content’s performance. Are keywords really dead? Does social media influence SEO? And are inbound links as good as gold? Let’s take a look at seven common SEO assumptions to see how they hold up to our current understanding of search marketing.
Truth ranking: Absolutely false
Myth: Once upon a time, marketers and publishers alike stuffed web copy with trending keywords, even if the content wasn’t relevant. The Huffington Post famously drew criticism in 2011 — the early days of keyword abuse — with the now infamous post “What Time Does the Superbowl Start?” The article was an attempt to cash in on Google searches for the phrase “when does the Super Bowl start.” Deadspin writer Barry Petchesky wrote it was “the most legendary act of SEO trolling ever,” however the practice caught on. Not long after, Google made algorithm changes to punish content keyword-stuffing enthusiasts for producing low quality, low relevance content. Google’s response led many to believe keywords are no longer important, but this couldn’t be father from the truth.
The new way: SEO experts strongly recommend writing quality content around popular keywords. Choose keywords that customers would naturally use when searching for your content and create original content to answer those questions. It’s OK to sprinkle those keywords in an article sparingly — in a naturally-worded copy. The most important component of an article though is that it’s original and offering valuable information to the reader. All content should have a purpose and goal.
Truth ranking: Somewhat true
Myth: In the past, many marketers paid for inbound links to their clients’ content. This practice backfired in 2011, when an algorithm change titled Penguin, stripped rankings from websites that had high numbers of inbound links from questionable sources. Today, when links come from similar sources, it hurts search rankings.
The new way: Don’t worry about inbound links that come from industry-related or authoritative sources, you want those links. Those links helps establish authority on a specific subject matter and that helps Google rank your content higher in search. However, when an unsavory source links to your content, consider asking the other webmaster to delete the inbound link. You don’t want your content associated with spammy content.
Truth ranking: Somewhat true
Myth: Social media shares are like inbound links: they’re great, but only if they come from reputable sources. A lot of shares are better than no shares at all, but it’s better when your content is shared by someone influential.
The new way: Create content that will be shared by a specific audience or by industry leaders. Build a consistent audience over time instead of gambling on an instant viral share.
Truth ranking: Mostly false
The Myth: Marketers used to think guest blogging was the secret sauce for great search rankings. Guest blog swap networks soon popped up all over the Web, and the practice transformed from well-intentioned writers trying hard to extend their reach to the practice of paying for backlinks. This prompted Google to take action. Now, Google won’t boost rankings for guest blogging unless it’s on a reputable site. Google’s own Matt Cutts wrote a blog post explaining that “spammy” guest blog posts prompted Google’s own webspam team to look down on the process.
The new way: Write guest blogs for influential sites or for reputable sites related to your industry. Quality matters more than quantity, so don’t bother guest blogging for sites that will hurt your online reputation.
Truth ranking: False
Myth explained: In the summer of 2014, Google eliminated its authorship markups. In other words, code markups designed to link content to Google+ profiles will no longer boost rankings. However, Google does still pay attention to the reputations of authors, a practice which SEO analysts call “Author Rank.” Though the preferred treatment authors received in authorship is gone, a piece written by an authoritative writer will still rank better than a piece written by an unknown author.
The new way: Don’t bother using “rel” tags for authorship markup anymore, but do focus on ways to define yourself and to increase your authority as an author.
Truth ranking: Downright false
The myth: Many marketers — and some inexperienced clients — assume content needs to be optimized only once to generate a miraculous rise in search rankings. In truth, SEO is about more than just rewriting copy to insert new keywords; it’s about building authority by writing original content related to specific search queries.
The new way: Real SEO takes time and, to some degree, trial and error. Focus on creating an optimized website, establishing a strong social media presence and building an online audience over time.
Truth ranking: Totally false
The myth: Though long-form content has been shown to receive more clicks and social media impressions, Google does not use word count as a measure for search ranking. Google’s Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, said as much in a Google product forum:
There’s no minimum length, and there’s no minimum number of articles a day that you have to post, nor even a minimum number of pages on a website.”
The new way: Long-form content won’t boost your rankings in and of itself. The reason long-form content attracts readers is because they’re typically written with more care and depth, not because Google thinks more words are better.
Search engine updates can scare content marketers into thinking dramatic changes are underway, but the simple truth of search marketing never change: create original content that will educate your readers and make them want to share it.
How have Google’s algorithm updates affected the way you think about SEO? Leave a comment explaining how you’ve adapted to the changes.