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SEO myths vs factsSEO myths vs facts Some days in the world of SEO, it feels like “Groundhog Day” – the classic 1993 movie where Phil Conners (played by Bill Murray) repeats the same day over and over. But instead of the day repeating, one question gets asked over and over and over. It usually goes something like this: what are some common SEO myths you always hear that need to be debunked? The topic of SEO myths and conspiracy theories is popular. We recently featured an article on myths (​​11 conspiracy theories about search, Google and Big Tech) here on Search Engine Land and have published several others in past years. So we won’t go into any actual myths or debunking here. The bigger question is: why does your boss (and/or your co-workers and/or your team) keep asking you about these SEO myths? Or how did your client hear about some random, long-ago debunked tactic? Shouldn’t they know better? Well, no. Not always. Part of your job is to understand and educate them about how search actually works – why E-A-T isn’t a ranking factor, why Domain Authority isn’t a metric Google uses or why LSI keywords are a ridiculous concept. Read on to learn about the top reasons people believe SEO myths and how some SEO practitioners deal with them. 1. Repetition SEO myths sound believable when repeated enough times. Misinformation tends to spread in our industry. It’s shared in conference presentations, in blog posts, on social media, on podcasts and elsewhere. Before you know it, you’ve got a myth (or a new SEO boogeyman). So if you find yourself in this situation, what should you do? Holly Miller Anderson, lead SEO product manager, North America, at Under Armour, put it this way: “Educate. Don’t argue.” “One of the best things SEO leads can do is to be as proactive as possible about educating your org and leadership team against SEO myths,” Anderson said. “Host talks as often as possible (i.e. lunch and learn style) about SEO myths and invite people to come in and hear some of the myths, share the ones they’ve heard, and provide different resources and proof.” This creates a safer space for people to voice their opinion or understanding about SEO without being viewed as stupid, Anderson added. It also gives the SEO lead a forum to address myths in a non-threatening way. 2. Myths typically are the “easy answer” SEO is “free traffic.” At least, that’s how many clients view it. At times, SEO is oversimplified, to the point where clients think all you have to do is x, y and z and then sit back and wait for all the rankings, traffic, conversions and revenue. Well, often the “too good to be true” answers turn out to be just SEO basics. Table stakes. Everybody is optimizing their meta tags, answering questions, making mobile-friendly sites and trying to create “great” content. Sometimes, even worse, these “easy answers” could actually be tactics that could inflict harm on your clients. And that’s something you never want to ignore, said Himani Kankaria, founder of Missive Digital. “I’ll tell them that I won’t be doing it and won’t be allowing my team to do it as implementing the wrong things would cost the client, and then cleaning it up would also add cost,” Kankaria said. “On top of that, what’s the guarantee that cleaning up that mess would bring back results?” The only way to fight bad information is with better information, said Keith Goode, principal SEO product manager at Cox Automotive. “Developers and even some SEOs will sometimes discover a bad piece of advice in a blog from 11 years ago (e.g., PageRank sculpting) and won’t bother to do further research to find the content that disputes it or disproves it,” Goode said. “As a result, they’ll implement a change on their sites that produces unwanted effects. “The way I fight this kind of misinformation is to provide more recent posts that disprove the bad advice,” Goode added. “Better yet, I’ll show them an article that directly quotes a Googler. Better still, if I can find the Google Developer documentation that counters the original claim, that settles it.” 3. Information overload You can find all sorts of information about SEO. There are endless help documents, articles, guides, studies, social media updates, ebooks, courses, podcasts, videos, and on and on. Talk about information overload! But you know what else is easy to find? SEO misinformation. Dave Davies, lead SEO at Weights & Biases, pointed out that most SEO myths originate from a kernel of truth. He said he has found that identifying that kernel and discussing why you haven’t engaged the tactic in this scenario is helpful. “Additionally, some tactics did work but don’t now, and providing that context works wonders,” Davies said. “Think forum spam in the early 2000s, or keyword stuffing at about the same time. Come to think of it, SEOs really messed up the results back then. Sorry about that.” Maria White, head of SEO at Kurt Geiger, said that communication is the best way to tackle misinformation. “First, I gather documentation from trustworthy sources (Google and SEO experts who do a lot of research, like Barry Schwartz, Jason Barnard, Lily Ray and Marie Haynes),” White said. “I then use the document to let the client know why it is not a good practice and talk about the potential damage a myth or bad practice could have on a strategy outcome.” 4. It ranks well on Google, so it must be true There’s a belief that what ranks well on Google means that it is accurate and trustworthy. I’ve seen this happen plenty through the years. For example, when people quote a statistic, they often type in [keyword + stats], look at the number one result, find a stat, cite that roundup post and hit publish. Except, when you actually check the sources, you realize that somebody at some point took a statement or statistic out of context, and it morphed into something that it never was. But Google doesn’t always rank the best or correct answers. Google’s algorithms are unable to fully determine accuracy. Luckily, plenty of SEO professionals track every shred of information that Google utters about SEO. Among them is Marie Haynes, whose agency documents everything Google says in blog posts, specific announcements, videos, hangouts, forums, and anywhere else. “We store the information internally,” Haynes said. “For most SEO topics, whether they are myths or not, we can support our recommendations with a link showing what Google recommends.” Aleyda Solis, Founder at Orainti, takes a similar approach. “I refer to Google official documentation about the topic where it’s explained, if there is one, or look for a quote from a Google representative from a Q&A or event, where that topic was addressed and is clarified, along with my explanation/reasoning about it and a “real life” example with how it actually works if available, so they can see it for themselves.” 5. Lack of critical thinking SEO checklists only take you so far. It’s your job to gather and process all the information, arguments and data we can before taking action. After all, the goal is to do what’s best for your brand, business, or clients. So question everything. Be skeptical. Examine the who, what, where, when, why, and how of everything you read, watch, or hear. Most of your clients just aren’t capable of critical thinking about SEO. They don’t have our experience, knowledge, and data. And though it may be hard, sometimes it’s important to be blunt, especially if the situation requires a radical change in thinking, said Kaspar Szymanski, co-founder of SearchBrothers. “Most clients appreciate that my sole motivation, even when pointing out the flaws in their current SEO approach, is to help them and make their websites more visible for relevant queries,” Szymanski said. “What’s not widely understood is the fact that ultimately organic search visibility is all about signal input. Search engine optimization is in essence managing that signal input. The best advice that clients readily embrace is to manage what goes into search engines in order to achieve the best possible result.” 6. The source seems legit For those of us who have been in the industry for several years, we’ve seen some popular personalities and websites that have published some questionable, misleading, or downright incorrect information. So we should produce better information as positive alternatives to learn from, according to Bill Slawski, Director of SEO Research at Go Fish Digital. “Sadly, there is a lot of misinformation in the world, and some SEOs are much more interested in writing popular clickbait rather than something that may be more accurate,” Slawski said. “These authors can sometimes be successful in terms of being paid by toolmakers, but aren’t helpful to SEO customers who want successful businesses.” Every media or publishing site occasionally gets information wrong. Most reputable ones admit and correct their mistakes. That isn’t always the case in SEO. Some people, when corrected, will ignore it or – worse – stubbornly stand by their harmful content. What should you do when you have to deal with clickbait or wrong information? Find out where they came across the information. Then point them toward two or three easily verifiable resources that are extremely credible, said Michael Bonfils, global managing director of SEM International. “My usual response is, ‘I wish it was that easy,” Bonfils said. “But in reality, this is what we do and how it works.” 7. It’s considered “best practice” In SEO, frustratingly at times, the answer often is “it depends.” That’s because what is considered SEO best practice in e-commerce SEO can be different from news SEO or local SEO or enterprise SEO. No two websites, even in the same market, are exactly the same. Some strategies and tactics may work for multiple websites, but results will inevitably vary. Some SEO “best practices” may prove to be “worst practices” for some websites. One solution here is to steer the conversation toward your existing goals and tactics, said Jes Scholz, group chief marketing officer at Ringier. “Remind them how well the current strategy is working and doing both the current strategy along with the myth isn’t possible, either due to resource constraints or strategy conflicts or whatever it may be,” Scholz said. “Then give them the power by ending on a question of how to proceed.” Davies said it’s actually good to question ourselves. “We’re all testing all the time. As knowledgeable as I think myself to be, my instincts have been wrong at times,” Davies said. “Basically, while 9 times out of 10 you may be right, testing and finding that one may pay big dividends over time.” The solution may be as simple as running a test. “Find a set of pages where something could be tested with clear signs of search impact but hopefully low on business (pages with him impressions but low clicks often come to mind),” Davies said. What to do when faced with these SEO myths? The key isn’t whether to bust the myth, but how you bust the myth, said Ryan Jones, VP, SEO, Razorfish. “You have to let the coworker/client down easy. It’s possible that the myth could have been good advice or common theory years ago and they just haven’t been keeping up to date,” Jones said. “They might have hired a bad SEO before. You don’t want to make them feel guilty for that, but you do want to give them proper advice going forward. You just need to do it gently, and there’s also a time and a place.” In other words, you can save the “well actually…” and combative tone for your next Twitter argument. “Don’t derail a larger conversation to get into an in the weeds SEO discussion. A follow-up email or conversation may be warranted in that case,” Jones added. “Never lose track of the bigger goal of the project/discussion and don’t miss the forest behind the trees.” Corey Morris, chief strategy officer at Voltage, said it’s important to be kind when addressing any myths or misunderstandings when a client or contact has misguided information about how SEO works. “Take an educational approach,” Morris said. “By addressing the broader aspects of how Google works, what it rewards, and why things are (or aren’t) included in that, I can find an anchor point with them.” Kevin Rowe, VP of strategy and product at PureLinq, has a standardized approach that includes, in part, a three-question litmus test for prioritizing and assessing risk against goals. Those questions are: Did the recommendation come from Google? Is the person/company providing this info a full-time SEO for 5+ years in your niche/similar niches? Was there a study done with a methodology? “It’s really important that you treat the client as if they are logical people that have good ideas and not uneducated in SEO,” Rowe said. “Just because we’re experienced SEOs doesn’t mean we always have the best answer.” But what if a client is stubborn about an idea? Jason Barnard, founder and CEO of Kalicube, said you might have to stop working with them. “Why waste time?” Barnard said. “There is no lack of smart business owners in the world who don’t treat SEO as a one-trick-quick-and-easy-win-every-time-with-no-effort. Let’s work with clients who want to integrate SEO into a wider business-focused digital strategy.” New on Search Engine Land About The Author Danny Goodwin is Senior Editor of Search Engine Land. In addition to writing daily about SEO, PPC, and more for Search Engine Land, Goodwin also manages Search Engine Land’s roster of subject-matter experts. He also helps program our conference series, SMX – Search Marketing Expo. Prior to joining Search Engine Land, Goodwin was Executive Editor at Search Engine Journal, where he led editorial initiatives for the brand. He also was an editor at Search Engine Watch. He has spoken at many major search conferences and virtual events, and has been sourced for his expertise by a wide range of publications and podcasts. In a Google Office-hours hangout, Google’s John Mueller answered a question about how to use alt text for SEO. Along the way he dispelled the idea that there is a 16 word limitation on alt text and suggested ways to use the Alt Text that would be good for SEO. Alt Text Alt text is a reference to Alternative Text for Images. The purpose of image alt text is to describe what is in an image for people who are accessing a web page with a screen reader. A screen reader is an assistive device that helps people with visual impairments access web documents, among other things. The screen reader reads computer documents aloud so that the person accessing the documents can listen to what is written. Screenshot of Google’s John Mueller Screenshot of John Mueller smiling as he answers a question about alt text and SEO Screenshot of John Mueller smiling as he answers a question about alt text and SEO Does Google Read More than 16 Words in an Image Alt Text? John summarized a question that was submitted to him. He said it was from a food blogger: “Google said that there’s a maximum of 16 words that you can use in your alt text. And the question is, does Google read the rest of my alt text and what does this mean for usability?” Mueller answered the question: “And I think the important part here is we don’t have any guidelines with regards to how long your alt text can be. So from a Google Search point of view, you can put a lot of things in the alt text for an image, if that’s relevant for that particular image.” 16 Word Alt Text Limit? The person asking the question made reference to what they believed was a Google limit of 16 words that can be used in alt text. The source of this idea might be from an SEO test that sought to identify text in an image alt text was searchable in Google Images. The test used non-existent words (essentially gibberish) and discovered that Google couldn’t find images by using more than 16 words to search for it. Using gibberish to test Google tends to result in flawed “SEO test” results. The reason that using gibberish is a flawed methodology is because Google is designed to rank actual words and is not designed to rank gibberish. So for gibberish it may very well be that Google will pull the regular algorithm (since it doesn’t apply) and simply try to do a straight match from query to web page, which is not how Google search normally works. Whether that mistake had an impact on the SEO test is an open question. The point is that the 16 word limit was not imposed by Google but was established from the results of an SEO test. Mueller Explains How to Use Image Alt Text Mueller next offered an explanation of how Google uses alternative text in images and what it means for how to use alt text for SEO purposes. Mueller continued his answer: “When it comes to the alt text, we primarily use that to better understand the image. So if someone is searching …in Google Images for something that kind of matches the alt text then we can use that to understand that your image is relevant for that alt text on that specific page. That’s kind of the primary use case of the alt text. We do also use the alt text as a part of the page. But that to me, that’s usually something that is already visible on the page anyway. So it’s less something that is critical to the page itself. So I would really use it as something that applies to the image and I would use it for usability and for Google Images to better understand that specific image.” What Words to Use in Alt Text Mueller next began explaining how to choose the best words for the image alt text. Mueller continued: “And I think what might also be worth mentioning is when it comes to Google images, you don’t necessarily need to describe exactly what is in the image. But rather, kind of like what this image means for your particular page. So if you have a picture of a beach, you could use an alt text and say, Oh this is a beach. But you could also say, this is the beach in front of our hotel or this is the beach that we took a photo of when we were doing a chemical cleanup. And kind of those intents are very different and people would be searching in different ways in Google Images to find more information there. And giving that extra context always makes sense, in my opinion.” Use Alt Text to Provide Context John Mueller essentially encouraged SEOs and publishers to use words that provide context to the image within the web page so that when someone with a screen reader comes across the image the context of how that image fits into the content of the web page will become clearer. So if you have a doubt as to what to put into the image alt text, it’s a good practice to think of how to describe the image for someone with a visual impairment and then use that description within the alt text. Citation SEO for Alt Text Watch at the 46:49 Minute Mark: Over the last two years, consumers have experienced continuous change in their working and personal worlds. Demanding simplicity in increasingly complex times, consumer behaviors changed, search engine algorithms continued to evolve, and so too must the strategies that surround and support SEO. While SEO is critical, reliance on search alone to reach your market isn’t a winning strategy. Instead, the importance of connected and dynamic digital-first strategies – as adaptable as the consumers they aim to engage – is now crystal clear. Understanding that the consumer journey is no longer linear. To engage with consumers effectively, marketers need to step back and rethink strategies, building dynamism into the foundation of their client experience approach. And while SEO alone isn’t enough – the challenges within the sector are many and varied. But in short, it’s fair to say that SEO is complex and constantly changing – SEO insights provide a real-time picture of the changing consumer voice, which can be leveraged to inform any number of digital strategies. Beginning with these insights marketers can build plans that are fulsome, multifaceted, and complimentary, connecting with consumers across multiple channels and touchpoints. In this post, we’ll explore why the most effective marketing teams aren’t putting all their eggs in one basket – because they know focusing on SEO alone isn’t enough. Content Marketing Why content marketing? High-quality content remains key to visibility. It is a critical component of the modern marketer’s integrated plan. Truly great content is naturally engaging. It answers top-of-mind questions throughout the consumer life cycle, and consumers seek it out across any number of platforms. From ebooks and podcasts to how-to videos and feel-good social posts, content marketing has evolved from blogging alone. When marketers and communicators work closely with SEO, using insights from search terms and placing consumers at the very center of their content strategy, they have the best foundation for success. Mapping out the consumer journey – and the digital touchpoints throughout each stage – provides an opportunity to build a client experience strategy supported by quality content that connects with consumers across platforms, in multiple channels, and touchpoints. The scope of content marketing is limitless, as is the ability to personalize, and that is a recipe for winning. Creating a holistic strategy that connects content marketing and SEO is the new table stakes. Digital Advertising And Pay Per Click (PPC) Because SEO is constantly changing, and every business is different, investing the time and effort to figure out what works best for your business can be expensive. Remember, while separate channels with distinct attributes SEO and PPC share a common goal, attracting consumers to your website. Approaching search holistically, ensuring SEO and PPC complement each other, will help you to navigate the changing environment, pivoting as needed in real-time. By combining forces and sharing learnings your team will have the opportunity to drive growth and improve budget efficiency in the process. Building integrated dashboards that provide insight into both organic and paid search results supports a fulsome view of keyword trends. Leveraging the right data can support key insight discovery, providing the real potential to improve performance. The example in this article looks at how PPC and SEO data can be combined to apply a cost savings lens to marketing budget cuts. By combining organic performance metrics, such as impressions with PPC conversion data, opportunities to improve performance can be identified visually using charts and graphs. Identifying keywords with high CPCs (costs per click) and low organic visibility, and then combining that data with insights can provide the foundation for a strategic pivot that sees you cut budgets in areas you can sustain a downturn while propping up performance with strong organic visibility. Relevance is key, and when we step back and look at the trends we can map based on SEO data, we can begin to think about the value that SEO data can bring to digital advertising through targeting. When we think about ads in the traditional media space – OOH (out of home), print, radio, and television – we talk about reaching certain demographics. But demographic groups are large and varied. The Gen Z audience, for example, ranges from age 5 to 25. And what may be relevant to a certain individual within a broad demographic will range dramatically. A study conducted by Google and Ipsos in 2020 found that video advertising based on consumer intent has significantly more impact than advertising based on demographics. Providing consumers with pertinent ads, focused on their needs and wants, rather than their demographic alone, drives engagement, brand lift, and ultimately sales. Social Media The numbers are clear: With more than 1 billion monthly active users across the top seven social networks, social media presents incredible opportunities for engaging consumers worldwide. There is no question that social media sites are highly authoritative, as such setting up branded profiles across Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter has the potential to secure additional search results, supporting your SEO goals. Beyond SEO, whether your social media goals are to increase brand awareness, build engaged communities, or simply sell products and services, social media platforms provide a critical method of sharing information and promoting business. If you’re rethinking your social strategy, consider these recommendations on where to focus your attention for 2022. If you’re just getting started plan for integration from the outset and consider strategies that support SEO performance. Whatever your goals are, ongoing performance tracking is key – social media testing, learning, and pivoting should be a continuous process. Creating a flexible social strategy is arguably much simpler than planning for dynamism in other marketing and advertising spaces, as social media channels provide a plethora of targeting options, with both free and paid options, and settings can be changed simply – so there’s no need to set it and forget it. Take advantage of the flexibility! Brand Management Every interaction a consumer has with your business, whether marketing, communications, virtual or person-to-person engagement, contributes to overall brand perception. In the digital space, managing your reputation is especially critical. If you don’t manage your reputation online, your SEO efforts will be wasted. Why? In short, consumers trust user-generated content. Online reviews help you to build a good reputation, going back to SEO, this is incredibly important to local results. Let’s think through the search process. When a consumer searches for your brand, product, or service, your website may be one or two of the results displayed. Other search results may include social and review sites showcasing what others are saying about you, whether negative or positive. Proactively managing your reputation online, through review sites and social platforms specifically, allows you to control the narrative. Mistakes happen; how a business responds to consumer feedback has the potential to change consumer perception. By engaging in conversation, you have an opportunity to correct any misinformation, and to accept responsibility where issues have arisen. If you aren’t monitoring search results with your brand reputation in mind, you’re simply missing an opportunity. Email Marketing Great email marketing provides an opportunity for brands to engage consumers in their space on their time, fostering relationships with prospective, current, and past customers, in a highly controlled environment. Segmentation options are essentially endless, from interests to demographic detail or user experience trigger-based. You’re limited only by your team’s creativity and the data you’ve collected. You can choose to deploy emails based on trending topics of the moment and again, it’s something that’s easy to keep a pulse on leveraging SEO data as the voice of your customer. Perhaps you also want to send emails based on the customer life cycle. Both options provide a highly customizable and personalized experience. Emails can be triggered based on any number of engagements with your site (helpful “you left something in your cart” emails come to mind!), or you may choose to set and forget a time-based strategy that sees key evergreen content from your site pushed out to new subscribers. Whatever your strategy, email marketing provides a simple and cost-effective opportunity to drive traffic to your site. Additionally, as is the case with social media platforms, the ability to test and learn presents the opportunity to maximize spending based on proven results. And that’s just the kind of dynamic strategy we like. To take your email marketing to the next level (and boost your SEO efforts in the process), check out these top tips. Conclusion Building client-centric strategies means meeting consumers on their terms. By starting with the voice of the client, and leveraging SEO insights in real-time, marketers can reimagine the possible, connecting with consumers across channels – digital and otherwise. An integrated digital marketing strategy has the potential to increase brand awareness through a strong digital presence. It can enhance conversion rates and drive real value by connecting content and brand messaging across platforms, leading to higher and faster returns on investment. The current day consumer is connected. Shouldn’t your businesses’ client experience and marketing strategies be, as well? More Resources: Featured Image: Lightspring/Shutterstock


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