Website SEO: Sorting the Good Advice from the Bad

Search engine optimization became a mainstream concept in the mid-90s as soon as the first web search engines showed up. Today, 25 years later, though, many website owners are still hopelessly misinformed about how it works.

One of the worst mistakes that website owners make is to view SEO as nothing more than a bunch of discrete rules to pick up and apply at will. When they learn a tip, hear of an idea or read about a concept, they believe that they can right away apply it, and get the benefits indicated. It’s important to stop and think, though, about what exactly SEO is:  it’s a vast and complex body of knowledge. Some call it a science. You can no more pick up a tip and directly apply it for results than you can get healthy with a health tip that you’ve come by.

For website owners who do not possess in-depth knowledge of SEO and website creation it’s usually a good idea to turn to specialists that understands user experience and effective web design principles. If you try performing SEO and other tweaks yourself, it’s important that you never underestimate the depth of the knowledge needed to actually use the ideas that you come by. You can end up with some distressing results if you make changes that you don’t fully understand. What follows are four examples.

The link building scare

SEO columns often like to announce sensational findings: SEO is dead!, Link building is so yesterday!, Content marketing is history and so on. There is a modicum of truth to all of these statements: SEO, link building and content marketing have evolved and changed. They do not work in their original form anymore. They do work in their new form, though. It isn’t sensible to take such headlines at face value.

The link building scare is often attributed to Google guru Matt Cutts. In truth, though, Cutts only said that while Google’s approach to judging the relevance of a website by its link structure was a flawed one, but Google had no better alternative. This was what the headlines misinterpreted.

Google has refined its search algorithm over the years to make sure that it knows how to recognize cheap, manipulative methods adopted by link builders: buying links from link farms, depending too heavily on keyword-rich anchor text, putting links on page footers everywhere on sites and on blog post comment sections and so on. Good, honest link building still works and is vitally important to ranking on Google. Giving up link building can be a serious mistake.

The idea that if you build the product, they will come

The idea that all you need for success is a great website is an oversimplification of the way the Internet works (and life too, for that matter). Nowhere in the world is having an excellent website enough for success. Search engines do not understand website content. To make a call on a website’s relevance to a search, they can only look for the right keywords, the right links, evidence of quality website programming, website load speeds and other such indicators. If a great website offers Google none of these clues, Google may ignore it. Then, no one will hear about it. Focusing on website quality and ignoring SEO can be harmful to a site’s chances of success.

The idea that link building is out, social networking is in

Many website owners read an article or two about traditional link building methods being supplanted by social networking, and entirely focus their efforts on cultivating audiences on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. While they do occasionally manage to get useful links from their activities there, the process is an undependable one: Google only has access to links on Google+; not Facebook or Twitter. Social networking cannot be the new link building approach because business considerations force them to block search engines from accessing their records. Regular link building methods — cultivating relationships with other websites, investing in PR and so on — are all that work.

The idea that you can make up for lack of quality with quantity

Five years ago, the Internet was full of advertisements for services that could spin your articles into a dozen different versions or ones that used Mechanical Turk or Fiverr to build links for you. Neither approach was cheap: you paid at least $5 for each link or spun article. Before Google’s Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, though, these methods did work well enough to be profitable.

Everything changed when Google introduced its algorithm updates: it learned to look for several telltale signs that identified these methods for what they were. You can’t succeed with poor quality links and content today even if you spend tens of thousands of dollars on massive quantity. These methods will only harm your chances.

What you need to take away

This listing of SEO myths is only partial. There are many more of them that you can fall for if you aren’t careful.  If you take away one thing from this listing of myths, it should be this: whatever advice you pick up about SEO, you need to treat it as an idea to investigate further with reading and understanding. It shouldn’t be something that you rush to apply: not even if it seems simple. You could leave out an important detail that’s crucial to making it work. The detail could make all the difference.

Jerome Swanson is a digital marketer at Titan Digital specialising local search. Whilst not cleaning up NAP issues he devotes his time to his lovely wife, Football Manager and Liverpool Football Club!

Featured image credit: ShutterStock

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