Every site wants Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) to work right for them. But the field is constantly changing, and it's hard to know what advice is still valid. Here, we've debunked 10 SEO myths.
Morris Bryant (Credit: Morris Bryant)
Any link is a good link
No-follow links are useless
Don't link to other sites
It's all about Page Rank and search engine rankings
SEO is cheap
You only need to worry about offsite
First-place rankings are guaranteed
All you need is this ebook/program/package
Pick a keyword and smash it
Flash is bad for SEO
Restaurant sites built entirely in Flash with over-the-top introductions, background music and no subpages were certainly anathema to search-engine optimisation, but also to users, Bryant said.
However, he said that there was no need to be too concerned about the SEO impact, however, if companies were using Flash for only certain parts of their website, particularly if utilising the "noscript" tag. He did, however, note that the rising use of smartphones, many of which don't support Flash, was a concern.
Ng agreed that Flash was fine to build animations around the site, but not to hold key content.
The first that many people learn about SEO is that links are the currency of the search engines, according to Morris Bryant, Sydney online marketer, SEO specialist and founder of The Dealer, a daily deals aggregator.
People often take this to mean that they should get as many links as they can, wherever and however they can, he said. However, bad links can be costly.
"If you're tempted to buy 1000 links for $5 from some guy on Digital Point, beware: it'll cost you a lot more than your fiver if you get a penalty for having XRumer (forum spam) links pointing to your site," he said.
He admitted that this is a highly contentious point, however, pointing to posts that say that bad links can't hurt, except in certain circumstances.
"No-follow" was a link directive introduced as a way of linking to something without passing any value onto the site, so that spam links in comment pages wouldn't be associated with the website. It was later widely adopted by sites like Wikipedia, Facebook and Twitter.
Although the traditional meaning of no-follow was that the bots didn't actually follow the link, ignoring it and moving on, that isn't what actually happens, according to Bryant. The bots do follow no-follow links, and crawl the content, but they don't always pass on value. This meant, he said, that there was still value in the links, because they can increase crawl rate and indexation.
Many companies wonder if they should be linking to other third-party sites. According to Bryant, the answer is yes!
"The days of page-rank hoarding are over: it looks unnatural if you don't link to any relevant sites at all, and isn't going to do you any good," he said.
Page Rank is a number named after Larry Page, which treats links like votes to determine how important a website is. However, it doesn't have a direct correlation with search results, despite being calculated by several of the same signals.
"It caught fame with link builders who use it to value link sales, but you shouldn't otherwise be concerned with it," he said.
Similarly, companies should avoid getting caught up in search engine rankings, according to Bryant.
"Rankings don't mean traffic, and traffic doesn't mean sales/leads/engagement. It's more important to rank for the right keywords with the right page, and then optimise your site for users, not just for the bots, to ensure you're converting the traffic."
It does, however, make sense to know what types of results appear with target keywords, according to Adam Bunn, director of SEO at London-based search marketing agency Greenlight.
Search engine results pages (SERPs) nowadays are populated with many different types of content such as video, news, maps, images and shopping information, Bunn said. He noted that for some keywords, optimising for image or map rankings are the quickest and easiest route to higher online visibility.
Good SEO will be cheap, eventually, as there are significant rewards for high volumes of relevant traffic, according to Bryant. However, he said that cheap SEO will, most likely, never be worth it.
"There are thousands of offshore providers (some probably waiting in your junk folder right now) offering low-cost SEO — usually directory and comment link packages," he said. "These kinds of tactics have their place, but you can't simply apply a generic SEO package to any site: every strategy must be unique if it's to be successful."
Bunn pointed out that search-engine optimisation shouldn't exist in a vacuum, instead being adopted as an integral part of a company's broader marketing efforts. Employees who are responsible for their company's SEO should be aware of the latest trends in the associated markets, channels and communities such as social media and television, and they can often "piggyback SEO on their other campaigns", Bunn said.
He pointed to UK insurance price comparison company Compare The Market, which in 2010 launched a site called "Compare the Meerkat" that tapped interest generated by its TV ads involving meerkats, as well as the increasing number of web searches containing the keyword "meerkat".
Bryant said that companies should be more concerned with onsite optimisation than link building.
"No amount of links will help your site rank well if you have serious onsite issues — particularly accessibility problems.
"I've worked with clients who had links in the hundreds of thousands, yet their site had a 30 per cent indexation rate: not even the most authoritative links would have helped them."
This means creating useful, unique content for readers that is served quickly, according to John Ng, director of digital marketing agency Mezmedia, and Bunn.
"Give great info, and folks will visit and link to your site," Ng said.
"Is [your site] really any different to the hundreds or thousands of other sites offering the same thing? What makes your site remarkable? If your answer to this question is 'nothing', then you will struggle to achieve ranking success," Bunn said.
To work out what visitors are doing, metrics are a must, according to Ng.
"Watch your numbers closely. They tell you what your visitors are doing, which page is performing best, how long they are staying, which sites they are coming from and so on.
Companies also had to keep an eye on bounce rates and page-loading speed, Bunn said.
A "bounce" occurs when a user clicks on a website after performing a search, only to immediately return (or "bounce") back to the search results. Search engines collect bounce rates as data to validate their suspicions about the quality of a website or lack thereof, according to Bunn.
High bounce rates have become an even more significant issue now that Google allows users to exclude or block a site so that it will not be seen in future search results, he added.
How fast a page loads has been a factor in Google's ranking algorithm since April 2010.
"For maximum benefit, your pages should load entirely in less than a second," Bunn advised.
No reputable SEO provider should guarantee first place on the search results, according to Bryant, adding that companies should be wary of any that do.
"There simply are no guarantees in SEO," he said. "It's not just about rankings, anyway — what good is ranking first place for a five-word phrase that sends one lead a year?"
Bryant said that there were some great texts, applications and niche service providers in the marketplace, but none of them were going to solve ranking issues on their own. An ebook certainly isn't going to fix everything, in his opinion.
"Some of the best tools and knowledge are available for free or subscription on SEOMoz, MajesticSEO and Search Engine Land; you certainly don't need to purchase anything from a Clickbank merchant," he said.
Bunn suggested that companies seek out proper SEO expertise at the very outset of building or redeveloping a website, as it would save one a lot of money down the line.
Bryant said that many people believed a few years ago that "hammering out keyword mentions" was the key to on-page optimisation.
"Recent research shows there's much more benefit writing about relevant keywords — cakes, candles and invitations, as well as birthday parties, if the latter is your main keyword. It certainly looks more natural, so makes perfect sense," he said.
Bunn agreed that content should not repeatedly stick to one keyword, and said that whatever message a business wants to put across to its audience should be clearly stated in the page title, meta description and URL.
Ng said that other features of the site could use keywords as well as the text, saying that the URL, image names and links should reflect the content by using keywords that users would use while searching.
For example, by titling an image "healthy chicken.jpg" rather than "image001.jpg", the pictures will turn up on image searches, he said. Similarly, use a link that reads, "Our menu offers healthy options" instead of "To find out more, click here".