5 Myths in SEO 30 May, 2006 — Stuart Brown
'Guaranteed top 10 placement - get listed overnight!'
SEO is a competitive industry - and there are plenty of people out there who promise the earth and deliver dirt if you're not careful. Here's a list of 5 common myths and false promises that might not deliver the results promised.
1. Overnight Results
No-one, and I mean no-one, can guarantee good organic search results within 24 hours. It's the marketing blurb typical of so many black hat SEO guys - 'Top 10 listing in 8 hours'. In my experience, the big players in search - Google, Yahoo, MSN - all take their time in indexing a site.
Google in particular drags its feet when it comes to new sites - whether you subscribe to the notion of a 'sandbox effect' or not, a new site will struggle to rank properly for weeks. In most cases, to achieve anywhere close to a site's full potential will take months of work building good quality links and/or a loyal readership.
This talk of instant results is, of course, utter nonsense - speaking from my experience, any overnight success will not come as a result of organic placements - these, as their name suggests, need time to grow.
Any form of SEO that talks of instant results will likely provide only a short-term boost in traffic - and worse still, will be likely to originate from shady techniques such as spam (of the referrer, comment or plain email variety), and as algorithms to detect this sort of bad behavior becomes more advanced, this sort of promotion is becoming more and more likely to harm your long-term search engine prospects.
In short, if you want to get traffic to your site - don't look for the quick and instant gratification. Play the long game instead. A site that gathers 10,000 visits in a day and no more after that is worth less than the site that gets 10,000 visits a month through organic means.
2. Placement Can Be Guaranteed
The same guys that guarantee overnight listing also guarantee particular placements - regardless of competition or the quality of your site, you too can take your place on the front page of results. This is bunkum, of course - just as it takes time to improve search engine rankings, there is never any guarantee of placement on the first page.
This of course, applies principally to competitive keywords - arguably, you could take any random phrase, optimize a site for it, and yield #1 position in Google - with the only minor downside being that you'll get no traffic from those keywords, of course.
For new sites, ranking high is tricky - but to guarantee top 10 for a competitive keyword is foolhardy. Good organic traffic starts slowly and grows with the site.
3. Meta Tags
Even now, nearly a decade after Altavista, Lycos, Hotbot et al were all big search players, some SEO consultants cling to the myth of <meta> tags to boost site rankings.
Whilst it has been demonstrated that the major search engines (Google, Yahoo and to a lesser extent - MSN) will largely ignore the content placed there, and instead rely on the actual content of the page. There have been too many webmasters with too much spam in their <meta> tags to rely on a small snippet of information these days.
Whilst they do carry a lot of weight with search engines, and it's usually worthwhile adding the to your pages, laboring over them as though your site's existence depended upon it is usually misguided. Stuffing keywords in the <meta> tags will hurt your rankings badly, so it's best to stick to the basics - list your main keywords, a short and well-written description, and that should be all you need.
One place where care should be taken is the <title> tag - this is used very extensively by the Search Engines, and will prove critical to SEO success. Increasingly, though, the <meta> tags are being left behind, and will most likely lose all meaning in the near future.
4. Submitting to Search Engines
'We will submit your site to over 2,000 search engines'. Sound familiar? Of course it does - site submissions to search engines and directories is bread and butter for your average SEO. The trouble is, of course, that the search engine market is very much focused on one principal player - Google - and a few subsidiary search markets (MSN, Yahoo are the foremost). These big 3 will probably account for about 99% of all searches to your site - the other 1,997 will barely get a mention in your referrer logs.
If you can name 10 search engines, you're doing well - and the big search engines will more than likely know about your site already through backlinks - so the art of 'search engine submission' seems dubious at best.
By all means, submit your site to smaller search engines - there's no harm in it at all - but certainly don't expect any good organic traffic from any other than the major search engines. And don't believe the hype of 'search engine submission' software or - worse still - pay someone to use it for you.
5. More Links > Good Links
As everyone who's dabbled in SEO knows, links are critical to rising up the rankings in organic search. Search Engines have got wiser as the years have gone by, however, and the key these days is relevancy.
The term 'relevancy' is thrown around quite often, but it essentially means that it is quality links in the relevant sector that contribute far more to search engine rankings than broad quantities of unrelated links. Having links in areas other than your chosen subject may not hurt - if it's a high PR link you'll no doubt experience the benefit, but relevancy looks set to be the defining factor in SEO in the not-too-distant future.
You may be able to quickly and easily assemble a large array of links on a lot of sites, but good links from 'authority' sites within the same subject field are worth more in the long term. The definition of an 'authority' site is hazy at best, but any popular (and relevant) site should be your target in terms of generating good links.
Of course, there are many, many more myths in the world of SEO - the industry is full of shysters and people out to make a quick buck from an unwise marketer, and as new trends come along there are always people willing to pay money in the hope of traffic, fame, and fortune.
In reality though, the most rewarding aspects SEO are often the most slow to reward. Building a good site takes time, and if you push things forward too quickly with slightly dubious promotional activity, you are likely to suffer penalties as a result.
White-Hat SEO is more labour-intensive and doesn't pay off as quickly, but as long as the big search engines want to encourage good habits, the more likely they are to be rewarded with traffic. If an offer of 'instant traffic' or 'millions of hits' seems too good to be true, then unfortunately it probably is.