When I started SEO in 2001 things were a lot simpler than they are now. Back then it was all about keywords. Keywords in the Keyword Meta Tag, keywords in the Meta Title and Meta Description tags and Keywords liberally scattered throughout the content.
Obviously people came up with ways to “game” the system, to effectively cheat the search engines into giving them a better result than they were probably due and Keyword Stuffing was one of the first.
Keyword Stuffing – Level 1, repetition
Based on the knowledge that the search engines looked at the number of times a keyword was featured on a web page, keyword stuffing became the thing to do. This simply involved the multiple repetitions of keywords at the bottom of the content. The problem with this was that it looked ugly.
Keyword Stuffing – Level 2, invisible stuffing
Level two in Keyword Stuffing was to set the font to the same colour as the background, making the stuffing invisible but leaving a great deal of apparently empty space at the bottom of each page. However, you could highlight the text with your mouse, if you were so inclined
Now, the search engines realised they were being gamed so if you were caught using fonts in the same colour as your page background, your site would be penalised. The SEO folk adapted to this by making the font a very similar colour to the background……a visitor would still not see the text but because it wasn’t the same colour the search engines were happy – for a very short time. And they changed the rules so if your keywords were in an identical OR very similar colour to the background you’d be penalised.
And the SEO folk learned from this changed the font size back to a contrasting colour and then set the font size to 0. So, the keywords were there, they were in a colour that stood out from the page background but the typical visitor to the page wouldn’t see them, they took up minimal space and all was good in the world of SEO
Until the search engines cottoned on again and amended their rules to penalise websites that used keywords in the same (or similar colour) as the background AND/OR had the font size set to zero
The above techniques to game the system (a polite way of saying cheating) became known as Black Hat SEO and it’s something that I avoided simply because I didn’t want client sites to be penalised.
Since those early cowboy days of SEO, many things have changed. The profession has cleaned up its game (although Black Hat SEO still exists if you want to cheat the system and eventually get kicked out of the Search Engine Results Pages – SERPs) and the search engines regularly update their algorithms – the software that decided where a website deserves to sit in the Results pages.
If you want any help with your digital marketing please don’t hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) by phone (01793 238020) or ask me on Social Media – Linkedin or Twitter and I’ll be only too happy to talk. Thanks for reading and I hope you stay well
I started providing SEO services in 2001 and things were a lot simpler than they are now. Back then it was all about keywords. Keywords in the keyword Meta Tag, keywords in the Meta Title Tag and Meta Description Tags and keywords liberally scattered throughout the content.
People came up with ways to “game” the system, to effectively cheat the search engines into giving them a better result than they were probably due. Cheating search engines in this way became known as “Black Hat” or “unethical” SEO and if you’d like to learn about one of these Black Hat techniques you should read my post on Keyword Stuffing.
Since those early cowboy days of SEO, many things have changed. The profession has cleaned up its game (although Black Hat SEO still exists if you want to cheat the system and eventually get kicked out of the Search Engine Results Pages – SERPs) and the search engines regularly update their algorithms – the software that decided where a website deserves to sit in the Results pages – to make sure that Black Hat SEO techniques don’t dominate results.
As things have changed, the number of SEO myths has grown and these are the ones that I most frequently encounter
SEO Myth 1 – It’s no longer about keywords
This has been around for a while now. Not only does Google examine more than 200 “signals” when ranking websites it frequently tweaks theses “signals” to ensure that you and I get the most relevant results for our searches. Every time something changes, a crowd of people claims that “Keywords are dead” or “SEO is dead”. Well, I’m here to tell you keywords are NOT dead and neither is SEO.
In fact, keywords are the fundamental rock on which all SEO is based. There’s no magic or mystery about them, they are simply the words you and I enter into our web browser when searching for something and so it’s critical that these words and phrases are embedded in your website, in the places the search engines look. This enables Google, Bing, Yahoo, Duck Duck Go, etc to match searches to relevant websites
SEO Myth 2 – it’s ALL about keyword density
If you carry out a web search for “Keyword Density” you’ll find a number of sites telling you that the ideal keyword density is between 4 and 5%. This means that for every 100 words on your web pages, 4-5 of them should be keywords.
Please don’t pay ANY attention to this. If you do, you’ll fall foul of one of the cardinal rules of web development, that your website is for the visitors to your site and search engines are simply a tool to deliver those clients and prospects to your site.
If you focus on keyword density, and other SEO focused metrics, you’ll have switched content focus from creating great content for site visitors to creating content for the search engines and your content will suffer. I have worked with many sites that have fallen down this particular rabbit hole. Their site has ranked really well in the search results, the search results have delivered many visits but those visitors have left the site very quickly (Bounced in Google Analytics terms) because the content wasn’t focused on their needs.
SEO Myth 3 – it’s all about buying backlinks
Back-links, hyperlinks published on third party websites that bring people to your website are the foundations on which Google was built. Originally called “BackRub”, Google originally ONLY ranked sites based on the volume of backlinks. The thinking was pretty simple. If I link from my site to yours then I must believe that something on your site will be of interest/value to visitors to my site and, like any good democracy, the more votes (backlinks) your website has, the more popular and better it must be.
When Google was launched, backlinks remained a fundamental way that it ranked websites (and it remains so today). As a consequence, a whole industry built up around providing backlinks, including “Link Farms”. Web pages that just looked like phone directories, with each page simply featuring hundreds of links to websites. In the early days, this was quite successful and you could buy thousands of links for a few hundred dollars.
That was until Google realised that quality was far more important than quantity and started analysing where the backlinks originated. From then on, purchased backlinks became a major no-no. Backlinks MUST be relevant, so a link from your local butchers to a website providing marketing services is not relevant, for example.
For the butcher’s example above, it’s not likely to attract a direct penalty but will probably just be ignored by Google so the effort expended on acquiring that link will have been wasted.
If you take it to the next level and start purchasing links, Google WILL find out and your website will be penalised by being pushed DOWN in the results pages. This could be critical, with only 50% of search engine users ever going beyond the first page of results and just 10% making it to page 3 and beyond, a demotion to page 5 is almost as bad as being deleted.
Myth 4 – posting the same content on many different sites will boost your ranking
“Back in the day” it was common for a blog article to be posted on a number of websites that claimed to be regularly visited by journalists, and so promised a lot of “eyes on” fresh articles. The publisher’s dream was that they’d be contacted by journalists for more information. The goal being to be mentioned in an article that gets published by the national, mainstream, media amplifying the visibility of the business. The reality was that no journalists visited these sites and the actual goal was to simply build backlinks.
As Google improved its technology it recognised these for what they were, backlink building opportunities, and woe betide your website if you had had the temerity to pay to have your post published.
From here, another myth developed, that multiple placements of identical content will be penalised. Myth 14 explains this one in more details
Myth 5 – You have to write at least 1,200 words on every page for optimum SEO
If you read enough posts about SEO you will ultimately come across one that talks about the number of words contained on pages that come up in Position 1 on Page 1 of Google’s search results pages. (The holy grail of SEO if you like).
Typically they’ll tell you that top pages contain 1,200, 1,600, or even 2,000 words. That’s a LOT of writing, but don’t despair. You don’t have to write so many, or you can write many more. The reality is that there is no magic “ideal” word count that will get you on the first page of the search results. It’s much more about relevance and quality.
Look at it this way. If I tell you, or you read, that your page has to contain 1,200 words, you’re going to write 1,200 words no matter what. And if you only need 600 then your page is going to be so full of padding and filler that even were your page to feature highly in the search results and attract loads of visits, no one is going to read it.
And at the other end of the scale, if you actually need 3,000 words to get your message across and you’ve heard that the ideal page is 1,200 you’re going to edit the heck out of your content and you’ll probably remove most of the value. So, again, even if your page features highly in the results and you get loads of visits, most won’t stay because the content doesn’t make a great read.
What’s the solution? The simple solution is to write as many (or as few) words as you need to communicate your message and sell your idea. My only caveat, if you have to write a lot of words you either need to be a very good and persuasive writer OR hire a copywriter to do the work for you.
Myth 6 – SEO is dead
At least once a year someone pontificates that “SEO is dead” and I worry about my future. Then I relax and realise that SEO has quite a few years to go yet. it’s a long way from being an Ex-SEO, left this mortal coil, kicking up the daisies and every other quote from Monty Python’s “Dead Parrot” sketch.
Work is required, and will always be required, to ensure that your website is as #SEOFriendly as possible so that it appears as high in the search listings as possible and drives sufficient traffic to your website
Myth 7 – It’s all about Social Media these days
It’s really easy to believe, that with over 2.3Bn active users, Facebook has removed the need for a website and so SEO is no longer required.
If you follow this path, you’ll be missing out. In the UK about 32m people use Facebook. With about 90% of the UK population using the internet, ( that’s about 58.5m people) you’ll be missing 26.5m people.
And that’s just the people who don’t use Facebook Lots of Facebook users (about 70%) still turn to search engines when looking for the things they want or need. So, it’s not all about Social Media, if you just do Social, then you are missing a huge audience.
Myth 8 – Pictures don’t do anything to help your SEO
Although the search engines are slowly rolling out Artificial Intelligence to help then understand the content of a picture, your images contribute greatly to the optimisation of a web page.
However, you need to optimise your pictures properly. The file size has to be small enough so as not to slow your pages down, need to have SEO optimised image names, AND have optimised Alt Tags. Sign up for my newsletter and you’ll receive my free e-Guide to image optimisation.
Myth 9 – SEO is a secret magic masked by smoke and mirrors
When SEO was growing in awareness, a lot of people delivering the service hid their actions behind smoke and mirrors, making it appear as if it was something mystical, something that could only be implemented by members of some deeply secret inner circle.
I think the main reason for this was to mask their techniques (some of which may have been gaming the system for quick results but which would lead to penalties being applied) AND so that these cowboys could charge more for their services.
The reality is that EVERYTHING you need to know is “out there” on the internet if you know where to look and who to trust. But do you want to spend time learning about SEO, sorting the wheat from the chaff and then learning how to implement it on your website AND keep it up to date or would you rather bring in someone who knows what they are doing, leaving you to do what you’re good at? Running your business, converting leads into sales, and making a profit?
Myth 10 – It’s not a problem if your website is slow to load
It’s a HUGE problem if your website is slow to load. 3 seconds is the goal – why?
The internet has robbed people of their attention span. Most people simply won’t wait any more than 3 seconds for a web page to open. If it’s slow, they’ll simply go elsewhere.
And it’s worse than that. You have about 2/10s of a second for people to “Get” what your site offers and if they don’t “get” it almost straight away, they will head off elsewhere.
Because of this, Google will push slow sites down the results pages. After all, thee’s no point sending people to a website if all they are going to do is come back to their search results to go somewhere else.
A slow website is one of the reasons behind a high Bounce Rate in Google Analytics
Myth 11 – You Must have perfect SEO to rank on Page 1
With Google examining more than 200 “signals” to determine where your site comes up in the search results pages, and the majority of those being known ONLY by Google thee is no way that your SEO can ever be perfect.
And you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be better than your competitors. That’s why I’ll look at your competitors if I am working on your SEO to see what can be done to beat them.
And if you strive for perfection, you might never get anything completed. remember, perfection is the enemy of good
Joke 2 men in the forest were faced by a huge bear charging towards them. One gulps and says to the other “we can’t outrun this bear” and the other one says. “I know, but all I have to do is run faster than you……byeeeee”
Myth 12 – Running a Google Ads campaign will boost your SEO
Google Ads and Google Search are two totally separate parts of Google and there is NO interlinking at all so running a large (or small) Google Ads campaign is NOT going to improve your SEO.
It will, however, give you a quick opportunity to get your business to the top if the first page of search results (In the Ads section) if you need quick traffic to your website
Myth 13 – SEO is a one time thing
No, no, and thrice no. SEO is constantly changing and you (or your search optimiser) should constantly be looking for ways to improve your SEO. After all, if you started out and were better than your competitors (See Myth 11) and they improve their SEO, they will outrank you so you need to stay on top of things.
Myth 14 – Google will penalise your site for duplicate content
Myth 4 looked at the posting of content on a variety of websites with the aim of building backlinks to your website.
From this came conversations that if Google caught you doing this then they would penalise your website. This simply isn’t true. However, a very real danger of having multiple copies of the same thing is that it will dilute your search results because Google won’t know which is the most important page.
So, examine your content, and if you have more than one copy of the same thing then you need to let Google know which is the most important and the Canonical tag is the way to do this.
A canonical tag (aka “rel canonical”) is a way of telling search engines that a specific URL represents the master copy of a page. Using the canonical tag prevents problems caused by identical or “duplicate” content appearing on multiple URLs
Thanks for reading and remember, if you have any problems with your SEO please don’t hesitate to get in touch. I’ll be only too happy to answer any questions that you might have
It seems that every week I am asked whether “X” would be a good thing to do, or perhaps “Y”. “What do you think Andy?”, “which path would you take?”
The reality is that even after 20 years of experience, I don’t know with any great certainty. All I can do is reflect on past experiences and understand how a particular course of historical action could be overlaid on contemporary actions and offer some thoughts and guidance.
The key question, though, is this. When it comes to most forms of marketing, how do we know what works and what doesn’t?
The reality is that we don’t – until we give it a try.
But before you try any form of new marketing activity you need to really understand your expectations. What do you want it to do and what do you NEED it to do. You should approach it with a plan in mind, the 6 Ws.
The 6 Ws
Who, What, Why, When, Where and hoW. There are loads of variations on a theme but here’s a simple example as to how the six Ws can help with the initial planning of your new campaign. And to use a cliche – “fail to plan, plan to fail”.
Who are you looking to reach (personas can really help identity and visualise your target market
What are you looking to sell to them
Why would they choose you as their supplier rather than your competition
When will they be ready to buy
Where will the marketing be posted/published?
How will the sale take place & delivery occur. How will you measure the performance.
You should always have a goal because, as the cliche says, “without a goal, how will you know when you have arrived”
The 6Ps could also apply – Proper Preparation Prevents Pretty Poor Performance
OK, I’m done with cliches, for now, back on topic.
I have worked with many people who strive for perfection. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the focus on perfection has a time and place. From a marketing perspective they
– have an idea
– create an outline,
– add flesh to the outline
– review it
– ask others to review their plan
– make changes to reflect people’s comments
– and go around the circle again & again
A camel is a horse designed by committee
Seeking absolute perfection can be a trap, the danger being that you want a horse but end up with a camel.
This often means that the plan at the end looks nothing like the initial plan, that the initial goals have become forgotten and the time taken to refine and finesse the plan means that key opportunities are missed or have made it likely that the plan will never be executed.
My preferred approach is to come up with the campaign aims, agree them with my client and quickly work back from there to understand the target market, which platforms they are likely to use and to understand the best ways to put my client in front of them.
I sometimes get it wrong. I’ll have explained my plans to the client and explained the risk. If a plan is going to fail I like it to fail fast. I accept that it’s OK for a plan to fail, it really is. However, this approach will only work with goals that are understood and research to understand why the goals were not met.
From there, you can take the learning, update and improve the campaign and go again.
So, Why IS marketing like the Space Race
NASA would follow the route to perfection. Testing each individual component of the Apollo program (for example) then they’d put some components in to a module and test the module. Then they’d put some modules together in to an assembly and test the assembly.
Then they’d put some assemblies together in to a stage and test the stage. Then they’d test the stages, assemble them in to a 365 ft tall tower of power and launch the rocket.
And even after all this testing there were still problems – look at Apollo 13, and the two Space Shuttle disasters for evidence.
Elon Musk and Space X take a different approach. Elon came up with the idea of a reusable rocket. It was designed, a rocket was launched – it failed. The reasons for failure were designed out of the next iteration. There was a different failure. The reasons were investigated and designed out and now launching, AND landing, Space X Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets is as near normal as you will find and progress continues.
At the time of writing Space X are planning on returning US Astronauts to the International Space Station using an American rocket for the first time since the Space Shuttle was withdrawn from service.
If you want any help with your digital marketing please don’t hesitate to get in touch for an informal chat by email (email@example.com) by phone (01793 238020) or ask me on Social Media – Linkedin or Twitter and I’ll be only too happy to talk.Thanks for reading and I hope you stay well