To say SEO has “changed a lot” would be the understatement of the decade. We’ll often see multiple updates per year from Google, including this year’s Mobilegeddon update from Spring 2015. Not to mention how Google’s Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird updates totally shook up the world of SEO. Marketers and SEO agencies worldwide halted their link-building and keywordobsessed ways and swapped them for a long overdue focus on quality content.
But does that mean an SEO specialist’s job is just to pump out high-quality, keyword-optimized content? Far from it. In fact, SEO has changed so much in the past several years that many marketers aren’t sure what’s outdated, what’s important, what will actually move the needle, and what’s simply wasted effort.
This guide is going to point out all of the most common myths and assumptions about how SEO works and debunk them for you, so you’re not wasting a single moment on things that simply don’t matter for SEO in 2016. Let’s get started.
"I must submit my site to Google"
When you do a Google search, you aren’t actually searching the web. You’re searching Google’s index of the web, or at least as much of it as we can find. We do this with software programs called spiders. Spiders start by fetching a few web pages, then they follow the links on those pages and fetch the pages they point to; and follow all the links on those pages, and fetch the pages they link to, and so on, until we’ve indexed a pretty big chunk of the web; many billions of pages stored on thousands of machines.
Lesson 1.3 of How Search Works
The idea that you need to submit your website to Google in order to appear in search results (or rank) is nonsense.
While a brand new site can submit its URL to Google directly, a search engine like Google will still find your site without you submitting it, and Matt Cutts’ quote explains exactly how this works.
Even if you do submit your site to Google, a submission does not guarantee anything. Crawlers will find your site and index it in due time, so don’t worry about this idea of needing to “tell” Google about your site.
If you’d like to hear more from Matt Cutts about “How Google Works,” check out this video.
"More links are better than more content"
In the past, building as many links as possible without analyzing the linking domain was how SEO typically worked. By doing this, your website was sure to rank higher. Building links is still a very important part of ranking factors. According to Searchmetrics, it is still top 5 most important rankings factors, but you must build links in a much different manner than you used to.
Around Penguin 2.0, which was released in May of 2013, all of this changed. Nowadays, it is important to focus on the quality of links you are obtaining, rather than the quantity. Sometimes less can be more if you know how exactly to build links the proper way.
This is something that often comes along with the question, “Which should I invest in, link building or content generation?” Links are an important part of your website’s authority (even with the changing link landscape). However, if you have budget to invest in your website, I would say, “Hire someone to write for you.”
Too often, when businesses hire someone to do link building, they focus on the quantity of links rather than their quality -- but linking is not a numbers game anymore (far from it, actually). You should focus on having relevant and diverse sources that link to relevant pages.
When you invest in content, that content can be used for webpages, blog posts, lead generation offers, and guest posts on other sites -- all content types that will bring more links with them over time.
"Having a secure (HTTPS encrypted) site isn’t important for SEO”
SSL is the standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a web server and a browser. This link ensures that all data passed between the web server and browser remain private.”
Have you ever noticed that some URLs start with “http://” while others start with “https://”? Perhaps you noticed that extra “s” when you were browsing websites that require giving over sensitive information, like when you were paying bills online.
To put it simply, the extra “s” means your connection to that website is encrypted so hackers can’t intercept any of your data. The technology that powers that little “s” is called SSL, which stands for Secure Sockets Layer.
In August of 2014, Google announced that it had started using HTTPS as a signal in their ranking algorithms, which means if your website still relies on standard HTTP, your rankings could suffer as a result.
For now, however, HTTPS remains a “lightweight” signal, affecting fewer than 1% of global queries (according to Google). So while it’s clear that Google wants everyone to move over to the more secure HTTPS protocol, don’t freak out if you haven’t done it yet. There are more important factors that Google is looking at, such as the presence of high-quality content.
HubSpot customers: If you’re using the Website Platform, you can get a standard SSL certificate for free. If you’re a customer but don’t have the HubSpot Website Platform, SSL is available for purchase. To find out more, contact your Customer Success Manager, or visit our pricing page.
“SEO is all about ranking”
Ranking for what? I’m sure we all remember those ‘Guaranteed to get you to #1 on Google!’ ads. But they never said what for. Rather than obsessing about ranking, be useful -- then your readers will bring about more consumers because they’ll share your stuff.
While there’s a strong correlation between search results placement and clickthrough rates, ranking is not the supreme end goal that it used to be.
Studies of clickthrough rates and user behavior have shown that searchers favor the top search results -- particularly the top-three listings. However, it’s also been shown that on subsequent pages, being listed toward the top of the page shows similar click behavior. And with search results now being appended with rich text/snippets, results that appear below the top-three search results are getting much higher clickthrough rates.
Even before all of that was applied, rankings did not guarantee success. Theoretically, you could rank quite well for a term, get tons of traffic, and not make a dime from it. Is that what you really want? I don’t think so.
This is a big misconception -- that higher rankings mean more search traffic. It is true that people will see your listing, but it does not mean you will get more click-throughs. There are a couple of reasons for this:
To solve these problems, try using Google Adwords to create a great keyword strategy relating to your business, and be sure to use enticing meta descriptions to get people to the site. It is a good rule of thumb to think about what would entice you to click through.
“Keyword optimization is THE key to SEO”
Meta descriptions are HTML attributes that concisely explain the contents of webpages. You’ve seen them before on Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs), where they’re commonly used as preview snippets. So, it’d make sense that Google’s algorithm would take these meta descriptions into account when determining search rankings … right? Well, not so much.
Google announced, all the way back in 2009, that meta descriptions (and meta keywords) have no bearing on search rankings. That’s not to say, however, that these descriptions aren’t important for SEO. On the contrary: Meta descriptions present a major opportunity to separate yourself from the riff-raff and convince searchers that your page is worth navigating to.
Having a relevant, compelling meta description can be the difference between a searcher who clicks through to your page and one who clicks elsewhere. And, guess what. Clickthrough rate is Google’s #1 ranking factor in 2015.
“Keyword optimization is THE key to SEO”
Until search engines are able to enter our brains and read our thoughts, we’ll always need to use written language in order to make search queries. We need to use keywords to communicate.
It used to be important that you write your content with the keyword incorporated exact match, but now Google uses latent semantic indexing (LSI), which was conceived around February of 2004 and became more and more prominent within search through every update.
With this type of indexing, the contents of a webpage are crawled by the search engine and the most common words or phrases are combined and identified as the keywords of that page. LSI also looks for synonyms that related to your target keywords.
Today, it’s important to optimize your page for the user experience; this means that you do not have to place your keywords word-for-word in the content. Write the content for the user. By using synonyms and related terms, the search engines will still understand what your goal is.
That being said, it’s important to realize that Google is no longer trying to match the keywords you type into its search engine to the keywords of a web page. Instead, it’s trying to understand the intent behind the keywords you type so it can match that intent to relevant, high-quality content.
The bottom line: search engines of the future aren’t going to punish folks for under using keywords or failing to have an expertly crafted, keywordoptimized page title ... but they will continue to punish folks for overusing keywords.
“Keywords need to be an exact match”
Keywords do not need to be repeated verbatim throughout a piece of content. In a headline, in particular, you want to use a keyword (or keywords) in a way that makes the most sense to your audience. The goal should be to write a stellar headline (somewhere between 4-9 words) that clearly explains what a piece of content is about.
Nothing is more of a buzzkill than having a headline that’s awkwardly framed around one keyword phrase or, worse, that forcibly repeats a keyword phrase.
This rule applies not only to headlines, but also the content on the page: the goal should be to inform the reader, not to inform the search engines.
Keyword stuffing is the act of shoving as many keywords onto the page as possible. Google’s own, Matt Cutts, warned us in 2007 against stuffing your page with keywords to rank higher in the search results. Some webmasters did not take this to heart, until Google continuously came out with new algorithm updates, like Panda, every year that were meant to target bad content.
Keyword stuffing is 100% against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines and is a dangerous game. Because of Google’s algorithm getting more advanced each year, you are likely to get your website penalized.Remember:
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