6 SEO Myths Debunked for 2017 & Beyond

This article is part of an SEO series from WooRank. Thank you for supporting the partners who make SitePoint possible.

Whether you’re brand new to search engine optimization, got some experience or you’re a seasoned vet, you’re probably operating under some faulty assumptions or outdated information you’ve picked up along the way. Unfortunately, there’s a chance you think you’re doing everything right but unknowingly hampering your own marketing. As you move forward into the holiday shopping season and the next year (we’re already in Q4, people), put these persistent misconceptions to bed so you can get the most out of your digital marketing efforts.

1. SEO Is All about Keyword Density

This myth is the remnant of a bygone age. In the old days of SEO you could trick search engines into thinking you had a highly relevant page by publishing thin content (just a few hundred words per page) that was crammed with keywords and their synonyms. This type of SEO was struck down by Google’s Panda update, which targeted low-quality, thin and duplicated content. Sites that had over optimized took a hit to their rankings and traffic. If you’re still operating under the idea that keyword density matters, you’ll probably struggle to rank well, and you’re providing your visitors with a worse user experience to boot.

That doesn’t mean don’t optimize your site for a specific keyword. You just need to do it naturally and keep in mind how you’re providing value to your users. Places you should still use your keyword are:

  • URL: Search engines and human users look at URLs to tell them what they should expect to find on the page, so they play a big part in SEO. Best practice for optimizing URLs is to use your keyword at the beginning, use hyphens as word separators and keep them as similar to the page title as you can.
  • Title tag: One of the most important on page SEO factors, title tags are one of the strongest hints you can give search engines about what the page is about. Like with URLs, use your keyword at the beginning of the title. This is a spot that’s really easy to over-optimize, so you should really think carefully about using more than one keyword here. Only do so if it can happen naturally and if the two keywords are very closely related. Otherwise, stick to one keyword, and once is enough — using the same keyword in the title tag repeatedly is a surefire way to make Google think you’re web spam.
  • Headers and sub-heads: Headers (<h1> tags) and sub-heads (<h2><h6> tags) give your content order and structure, which makes it easier for search engines to interpret it and more enjoyable for humans to consume it. H1 tags are extra important as they function as the content’s title (although note that they are not the same as the <title> tag). Using keywords in these spots will tell readers what to expect from each section of content, but overdoing it will tank your ranking.

When it comes time to write your page content, don’t worry about how many times you’ve used your keyword — search engines don’t really look at it that way and if the content is too keyword rich it will make you look bad. Instead, focus on using your keyword in the places mentioned above and throughout the entire page. This is where longer content really pays off: you’ll have your keyword and semantically related words naturally appear in different places, which will make your page look better. Measure how consistently you use keywords and related words with a WooRank audit:

WooRank audit keyword consistency

2. Images & Videos Don’t Matter for SEO

Images and videos play a role in SEO in two important ways: Regular search results rankings and image/video search results. Images and videos help your on page SEO in two ways:

  • Improved user experience. No one wants to click through to a page only to be confronted with a giant, unbroken wall of text. Photos, illustrations, infographics and other images make your page look attractive and break up text for easy consumption. This will increase time on page and decrease bounce rate, two factors Google uses to rank pages. Keeping your image size down will reduce page load time, which is another important factor in UX and SERP ranking.
  • More relevance to keywords. Even though search engines can’t see what’s in an image, they are able to crawl the image HTML tag on the page. Use this to your advantage by optimizing your images with alternative text and filenames that are clear, descriptive and use keywords naturally.

Well-optimized images and videos will also open up your page to a new channel of traffic: image and video search results. What’s really great about this sort of SEO is that you can double dip here: optimizing your media to help your pages rank will also help them rank in image search results. There are two vital parts of multimedia code to optimize:

  • Filename: Use filenames like you would URLs for a webpage. Use keywords at the beginning, separate words using hyphens and be descriptive and include as much detail as you can.
  • Alternative Attribute: Also known as the alt tag or alt attribute, the alternative attribute gives details about the media that didn’t fit in the filename. Write alt attribute like you’re describing the image to a person who can’t see — because that’s exactly what the alt text does. Search engines rely heavily on alt attribute since they can’t crawl an image to figure out what it is.

Check your image optimization with a WooRank audit to verify that your images have correctly implemented alt attributes.

WooRank alt text

Ensure that search engines are properly crawling and indexing your images and videos by using the <image> and <video> extension to your XML sitemap. If you’ve got a lot of images and/or videos, create image and video sitemaps and add them to your site as part of a sitemap index file.

3. Rich Snippets are Bad for Marketers

Rich snippets, both the Knowledge Graph and Answer Box, are part of Google’s effort to enhance search results by interpreting search intent and providing the searched-for information directly in SERPs using semantic search information, gathered from the web in its entirety. These rich snippets have some marketers tearing their hair out. Since Knowledge Graph gathers information from all over the web, it won’t always link back to your site.

Additionally, the Answer Box can potentially discourage users from clicking through to your site because they’ve answered their question directly in the results. However, there are some advantages to appearing in rich snippets, the most obvious being that they allow you to leapfrog anyone who may outrank you for your branded search terms (Knowledge Graph) or other target keywords (Answer Box). Even better, pages that appear in the Answer Box saw a sizable increase in search traffic.

Unfortunately, appearing in the Knowledge Graph doesn’t show the same boost in traffic, but you can still use it to your advantage by optimizing where it gets its data to help control the information it displays and keep your users in your ecosystem.

So how do you appear in rich snippets? That depends on which snippet you’re talking about. Answer Box relies much more on page content and your site’s authority, while optimizing Knowledge Graph means more focus on off page SEO factors.

  • Answer Box: Google decides who appears in an Answer Box based on how well the page content answers the question and how authoritative and trustworthy it finds your domain. The key to getting your content into featured snippets, aside from answering the question really well, is to structure your content in such a way that tells Google you’ve answered the question. Headers, subheads and Schema semantic markup are your friends here.
  • Knowledge Graph: Google displays Knowledge Graph rich snippets for branded keywords whether you want it or not, so you’re better off controlling the information than trying to fight it. Since it’s Google, your first optimization is your Google+ page; the better your Google+ presence, the more Google will rely on it for rich snippets. The second most important optimization is Wikipedia and Wikidata (formerly Freebase, but that’s been deprecated). Optimize your Wikidata entry and request a Wikipedia page to improve the content in your Knowledge Graph.

4. Links are Earned Now, Not Built

This myth joined the collective SEO conscience after Google’s Penguin update punished sites participating in link building techniques that were maybe not so white hat. This, along with the ascendency of content marketing, caused some SEOs to declare that the days of link building were over and the best way to fill out your backlink profile is by naturally earning links by creating great content. This wasn’t exactly wrong, as creating useful articles, videos and infographics is still the most important step of getting links, but the idea that content will earn its own links through quality and social media engagement hasn’t panned out.

So what does this mean? Links are still important, as seen by Google’s recent addition of Penguin 4.0 to its core algorithm, so you still need to build links on your own using a strategic manual link building strategy. Your link building strategy should include the following parts:

  • Content: Create your content with link building in mind. Do some research into what content is already getting shared by your audience (Buzzsumo and Ahrefs are two good tools for this). Take some ideas from this content to build upon it, updating old information or providing a new perspective. Whatever you do, don’t copy it — adding duplicate content to your site isn’t good.
  • Target Your Outreach: Don’t expect sharing your pages via social media to move the needle in terms of links. Link building requires you to find the right audience to not only increase your outreach success rate, but to also increase your chance of getting quality editorial links. You can use tools like AuthorCrawl and BlogDash to create a list of bloggers to target. Use Majestic to find websites that already link to your content, or find your competition’s links and try to take them for yourself.
  • Do It Yourself: People know when they’re getting a form letter, so automating your outreach will result in your emails going straight in the trash (if they even make past the spam filter at all). Write your emails yourself for best results, using a rough guideline or template to help streamline the process.

5. Improving Your Rankings Will Solve All Your Problems

For many the goal of “doing SEO” doesn’t get much past “rank number one in Google.” If that’s your approach to SEO, you’re falling prey to the myth that getting to that top spot is a magic bullet for digital marketing. The truth is yes, ranking highly in Google is part of it, but the truth is that to see the results you want, optimizations have to be done as part of a campaign with an overall goal in mind. Ranking number one for “women’s shoes” won’t do you much good if the majority of people using that keyword are looking for dress shoes and your landing page is optimized for athletic shoes.

So, instead of optimizing your site willy-nilly, take the time to develop a comprehensive SEO strategy. A good SEO strategy will:

  • Establish goals: You can’t declare a campaign a success or failure without knowing how to measure both. Before you start optimizing URLs and writing blog posts, first decide if you want to increase conversions or simply attract more eyeballs.
  • Determine the Ideal Audience Member: Who are your potential customers? Ideally you already know this, but if you don’t, or haven’t formally decided it yet, create buyer personas around your potential customers’ age, gender, interests, goals and location. Use Google Analytics to learn the demographic and interest information for your audience.
  • Find the Right Keywords: What stage a person is at in the purchasing process will determine what keywords they use in a search engine. They could be looking to answer a question, doing research to learn more about a topic or trying to find the product they want to buy. In each case, the keyword you’ll target would be slightly different. Plus, the end goal of your campaign will change the way you optimize your landing page and what sort of content you’ll create for them.
  • Track and Modify: Analytics is a vital part of digital marketing, especially one that requires constant fine tuning like SEO. Your analytics should evaluate more than just traffic, though. Increasing traffic doesn’t matter much if it doesn’t result in achieving your goal, so track conversions. If you aren’t seeing the conversions you like, it could be a sign that your keywords are used by an suboptimal audience, or maybe your landing pages aren’t set up to convert visitors.

6. Content is King

If you’ve been around digital marketing much at all you will have heard the “content is king” mantra hammered home again and again: Creating high quality, useful content will rank well in search results without much help from SEO. And at face value it certainly seems that way — every new search algorithm update works to weed low quality and spammy websites out of the results. But publishing good content alone isn’t going to get you to the top of Google, particularly if you’re in a highly competitive niche.

Publishing good content is still a really important, even prerequisite, component of ranking, but if you don’t optimize it, how will search engines ever know that it’s good? What’s more, if your whole site isn’t optimized, crawlers could struggle to ever find your content, which means it won’t show up in results at all. SEO is all about making sure search engines are serving your pages for the right audience, so while content is king, it’s not an absolute monarchy.