Persistent myths are a regular feature of human society. Whether we’re talking about classical concepts like dragons and King Arthur, or “urban legends” such as the notion that Area 51 might contain an alien spacecraft, myths can be fun ideas that make the world seem to be a more fantastical place. While we don’t often think of SEO as having a mythical component, there are certainly some ideas that owe more to fiction than reality.
Some modern myths might be better described as commonly held misconceptions – such as the belief that the Great Wall of China is visible from space (it’s not) or that vitamin C helps you get over a cold (it doesn’t).
As with many technical disciplines, SEO has its own fair share of frequently cited untruths which have somehow managed to persist for years despite having no basis in fact – and today we’re going to set the record straight on five of the worst offenders.
1. SEO is done once and then you’re golden
Often, we’re not geared up to think about “optimisation” as an ongoing, long-term effort. If you’ve got something that’s unoptimised, you optimise it and then it’s optimised – right?
Many of us don’t realise what a dynamic and constantly-changing environment the Google search results pages really are. New pages are indexed at a rate of 100 billion a month, algorithm updates juggle things around, some sites undertake SEO practices for the first time while others are being penalised for succumbing to hackers or using black hat SEO tactics, and so on.
It follows that the results page you get for your query on Monday may well appear differently to what you see on Tuesday, because the Internet never sleeps.
The very idea that you can optimise your site once and then expect it to perform at the top of Google’s results forever is patently silly. What happens when the competitors you out-optimised start to use their own SEO practices to catch up with you? What happens when Google changes its system? You’re going to need some new tactics.
Every industry – and every client – is different, but often getting a given website to the top of the results page is only half of the battle, and the real trick is keeping it there. It’s not enough to rest on your laurels and expect Google to recognise the site’s self-evident brilliance for the next decade – the search results page is a never-ending treadmill, and you’ll have to keep moving if you want to stay where you are.
2. Great content is all you need
We should be clear: we think that great content is very, very important for search engine optimisation. Creating rich and valuable content for a site’s visitors is a very powerful way to improve rankings and increase user satisfaction, reduce your site’s bounce rate, and boost conversions. Great content is awesome, and it forms the backbone of a lot of what we do.
However, sometimes people take the idea a little too far, and start coming out with maxims like “write great content and the rest will take care of itself.” While we might see some truth in the statement, it’s also misleadingly reductive.
What about link-building? What about keyword research, and meta-titles, and site speed optimisation? There are a large number of techniques for improving any site’s SEO, and while all of them can make a difference, a really powerful SEO strategy will use them all in combination.
In short, any expert who tells you “this one technique is all you need” is probably not taking their job seriously – or are getting it seriously wrong.
3. Google are actively trying to outfox SEOs
Every good SEO professional knows that Google can and does update its algorithms on a regular basis – sometimes causing merry hell in the process – and it can be tempting to see deliberate malice when your entire job is making sure that those search results pages look the way you want them to.
Of course, Google’s job isn’t to serve data in a way that pleases SEO consultants – it’s to provide genuinely useful results to its countless daily users in whichever way it thinks is best, and getting annoyed with Google for changing its approach is a bit like getting angry at clouds for raining on you.
Combined with the deliberate obfuscation of the inner workings of the search engine’s logic (which we all know would immediately be exploited into oblivion if it were ever revealed), operating in the world of SEO can sometimes feel as though Google is specifically trying to make our lives difficult.
That being said, the search engine giant has made no secret of its disdain for dodgy black hat techniques. Confusing this highly specific grudge with a dislike for the SEO industry as a whole is an easy mistake to make, but the truth is that Google actually seems to approve of search engine optimisation when it’s done properly – as evidenced by the amount of helpful material provided by its Webmaster Guidelines and its part in establishing useful SEO standards such as Schema markup.
4. Guest posting is dead
This is one of those dramatic proclamations that has been made on a regular basis for so long now that it’s beginning to sound like those people who keeping saying the world is about to end because Nostradamus or the Mayan calendar said so. Here’s an article from earlier this year, for example, along with one from 2016. Here’s another from 2014, one from 2013, and did you know that 2012 had some too?
We’re not sure why people are still writing these things, in spite of the fact that high-quality guest blogging has continued to work consistently for link-building throughout.
Some of the misgivings have been due to some less-than-glowing comments from Google in 2014 (“stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy”), although these were later softened with some clarifications (“There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging… Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future. And there are absolutely some fantastic, high-quality guest bloggers out there”).
Another warning was issued by the search engine providers in 2017, although it didn’t add too much new information.
Yes, writing low-quality articles with the sole objective of getting a do-follow link is spammy and gross – it ought not to be a surprise to anybody that Google doesn’t like that sort of thing. But there is a difference between doing that and trying to write a unique and high-quality piece of content designed to bring real value to the readers of another website (who may just decide to link to you in return).
If your guest posts are well-written, non-cynical and provide genuine value to readers (and aren’t mass-published), you have nothing to be concerned about – no matter what the SEO alarmists tell you every year.
It’s worth nothing that while guest posting is most certainly still very much alive, it is a lot harder than it used to be. Webmasters are far more alert to spammy pitches, and securing an article on a prestigious publication takes a lot of time, effort, and some top quality writing. But that’s the point anyway, isn’t it?
5. You can get position 1 results in a matter of days
The danger with an industry in which the day-to-day principles aren’t well understood by the general public is that sometimes you encounter practitioners who, for want of a more polite term, we might describe as snake-oil salesmen.
From time to time we see people making promises along the lines of “getting you to position 1 in one week” and other such claims, which can sound terribly impressive to unsuspecting potential customers but have absolutely no basis in reality.
For one thing, some industries are highly competitive and it may well be the case that all of the client’s competitors have been powerfully optimised already – it might take a sustained and dedicated effort to dislodge them and claim the top spot in the search results.
For another, Google’s crawlers often take several weeks to register changes and it might be next month before you see any of the fruits of your link-building labour; and let’s not forget that often the best SEO strategy in the world can encounter delays when cooperating with the client’s existing web development team or internal review process.
In short, these claims never stand up to scrutiny and are an unethical way to handle client expectations. The honest truth is that real SEO can take many months of sustained research, strategising, optimisation and link-building – and saying you can do it all overnight is tantamount to quackery.
Of course, with the frequency of Google’s algorithm changes, none of these debunkings are necessarily set in stone – maybe one day content will actually become the only important factor for SEO, or the search giant really will kill guest posting once and for all.
For now, though, the only thing to be done is to keep an ear to the ground and to stay up-to-date with current developments – all the while diligently sorting fact from fiction.