These 5 SEO Misconceptions Will Keep you off Page #1
The SEO world is full of myths and misconceptions as we mere mortals try and work out what Google really wants from both our sites and our content.
There is a lot of well meaning, but inaccurate advice out there that can lead you down a rabbit hole of wasted time and wasted money.
Not only this, but fake gurus, search grifters and SEO gangsters love spreading this about so they can rip you off by doing the bare minimum for your content and charging you a cool $2,000 for the pleasure.
Don’t let the those guys win, make sure you can separate the wheat from the chaff so you can make sure you’re investing in an SEO who isn’t hustling you.
So, let’s debunk some super common SEO myths that every marketer and online entrepreneur should unlearn.
1. Only Long-Form Articles Rank Well
This is perhaps the biggest myth that I see spread around the content marketing circle.
The advice goes a little like this: if you want to outrank the top articles on page 1, then you need to make your post epic in scope. You need to go into waaay more detail and answer every single question imaginable that the searcher may (or may not…) have.
What makes or breaks a piece of content’s ranking isn’t whether or not it has a high word count, but if it satisfies search intent or not.
If I’m looking for a pizza recipe, I do NOT need a brief history of the pizza, and if I have the trawl through a bunch of irrelevant fluff to get to what I actually want (my god damn pizza recipe) then I’m going to bounce.
And if people are barely spending 5-10 seconds on your content that’s a clear signal to Google that your content isn’t valuable to the searcher and you’ll be penalized by slipping down the rankings.
Here is the hill I will die on: give people the information they need and let them get the hell out of there.
In journalism speak, don’t bury the lead.
This means if you’re suggesting in your title that you’re going to answer a question, then answer it as early as possible, if someone is interested then they can read the more detailed information.
Making a piece of content longer for the sake of it can also blow your article out of scope and overwhelm the reader. Instead of creating tons of articles-within-articles, move any extraneous information into its own article and link the two to improve your site’s internal linking structure.
Longer form content DOES have its place in both SEO and content marketing, though. There are some types of content that demand long-form such as detailed case studies, reports and in-depth guides.
These can be highly valuable to a searcher because they’re looking for exactly that type of long-form content.
Main takeaway: bigger isn’t always better
- Focus on the search intent instead of word count. If the searcher would genuinely benefit from longer-form content then give it to them, if not then don’t
- Don’t bury your lead: give people an answer to their question quickly and let them read the detailed how if they want to
- If your article is blowing out of scope, write a separate article from the extraneous information and link the two articles together to improve your internal linking
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2. SEO Plugins “Do” your SEO
A fellow copywriter once came to me worried that her client was potentially being ripped off by an SEO. She said that he was charging her to “optimize” all her articles which included just making sure all the bullets in the Yoast SEO plugin were green…
She wasn’t sure if this was really where her client should be spending money and investing in SEO. I told her she was absolutely right since Yoast’s (and other SEO plugins’) scoring system is totally arbitrary and if you followed it to the letter, you’d more than likely end up with some cringe-worthy content.
Plus, it will not make any significant improvement to your rankings.
SEO plugins are beneficial because they do things like create an XML sitemap for your site, automatically create redirects to help avoid 404 error pages, you can track your rankings with them (with RankMath), you can easily add schema into your posts etc.
However, they don’t “do” your SEO for you, they just provide some helpful features that can benefit your SEO efforts and make your life easier when it comes to SEO.
But the tyranny of the Yoast green bullet? That does very little and is somewhat based on outdated notions of things like keyword density, which matter less to search engines now (more on that below).
Main Takeaway: SEO Plugins Don’t do your SEO for You
- SEO is based on a holistic strategy, not making arbitrary metrics on Yoast go green
- SEO plugins have really handy features that can benefit your SEO efforts, but they won’t help you rank in and of themselves
- When writing content, don’t feel like you need to make that little bullet go green. It might even make your content suck
3. Your Keyword Needs to Appear a Set Number of Times to Rank
This is otherwise known as keyword density and it’s way less important to SEO now than it was years ago.
The idea is this: the longer your content, the more times your keyword should appear. Makes sense, right? After all, if your content is really about that subject, then the keyword should be cropping up all the time.
Back in the dark age of search (or the glory days depending on how you see it…), it was all about stuffing your content with your keyword(s) enough times and boom!
SEO done :’).
But search has dramatically moved on since those days as Google became wise to practices like keyword stuffing and made algorithm updates (and even hid keywords) to curb the hustlers.
Direct from the horse’s mouth, here’s what Google’s own John Mueller had to say about keyword density during a Google hangout:
“Keyword density, in general, is something I wouldn’t focus on. Make sure your content is written in a natural way. Humans, when they view your website, they’re not going to count the number of occurrences of each individual word. And search engines have kind of moved on from there over the years as well. So they’re not going to be swayed by someone who just has the same keyword on their page 20 times because they think that this, kind of, helps search engines understand what this page is about.”
John MuellerSenior Master Trends Analyst at Google
You know when he said that?
7 years ago!!
How far do you think search has come on in seven years? Yet, SEO plugins are still peddling this crap about keyword density.
This update helps Google return more relevant results to the searcher by better understanding the relationship between words in a sentence and not just depending on the occurrence of keywords.
Through the use of NLP, Google measures what’s known as the salience factor associated with your content – basically it measures how well your content is about an “entity”. Entities can be things (chocolate chip cookies), people (Brad Pitt), Places (Dublin) etc.
You want this score to be high for the topic that you’re writing about, because then you’ll have a higher chance of showing up on page #1. That’s because Google will see that your content is highly relevant to that “entity” so it has more of a chance of helping the end user.
The salience score for an entity provides information about the importance or centrality of that entity to the entire document’s text.Google Cloud
Your salience score for any given piece of content will be between 0 and 1 (with 1 being the highest and therefore, most relevant).
To increase this score, you’d need to make sure that your content has other, related entities that help Google understand the context of the article. This reduces room for confusion, as one entity may have different meanings (like “deck” can mean a type of wood floor you put in your garden, but it can also be a part of a ship).
If you’re writing content and actually know what you’re talking about, that should be relatively easy. But as you can see, plopping your keyword a bunch of times into your content is like the caveman version of helping Google understand what your content is actually about.
Keywords and keyword research are still important, but don’t get hung up on following Yoast’s advice of “Your target keyword only appears 3 times. In a piece of content this long you should mention it at least 4 times…”
Main Takeaway: Ignore keyword density metrics
- Focus on reducing confusion around the topic you’re writing about, make sure Google can’t misinterpret it.
- Getting an expert to write on your topic (or writing about topics you yourself are knowledgeable in) will help boost your salience score, because experts know their niche inside out
- Google has been telling us to ignore keyword density for 7 long years, and while we shouldn’t always blindly follow their advice, NLP has made their algorithm much more sophisticated
4. You only Need to do SEO Once
I’m always cautious when I take on SEO website copywriting projects because I need to know that my clients understand that their SEO isn’t a one-time thing.
SEO is a long-term strategy and that means you need to be constantly tweaking, testing and monitoring your results. It’s not a case of writing up some meta-descriptions and calling it a day.
I know full well that most people don’t want to be pumping out content each and every week (or month) for their website and that they can get by fine with a handful of great articles. But even here, those articles need to be updated, usually every year, to make sure that the information is still relevant to the search query.
Once your information is irrelevant and people stop clicking through, or bounce quickly after landing, your rankings will eventually become affected.
TIP: When you write a new article, add it to a spreadsheet with the date it was published. Set it up so that the date turns red when more than a year has lapsed since publishing. Revisit it and see if you need to add any updated information.
Not only this, but with new updates and algorithm changes, you’ll need to adapt your strategy to maintain any type of competitive position that you have, which brings me to my next point…
The job isn’t over when you get to number 1.
If anything, that’s when the hard work starts.
You’re going to be the #1 target for your competitors trying to outrank you (and if they produce better content, then they’ll deserve to outrank you). You can’t just coast once you get on the first page, you need to be monitoring your position and checking for any lapses in ranking, because it might indicate that a competitor has done something better and you’ll need to adapt to fight for your old spot.
Just like you would never expect to just “do social media” once, you shouldn’t expect to just do SEO once either.
Main Takeaway: SEO is like any other marketing strategy, you won’t just do it once
- SEO is constantly evolving and your strategy will need to evolve with it
- Even if you’ve produced content, it’ll need to be updated to keep it relevant
- You can’t coast once you’re on that first page, you need to make sure you continue to build links to those posts and make them better (load faster, create a multimedia experience etc)
5. Social Signals Do and Don’t Influence Ranking 🤔
This one’s a doozy because both are misconceptions…
It’s been said that “social signals” (mostly people sharing posts) will directly impact your SEO and rankings.
But this isn’t true, sorry social media gurus…
Again, John Mueller of Google has confirmed that social signals don’t directly impact your rankings primarily because social media links do not count towards your backlink profile.
Also, an article being shared a lot may drive traffic to your site (which is awesome!) but this isn’t a direct ranking factor.
But, the debate is nuanced and there are adamant fans of “SOCIAL SIGNALS ARE CRUCIAL TO SEO” and “SOCIAL SIGNALS HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH SEO.”
But the truth, like most things, lies between the two extremes.
While shares from social media won’t count towards your backlink profile or make your site more authoritative in the eyes of Google, it will drive traffic to your site – and isn’t that what we’re all trying to do here?
Plus, in a recent Google hangouts, John Mueller (I should probably diversify my source…) mentioned that when a site is brand new, you need to be doing something to bring traffic to that site besides SEO (cause let’s face it, showing up on page #1 ain’t on the cards for a while).
He said that this could be things like ad campaigns and social media and once Google sees that actual humans are visiting your site, then it might give them more of a nudge to go investigate.
Building a site from scratch is hard and driving organic traffic to it from Google, when it’s brand new, is also very hard. You need something to get the ball rolling or you’ll go mad.
Social media can be a great tool to do just that. It’s what I’ve been leveraging on this site (which at the time of writing is only a month old).
In that month I’ve managed to drive around 200+ people here via social media because I have an Instagram presence and shared some strategic articles in a couple of Facebook groups (in a totally non-spammy way btw).
Let’s also not forget that social media profiles and even posts (like tweets) can show up on the first page of Google, leading people to your profile (and eventually your site). This is a pretty round-about way of getting traffic, but it still shows that a relationship between search and social exists.
So, the guys at Google may take social signals with a pinch of salt, but what about Bing?
Bing actually takes social signals more seriously, and introduced “social layers” to help them deliver more relevant search results to the end user. The goal is to leverage people’s social connections via Facebook to help them make decisions (which, in my opinion, has all sorts of horrendous implications, but that’s another rant for another day…)
We think it’s time for a real, robust, persistent social signal. Facebook has led a transformation of the Internet already. It has reached and passed 500 million members, and the amount of content created inside Facebook each day is staggering.Bing talking about the social layer
By bringing in information from your Facebook friends and people who share networks with you, we will show you what your friends have liked (using Facebook’s public like platform) as you navigate through search results in Bing.
However, don’t feel like you need to use social media if you don’t want to. There are so many ways to promote your site and business without social media.
Main Takeaway: Social doesn’t directly impact your rankings, but it’s role in driving traffic can be important
- Social is a great way to drive traffic to your site and show Google that actual humans go there and that it’s a legit site
- Funnelling traffic from social can help you through those cold, harsh early months when you’re not ranking for shit
- Bing has incorporated a social element to search results
Final thoughts on SEO Misconceptions
I really dread writing articles like this, because I know, some SEO out there somewhere is sharpening their pitchfork and getting ready to keyboard warrior all over my comments section.
Come at me, bro.
But it’s also what I enjoy about SEO – nothing is ever really set in stone. There is a lot of debate and it’s an industry that forces you to do copious amounts of research and stay on top of all the changes.
What I’ve outlined here are my opinions about the biggest SEO misconceptions that I’ve seen result in people getting hustled by SEO gangsters out to make a quick buck. So, I hope it’s useful in making you think twice about just taking people for their word (even me!) and it encourages you to do your own homework.
If you have any questions, you might want to check out my SEO FAQ or drop a comment below.
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Kerry Campion is an SEO copywriter for course and membership creators. Her gig is writing SEO copy that sounds nothing like SEO copy so her clients get the organic traffic they want, WITHOUT sacrificing their brand voice and badassery.