A friend of mine has been thinking about getting into SEO and digital marketing, and he asked me for some thoughts on where to start. After reflecting on what I have learned over the years, I jotted down these common myths to ignore as a start. I hope you will find them as useful as he did.
1. SEO is a bag of tricks. I have stopped counting the number of times that potential clients have asked me what “SEO techniques” they can use to rank first in Google for a desired keyword, generate a ton of website traffic, or build more links (that would usually be bad ones).
My favorite example: After optimizing a client’s e-commerce website on a technical level and changing the design to improve the user experience (UX), the site ranked on the first page of Google for a highly-desired keyword. The client’s reaction? “Can’t we just put the keyword in the titles and text a few more times or build a few links with exact-match anchor text to get the ranking even higher?” Nope.
2. SEO is cheap. You get what you pay for. It’s a lesson that too many companies do not understand (or do not want to understand). One potential client chose a competing proposal that focused primarily on “keyword promotion” — whatever that means — merely because the price was only a few hundred dollars. I would not be surprised if that business comes back in a few months and asks for help to get rid of keyword spam and a Google penalty.
Moreover, many web developers are not up to speed with Google’s increasing complexity as far as schema code, Google+ authorship, and other forms of markup and code that are needed to “get found” in the search engine’s Knowledge Graph and elsewhere. Website designers also know little about how to create websites that convert visitors towards a desired business or marketing goal in addition to just “looking nice.”
For all of these reasons and more, SEOs and web developers need to work together to create websites that are both user-friendly and search-engine friendly.
4. SEO is something you do. Hiring a person or an agency to “do SEO” is looking at the process backwards. What is called “SEO” is the result of doing web development well, content creation well, social media well, public relations well, and a lot more. In short, your “SEO results” increase the more that you build and market your business in general and your website specifically in professional ways over the long term — without using the old, spam shortcuts that will only get you into trouble with Google today.
5. SEO is dead. As long as search engines exist, SEO will exist. (The only things that have “died” are the old spamming practices such as keyword stuffing and exact-match anchor text that Google now penalizes.) The reason? “SEO” is essentially the result of doing a collection of best practices that help websites to get found in search results and then guide the resulting visitors down a desired conversion path.
And the more that Google becomes smarter and thinks like human users, the more that website owners need to think about life in 1997 — one year before the search engine was founded. At the time, websites did the following to build themselves online before Google had even existed:
1. Create a great website, optimized (lightly) for keywords but more for the search intent behind them
2. Publish the best content on their topic
3. Encourage people to share and link to the specific content and the website as a whole
5. See increasing rankings, traffic, conversions, customers, and more
Of course, each of these steps is more complicated in 2014 — but the same general process is needed today. Perhaps paradoxically, it involves not even thinking about so-called “SEO techniques” for the most part and just focusing instead on good web development and marketing. Step one needs a technical SEO strategy. Step two needs a content-creation strategy. Step three needs a social-media strategy with accompanying traditional public relations.
I just wish someone had told me this years ago.
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe to my RSS feed or my e-mail list and follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. See my biweekly column at The Drum and marketing speaker page and contact me to visit your conference or company!