When it comes to search engine optimisation, and earned Google results, there are more myths and misconceptions about what works, than there is clear guidance based on fact, expertise and experience. In this post I share practical examples and insights on what works, to debunk some of the common myths that have become synonymous with fact.
Myth 1 – If you build it they will come
I quite like the idea that you build an awesome website, and because of all the hard work you have put into creating an amazing design, the page layout, and content, plus all the images you have created from scratch, that the website will be discovered, indexed, ranked, and appear for all the right things, however, sadly this is not the case.
“The Google Search index contains hundreds of billions of web pages and is well over 100,000,000 gigabytes in size. It’s like the index in the back of a book — with an entry for every word seen on every web page we index. When we index a web page, we add it to the entries for all of the words it contains.”
The same way that a library needs to have a book included in its itinerary, Google needs to be notified of the existence of a new site before a clear majority of websites would ever stand a chance of being naturally discovered.
Google facilitate this with free webmaster tools (Google Search Console), plus lots of supporting tips, advice, and practical steps to enable new site discovery and understanding.
Google cares about…
Easy to crawl and index websites, that have a clear and easy to use navigation. Websites should have all indexable content accessible through internal linking. Added to this you should use Google Webmaster Tools / Search Console, to make indexing easier for Google, as well as to notify them of new and important content you create.
Some tips for this include creating and maintaining an XML sitemap, ensuring your site has a robtos.txt file in place, and that you maximise the websites technical health, including limiting broken content and keeping on top of general site operability.
Myth 2 – The more backlinks the better
SEO has many grey areas fuelled by; hundreds of changing ranking factors, numerous tactics and approaches that work that differ in almost every application, some evidence of things that shouldn’t work still succeeding, plus huge amounts of best practice interpretation in the industry. Because of this, it makes perfect sense that people look for black and white actions they can hold as true, and build a strategy around – backlinks are one of these factors.
There is no dispute that backlinks are an important factor for SEO.
- External trust signals (votes of confidence from one site to another)
- Easy discovery of new websites from existing entities being crawled
- A tangible metric to measure for progress
- Referral traffic from one site to another
- Authority passing (when links are ‘followed’)
- Positive user journey and furthering of information seeking
Having stated this, backlinks are not a numbers game – the core backlink measurements are; quality, relevancy, and authority.
Having a thousand backlinks from one domain will not pass the same value as one hundred backlinks from one hundred quality, relevant, authority domains (plus volume based followed linking approaches may get you a penalty too).
Google cares about…
Avoiding link schemes, and creating natural links based on quality content.
“The following are examples of link schemes which can negatively impact a site’s ranking in search results:
- Buying or selling links that pass PageRank. This includes exchanging money for links, or posts that contain links; exchanging goods or services for links, or sending someone a “free” product in exchange for them writing about it and including a link
- Excessive link exchanges (“Link to me and I’ll link to you”) or partner pages exclusively for the sake of cross-linking
- Large-scale article marketing or guest posting campaigns with keyword-rich anchor text links
- Using automated programs or services to create links to your site”
Quality content is something that reflects expertise, authority, and trust (EAT), and can be something ranging from websites providing trusted daily economic updates, through to engaging and interactive content.
Myth 3 – It’s the number of words that matter
Like many myths, there is solid experience and practical examples to support the fact that more words are better. In fact numerous studies show that this can be the case (example below), but it’s not about the word count!
“Based on SERP data from SEMRush, we found that longer content tends to rank higher in Google’s search results. The average Google first page result contains 1,890 words.”
There are many factors that come into play when Google assesses one piece of content over another (in fact over millions of others) and decides what, where, when, and how high to rank the content.
Longer form content will naturally tick more of these Google criteria boxes, than very thin, limited value comparisons, but let me reaffirm, that this it is not the number of words that matter.
Google cares about…
Unique, value and audience driven content that showcases your expertise and authority on the topic. High ranking content is often:
- Comprehensively written covering the expected subtopics and bringing fresh stances on an established topic
- Refined and updated to reflect search and user change
- Based on data (frequently self-collated and objective data sets)
- Curated as part of a wider topic or theme of pieces that the website/business/person is a thought leader in
- Supported by strong social signals, linked to from external websites related to the topic
- Enjoyed by the content readers, engaged with and shared/talked about
- Created as part of a wider integrated strategy, including some level of marketing (the marketing of the content is often equal in time to the investment in creating the content)
More myths debunked
There are more myths than facts about Google and SEO, so it seemed logical to list some of the most common, and look to dispel them at the same time. Some of the most frequent myths that I come across are below.
More Google myths debunked:
- When it comes to blog posts, frequency and volume count – if all things are equal then this would provide a minuscule advantage, but they never are. Create amazing content when you can and invest the time to make it work harder for you by promoting it with the right people, and developing it based on audience needs and value.
- Keywords in the domain name help a website rank – only true based on helping with an understanding of very new or niche areas (and even this is debatable), otherwise no value can be attributed to Google ranking value based on keywords in the domain name.
- Images make content rank higher – sorry, not true either. Adding mixed content types can help content appear in extra search verticals (example image and video search), as well as help with engagement signals tied to content quality measurements, but the presence or absence of an image is not a ranking factor.
- Server location and domain registered address count for local gains – nope, not true. They often get updated so that they all provide the same location signals to Google, and it can help with service level agreements with your website suppliers by having them in the same country, but they will not impact Google performance.
- Spending more on paid Google search impacts SEO rankings – no, not true either. There are many potential gains from combining SEO and PPC in integrated marketing campaigns, many tied to data-driven wins, as the strengths of each medium being used for countering/balancing the weaknesses of isolated marketing on one or the other, but this is not tied to spend. Also, decent SEO and PPC refine targeting and relevancy will positively impact on quality scores so this may drive some of the misconceptions too.
- You lose ranking authority when you redirect content – not anymore. It used to be cited as a 15% loss by redirecting content, but that was some time ago, and no longer holds true. In fact, Google is very flexible when it comes to redirects now – more so than ever.
- More pages = more rankings – this is not the case. The correlation for this is often tied to large sites and big brands dominating some digital niches, but the logic for this is not the volume of pages. It is more closely tied to factors like the website/content; quality, expertise, authority, backlinks/trust, and many other factors within Google guidelines they are way above the competition on, regardless of the number of pages they have on the website.
This post has explored some of the more common myths and shared the Google preferred approaches as a means to practically dispel them.
You will find that the more you delve into search engine optimisation and broader Google marketing, that there are many new and well-established myths (some of which will still work in certain niches fuelling the myth further still), but, as a practical tip, always look to long-term, reliable sources of information when optimising for Google.
Images included in this post are commercially free licenses at https://www.pexels.com/.
Screenshots were taken by the author at the date of creating the post (November 2017).