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bing-2The most prominent figures in search engine marketing must get tired of hearing the same old fables and myths that seem to fill the SEM market. Even when well-known employees of search engines like Google’s Matt Cutts and Bing’s Duane Forrester give clear-cut answers to common questions about SEO, PPC, and social media, their answers tend to be met with skepticism and derision.

Of course, as employees of the search engines they represent, it is fair to be critical of public statements that Cutts and Forrester make, but the level of mistrust between SEO’s and major search engine employees tends to breed misinformation and myths which have to be regularly addressed.

This is why Matt Cutts regularly answers common questions in his Webmaster Help videos, but Forrester also frequently clears the air via the Bing Webmaster Blog. Forrester, Bing’s Senior Product Manager, recently took to the blog to give his own perspective on 10 of the most common questions in all of SEO. Let’s break down his responses together:

1. I need to rank #1

The main motivation for most businesses to hire professional SEO services is often to get to the top of rankings. Logic dictates (and studies back up) that sites appearing at the top of the rankings get the vast majority of traffic from search engines for queries. Unfortunately, as Duane points out, things have become vastly more complex. Search engines individualize rankings based on personal information such as location data and shopping habits, so the sites that appear in the top of your rankings may not be as high for someone else’s search.

On top of that, rankings are constantly fluctuating, so your time as king of the rankings won’t be as long lasting as you probably hoped. Duane also encourages site owners to not obsess over being on the first page as much, as click-through rates for top rankings on the second page often outperform click-through rates for lower positions on the first page.

2. My Title tag will save me

Title tags are quite important, but many overestimate the value of title tags in context of their other efforts on their site. A tag can help you perform better, but it can’t hide skipping all the other important steps of SEO. Often, bloggers will claim they must rely on title tags as many popular platforms don’t allow things like meta descriptions in their base code, but that argument is nullified by the number of plugins available that easily and quickly add them, as well as opening doors to many other aspects of SEO for you to play with. Treat your titles with care, but don’t invest all your care on just one spot.

3. Social is all I need

With the rise of social media, many brands have decided to forego their SEO efforts in favor of just engaging their users on a direct platform. This was likely brought about due to old SEO understandings where a concentrated effort on one aspect of your site was enough to boost rankings. However, things have changed quite drastically over the past few years. SEO is a holistic process now, where social, content, link strategies, optimization, and PPC all come into play together.

Forrester compares the process to making a quality seafood chowder. “Success depends on a complex mix of ingredients, freshness, and timing. One ingredient along won’t bring success, and yet without that one ingredient, you don’t have a chowder.”

4. Videos are all I need

People love online videos. Businesses love them because they are easier to produce than ever, while people love them because they can sit back and take in news or entertainment without having to parse long and complex article. But, they are far from a silver bullet. Videos also slow down page load times significantly, and search engines simply can’t understand them as well as written content. If you are going to lean heavily on videos for your marketing, Duane advises adding a transcript of the audio at the very least to benefit the search engines.

5. Buying ads helps my rankings

Matt Cutts devoted a sizable portion of one of his Webmaster Help videos recently to addressing this question once-and-for-all, but it should come as no surprise that some people just won’t listen. Duane is similarly blunt with disregarding the assumption ads can give you an inside lane to success on search engines. Quite simply, “no amount of ad buying will get you organically ranked higher […] The instant [an] engine starts determining ranking based on ads bought is the instant it loses credibility.”

6. I already make awesome content

You may be right, but you aren’t the best judge on the matter. You can have all the technical rules and standards of writing and grammar mastered, but if readers aren’t responding to your content then it needs improving. Grammar does play a big role in deciding how readers perceive you, but style, voice, and message can be even more important. You’ll know when you’re making great content that connects with visitors, because they will tell you.

7. Links are all that matter

I could devote dozens of pages to clarifying the current state of links in online marketing (and several others have), but the simplest description is that good links are still very valuable while bought, spammy, or otherwise improperly acquired links are more dangerous than ever. However, your site can’t succeed on the back of a good link profile alone. As Forrester explains, “links are part of the bigger picture. You want them, but you want them to feel natural. If an engine sees you growing [them] naturally, you’re rewarded with rankings. If they see you growing them unnaturally, you’re rewarded with penalties.”

8. Marking up my content will help it rank

No, there is no direct link to marking up content and better rankings. Marking up content helps search engines understand your content better, so it can be beneficial if you also have good content for the engine to parse. But, simply installing markup code doesn’t inherently boost rankings.

9. Usability is different than SEO

If we are arguing semantics, yes SEO and usability are different disciplines. As more time passes though, it can be hard to tell them apart. Both aim to improve a website for users, and a site with great technical SEO can still be penalized for poor usability such as slow load-times, buggy performance, or clear usability. What is the point of leading someone to your site if they can’t use it properly?

10. SEO is all I need

Doing only one thing doesn’t tend to lead to success. SEO sets the foundation for you to build upon, but it won’t get you where you want to go alone. However, anything you build without that foundation is likely to fall apart.

For an industry that relies on as much data as the SEO market does, there is never much certainty that the popular optimization tactic being preached at the moment is a legitimate strategy. We rarely have the definitive answers from the source needed to keep all the confusion down, and new myths seem to spring up overnight.

To counter the constant flow of SEO myths, Google’s distinguished engineer Matt Cutts used one of his recent Webmaster Help videos to debunk many of the misconceptions surrounding the world’s most popular search engine.

This isn’t the first time Cutts has used his regular video message to debunk SEO myths, but this time he focuses on a specific type of myth that has become increasingly widespread as Google seems to keep narrowing their guidelines and offering greater space to ads.

Cutts starts by tackling the myth “if you buy ads you’ll rank higher in Google” and the opposing legend that not buying ads is the key to high rankings. In Matt Cutts’ perspective, these fables are tied to the notion that Google makes all of their decisions in an effort to force webmasters to buy more ads.

The problem with that idea is that it doesn’t actually reflect how Google thinks about their operations. The fact is, webmasters are rarely the main priority for the search engine to begin with. Instead, according to Cutts, Google’s rationale behind all changes is simply that they want to return the best search results possible to keep users happy and keep them coming back.

Of course, no one is denying that Google would like users to see ads and generate revenue, but that is never the prime motivation for changes like algorithm updates.

On a similar note, Matt uses the second half of the video to discuss the offers he sees for software packages that clam to help users make money and magically fix their SEO – for a small fee, of course.

Just as you can’t buy your way to high rankings with ads the chances of a random purchased software package making you money is almost zero. Matt lays out another scenario: “If someone had a foolproof way to make money online, they would probably use that way to make money rather than packaging it up in an ebook and selling it to people.”

In the end, most of the myths are born out of a misunderstanding of Google’s goals. Too many SEO professionals think of their job strictly in terms of increasing visibility and rankings, or upping their ROI. But the search engines are just looking for the best content possible. You can spend your time trying to game and cheat to get to the top, or you can align yourself with the search engine and try to provide users something of value. According to Cutts, that should be enough to fix many of the problems less honest SEOs tend to run into.

You can watch the full video below:

SEO has more than its fair share of myths, legends, and misconceptions. The search engines are in no hurry to give away the deep details of how they rank websites, as more than a few people would immediately try to take advantage of their methods, and there are countless “experts” weighing in and giving their opinion on every little event.

To combat all of these wild misunderstandings throughout the SEO field, Ranjana Jha fro SEO Best Practices attempted to refute the most common myths you’ll run into.

  1. Brands don’t need SEO – Many believe big brands don’t need optimization because they are going to automatically rank well, but those people misunderstand SEO. Optimization is a process that influences every aspect of a webpage from design, to content, and site construction. Not only that, but SEO plays a role in many off-site factors that increase visibility such as social media and creating a natural high-quality link profile. Even the biggest brands wouldn’t be doing as well online without all of these practices.
  2. Content generation is your ace – Content generation is the new trend in SEO as links are being more downplayed, but far too many people are missing the point. Google has been turning to content and site quality because they want to offer sites with real value to their users. Putting up new content all the time just for the sake of posting something doesn’t benefit anyone. Content can be a great tool, but if you aren’t offering something valuable, you’re wasting everyone’s time and you won’t maintain your rankings.
  3. Links are Golden – This myth is slowly fading out as Google gets more and more strict about their linking policies, but there are still some who believe links are the best way to get high in the rankings. Similar to content, links only matter if they have real value. Google can spot cheap or low-quality links from a mile away. If you aren’t fighting to earn real high quality links, you’re more likely hurting yourself.
  4. Keyword stuffing still works – This is an old practice which Google is well-versed in fighting. Filling any available space with excessive keyword usage or key phrases only makes you look desperate or fake, and Google isn’t going to do you any favors.
  5. Commenting on blogs with key anchor texts – This is another one that is fading out, but there are many who are still trying to exploit this strategy using random anchor texts and linking to unrelated content. However, most webmasters are using the “no follow” tag, so those links aren’t getting any benefits.
  6. Paid anchor links on popular sites will give you a boost – This one didn’t actually use to be a myth. But, Google has caught on and now buying link space for the singular purpose of inflating your page rank doesn’t accomplish anything (aside from wasting money).
  7. SEO means Meta tags, keywords, and content – Trying to break SEO down into just a couple of factors is a fools game. Many will list those aspects as the basic SEO elements, but optimization extends much further beyond those simple steps.

SEO tips being lies? Okay, not always intentionally, but it happens.  Mainly because with the ways SEO works changing so much, a lot of old techniques no longer work.  Keeping on top of these makes a big difference.

There are several, but I’d recommend checking out this great list put together by Stephan Spencer, Chris Smith, Rand Fishkin, and Eric Enge on Search Engine Land.