The 4 Eternal Truths Of SEO (And The 4 Persistent Myths)
Remember when SEO died?
It’s like a cat with 9…hundred lives.
With other ways to aggregate traffic, such as Social Media, and paid advertising, it does seem like SEO has become slightly less important.
But the truth of the matter is that as long as people enjoy and require good content, you will always have search… Even if people are speaking their search queries out loud and not typing them.
So what will hold true for SEO in the future, and what myths have you been eating up?
Let’s dive in…
The 4 Eternal Truths of SEO
With Google updating their algorithm daily, the only true constant is change.
But SEO will always be based on user’s and therefore a few simple truths are always set in stone, despite what you may read in the next buzzworthy article you pass by.
Those truths are:
1. You Always Need More Links
Inbound links matter. Inbound links will always matter.
With all the changes Google makes to its algorithm (more than one change per day) the rumor has spread that back links (aka inbound links) no longer matter.
While their weight has varied, the number of inbound links has always mattered and always will.
But not all inbound links are created equal. The search engines are assessing the “authority” of your site and very much consider the authority of the sites linking to you. A link from NASA counts more than a link from Joe’s Garage.
And, while long-standing links can indicate authority, new links can indicate freshness and relevance.
Also, it’s important to clean up old links or disavow spammy links. It can be a difficult (but well worth doing) activity to get low quality referring websites to eliminate their link to your site, but in the end Google will see that as a diligent webmaster deserving of higher authority.
And a fair warning, disavowing links should be used cautiously. The last thing you want to do is disavow a link that is increasing your page/domain authority.
2. You Need To Get The Site Right
Install the appropriate SEO plugins for the platform that your site is built on. If you are on WordPress, here are the main 3 you can’t live without:
Yoast SEO – this one is hands down the best SEO plugin and they keep coming out with new updates that make it better and better. Their plugin has nifty tools that help you manage your meta headlines and descriptions, sitemaps, and more. If you’ve done any kind of work on your site already, then you probably already have this plugin installed, but making sure you use Yoast to the fullest extent is the most important part.
WP Smush – this free plugin helps shrink image files down which will improve page speed load time for your site.
WP Super Cache (or any caching alternative) – This plugin “cache’s” your pages, which is just a fancy way of saying taking your existing pages and making them easier and faster to access by your users. The details on how that happens is irrelevant for now. Just know that caching your site will help pages load faster, which is very important for SEO.
There are many free or freemium tools available to help with this task. Take a look at Yoast’s Ultimate Guide to WordPress SEO for more ideas on how to optimize your site.
3. Quality Content Wins
Now more than ever, the search engines reward quality content with high ranking.
Let’s face it, there is a lot of noise out there. With over 2 million blog posts published every day, you need to write content that matters. And in order to do a good job, drive traffic, and convert that traffic, you will need to write content that is going to rank well.
Every blog post you write should have the goal of ranking #1 for a specific keyword term. And with the average length of articles on the first page of Google having risen to over 2,000 words, that means you need to write something spectacular:
What does this mean for your content marketing strategy?
Maybe you should combine some recent articles to make one great one.
Or maybe you should hold off on publishing for the sake of publishing. Consider rewriting your entire SEO and content marketing strategy to align with the core principle that:
Crappy content will get you nowhere, and stellar content might also still get you nowhere, but at least you’ve got a chance.
As Jay Acunzo pointed out at Content Marketing World, it’s not about making quality over quantity, it’s about making MORE quality articles. Think about how to write great articles and begin to amplify those efforts. Avoid the content cliff (see above).
And if you truly can’t do it yourself, then you need to hire an expert (or convince them to do it for free/exposure) to get the job done. Don’t hire a VA, and especially don’t hire a non-English speaking VA. Hire an expert! There aren’t great platforms out there right now for this, but I’m sure something is on the way.
4. Never wear the ‘Black Hat’
Search engines always wanted to provide user with the most relevant results. What has changed is their ability to weed out trickery and “black hat” SEO techniques with updates such as Google Hummingbird.
Tricks like link farms no longer work and black hat activity in general has been rendered relatively ineffective.
Even when “Black Hat” SEO techniques did work, it made no sense to use them. This was because Google would inevitably catch-up with the practice and likely ban you or your client. Just look at what happened to JCPenny when Google caught them buying links:
Being banned by Google does not make for a good day!
And if you look at their backlinks, it’s fairly easy to see that they skyrocketed right around the November mark:
This is a tell-tale sign of faulty link building and it is very likely that Google’s algorithm can automatically flag such activity and then review your site for “activity against the Google webmaster guidelines,” which leads to removing your entire site from search engines.
Over time black hat techniques will only become less and less effective, which means there is absolutely no reason to take the risk. Stick to creating content and building quality backlinks.
4 Persistent Myths of SEO
There’s nothing like a buzzworthy headline to get people to read an article, but that doesn’t mean the content always holds true. Many authors and blogs pander to the “fear” side of marketing and feed some relatively embellished articles on the industry, just to get your eyeballs.
Let’s quickly defunct some SEO myths right now, so we never have to worry about them again:
1. SEO is Dead
Every few years, SEO is declared “dead”.
But it never dies. And it is not dead now.
SEO will not die because Search will not die. Search engines were a quantum leap beyond their forebear, the Yellow Pages.
Everyone searches, whether on their laptop or their mobile device. They search for information, for products, for services, for answers… for everything.
And SEO capitalizes on the fact that savvy marketers can now get their message/website/content in front of those who are showing purchase intent in real time.
Intercepting and interacting with those users displaying purchase intent (whether at the research or buy phase) is the mission of Search marketing and of SEO. And that mission will never die.
2. It’s OK to “SEO” the Site After It’s Launched
Just like you can install the plumbing after your new house is built. SEO needs to inform the design and build phase of your site, not be added after the fact.
On-page factors need to be optimized, such as user flow, heading and headline design, and the structure of your site and blog. And oftentimes line spacing is a critical and overlooked issue, as blog text needs to be made more and more for scannability.
Content choices need to be researched as to search volume and competition so that your key static pages can be assigned the proper URL slugs.
SEO is not something that is “one and done”. Search is dynamic. The engines change. User search behavior changes.
This means you need to start with a clear SEO strategy, and continue to improve and adjust as time goes on. Don’t treat SEO like an afterthought.
3. If You’re Doing Social Media You Don’t Need to do SEO
SEO and Social Media can work together, but one is not a substitute for the other.
But then, he has also said (previously) that they do.
Clearly social signals have some sort of minor factor in your rankings, as they made Moz.com’s search ranking factors, but certainly not enough to ignore SEO altogether.
They work more in conjunction with each other, whereby social media can amplify content, get page views, backlinks, and engagement that tells Google the page is worth ranking.
Marketers generally assume (or hope) that social media content at least conveys “link juice”. But it is very clear that social media does not replace the need for SEO.
4. Spending Money on Paid Search Helps Your Organic Rankings
Unfortunately this is not true.
SEO would be easier if there was a linear relationship between paid search spend and organic ranking, but there is no such correlation.
But, paid search provides a powerful resource for choosing your keywords. Google Keyword Planner is still one of the best ways to build a content keyword strategy.
Simply log into your AdWords account (you can create one for free), navigate to Keyword Planner Tool, and type in the keywords that you are thinking of:
Here we see that the term “pirouette ballet” is searched 480 times and the term “how to do a pirouette” is searched 880 times.
This means, that if we were creating content on this, our URL slug should probably be “how-to-do-a-piroutte” but we should likely include the phrase (or it’s likeness) “piroutte ballet” in the article.
Also, take a look at the Google search results for this keyword:
Notice the top 3 positions are a written step by step and then 2 videos. We can assume that when people are searching this term, they want to see it happen in a video, not read about it.
Google knows that… So don’t try and rank #1 for this keyword term without a video.
In fact, trying to rank in the top spots for this term at all will be very challenging, so if you are beginning your content strategy, you should probably start somewhere else. Or, create your content, and use paid search to outrank the others… Because as we saw in the search results, no one is bidding for this term.
So while paid does not influence organic ranking, the two can be used in conjunction with each other to build a content and SEO strategy that delivers the results you are looking for.
The Future of SEO
Above: Behshad Behzadi, director of search innovation at Google’s Zurich lab. You can see a clip of Behzadi’s presentation here.
So what is the future of SEO?
Well, that depends on the future of search. And what is the future of search? Who better to ask than Google?
“The future of search is to try to build the ultimate personal assistant,” he said.
To that end, there are four aspects of search that, according to Behzadi, will continue to be dramatically changed and reinvented in the coming years:
Voice – The future will include voice searches that will be as natural as most conversations with other people.
Context – Google’s algorithms will be able to link your searches to understand what you’re trying to find or figure out.
Location – Location awareness is becoming more powerful and will become proactive in alerting you to things nearby that may be of interest.
Personal Information – As Google learns more about you, it provides more and more reminders, or suggestions. As it collects more data, expect those results to become even more specialized. Especially in Europe, this raises controversial privacy issues.
Whatever the future of search, SEO will be along for the ride. Google looks into the future of search and sees the ultimate personal assistant. But have no doubt that an army of SEO professionals will be doing their best to influence the suggestions that ultimate personal assistant makes.
What do you think? Is SEO an important part of your strategy? Are there any other myths about SEO you’d like to bust up? Leave your answers in the comments below.
About the Author: Bob Heyman
Bob Heyman is known as the “Father” of SEO, having both coined the term Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and having co-founded the first search marketing agency. He is the co-author of five best-selling books about internet marketing, including Net Results and Digital Engagement. His most recent books are SEO 4 Authors and SEO 4 Small Businesses. He has co-founded three internet marketing agencies. His clients have included Intel, Avon, Bristol Myers Squibb, Sothebys’, World Vision, Sony, REI and Trend Micro.