Four myths of SEO
Posted by James Brown on October 26, 2020
Recently I was invited to talk on a webinar about “the four myths of SEO” which covered “links don’t matter, SEO is about gaining keyword rankings, ranking #1 for a core keyword is the best way to “win” SEO and SEO isn’t measurable.”
These are all incredibly interesting topics and an hour-long webinar simply wasn’t enough time to cover them in the detail they deserve. Each topic could easily warrant its own webinar, and even focusing on one led to discussions around Google BERT, audience profiling and the value of SEO from the sole trader to the c-suite boardroom.
I wanted to take the time to flesh out my thoughts on the four myths in a bit more detail, instead of falling down the rabbit hole of hot SEO debates. As an added challenge, one I applied to myself in the webinar, I’m going to avoid the trope of saying “it depends.”
Links don’t matter
10 years ago, link building was all the rage in SEO. In fact, links acquired using methods that would be considered “black hat” now once worked very well. Every agency had a database of sites and bloggers they could reach out to and secure links. My first week in agency life saw me contact and buy links from over 100 different forums, directories and bloggers. Simpler times.
In the early days, the Google algorithm was not nearly as complex as it is today. Much of the initial updates were focused on stopping questionable tactics such as link farms or neighbourhoods. At the time, each link was like a handshake; a seal of approval that indicated if a site was a trustworthy source of information. Of course this crude form of the algorithm was open to exploitation, and would ultimately result in a race to the bottom of link building tactics.
But then doomsday happened. Between February 2011 and April 2012, Google Penguin and Panda changed the rules. Link building was out, and content was the new king. Agencies dropped link building tactics like they were carrying the plague, there were even rumours of agencies flipping the script and started charging clients to remove links they had built.
But in the madrush to abandon the link ship, people forgot one simple thing, links were still a valuable SEO signal, and that has remained true to this day. Yes, quality and quantity metrics have changed, but a link still represents that original seal of approval and trust from an external source. The difference now is Google is savvy to the tactics of yesteryear, and stated links shouldn’t be bought, they have to be earned.
How can a site “earn” links?
If it’s a large multinational brand, digital PR is the best way of securing high-quality links from sources like Fox, the Guardian, BBC and many more. These links will help give a site an edge over its competitors, boosting other SEO signals, and the benefits don’t stop there.
These links will bring in referral traffic and start genuine conversations. Writers and influencers who we have engaged with have gone on to really enjoy the sites and brands we put them in touch with, so much so, radio DJ’s spent a good week discussing how much they enjoyed one of our sites!
On the other end of the business scale, a start-up needs to ensure that it registers its business in local directories, has a social media presence, or gains presence in community or niche sites. Building these types of essential links is key to being discovered by Google.
Be it Search Engine Watch in 2012 or SEMrush in 2020 all leading SEO experts and outlets agree; links will always matter in SEO, the key is to ensure the appropriate strategy has been implemented to benefit a site.
SEO is about gaining keyword rankings
Any digital marketer can talk day and night about how SEO isn’t just about gaining keywords.
#sorrynotsorry, SEO IS about gaining keyword rankings. Imagine walking up to a paid search team and telling them to stop bidding on keywords, and start focusing on vague concepts such as “audience enjoyment” or “brand reception.” It’s the same in SEO, a large part of what we do is in benefit of appearing at the top of search results for a wide range of search terms.
Why exactly do keyword rankings matter?
- A position one ranking in Google has a click-through rate of around 30%
- Our SEO strategy has seen us gain a top spot for a term searched 150,000 times a month
- We’re getting roughly 45,000 clicks through to the site each month through this keyword to the ranking landing page
- We have a conversion rate of 4% and an average order value of £45
- That means 1,800 orders of our product, for a grand total of £81,000
- The client pays £4250 (+VAT) a month on a retainer
- ROI is a factor of 15 for ONE KEYWORD
As with links, there are other tangible benefits. We don’t look at a keyword in isolation, we look at related keywords, long and short tail as well as exact match phrases. That 150,000 searches a month can quickly turn into 250,000. We recently identified an opportunity of a 1.2 million uplift in organic traffic for a single year; based on their conversion rate and AOV, that’s a potential gain of £1.8 million.
Of course, a good SEO strategy should focus on all aspects of a site. Blindly chasing keywords or one specific element of a site can blow up in people’s faces ACME style. Think of all core parts of a site operating in tandem, keywords can improve rankings, page speed optimisation can help improve that conversion rate, internal links can retain users on the site longer increasing potential to find more products and grow average order value. Keywords are just one part of the SEO puzzle.
Ranking #1 for a core keyword is the best way to “win” SEO
My previous point demonstrates that ranking first for a keyword is a great way of growing revenue, and if you think earning more money is winning, then getting that SEO top spot is a win.
Ok, let’s not sound too cynical for a moment, and lay down a hard truth.
You can’t win any marketing, let alone SEO. Sure, agencies and companies can bag trophies at awards shows (we do, we’re very good at SEO), but that doesn’t mean the Google Gods turnaround and shine a light upon your site and say the magic words “Well done my HTML hero. From this day forth you shall always rank first, and your Lighthouse test will clean sweep with 100’s, and you’ll never need to check Search Console to see errors.”
The reason SEO can’t be won is because it’s a process, not a race or a debate. Google doesn’t elect a site to be top of the search results, its a reward that takes a long time to earn, and can be quickly taken away.
Technology and user behaviour changes constantly, it’s important for sites to keep up with the trends and ensure both the search engine and user needs are met. Setting a North Star Goal is a great way of setting a target that can be seen as “winning.” It sets a tangible and obtainable milestone that will result in more traffic, conversions and revenue.
SEO isn’t measurable.
Unfortunately due to time constraints, this was a myth that went unsolved, but in the preamble before the call, we did come up with several names:
Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, SEMrush, Ahrefs, Similarweb, Search Console, Moz, Advanced Web Rankings, Google AdWords tool, Lighthouse, ScreamingFrog, UberSuggest, Majestic, Cognitive, Hitwise, Yslow, WebPageTest, HotJar, CrazyEgg, a really powerful bespoke tool developed by a leading SEO agency…
With so much data to choose from, SEO isn’t measurable isn’t a myth, it’s a challenge. it’s hard to tell what is the right signal for a strategy or tactic. Sessions, revenue, conversion rates are the big three of the industry, but they do not tell a deeper story of what is or isn’t working.
To measure SEO you need to consider the appropriate metrics related to the activity being conducted. If you’re going with a content-led strategy it’s best to focus on site entrances, keyword ranking movements, site load speed, user journey, scroll depth and engagement metrics.
If it’s a technical first approach, it might be a case of ensuring Google can efficiently crawl the site and is hitting a certain percentage of URLs, ensuring site uptime is above a set threshold, or status codes errors are minimal.
Digital PR? Brand mentions, referral traffic, user engagement and satisfaction are good initial signals. There’s also the opportunity to expand to look at off-site reviews on platforms like TrustPilot or Google My Business listings.
Blue Array can help you define how to measure your site, and make all of the data from the above tools (and more) accessible, easy to understand, and useful for helping you define the measure of success in an SEO strategy.
There are many real myths in SEO, whether it’s the rumour that bidding on Google ads will help SEO (it’s been debunked a thousand times over) to the “SEO is dead” headlines that pop up from time to time. The four myths talked through in the webinar are elements of SEO that have evolved as the industry has grown, and as time passes all things fade into legends, then myths.
Keywords, links, rankings and measurement will always be important and essential parts of a good SEO strategy. Specifics may change, but at its core, key principals will hold true.
Blue Array will happily talk myths, but we’d rather tell you the truth. Your site can grow, let’s work together to make sure it does.