Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing industry; one update to Google’s algorithm can turn the whole thing on its head. To stay on our toes, we are consistently monitoring the major SEO blogs, as well as any news that is relevant to our industry. In this constant research, it has become apparent that many SEO “experts” and companies willingly regurgitate information that has no factual basis. While it is frustrating to see this misinformation spread, there is always a silver lining; once you are familiar with some of these SEO myths, you can quickly pick out those who do their homework from those who are good at retweeting. If you hear any of the following from someone claiming to be an SEO expert, politely excuse yourself at the first opportunity.
Prevalent Myths in SEO
Social signals (Likes, shares, retweets, etc.) improve your search rankings.
Probably the most widely believed myth in SEO is that it actually has some foundation in reality. There was a time when Google had access to Twitter via a deal that allowed Google to display tweets in its Real-Time Search results. For a short time, Google was considering this Twitter information in its algorithm, although mainly for the Real-Time Search. In Matt Cutts’ (head of Google’s webspam team and Google’s unofficial spokesperson for the SEO community) video below (from December of 2010), he confirms this use, but only of Twitter data, not Facebook:
In a more recent video, Cutts denies social signals’ involvement in search rankings and explains why:
As you can see in the video, Google cannot exactly rely on signals from Twitter and Facebook as the access to this data is contingent on the cooperation of Twitter and Facebook. It seems that once Google realized this, they stopped incorporating the data into their algorithm.
The main reason that this myth is repeated so often, even by respected industry authorities is because social signals show a fairly high correlation with search ranking. Of course, this is a common case of correlation being confused with causation. If an article is getting a lot of interaction on Facebook and Twitter, chances are that people are linking to it from other sites. It is these links and not the social signals from Facebook and Twitter that boost the search rankings.
Google +1s carry a ton of weight in Google’s algorithm
This myth owes its origin to Moz.com’s famous 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors survey. According to this survey, Google +1s on a web page show the highest correlation with search ranking. The keyword here is correlation. This situation is exactly the same as the social signals. If a web page is getting a lot of +1s, chances are that people are also linking to it, and it’s these links that are giving it the boost in search ranking, not the +1s.
Matt Cutts addressed this myth as well in a post on Hacker News (a tech news syndicator, don’t be scared by the name).
The key difference between this myth and the one about social signals from Twitter and Facebook is that Google has unrestricted access to +1 data. So Google may be saying one thing through Matt Cutts but doing another, but that is unlikely. What is more likely is that they are not using the +1 data now, but that it will eventually be included as a full-fledged search ranking factor.
Google Ads improve your SEO.
This one is nothing more than a conspiracy theory. Basically, it says that if you pay for Google Ads, your organic rankings will receive a boost. If this were true, we would know about it. Bing would be hitting us over the head with ad campaigns about how big bad Google is selling out their search results to the highest bidder and people would be leaving Google in droves. Does this scenario sound good for Google? Obviously not. We would also be able to quickly prove it by comparing data from clients with high ad spend ad to those with no ad spend. The data leads us to no such conclusion.
Matt Cutts addresses this myth and several other smaller ones in the video below:
Adding Schema.org markup to your website will improve your search rankings.
For this myth, we can refer back to Moz.com’s 2013 Search Engine Ranking Factors survey. According to this survey, the ranking factor “Page Has Schema.org Markup” correlates with a negligible boost in search ranking. When we were talking about Google +1s and other social signals, the question was “Are these results caused by this factor or is there just a correlation?” Now, there is no reason to even ask that question because there is no impact. Anyone who tells you otherwise is looking to spend a lot of billable time adding unnecessary markup to your website.
I recently detailed Schema.org markup and it’s benefits for your SEO efforts. The main benefit that you gain from Schema.org markup is that Google can pull more information for your result snippet. It does not work for every bit of data you mark up, but it does for some and can really help your search results stand out from the pack. Below is an example of a regular site without Schema.org markup (the webmd.com listing) in contrast with a listing that has marked up their reviews (the betterdoctor.com listing).
Meta keywords improve your ranking.
Google does not use the keywords meta tag for search results or search ranking. A long, long time ago, the meta keywords tag was a place where webmasters could place keywords that would be relevant to that page. For example, for a page about dog collars, I might have added keywords to the meta keywords tag like dog collars, pet collars, collars for dogs, etc. Unfortunately, this tag became irrelevant because spammers would stuff as many keywords as possible, no matter how tangentially relevant they might be, into the tag. So now, as Matt Cutts will confirm in the video below, Google ignores this field in their algorithm, and has for at least 5 years.
Nofollow links help your rankings.
Nofollow is a tag that you can add to a link instructing Google to not look where the link is pointing. This is required for paid links (i.e. someone advertising on your website) and press releases and is recommended for a number of other uses.
In effect, by adding nofollow to a link, you ensure that Google will not crawl that link, that PageRank (a Google metric that defines how authoritative a webpage is) will not flow from your page to the linked page, and that the anchor text (the text that is linked, for example, this text that will bring you to the top of the page) attached to a link will not be used to describe that page.
That said, since no PageRank is transferred over the link and the anchor text is ignored, how could a nofollow link help you rankings? It can’t.
There are surely many more myths floating around in SEO (feel free to make additions in the comments below), but those are some of the more notorious ones. I see them all the time, and while I won’t name names, they are consistently promulgated by some of the more authoritative figures in the SEO industry, which just leaves me scratching my head. It just goes to show, even people with seemingly solid reputations are not necessarily as meticulous as they seem. When you are looking for a company to help boost your search rankings, make sure that you are asking the right questions and if they repeat any of these myths, rule them out immediately.