Search engine optimization (SEO) is a notoriously broad field that also happens to be in a near constant state of change. That combination makes it about as easy to stay on top of as a wave, which means that myths and misconceptions can run rampant. Today, we’d like to tackle some of the most common SEO misconceptions that we’ve seen recently.
There seems to be a split when it comes to opinions on keywords. Some people think that after the Hummingbird update, keyword targeting more or less became irrelevant, while others still advocate for exact-match and keyword stuffing. There’s no reason to sustain the suspense – both are incorrect. Keywords aren’t dead, but nor are they all-important anymore.
True, keywords have changed. Google’s 2015 ‘Hummingbird’ algorithm update, which was predicted to affect 90% of sites, changed the search landscape forever (and for the better). Hummingbird implemented changes intended to better respond to search intent, rather than just search language. This update made SEO professionals and content creators change their practices to improve user experience – a good thing for users, Google, and ultimately, most sites.
While Hummingbird went into effect a while ago, at least in terms of SEO, somehow we haven’t quite managed to escape the rumor that it killed keywords. And that may be because Hummingbird is one of many updates and trends that have played a part in the death of keyword stuffing.
Keyword stuffing, a damaging practice in which the intended keyword is stuffed into a post (or a webpage’s meta tags, headings, and alt text) at all opportunities. In the days when search engines were less sophisticated, this was an easy way to rank well. But the type of content that results from keyword stuffing is annoying at best, and not infrequently almost unreadable and lacking real value. Google noticed this poor user experience, and keyword stuffing is now a good way to be penalized.
Similarly, exact match keyword practices, while useful in the pre-semantic indexing days, have become unnecessary and in fact, contribute to a poor user experience. Keyword synonyms and components are easily used in place of the same repeated phrase. Context and relevance are more important to Google than the volume of keywords that match the search query exactly.
Focusing on semantics and search intent rather than specific keywords is increasingly important as voice search and conversational tone become more dominant in search. Already, 1 out of 5 searches come from voice queries. Searches conducted via voice are often phrased as longer, conversational queries, a very different keyword structure than the shorter text queries, designed to save time typing, that have been the staple of online search for years.
The Hummingbird algorithm change, and many other smaller updates that have been made since – jokingly referred to as “Fred” are helping to bring keywords back to how they were originally intended to be used – to find the right information for the user. Simple repeated keyword use isn’t good enough. SEO professionals have to know the reason a particular keyword is being used, and then create useful, valuable content that addresses that reason.
That being said, Moz founder Rand Fishkin has said that less than 15% of Google’s ranking equation is involved with keyword targeting, so even keyword targeting should be just one of many tactics in your SEO. The best bet, as always, is to create content that offers real and unique value to your users.
It is a mysteriously prevailing myth that site security isn’t important for SEO. Site security, in this instance, means using HTTPS rather than HTTP, and we can assure you that it matters for your SEO.
If you aren’t certain what the distinction is beyond an “S” at the end of one and not the other, you wouldn’t be alone. The “S” indicates that the website connection is encrypted to prevent any of your personal information from being intercepted and used maliciously. This encryption technology is known as SSL, or Secure Socket Layer. Websites using HTTPS are marked as “Secure” by the now familiar and reassuring little green lock beside the website URL.
Google announced in August of 2014 that HTTPS would be included in their ranking algorithms. Even four years ago, if your site was still reliant upon HTTP, your rankings could drop. Google has stated publicly that even between two otherwise equally ranked websites, the site with SSL enabled may receive a boost to push it above the other.
Even if site security wasn’t a ranking factor, which it is, it would still be a factor in user experience. As leaks, hacks, and cyber attacks increase, feeling secure online is naturally growing more important to everyday internet users. People understandably want to feel that their privacy and information are being respected online, to the point that they will actively avoid sites they don’t trust. In a recent study, HubSpot found that 85% of people wouldn’t continue browsing if a site wasn’t secure.
Google is continually pushing the implementation of HTTPS. In October 2017, Google updated the Chrome browser to indicate that a page wasn’t secure if it contained a form and didn’t have SSL enabled. Google takes security seriously, and it is paying off. This HTTPS-everywhere initiative has been steadily making search safer for internet users. As secure pages are bumped up in rankings, users can be more confident in the legitimacy of the information they are searching for and the safety of their own information on that site. Both of these improve the overall user experience.
Guest blogging has been a tactic of digital marketing for a long time. Once touted as THE tactic for SEO success (a red flag), anyone using guest blogging for SEO now should take a long moment to reconsider. Guest blogging, very simply, means publishing content on other websites and linking back to your site.
Often, businesses are happy to have guest-written blog posts. After all, guest blogging means content they don’t have to spend the time and money to create – but using guest blogging as an SEO tactic can backfire and tank your website ranking.
In 2014, Matt Cutts wrote that guest blogging had become “overused by a bunch of low-quality, spammy sites,” and that people should expect “Google’s webspam team to take a pretty dim view of guest blogging going forward.”
Google followed up with a warning in May of 2017 that using guest blogging (or article marketing) on a large scale as a link-building tactic is against Google’s guidelines and will result in a penalty. This may mean there will be an algorithm update soon that further targets manipulative guest posting techniques, but for now, a small amount of guest blogging for the right reasons, might still be okay.
Despite his fiery condemnation of guest blogging, even Matt Cutts still states: “There are still many good reasons to do some guest blogging (exposure, branding, increased reach, community, etc.). Those reasons existed way before Google and they’ll continue into the future.”
So yes, technically guest blogging could still help your SEO. But that benefit will be indirect, from the higher traffic that comes with increased exposure, branding, reach, and community engagement. But those come from good guest blogging that is intended to share knowledge across the community and build relationships, not get be a farm for backlinks.
Featured snippets and direct answers are possibly one of the loveliest conveniences in search engine history – perfectly crafted for the “Quick, Google it!” moment, this feature of the Google SERP selects the most relevant snippet from the text from one of the websites on the first search result page and presents it in a streamlined format (similar to how AMP pages work) – giving the shopper the answer immediately.
Snippets can be displayed in three different ways:
While it is almost required to be in the top ten results in order to be featured, it isn’t required to be number one. Even with the bias everyone has for the first spot on Google, 70% of snippets came from sites outside of the first organic position.
Because these are almost entirely informational and Wikipedia is easily the most widely referenced website in featured snippets, many businesses don’t consider this feature in their SEO. While it is true that snippets and direct answers are used to help users find information quickly, that doesn’t mean your business can’t be the provider of that information. Optimize your pages for these formats, and you’ll be even more likely to reap the benefits.
Featured snippets and direct answers might not necessarily be a ranking factor, but they do draw attention to your page. One study found that the CTR on a featured page increased from 2% to 8%, with revenue from organic traffic increasing 677%. Another study from ConfluentForms.com found that a featured snippet for a query brought a 20-30% increase in traffic.
Rather than a way to directly get your page to rank better, featured snippets and direct answers can help maximize the power of your page once your combined other SEO efforts have got it to the first page.
If, in the off chance that this whole blog post has been consumed and yet the message “Good SEO = Good UX” has not sunken in, let us reiterate it now: Successful SEO is not built around tricks and hacks, but delivering a good user experience.
Consider the myths and misconceptions that have been laid out in this post. Keywords, security, guest-blogging, and even featured snippets are all directly connected to the rising trend towards customer experience. Google prioritizes user experience in every aspect of their products, so why would tactics that do not promote good user experience continue to be tolerated in SEO?
Google’s guidelines include the caution to ask yourself at every point “Is this good for my users? Would I be doing this if search engines didn’t exist?” We would also heartily recommend using that question as a guiding principle of your SEO. If the answer is ever no, it is time to reconsider your SEO strategy.
There’s no shame in having one of these misconceptions. They’re some of the most common that we see for a reason. Almost all of these misconceptions are brought about by insufficient up-to-date information about the state of SEO. SEO is always changing, and keeping on top of the most recent changes (particularly in a post-update world) can be challenging. Keep yourself informed and focus on user experience, and your SEO will improve.