The 10 most cringe-worthy SEO myths

What are the biggest lies about search engine optimization?

Who doesn’t love mythology?

Dragons, princesses, demi-gods, and epic battles are all fine and good if you’ve willingly tuned into HBO’s “Game of Thrones” for an hour of entertainment.

They’re not so amazing if you’re a professional who’s continually defending your craft to dubious onlookers. You probably know what you’re talking about. Your wife, your friends, and even your boss may think that SEO is less like on- and off-page optimization, and more like black magic or playing online games all day. Though we can’t help you build your arsenal of witty retorts, we can aid you in being aware of some of the most pervasive, hilarious, or even dangerous myths about SEO that exist.

This list is by no means comprehensive (and sorry, we’re not even going to touch the bit about SEO being a form of magic), but it’s certainly a strong start:

1. Rank at the top—or else.

Ranking is incredibly important. We’ve all seen that meme that “you know you’re desperate if you go to the second page of search results.” It’s typically true. However, the first result doesn’t always get the most traffic—especially if you’ve spruced up your page with Google authorship or other rich snippets.

2. Get as many reviews on Google business as possible.

Yup, reviews on your Google business page are pretty important if you’re in the business of improving your SEO. However, it’s not the only thing—especially if your competitor’s padded their page with saccharine reviews from their aunt, their neighbors, and their aunt’s neighbors. SEO expert Don Campbell points out that what Google is really looking for is a “natural, diverse review profile”—something that’s pretty hard to fake.

3. More links is better than more content.

Many well-meaning SEOs have missed their goals by focusing on link-building. This myth can be especially dangerous if the focus of the link-building strategy is quantity, not quality or plausibility. Never put all your SEO eggs in a single basket, especially when fresh content is essential.

4. SEO isn’t usability.

SEO is a matter of user experience. You can have the best writing since Tolstoy, but if your page takes three minutes to load, you’ll annoy search engines and your potential customers. Optimize your pages, your load time, and your user experience.

5. Local businesses should aggressively optimize around their city.

Listing your company’s address and phone number clearly at the bottom of your Web pages is a best practice. So are publishing locally targeted content and including geo-targeted keywords in your page titles. Some overenthusiastic local SEO practitioners get carried away, bordering on keyword stuffing: “We’re a Nashville SEO firm who helps Nashville businesses get found in Nashville.” Get what I’m saying? According to Nyagoslav Zhekov, this myth can quickly become dangerous.

6. We’re a licensed Google SEO firm/person/specialist.

Nope. Google doesn’t endorse, license, or train SEO professionals. They have trusted photographers who can take photos of the inside of your local business, but that’s totally different.The closest thing you can find is an SEO with a healthy respect for Google’s terms of service and quality standards.

7. Google PageRank is gone forever.

Also false. After months of speculation that Google’s publicly available measure of website authority would go by the wayside, the search giant updated the rankings on Dec. 6, 2013. Regardless of whether you can see the progress your site has made, Google updates its internal metrics on site authority every few hours.

8. Your meta tags need keywords.

Your meta tags and content tags both matter, because they’re a function of user experience. However, this text is no longer used by search engines for ranking, sorting, or categorizing purposes. If you can’t quite fit your primary keyword into your meta description, don’t fret. Make sure it’s enticing and descriptive enough for your readers to click, because Google won’t even notice.

9. H1 tags are an important on-page element.

In some research that threw many SEO experts for a total loop, Moz revealed that they’ve found little correlation between a page’s ranking and the H1 tag. To be sure, it’s prudent to ensure yours is superb, but don’t expect an H1 tag to compensate for thin content or a poor page layout.

10. Automated SEO is automatically spammy.

Let me get this one straight. If an SEO professional uses tools and platforms to make their job a little easier, they’ve crossed the line from white to black hat? Not quite. SEO tools are actually only as spammy as you make them. We recommend Natural Search Blog’s post on white-hat automation practices to those curious about the difference.

What are the funniest, most annoying, and cringe-inducing SEO myths you encounter on a regular basis?

Pat Owings is partner and CCO at Inbound Marketing Agents, an innovative Hubspot gold partner agency based in Nashville. A version of this article first appeared on the Inbound Marketing Blog.

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