SEO Myths, Mistakes & The Madness Of Crowds

March 10, 2011
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

And we are back in action!  I hear this session is mostly Q&A, so should be a good time. Up on stage we have Greg Boser, Stephan Spencer, Shari Thurow, and Jill Whalen.  Ready to get your learning on? I guess that means I have to stop singing and chair dancing to the music, eh? You people ruin all my fun! ;)

Matt McGee is up moderating and explaining how things are going to work. The panelists don’t have separate presentations.  There’s one slide deck filled with myths we’re going to debunk or given validity to. Matt encourages the panelists to fight quickly because we only have an hour. Heh.

SEO Myth 1: PageRank = Rankings

Shari: False. I don’t look at Page Rank. If someone walks into my office and says the word “Page Rank”, I squirt them in the face with a water bottle.

Stephan: Page Rank coming out of the toolbar is mythology. The true Page Rank score is hidden in the Page Rank score. Bear in mind, the PR numbers you get are months out of date.

Greg: I don’t look at it for ranking, I do think paying attention to how toolbar PR degrades on your site is a good sign to see which pages are poor quality. We look at it to do correct what we’re doing on a site. When everything degrades as you think it should, things tend to work a little better.

SEO Myth 2: PageRank Sculpting helps with rankings

Stephan: Conceptually, it’s still a cool thing, but not using nofollow. Google made an important change where they didn’t give the remaining credit to the rest of the links, so you’d be passing double the juice. It used to work but Google changed it.

Greg: It used to be a good way to better channel stuff. But now, you can tell Google not to pass juice to a page, but you don’t get to keep the juice.  It’s like voting during an election. You can decide not to vote for certain categories, but you can’t use your extra votes on the guy you want.

Jill: It’s important to remember that the site architecture and how you channel Page Rank is important, but just because you put a nofollow on a privacy page isn’t going to do anything.

Shari: If you architect your site well in the first place, Page Rank sculpting is BS. Don’t link to something you don’t want people to click on.  She mentions shopping cart pages, as an example

SEO Myth 3: Site speed impacts ranking?

Greg: It’s not dramatic, but it is important. Even if they weren’t scoring it, it impacts user behavior (aww!) and they’re clearly looking at far more data about how users interact with your site. It’s bad to have a slow site.

Stephan: A slow site kills conversion.

SEO Myth 4: Tweets and likes impact rankings

Greg: Yes.

Jill: They do to a certain extent, I don’t know how measurable it is. It would make sense that if someone with authority is tweeting certain things that they’re going to give it some impact. It’s a tricky one to know for sure.

Stephan: This is one I’d definitely want to build my reputation on just for future-proofing purposes. It’s not necessarily that you’re going to be able to hire people in India to click on thinks and impact rankings, but it works for corroboration of quality.

Shari: It depends on the industry. There are plenty of sites that don’t need them.

SEO Myth 5: Flash kills SEO; don’t use it

Shari: That’s an over-generalization. It depends on how you use it. Sometimes Flash is exactly what the user wants. There are ways to work around it and it works just fine. I wouldn’t do a site entirely in Flash.

Stephan: I wouldn’t use Flash for your primary navigation. I would use it as a way to increase interactivity.

Greg: Don’t ever rely on Flash to deliver your textual content.  Just keep your textual content separate and use Flash to enhance the user experience and do cool, pretty neat things.

Stephan: You’re losing the semantic markup when you put content in Flash. You can’t tell Google it’s bold, a headline, etc. You lose those signals.

Jill: This myth is more for the people who have heard Flash is bad so they’re afraid to make a banner at the top.

SEO Myth 6: Must use H1, H2, H3, etc

Jill: Absolutely not.

Stephan: These are all great things to test on your own to see if they work.

Greg: I’ m a big fan of proper semantic structure. He uses them and uses them in the proper order. When you’re doing things that headers are actually links, he thinks its an important thing.

Shari: She’s been testing since 1995 and she hasn’t seen any difference.  It’s more where the page is and it’s a signal to the search engines.

SEO Myth 7: Keyword Density (250 words)

Jill: She made up that number years ago because it was a good amount of words to get on a page. The engines don’t care how long your pages are, there’s no specific number. Same with keyword density.  You have to use your judgment and use however many words on the page and how ever many times without making your page look stupid.

Shari: It’s important your page is focused. When people land on the page, they expect to see the keywords they searched for. It’s about information scent. If they don’t see it get stronger, they’ll abandon your Web site. To a degree, your pages need to be keyword-focused but there’s not a specific number.

Stephan: When you’re measuring keyword density we’re talking about the edge – where you haven’t used the words at all or your keyword stuffing.

Greg: He looks at ratio of text to links to a page. Pages with a lot of links and no text don’t rank very well. You also want to look at pages that semantically-related words. If you only use the phrase your want to rank for and you don’t have related terms than that can be a problem. But the overall percentage is not.

SEO Myth 8: XML Sitemaps = Rankings

Stephan: No. Where do you get the signal that this is an important page vs non-important page.  It affects the spidering, but certainly not the importance or trust. You should have a spiderable site without an XML sitemap.

Greg: In a lot of cases XML sitemaps hurt your rankings because clients don’t understand that how your content ranks is based on connectivity. Sitemaps do not create structure or creativity. XML sitemaps make Google crawl more crap. Build a site first and get it indexed properly and then add sitemaps last.

Jill: The question is whether XML sitemaps help indexing or not, but even that is questionable.

Greg: Crawling and ranking are different. We’re in an era where lots of low quality pages is a bad thing. It’s a bad signal.

SEO Myth 9:  Inbound links & TLDs (links from edus are better than other links)

Jill: She strongly believes they’re not better. People believe they are because they tend to have more authority. Edus SHOULD have more authority, but they’re also the most spammed.  She doesn’t believe they have a special weighting.

Greg: It’s a byproduct. There’s not an algorithm bump because it’s a .edu link, but an authoritative algorithm where there are sites at the top of the chain that are better connected will include a lot of edus.

Stephan: It’s a factor of it being a more pristine link neighborhood. He actually asked Matt Cutts this question a few years ago on his blog and he said it wasn’t a signal. Not that you should always trust a Google engineer, but he concurs with Matt on this one.

SEO Myth 10: Buying links = Banned

Matt: Only if the NYT writes about it. Heh.

Jill: Do a search for any halfway competitive product and you’ll find people buying links.

Stephan: You can also buy links for your competitor and get them banned

Greg: He agrees and says more so now than ever.  We have to separate out banning and filtering. We see more automated filtering now which will remove pages from search results without banning the entire site when abnormal anchor stuff happens. It doesn’t matter if you pay for links or not, it’s about not being stupid. Google will filter pages with abnormal links.

Stephan: Thinking it like you’re creating a rap sheet for yourself. Everything can add up to a penalty.

SEO Myth 11: Competitors can’t harm you

Stephan: They can torture you.  Hee.

Greg: No comment. [Stephan says that Greg, specifically, can torture you :) ] The idea that it can’t happen is a myth. He’ll just leave it at that.

Shari: Oh, they can. It’s why she’s not a fan of social media. People can write fake reviews, post BS tweets, etc. Yes, they can.

Jill: But that stuff shouldn’t affect ranking and that’s a big flaw in Google’s algo if they let that happen.

Greg: Thanks to the filtering, it’s far more expensive to do now. He can buy a bunch of links to try and filter out a competitors page…but Google will just replace that page with another page.  You’d have to engage in that activity for a lot of individual phrases.  If you’re engaging in competitive sabotage, sometimes you make them more money.

Stephan: He knows someone who’s a blackhat and it works like a charm.

Greg: Be nice to people.

SEO Myth 12: To what degree does linking out help your SEO?

Stephan: If you’re not linking to anybody that looks abnormal.

Greg: It’s all about modeling. It you read the stuff about Farmer, the idea about asking customers what they like and looking at footprints to create a model. There are common things that “trusted” sites have that you want to emulate. You will never find a good site that doesn’t link out.  Linking out is your ability to tell Google what neighborhoods you want to be part of.

Jill: But there’s an old myth that if they linked to Google that Google would like them better.

SEO Myth 13: Google endorses SEO

Stephan: It’s a dirty trick where you’d see some really dodgy firms try to do.

Greg: He remembers seeing stuff where sites are being aggressive about stuff and then make badges about where they rank for stuff.

Jill: You sometimes see people who are AdWords certified pretend that that has something to do with organic SEO. And many people outside the industry don’t realize there’s a difference.

SEO Myth 14: SERP clicks affect rankings

Shari: In personalized search.

Jill: For sites that are getting a lot of real clicks, they’re probably looking at that to some extent.

Greg: They’ve been tracking front side clicks since the dawn of search engines. The idea that they don’t look at engagement to determine where it ranks is just silly.

Shari: Bounce rate is a myth in SEO. People think a high bounce rate is really bad, but it depends on the query. A high bounce rate on a quick fact page is actually a good sign.

Greg:  Its your bounce related compared to the bounce rate of the sites around you.

SEO Myth 15: The goal of SEO = Ranking

Jill: No. You don’t even know where you rank anymore. Everyone sees a different set of search results [Stephan chime in that that’s a myth. Heh]. You never know.

Greg: Rankings are obviously important because if people can’t see you, you’re not going to get the traffic. But the bigger answer is that search marketing is about conversion and engagement and getting people to do what they want to do.

Shari: It’s also true that people who don’t rank well get their traffic from people who DO rank well.  It’s not about ranking, it’s about conversion.

Stephan: The goal of SEO is ranking money.

And that’s it.  We’ll be back in a bit!

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