We asked some of our publishers and contributors what search myths they wanted answers to in 2016. We have put them to our CEO David Hobart and to world renowned SEO and founder of the.domain.name Jason Duke.
Here are their responses. If there are other myths out there you would like an opinion on please pop them in the comments box and I will have them answered for you.
1. SEO is dead – discuss
Jason: SEO being dead is a question as old as SEO itself, yet we’re 20+ years on since those early halcyon days, and it’s still here. Sure, SEO has changed and adapted as search algorithms adjust and change, but SEO itself hasn’t gone away.
Here’s an interesting statistic from the Wolfgang Digital E Commerce Study 2016, that looked at Analytics from over 80 Million E Commerce sessions delivering over €230 Million in revenue.
“Google organic is the largest source of both traffic (43%) and revenue (42%). SEO traffic from Google organic has actually increased by 5% since our last study.”
The data is clear, SEO is only dead if you believe it to be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If you make a conscious decision to ignore the SEO channel, then SEO for you is dead… Be aware though that if you decide it’s dead your competitors’ lives become even easier if they take a contrary route.
Dave: LOL, I hope not or I backed the wrong horse. To me an SEO is a person rather than a technique and the only real difference over the last 15 years is when you go to a meeting some are wearing suits and like policemen they all look younger than me.
Even though they are younger, they still have some of the most complex minds on the planet. So all the time there are people using search engines there will be SEO’s. Things have evolved in that SEO’s are now more traditional marketeers and have to keep a lot more plates spinning but the fundamentals are still the same as they were at the beginning:
2000: Site + Words + Links = Traffic
2017: Great Site + Great Content + Great Links = Traffic
2. Once and for all – do I need H1 Tags?
Jason: No, you do not “need” header tags within your sites (H1, being the top one), especially since the ratification of the specifications in HTML5 and the options that are delivered there.
But then again I don’t need order in my life, but I feel better when it exists.
The same applies to properly structured and ordered Header tags within your site; when constructed and used properly they’re a wise edition to your html.
Dave: What he said! Be a little OCD with your layouts but not for the bots, but for your users. Make them easy to read and in turn not only will engagement increase, conversions will follow and Google (other search engines are available) will look on you favourably. With regard to H1 etc., it’s yet another best practice option that may have gained some advantage five years ago, now its Accelerated Mobile Pages, next year it will be something else. It’s the name of the game folks.
3. The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO by Matt Cutts – is it true?
Jason: There is a great deal of badly done guest blogging but also plenty that is very good. Badly implemented outreach is a risky path to tread but outreach done well is not only great for public relations (for that is what it is…) it has superb rank increasing benefits too. I personally wish most organisations would stop their outreach campaigns, but that’s not because it doesn’t work, but because it does. I simply want less competition in the SERPs for me and my clients.
Dave: As you can imagine when Matt Cutts sent live this now ‘infamous’ post on his personal blog in 2014, there was a sharp intake of breath in the Purecontent office. In hindsight, the industry saw it for what it was and almost laughed at it. I think Mr Cutts went off “message” and paid the price. Two months later he goes on ‘leave’ and that is currently where he stays. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
“So stick a fork in it: guest blogging is done; it’s just gotten too spammy. In general I wouldn’t recommend accepting a guest blog post unless you are willing to vouch for someone personally or know them well.”
That’s one big statement right there. What does it mean? Between the lines it means guest blogging is unstoppable, no algo can weed out good guest posting and people will always use it while links are an important ranking factor. Other people’s opinion on your site is a good thing and if used correctly can be very powerful. If you feel the need to tag up contributed content with “Guest Post” you are probably accepting the wrong sort of content. Stand by the editorial principles of your site and don’t accept S**T content, and stay on message and theme. If you stick to those rules you will be fine, and you will reap the benefits.
4. Do I rank better if I update my homepage daily?
Jason: Yes 🙂
A regularly updated website is a magnet for Google love. More “good content” (please don’t create crap content) is a wonderful thing and probably the easiest route you can go down to help your rankings.
Dave: I totally agree. From a search, engagement and user experience a daily update to a homepage is a great idea. A way to do this is to carry unique industry news; daily content that will deliver loyalty from your users. You can use it socially so that the homepage gets a refresh with every story that is posted. News is also a good source of free links. Good stories in the right place at the right time are what are needed; it will easily pay for itself.
5. Link Building is dead – discuss
Jason: Let me tell you a story of a very well known SEO who was speaking to a packed house of around 1,500 other SEOs at an industry conference a few weeks ago.
I’ve known this SEO for over 15 years and we’re good friends as well as industry colleagues.
He was speaking to this packed room, extolling the reality that link building is dead, anyone who actively goes out and does it, will see the ramifications from Google come hammering down on them personally and this will be directly seen on every website they have ever touched.
I smiled as he spoke and later that day we caught up over a coffee. “John,” I said… that’s not his real name but it’s what I will call him, “I was at your session and had to grin as you presented your talk. I know you don’t believe link building is dead as you acquired 50 domains from me last week, purely for the link building benefits.”
John laughed and said: “Come on Jason, you know the game we play. I had almost every single one of my biggest client’s competitors in that room. I spun them a tale, a story of how Google will ban them all for thinking about going out and doing some link building.
Maybe half of them will believe me, maybe half won’t. The 50% that think I am talking bullshit will carry on the work they are doing at the moment. For the competition they give me in the SERPs the status quo hasn’t changed.
But the other half drink the Google Kool Aid and this will push them over the edge, slowing or stopping the link building work they do. My client gains the benefits as the less they build links, the faster I’ll overtake them.”
That dear reader is the reality of link building. The ones that want you to stop likely have an agenda and spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) is a whole lot cheaper and easier to achieve than effective link building itself.
Dave: It’s tougher these days there is no getting away from it and bad ‘spammy’ link building if not already dead is most definitely terminal. Good link building is as good as it ever was and is only getting more powerful. Contextual links in good content, on strong relevant domains will work. If you are running a content marketing company and are a Purecontent competitor, link building is bad, don’t do it unless you are buying text links in footers then stick thousands in. Google loves them 🙂
6. Keyword Density – is it still important?
Jason: No, and in fact if you try to write content for a specific keyword density it may deliver you harm in the search engine’s algorithms. Write content for people in a natural and normal way and you’ll deliver everything you need.
Dave: I could write a whole post on this one but Jason has summed it up. The days of writing for an engine are gone. Write for your users. Engage them! If you write for your users, you will create a natural keyword density without even knowing it. Good content is as important as the links you put into it and Google will love it.
7. Don’t use Google Analytics because Google will spy on you?
Jason: Do use Google Analytics, Google isn’t spying and it’s a free application that works exceedingly well.
However, using Google analytics alone is not enough if you want to gain the gold and diamonds of information within the data you already have.
I strongly suggest you look at raw log files that your web server should generate. It’s a royal pain in the arse (or ass to my readers from the other side of the Atlantic) to do compared to looking at the pretty web pages or information Google delivers.
To help you deal with it I recommend using Sawmill that in my opinion is the gold standard in log file analysis software. It’s not a low cost option but if you can afford the cost and time to spend analysing the detailed parts of how Google (and other spiders) interact with your site I promise you that your business bank balance will benefit.
Dave: I love a Google conspiracy as much as the next online marketeer, however, this is just rubbish. I see analytics as a transaction, they give you a free tool that is accurate in the most part and helps you make some great decisions about your site and the content you create for that site. In return, you provide Google with an incredible learning tool to improve their ad revenues. Perhaps a little conspiracy in there. 🙂
8. XML Sitemap – does it help generate traffic from Google?
Jason: Not directly, but indirectly it can assist. A sitemap file is purely a way for Google to understand and be aware of all the pages on your site. Every page on your site should have a purpose and if you can help Google on that journey of knowing about those pages, why wouldn’t you?
Dave: A good friend of mine and I recently came out of a client meeting where this topic had come up. She was very clear in her views and said: “If you need a site map your site isn’t set up right, why don’t they get that?” I tend to agree with this opinion. We are asked regularly about news site maps and their worth. Use them, as it’s best practice, but they are just a guide for a lazy crawler. The more effort you put into getting that spider from the top to bottom with great site structure the more pages you will index.
9. Country-specific Sites – will I get duplicate content issues?
Jason: This is not a problem at all in modern day SEO when you invest the time into using the canonical and hreflang tags available to you. It’s a simple thing to implement that solves all those concerns when you have multilingual, or multi domain corporate websites with similar content.
Dave: No issues if properly handled but will not necessarily deliver results for site owners. Purely from a search perspective, Jason has hit the nail on the head (as always). However, from a user’s point of view they deserve content aimed specifically at them. You need to localise your language content; it will deliver you better results from a customer perspective as well as a search perspective. Money well spent!
10. Social Media – I’m social, does that help me in the SERPS?
Jason: Do you remember those boys at school who won the affection of all the girls? Were they charming, sociable and active? Did their personality shine through?
Allow your website’s personality to be well known, understood and liked by as many people as possible. Simply being “out there” increases your chances of being found, much more than if you hide away in the corner.
Seriously, do it…
Dave: To be honest I tend to remember the girls all the boys liked, but hey, you are right, personality wins through. Work it though, don’t post once, squeeze every drop of value out of each piece of content. Become that cool kid at school, the one with the new pair of LA Gears (showing my age now)
11. Mobile Optimisation – not worth the time or effort?
Jason: Mobile 1st. Mobile 1st. Mobile 1st. Mobile 1st.
Mobile is where purchase decisions are made.
Desktop is where purchase decisions are enacted.
If you’re not sure, check your stats, as I know they’ll agree with me.
Not having a mobile friendly website is akin to putting diesel in an Aston Martin. It isn’t going to end well and you’ve likely killed the most beautiful machine you own.
Dave: Easy one this. 50% of your traffic will be coming from mobile already. That percentage is only going to get bigger. Don’t ignore it!
12. Don’t worry about SEO just create good content.
Jason: Creating great content is a prerequisite and part of a superb SEO campaign. Intelligent engaging content delivers an opportunity to rank. Link building delivers the rankings themselves.
If you don’t believe me, go and re-read the story of my friend John above.
Dave: Great content doesn’t mean it will be found and read, that is definitely a myth. Get the content out there; be proud of it. Promote, Socialise, Syndicate and make it work hard for you. The amount of times clients have said to me, “that post you guys wrote for me did nothing”, and when I ask them what they did with it they say, “well nothing, we just posted it up”. Trust me if it was all about great content sites like the Guardian would outrank everything but they don’t. Great content is 50% of the puzzle, a vital piece but it needs the other components to really fly.
13. The more pages your site has, the better?
Jason: If those pages add value then yes. If they are there purely to fill space then no.
Dave: In the year 2000, yes, in 2016 no. Give me 10 pages of top-notch content over 300 substandard pieces any day. As I mentioned earlier, stick to your editorial principles, if a piece of content doesn’t meet those principles don’t post it!
14. E-commerce Product Descriptions – must they be unique?
Jason: If you own an e-commerce website that sells the same goods as others then writing your own product descriptions is the single most important thing you should spend time and money on.
Most merchants are lazy and use the manufacturer’s description of products. If you are the one that uses your own content, taking those descriptions and making them your own, then you are already head and shoulders above the majority of your competition in Google’s (and your prospective customers’) eyes.
Dave: I knew there would be one question that made me rant!
This is a big one for us and goes way outside the sphere of search. I always say if you owned a shop in the high street would you copy the display and products from the one next door. No, you would make yourself different. You would add value for the customer and make their shopping experience more enjoyable than your competition.
Online is no different in fact. I would say it’s even more vital to be different as you are in a high street with millions of shops. Unique descriptions, high quality landing pages and a clear customer journey will make you a successful e-retailer without copying others.
Rant over 🙂
15. Meta Descriptions and Titles – Do I really need to bother making them unique?
Jason: Yes you do. Not doing so may not deliver you Google algorithmic penalties or personal pain, but ensuring they are unique can be the difference between doubling your traffic and staying stagnant.
You’re not afraid of a little work are you?
You do want that new home with the lake in the garden?
The difference between you and the other people is that boring monotonous work is something that you see as an opportunity. You know that these “brick walls of pain and monotony” are there, the question is whether you decide to climb the wall or not. Whether you wish to rank more highly than you do now, or accept the status quo.
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
That was a quote from Randy Pausch and his Last Lecture at Carnegie Melon University. By the way, please go and watch it, because it’s the most moving and inspirational video I have ever watched and extremely relevant to the SEO work we do every day
So… Do you want to climb over, dig under and knock down brick by brick the walls in front of you?
Or are you happy with your competitors beating you?
Dave: Spoken like a hardened SEO! Jason is right; attention to detail is what will make you stand out from the crowd. Unique, Unique, Unique. Over the last three years we have seen a massive increase in customers from large “branded” sites finally addressing this issue through us and the results are amazing. Such a subtle change has massively increased visibility.
I can understand someone saying I have 2000 products and it will take ages (it will) but why would you make your own pages all look the same to the engine let alone copy someone else’s. Invest the time; it will pay you back.
16. I can get you to number one on Google for $100. Show me the money!
Jason: Over the years I have seen hundreds of emails promising me this and heard of even more. The reality is simple.
If you truly think $100 can get you ranking in Google for a phrase or set of phrases that is worth ranking for, then spend the money and try them.
What do you have to lose? $100 is nothing compared to the financial rewards of ranking at the very top of Google.
But… and this is important. Please do not ask them to optimise your most important website as I am pretty damn confident that if they do any work at all, it will deliver negative and not positive results.
The decision is yours. Your money is yours to do with as you wish, but if you were to ask me if I would take anyone up on this offer, then my answer…. based on the 20+ years of experience working with search engine algorithms, would be to walk away.
But you know what? For $100 and no risk on your money making website… it may be a learning experience you want to take…. Just to see… and then regret!
Dave: LOL, if I need to answer that you have really just wasted 10 minutes of your time reading this interview because there is no helping you. While you are here though I have some Snake Oil you might be interested in.