5 Ridiculous SEO Myths That People Believe

seo myths

The SEO industry is wrought with folklore. Much of what is said doesn’t come with the evidence to back it up. Granted, we’re not immune to truisms of our own, and sometimes it’s not a bad idea to put intuition first. But there’s a difference between truisms or ethical stances and opinions masquerading as facts. I’d like to debunk a few SEO myths today, so let’s get started.

SEO Myths

1. Links Are the Most Important Ranking Factor

This is the one SEO myth that gets said so often everybody accepts it as truth. It’s so ubiquitous that I wouldn’t be surprised if we accidentally found ourselves saying it at some point in the past. Links are just so crucial and so hard to earn that we tend to think of them as the most important ranking factor.

The truth is very different. Relevance is the most important ranking factor. Take a look at the latest compilation of ranking factors from Search Metrics:

Search Metrics

Sure, at first glance, it looks like the number of backlinks is more important than having the keyword in the title. After all, backlinks had a correlation of 34 percent and having the keyword in the title had a correlation of zero percent. They must be useless, right?

Not even close. The correlation was zero, because across thousands of searches, the top 30 search results all had the keyword in the title. There was no correlation because it was a prerequisite to rank in the top 30.

It’s simple. To get traffic, Google needs to fetch your page as a match to the query before you even show up. Having the keyword present in your content, preferably in the title, is by far the most important factor.

Not to mention, take another look at those ranking factors. Google +1′s correlate with rankings better than links and Facebook activity is tied with the number of backlinks. In fact, Search Metrics reached the same conclusion back in 2012. This is just correlation, not causation, but keep in mind that that’s just as true for link data.

The messier truth is that the importance of ranking factors changes depending on the search query, because different ranking factors are prioritized under different circumstances. High quality links are important because they are hard to get, but they are not the most important ranking factor. You need to take a more holistic approach if you want to succeed consistently.

2. Bounce Rate is a Ranking Factor

This SEO myth comes up a lot more often than I would ever expect and it’s completely false. Matt Cutts has flat out said that Google does not use bounce rate as a ranking factor, nor do they use analytics data.

This should be rather surprising, considering that Google can, in fact, easily tell if you have clicked back from a search result and how much time you’ve spent on the site. So maybe they don’t use bounce rate, but instead use time on site before returning? This quote from Matt Cutts suggests that’s also unlikely:

Bounce rate doesn’t measure quick answers you get. You get the answer and leave, so it isn’t a good metric for Google to use.

A more convincing argument is that Google uses “pogosticking” to infer user satisfaction. In other words, if a user clicks on your page, leaves quickly and then clicks on a different page and stays on it for a long time - then that user probably wasn’t very satisfied with what you had to share.

More importantly, Google has a large collection of other user behavior metrics, some of which they are almost certainly using:

Not to mention the growing collection of Google+ and signed in user data. Click-through data is likely used as well.

But not your bounce rate.

3. Domain Age is an Important Ranking Factor

Some people swear by domain age and may even call it a more important ranking factor than links. But, once again Matt Cutts has come right out and said that the impact on search results is very small once you get past a couple months and that links are a much more important ranking factor.

So why is it that some people swear by domain age as such an important ranking factor?

Undoubtedly, older domains are more likely to have accumulated links over time. They have been around long enough for more user data to be taken into consideration and their competitors have had more time to get punished or demoted for guideline violations.

In other words, when domain age seems important, it’s really because stronger ranking factors have been influenced by the domain’s age. Just having an old site isn’t going to benefit you. But having a site that has proven itself consistently for extended periods of time is another thing entirely.

4. You Can’t Compete With High Domain Authority Results

SEOs can often find themselves obsessing over domain authority, especially during competitive analysis. In reality, we don’t even have strong evidence that there is such a thing as domain authority. At the very least, it is loosely defined and defined differently by everybody that uses it. We’ve used this terminology ourselves, but really it’s just a way of generalizing the potential of your internal links.

Let’s start with Moz’s own correlation data. Among site-wide factors, even their own domain authority metric isn’t the best factor to use. It has a correlation of 21%, while the total number of linking root domains with partial match anchor text has a correlation of 25%.

This is actually identical to the correlation for the number of linking root domains with partial match anchor text among page level factors. Again, 25%.

Is there any reason to suspect that what we call domain authority is anything more than the power of internal linking?

In my experience, I haven’t seen any data to suggest that domain authority exists in any meaningful sense. I’m more inclined to believe that internal links are essentially as helpful as external links.

If you come across a competing page on a high domain authority site, all you really need to do is look at the links to that page, whether they’re external or internal. Treat the host domain just like any other.

In other words, if the competing page just has one link from the home page, all you would need to do is get a link from a page with more authority than their home page and you’d have them beat.

I’m simplifying, of course, since there are so many other ranking factors to deal with, but as far as “link juice” goes, I’ve never seen any evidence to suggest you should think about it any other way.

5. The Best Way to Grow Traffic is to Boost Rankings

And finally, we come to a foundational SEO myth that might shake some SEOs right to the core.

We strongly believe that it’s important to improve your ranking potential with inbound links, relevance, purposeful content and many other factors, but rankings are not the only way to increase traffic.

I’ve successfully made the front page or the top spot enough times to realize that my traffic estimates for keywords are inconsistent at best. Google’s keyword tool is a poor guide and the only way to accurately estimate traffic is to buy PPC ads and pay enough to show up every time. Since it takes tremendous resources to improve your rankings for competitive keywords, you can end up pouring a lot of wasted effort into a single ranking.

A less risky way to grow traffic is to continue investing in promotion while producing content for relatively low competition keywords. When promotion fails to improve my rankings, I often find it more useful to just move on and produce more on-site content.

You want to have a system that chooses keywords with relatively high traffic potential with little or no promotion for that individual piece, as well as writers and developers who can put together the best piece of content on the subject. You need to think of this as a process and get some project management in place. It’s a good idea to use a tool like WorkZone or the heftier MS Project to keep your process in check.

Conclusion

Successful SEOs put myths to the test and don’t take advice for granted. I hope this has been enlightening. If you have counter-evidence or other SEO myths to add, I’d love to hear what you have to say.

Myth Photo via Shutterstock

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Pratik Dholakiya


Pratik Dholakiya Pratik Dholakiya is Co-Founder, VP of Marketing and Lead SEO Strategist at E2M Solutions & OnlyDesign. The primary focus of E2M Solutions is on content marketing and leveraging its potential to generate revenue for clients. OnlyDesign helps companies build a better web & mobile presence.

32 Reactions

  1. Unfortunately, I think that the complexity of Google’s algorithm, combined with their secrecy around it, causes most of these myths. However, I must give Matt Cutts credit that he does dispel the most egregious myths during his speaking engagements at shows (like SMX Advanced or Pubcon).

  2. Very good article. I think all your points are true, but the first point is a little misleading. Of course, relevance is the most important ranking factor. No one expects to end up at WhiteHouse.gov when they are searching for BBQ grills simply because the White House site has the most high quality incoming links.

    But if relevance is given rather than a variable, how does linking rank? Again, I agree with your statement “the importance of ranking factors changes depending on the search query, because different ranking factors are prioritized under different circumstances” and with nearly 200 factors in Google’s search results algorithm, there is plenty of room to change priorities among types of sites. Still, while a holistic approach is still the ideal approach, there must be some general conclusions about how the individual factors figure into the holistic approach.

    • David, I agree with you. That is the one thing that popped out to me right away.

      Of course we must have relevant websites, but if I make my title “used cars” and my h1 “used cars” and some great body copy about used cars (sparingly, of course), I’m still NOT going to rank for used cars without some really good links.

      It’s one of those things where you can’t just have one without the other (in most cases). You need good relevancy, AND good links. The only pages I’ve ever seen rank without links would be wikipedia or amazon links for some obscure topic, and they’re getting all their authority off of the root domain value. A brand new website with the same text would not rank as well completely on its own, so it doesn’t “prove” that you don’t need links.

  3. I have to agree with Robert. The complexity and secrecy makes it difficult to separate fact from fiction. Even with weeks of research, it’s hard to tell what’s true and what isn’t.

  4. If you think about it, your rankings correlate to the quality of content in your website. Keywords in your title for query match helps, sure, but how will your content satisfy the reader to stay long enough to boost your rankings? In the end it’s all about quality.

  5. Thanx for this article, it made me realise just how many SEO practitioners offer advise that is confusing to readers who take the time to read clearly.

    You say links are not the number one factor, but this is totally wrong. links are the most important aspect of any SEO initiative, as without any links you will never be found by any search engine, as their spiders will never reach your well hidden page.

    Links are essential, and you need to have at least one internal and one external link to your page, other wise you will be wasting your time….

    large numbers of links may be a less important ranking factor than well written keyword rich content, but having zero links is a definite losing option.

    these things all need to be balanced, and as the G machines staff often tell us there ARE MORE THAN 200 RANKING SIGNALS, and many of these so called ranking signals are generated from other signals which are not considered to be part of SEO by many who are uninformed. Your focus on these five myths is appreciated, as it allows others to think about their attitude to the BHSEOI (Black Hat Search Engine Industry)

  6. Good read! The only thing I would point out is that the study you cite has taken a fair amount of criticism over its accuracy. Just one example here – http://leaderswest.com/2013/07/01/study-are-google-plus-and-facebook-signals-significant-seo-factors/

  7. I agree with the comments above. It is all about quality versus quantity. SEO is a field where you constantly have to stay on top of trends and always research on the best practices. Great article though!

  8. Great article and really informative, thanks for sharing.
    I also agree with Jayden, in the end, it is all about quality!

  9. I feel this was a very good article, even if it isn’t proven whats true or not. It’s good to continue to strive for new opportunities and try different methods.

  10. I would add one further myth. You need SEO to get more traffic to succeed. I want more customers, not just more traffic. If I can get better quality traffic which converts more readily I would prefer that to simply more traffic. Quality does count, both for content and referrals. But it can be hard to take the quality route when you see so much doorway spam and duplicate domain spam in the search results.

  11. Hello,

    This was a much needed article in the SEO community and I agree with all the points you’ve attempted to make here, though the point remains, “not everyone will read this and not everyone will agree”.

    Greg Smith

  12. So, Pratik… How may sites have you personally ranked #1 on Google for your/client’s keywords? [Examples/URLS will suffice as an answer]

    Thanks!

    • Anita Campbell

      Hi John,

      I think point #5 that Pratik made, would apply to that. #1 rankings aren’t necessarily the key to traffic.

      Other factors come into play. There might be 2 searches a month on “incredibly obscure phrase no one ever searches on.” The relevance of the keywords, the intent of the searcher — many factors apply to whether that ranking will do your business any good. A #1 ranking and $2.50 may get you little more than a cup of coffee. :)

      In our business we used to obsess about being #1 — but today we focus on the “totality” of how our business appears in search, the number of phrases we appear for, that we appear for informational searches (versus transactional searches, since we don’t actually sell anything here and a visitor would just be frustrated if he or she is ready to buy), etc.

      - Anita

  13. I thank Pratik for this wonderful and handy piece of article that has surely changed our SEO knowledge to some extent. We people are very mythical when it comes to SEO concepts. I too used to strongly believe some of the points discussed in this article but since I have fully read this, things are getting a lot clearer now.

    I’ve a question to ask and hope either Pratik himself or someone else will answer it. Is click through rate an important ranking factor? I mean to say – Does Google ranks those pages up the search result which gets more clicks than other pages/links? Is this something they care about or going to be part of ranking factor in the coming days?

  14. I think the influence of your website is more important than anything. If your content is useful to a lot of people and people go back to your site for more information. It is more about pleasing your visitors and less about pleasing those search engines.

  15. I think these following factors are most important for website traffic, popularity and brandname.

    Good quality, creative and relevant content according to user perspective, needs or requirements.
    Maintaining Google SEO guidelines.
    Social Media involvement with targeted and healthy link building.
    Website functionality, speed and technical performance as per the user perspective.
    Monitor and Analyze your web traffic and statistics in a deep and proper way on regular basis.

  16. Yes, bottom line will be if users will be latched to the site and give respect to it, it will still have better conversion rate if ever it has lesser traffic.

  17. I have a question. Why default template blogger using h3 for post title? Not h1 or h2?

  18. Google have explicitly said they don’t use analytics data in their algorithm and therefore don’t use bounce rate as you correctly point out. However, what they probably do use is “dwell time”, which you refer to as “pogosticking”. Rather than me explain here, take a read of a blog post In 2012 specifically on the topic of bounce rate with an explanation of “dwell time”. http://www.tone.co.uk/5-common-bounce-rate-myths-debunked/ There’s plenty of SEO myth debunking posts on the web and this is probably the most informative I’ve come across. Good work!

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