Let’s face it – search engine rankings are the holy grail.
Out of all forms of website promotion, referral traffic via Google and co. is the most attractive to many website owners. People see it as passive – once one of your pages is ranked on the first page of Google, you can look forward to a steady flow of traffic for months and possibly even years to come.
It’s a romantic notion, but the search engine landscape is changing rapidly, and you do not want to be left behind. Today I want to demonstrate to you why your approach to SEO may be completely wrong, and explain how you can set yourself up for a healthy long term relationship with search engines.
1. You Can be Penalized for Duplicate Content
For many years there has been a prevalent and pervasive misunderstanding of how Google treats duplicate content. WordPress users are especially fearful of how duplicate content is treated, given the variety of archive and taxonomy pages that a WordPress blog can spit out.
What is perhaps even more surprising is that Google has on multiple occasions made its approach to duplicate content absolutely clear. Here’s a quote direct from the Google Webmaster Blog:
There’s no such thing as a “duplicate content penalty.”
That statement may seem remarkably absolute, but does require clarification. If you have multiple URLs on a site that point to the same content (such as category and tag archive pages), you will not be penalized. If you simply copy and paste the content from another website and place it on your own, you may well be. From Google again:
Duplicate content on a site is not grounds for action on that site unless it appears that the intent of the duplicate content is to be deceptive and manipulate search engine results. If your site suffers from duplicate content issues, and you don’t follow the advice listed above, we do a good job of choosing a version of the content to show in our search results.
If Google finds the same content across multiple sites, it will attempt to determine the original source of the content then promote that page above all others. It is not going to worry about you inadvertently including the same content on your own site more than once.
2. Keyword Density is the Key to Ranking Higher
A lot is said about keyword density, especially when it comes to “black hat” SEO. The argument is that whichever keyword(s) you wish to rank for in any given webpage should make up a certain percentage of the total number of words. So if I was trying to rank for “cars” in a 400 word document and the recommended keyword density is 2%, I should use the word “cars” 8 times in the text. If you don’t use it enough times the search engines won’t understand the intended relevance of the page, and if you use it too many times, the page will be penalized for “keyword stuffing”.
Writing out this theory truly reveals how laughable it is. The way in which relevance is determined by search engines is highly sophisticated and takes into account far more than simply the number of times a specific keyword is repeated on a page.
Priority number one is to write quality content. If you are writing on a specific topic, its relevance should become absolutely clear in the quality of your writing. A natural keyword density will emerge.
Don’t confuse keyword distribution and keyword density. You should look to include keywords in your page title, meta description, and so on (when it is natural to do so). That is distribution. But stuffing your content with keywords is likely to do more harm than good.
3. Google Analytics can Affect Your Rankings
This is an easy myth to dispel. Some people are afraid that if they use Google Analytics, the data collected will be used by Google to adjudge the quality of their site and move it in the rankings accordingly. Matt Cutts, head of webspam for Google, can handle this for me:
4. Poor Design can Affect Your Rankings
So Google is clever, but it’s not that clever. In fact, intelligence doesn’t come into it – whether or not a particular website design is good or not comes down to opinion, not fact.
What Google does do is attempt to adjudge whether or not you are returning a high quality experience to the visitor – namely by assessing how much unique content there is on your site “above the fold”. This is primarily targeted against spammy sites that load their pages with nothing but ads in an attempt to achieve a higher click through rate.
Design is important for the user experience and you should work to provide something of truly quality for your visitors. But what you might consider poor design is highly unlikely to have any impact on rankings.
5. “Gaming” the Search Engines Works
“Black hat” SEO is hugely popular and is not likely to go away, even with the advent of the recent Penguin update. But you are fooling yourself if you think that the tactics you use today will continue to work in the future.
Google periodically produces updates that force “black hatters” to reassess the way in which they rank their sites. Gaming the search engines can work, but only in the short term. And it is getting harder and harder.
You may be able to produce viable income-producing websites using black hat tactics, but you must do so on the understanding that your rankings (and therefore your traffic and income) can disappear overnight. Building a business on such a strategy is like building a house on foundations of sand – the inevitable will occur.
The more sophisticated search engines become in blocking black hat tactics, the more sensible it becomes to work with Google, rather than against it.
What is YOUR Favorite SEO Myth?
We’ve made a good start here in dispelling some popular SEO myths, but there is more to come. Stay tuned because we will have another 5 for you next week.
In the meantime, I’d love to read your thoughts on the above, and also your suggestions for other SEO myths that are in need of dispelling. Let us know in the comments section!