By its very nature, the realm of search engine optimization is laden with a wide variety of myths. This can make life difficult for anyone trying to get their start in SEO, or for seasoned veterans, who are discovering their time-honored practices to be letting them down. Here are a few of the most troublesome myths I’ve encountered, and the real answers behind them.
Meta Tagging is the Place to Start SEO
Every site needs to have meta-tagging. Just not for the reason everyone thinks. Other than maybe a title tag, there isn’t much that the so very often keyword-stuffed meta tags can offer a website, at least from an SEO perspective. Search engines have learned, for the most part, that these fields shouldn’t be trusted. That’s not to say you shouldn’t waste your time on them, though: More often than not, your listing on the Google results page will be gleaned from that meta description, so it’s a critical step in selling your site to searchers.
The Duplicate Content Penalty
I’m just not sure how this myth ever got started; it just doesn’t make any sense! Imagine a mild-mannered blogger, just writing for fun. That blog’s content gets scooped up by a big, bad, black-hat SEO, and scattered across the web. Google can’t condone the copy-and-paste practices that made that post get copied across the web, but they don’t want to punish that blogger for writing! So, and forget they ever saw the copies, but they offer normal SEO credit to the original.
From a purely SEO standpoint, it’s still a bad idea to use duplicate content, but only because you’ll be throwing away you time on material Google won’t be considering.
“Bad Neighborhood” Links
Many website owners fear sites from “bad neighborhoods,” worrying that links from these domains will pull their own website over to the wrong side of the tracks, damaging their rankings. But just as Google knows a creator of content cannot control who snags their copy, and shouldn’t be penalized, a site owner cannot control who is linking to them, and will not penalize that owner. Of course, if your site returns links back to those bad-news sites, that’s a whole different story–don’t do it.
Accuse me of being biased if you will, but as someone whose portfolio is built almost entirely in Flash, I can tell you that it is not as bad most people think. Okay, it’s not great, either, but for the right kind of site, the benefits of a partially-Flash site can outweigh the drawbacks. As time goes on, search engines are learning to extract more and more from Flash animations, all while site designers are developing new ways, such as XML importing, and internal linking techniques, which are helping them make their content more Google-legible. It won’t be the best-SEOed site out there, but a Flash site won’t be left out in the cold anymore.
One of the biggest trends in small business and small blog SEO right now is the link exchange. While this does have some benefits, I’m not sure that it has enough. Search engines are very good at detecting these boomerang links, and have deprecated their worth to a large extent. Not to mention, there is the risk of a naive site owner being burned by a received link which isn’t worth what was handed out. Also, and maybe this is just me, but I don’t like having too many links cluttering up my site. For most SEOs, the best practice is to link naturally; if you like the site, and think your users will, then link away!
SEO Is a Sinister Process
One of the most virulent myths in the interactive marketing community is that SEO is an awful process, conducted among secret societies who mastermind sneaky strategies that will help their clients jockey for Google’s top spot. Not (always) the case, or, at least, it doesn’t have to be. The heart of SEO simply involves presenting the content of a website to its natural audience, then reaping the benefits in the form of Google placement. Search engine optimization is a technique and a skill, which, like anything else, can be abused. Just as any other form of marketing can falsely advertise and misrepresent their products, SEO can allow a site to misrepresent itself to an audience, and gather undeserved benefits.
Brandon Rhodes works for Response Mine Interactive, specializing in online customer acquisition through search engine optimization, pay-per-click advertising, and more. Follow Response Mine on Twitter: @Responsemine.