When it comes to demystifying Search Engine Optimization (SEO), you need to sort through a lot of myths when searching for that prized organic traffic. Some SEO myths are relics from the past that well-meaning people keep passing on that you might still believe.
As a web consultant, I’ve heard ’em all. And in this article, we’re going to debunk the most common SEO myths in easy to understand language. This article is perfect for website owners or content writers just getting their toes wet with SEO.
The first thing to understand about SEO is that it’s not a static thing. If you’re not ready and willing to keep up with the latest SEO developments, you might have some outdated information popping up on your SEO checklist.
The second thing to understand before diving in is that the organic landscape is more competitive than it used to be. So tiny pieces of misinformation can lead to substantial traffic losses over time.
So let’s bust some myths and build you some new, updated SEO knowledge!
Myth: SEO is something you do to your website once
SEO is not a one-and-done kind of thing. It’s not something you do on your website once and then never touch again. So long as you have a website, you’ll be updating your SEO.
One of the most common questions that pop into my inbox is: “Can you ‘do’ my SEO?” As well-meaning as these prospects are, it isn’t something you check off your checklist and move on.
Checking in on your SEO for your website is something that needs to be addressed regularly and intentionally. Some reasons why you have to keep on top of your SEO efforts:
- Trends change: what was popular today might not be so tomorrow.
- People change: search intent is how we think about SEO these days. Simply going with keywords is not enough. Search intent means understand why someone is searching for something online. Are they learning a new subject and want to know the basics? Do they need to solve a problem that is time or location sensitive? Do they already know what they need and are in comparison mode?
- Algorithms change: this is the biggest one to pay attention to. I won’t lie: there’s a lot to keep up with when it comes to SEO. It can be overwhelming, so it’s easier to assume that what we know today will stay the same for years. But considering Google is always tinkering with itself, we have to be prepared to tweak our SEO based on the latest technology.
Bottom line: If SEO is important to your bottom line, prepare to be picking away at it forever. SEO is like a houseplant. You have to tend it regularly for it to flourish. You cannot pay someone to ‘do it for you’ once and expect long-term success.
Myth: You can only optimize new content because it’s too late for your old pages and posts
While more recent content may benefit from you having already optimized it, that doesn’t mean it’s too late to peek at your older posts and pages.
Your older content may have some keywords seeded that are providing you with some organic traffic. Looking at the queries and pages in Google Search Console’s Performance report will help you determine this. Regularly updating your older content with new SEO strategies is a great way to extend the life of pages and posts you’ve put so much effort into already.
No matter the age of your content, as long as you’re following the latest SEO strategies, you’re fine!
Should you prioritize creating new content or optimizing old content first for SEO?
I recommend optimizing what you already have traction with first for SEO. This allows you to update existing content to be relevant—especially if you haven’t edited it in a while—and revisit the search intent. Existing content is also a great gateway into learning about keyword research.
Once you’ve optimized your existing content, then focus on creating new content that will complement the old. It’s all about adding greater depth to what your site is all about!
Bottom line: any content you think will be of value to organic searchers is worth optimizing, no matter how new or old it is.
Myth: duplicate content will get you penalized by Google
Duplicate content will not get you penalized with Google. However, you have to pay attention to duplicate content because you might be competing with… yourself. Dun dun dunnnnn.
Part of why this myth persists is the mystery around what ‘penalizing’ means from Google’s perspective. Penalization with Google is when you do something against Google’s preferred marketing methods, known as “black hat” marketing. You can read more detail about what triggers a Google penalty, but you won’t find “duplicate content” on the list.
However, duplicate content is not a good idea for SEO because you’re competing with yourself! If you’ve written three different blog posts covering the same topic, why would a search engine serve someone all three results? It will more likely pick one. Or none. It is better to consolidate those posts into one mega-awesome-can’t-live-without-it post.
How to avoid duplicate content for SEO when you want to republish the same content somewhere else
It can be a great marketing tactic to duplicate your content somewhere else. The more channels, the better! One common method is to publish a post on your website and then again on a platform like Medium.
To do this safely for SEO, you have to let the internet know which URL is the original version. This is known as the canonical URL. Canonical URLs are indexed in search engines, which means any other website with the same post content will not show up in search results. Plugins like Yoast SEO for WordPress make this easy to achieve. Other CMS generally have a spot for it in their SEO settings.
In most cases, you will want your website to contain the canonical URL. But what if you’re approached by a very popular website that wants to be the canonical of your content?
The best way to republish your content on another site that wants the canonical URL
For this example, we’ll say you’re an expert on snack foods, and you own Site A. Site B is an international snack food blog with hundreds of thousands of followers, high domain authority, and the source for all things snacks. Site B wants to use the blog post you wrote on Site A about crazy chip flavours you discovered in Japan. If you think Site B will drive more backlink traffic, then you say to them, “Cool! I’ll let you be the canonical URL for my content. But you’ve got to let me sprinkle links back to my site in said content.”
You benefit from their higher domain authority that passes on to you when people click links in the article. However, you will not show up in search results for that URL. Site B will benefit because they got ready-made content. But they gotta let you sprinkle in links back to your site; otherwise, it’s not worth being published there at all.
Bottom line: duplicate content does not bring down the wrath of Google. But don’t compete with yourself, and pay attention to who owns the canonical link.
Myth: there’s no correlation between Social Media and SEO
There is absolutely a correlation between social media signals and SEO!
Imagine you are comparing two companies competing in the popcorn industry. (I’m obsessed with salty snacks, sorry.) Both companies websites have been online for 7 years. They both have excellent articles on popcorn flavours and marketing. One has no social media presence. The other is active on Twitter, Tiktoc and LinkedIn. Which site do you think will rank better? The one with social media, of course!
The reason is simple: when you send people to your site through social media, they’re more likely to revisit it through search. And from a search engine perspective, you can think about this as “brand signals”: having a profile and followers from social platforms help prove that humans do indeed find your content to be valuable. Now, I’ve oversimplified this, and no search engine has revealed exactly how they measure social. But when used correctly, social media signals can increase traffic and produce a significant organic boost. But if you’re not targeting the right people or posting in the right places, you’re working extra hard for little reward.
I wrote a whole piece around Hashtags vs Keywords vs Tags vs Categories and what matters to SEO, if you want to dive deeper. It has an infographic, a table and loads of examples to help deepen your hashtag and keywords strategies.
Bottom line: SEO and social media make great traffic partners. Don’t forget to send people to specific pages of your website in your social media posts!
Myth: alt tags on images are critical to SEO
Okay, I’m going to get flack for this because I’m going to be picky about the term “critical.”
Alternative tags (alt tags or alt text) on images are not critical to SEO—they are critical for accessibility and user experience. They also happen to have great SEO benefits.
Alt text is a brief description of what is in an image. It is read aloud to users that require screen readers. So I insist you continue to use them! That said, there are two benefits to using alt text for SEO:
- Alt text adds context from an SEO perspective when paired with great textual content and internal linking.
- Having alt text ready for assistive reading means a positive user experience for your audience, which encourages more activity on your site, boosting SEO signals.
- Alt text can be useful for image search results in Google, which tends to be more beneficial for trades like artists and food bloggers. But less useful for consultants or other service-based businesses.
This myth makes people squander time obsessing over the ‘right’ alt text for their content, while more critical SEO work is left unattended. I like these examples of better alt tags by Moz for those frozen in the alt text headlights.
But if you think the only thing you have to do to start ranking your content is updated alt tags, you’re in for a shock. The more critical thing you can do is build backlinks (see the next myth).
Bottom line: having alt tags on images is critical for accessibility, but not an instant win for ranking with SEO. If you dutifully fill out your alts, but the textual content of your page is not well written and aimed at search intent, you’ve more work to do.
Myth: Length of time on your site is critical to SEO, so don’t add too many in-page or outbound links to your content
Links are critical SEO. Like, I’d place them above image optimization and social media outreach. Seriously, the linking structure of your website is that damn important to SEO.
Think of it this way: the internet is an actual web that bots (literally called ‘spiders’) crawl around. They use links to get from point A to point B on your content and other sites. Therefore, for successful SEO, you need:
- Backlinks to your website. No matter how wonderful your content is, you need other websites to “vouch” for you. Similarly to how social proof on your website proves you indeed know what you’re talking about. Ideally, the higher the domain authority a site has that links out to you, the more authority they pass along to your site. Some of the best low-hanging fruit for this is going after local SEO content.
- Links between content on your site. At a minimum, link to at least one other page or post on your site. But I recommend adding as many links to other relevant pages you think will help out your readership. (And no, the same footer links on every page is no longer a strong signal for SEO. That’s a suuuuuper old myth.)
- Anchor text in link contains keywords/search intent. No matter if they’re external or internal links, be sure to use contextual content on the clickable part (known as anchor text).
Great example: Check out the staggering stats on potato chips consumed by Canadians.
Poor example: Click here to see the staggering stats on potato chips consumed by Canadians.
“But what if someone clicks away from my page they’re on?” I hear worried website owners ask.
Look: the web is meant to be interacted with. Have faith that a reader can both enjoy your content and someone else’s without completely forgetting about you. The only time you shouldn’t have any other links on a page is if it’s a landing page to sell something specific to a very targeted audience. Otherwise, link the hell out of your blog posts, service pages and homepage!
Bonus: If you have a page that is doing great in SEO, it can pass its authority onto other pages of your site you have linked to it! That’s what I wish people would obsess over more than alt tags!
Bottom Line: you want lots of helpful links all over your site—both from your own content and linking out to other sites.
Myth: Installing Google Analytics on your site improves your SEO
Google Analytics does not improve your SEO. It is simply a Google product that tracks the behaviour of people while they’re on your site. No SEO brownie points here.
That said, having a website without Google Analytics is like working a job without knowing how much you’re getting paid for your efforts. Google Analytics is a powerful way for you to monitor the success of your SEO efforts! So I always recommend installing Google Analytics. How else will you be able to tell your SEO efforts are working?
We all reserve the right to deepen our SEO knowledge
If you’re introducing your head rapidly to your desk over believing in a couple of these myths, lift that chin!
SEO is ever-changing and evolving, along with the way we use the internet. I never tell people “SEO is easy”. It can get overwhelming – even for a marketing nerd like me. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, try new things on a small scale and use your analytics to track results. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have along the way.
So be smart about how you spend your time on SEO. Be aware of the search intent of your core audience to make the most of your SEO strategy. Happy optimizing!