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The SEO field has some great thought leaders who work hard to share their knowledge and data with the community. Despite this, after nine years working in the field, I still see some horrible misinformation published on an alarmingly regular basis.

So, with the help of Twitter, these are the five SEO myths I would love to see buried in 2011...

1 "You need to improve your keyword density"

This one always blows my mind. It can be disproved with about 30 seconds research; simply do a search for some of the most competitive terms you can think of and what do you find? Strangely, it's not endless reams of keyword-stuffed landing pages.

Apart from the fundamental shift that happened years ago when search engines started placing more weight on link graphs rather than on-page text and meta-data, language processing is a well documented science.

In short: Never start sacrificing the quality of your content for SEO purposes.

2 "Google penalises for duplicate content"

Although we recently heard from Google about new changes that will target sites that copy others content (think scraping content farms), it is important to note that generally speaking there is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty.

If you've got some duplicate pages, or you're hosting some content from another site, it makes no sense for Google to display the exact same content twice in one search query result: If the first one wasn't helpful to the searcher, the second one won't be, so why waste valuable SERPs real estate on it?

The result is one of these pages is filtered from the index. It does not mean your site is suddenly going to be hit with mythical ranking penalties.

In short: A little duplicate content won't kill you, but maybe look at why it's there.

3 "Update your content regularly to keep it fresh and rank better"

Well, it sounds like it could be true, right? Unfortunately, all too often I see companies with staff updating their website for the sake of it, under the instruction of their "SEO expert".

While it's true that the "age" of content will affect some verticals (think about news results, which are basically chronological), for the most part, your average chartered accountant website isn't going to see a return on having someone spending 20 hours a week writing in their "latest news" section.

Sure, you could argue that by creating all this content you're doing something for the "longtail", but I can guarantee you there's better ways to spend your time.

In short: If you've got something to say, write about it. If you don't, please don't have someone doing it just for "SEO".

4 "W3C/Standards compliant code will help search engines love your site"

I like good code. There's a whole bunch of great reasons to write compliant code and make your website as accessible as possible. SEO though, is not one of them. As long as you're covering off the SEO basics so your site loads quickly and can be indexed (you're not giving technical barriers to search bots), you'll be fine.

While it may make sense at first thought, only a small percentage of websites conform to web-standards it would make it a very difficult metric to use for search engines to judge how useful the page is for the searcher.

In short: Please produce good, accessible code as standard practise. Don't recode your entire website for just for SEO purposes.

5 "PPC Spend / Adwords / Adsense affects your SEO"

Sure, big brands and big spenders might get back in the index a little quicker if they get banned than you, but it's nothing to do with PPC spend. If a big brand does get penalised, Google has no choice long-term than to reinstate them.

If you do a search for "cheap flights" you expect to see RyanAir, you expect to see EasyJet (not that I'm suggesting they've done anything wrong). Not having these brands present would reduce the quality of Google SERPs, which is its core mission to maintain.

If you get banned from Google and it takes you nine months to get back in, it's not because Google doesn't care, it's because most people don't care.

Even Matt Cutts had to answer these allegations on Google preferring Adwords/Adsense clients in organic SERPs:

"One misconception that we’ve seen in the last few weeks is the idea that Google doesn’t take as strong action on spammy content in our index if those sites are serving Google ads. To be crystal clear:

• Google absolutely takes action on sites that violate our quality guidelines regardless of whether they have ads powered by Google;
• Displaying Google ads does not help a site’s rankings in Google; and
• Buying Google ads does not increase a site’s rankings in Google’s search results.

These principles have always applied, but it’s important to affirm they still hold true.”

In short: Don't confuse an Adwords spend with the importance brand equity plays on Google's SERPs

If you've got any more favourite SEO myths you still hear, please share them so we can continue educating and improving our community!

Rob Welsby

Published 22 February, 2011 by Rob Welsby

Mark Cook is Search Marketing Director at Further Search Marketing and a contributor to Econsultancy.

1 more post from this author

Comments (24)

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Bob

Excellent. Loved this line:

"If you get banned from Google and it takes you nine months to get back in, it's not because Google doesn't care, it's because most people don't care"

The keyword density thing shocks me too, and I know the duplicate content point is a widespread conception.

almost 6 years ago

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Hazel Jarrett

Fantastic information and nicely written. I also loved the same line as Bob.. that made me chuckle!

almost 6 years ago

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Jonathan Saipe

Thanks for the post.

I don't entirely agree with point 3. If you want to adopt a long term SEO strategy, fresh content normally equates to better link bait and in doing so could attract authoritative backlinks which as we all know impacts on rank.

I also think regular churn of content is good for brand engagement and site stickiness which in turn can impact on social performance.

With SEO being ultimately very holistic and un-siloed it's difficult to make generalisations about SEO myths.

almost 6 years ago

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Ascenseon Search

Great article about common SEO myths, the message I try to get over to my clients, is that there are no strict laws that apply to every business model and every site. A checklist of SEO practice is not an instruction manual. SEO has become a measure of commonsense, moderation, quality and transparency.

almost 6 years ago

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Nikki Davis

Great article as usual Cook! And thanks for shedding some light on the duplicate content topic. I agree with Jonathan on point 3 about the fresh content but like you said 'in short' quality over quantity.

I have most definitely learnt the hard way.

Keep 'em coming...

almost 6 years ago

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Stacey Cavanagh

The keyword density myth really gets my goat!!

Keep content natural, get your keyword in the core elements of the page and you can't go far wrong.

It also surprises me to STILL come across companies "guaranteeing" number 1 listings for any keyword in Google's organic results. Nobody can make guarantees or promises. Instead SEOs can just learn, show case studies and assure clients that their campaigns will be carried out using techniques that have proven effective in the past. Amazes me that anyone thinks they can guarantee anything!

almost 6 years ago

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Mark Cook

@Jonathan Link bait content isn't an easy thing to make; it takes a lot of work to produce something of that level of quality. Certainly not the "churn for the sake of churn" I was talking about.

Is it really good brand engagement to update your site for the sake of it, if you have nothing to say? That's the point I'm trying to make; doing things like that just for "SEO reasons".

almost 6 years ago

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Joel Mackey

@Jonathon I do agree link bait can be powerful. We see sites like OnlineSchools dot org rank #1 for their head search term because of an exact match keyword domain and a massive amount of popular Digg linkbait articles. Often times these articles / infographics have nothing to do with the core site. The fact is creating content and pushing it in the social world can make you rank for million dollar search terms.

almost 6 years ago

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Kes

Agreed content for contents sake is not a good idea. Content is only king if it's worthy of such an accolade.

I do preach good accessibility but only for the sake of conversions. It's easy to implement so you might as well but should not be the highest SEO priority.

almost 6 years ago

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Joel Chudleigh

Hi Mark
Good article. I think that points 1 and 2 need a little more detail as although keyword stuffing a Page will not help a bit, it will significantly help your SEO rankings if the page does contain your target keyword in multiple places throughout the text and HTML markup such as H1 tags, image alt tags, title tags etc. If you do not have the target keyword on the page much or at all you can still rank well but it will be a lot harder, especially for small businesses with new sites.

Point 2 - having duplicate content on your site may make sense in term of user experience but it could harm your SEO. The reason I say this is because people who want to link to your page will have two options (or more) of which they have to choose one to link to. This will mean that your content does not rank as well as it could if you just had the content in one place with all links pointing to it.

I know you were approaching this in a slightly different way but I thought it worth clarifying.

Cheers
Joel

almost 6 years ago

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Damian

Disagree to an extent with point one - 'improving' keyword density can be a good thing; it's just not the same as 'raising' keyword density. Whilst I agree that well written copy will naturally be relevent to your website, it's always worth checking that you're mentioning what you think you are.

You do see a lot of websites where you think, ok, I know what they're selling, but they've not actually mentioned it once in body copy and so forth. I think part of it is that it's easy to be so close to your website / product that you can't see the wood for the trees. In this sense, it can sometimes be useful to examine such metrics as 'keyword density', but only as a tool, and not a goal in and of itself.

Like most myths, all of these have some basic truth at the core, but have been exagerated and changed to such an extent tht, well, people miss the point.

almost 6 years ago

Rob Welsby

Rob Welsby, Search Director at Further - Your Online Marketing Partner

@Joel / Damien

To me, the things you mentioned do not deserve to fall under the "SEO" banner. Alt tags? That's really an accessibility issue. Having or not having alt tags really isn't going to make or break your SEO campaign. If you've got 100 images on your site, I could think of better things to do for SEO in 2 hours than add alt tags!

On keyword density, you've got a lot bigger problems than SEO if you don't mention your "main keyword" on the page at all - how on earth will users know what the page is about? Again, to me, I really don't count the knowledge of "you can't rank for content you don't have" as something you should be paying an SEO big bucks for. That falls under site messaging/conversion.

Things like titles/h1s fall in my book under content / structure and formatting, which is an entirely different ballpark to the actual content/words used on page.

On point 2 - I agree with you. The post is simply saying that duplicate content is not a *penalty* it's a filter.

almost 6 years ago

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Martin Bailey

Hi Mark,
Good article, I must admit that I am a little supprised about point three as I thought that new content was one of the keys to increasing rankings. But as you say it makes sense to create new content if you actually have something to say rather than for the sake of it. We are in the process of a site refresh at the moment and are trying to ensure that the content reads well and makes sense to our readers - not the googlebot, which must be the best way to do it!

almost 6 years ago

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Mark Rogers

Worth noting that the current versions of the Google and Bing webmaster guidelines recommend using well formed HTML.

Bing: "Use only well-formed, HTML code in your webpages. Make sure that all paired tags are closed, and that all links open the correct webpage."

Google: "Check for broken links and correct HTML"

Most markup problems don't have any effect on indexing, but things like unclosed HTML comments in the HEAD section can wreak havoc. Some browsers display the document, others display a blank page (e.g. current builds of Chrome and Firefox 4 - see Chromium bug 60017). As a result content may or may not get indexed - very dependent on how the search engine indexer code handles unclosed comments (which are particularly hard to handle in a sensible way)

almost 6 years ago

Rob Welsby

Rob Welsby, Search Director at Further - Your Online Marketing Partner

@Mark

Absolutely worth noting! Plain broken HTML isn't going to cut it. Same with links, apart from causing problems for users they can cause all kinds of other problems depending on how the site is handling incorrect URLs.

I just wanted to point out that the difference between things like <br> and <br /> aren't going to make any difference. Google doesn't even validate, as they want to save bandwidth on all those annoying extra characters!

almost 6 years ago

Scott Hunt

Scott Hunt, eMarketing Executive at eSterling ltd

3 "Update your content regularly to keep it fresh and rank better"

On this one I have raise a few questions as I am rather conflicted over this element of your post.

Firstly, I totally agree with your summary “If you've got something to say, write about it. If you don't, please don't have someone doing it just for "SEO". And I do also agree that there is little point in creating multiple latest news articles when you haven’t anything relevant to talk about however…if a client is looking to compete for a keyword organically, against established websites, with mush more content and regular content updates – are you suggesting that as one strategy the content levels shouldn’t be met?

Do you believe that Google will not rank a website which has regular updated content over one which doesn’t? Assuming all other factors are the same?

You also mention that by creating this type of content will be ‘doing something for the "longtail" and you can ‘an guarantee you there's better ways to spend your time’ but this seems to ignore what is a relevant seo strategy.

Longtail keywords are easier to rank for. If you can pick off mid-tier phrases and rank at the top of the search results then you can build a revenue stream from them, which can be reinvested to further buy market share and distribution.

Your example of 20 hour, I agree is very excessive and I would always recommend clients to produce good quality content, but if creating regular content updates works– regardless of quality improves organic performance – why wouldn’t the time be put into it? Surely, the SEO Game is simply to please the algorithms Google puts in place?

I’m not recommending the use of super long phrases, but surely, a well designed landing page optimised around converting its traffic via the use of longtail key phrases is an effective strategy?

Clare

almost 6 years ago

Fran Jeanes

Fran Jeanes, Internet Business Consultant at i-contact web design

I agree with @Jonathan, @Joel Mackey and @Claire on #3.

Don't add junk to your website and pay someone to do it just for the sake of 'better SEO'. Instead add quality content that adds to the Internet experience, rather than taking away. All things being equal - the site that remains freshest, or even somewhat evergreen, will rank higher than one that doesn't.

almost 6 years ago

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Steve Bramley

@Mark, I posted some conjecture on these 5 points which I felt were worth considering in regard to declaring these 'myths'. Can you tell me why you've deleted it? I didn't think i'd been aggressive about it.

almost 6 years ago

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Mario Rozalen

Nice article, really sure of that everything you say is TRUE.
Will SEO be a real tool instead of an obstacle to developers?

almost 6 years ago

Rob Welsby

Rob Welsby, Search Director at Further - Your Online Marketing Partner

@Steve

Hand on heart, I haven't deleted any of the comments on this post. I don't if it was maybe one of the econsultancy editors? I rarely ever delete comments as I'm always open to other points of view; and enjoy a bit of banter :)

If you still remember what you wrote, I welcome you to post it again!

almost 6 years ago

Rob Welsby

Rob Welsby, Search Director at Further - Your Online Marketing Partner

@Clare

Thanks for such a detailed comment.

I am indeed saying that I have seen no conclusive evidence whatsoever (I'm open for anyone to give me some) that all other factors being equal, that Google will rank a regularly updated website universally better than one that is not updated as much.

Let's look at an example, Google Scholar as a vertical - why would pages of archived research papers need to be updated? Regular updating is not a particularly good metric to use universally to judge if content is good or not. As I've mentioned previously, in specific niches like news - it's hugely important.

The basis of the advice is that it's not worth typing an article just for the sake of fresh content. There are more effective things you can do.

With regard to the "longtail", I think this is a case where the term is being thrown around incorrectly in our industry. The "true" longtail is the pseudo-infinite variations of searches that are only going to get 1/2 searches per month perhaps. Yes, they are easy to rank for, but not worth writing an article to grab those terms.

I agree, if you can do this for "mid-tail" (or whatever we can call them) terms, it could well be worth it. The only approach to tackling longtail traffic is a site structure one, that is you have to design your IA in such a way that it will automatically give you different variations so you don't have to spend time chasing tiny bits of traffic. Either that or looking at a way to effectively crowd-source content.

Google released some great figures last year showing that 70% of al searches are "new/unique" - which shows the size of the longtail problem. If you're not talking about low-volume, unique searches, you're not talking about longtail.

almost 6 years ago

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SEO India

I don't have words to explain my feelings. I went through long discussion over these things with my senior SEO friends and by reading the article i got to know that i was always right. Yes these 5 point are worth less.

over 5 years ago

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alan jose

hi mark, nice article. i totally agree with your third point. originality is the key to improving page rankings.

over 5 years ago

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Rex Freiberger

Great top 5 list. While I've seen fresh content on an authority domain rank well, and thus encourage clients to do it, I see your point about not just adding content for the sake - there needs to be an end to the means.

I've also written a post on SEO myths, which you can find on our blog here: http://www.highlyrelevant.com/2011/03/16/debunking-seo-myths-part-one/

over 5 years ago

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