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SEO/Search Engine Optimization Myths

The state of search engine ranking methods has come a long way since the early days of the Internet when sites like Alta-Vista and Lycos ruled the roost. The advent of the Search Engine Optimization specialist meant that the major search engines had to make their ranking algorithms increasingly more sophisticated to reduce the effect of techniques that used to make beating their systems relatively easy. But the books on the shelves of libraries and office workers continue to plague the world with outdated information on how search engines rank websites. So let me dispell some of these myths.


Top 10 SEO Myths

There are several myths that keep popping up in online discussion forums, the Usenet Newsgroups, and other places where people repeat these old saws as if they were reciting passages from the Bible. Among the most common myths about how the search engines rank websites are:

  1. Meta tags are important for search engine ranking.
  2. PageRank Doesn't Matter
  3. Search engines (don't like)/(can't read) frames.
  4. rel="nofollow" links pass ranking value.
  5. Search engines (don't like)/(can't read) Javascript.
  6. My Competitor Does Bad Things And Ranks High So I Should, Too!
  7. Pay Per Click advertising will (improve/damage) your ranking.
  8. Registering multiple domains will improve your ranking.
  9. Hiding Keywords Can Improve Your Ranking.
  10. Shared Hosting or Same Class 3 IP Address Block Will Damage Your Ranking

Myth #1: Meta Tags Improve Your Search Engine Ranking

Once upon a time, <meta> tags were new ideas and only those knowledgeable in the intricacies HTML had an inkling of their existance or purpose. Until Google came along in the late 1990's, search engines commonly gave great weight to the 'keywords' <meta> tag. However, as the Search Engine Optimization industry blossomed and started to stuff these tags with endless streams of (often irrelevant) keywords. Google realized this was a problem and chose to ignore them. Bing pays some attention to the keywords <meta> tag, and since Yahoo! uses Bing to power their search engine, it's worth including one on your important pages as long as you keep its content relevant and concise. Google will often display the content of a webpage's 'description' <meta> tag if it contains elements of the user's search query, and they may also use it as an indicator of page quality, but as I say, they absolutely ignore it for ranking purposes on a keyword basis. Also, the 'revisit', 'author', and 'rating' <meta> tags have no influence whatsoever on any of the search engines.

Use the 'description' <meta> tag to help attract users when your pages appear in the search results and the 'keywords' <meta> tag to help directories to categorize your site, but don't try to improve your rankings with them. It won't help. The only <meta> tags that have any direct influence on the search engines are the 'robots' <meta> tag (which is important when you need to prevent a page from being included in the search engines, or for preventing the links on a page from being followed), and the <meta> 'refresh' tag (which can be used as a substitute for a 301 redirect as a last resort).

Myth #2: PageRank Doesn't Matter

Mention PageRank in any search engine forum and you'll immediately be pounced on by anti-PageRank zealots, most of whom have very little informed knowledge of the subject. You can spot these armchair SEO's when they drone on knowingly about how the Toolbar PageRank display is months out of date and is, therefore, meaningless. Ignore them.

Know this: PageRank does matter. It matters a great deal. When the zealots say it's only one of many factors that Google uses for ranking, they neglect to point out that it's one of the most important factors in Google's ranking methods. They will spew forth examples of how a page with a lower PageRank score can outrank a page with a higher PageRank to bolster their mantra that PageRank is irrelevant. Chicken Little had better evidence that the sky was falling than these people have that PageRank is meaningless or irrelevant. For any set of pages that are relevant to the user's search query terms, their ranking positions in the search results are going to be highly influenced by their true PageRank score. You need to be aware of the influence of PageRank and make it a part of your search engine optimization efforts without obsessing over it. Google's methods of calculating PageRank has changed considerably in the past few years. To learn how PageRank really works, see my page on What is PageRank?.

Now that Google has decided to stop updating the Toolbar PageRank, you'll see this idea be proffered more often, but don't believe it. Google continues to use PageRank for rankings on an internal basis, and has only decided to stop making the information public.

Myth #3: Search Engines (Don't Like)/(Can't Read) Frames

Rot! Utter Rot! If it was ever true, that time has long since passed. I've been studying search engines for over ten years now and I have yet to see one that was incapable of indexing frames-based websites or that penalized a site for using them. See my page on Search Engines and Frames. As you can tell, this myth makes me a little nuts because it persists by sheer momentum and in spite of patently obvious evidence as to its folly. Frames do cause problems for users, and search engines treat them a bit differently when it comes to displaying them in the search results, but using <frame>s or <iframe>s is not the kiss of death for a site. That said, I strongly recommend that you avoid using frames. The problems they create far outweigh any potential benefits and there are ample means of achieving the same functionality through other means.

Myth #4: rel="nofollow" Links Pass Ranking Value

This SEO myth rises from the parts of the SEO community that believe Google is always lying to them. Despite the fact that the reason that the rel="nofollow" was created was to allow webmasters to nullify the effect of a link, some people refuse to accept that reality. They see the links appear in their Webmaster Tools console and assume that means that the link passes ranking value, or hypothesize at length about how Google must count them for one reason or another.

There is simply no evidence to show that 'nofollow'ed links pass any ranking value. Google and Bing have both repeatedly told webmasters that they don't pass ranking value - good or bad. You don't have to avoid getting nofollow links. They can still generate direct traffic to your website - which, in turn, can lead to getting links that do help your rankings. They'll never damage your rankings, but don't fall for the wishful thinking that every link counts for rankings.

Myth #5: Search engines (Don't Like)/(Can't Read) JavaScript

Google reads and sometimes indexes JavaScript files (.js), and they can now simulate execution of JavaScript to a certain extent. The advent of AJAX means that JavaScript files are now more likely to include useful content, and Google loves content. But AJAX-generated content is indexed as a part of the parent web page, not as the JavaScript file itself. And, except for AJAX, any text content embedded JavaScript is essentially ignored. While Google now crawls JavaScript files, they lack the semantic mark-up facilities of HTML files, and so can't be parsed to determine their most important keywords. So these files rarely rank for any non-unique search term unless you specify filetype:.js in your search query. And you should expect the other search engines will develop similar capabilities and practices over time.

Myth #6: My Competitor Does Bad Things And Ranks High So I Should, Too!

There are degrees of badness when it comes to the "black hat" side of Search Engine Optimization. Cross-linking your own websites isn't nearly as bad as cloaking, for example. So if you see a competitor's site doing something that seems to be in violation of Google's Webmaster Guidelines, but still ranking well, don't take it as evidence that you can help your rankings by doing the same things. The most likely explaination is that the competitor's site is strong enough that it ranks well despite the violation. The seriousness of the violation will play an important role here when weighed against a site's positive aspects. Remember that search engine rankings come down to a page's ultimate score for a particular search term or phrase. It's all about the pluses and minuses - doing more good things than bad things.

Another possibility is that you simply got it wrong. That the competitor's site isn't in violation at all. So don't be in a hurry to try some SEO trick you believe is helping another website's rankings. You could easily damage your own rankings to a point where it will take a very long time to recover.

Myth #7: Pay Per Click Ads Affect Your Search Results

Here's a great myth because it works both ways. That is, I've seen people claim that the search engines manipulate the search results in order to get "relevant" sites to pay for advertising, and I've heard other people complain because their site didn't get good rankings despite the fact that they spent a lot of money on pay-per-click ads. Neither is true.

The truth is that the search engines' advertising programs have their own staff and their own issues that don't have any relation to the regular search results. Search results are a zero-sum game. No matter how you slice it, there are a finite number of top results for any search. If the search engines muddy up the natural search results with irrelevant pages, their traffic will go down - slowly, but surely as users stop trusting them to deliver quality results. And if they lose users, the search engines' own pay-per-click advertising revenues go down.

Similarly, the search engines do not pay attention to who's advertising on their sites with their Pay Per Click programs. So advertising your site through the search engines is not a shortcut to getting your site indexed or well-ranked. The surest path to indexing remains getting links from quality sites, and the PPC ads on those pages don't count as links. And if there was any truth to the myth that having search engine ads on your site increased your site's rankings, you'd be seeing a swath of AdSense ads on this page right now.

Myth #8: Multiple Domain Names Improve Your Rankings

Have you noticed that you don't hear lots of stories of people paying outrageous sums of money for domain names like "www.free-beer.com" anymore. There are several reasons for that, and one of them is that your domain name has very little effect on search engine ranking. Search engines do pay some attention to the Top Level Domain (TLD) like www.somesite.co.uk or www.somesite.co.jp to determine the relevance of your site to a local search - searches that are limited to pages based in a given country. There is some evidence that there is a small benefit in using keywords in file names, but not nearly so much for keywords in the domain name. And since having multiple domain names pointing to the same content can really damage your rankings, you want to be very careful in how you use them. You should only create multiple domains if you have a compelling marketing reason for doing so, and they should all have robust and unique content.

Myth #9: Long Lists of Hidden Keywords Can Improve Your Rankings

One of the oldest SEO tricks is hiding long lists of keywords in order to increase the frequency of those keywords on the page in a way that only the search engines will see them. It's a form of "keyword stuffing", which is prohibited by the search engines' guidelines and one of the surest ways to damage your rankings. The search engines are very good at detecting hidden text that is intended to fool them. Even the most sophisticated methods leave telltale signals that will get your site flagged for a manual review. That's right. The search engines employ teams of SPAM fighters who manually check webpages for violations of their guidelines. So don't even think about it.

Myth #10: Shared Hosting or Same Class 3 IP Address Block Will Damage Your Rankings

These are related, but obsolete ideas. Back in the misty past of search engines, it was common for SPAMmers to set up dozens of domains on a single server or IP address in order to game the search engines. But the search engines defeated this technique many years ago and so they don't need to rely on such unreliable methods of combatting SPAM. These days, shared hosting is so common that the search engines pay no attention to it. Imposing penalties on IP address blocks is so rare now, that when Google did it a couple of years ago to a free hosting service that allowed all sorts of bad things to happen, it was major news in the SEO community because it was the only known instance for nearly a decade.


I hope I've helped reduce the anxiety that you can face when you start to become aware of the power of search engines. Overall, your goal should be the same as theirs - to deliver a quality product or service to users. Good luck!


This SEO Tip by Rainbo Design was last updated on June 13, 2015


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