Give someone a fish and they’ll EAT at some point. Teach someone to fish and they’ll EAT for a lifetime.
Yes, that’s an SEO pun. It’s also the goal of this text.
If you pop into either of the superb SEO communities on Twitter or LinkedIn,
you’ll inevitably encounter some common SEO myths:
“Longer dwell time means an honest user experience, so it must be a ranking factor”
“A high bounce rate indicates a nasty user experience, so it must be bad for SEO”
Social media posts like these get plenty of engagement.
As a result, they amplify the myths we attempt to squash through repetition, false evidence, and faulty logic.
The matter isn’t limited to social media, either.
Many high-profile websites package hypotheses as facts because readers eat them up.
These myths are an enormous problem because they’re red herrings.
They cause marketers to prioritize projects
that won’t improve the content, user experience, or Google search performance.
So how can the SEO community rally around the truth?
we will start by doing two things:
SEOs must admit our personalities and professions hardwire us to believe myths.
We have a deep desire for answers, control, and predictability, also a fierce distrust of Google.
We need to acknowledge the psychological and environmental factors
that influence our ability to sort fact from fiction.
So instead of busting individual myths, let’s ask ourselves
In other words, let’s learn to fish.
Internal reasons we believe SEO myths
Let’s probe some internal factors,
like our thoughts and feelings, that influence our beliefs.
- SEOs need structure and control
SEO may be a fascinating branch of selling
because our performance is driven by a constantly evolving algorithm that we don’t control.
There have been quite 5,000 Google algorithm updates in 2021 alone.
In other words, SEOs sleep in a world of crippling dependency.
Even the top-ranking signals that we all know about can fluctuate supported
by the industry, query, or available content within Google’s index. for instance,
If you manage websites within the finance or health space, E-A-T is critical.
If you publish news content,
then recency is extremely important.
To gain a way of structure and control, we glance for more ways to influence outcomes.
But there are two problems thereupon approach:
We overestimate the impact of individual ranking factors
Falsely believe something maybe a Google ranking factor that’s not
We got to amplify our level of control by psychology.
A 2016 study revealed an individual’s need for a structure made them more likely to believe a conspiracy theory.
“The human tendency to acknowledge patterns even when none exist is shown to possess applications in consumer behavior.
The present research demonstrates that as one’s personal need for structure (PNS) increases
(that is, requiring predictability and disfavoring uncertainty), false consumer pattern perceptions emerge.”
If you discover yourself waffling between fact and fiction,
don’t let your desire for control dictate your final judgment.
- The primal got to recognize patterns
The human brain is superb at recognizing patterns.
Throughout history, we’ve relied thereon on the ability to form better decisions and make sure the survival of our species.
Unfortunately, we’re so good at spotting patterns that we also fabricate them.
False pattern recognition has several drawbacks –
It might influence SEO decisions that would have a sitewide impact
If you overstate the connection publicly, others might misinterpret it as fact
An excellent example surfaced on Twitter recently.
Google’s John Mueller was asked if adding too many links
to your site’s main navigation could impact Google Discover traffic.
The individual who asked the question ran several tests and saw positive results,
but Mueller said it had been merely a stimulating correlation.
Fortunately, this individual went straight to the source for a solution rather than publishing a case study
that would have had serious implications for website navigation decisions.
- Confirmation bias
It’s well-documented that folks accept information that supports
their beliefs and reject information that doesn’t.
It’s a primordial trait that evolved once we began to make social groups.
Early humans surrounded themselves with others who thought and acted in an equivalent manner thanks to ensuring their survival.
One of the foremost famous confirmation bias studies comes from Stanford.
For the study, researchers segmented students into two opposing groups
that supported their beliefs about execution.
One group supported execution and believed it reduced crime.
the opposite opposed it and believed it had no impact on crime.
Each group was asked to react to 2 studies, one which supported their views,
and one which contradicted them.
Both groups found the study that aligned with their beliefs far more credible,
and everyone became more entrenched in their original beliefs.
SEO practitioners are particularly susceptible to confirmation bias because we’re scared of being wrong.
We hypothesize, test, build, optimize, and iterate.
If we’re wrong too often, we’ll waste time and money, and we could risk our reputation and our jobs.
We need to be right so badly that we may accept myths that confirm our beliefs instead of admitting failure.
- Lack of trust in Google
It’s safe to mention most SEOs don’t trust Google.
That has led to a number of the longest-running SEO myths I could find. for instance,
even after seven years of repeated rejections from Google,
many SEO experts still believe engagement may be a ranking signal.
Here’s John Mueller shooting down the engagement myth in 2015:
“I don’t think we even see what people do on your website.
If they’re filling out forms or not, if they’re converting and truly buying something…
So if we can’t see that, then that’s something we cannot take into consideration.
So from my point of view,
that’s not something I’d treat as a ranking factor.”
Nearly seven years later, in March 2022,
John was asked an equivalent question again,
and his response was just about the same:
“So I don’t think we might use engagement as an element .”
And yet, the SEOs piled on within the comments.
I encourage you to read them if you would like a way of the extreme level of mistrust.
Essentially, SEOs overanalyzed Mueller’s words, questioned his honesty,
and claimed he was misinformed because they had contradictory information.
- Impostor syndrome
Even the foremost seasoned SEO professionals
admit they’ve felt the pain of impostor syndrome.
you’ll easily find discussions on Reddit, Twitter,
and LinkedIn about how we question our level of data.
That’s very true in public settings when we’re surrounded by our peers.
Not long ago Azeem Ahmad and Izzie Smith chatted about impostor syndrome.
Here’s what Izzie said:
“It’s really hard to place yourself out there and share your learnings.
We’re all really afraid.
I feel most folks have this impostor syndrome that’s telling us we’re not ok .”
This contributes to SEO myths in several ways.
First, it erodes self-confidence,
which makes individuals more susceptible to believing myths.
Second, it prevents folks who might want to challenge inaccurate information from speaking
out publicly because they’re afraid they’ll be attacked.
Needless to mention,
that permits myths to spread throughout the broader community.
The best thanks to combat impostor syndrome are to make sure SEO communities
are safe and supportive of the latest members and new ideas.
Be respectful, open-minded, and accepting. If more folks speak out
when something doesn’t feel accurate,
then we will keep some troublesome myths in restraint.
External reasons we believe SEO myths
Now let’s explore the external forces,
like peers and publishers, that cause us to believe SEO myths.
- Peer pressure
Peer pressure is closely associated
with impostor syndrome, except it comes from the surface.
It’s a sense of coercion from peers, whether an outsized group of SEOs,
a widely known expert, or an in-depth mentor or colleague.
Because humans are social creatures,
our urge to suit often overpowers our desire to be right.
When something doesn’t feel right,
We accompany the flow anyway for fear of being ostracized.
Social proof is often more persuasive than purely evidence-based proof.
I asked the Twitter SEO community if anyone ever felt compelled
to simply accept an SEO ranking factor as fact-supported public opinion.
Several folks replied, and there was a stimulating theme around website code.
“Years and years ago I wanted code quality to be a ranking factor.
Many thought it had been because it made sense to reward well-written code.
But it never was. Browsers had to be very forgiving because most sites were so badly built.”
Similar to combatting impostor syndrome, if we develop a more tolerable
SEO community that’s willing to respectfully debate issues, we’ll all enjoy more reliable information.
- Outdated information
If you publish content about SEO,
then you’ll be guilty of spreading
SEO myths at some point.
Google updates its algorithms thousands of times annually,
which suggests assumptions are disproven
and once-good advice becomes outdated.
Trusted publishers have a requirement to refresh or remove inaccurate
content to stop SEO misconceptions from spreading.
For example, in 2019 Google changed how it handles outbound links.
It introduced two new link attributes into the nofollow family, UGC and sponsored,
and commenced to treat all three of those as hints rather than ignoring nofollow links.
So if you wrote about link attributes before September 2019, your advice is perhaps out of date.
Unfortunately, most SEOs update content because it’s underperforming,
not because it’s wrong.
So perhaps publishers should put integrity above performance to strengthen our community.
- Jumping on trends
Sometimes SEO myths explode because the facts can’t continue with the virality of the parable .
one of my favorite examples is the LSI keyword trend.
This one pops abreast of Twitter from time to time, and thankfully Bill Slawski is quick to quash it.
Trend-based myths go viral because they tap into the fear of missing out (FOMO),
and SEOs hate to miss out on the chance to realize a competitive advantage.
They also resonate with SEOs because they seem to supply a secret glimpse into Google’s recorder.
Although trends eventually fade,
they’re going to remain a thorn in our side as long as the sources remain unchanged.
In many cases, SEO myths fall under quite one of the above categories which makes them even harder to dispel.
That’s why we keep seeing social media posts falsely identifying ranking factors like keyword density, domain authority, conversions, and meta keywords.
If you understand a couple of basic concepts about ranking factors,
you’ll be better equipped to sort fact from fiction and prioritize SEO initiatives that drive more organic traffic.
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