If you’ve been in the search marketing industry for any length of time, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a wide variety of conflicting or outdated advice. Since “how to” information in so many other industries is often presented as an absolute, many people look for the same kinds of static and perpetual rules with search engine optimization. The problem comes from not discerning SEO myth and speculation from fact which can be a very costly mistake.
Moderated by Matt Van Wagner, this session (SEO Don’ts, Myths and Scams) included some of the most experienced SEO practitioners in the business with Jill Whalen of High Rankings, Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit and Lyndsay Walker from WestJet.
First up was Jill Whalen. I missed the first part of Jill’s presentation and her “Buddah” analogy. Maybe she’ll drop by and mention that in the comments.
Here are things Jill says you don’t “need” to do or are myths about SEO:
- Submitting to a search engine
- Need a Google sitemap
- Frequent spidering helps rankings
- PPC ads will help or hurt organic rankings
- Must have keywords in domain names and URLs
- H tags are necessary
- Words in meta keyword tag need to be in content
- Copy must be a certain number of words. (LOL, Jill says she “made that up” 7 years ago (250 words) for a presentation)
- Must be a specific keyword density
- Should optimize for 1 keyword phrase per page
- You need to optimize for the long tail
- Duplicate content will get your site penalized
- HTML code must validate to W3C
- Navigation must be text links not images
- Can’t use Flash
- Google’s link: command is useful
- Pages rank in PageRank order
- You must be in DMOZ and/or Yahoo directory
Note from Lee: At face value without context, many of these “myths” are pretty controversial. Oversimplifying search engine optimization can lead to interpretations that may hurt more than help. It’s worth exploring each in more detail as they apply to each web site’s individual situation.
I should also note that Jill did give some degree of explanation for each, but there were a lot of tips and they went by quickly. Here’s a great interview Manoj from Enquiro did with Jill on this topic.
Next up was Lyndsay Walker from WestJet who has been practicing SEO the past few years and has been developing web sites for over 10 years.
- Use the same title tags for every page. You have around 65 characters to work with and use unique keywords according to content on the page.
- Overuse meta tags. Use the description tag because it’s used in the search results and can motivate a click through.
- Stuff keywords in the meta tags. Keyword meta tag might be used somewhat by Yahoo, but it’s pretty much useless for SEO.
- Use hidden text such as white on white text or hidden with a div tag. You’ll get penalized.
- Use doorway pages made only for search engines. This is an old tactic not much in use anymore.
- Duplicate your content exactly. Some duplication is ok. It can happen even if you don’t mean to. WestJet has different sub-domains showing the same content and can cause issues.
- Publishing before you are ready. Don’t put up content and link to it. Search engines will find it.
- Use too many parameters in your URLs. Rewrite a simpler URL.
- Stuff keywords in your Alt tags (alt text).
- Use images when CSS will do.
- Use inline CSS. Better to put CSS into an external document and link to it.
- Use Flash to replace content.
- Attempt to get hundreds or thousands of links at once (especially paid or automated).
- Engage in irrelevant link exchanges.
- Participate in link directories. Get links from pages with content instead.
- Participate in link farms.
- Focus all inbound links to the home page.
- Register lots of domains using fake names and addresses.
- Get green pixel envy (PageRank in Google Toolbar).
- Guess what you should do with robots.txt. Make sure you’re using the right information.
- Have multiple URL variations pointing to the home page. ie, different home page links. Lyndsay says you should use 301 redirect.
How do you push back when your boss wants you to implement inappropriate SEO tactics:
- Take the moral high ground
- They hired you as an expert, they should listen to you
- Taking that risk might risk your job
- Do it right the first time
- Fight the good fight and resist temptation to go to the “dark side”.
- You can win without dirty tricks.
- Don’t gamble with your brand and be patient.
- Get over algorithm updates.
Remember who you are optimizing for, users. Don’t forget to communicate with your development team.
Another note from Lee: I would say without more information on specific situations, the approach to some of the myths will differ. What’s important is that people who are learning SEO or who are considering hiring search engine optimization services, to carefully consider the search engine guidelines from each search engine (Google, Yahoo and Live) as well as what they observe first hand. Then take into account the advice from reputable SEO practitioners.
I apologize profusely for having to leave to catch my plane before hearing Amanada Watlington’s presentation. I am sure it was excellent.