Lee Odden

5 Myths about SEO

When you size up the search marketing industry, you really have to marvel at all the different information sources, many of them conflicting, and how search marketers are able to stay on top of what’s current and relevant compared to noise and malarkey.

In the course of talking to prospective clients, prospective business partners, attending conferences and events, reading blogs, books, discussion threads, forums, newsletters and industry publications, you can get exposure to an amazing variety of observations about SEO. Many of them are spot-on. Some of them are tales of a mythical nature. A few are just plain bunk.

For some context on this post, I think it is important to note the distinction in intent for most search engine optimization efforts: SEO for publishers, blog networks and affiliates is a different thing than SEO for lead generation and on-site transactions/sales. Many tactics are the same, but the intentions and outcomes are very different.

The myths outlined below are more concerned with SEO for lead/sales generation that we work with at TopRank.

1. “Search Engine Optimization is a collection of tricks to fool search engines“.

If you’re “fooling” the search engines, then you’re probably fooling users too. Guess how well that kind of activity converts? “Real” SEO involves a lot more than optimizing content, getting links and using disposable marketing “tricks”. Tricks and tactics may be a matter of semantics depending on who you talk to, but many of the tactics we associate with productive and long term SEO include:

  • Search Marketing Strategy
  • Benchmarks
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Keyword Analysis
  • Creative Copy Writing
  • Web Design & User Experience
  • Information Architecture
  • Server Side Issues
  • Code Optimization
  • Other channel marketing that affects SEO (social media, news search, blog search, etc)
  • Ongoing Content Development
  • Ongoing Link Building
  • Web Analytics
  • Conversion Analysis

2. “People in our market don’t use search engines.”

I actually used to keep my laughter to myself when people would say this. You don’t have to do too much research to find out if a market is viable for marketing via search engines.

According to a study by comScore qSearch, there are 4.9 billion internet searches per month and 133 million unique searchers. Those numbers have actually gone up a bit since the study. It is certainly true that in some market categories in the developed world that search usage is minimal, but I have a hard time thinking of any.

A quick way to start investigating a market is to search and find out if how much relevant content is out there. If your market is brand new, then you may have an easier time dominating it on search engines by becoming an authority on the topic earlier than your competition.

3. “SEO is a single event”

This one is still pervasive and indicative of what search engine optimization used to be. Sort of like “SEO circa 1999” when all you had to do was update Meta tags, add keywords to web pages and submit. Those are the Model T days of SEO.

Search engines like Google look at 100-200 factors or “signals” to determine relevancy and to decide how to sort search results. Add in the increasing numbers of competing documents from various media, blogs and web site along with more savvy search marketers and it’s easy to realize that effective SEO requires ongoing attention. “Attention to what?”, you might ask. How about: creative link building, creation and promotion of new content, integration with other online/offline marketing, social media, analytics and optimization refinements.

4. “SEO is a function of IT”

Search engine optimization started out in the cubicles of IT, but has moved it’s way into the executive offices for many companies. I believe the most recent SEMPO state of the search industry research shows that companies are no longer borrowing from other cost centers to fund their search marketing initiatives. It’s a business decision line item like any other marketing expenditure.

However, IT and Web Design/Development “buy-in” are critical for proper implementation and it’s important to understand that in larger organizations, SEO is multi-departmental. Marketing, IT, Public Relations, Legal, Creative and possibly operations might all be involved in some way with a strategic initiative to help reach business goals through improved organic search performance.

Regardless of the size of the company, SEO initiatives should be managed strategically by the business like any other major marketing initiative

5. “Our site doesn’t get a lot of visitors, so SEO wouldn’t work for us.

With comments/myths like this, you must be wondering, “Who in the world is Lee talking to?” You would be surprised how many intelligent, accomplished corporate marketers have said the above. It appears to be the classic “chicken before the egg” type of thinking.

The reality is that comments like this are an indication of insecurity about search as a discipline or about search as a viable marketing channel for a particular business. Smart people say things like this because they are not confident about the solution being presented and want to get out of or avoid the conversation. Anyone else who uses such logic just doesn’t understand marketing.

Either way, I always recommend to companies that if they’re considering search engine optimization, regardless of who helps them, they need to look at it long term. SEO is not push button marketing and it is not for the impatient. The minimum amount of time we recommend is 6 months after implementation before evaluating whether SEO has promise as a profitable marketing channel. Anything less than that is not worth starting.

I can’t let you go without a few Bonus Myths:

  • Flash is bad – No, it’s the absence of text and complete reliance on Flash that is bad.
  • Database generated urls are bad – The major search engines are very good at indexing complex urls. Stay away from session ids though.
  • Keywords in meta tags is optimization – Just say no.
  • Extra domain names boost rankings – Pure malarkey. Make sure you redirect them properly. See Bruce Clay’s explanation on this.
  • Multiple copies of my site helps rankings – Can you say “duplicate content”? Don’t do it.
  • My competitors get away with spam techniques, so I can too – I can hear my mom now, “And if your friends told you to jump off a bridge, would you do it?”. If a competitor is “getting away” with blatant search spam, you have a few decisions to make. One of them is how to be more creative and more aggressive (within guidelines) at becoming the authority for your category and topics.

Are there more myths and misconceptions, misunderstandings and pure bull$#@! out there about SEO? Sure there is. And the fact that, in some ways, keeping up to date with search marketing best practices is like putting a puzzle together when the picture likes to change from time to time, makes it even more challenging.

It’s all the more reason to find trusted resources that you can rely on and to build a network of people to bounce ideas off of so you can separate the facts from the myths. There is no substitute for firsthand experience.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Thanks Tamar and you’re right about web development. They keep SEO firms very busy.

    I hear you Joe and knew I would be traveling down a well-worn path with this topic, but sometimes this stuff just comes out! Maybe it will be useful to a few folks as well.

  2. Nice article (and dugg). Even though people serious about SEO services are often well educated, there are still those who think the following. I must say that I come closest to relating to #4 — I blogged about it on techipedia.com recently too:
    Web development still is IT, so often it’s difficult to make a distinction. But a lot of folks in web development still don’t understand or value SEO.

  3. I have to admit that I always relish a new “SEO Myths” post. It can be a lot of fun to see what bubble somebody feels like
    bursting on any given day! This is a particularly good one, I have to say. I particularly enjoy the whole “Our site doesn’t get a lot of visitors, so…” argument…it’s certainly happened to me!


  4. Selling SEO to people who don’t yet get it is a painful exercise. Luckily, enough people have reached the point of getting is to do quite well in this business without pounding your head against the well.

  5. Avatar Andy Headington says

    Nice post Lee.

    My favourite one from which you mentioned (not on the main list though) relates to META tags. I’m still amazed by the amount of people who think that making changes to meat keyword tags is going to make them jump up the SERPs.

    I try, try, try to get them to focus on TITLE and description tags as a starting point but sometimes I think I am banging my head against a brick wall 🙁

    Have you ever had a problem trying to get clients to understand that what you are saying IS correct? I was questioned by a client a few days ago saying ‘How do I know that what you say is right and not someone else?’

  6. Hey Andy, for basic things like title and meta data, you can easily find numerous credible resources on the web to back up your advice.

    You should also be able to tell stories about your experiences with previous clients and the results. And/or present cold, hard facts when you can – data travels miles for you if you’re talking to that kind of person.

  7. Hey Igor, I guess I should have clarified about meta data. What I meant was, for people to not focus on adding keywords to title tags and meta tags and nothing else, then call the site optimized.

    There is no doubt that title tags are very important and meta description tags, as you say, are definitely an influence regarding click through rates.

  8. Avatar Igor M. (BizMord Blog) says

    Lee, great read.

    I like #4 … I guess you’re on my side when I say that IT SEOs vs Marketer SEOs would be won by the marketer. In 1998 it would be IT though.

    With your comment on

    “Keywords in meta tags is optimization – Just say no.”

    Keyword meta … yea, but description meta can be valuable not only for ranking (in a less competitive field) but also for a CTR of the natural ranking ad.

  9. Balazs, with PPC you can certainly see results in a week. It’s advertising and you can turn it on/off at will.

    With SEO, there are a lot more variables involved, like quality and quantity of links/content and also time. If a site is already an authority site for it’s topic with high scores on quality, quantity and age, then minimal effort may be necessary in order to see results quickly.

    However, that is not the case with most web sites. For example, no SEO can guarantee or predict how often Googlebot or SLURP are going to crawl a web site. If a SEO makes quality edits to a site’s content, link structure, code, etc and secures a good number of quality inbound links, it might be 30+ days before the search engines detect and recognize those changes in a crawl. Submitting via Google Sitemap and Yahoo sitemap will not necessarily speed up crawl frequency either.

    Even the tricks, like spamming guestbooks, blogs and forums and auto generating keyword optimized content from dictionary software take time to have an effect and certainly more than a week. Stay away from that stuff if you’re in the lead and sales generation SEO business. It doesn’t convert sales, it fills the engines with crap and you can get penalized.

  10. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    It was good to read this post, but when you talked about the old “style” of SEM, I started to feel very uncomfortable. I’m from Hungary, where the SEO “experts” promise results in one week. Could you tell me some “tricks” how to explain people, that SEO and SEM are not about “miracles in a week”?

  11. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    Thak you for your answer Lee! What do you mean on spamming guestbooks, etc? This is illegal, isn’t it?

  12. Avatar Igor M. (BizMord Blog) says

    Lee … here are a few more SEO myths I’d contribute.

    6. All SEOs are liars
    7. PPC is better than SEO because of control
    8. Yahoo will rank your site higher if you use their Paid Inclusion program
    9. SEO is too expensive
    10. SEO can’t be good for local businesses

  13. Nothing seems to rattle more cages than good ol’ common sense SEO. Its amazing how many companies don’t get it. As long as your keywords are in the right places, with the correct meta data format, and body copy your pages can really jump, (with an extra dash of RSS and blogging to boot). There is nothing, “tricky” about it. Its straight forward no-nonsense search engine marketing. It works.

  14. Avatar Publiseringsl??sning says

    Hi there, nice post. But I need to stress that SEO is not only about technical part. It is also a part of a firms branding activities on the Internet.

  15. Lee,

    Thank you for your insight, however, I would tend to slightly disagree with the SEO is not part of IT.

    In it’s purest form, SEO is about the user, so a good SEO knows what his users are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it. SEO is a blend between marketing and IT. An SEO with design, marketing and a little bit of common sense will do well.

    Definitely stay away from black hat even if your competitors are doing it! Thanks

  16. Hey pittfall,

    In the post it doesn’t say SEO is not a part of IT, rather it says that SEO is not a function of IT. That means SEO is driven by marketing or a business unit at a more strategic level.

    IT is absolutely involved with SEO and is critical for proper implementation.

  17. Avatar Balazs Balint says

    As I see you are talking about SEO, but you are meaning SEM, aren’t you?

  18. Nice article. Though I like all the myths, my favorite myth is “Search Engine Optimization is a collection of tricks to fool search engines”

    D Sarathy.

  19. Great post, Lee.

    On the SEO extra myths list, we could include all those LSI-based myths promoted by snakeoil marketers, like that there is such thing as “LSI-friendly documents”, “LSI and link popularity” and the dumb notion that displaying a tag cloud of terms is evidence that a company has any “LSI-like” technology. I have a debunked collections of these and similar SEO tales.

  20. Excellent point Dr. Garcia! I am surprised at how many of these myths persist, especially LSI related concepts, since they have been so adequately debunked by authoritative resources such as yourself.

  21. I think this is a great article. For someone who have been doing SEO for the past 3 years, I fully agree with what is stated in the article.

    I like myth#1 best. Most of my customers actually asked me how much does it cost to be ranked #1 in Google. Lee, thanks for clearing the myth.


  22. Avatar Wolf Halton says

    3 more myths
    1) you need to use automated tools like Artemis Pro, Nemeas and such to do SEO so it’s too expensive
    2) you need a genius to keep up with every little jot and change so SEO is too expensive
    3) I like my clever domain name and clever “mouse-over” navigation, so I refuse to accept any consultation that even suggests that something needs to be done to the site to raise conversion.

  23. Avatar Partial Eclipse says

    Great analysis of the myths! I learned a very that I knew but had never seen worded so they made so much more sense.

    Another myth is I’ve run into is that you don’t have to change your site to do SEO. SEO can help bring people to your site but if your site doesn’t engage them to stick around, one the traffic won’t matter and two if a visitor won’t stick around neither will a search engine to rank you.

  24. Avatar Pawel Szulencki says

    Very good article with most common SEO myths. The most common myth about SEO i face with when i start to talk about search engine optimization is that SEO is easy and cheap one-time event. Nope, think again. If it was really that easy, everyone would do it and get to no.1 in Google for “hosting”. And if it was really that cheap, companies wouldn’t spend thousands of dollars for their promotional campaigns. And if it was one-time even we would have no jobs 🙂
    We need more articles like that for people realize what real SEO is about.

  25. Avatar StephanieG says

    Response to Wolf Halton:

    I recently bought Glyphius. Why do you feel that these types of packages are a waste of money?


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