I have spent many years giving SEO advice to clients and it never ceases to surprise me how many people really have no idea how Google works. I guess I should not be surprised - the reason why they come to me for help is because they have not managed to get their website to rank in Google. Here are 5 of the most common misconceptions and myths surrounding SEO - I am reminded of these on a monthly basis!

Meta Keywords

META keywords are those that are listed in the META keyword tag in the source code of a web page. There was a time when search engines would read these words and rank a page accordingly, however, those days are long gone. Google has been ignoring META keywords for about a decade - they serve no purpose whatsoever today.

Why? Well, when people realised that Google used the META keywords tag, they abused it. For examples, a business might add totally irrelevant keywords to their pages, purely to attract people via search. Google released a statement in 2009 to make it clear – but people still use it. There is now no point in adding keywords to the META tag in the HTML source code, so don’t waste your time.

Clicking Search Results

I have no idea where this idea came from, as I am sure it has never been a factor. But, I have had many clients now tell me, “my website is still not ranking in Google - I have been clicking it in the search results every day for months and it is not moving”.

Many people think that Google adjusts the listings based on which sites are clicked the most. If this was the case, it would be very easy to manipulate results. The worst case I recall is a client who wanted a new pdf document to rank above her old one, so she used to spend her evenings downloading the document, deleting it, and repeating - all in the belief that Google would see this as a signal that the document must be more important and rank it higher! Clicking search results won’t help, so save your time!

Meta Description Tag

The META description tag, unlike the META keyword tag, does have a purpose - but not in search ranking. Google sometimes uses the META description tag in the search results - Google does not use the words within the tag to rank a page though. A good META description will entice searchers to learn more, so they can be very useful at increasing clicks from search.

Using Google Adwords

Many people believe that if you use Google AdWords, Google search will rank your site higher. This is a total myth and Google spokespersons have said on several occasions that Google does not boost websites that are buying advertising. Of course, using AdWords will help drive traffic to your site from Google search, and if people like your site, it might result in more sharing and this can boost SEO. But, there is no direct impact on search results.

Keyword Stuffing

There was a time when simply adding more of your most important search terms (keywords) into a page would help it rank better. I still see this every day in small business websites - usually web designers decide to be “helpful” and include the names of every town with 50 miles of the business in the footer of every page.

Keyword stuffing at best will do nothing, and at worse, it will result in a spam penalty from Google. Keyword stuffing, when used with the actual content, can also quickly put off potential customers too. Many people back out from a website if the content reads like web-spam - so there really is no point in doing it.

You should ensure that your keywords are present in prominent places, such as the page title, header and in the first paragraph of text on a page, but do not repeat them to the point of making the page unreadable. Google provides some guidance on this topic – but the basic message is to simply write naturally.

Some New Misconceptions

These are certainly the most popular misconceptions that I see today. There are others though, and many are relatively new.

For example, the Panda update has led many people to believe that every page must have more than 500 words or the whole site will tank - this is total nonsense! I have seen people fill out contact pages with content in the hope of avoiding a Panda penalty - all common sense is thrown out the window!

Even worse, the Penguin updates have led some people to think that all links are now bad - I spoke to one client who had disavowed all his links after losing rankings following a Penguin update. Needless to say, things only got worse.

Google is a very complex search engine and it is constantly changing, but ranking well for specific key terms in small niches, especially when targeting the local market, is still a relatively straightforward process, so long as you do not waste precious time following a strategy that simply won’t work!

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