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10 Search Engine Marketing Myths Debunked

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In this article, I'm going to try and debunk a few myths floating around the Internet about what's required to get your site visible in search engines. Here goes:

Myth 1 - You need to buy a domain with keywords in it

I'm sure you've seen them, domains like: www.paris-hilton-pink-diamond-dog-collars.com. For some weird reason, webmasters seem to think that they need to have a keyword-stuffed domain to do well in the search engines, the more hyphens the better. Well it just isn't true.

In fact, Google sp@m evangelist Matt Cutts is known for warning against using over-stuffed keyword domains. If you have a look at one of the last sentences of this post of his he talks about possibly attracting Google's attention with keyword-filled domains and gives an (excessive) example. Could he be hinting that using ultra-keyworded domains may trip a filter of some kind? I think so.

Myth 2 - You need to submit your site to 1000 search engines and directories

Ok, I don't know who started this silly rumor but it's nevër been true. Latest figures from Nielsen/NetRatings show that over 95% of the search market share is dominated by the top 5 search engines: Google, Yahoo, MSN/Live Search, AOL and Ask. As long as your site is found in these engines, you can rest assured you've covered the main bases. Despite this, I still get emails offering to submit my sites to the "most popular" 1000 search engines.

Myth 3 - You need to stuff keywords into as many areas of your site as possible

I like to think this rumor was started by the same idiot who started 1). It's correct that search engines actively seek to match your site content with search queries, but stuffing the same keywords over and over into your site code via visible or invisible text DOES NOT automatically make your site relevant for searches containing those keywords. It's more likely to trip sp@m filters and earn your site a ranking suppression. In fact, you might as well hold up a big red flag to Googlebot that says "COME AND GET ME".

Myth 4 - Your site has to be flat HTML

Wrong again. A few years ago, search engines had difficulty indexing sites that were built using dynamically-generated pages or pages with multiple parameters in their URLs. So the recommendatíon by SEO experts at the time was to use flat HTML pages or convert existing pages into HTML and/or use mod_rewrite to convert dynamic URLs into flat ones. However the search engines have all become better at indexing dynamic site content now and also provide a universal sitemap protocol to enable webmasters to ensure all their pages are submitted and indexed.

Myth 5 - You have to swap links with as many sites as possible

I'd like to strap whoever started this story to a couch and make them watch re-runs of The Golden Girls for a whole year. Because this is probably the most persistent and frustrating myth there is about search engine marketing and it's one of my pet peeves. I am bombarded daily with emails from webmasters who tell me it's "...extremely valuable to swap links to boost your Google PageRank" or who tell me I should form 3 way reciprocal link partnerships because it "...will help boost the link popularity of our sites in a way that is undetectable to Google". Excuse my French, but that's Bollocks!

Reciprocal links are pretty much worthless for search engine value these days. In-bound one way links from high quality sites are much more valuable from a search engine relevancy perspective. If you are going to seek out reciprocal links, for heaven's sake, swap links with sites that provide related or complementary content to yours! What's the point offering your site visitors a link if it doesn't relate to what they are seeking on your own site? Don't seek out links based on perceived search engine value. Swap links because they provide traffíc to your site or valuable resources to visitors of your own site. If you base your linking strategy on search engines alone, you'll end up with a Free For All link farm that search engine staff will mock as they slap a ranking penalty on it.

Myth 6 - You have to buy an existing domain to be successful

This myth started shortly after Google began "sandboxing" new sites for a period of time before releasing them into the main index. The phenomenon became known as the aging delay. Webmasters were stumped when they couldn't find their pages listed for any keywords in Google for months at a time and when learning of the sandbox effect, some decided that purchasing an existing domain could help them avoid the sandbox altogether.

A similar rumor suggested that purchasing a domain with a high Google PageRank would automatically transfer the PageRank and traffíc to any new site built on the existing domain. Neither of these assumptions is true. Hindsight has shown us that the sandbox does not actually exist, merely that Google has become a little more picky about which sites to feature in their main index versus the supplemental index and older, better linked sites have a better chance than brand new ones with no link reputation.

As for purchasing existing domains, this can actually backfire on webmasters because Google's latest algorithm looks closely at domain registration details and if a domain has changed hands too many times or has had dodgy content in the past, it could attract suppression filters until the newest version of the site has built up some trust-rank.

Myth 7 - You only need to optimize your META Tags

Back in 1996 when I first began optimizing web sites, no one knew anything about SEO and so even slight changes to a web site meant you could outrank your competitors. Simply optimizing the title tag of a page could bring on a Top 5 position in the SERPS. Adding keyword-rich META Description and META Keywords tags too pretty much guaranteed you a top spot. Now it's a completely different story. Most search engines don't even support the META Keywords Tag anymore and Danny Sullivan recently determined that Google's hasn't ever supported it.

You have to provide search engines more than optimized title and META tags if you want your pages ranked highly for related search queries. You need to optimize the copy on your pages, reduce code bloat, provide a logical navigation structure, have good link popularity, update your site regularly, have sticky content and make sure your site code validates, amongst other things. Despite this, many webmasters assume that if they add an optimized title and META tag to every page, their job is done. Not so! You've got to think bígger than that.

Myth 8 - Any traffíc is good traffíc

I received an email recently from an online ad agency that had developed what they thought was a knockout SEO tool that they wanted me to review. It was basically a membership site designed to generate traffíc via a voting and points system where you earn points for visiting sites and receiving visitors from the same network. As I explained to them, the concept merely builds false traffíc and fake link popularity, which goes against practically everything in Google's webmaster guidelines. It is also very open to manipulation and is, in my opinion, operating on flawed logic.

This mutual optimization idea has been tried before. It doesn't work because it only attracts the most aggressive clickers and the whole thing turns into a competition between 2 or 3 lazy webmasters who think traffíc at any cost/quality is the way to run an online business. It's not. Unqualified traffíc that's unlikely to convert to sales or sign-ups is only wasting valuable bandwidth and hostíng resources. Visitors that disappear from your site a few seconds after they arrive skew your site metrics and send a message to search engines that your site is not worth visiting. You want traffíc from qualified leads, loyal repeat visitors and new visitors via highly targeted search queries.

Myth 9 - If you're not found in Google, you're screwed

I said it recently and I'll say it again: Google is NOT the Internet. There are plenty of ways to market your web site online, so you shouldn't become discouraged if you can't seem to crack good results in Google. I know of plenty of sites that receive more referrals from Yahoo and MSN than Google and that's the way they like it. Bento Yum is proof that an e-commerce site doesn't need Google (or any of the 4 main search engines) to survive. Owner Jennifer Laycock has deliberately blocked search engine robots from the site to prove that an online business can thrive via word of mouth and social media buzz alone.

But even if you can't live without Google referrals, you need to have back-up traffíc channels in place. Don't rely too heavily on a single source for your traffíc. What if something happened tomorrow that stopped all your Google traffíc? Would your site survive? It should, if you're doing your job well. Keep adding good content to your site, update and submit your sitemaps regularly, seek out high quality back links and the traffíc will come.

Myth 10 - Search Engine Marketing is expensive

Not so. You can market a web site on a shoe-string budget or no budget at all! You don't need to spend thousands on SEO services or PPC advertising. Simply invest at least an hour per day learning how to optimize your web site for better search engine rankings, submitting it to relevant search engines and directories, adding fresh content, building up backward links and marketing it via social media networks such as Digg, Facebook, Del.icio.us etc.

Not sure where to start? Visit webmaster forums, read search marketing related blogs and sign up for related newsletters and you will soon learn everything you need to know about marketing your web site successfully.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College - an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

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