June 15, 2011
Not a week goes by where a reader or a client doesn't ask me a question based on some bad SEO advice they heard or read somewhere. Most of the time they don't know it's bad advice. They assume that if they read it in a blog, went to a seminar, listened to a webinar or even discussed it with a company that provides SEO as a service, the advice must be solid. Sometimes (usually if they're a long-term HRA reader ;) they may think it sounds a bit fishy, and smartly ask for my opinion.
While it's true that among SEO industry veterans there can be disagreement about what works and what doesn't, there are some SEO tactics that have been known by all who have even the slightest bit of intelligence to be useless. And yet they still crop up as SEO advice -- all the time!
Just last week I got an email from a longtime HRA subscriber who told me that his friend had attended a seminar where the speaker told them they should submit their website to search engines on a monthly basis, and proceeded to provide them with the name of a tool that would do so for only $99 per month!
And just yesterday, someone emailed me for my opinion when she read in another email newsletter that Google only indexed the first 100 words on a page!
When I hear this sort of irresponsible and incorrect information being spread to impressionable Internet marketers in the making, I get irate. In fact, here's what I said in response to the question about submitting sites to the search engines:
"I honestly can't believe that there could still be, in 2011, someone who would speak to an audience on any form of Internet marketing who would recommend submitting to search engines, let alone one that would recommend spending $99 (or even 10 cents) a month to do so. In fact, it enrages me. That person who spoke must be a sales rep for that [submission tool] company, and he or she should be thrown out of the business and not allowed to speak on the topic ever again."While it is likely that the speaker was a paid sponsor there to peddle his putrid website submission tool to clueless newbies, I started to wonder about others who spread this sort of silly SEO stupidity, and why.
Here's what I came up with:
It's easy to implement. This is likely the main reason that SEO stupidity spreads like wildfire, and the reason that is the basis for all the other reasons. SEO -- that is, real SEO -- is hard. Stupid SEO is easy. (So what if it doesn't work? That's just a small inconvenience!)
Incompetent SEOs have a vested interest in perpetuating silly SEO. The more people who think that SEO is about submitting to search engines or about meta keywords, the more people will sign up for their boondoggle services and the more ill-gained money they'll have lining their pockets.
Old articles get recirculated. There are more than 15 years' worth of old, out-of-date SEO articles from a variety of sources that may look credible on the surface (and perhaps were at one time), but that provide advice that has nothing to do with SEO in the 21st century. Just do a Google search for "Should I submit to search engines?" and you'll see all sorts of fun stuff. Even Google's Webmaster Guidelines point to their Add-URL page, which is all but worthless.
Designers and developers know just enough SEO to be dangerous. I'll just point you to my "85 Reasons Why Website Designers / Developers Keep SEOs in Business" article to explain this one.
Forum circle jerks. There are, surprisingly, still a lot of SEO forums in the online world, most of them full of newbies. While it's great that new people in our industry want to learn SEO, they need some professional and competent SEOs there to guide them. Yet on many forums it's a case of the blind leading the blind. A newbie thinks some silly SEO technique works and spreads it to the other newbies. Eventually one of the more enterprising young SEOs writes the "Newbie Bible to Stupid SEO" and at that point what is said must be true (cuz it's in the bible!).
Believing what you read or hear instead of figuring it out for yourself. This truly irks me to no end and is definitely one of the major causes for the spread of many a silly SEO idea. If something you read sounds credible, then by all means give it a try. But unless you see proof of it working with your own eyes, then don't believe it...even if the most credible person in the SEO world wrote or said it.
Mixing up cause and effect. Another one of my pet peeves that has been common since the beginning of SEO time. Just because you changed the positioning of a word in your title tag and the next day you ranked one place higher in Google doesn't mean that your change is what caused it. It may have, but it may not have. We used to joke on the High Rankings Forum that if you keep a cabbage on your monitor it will increase your rankings. Why not? It's as likely as some of the silly SEO theories that are based on poorly drawn conclusions that mix up cause and effect.
They're set in their ways. We all know that people hate change. Many SEOs are no different. But just because a 1990s search engine could only index a certain number of kilobytes of information on a page (likely due to bandwidth constraints) doesn't mean that today's Google works that way. The search engines themselves have made huge strides over the years, and while the basics of making a great site will always remain the same, the mechanics of how to do that change often. So to the person who recently asked me if hand-coded HTML pages will rank better than dynamically generated ones, the answer is a definitive NO, even if it may have been true in 1996!
Coincidentally, just as I finished writing all of the above, I received an email from my friend and colleague Karon Thackston, who has a new client who was previously told by one of those silly SEOs, "You need a THOUSAND words of copy on your eCommerce Home Page, and cram it full of keywords"! She was also told by another silly SEO, "You need to rewrite ALL the copy on your entire site because it's no longer 'fresh.'" Apparently, he qualified "fresh" as anything over 60 days old. Sigh.
With SEO stupidity such as that being spouted to unsuspecting website owners each and every day, as well as for the reasons stated above, I fear it's going to be many more years before most people can sort out the facts from the SEO fiction.