Every time Google makes a major update to its search algorithm, best practices in SEO change. Sometimes the change is barely noticeable. Other updates fundamentally alter how we create and optimize digital content.
This churning, volatile landscape is a perfect breeding ground for misinformation about how marketers should think about SEO. Outdated methods, anecdotal evidence, and deep analysis of cryptic tweets by Google executives run rampant, and SEO mythology takes on the tone of a fantastical, ancient epic poem.
Let’s apply an antidote of reality to some of the most common SEO myths and leave them behind as we usher in 2024!
9 SEO Myths and Facts for 2024
Myth #1: Keyword Usage Doesn’t Matter Anymore
More than a decade ago, search engines often used a metric called “keyword density” to determine the relevance of content to a given keyword. In essence, it measured how many times a keyword appeared in text as a percentage of total word count. This was a simplistic, early attempt at returning results that addressed the user’s query.
Keyword density is no longer a factor in search results. Today, Google and other search engines actively penalize keyword stuffing, or blatant overuse of keywords. But keyword placement in optimal locations, such as the page title, meta-description, and section headers, remain vital to SEO. Keyword usage as a percentage doesn’t matter but keywords in the right places definitely do.
Myth #2: Keyword Research Isn’t Important
This myth is closely connected to myth #1. If keywords don’t matter in content, should I even pursue specific rankings? What’s the point of targeting specific keywords if it’s not going to affect my content? Won’t I just automatically rank for the most relevant queries if I create compelling content?
Even large, global brands don’t passively accrue unbranded search rankings. Successful ones use keyword research to identify search terms that they want to rank for, then pursue them through a combination of content optimization and backlinks. They find phrases to target, then pursue them with relevant content. Without up-front research to identify those terms, they would be shooting arrows without a target and have poor odds of ranking at all.
Myth #3: External Backlinks Are More Important than Internal Links
This myth makes sense, on some level. Google and other search engines use a wide range of metrics to define a page’s “authority” on a given topic. One factor: high-quality, reputable sites sending high volumes of traffic to your site. That makes external backlinks important.
But more important than links from your content to other pages on your site? Not at all.
When you link from one of your pages to another, you’re telling search engines: “This page is the source for information on this topic.” With properly optimized anchor text, internal links can send a strong signal about the content of a page. External backlinks are important, but just one signal among many.
Myth #4: Linking to Other Sites Drives Traffic Away from My Website and Compromises SEO
It’s true that adding a backlink to another site creates an opportunity for visitors to leave your site. But from an SEO perspective, the benefits of links to other authoritative pages far outweigh that risk.
Links to other pages that already rank highly help support your site’s authority on the topic, as well. It’s like a scientist citing the work of other respected scientists in their research. These links tell search engines that your content provides high quality information and incorporates the latest information on your subject.
Myth #5: Running PPC Campaigns Will Directly Affect My Rankings in Organic Search
Pay-per-click ad campaigns operate on an entirely separate algorithm from organic search results, and it’s much simpler to figure out which ad gets shown. Whoever bids highest for available ad space on a search engine results page gets the space for that keyword. Paying for that ad space doesn’t directly affect your rankings or, as some might believe, buy you favor with search engines.
However, PPC ads do send traffic directly to your site (or a designated landing page). If those visitors engage with your site in other ways, whether that’s reading a blog article or spending active time engaging with your other content pages, that engagement reads just like any other user behavior on your site. Traffic from paid ads can have an impact on organic search performance over time, but simply running a PPC campaign does nothing for your results.
Myth #6: Images Don’t Contribute to Search Results
Image search tools make keyword-tagged photos a useful way to drive traffic. Properly optimized product photos are must-haves for any e-commerce site, both for dedicated image searches and new image extensions that feature relevant photos next to search results. Search engine results with image extensions generally see a big uptick in click-through rates. Some case studies show an immediate 10% increase.
Before AI became essential to search algorithms, text added to images had no effect on SEO. Even that has changed. Google APIs now scan photos not only for text but also for content. Proper metadata and alt-text can help clue search engines about the subject of a photo, as well.
Myth #7: My Small Business Can’t Compete with Larger Ones in Search Results
True, prominent brands often win the day in organic search results – but not because they’re a big-name brand.
Larger businesses don’t win in search results because of their massive market share or how visible their brand is. They win because they invest heavily in SEO. They optimize their sites strategically. Their content is keyword targeted. Granted, the budget to hire SEO experts plays a role in how well they perform.
But nothing stops smaller businesses from emulating what they do. Focus on less competitive keywords and slowly build your site’s authority in search. Any business can outrank national competitors.
Myth #8: Long Content Performs Better in Search Results than Shorter Content
Content length isn’t the deciding factor in search performance. Search engines seek out content that’s informative, compelling, and relevant to each query. No maximum or minimum word count figures in content assessment.
Longer pages tend to contain more information. More information means that the page answers a broader set of questions, which means it will be seen as relevant to a wider set of searches. Length doesn’t make a longer page perform well; the breadth of information it offers over shorter pages does boost performance. That said, if you can answer the same question as effectively in fewer words, Google has no problem with that. Don’t add filler copy to hit a length threshold.
Myth #9: AI-Generated Content Can’t Rank Highly in Search Results
Google’s initial response to AI content generators was negative. This tweet from John Mueller, a senior search analyst for Google, says it well:
This attitude has softened. Current search guidelines state that Google “rewards high-quality content, however it’s produced.” The fact that your content is AI-generated won’t necessarily hurt you in search. The content being bad probably will – and AI can write just as badly as humans can. So be sure to have a human editor look over everything before copy-pasting into your CMS and hitting the PUBLISH key.
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