There are no college degrees in SEO. The difference between an expert and rookie in this industry comes down to more than mere years of experience: it comes down to results. “Experts” often find themselves parroting myths that can erode the foundations of those who are trying to learn how to gain visibility in Google.
Today, I’d like to address some of the biggest myths that SEO still faces as an industry. You may already be aware of some of these. A few others may surprise you. Either way, if you’re like most people in this field, I believe that you will learn something.
Let’s take a look.
1. Quantity Matters
This myth is still surprisingly common. Many in the SEO community seem to think that you need thousands of links to rank for competitive terms. Even a few well-known, SEO experts claim that “medium tier” links are the most efficient way to build rankings, and that quality links should be thought of more like an “insurance policy.”
This hasn’t been our experience.
Don’t get us wrong. There’s more than one way to win with SEO, and I’m not here to tell you that our way is the only way. But E2M is ranking for some pretty competitive terms, and many of our competitors have thousands of links. Our link profile is small, but it’s powerful. Perhaps more importantly, I would argue that it was much easier for us to rank this way than if we had chased a massive number of links.
Yes, it takes a lot of work to earn these kinds of links, but ultimately, you’re dealing with less work than the monotonous task of writing repetitive, low quality guest posts over and over again. Focus on value and you’ll actually end up doing less work.
It’s worked for us.
If you don’t know how to earn these kinds of links, you can start with our ultimate guide to guest blogging at Moz. It’s both a description and an example of a successful guest posting strategy for top notch blogs.
2. Unique Content Earns Links
I’m sorry. I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s a myth.
Does it help if your content is unique? Absolutely. But being unique isn’t the same as being valuable, and only things of value are seen as rare enough to be worth linking to.
The web is filled with “unique” content. If your standards for link earning are, “It’s not plagiarized,” you’re never going to win at this game.
Furthermore, high value content doesn’t actually have to be “unique,” in the sense that it’s never been done before. Some of the best pieces of content on the web are massive guides consisting primarily of information collected from other sources. Most successful content doesn’t consist of unique information. Instead, the information is collected and presented in a way that makes it more valuable.
Rather than saying that your content should be unique, I prefer to argue that your content should have unique value.
This is an entirely different goal to meet. It draws the attention away from whether or not the actual words are unique, or even whether the data you are presenting has been used elsewhere. It puts the focus on what you’re doing for your audience. You can offer unique value in a myriad of ways:
- Collect information from various sources and compile it into one incredibly useful resource
- Present data in a more visual and appealing format
- Infuse your content with personality to make it more relatable
- Give the content an emotional edge
Valuable pieces of content don’t have to be long, but they often are. As one QuickSprout study demonstrates, longer content tends to increase conversion rates, offer higher quality leads, and increase your rankings in the search results, even though most people don’t read through it all. Even social networks, which we tend to think of as riddled with ADD, actually tend to favor more in depth content.
It’s important to understand what we mean by in depth, though. We’re not talking about the kind of rambling content that you would use to pad a high school report to meet the word count. We’re talking about content that is long because it is loaded with research, advice, and entertainment. In short, every sentence should add value.
It’s easy to say content needs to offer unique value. It’s not so easy to actually make it happen. Here are a few tips to help you pull this off:
Start With the Title
I always advocate choosing the title before you start writing, and sometimes even before you start researching the topic. The title is what people click on, and it’s what goes viral. If you can’t fit your big idea into a title that will pull people in, it’s probably not worth doing at all. Here’s how to put together a good title:
- Take a look at the top 20 or so pages that rank for your search term, and brainstorm some title ideas that, while using the keyword, stand out more than any of the other options.
- Good titles are specific. This is one reason why numbered titles do so well. The title doesn’t have to be specific about the facts and breakthroughs, but it does need to be specific about the value of the post.
- Try to appeal directly to the reader (the ideal title makes the reader feel like you somehow read their mind)
- Many of the most successful titles have a “what the heck?” factor, or make promises or challenges so over the top that the reader can’t help but click through just to prove you wrong or find out what’s going on. Obviously, you really need to live up to the promise of the title for this to work long term.
- Don’t be ashamed to borrow title structures from successful media outlets. Don’t copy the entire title, but copying its structure is fine. Take a look at the kinds of headlines that cycle the covers of Cosmopolitan and other practical magazines. Most of those titles have already been written hundreds of times, with just a dash of Mad Libs. (Did I mention that being unique isn’t the key to success?)
- For pieces of content with more investment, it may be worth testing your titles through a platform like SurveyMonkey, or even AdWords.
Mine Tough Sources
Here, again, the key isn’t to be original. It’s to find valuable information, then compile and present it in a way that offers unique value. Tough sources are a huge part of this. Most bloggers go for the low hanging fruit, and end up saying the first thing that pops into their heads (to be “original”), or just copying what the other top search results have said.
Tough sources give you a competitive edge. Here are a few examples:
- The peer reviewed literature
- Physical books
- Interviews with experts
- Original surveys and studies
- Personal experience
You want to distill each source down to its most valuable information, and present it to your audience in a way that is easy to understand. Focus on what is practically useful, surprising, funny, intensely emotional, counterintuitive, and awe-inspiring from your sources.
Try to mix and match ideas, pull in revelations from other industries or disciplines, and offer creative insight with your posts.
Nothing gets shared and linked to more than a piece of content that makes people feel motivated. You want to create a “feel good” energy with your writing. Pump them up and they will respect you for it.
3. Anchor Text Is Still Very Important
We haven’t seen any evidence to suggest this in our own data.
At E2M, we don’t spend much time trying to fit anchor text into our keywords. When it makes sense, yes, we’ll use it, but most of the links we build are written exclusively to fit into the context of the article, and let the reader know what they’re going to find when they click on it. This strategy has been working more than fine for us, and we are outranking many competitors who use aggressive (and even mild) anchor text strategies.
We previously discussed anchor text strategy for the post-penguin world . (See what I did there?) Here are some of the takeaways:
- New anchor text strategies haven’t really changed keyword research itself, it’s just that keywords are much more valuable in the title of your page and the H1 tag than they are in the anchor text of your link. Of course, the switchover from the AdWords Keyword Tool to the Keyword Planner has introduced many unrelated changes, and we’ve covered this extensively here.
- Use your keyword tools to find a list of keywords and use those in your anchor text (when it makes sense), rather than choosing only one keyword and focusing entirely on that. Don’t concern yourself with the traffic associated with each individual keyword. Just use as many of them as make sense for your page.
- Use full sentence or phrase links, bare URL links, branded links, use connecting words, and mix up the order of your words (in a way that makes sense, of course).
- Aim for a completely unique anchor text with every link, only some of which will contain the full (or even partial) keyword.
- Switch your thinking toward conversions, brand impressions, and click through rates, and develop your anchor text around those concepts first.
We have also written on the subject of co-citation and co-occurrence, which will come to play an increasingly important part in the algorithm. This draws attention to the increasing importance of having genuine influence in your industry. As we covered in the previous section, this all comes down to offering unique value.
4. “Old-School” Link Building Tactics are Still Worth it
Before we get into this, it’d be wise to define what we mean by “old-school” links:
- Social bookmarks
- Directory links
- Article submissions
To be clear, these kinds of links can still help you rank in lower-competition niches, and it’s still pretty unlikely that these kinds of links will count against you, except in the most egregious cases (in which a manual penalty is the usual culprit). However, in the vast majority of cases, these links just aren’t worth the time, resources, and effort involved.
While you can rank on low quality links like this, it takes boatloads of these kinds of links to make it happen for anything worth money, and those links need to be coming from places that your competitors aren’t getting links from. What’s more, the links become useless as soon as a Google engineer spots what you are doing, or a new algorithm gets released.
Other than top-tier guest posts, your options for high impact link building strategies are numerous:
- Collaborate with or hire an agency providing white hat link building services
- Pummel your linkable assets with high quality traffic for natural links
- Build an email list with a bribe so good that people would be willing to pay for it (email lists of 1,000 or more engaged subscribers start to turn into natural links)
- Release a professional-grade tool or platform that people can use for free
- Provide interactive experiences for your users
- Purchase a blog (and the blogger?) with an existing natural link profile, move the blog to your site, and redirect every page
In addition, I would add that many bloggers and SEOs pursue link building overzealously and targeted content without enough fervor. Once you’ve reached the point where your typical blog post, with no external links, carries a Page Authority of 20 or so, you should be able to find keywords that can bring 1,000 or so visitors a month. If you can’t, you’re probably not thinking broadly enough.
5. Any Site Can Rank in the Search Results
While there is still a grain of truth to this myth, it is ultimately false.
A fairly large minority in SEO culture still believes that any site, no matter how low in quality, can rank in the search results. All it takes is enough links of the right kind and clever keyword targeting. And, indeed, we do occasionally see case studies like these which prove that the algorithm is not nearly as smart as some people give it credit for. Zero value sites can rank in search results, for a time.
But then, you have to notice that the case study mentioned above is about a site that no longer exists.
Here’s the thing. Google employees are constantly monitoring SERPs looking for low quality results, and eliminating them. As rants like this prove, black hats know this better than anybody else. It doesn’t matter how high quality your links are. If Google doesn’t think you deserve to rank, you ultimately will not.
There are really only two ways to respond to this and still take advantage of SEO. Either you build churn and burn affiliate sites and bring in steadily declining returns as the search engines get smarter, or you build intensely useful websites that would continue to be profitable even if the search engines abandoned you (which they’re unlikely to do if your site is that useful).
We’ve discussed at length why you should put user experience and design before link building. Here are a few of the reasons why:
- Conversion rate optimization gives you permanent improvements on the value of your traffic, regardless of its source, and is often a much faster way to boost profits.
- Excellent user experience, coupled with skilled list-building, leads to repeat sales. This allows even flat search engine traffic to bring in steadily growing profits.
- Genuinely popular sites earn natural links and perpetually sustain themselves in the search engines with much less effort on your part.
- Genuine popularity also changes the psychology of your visitor. They feel like they chose you, rather than that they were pressured into a purchase.
We’ve also dug into the details of how to make UX and design work for you:
- Embrace responsive design so that your site is viewable on any device or resized browser window. Start with a hierarchy of page elements, build a mobile-first layout, then find a way to transfer those elements so that they are best suited for the desktop experience.
- Use (and actually understand how to) split test. By that, we mean run split tests to maximize conversions and user engagement, and do not ignore statistical significance. Google analytics has its own split-testing tool, there’s a WordPress plugin, and Firepole marketing has a quick online split-test tool for basic testing. You don’t have any excuses to skip this in the modern age. Start by testing strategies, not page elements, as Peter Sandeen has recommended. We’ve even discussed how to test SEO strategies in a similar fashion.
- Take advantage of usability testing. This ensures that users can intuitively understand your interface, and even that they enjoy it. Usability testing is an entirely different beast from split testing. I rarely takes more than 10 users for you to spot a design flaw or an opportunity. Each iteration teaches you something new about how to improve your interface. Usability testing is not market research. It’s about recording and learning from user behavior, which tells you how people will actually use your site.
- Build consumer psychology into the site itself, so that engagement and sales largely take care of themselves. These ten principles will take you a long way:
- Reciprocity – Give and you shall receive.
- Commitments – Get even a small commitment and follow through is much more likely.
- Authority – Seals of approval and “featured in” badges go a long way.
- Social Proof – If your site is popular, make sure people know it.
- Scarcity – Rarity is value, but keep in mind the rarity has to be real.
- Rapport – Establish similarities and even friendliness with your audience.
- Loss aversion – The fear of loss is more influential than the promise of reward, so remove objections before anything else.
- Default bias – When users face options, they tend to choose whatever seems like the “default.”
- Anchoring – Humans think relatively, not absolutely. Use comparisons and first impressions to take advantage of this.
Win the Web
Our goal was to obliterate my some long-standing myths in this industry about the state of link building. If you thought this at least helped, we’d love it if you passed it along, and if you have something to add, just let us know in the comments.
If you’re having any trouble, we at E2M can work with you to build a sustainable, powerful, long term link building strategy. By leveraging our special side-project, OnlyDesign, you can develop the UX, design, and conversions that you need to stay competitive.
Thanks for reading.