SEO 101

Opinion: 3 Onsite SEO Myths and Facts – What Really Counts?

Before starting this article I would like to note that I am specifically talking about Google. The information below might not apply to other search engines.

Everybody who is into SEO knows that it is more than just link building and offsite techniques. Sure, links matter the most, but how about your website itself? Onsite optimization might not be the most important part of SEO according to some people but that just depends on the point of view. To me, there have always been some onsite factors that play a significant role in the eyes of Google.

Of course, the most important thing when optimizing a website according to link builders is getting links from website with a high TrustRank and the most important thing according to web designers is the proper coding. Since me and the people I work with focus on SEO as a complete process, we concentrate on everything important.

However, there are some things that just don’t matter as much as others especially when doing onsite SEO. Google changes its algorithm almost every day so a lot of the old onsite techniques that once worked are now useless thanks to the so many spammers exploiting them. So what exactly are the onsite factors that can affect your rankings?

WEBSITE TITLE

The title of your website is one of the most important things when it comes to onsite SEO and better rankings. Here is what people believe to be true and what the truth really is:

Myth

A common mistake that people make when doing onsite optimization is stuff keywords in the title of their website thinking that would help them rank better. Keyword stuffing was a technique that was kind of effective a long time ago until Google found out that the spammers are using it to their advantage. So Google decided to change their algorithm, making a website’s ranking depend more on links and less on onsite factors.

Fact

The title of your website matters a lot and if you don’t want to get a penalty, you need to keep it simply and user-friendly as well as Google-friendly. This is the place where you get to describe your whole website/business in about 10-15 words. I am not saying you should not put keywords in there. Quite the opposite – put your most important keywords in the title but make sure you put them in a way that is not spammy looking instead of just stuffing them and separating them with commas.

Tips

When writing your website title, be creative and don’t repeat anything more than once. For example, if you are selling silver and gold jewelry, writing “Silver jewelry, gold jewelry…” in your title is not a good idea. Instead use the phrase “Silver and gold jewelry”. You should know that Google doesn’t care about the order of the words and you will get credit for each permutation.

URL STRUCTURE

The most obvious thing is the domain name. If your domain name is an exact match for your most competitive keyword – you’re on. However, the rest of the URL structure is also a very important onsite factor and many people are still doing it all wrong.

Myth

Again, a very common myth is that stuffing as many keywords as possible in the name of each page will work.

Fact

A website with a better URL structure has an advantage over a website with dynamic URLs. Although dynamic URLs can be read by Google, they simply don’t have the same effect as properly structured ones.

Tips

When taking care of your URL structure, the most important thing is to name each page of your website with the most relevant keyword. Creating many pages with different names that are also your keywords will pay off better than having dynamic URLs.

AGE

The age of a website is another factor that plays a big role when it comes to its rankings but not in a way that some people think.

Myth

A lot of people believe that a website will get better rankings with time on its own. So their strategy is to just sit there and wait because they believe that a website that is 3 years old should automatically rank better than a website that is 4 months old no matter what. They believe that if no offsite optimization has been done to the old website it will still have better ranking than a new website with a lot of backlinks for example.

Fact

The age of a website does matter to Google. However your website will not rank high just because it’s old. The only thing that is affected by the site age is the amount of TrustRank it gets from the links pointing to it. The first two months, you will most likely not rank at all in Google because you will be in the “sandbox” where all new websites go. Then you will start receiving a bigger percentage of TrustRank as your website gets older. 4 years after the creation of your website, you will start receiving 100% of the TrustRank that the links pointing to your website pass.

Tips

Just because your website will be in the sandbox for the first two months, doesn’t mean you should sit and wait for the time to pass and then start building links. Instead, use the time to get some links and enjoy the credit Google will give you for them when the trial period is over.

Conclusion

These are 3 of the most important onsite SEO factors you should focus on, but I want to touch on two other factors people still think matter, the XML sitemap and the coding. Just to be clear – this article is about which onsite factors help you get better rankings and not about what makes Google’s job easier. Of course the XML sitemap is a really great thing and it sure helps Google crawl your website faster and therefore index it faster. However your sitemap has nothing to do with your rankings at all nor does the coding of your website.

Concentrate on what is really important and don’t worry about things web designers and other charlatans tell you in order to get more money from you.

 Opinion: 3 Onsite SEO Myths and Facts – What Really Counts?
Byline: Atanas Valchev works for a fast growing professional SEO agency located in Europe called SEO Pal. He is constantly looking for tips and new techniques and loves sharing his knowledge with the world.Twitter - @seo_pal
 Opinion: 3 Onsite SEO Myths and Facts – What Really Counts?

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30 thoughts on “Opinion: 3 Onsite SEO Myths and Facts – What Really Counts?

  1. Thank you for relieving my mind about what I need to do for my web site. The code isn’t where it ought to be yet since I’ve had to switch programs. I was badly burned by one SEO company that lied to me and which left me worse off than before I let them have access to it. I”ve been afraid to give anyone access to it since, and I’ve been so frustrated I’ve done almost nothing except add a bit of content this year. My site was established in 1996 and prob ably violates most web design rules. I just wanted something my customers could use to reach me before e-commerce was as popular as it is today. It works for me, but I carry this mental burden of everything I still need to do to be “correct.” Reading this has helped.

    1. I am really sorry that this happened to you. Unfortunately, there are a lot of SEO “gurus” taking advantage of people who don’t know much about it. I have seen people paying tons of money because they have been told that something needs to be done when actually there is no point in doing it. And the worst part is that most of the times these changes can really hurt your website and its rankings.

      You should be really careful when choosing an SEO agency to handle your website.

      1. Do you have any guidelines for choosing an honest and competent firm? Also, do you know if it’s common practice to demand access to the site? The first firm I hired years ago suggested the changes I should make and they let me make them. I think they also made a site that helped me in some way, but I did not have to let them into my site. My traffic went up but, I finally had to let them go because they raised their rates considerably.

        The last company I hired refused to let me make my own changes, and I finally had to fire them because I couldn’t work with them. It was evident they didn’t have a clue, they changed things that had worked, and they appeared to be using black hat techniques and putting in deceptive links. The only thing they did right was to put in my Goggle Analytics code. Unfortunately, they somehow managed to close my google analytics account, to which I’d never given them access or passwords, so the one thing they did right they undid by forcing me to get a new account number.

        It would be nice to know what to expect from a SEO firm so you can tell before you sign a contract if they are black hat. I know I will never hire anyone else unless I Google them first. Maybe you have already written on this and I’ve missed it. Any links?

      2. I, for instance, do not ask for any fee up-front. A client should only part with money when they see some results, in my opinion.

      3. Well, my advice to you is to spend some time reading and educating yourself about SEO because that would make it harder for charlatans to fool you. There is an article on the blog of my agency –

      4. Hire SEO as a consulting business.

        Keep SEO, Development and “Admin” separate entities. This makes it impossible for any SEO “blackhat” nonsense to negatively impact your rankings.

        If the SEO says, “I need access to the site…” Move on! Why take the risk?

        Some companies will only do SEO if they also control the site. But that’s only plausible for very large firms- IMO.

        Atanas’ post above is great advice. If you’re a hands-on guy with some technical ability (which it sounds like you are), do it yourself.

        My company doesn’t have access to a single one of our clients sites. W do set up services, like Analytics, PPC accounts, SE local profiles, etc… for them. But we always register everything to their Admin and have them change the passwords immediately. Then they grant us non-Admin level access.

        Ideally, you’d like to sandbox your developers too, and run everything through your Admin. Especially if the dev. team is not in-house.

        In terms of SEO pricing agreements- 50% of our business starts off with a flat “project-based” consulting/audit/analysis, which typically leads to a 12-24 month contract.

        The other 50% is a monthly consulting w/ a minimum 1 year agreement.

        It comes down to the clients comfort level with us and our’s with them. If I don’t think a company has the ability to be nimble with our suggestions, we will go through discovery (usually a few weeks), present a SOW, finish the “project”, give them some training materials and move on.

        I’ve been doing this since 19976 and everyone is happy! :)

  2. I watched SEOmoz’s webinar yesterday called “Future-Proofing Your SEO: 2012 Edition,” and Dr. Pete had a theory that Google actually uses a REVERSE sandbox, as in newer sites are given preferential treatment for a few months to prove their worth to the SERPs and build an extensive link graph. If a new site can hang then by-and-large it will stay up in the SERPs, whereas if you wasted your opportunities and have lots of spammy looking links pointing to you only then will you be put in your place.

  3. “A lot of people believe that a website will get better rankings with time on its own. So their strategy is to just sit there and wait because they believe that a website that is 3 years old should automatically rank better than a website that is 4 months old no matter what. They believe that if no offsite optimization has been done to the old website it will still have better ranking than a new website with a lot of backlinks for example.”

    I have never heard this. Can you point to any examples?

    As you pointed out, all else being equal an older site will outrank a younger one. As far as I know, that’s what everyone assumes.

    1. The first thing that pops into my mind when it comes to examples is Facebook. I believe you would agree that there are a lot of much older websites that rank worse than the social network. Of course, if everything is equal an older site would outrank a newer one but that’s because of the different amount of TrustRank the two get from their backlinks. However, if a newer website is doing way better in terms of SEO than an older one, the age doesn’t really matter that much.

      All I’m saying is age on its own cannot guarantee you success.

  4. There is a lot to disagree with here Atanas. You say:

    “Google changes its algorithm almost every day”

    Well, this may be a myth in itself, (if we believe Google).

    Google claim to have 50-200 algorithms, so it needs to be understood that there probably are no fixed goalposts anyhow….and no monolithic A-L-G-O-R-I-T-H-M

    Myths are not really rooted in reality, but what tends to happen in Seo is a mixture of myth and received truths.

    The myths were probably invented by cunning seo practitioners trying to ring fence their own knowledge, whilst the received truths are often seo practices that once worked but have become deprecated.

    In general, its best to test everything for yourself anyhow….( a bit like life really…don’t believe in other people’s opinions).

    A typical received truth is that meta keywords are pointless….I find quite the contrary.

    1. I think Google actually likes keeping people in the dark when it comes to SEO. To me, most of the myths are old facts. Things that worked in the older days but don’t work now.

      But I think you are absolutely right – testing is the answer.

  5. Great post. Thanks. The coding of your site matters if it slows down your site load time. I’ve found that things like dynamic shrinking of large images, too many php calls, using flash navigation or superfluous javascript can all have a significant impact on your rankings.

  6. Enjoyed this on-page SEO article. Makes you realize that things don’t have to be complicated to please the big G!
    Thanks for the info.

  7. Great stuff! and thanks for breaking some myths. Just one question : Does stop words in title tags matter that much? Like using “Silver and gold jewelry” instead of “Silver jewelry, gold jewelry…”

    1. In the case of using “Silver jewelry, gold jewelry…” you are repeating the word jewelry more than once which is unnecessary and you could use those extra characters for another keyword. The case with “Silver and gold jewelry” is not about the “and”, it’s about making it sound natural and user friendly.

      Another example is if you own a company for professional window cleaning and you offer your services in more than one city you could say “Professional window cleaning services in New York, Miami and Atlanta”. It is the best way especially compared to “Window cleaning New York, window cleaning Miami, window cleaning Atlanta”.

      The order of the keywords in the phrases doesn’t matter to Google which means you can make it sound user and search engine-friendly at the same time and avoid making it look spammy. It’s also enough to mention a certain keyword only once.

      1. I may agree with you, but would say exact matches rule across the board. A page title of “silver and gold jewelry” will not rank as well for the search phrase “silver jewelry” as it does for “gold jewelry”. I’m not making the argument that “silver jewelry, gold jewelry” is better, but I am also not saying that doing that is unnecessary in strict terms of SEO.

        I guess my point is I suggest thinking in terms of exact matches first. In the example, what is more important “silver jewelry” or “gold jewelry”. If “silver jewelry” is more important, then make it “gold and silver jewelry”. As you said, thinking in terms of natural and user friendly should come first, even if there is a slight benefit to having jewelry repeated.

        Anyway, my real point is about age, and domain name matches. Back in April 2009, we had a client register cpadoral.com and went live in May, and by July was #1 for search phrase “cpa doral” and even “doral cpa”, even though there is another domain by doralcpa.com.

        The site has remained #1 since, so it wasn’t a case of reverse sand box, which I think the sandbox or reverse sandbox are just theories. Google is going to find relevant search results for any search phrase. They don’t need to let new domains play in the sandbox or reverse sandbox.

        The lesson being with an exact match domain name, and a little thought into page titles, and decent content, you can indeed rank very well very quickly, at least for a lot of local markets/keywords.

      2. I don’t really think that “Silver jewelry, gold jewelry” and “Silver and gold jewelry” are that much different from each other. The most important thing to remember here is not to stuff keywords and avoid looking spammy.

        An exact match domain name is the best thing you can have. However it is difficult to register such domains most of the times. I can’t say anything about your client because I don’t know the offsite SEO that has been done to the website and the competition’s website because I doubt you have only done onsite SEO.

  8. Atanas,

    I find parts of this to be VERY misleading and should be better backed up by facts rather than opinions. For one, can you present the Google patent or cut sheet on “TrustRank”? Saying that new sites are automatically put in the “sandbox” is simply not true! Aggressive linking, low value links, and link velocity play a big role in how well a new site performs in Google’s SERPS. I have plenty of brand new sites and clients that we rank page 1 within 60-90 days, no sandbox, no penalty, and ranking stick with quality and consistency.

    “The first two months, you will most likely not rank at all in Google because you will be in the “sandbox” where all new websites go.”

    Seriously? Not at all?! “in the sandbox where ALL new websites go”? People, if you believe this you are only giving your competition an advantage by “waiting” to “get out” of the “sandbox” prior to starting any quality linking.

    “4 years after the creation of your website, you will start receiving 100% of the TrustRank that the links pointing to your website pass.”

    Are you kidding me with that statement? Prove it! Flat our misleading and part of the reason for silly questions from clients when they read untested propaganda like this that scares the hell out of them.

    1. To me TrustRank is Google’s true grade of a website. PageRank is something that might not be true at all, something that we are given to play with and believe it’s a true representation of what Google really thinks. But do you really believe a giant search engine like Google would let people know what they think of their website? Do you really think they would give search engine optimizers that huge advantage? No, and that’s why they are keeping it a secret. They might not call it exactly TrustRank, but it exists so call it what you want. The point is, Google’s true assessment of a website and PageRank is not the same thing.

      About the sandbox. I never said it’s a penalty or anything. It’s just a term that means Google doesn’t give you almost any value for your backlinks. If you have read my article carefully you would have noticed that I advise people not to wait and build their links even if they are in the sandbox because Google will eventually give them credit for them.

      I won’t even try to prove anything to you and I doubt you can prove anything either when it comes to Google and SEO.

      1. The section using the term “Trustrank” is adding to SEO Mythology.

        Yahoo and Stanford researches published a paper and patent on Trustrank, not Google.

        Here is the patent:

        Link-based spam detection
        http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220060095416%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20060095416&RS=DN/20060095416

        Here is the paper:

        Combating Web Spam with TrustRank
        http://ilpubs.stanford.edu:8090/770/1/2004-52.pdf

        Here is another Yahoo Patent which introduces an additional variation on TrustRank, referred to as “Dual Trustrank”:

        Using community annotations as anchortext

        http://appft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PG01&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.html&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=%2220060294085%22.PGNR.&OS=DN/20060294085&RS=DN/20060294085

        Google did file for a patent in which they use a trust rank measure that involves labels in annotations from services such as Google Custom Search, and relies upon a trust metric for those making those labels. It has nothing to do with what you’ve described, and has nothing to do with links.

        This is how SEO Mythology starts, by using phrases that aren’t correct to describe phenomena from the search engines.

        The age of a website may play a role in its ranking due to things like Google’s concept of a document inception date. See:

        http://www.google.com/patents/download/12_902_966_DOCUMENT_SCORING_BASED_ON_DOC.pdf?id=BDAOAQAAEBAJ&output=pdf&sig=ACfU3U1GYrjkBYqN6nze3LvwrckTYhet-g

  9. yes i have also had of the myth that aged domains rank higher.What people fail to realize is that these domains also have to remain relevant with time

  10. Obviously keywords play an important role in on-site optimization, but the key is to use them properly. Stuffing them into the meta tags and content on the page will backfire. The search engines are smart and this could result in a penalty. Use them in a way that appears natural, so that a visitor doesn’t even notice.

  11. Good article, Atanas Valchev!

    Thought I too would like to know how you can include your TrustRank interpretation as “FACT.”

    And not ALL new sites go in the sandbox. I think when it comes to “SEO”, its best not to write ANYTHING as FACT!

    Thanks!

  12. Some good discussion here in the thread. Interesting what Nate White quoted from SEOMoz, I did not attend the webinar but I have often wondered about this exact same theory as I can often, with a new site outrank an aged one, even though they will of course have tons of back-links & lots of pages.
    Thanks
    Gary

  13. It was interesting to read your sentence about a new website going into the Google sandbox for the first 2 months. I have heard this before but never experienced it.

    We have designed many new website’s, all of which, ranked well within a couple of weeks of launching. We have also experienced new sites doing better than older sites.

    Is it your experience that all of your newly designed website’s go straight to Google’s sandbox?

    -Christina