Bury These Deadly Search Myths

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Every culture has its own mythology, most of it originally based in fact. However, even as facts change, the mythos behind them fail to budge. In the geekily obsessive world of SEO, it’s no surprise that some once-true SEO myths have stuck around long past their prime.  Here are some nefarious SEO fables that people (hint: possibly you) still believe and waste money on.

1: Keyword Saturation Is a Key Metric

Do you remember back when AltaVista was a top search site, and hitting the “magic percent” for keyword saturation almost guaranteed you page 1 placement? That saturation number was a magic bullet, so it’s no wonder people hung onto it – even well after it was no longer true.

Overflowing barrel

Over-filling: Very rarely a good thing.

These days, the top sites don’t have a 2.318762419% saturation. They usually have something closer to a 0.5% saturation and use writing that’s, well, readable. As the search robots have been taught to understand human language and the interconnectivity of words, well-written content has thrived while saturated content has been buried.

2: Meta Keywords Are Great for Stuffing!

Since hiding the keywords from site visitors while showing them to search engines has long been recognized as a black hat tactic, SEOs have tried to find legitimate ways to stuff keywords into the content. The most common place to do so these days is in the meta keywords field.

Touch the black hat and you'll get mauled.

Did you see the end of Old Yeller? Well, that’s basically what happened to meta keywords. After years of black hat abuse, Google and other top search engines dropped meta keywords as a ranking factor. Iktomi’s segment of HotBot was the last algorithm that give half a damn about meta keywords – and even that ended five years ago (or, to translate that into technology years: eons).

3: Alt Tags Are Great for Stuffing!

Alt tags – the alternative text for images that indicates to search engines and vision-impaired site visitors what a picture is about – are still relevant for image optimization, sure. However, stuffing them only lowers your chances of being found in image searches. Also, programs known as screen readers give blind people an audio presentation of what the site says, and when the apps get to stuffed alt tags, the people have to listen to your laundry list of terms. Irksome, much? If those blind people ever see you, they’re going to kick the crap out of you.

Oh … wait.

Blind justice will kick you.

Seriously, though, don't mess with the non-sighted.

4: More Content Is Always Better!

Content is king, as we all know. That’s why so many companies hire freelancers to write hundreds of pages for their sites. And, thanks to bottom-line myopia, it’s why they pay someone in a third-world country for penny-per-word content that looks like – well, penny-per-word content. Because content is content, right?

Pennies - Cheap Content

You get what you pay for.

Wrong. It kills visitor engagement, lowers your chance of getting inbound and social links, and decimates your site reputation. Worse, thanks to Google’s Panda update – the search engine update aimed at thrashing junk content – producing large amounts of paper-thin content will substantially hurt your ranking.

5: Scraping Content Helps Your Search Ranking

If someone else posts an article or page that ranks really well, ripping it off their site and posting it on your own is bound to win over the search engines, right?

Cloning: It's how the Empire got started.

First, duplicating content that’s not yours is plain immoral. Second, it will get you flagged as spam more quickly than any other tactic. Third, if you’re proven as a scraper, your site will be blacklisted on the SERPs. And fourth, you can get sued for that, thanks to the implied intellectual property laws of the Internet.

6: Making Useless Comments on Blogs Builds Link Juice

Hey, you! The person skipping this article and going straight to the comment section since you know we’re a PR7 site. You want to leave a comment with a link back to your site, right? Or just have your user name link with a conspicuous keyword-based user name for your anchor text?

The man with the spam.

No, sir, we really don't want your spam.

See, here’s the problem: More than 95% of blogs use what we call a nofollow tag by default. This tag prevents your useless comment from getting any link juice. If you want to get a link from a high PR site, you must a) write a great article and pitch it to the site, b) talk to the site’s advertising department, or c) write a comment compelling enough that the author and other readers will want to link to your cited content.

Maybe you won’t walk under a ladder. Maybe you even think Greek gods control the weather. Maybe you won’t feed your gremlin after midnight. That makes you quirky. But believing these myths? That’s a surefire way to destroy your site’s success.

Rob D Young
Rob has been insatiably obsessed with Google, search engine technology, and the trends of the web-based world since he began life as a webmaster in... Read Full Bio
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  • Barrie

    “6: Making Useless Comments on Blogs Builds Link Juice”
    Don’t break my heart Rob… this useless comment is definitely going to build mass link juice to my website! 😉

    On a serious note, I refuse to believe that anyone reading SEJ still stuffs Meta Keywords.

  • halo18

    6: Making Useless Comments on Blogs Builds Link Juice

    Yes, it does.

    Try it out – grab an $8 domain and spend $50 on WickedFire buying bulk blog comments. You will get link juice and pick up rankings, nofollow or not.

    Did you test this out before claiming it doesn’t work, or are you just repeating SEO-echo-chamber talking points?

  • Kiran

    I would call it “Post of my Day” ………you filled me with lots of new ideas. Thank you Rob. 🙂

  • Mark Upshaw

    I love these myths! They are preached on just about every forum and by every “guru” to this day. But, oddly enough, those that make their living running seo companies, don’t preach these wonderful myths. Unfortunately, they add to the user experience on our beautiful web and it is not the experience any of us desire. This reminds me of the “myths” that many in every culture use to judge others which in turn pollute their own life experience with people all around them.

    I laughed out loud at your Alt Tag gag. Good post Rob.

  • Sal Surra

    Good tips for noobs. These are definitely some areas to avoid. I really like the keyword meta tag tip. I can’t remember the last time I paid any attention to the meta keywords. It had to be almost 10 years ago. Alt tags do work effectively, but again, good point about not abusing it because people with seeing problems who use reader software, like my own mother, will certainly get upset. However, I’m still surprised by the number of blog spam comments I get on my own blogs. I can’t believe these automated pieces of junk are still going today. Who really approves these comments? Are people really letting their comments go out without moderating them first? I can’t image that these spammers are gaining much by doing this, but it seems to still be going out of control these days.

  • Damon

    “6: Making Useless Comments on Blogs Builds Link Juice”

    Has anyone heard a Google or Bing representative say whether nofollow affects other link based metrics?

    As far as I know, nothing has been said about whether the anchor text of nofollow backlinks are ignored and whether nofollow backlinks are ignored when calculating domain authority metrics like the distance from crawl seed sites.

    I wouldn’t recommend making useless comments to anyone trying to build a site long-term, but I’m pretty sure spam comments help sites rank at least temporarily because they help with the various link metrics that are no Page Rank.

  • James C.

    all I want to know is can I ignore meta tag keywords all together or should I put a little bit of content there.

  • Norm Miller

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate. First, keyword density is still a metric, although not a key metric. However, given there are what, 200, 300, 400 things Google looks at, isn’t it due deligence to do everything we can, especially that which we have easy control over, such as on page content\? I agree though, don’t spam your own page and make it unreadable and hurt your conversations for the sake of keyword density. 1% should suffice, and you can easily achieve that with readable and convertible text.

    Next, just a minor point. Using Meta Keywords is irrelevant, but is in no way a deadly tactic.

    Use of Alt tags is OK. Just understand their purpose. Like Keyword Density, you can easily use images and alt tags in a very user friendly way, even blind users, and still target some keywords. At least my clientele can. For example, a CPA firm in Albuquerque can have a picture of their team with the alt tag “Your CPA Team in Albuquerque”. Again, this an area whose total value is in question, but it is an area that is very easily accomplished.

    Blog commenting. The important point here is add value. I hope I am doing that with my comment, but I’ll take the comment link, even a nofollowed one. There is probably more value in a bunch of no followed links from high domain authority sites then there is in followed links from low domain authority sites. As far as PR, forget about it from followed blog comments anyway. In many cases a blog with followed comments is going to have a ton of comments, thereby reducing the PR that is sent to each anyway. So yes, I believe blog commenting is more about adding value and domain authority then it is about PR, a metric that Google’s algorithm doesn’t use as much anymore anyway.

    Now, give me my nofollowed link and approve this comment. 😉

  • Greg

    I know for a fact that big SEO firms still use keyword density for their clients, I don’t know that it doesn’t work because I have seen it work before.

    • Norm

      Greg, you are right. Keyword density is still used and still has a positive impact. I think the key point that a lot of people try to make, perhaps the author of this post included, is first, that keyword stuffing is the deadly tactic, and that trying to achieve keyword density for the sake of SEO without regard to your sites readability and conversion rate, is also a deadly tactic. Getting people to your site is only the first step, and one that you don’t care about if people don’t convert once they are on your site.

  • SEO Consult

    Too true, would be great to see this continued in the future, few suggestions:

    “The more links the better”.
    “All external links should be nofollowed”

  • Mark

    Great tips. It’s amazing how many people still focus on these techniques.

  • Shirley Woo

    Thanks for the good advice! I till believed one of the stuffings to be true. How wrong I am. i will put your advice to good use in building legitimate links to my new website: http://goo.gl/m5TCp

    Thanks again!


  • Jacob Varghese

    I think #6 is mostly due to the ‘off-site’ optimization offered in many SEO ‘packages’ , offered by offshore(mainly) companies. They did not receive the memo about the gravy train leaving. Annoying.

  • Patrick

    So, are META Keywords 100% worthless to even have now? I’ve heard their value was debatable, I hadn’t heard they were 100% worthless.

    • Norm

      Put yourself in Google’s shoes. Would you use them? My guess is no way. Google and other search engines at this point are very good at what they do. The don’t need the help of an overly abused and invisible content such as meta keywords.

      I would also make the argument they could even hurt now. Google has repeatedly advised webmasters to speed up their websites, and has said they do not use the Meta keywords information in any way. So, if I was Google, what would I think of a site stuffing this tag with lots of essentially useless data that slows down page load time.

  • Patrick

    I feel like I’ve seen value from nofollow links. I like to comment on blogs simply to provide thought or value, and always include my sites. Are you saying they provide no value whatsoever?

  • SusieTwo

    I have several websites and teach people how to set their own pages up – one of the things I do encourage is the use is SEO type plugins for WP. One of the fields we have to fill in is the keywords, etc. If I read this correctly are you saying that this is a waste of time – forgive me if this is a noob question. I consider myself to be always learning. :0

    And yes, I am so tired of spam comments – I ask the same question to myself – who really believes these sorts of comments will get approved – some lately are so blatant, just long endless lists of websites…. and they do it to low ranking pages – some are brand new and haven’t even been listed with the Google yet they still attract a bunch of spam… otta be a law against it! lol

    I loved this article, it gave me a lot to think about and I will review my sites based on what you have said – make sure I don;t perpetuate any of these myths in my trainings either – Cheers

  • Giovanni Sonnberger

    Hi Rob,
    Two weeks ago i had a problem with a WordPress free template with back-links like: “Free games” and “Free Ringtones” in the footer. i remember this when i read “Making Useless Comments on Blogs Builds Link Juice”.

    That is another point to take careful…

    Thanks, a very nice article!