Three Awful Things That People Actually Think Are True about SEO

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It’s not easy being an SEO. There’s a ton of mythbusting that has to happen in order to coax your clients to success. Whether you’re educating customers or trying enhance your own site’s SEO, you need to be aware of several persistent beliefs that can lead to SEO disaster. What follows are three SEO lies that people still think are true about SEO.

“I should optimize my anchor text.”

Even in the ravaged landscape of a post-Penguin 2.0 world, there are survivors who think that optimizing anchor text will boost them higher on the SERPs. While recently talking with an online business owner, I was nonplussed at his insistence that optimized anchor text was the way to go. “It might work,” he argued, if he optimized every single anchor text both for both onsite and offsite SEO.

Actually, no. No, it won’t.

The misdirected concept goes like this — “If I optimize my anchor texts, I’ll get better SEO.” For sake of example, let’s say you want to rank for “cheap Nokia phones.” If you believe the optimized anchor myth, you would use the keyword “cheap Nokia phones” and link to a page on your site, probably containing the words “cheap Nokia phones” somewhere on it.

The myth may be more nuanced, however. Since many web professionals realize that such blatant anchor optimization is a no-no, they’ve taken to trying a diversity of anchors. Instead of hammering a single optimized keyword, they use a lot of differing (yet still optimized) anchors, thinking that perhaps the diversity will improve their link profile. They might use

  • nokia phones for cheap
  • cheap nokia smartphone
  • buy nokia smartphone cheap
  • nokia phone cheap
  • get nokia phone online
  • new cheap nokia phones

Each of these are different anchor texts. Thus, the eager business owner imagines that such diversity will somehow get him on the first page for anyone who’s looking for a Nokia phone on the cheap.

In spite of the different keywords used, this is still a risky tactic. Why is it risky? Do you remember Penguin 2.0? Google unleashed this update in part to target overoptimized anchors. Every single link to your site is stored in a data set called a “link profile.” This profile, which is critical to your site’s SEO, signals how many links your site has for certain keyword. The greater your concentration of optimized anchors, the more danger you are in of having a compromised link profile that will signal spam triggers and penalize your site.

SEO best practices guard against optimized anchors. Instead, use anchors that contain sentence fragments, branded anchors, or even naked URLs. A site that contains optimized anchors is a site that is in risk of being penalized.

anchor text

“Throw enough mud on the wall; some of it will stick.”

Another common belief is that SEO is a haphazard free-for-all attempt to do anything and everything that might help. “Let’s do SEO!” someone in upper management shouts. So, a team of lackeys scamper off to do social media, onsite optimization, directory listing, Tumblr blogs, article submissions, viral videos, backlinks, blogging, and whatever else they can dream up.

This is not a strategy. This is a careless and ultimately harmful practice. Haphazard SEO attempts yield hazardous SEO results. SEO is not about doing everything you can and hoping that something, somewhere, somehow might actually help. SEO is not a mystery; SEO is a strategy. Many of those ideas above — onsite optimization, social media, etc. — are great ideas. However, they need to be rolled into a streamlined strategy.

The alternative is to develop an SEO approach that provides real ROI and ensures that you will gain ranking. Such strategy involves three main areas.

  1. Onsite optimization. The only way for SEO to be successful is to make sure that the site itself is healthy and optimized. Use the right keywords, optimize your metadata, and  improve your content. Ensure that your SEO strategy includes a blog hosted on the same domain, regularly updated, and full of rock-solid material. Onsite SEO is the core of any successful online presence. But onsite perfection alone won’t cut it.
  2. Social signals. There’s got to be some sort of social activity on your site in order to truly gain rank. A page with zero links to social accounts or zero presence on those social accounts is a page that won’t ultimately succeed. Create an engaging social presence among your followers, and keep it connected to your website.
  3. Backlinks. The final and indispensable component of an SEO strategy is backlinks. Whether you use the services of an SEO company or launch your own guest-posting campaign, it is absolutely crucial that your site have a strong link profile. No site will gain rankings without gaining backlinks.

These three focused practices do not constitute mud-on-the-wall efforts. You can do better than that. Organize, streamline, focus, and ultimately dominate SEO without a single splatter of mud on your clothes.

“We’ll get first-page rankings in a few weeks.”

“How long will it take?” I’ve heard this question a million times. And I get it. We all want to see skyrocketing rankings right away — a nice line graph that goes every higher. We want first-page search results in record time. We want the first position on Google by the weekend or at least before the end of Q3. We all want results, and we want them yesterday.

Unfortunately, SEO doesn’t work that way.

This wait-a-long-time-for-results thing is a huge cause of discouragement with SEO. “SEO is not working” is code complaint for, “I don’t have the patience for SEO.”

Here’s the truth about SEO:  It’s a slow-and-steady-wins-the-race deal. I was on the phone with someone last week, and I used this very phrase — “slow and steady wins the race” regarding SEO. The person retorted, “I disagree with you; as long as you’re doing it right, you’ll rank immediately.”

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work that way. In spite of the rapidly changing nature of the industry, SEO requires a longview for longterm success.

So, let’s go back to that question — “how long will it take?” As you probably anticipated, there is no easy answer, let alone a single answer.  The speed at which one attains SEO results depends on the quality of the SEO, the health of the site, the DA level of the linkbacks, the quality of the link profile, the competition level of the niche, the status of current rankings, and about a million other factors.

I typically warn clients that even the healthiest SEO effort will require at least three months before they will see a measurable increase. If someone is looking for instant results, SEO is not for them.

It’s not easy to disabuse ourselves of such misguided SEO notions. Besides, the industry changes constantly. Today’s best-practice may become tomorrow’s myth. As of this right now, however, you can go ahead and bid adieu to these three myths.

Daniel Threlfall

Daniel Threlfall

Senior SEO Specialist at Volume9
Daniel has an obsession with content marketing, a nerdy fascination with search engine algorithms, and an unquenchable thirst for good coffee without cream and sugar.... Read Full Bio
Daniel Threlfall
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  • The third one is the worst. Everyone thinks that they should be first page within a day of launching their site. It’s hard to explain to clients that it takes time depending on the competition and other factors.

  • Best thing to do is go to Ahrefs and check out what other successful websites have done with their anchor text to get to the top. Do this for a bunch of websites and trends begin to show up. 🙂 It’s also a great way to see what backlinks they have used. Of course on page factors are a given….put out good content.

    Best way to build links is to look for traffic as a primary objective. This way we get immediate traffic and then the links will pile up over time leading to traffic from search engines. So the types of links that bring traffic are blog commenting, guest blogging, forum marketing, press releases, podcasting, social media…and so on.

    Video SEO is also a great way to get quick rankings and quick traffic and also a good source of links/social signals.



  • @chris is absolutely right. Don’t need to create backlinks for rankings. Creatre it for traffic and eventually over time you will rank. Also, i would say that not only video’s, but anything that provides quality information to your target customer will be a part of good SEO. Even content curation on scoop,it can be very effective.

  • Stuart

    I must admit that I havn’t thought about Chris’s way of “Aim for traffic and ranking will follow”. Refreshing.

    Regarding the third myth, I must say that although absolutly true, it’s the most frustrating one.

    I actually have no problem convincing potential clients that SEO “will take time”, the problem arises from that point when they are thinking “then why should I do it? why not just use the money for PPC and gain traffic from day one”.

    It’s getting harder and harder to get people to see look at the long run when Google ads are taking up more and more space.

  • Hazel L Cottrell

    I couldn’t agree more with part two, point two. There are so many SEO Companies that charge companies a huge amount of money to set up Social Media pages for them and then don’t tell them how to use them so the social media pages out there that just aren’t being used or worse (in my opinion) they are just used to send out sales messages!

    It’s so important to be ‘social’ on social media – engage with your audience!

  • Yeah, those are really awful. Sometimes clients think we do magic. Where in fact, it takes time and the right efforts to achieve SEO success.

  • This is really useful information for all of us (SEO professionals). However, what are the best methods of generating backlinks? Please specify the best DIY SEO method so i can promote my website.

  • Suppose if we target naked URL then we can survive over Google search engine but what about the other search engines like Bing and Yahoo. These two search engines are differently evaluate website?

  • Martin Harrison

    Great post! As a supplier of SEO content, I would add the following to this list:

    You must have x% keyword density and at least 500 words on a page for it to rank.
    There should be a section on pages for ‘sales’ copy and ‘SEO’ copy.

    When will people learn?!

  • Doing Seo the white hat way requires alot of patience, and a good understanding of search engine algorithms. Most especially when it comes to the issue of backlinking to your site, marketers tends to look for a fast way of doing this, and what happens, their site is completely wiped out of search result after some form of updates… it happened to me. Which would you prefare a service that would deliver thousands of low quality link and which would eventually get noticed by search engines, and of course you will be shown the way out, Or a few relevant high quality links, which were influenced due to the fact that you are an authority in your niche.

    Infact backlinks is not really a function of number of links, it’s a function of relevancy and quality, and that is what search engine looks for.


  • Kim Deppe

    Excellent points, and I especially concur with your last one. I get that question a lot, too, and I call it my “adult diaper answer” – it depends. @Chris makes a good point, shooting for traffic first is a great way to speed things up a little. Don’t overlook PPC to get that launched, as well. I tell clients there are two ways to get to page one – buy your way in, or wait for it and I usually give them a horizon of 4 – 6 months for the SEO to begin working with the caveat that it can take more than a year to really bake in.

  • Francisco Zambrano

    Alright so I agree with everything except the third section “We’ll get first-page rankings in a few weeks,” How can you say that relevant, authoritative, and unique press releases will not make an immediate impact? Think about syndicates like PRNewswire, that have stringent guidelines and usually pass a DA of 80ish to the original website.. With a unique title you can show up in the top results, same day. What do you think about that?

    • There’s a grain of truth to your observation, but PRs are not usually the most ideal way of achieving enhanced ranking in a short amount of time. Most PR distributors and syndicates use no-follow links, which do not pass rank to the destination URLs.

  • Hi thanks for a concise piece on SEO. As a relative newbie who is aiming to get my own sites ranked rather than create a business doing SEO for others, I’m finding the whole SEO topic time-consuming and sometimes conflicting. This piece spells out very nicely and calmly a simple approach. One thing that causes me concern is “negative SEO” that seems to be a real threat. You can do everything right and if someone wants to do negative SEO on your site, then there’s not much you can do about it – at least that’s how it seems to me from what I’ve been reading so far. Any comments on how to control any negative SEO attacks and more importantly, if you’re unlucky enough to be the target, how to remove those links – other than approaching the person/organisation responsible? There must be another way, but no one seems to be talking about it. Google should be able to do this for us rather than leaving it to us to deal with after the event, once they’ve penalised us for a malicious attack that we had no control over. It’s an issue I would like to know more about.

  • Bertie

    I specifically love the third one. Mainly because that’s the entire ethos behind my company name (which I’m not going to share as I’m not the self promoting kind). Let’s just say it’s related to one of Aesop’s Fables.

    I still find it amazing that people think that there’s some magic, some instant success to be gained. Only the other day someone said to me “I believe quantity will do it, look at this guys page, it’s long got loads on it”. I asked him what keyword he used to find him at number 1. It was the most obscure, non search term (i.e. something noone will search for). When I asked him to try something a little more likely guess where the page/site ranked? Nowhere.

    As for the guy who talks about PRNewsire. No. It’s still not a fast way to the top. Yes, you might rank for some news, but unless you have a full PR strategy where journalists respect your work and use it in their own journalism, it’s a limited approach and just as soon as you got there, you’ll drop again.

    My belief is simple on this, get the basics right, make it useful and unique and you might stand a chance. For me, and this is a view which many people don’t like, Panda and Penguin don’t matter a jot. If you were doing it right before, you’re still doing it correctly now. If you were trying to sway the search engines, well, they’re the people who come a cropper because their stuff isn’t useful or unique enough for people to want to use/buy/share.

    It’s a very simplistic approach, and there are lots of complexities behind my thinking, but if I was asked in a nutshell, my approach hasn’t changed for 15 years.

    All that said, I still don’t think that the final point is a reason why they should see no impact at all. A few agencies I’ve spoken to also use that as an excuse for actually doing minimal work but taking a cheque for six months, then making up some BS excuses, blame it on the client and walk away sniggering to themselves.

  • Great article Daniel! Wanted to add a little more value here. I just came across this MOZ post last week by Cyrus Shepard. The stuff he covers for optimizing anchor text is brilliant. He quotes some of Dan Shure from Evolving SEO. It’s a great read on optimizing anchor text to provide context and value to readers. While I agree optimizing the same anchor text all the time is bad… having optimized anchor text to provide context to readers and Google is good… with the right balance. An example would be this post by Jason DeMyers in August of this year where he uses Social Media Marketing as his anchor text near the footer.

    Here’s the link to that moz article:

  • Hey Keith, great comment and stellar resources!

    You’re spot on regarding the anchor text “optimization.” The weakness in my article is the wobbly definition of “optimize.” I stalwartly oppose the old-school optimization of “buy phone”-style anchors. But the strategic form of post-Penguin optimization for readers and Google is still very necessary. We still optimize, but we do so with savvy in the brave new world of smart algorithms and intelligent readership.

    The links you provided are helpful. Here’s another one by Jayson DeMers, which I consider to be the gold standard of linking and anchor creation: