Ranking On Google: Separating The Myths From The Facts
LAST UPDATED: TOPIC: SEO
Let’s cut to the chase: if you are optimising your business website with tools that are based on blind faith alone, you could be losing time and money.
SEO, internet marketing and the search engines have matured sufficiently over the last 10 years to enable professionals to base their actions on tried and tested facts rather than the ‘suck it and see’ approach of the early days of the web.
Over the last five years, Google has almost single-handedly swept the web clean of bad SEO practices with its Penguin, Hummingbird and Panda updates whilst simultaneously changing SEO meaning. The changes were not welcomed at the time as they caused chaos with optimisation techniques, but in hindsight, the refinements have led to higher quality websites and more accurate search results. However, caught in the jet stream of all these changes are the website owners who have been left confused as to what constitutes good SEO practice.
Statistics show that the search engines should be the focus of our online marketing, specifically Google.
- 93% of internet experiences begins with a search engine
- Google owns 65-70% of the search engine market share
- 70% of the links searchers click on are organic
- Search is the number one driver to content sites beating social media by 300%
- 75% of searchers never scroll past page 1 of SERPS
There has never been and probably never will be an SEO bible to turn to, so myths are rife. But three ways determine whether we are dealing with fact or fiction.
- Google is now more open to showing which techniques work. It wants to give businesses the tools to optimise because that way, the most informative sites reach the top of Google (and satisfied searchers means repeat business). But it has to maintain a level of secrecy to thwart those black hats who continue to abuse the rules. So it is a case of tracking down useful information that Google releases through representatives, such as its former head of the web spam team, Matt Cutts.
- Google’s algorithm is an invention, to be protected from competition as with any other commercial invention. Google has now patented the main aspects of the algorithm, many of which you can see online.
- Professional digital media marketers and SEO specialists use scientific methods to provide evidence of their claims (ie, a/b testing)
So using the above, we can get a clearer idea of which activities really boost your website and which activities are just myths.
First of all, let’s look at some of the most popular myths:
1. XML sitemaps
This old chestnut has been around for some time but the fact is, as useful as it is for navigation purposes, it will not enhance search rankings. And that fact comes straight from the horse’s mouth, Google.
2. Using Google Search console/Google Analytics
It is sometimes thought that simply using Google Search Console (formerly webmaster tools) will result in ranking benefits. While significant information can be gleaned from this tool, it will not in itself, lead to higher rankings.
3. High percentage of keywords
A high percentage of the same keyword on a page can lead to penalties from Google. It looks for keywords and phrases that relate to the topic in specific areas on the page (heading, sub-title, first paragraph etc.) in moderation and in line with the text. It also responds to synonyms rather than the endless repetition of the same words.
4. Using ‘www’ in your domain
It has been speculated that sites will rank better if they use ‘www’ – but this is not true. There is no evidence to suggest that having a www site attracts higher ranking.
5. Using AdWords
Will my SEO organic rankings increase if I buy into AdWords? This little SEO myth had become so notorious that Matt Cutts felt the need to bring it out into the open and show that it is baloney. Click to see the video here.
6. High Moz rank
One of the most popular ways for SEO specialists to judge the importance of a website is through its Moz rank or Trust score. As much as this gives us an idea of a website’s standing, it in no way reflects the values Google uses to rank a page.
7. Link Juice Leak
There used to be an old adage that too many outbound links from your website will ‘leak link juice’ – in other words, reduce your link website link status. However, Matt Cutts has again openly stated the opposite is nearer to the truth. A sign of quality content in Google’s eyes is text with outbound links, as this offers a fully dynamic experience for the visitor.
What we really need are the facts:
1. Keyword in title tag
Evidence for this can be seen in this Google patent. There is a lot of horrible small print to work through here, but the use of title tags is under ‘Invention’; part 0008.
One of the reasons that keywords or phrases in headings in titles and sub-headings have a positive effect is because they are in bold type. In the same way, keywords that appear in bold type in the main text are also given weight. This patent can be seen here.
3. Keyword stemming
This involves taking the root of a keyword and using various other words that share the root. (ie, photographed; photography). This is a lot like using synonyms and avoids overuse of keywords. Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI) refers to the science of related words. Using LSI terms in a page will increase topic relevance.
4. Use keywords in alt tag
An alt tag is attached to a graphic embedded in a page. Matt Cutts has focused on this in one of his videos. But, as in ordinary text, be careful not to overdo the keywords as this can lead to penalties.
5. Secure sites
It was officially announced by Google in 2014 that secure sites would be given more weight.
6. Good links
Links are a sure sign that a site is credible. Links coming from a site with a lot of links is more useful than a site with no links at all, provided the links are of a high quality. The older the link, the more value it accrues (see this patent), and links from the same industry or topic are more useful. ‘Contextual links’, ie, links coming from the main content of text within a site are generally more valuable than standalone links, all else being equal.
7. Excessive cross-site linking
Cross-linking may be the first thing you think about doing if you have more than one website, but according to Matt Cutts, this should be discouraged as it is just seen as an SEO exercise.
Clearly, the facts and myths listed here are just the tip of a large iceberg – Google actually claims there are more than 200 ranking signals in their algorithm. But it seems that SEO as a real science is going in the right direction.