- SEO is rife with myths and it is difficult to separate fact from fiction.
- SEO and SEM, while complementary, are not the same thing and cannot be approached the same way.
- SEO is not a temporary or one-time adjustment — far from it.
- Your SEO agency, while rockstars are not superhuman. They cannot do everything for you.
- SEO results are not instant.
Myths, what are they? To Joseph Campbell, “myths are the world’s dreams. They are archetypal dreams and deal with great human problems.” Ultimately, they serve as a conduit to understanding. While true for most myths, this definition falls apart when it comes to the concept of SEO myths.
If you’ve been in digital marketing for any length of time, you’ve run into the fact that it is a fractured space. Between full-service agencies, vertical-specific boutique shops, independent consultants, and more, separating myth from reality when it comes to prescriptive SEO advice is a significant hurdle.
While the number of SEO myths out there are innumerable, I will nail down the four that I come across most often.
SEO myth #1: SEO and SEM can be approached in the same way
“If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
Although there are many useful concepts that can be taken from SEM and applied to SEO, looking at each channel as the same is a mistake. To start, consider this: a powerful concept in the management of Google Ads is to optimize your use of negative keywords — keywords that you do not want to show up for.
Because of how immediately transactional and visible SEM is — you set a budget, create an ad, and press go — it is common for people to carry that mindset over to SEO. Rather than thinking of what keywords are viable, those coming in with an SEM “bias” can bring a perspective that’s largely focused on what isn’t viable. This is accompanied by the belief that as long as you continue to build out what doesn’t work, what does work will rise to the top.
Unfortunately, this can stymie conversations around a campaign’s keyword research — the launch pad for all other SEO activities — and as you’ll see below, there isn’t a need to contextualize your keyword research within what doesn’t work so long as you approach that research from a sound SEO framework.
Keyword variations and match types
It is not uncommon for Google Ads campaigns to target thousands of keyword variations across a handful of match types. This is done to ensure that you’re able to connect with your audience despite slight variations in the ways that they may type and look for a certain query.
While a necessary practice in SEM, this is not needed in SEO. Though tracking the rankings of thousands of keywords is something we’ve seen our customers do, if you try to target every keyword you can think of, you make it difficult to target and optimize for those that matter most.
When done right, your keyword research for SEO purposes should be chunked out in “themes”. This process, referred to as thematic keyword research, allows you to distill a semantic grouping into a handful of related keywords. This then allows you to focus your optimization efforts and theoretically enables you to surface for all the keywords you would otherwise directly target in Google Ads.
Frequent changes to landing pages to improve ad quality metrics
Another habit that people bring over from SEM to SEO is the frequency that landing pages are changed, says Victorious SEO Strategist Jenni Bojanin. In SEM, specifically ad platforms like Google Ads, these changes help improve ad quality metrics like Quality Score and Landing Page Experience, which allows for a lower cost per click (CPC).
That said, frequently changing pages that are core to your SEO campaigns can cause problems. At best, depending on how often search engine spiders crawl your site, you could be making changes that are never seen in the pursuit of metrics that apply to SEO. At worst, you could be making changes at a frequent enough clip that it confuses search engine spiders and negatively impacts the indexation and categorization of the page itself.
SEO myth #2: SEO is a temporary fix
“You should not drive over 50 mph and no more than 50 miles with a donut-type spare tire. Driving for long distances on a spare tire can potentially cause damage to other car parts, including the transmission.” – American Automobile Association
Viewing SEO as a temporary fix to your digital marketing problems is like riding on a spare tire at speeds and distances greater than recommended. It’ll work in the short term, but after a while, you can end up doing greater damage than if you had approached the problem with a long-term view on fixing the issue, that is, a new tire.
SEO is not a channel but the foundation of all other digital marketing activities. As such, we have frequent conversations with prospective customers about how integral it is to not view SEO as something you do one time to “clean up” a site, but rather as something to maintain long-term.
To better contextualize this, I’ll cover two scenarios.
The first is a company with a large site with many individuals responsible for the upkeep of the said site. As a site grows in size, the number of individuals you need to manage it begins to grow in tandem. And as you add more individuals, the risk of things going awry and negatively impacting the site’s SEO grow as well.
Now, let’s say you have a smaller site. Maybe you’re a solopreneur or a smaller mom-and-pop-type shop. It’s reasonable to think that with such a small site that the number of things that can go wrong has got to be very small. That is true, but only from the perspective of what’s happening on-site.
In SEO, the saying “if you’re standing still, you’re moving backward” is a very real thing. Just because there’s a comparatively small chance your site has egregious on-site issues, doesn’t mean your competition isn’t continuing to build out their site, both on- and offsite.
In both scenarios, regularly investing time and resources into your site’s SEO over, ideally, the life of the sites would prevent the two negative consequences of “quick fix” SEO: missing egregious issues due to a lack of having someone reviewing the site and becoming complacent while your competition focuses efforts off-site.
SEO myth #3: Your SEO agency will handle everything for you
At my agency, Victorious, we view our engagements with our customers as partnerships. There are many things that a partnership can mean, but the idea that a partner should handle everything for you is not one of them.
Just like a one-to-one human relationship, a partnership works best when both partners are engaged and committed to finding ways to work together to achieve shared goals.
To better expand on this idea, I consulted an article on Oprah Mag titled, “The Best Relationship Advice, According to Experts”. In it, I found two helpful analogs to how your relationship with your SEO agency should ideally function, which are:
Schedule dates to talk about your relationship
If you don’t put time on the calendar to meet with your SEO agency, you’re missing out on an opportunity to better empower them to deeply understand your business and its needs. As much as you think the discussions you’ve had with them during your pre-sales and onboarding meetings should be enough, they’re not.
Your business is evolving — probably daily. Your priorities will shift and resources will change. If you’re not regularly updating your SEO agency about these shifts and changes, you cannot expect them to properly execute a strategy that ultimately serves your company well.
Don’t expect your partner to be your BFF
Just like you’d be setting yourself up for failure by expecting your partner in real life to be everything for you — confidante, therapist, etc. — you’re doing the same by expecting your SEO agency to handle and/or keep an eye on all aspects of your digital marketing.
When engaging with an agency, be very clear upfront with what your expectations are and allow space for the agency to push back on anything that would be out of scope. If you’re already engaged with an agency, be prepared to have open and candid conversations about your needs and understand that some of those needs may not be able to be accommodated by the agency.
And that’s ok. Let your agency do what they’re best at. Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Besides, most agencies will have referrals or be able to point you in the right direction to help support the need you are looking to fulfill.
SEO myth #4: SEO results are instant
Not even Instant Noodles are instant. Why would you think results from a marketing channel would be?
While it is true that every site, both new and old, likely has low hanging fruit that could result in fairly quick wins, seeing sustained and compounding SEO results takes time.
Depending on who you ask, the SEO flywheel can take a minimum of three to four months and up to one to two years before any visible “self-propulsion” of the flywheel begins to take effect.
Why is this the case? Because of the myriad of variables involved — some within your control, and some outside of your control. The top three are:
If you’re entering into a competitive space like credit cards with a brand new site, there are two elements of competition that you need to consider. The first is that a space like credit cards automatically lends itself to a lot of online competition since they are often targeted towards nationwide audiences, rather than regional ones. That alone means that the number of sites you’re competing against rise exponentially.
The second element to consider is the types of companies you’re competing against in the space you’re operating within. With credit cards, you’re going to be operating against some of the largest businesses in the United States, for example, companies like Bank of America, Discover, and the likes. The larger the business, the more likely it is that they employ SEO professionals, and therefore the more likely you are up against sites that are fairly well optimized.
In case you haven’t heard recently, links continue to be a top-ranking factor on Google. As a testament to that, Andrey Lipattsev, a Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google, stated years ago in a conversation about the top two ranking factors outside of RankBrain: “I can tell you what they are. It is content. And it’s links pointing to your site.”
And this isn’t going to change anytime soon.
So, how do you identify how many links you need to start surfacing on page one of the search engine results page (SERP) of the queries you’re targeting? In an earlier article I wrote for Search Engine Watch, “Five SEO tips that capture holiday attention and boost sales”, I discuss how to understand link acquisition needs.
The steps are broken down here succinctly:
- For your target queries, take a look at the number of Referring Domains (RDs) pointing to the pages ranking in positions one through five for those queries. You can achieve this through tools like Ahrefs, SEMrush, and the like.
- Once you get the number of RDs, average them.
- The product of this is the number of RDs you realistically need to break into the top five of page one of your queries’ SERPs.
According to Victorious Content Strategist Ashley Cardell, when it comes to SEO content creation, a handful of things come into play. Those things are content length, the search intent of the primary query the content is targeting, and the cadence at which you should be publishing new content.
To figure out your content needs, a good first step is – gauging the number of pages your top organic competitors are ranking for. Ahrefs makes it easy. After plugging in the URL of the competitor you’re assessing, click “Top Pages” in the left-hand pane and look for the section that says the number of results, like the picture below:
Based on this number — 8,393 — you now have a loose target with regards to the number of content pieces you would need to produce to achieve “competitive parity” in terms of content footprint.
Marketing is hard. With so many channels, competing internal interests and shared budgets, a shifting landscape, and ever-increasing goals, it’s understandable that you’d be tempted to apply the logic of a channel you know to one that you don’t know. I wish it worked that way, too. However, applying that kind of logic makes you vulnerable to falling for the myths of SEO.
SEO and SEM are as distinct as night and day. There is some overlap between them, and they complement each other, but they are not the same. Additionally, SEO should not be looked at as a short-term or one-time fix. It should be part of your long-term digital strategy. Within that strategy, it is important not to expect your agency to handle everything, but rather treat your agency as your valued partner and consultant. And most importantly, always remember that when implementing SEO into your strategy, keep in mind that results are not instant, and will take time.
With the above, I’ve given you things to look out for when approaching SEO with a predominantly SEM background. But at the end of the day, these tips won’t help you if you don’t view SEO as a foundational element to your overall marketing mix rather than a “set and forget” channel. With SEO, take the long-term view and things will pan out in the end.
Houston Barnett-Gearhart is Director of SEO at Victorious.