When the Internet first went mainstream in the mid-to-late 1990s, I was working as a copywriter and editor for a custom publishing firm in Atlanta. I clearly remember the excitement of watching a brand new communication medium arise and learning all the nuances involved in writing for online consumption.
I’ll bet this excitement was similar to what writers and publishers felt when Gutenberg’s printing press was invented in the 15thcentury.
I also remember what online search was like back in the early days of the Internet. Google is now synonymous with Internet search, but before Google’s domination, sites like Ask Jeeves, Altavista and Lycos were among the most popular search engines. Anybody remember them?
The Rise of SEO
As the power of Internet search became apparent, the practice of designing and writing websites so they’d rank high in user queries quickly took hold. Known as search engine optimization (or SEO), this practice is now one of, if not the most, important tasks performed by marketers.
Despite its importance, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about SEO. Here are a few of the most common that I’ve encountered:
1, Search engine submission is still necessary. Back in the early days of SEO, marketers had to submit their sites to the major search engines in order to be included in their search results. But this was a cumbersome process that obviously didn’t scale as the World Wide Web grew, so it was pretty much eliminated in the early 2000s.
While you can still find submission pages on some search engines’ sites (check out this one for Bing), going through the submission process is totally unnecessary now and a complete waste of time. If some supposed SEO expert tells you they will submit your site to the major search engines, stay far, far away from them.
2. Meta keyword tags are still important. These also used to be an important component of SEO. But it was easy for spammers to abuse the technique so none of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo! and Bing) consider it to be an important ranking factor any longer.
But don’t confuse meta keyword tags with title tags and meta description tags, which remain important. Title tags are the clickable headlines you see on search engine results pages — they should accurately and concisely describe the content on a webpage. Meta description tags are the brief (one or two sentence) summaries of the content on a webpage that appear beneath the title tag.
3. Keyword stuffing still works. I’ll bet you’ve seen web pages that were keyword stuffed. They try to cram long-tail keywords into the copy as often as possible in an effort to rank high for these keywords. Something like:
“We sell cheap ink toner cartridges. Our cheap ink toner cartridges are 100% guaranteed. If you’re looking for cheap ink toner cartridges, contact the cheap ink toner cartridge specialists at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
The major search engines have evolved to the point that they easily recognize such blatant keyword stuffing and penalize or even blacklist sites that try to use it. Instead, concentrate on writing well-crafted copy for human beings, not web bots, to read.
4. Paid search — or pay-per-click (PPC) — improves organic search results. Paid search results — the links that appear at the top of a search engine results page and say “Ad” next to them — do not affect organic search results. They might deliver clicks, but the major search engines have all put policies in place that separate the PPC and search quality sides of the business.
This is similar to what’s referred to in the magazine world as the “separation of church and state.” Journalistic integrity requires that a “wall” be erected between the editorial and advertising sales departments so big advertisers don’t receive undeserved favorable coverage or treatment in the publication.
No Shortcuts to Success
There are no shortcuts to successful SEO. Depending on your business and industry, achieving high search engine rankings can take months and cost tens of thousands of dollars or more.
And if any supposed SEO expert or consultant tells you they can easily get you on the first page of Google with just a few simple tricks or techniques, you should run, not walk, in the opposite direction!