There are probably few other digital marketing areas rife with more myths and scams than search engine optimization, SEO for short. Reading some of these “strategies” is like reading from Grimm’s Fairy Tales! From the day search engines finally debuted on the Internet, people tried to game them to get free traffic to their sites. It attracted no shortage of scam artists as well.
As search engine technology has improved, primarily driven by Google, tricking the search engines has become nearly impossible. Unfortunately, the myths of how to do it and the scam artist promising “free traffic” and “page one listings on Google” persist.
So, let’s tackle some of these harmful myths and shine some light on the scam artists still operating in the space.
Myth 1: Just Add Secret Code to Your Website
This myth is one of the most stubborn to get rid of, and while it has faded, it still exists. Let me say this as clearly as I can. There is NO secret code a web designer can add to your site that will shoot your site to page one on Google, period. It doesn’t exist; it is a complete myth. Nobody can guarantee this either. If they do you are being scammed. Search engine optimization is the result of hard work, testing, and time.
I once got into an argument with a potential client over this issue. He insisted that he had talked to a friend who designed websites, and she assured him that any web designer could add a few little pieces of code and a few other tricks to any website. It would immediately go to page one of Google for the keywords you wanted and stay there. When I explained there was no such secret code, he said I was holding out on him, and I didn’t want to do it for his business! I finally told him that he should go to the person who told him this is possible and let them put this “secret code” in since she claimed to know how to do it. I didn’t hear from him again nor did I ever see his site listed in the top 10 spots on Google, apparently his other webmaster didn’t know the secret sauce either. There is NO secret search engine optimization code that can be added to your site. A skilled and experienced web designer will tell you this and it is true.
Website Search Engine Optimization Practices
There are plenty of good practices that your web designer should do to encourage search engines to index your site correctly, but they aren’t secret, and they will not launch your site to page one of Google overnight. In search engine optimization we refer to these items as “on page” strategies. These items include:
- Responsive Site: Having a responsive site that scales from desktop to mobile device is a mandatory item. It is hard to believe that sites still exist today that are not responsive, but they do, and running them will severely penalize your site in the search engines and make SEO almost impossible. Make sure your site is responsive and looks good on all device platforms.
- Poor Performance: If your website isn’t optimized for performance or you have large photos, poor code, slow loading assets and other elements that cause your website to load slowly you will be penalized. The general rule of thumb is a site should load in 3 seconds or less, but faster is always better.
- Inadequate Security: A few years ago, Google decided that ALL websites should maintain SSL certificates. An SSL certificate encrypts content going back and forth from your website to the visitor. In the early days of web design, this was required to accept credit card information or private information like Social Security numbers through your website. Today SSL certificates need to be on every site. If you don’t have one, Google will penalize your site and it will hurt your Search engine optimization efforts.
- Poor or No Content: This is a big one. Search engines want authoritative websites. That is going to be a website with a lot of rich content on it. Optimize your content for your targeted keywords you want to rank for. Refresh or add new content continually. If your website only has the basics, stuff I can get from a brochure or Google My Business like a list of your services, company history, and hours of operation you need help. Hire a content marketer.
Myth 2: Guaranteed Page One of Google Providers
Your email is probably filled daily with promises from shadowy providers with a guarantee that they can get you put on page one of Google for a fee. This is false, and most of these people are scam artists. Nobody can guarantee you a page-one result on Google. However, please don’t take my word for it. Google themselves say it is not possible.
Some providers have very fine print that would make any attorney proud, with all the conditions for their “service” in it. One of the things you might find buried in there is that they don’t guarantee which word you will rank for on page one of Google. In other words, they will find a keyword that almost nobody searches with and is unrelated to your business and easy to rank for. This is likely a keyword you could have ranked yourself for without any help if you even wanted it.
For example, say you have a business selling lawn and garden products. You would like to come up at the top of Google for words related to your actual business, such as lawnmower, trimmers, lawn fertilizer, etc. What this company will rank you for are words like “plant food used in Uzbekistan.” If your company happens to be in Uzbekistan and sells plant food, you are in good shape. If not, you will find you get no good traffic from a high Google listing like this, but you will get a fee just the same, and they will have met their guarantee.
Myth 3: Secret Techniques to Generate Traffic
This is like the myth above. Some sketchy providers promise to use secret techniques such as doorway pages, cloaked domains, link-building schemes, and other strategies. In the early days of search engine technology, some of these techniques worked for a short time. They don’t work any longer and have not worked for many years. Using any of these techniques could get you banned from Google. Also, any traffic they bring to your site is likely not qualified traffic. Sure, it bumps your traffic numbers up but doesn’t do a thing for your sales. It bears repeating, search engine optimization is about quality content, authoritative links, and quality web design. In other words hard work, ongoing improvements, and time.
Valid SEO Strategies
You may be asking what does work? It isn’t a secret. It takes hard work and working with a knowledgeable web designer and digital marketing firm. Here are the main ingredients of an effective SEO strategy.
- SEO Strategy: It starts with a basic SEO strategy plan. The plan should outline who your target audience is and the keywords they use when searching for a business like yours. Once you have those keywords, you need to do research with an SEO consultant on which ones you have a chance of ranking for and developing new ones that will bring in targeted traffic. If you have stiff competition for keywords you want you can try using long tailed keywords to get more traction. Then your site and content (see below) are built around these keywords.
- Properly Designed Web Site: As discussed above, having a well-designed website that is responsive, organized, secure, optimized for performance, and utilizes proper SEO plugins and tools are the first steps to being ranked well. A site designed like this will make it easy for Google to find and index your content.
- Content: Also mentioned earlier. It would help if you had an effective content marketing strategy. No matter what type of business you have, content marketing will help. Content marketing is an entire discipline within digital marketing, and not every web designer can do it or even offers it. Find a web designer or company that does.
- SEO Tools: I recommend most businesses build sites in WordPress. This is a robust development platform with many plugins and tools built-in or available to optimize your content and help your site perform well in search engines. WordPress makes up about 35% of the websites worldwide and is growing daily. Yoast is a popular plugin for SEO and one we have used ourselves. There are others as well.
- Data Analytics: SEO is an ongoing effort. It is NOT a one-and-done kind of project. You need to monitor your traffic and content. When you find content that is resonating with people, you create similar stuff. When you see traffic numbers climbing and bounce rates declining, you are on the right path. Let your data guide your efforts. Trying to do SEO without good data analytics is like flying a plane blind with no instruments.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a real way to develop traffic to your website. There are no shortcuts no matter what you are being told. It involves strategy and hard work as well as continual monitoring and improvement via data analytics. It is not going to be “free” traffic. It will take time, money, and work to achieve it, but is well worth the effort.
If some web designer or shadowy organization comes to you with promises of getting you on page one of Google or pitching you on a quick shortcut that will yield big results know that you are being conned. If you follow their advice in a best-case scenario you will see no improvements and flush a bunch of money down the toilet. In a worst-case scenario, they will do things that cause Google to ban you. Stay away from the big promises of fast fixes.
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