Six Search Engine Myths Exposed

Learn the truth to save time, save money and get better rankings!

© Diane M. Aull

How much do you know about how search engines work?

If your answer is: "not much," well, you’re not alone. Most small business people don’t really know how search engines do what they do. And a lot of what folks think they know is wrong.

In the case of the search engines, for small business owners, ignorance is definitely not bliss. Fall prey to one of these search engine myths, and you could find yourself wasting time, wasting money, and potentially even hurting your business web sites’s rankings!

Myth #1: You have to submit your site to thousands of search engines and resubmit periodically to maintain your rankings. It’s a good idea to pay a for a monthly submission service as part of a strong SEO strategy.
Truth: You never have to submit to search engines. Search engines find new sites by following links when they revisit existing sites in their index. The way to get indexed in the search engines is by getting links from other sites.

There are not "thousands" of search engines out there that matter in terms of traffic generation or rankings. Frankly, there aren’t even dozens. There is really only a handful of major players that you need to concern yourself with. And once you’ve been indexed by a search engine spider, resubmitting is a waste of time.

Little known fact: Even though your site’s pages might be indexed by Google, if there are no links to your site from other sites, sooner or later your pages will be dropped from Google’s index. So, rather than submitting your site, spend a little time getting links from other sites. Not only will it get your pages spidered to begin with, it will help them stay in the index.

Action tip: You should submit your site to directories. Directories can be an excellent source of inbound links for new sites that are just getting established. Be sure to read each directory’s terms of service and abide by their submission guidelines. Automated submission tools are generally not a good idea. Be aware that many so-called "directories" out there are nothing more than spammy link farms or useless free-for-all (FFA) sites that will do you no good. Submitting to these is simply a waste of time. For suggestions of important directories to consider, check out this thread on the High Rankings search engine optimization forum. And, just as with search engines, once you’re listed in a directory, continually resubmitting is a waste of time — and may actually result in your side being dropped from some directories.

Myth #2: "Good" SEOs can guarantee you a certain number of top ten rankings.
Truth: Many unethical SEOs will promote their "guarantee" of top ten rankings for a certain number of keywords as though this is some sort of testament to the quality of their work. The fact is, almost anyone can get top ten rankings if they select very non-competitive keywords.

But what good does it do you to get a top ten ranking for fifty different keywords, if nobody on the planet ever uses any of those keywords to search for anything you offer? It isn’t important how many top ten rankings they get you. What’s important is if they can get you improved rankings for the words and phrases that your customers are actually using in real life to search for your products or services.

Little known fact: Key phrases are more important than key words. Most searchers learn quickly that one-word searches don’t bring back quality results, so the majority of searches today involve two or three-word phrases. The trick is to determine which phrases are used by people who are actually looking to purchase the product or service you offer. In general, if you want to attract people who are ready to buy, more specific phrases are preferable to more general terms.

Action tip: Keyphrase research and selection is an art. For search term research, I recommend Trellian’s Keyword Discovery or Wordtracker. These services will help you identify phrases related to your business or industry that are actually used in real-world searches. Another good source of information are your own web server log files; these will tell you the terms under which your site is already being found. However, your best bet is probably to find a knowledgeable SEO and combine your industry experience with their search engine expertise to find the most appropriate phrases to target for your site.

Myth #3: There are industry insider secrets that SEOs use to get top rankings. Just buy an e-book or join a website that promises to reveal these secrets and you can have guaranteed top rankings, too.
Truth: There are no secret tricks that will always work to get your site to the top of the results for any search term you desire. To get started with the basics of search engine optimization, all you have to do is read the terms of service and submission guidelines for the major search engines and directories.

However, the more competitive the terms are for which you want good rankings, the more advanced your SEO skills need to be. As with anything else, the more you practice and learn, the better you get. At some point, you may well find that it’s worth the investment to hire a professional SEO rather than continuing to spend the amount of time it takes to become truly proficient.

Little known fact: There are any number of "tricks" used by some SEOs that are technically in violation of the recommendations of the search engines. Other, less-experienced SEOs often tout techniques (such as META tag keyword stuffing) that, while not necessarily harmful, won’t really do your pages much good. Changes happen rapidly in the world of SEO. By the time the general public hears about a "new trick" that will help boost search engine rankings, that trick is probably already on the way out of favor (assuming it ever actually did any good to start with).

Action tip: Do your homework. Be sure you’re familiar with the terms of service and guidelines for the major search engines. If you have only a short-term business model, you may, in fact, find that it pays to employ the latest "tricks" to try to obtain higher rankings as quickly as possible. If you would like for your business to be around and doing well in the search engines for the long-term, however, you would do well to steer away from any questionable practices.

Myth #4: Search engine optimization doesn’t take a lot of hard work. Just buy the right automated tool and it’s all done for you.
Truth: While automated site-checker or SEO tools can be helpful in pointing the newbie SEO in the right direction, SEO generally does’t work well as a "paint-by-numbers" exercise. Search engine optimization is more of an art than a science, and the most important SEO tool is the one located between your ears.

Little known fact: Google uses 100-200 different factors to determine how to rank any given page, and they tweak the weighting of these factors all the time. No one outside of Google headquarters knows exactly what all these factors are, what weight any of them is assigned at any given time, or what the weight is going to be tomorrow or next week. It’s a similar situation with every major search engine.

Despite what some unethical SEOs might claim, nobody has "insider access" to the search engines that allows them to beat the algorhythm or know in advance what the algorhythm will be. The best a software package can do is help you optimize your site for the factors and weighting appeared to be at some point in the past.

Action tip: One of the most important (and often overlooked) SEO techniques is to simply make sure your site is spider-friendly… and this is something that every site owner can do. As an easy test, try turning off JavaScript and images in your browser and see if you can still navigate easily through your site. If you can’t do it, neither can the search engine spiders! And if they can’t navigate your pages, they can’t index or rank them.

Myth #5: Search engine optimization is "deep magic" and can only be understood by professionals.
Truth: You may want to consult with professionals if you’re in a highly competitive field, and you may find it’s a better use of your time to concentrate on running your business while leaving SEO to the specialists. However, the basic steps of SEO aren’t hard to grasp. Depending on the size of your business, your budget and your goals, you may find it’s preferable to do your own optimization.

Little known fact: SEO is not an all-or-nothing proposition. You don’t have to do everything at once, and you don’t have to use every trick in the book in order to improve your rankings. Sometimes even small changes to your site can result in large shifts in the search engine results. Don’t be afraid to get started, even if you only have the time or budget to start small.

Action tip: Read the articles linked from the Tips for New SEO thread at the High Rankings search engine optimization forum. If you plan to do your own optimization, he ideas and resources mentioned in this thread will give you a solid head start. If you plan to hire an SEO, the information in this thread will help you evaluate the candidates’ proposed strategies and make an informed decision.

Myth #6: The goal of SEO is traffic. If you get your top ten rankings and your site traffic goes up, your SEOs have done their job.
Truth: While it may have been in the past that the only goal of SEO was increasing traffic, enlightened SEOs today know that the goal should be to increase targeted traffic, leading to an increase in sales. What good does it do you to get more traffic from the search engines if none of that traffic is leading to additional sales?

Little known fact: When you increase targeted traffic, overall site traffic may actually decrease. By targeting more specific search terms that are used by buyers (not just window-shoppers), you can greatly increase your conversion ratio (that is, the percentage of site visitors who actually buy something). You may see fewer "just looking" visits. As long as your overall sales figures stay steady or increase, your campaign has been successful.

Action tip: Repeat to yourself for five minutes every day: "It’s not just more traffic that matters; I want better targeted traffic!"


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Copyright © Diane M. Aull, an online consultant for small and mid-sized businesses. For more information about her services, visit NineYards.com or BootstrapSEO. For resources and tools for home based workers, visit Torka's Home for Wayward Girls.

For any other intended use, you must contact me in advance. If you do use this article on your website, I'd love to know about it; please send me the URL!

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