I’ve been working in the search engine optimization (SEO) space for years, yet I’m still pleasantly surprised to learn new things about the industry. I’ll discover a new update, or witness a trick used by one of my colleagues, and rush to the drawing board to incorporate it into my running campaigns. SEO is truly an industry of constant evolution and discovery, so I try not to succumb to the illusion that I know everything about it.
But on the other hand, the fundamentals of SEO have remained more or less the same, despite two decades of progression. And, in part because people never bothered to learn how SEO really works and in part because of myths that are still circulated by uninformed writers, most people still don’t fully understand how those fundamentals work.
In my conversations with SEO newcomers (including some people radically opposed to the idea), I’ve discovered there are eight main points that most people get wrong about SEO:
- It’s a gimmick, trick, or scheme. The way some people talk about SEO, it’s natural to think it’s some kind of gimmick. It may have been presented to you as a sequence of tricks designed to get your site to rank above others in search results; but this is only partially true. The white-hat search optimizer isn’t trying to deceive Google’s search algorithm or game their way to the top. Instead, they’re trying to figure out what website features and content are most important to users (and search engines), and provide it to them. Most of the time, this results in organic, well-intentioned website improvements—not spam, hacks, or short-term tricks.
- Keyword rankings are all that matter. Yes, one of SEO’s biggest priorities is getting you ranked as high as possible in search engine results pages (SERPs), but this often leads to an error in prioritization, with marketers believing keyword rankings are all that matter. In fact, there are dozens of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) you should be measuring to gauge your campaign’s success, and keyword rankings are only one of them.
- Google penalties are a major threat. The way some people write about Google penalties, you’d think they were handed out more often than speeding tickets. But the reality is, the most severe Google penalties are a result of a manual action—in response to truly egregious behavior that most webmasters know to stay away from. Automatic penalties, or temporary ranking drops, are more common but far less severe. If you follow best practices, you have nothing to worry about.
- The less you spend on SEO, the better. SEO is known for being a cost-effective strategy with a high return on investment (ROI). Accordingly, many newcomers think the best approach to SEO is to spend as little as possible to avoid risk and maximize long-term returns. However, low budgets often come with amateur work and minimal strategic execution; in many cases, it’s better to spend more on better services.
- SEO is too technically complex. It’s true that there are many technical components to SEO, and to a first-timer, things like robots.txt file editing and canonical tags can look intimidating. But even without coding experience, it’s possible to learn the basics of areas like these within a few hours. I maintain that SEO is highly learnable—so long as you’re dedicated to mastering it. And to help people learn it, I wrote SEO 101: A Guide for the Technically Challenged.
- SEO is easy. That said, I’ve also seen people on the other side of the fence, insisting that SEO is so simple anyone can do it without experience. That isn’t quite true either. You can learn many SEO concepts in an afternoon, but there are so many variables to remember and so many strategic directions you could take, it takes years of practice before you can consider yourself a master. And even then, you need to keep up with the latest industry changes if you want to stay relevant.
- Link building is spam. Link building can be spammy—if you execute it poorly or without strategic planning. But capable link builders know that the tactic isn’t about stamping your links on as many off-site pages as possible; it’s about creating relevant, valuable content that people want to read, and including natural, informative links within that content to boost your search relevance. If you’re doing link building right, you’ll be adding value to the web (and boosting your own domain authority as a fortunate side effect).
- The process is always the same. This is one of the biggest misconceptions I see; people seem to think the SEO process is always the same. They expect an SEO agency to use a reliable procedure, step by step, and get the same results for client B that they did for client A, within the same timeframe. But the truth is this is nearly impossible; SEO is an art as much as it is a science, and different clients will require different targeting strategies, execution methods, and investment levels to get comparable results.
If you’ve held any of these beliefs or assumptions, I can’t blame you; with so much content in circulation, and few opportunities to learn the basics of the strategy, it’s natural that you may have a skewed vision of how SEO really works. Of course, even if you do have a grasp of the fundamentals, there’s always something new to learn coming up around the bend.
Hopefully, this article has given you grounds to challenge one of your underlying assumptions, has taught you something new, or has sparked a renewed interest in SEO. There’s much to learn, even from a ground level, and plenty of time to learn it.