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5 of the Biggest SEO Myths Busted for 2020

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19 Mar 2020

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Ever come across a piece of content predicting the imminent demise of SEO?

Or had a client who expects to rocket to the top of the SERPs the day after you cash their first check?

Given the sheer volume of content published about SEO, it’s little wonder that misinformation abounds.

There are hundreds (if not thousands) of SEO myths, but a select few are particularly persistent and widespread.

If you’re a seasoned SEO, maybe this isn’t the post for you (though the section on LSI keywords is probably still worth a look).

But if you (or your clients) have ever wondered whether any of these SEO-perstitions are real…

Allow us to myth-bust five of the biggest.

MYTH: SEO is Dead!

MYTH: SEO is Instantaneous

MYTH: One and Done SEO

MYTH: Keyword Density is Crucial for SEO

MYTH: Link Building is Dead!

 

MYTH: SEO Is Dead

We’re probably preaching to the choir on this one since you’re reading the SEOButler blog…

Nevertheless, for as long as search marketing has existed, pundits have been predicting SEO’s demise.

Maybe not tomorrow, but soon — and likely for good.

Each new year brings a rash of articles claiming that SEO, or link-building, or outreach is no longer worth the effort or the money in 20XX.

While it’s undeniable that ‘gaming’ Google is harder than ever — and getting harder every day — that doesn’t mean SEO doesn’t still play a crucial marketing role for global corporations, local businesses, and solopreneurs

SEO detractors argue that paid search, rich and featured snippets, People Also Ask (PAA), and ‘position zero’ have displaced the top organic results in the SERPs.

All of that may be true, but does it really make the real estate occupied by the top organic search results any less valuable?

A widely cited 2019 study by Backlinko found that the #1 position in Google organic search got 31.7% of all clicks.

CTR Breakdown(Source: Backlinko)

Contrast that with the clickthrough rate (CTR) of position 10 at 3.1% — a dropoff over 90%. 

How’s the view from page 2?

Less than 1% of searchers clicked through to a page 2 search result.

What about all the algorithm updates — like BERT — since early 2019?

AWR CTR
(Source: Advanced Web Ranking)

January 2020 data from Advanced Web Ranking shows CTR for the #1 spot at 36.06% while #10 plummets to 1.04% — a 97% drop.

Compelling evidence that — despite a smaller on-page SERP footprint — organic rankings matter as much as ever in 2020.

Given that 90.63% of content gets no traffic from Google — do you really it’s possible to rank sites and pages without SEO?

 

MYTH: SEO is Instantaneous

We’ve established that SEO is alive and kicking in 2020.

If you haven’t yet optimized your website(s) for search — you’re probably itching to get started.

That’s a good thing!

After all, for existing sites, better SEO late than never.

For new websites, you can ‘bake in’ SEO, right from the start.

After all, once you SEO, you’ll start seeing immediate results, right?

Not so fast.

Like most good things, SEO takes time.

You might see some quick wins, no doubt — but patience is prudent.

The length of time SEO takes to make an impact is the subject of considerable debate.

But, it’s at least partially dependent on whether your site is new or established.

Let’s take a quick look at both.

SEO for New Sites

In SEO, age is more than just a number.

But that doesn’t mean you have to scour auction sites hoping to score a domain registered in 1996.

As former Google spokesperson, Matt Cutts said, “I wouldn’t obsess about having an old domain. The fact is, it’s the quality of your content, and the sort of [back]links that you get as a result of the quality of your content, that determine how well you’re going to rank.”

GoDaddy Domain Auction(Source: GoDaddy)

As you can see from the above screenshot, pre-owned domains definitely do change hands for significant sums, but that’s typically due to the strength of a site’s backlink profile, not the age of the domain.

Ahrefs URX Analysis(Source: Ahrefs)

Take the top domain on GoDaddy’s auction site as an example — URX.com — which has an asking price of $17,000, and over 30 bids approaching that princely sum.

The site has over 6K backlinks and a Domain Rating of 51. For the right buyer in the right niche, metrics like that might be worth paying top dollar for — but they have little to do with the age of the domain.

Even still, caveat emptor.

According to Webmaster Trends Analyst, John Mueller, Google is actively trying to better “recognize when a new website is really not the same as it was… and that [its backlinks] apply to the old website, but don’t apply to the new one.”

If you’re building a site from scratch, Cutts advises, “Buy a domain and put up a placeholder page to let people know what’s coming. By the time you get your website live, that’s often two or three months down the line already.”

Good advice, because it does take some time for Google to index a new website.

Crawling and Indexing for New Websites

According to Google, it can take between four days and four weeks to crawl and index a new website.

It’s critical to ensure your new site is crawled and indexed — otherwise, Google can’t ‘see’ your website, and any SEO efforts will be for nothing.

This checklist is a good start.

Google Indexing Checklist(Source: Google)

If you’re interested in getting your site and pages indexed faster by Google — and really, who isn’t? — SEO guru Ryan Stewart has valuable advice, as does Ahrefs.

Google Sandbox

Indexing is an established SEO fact.

The concept of Google Sandbox — never officially confirmed or denied by Google — has been around since at least 2005, and is taken as a given by many SEOs.

Google Sandbox may (or may not) be a filter Google uses to prevent new websites from ranking high in the SERPs.

Think of Sandbox as probation for new websites — meaning even after Google indexes a site, there’s still an arbitrary waiting period before a website can fulfill its ranking potential.

How long Sandbox ‘penalizes’ new sites for is the subject of even more debate than whether it exists at all.

Estimates range from “a of couple months” (from Google’s Matt Cutts), to nine months (from Moz founder Rand Fishkin), to a year or more.

Some even adhere to the ‘thirteen-month rule’ for new sites — speculating that Google assumes less committed webmasters won’t bother renewing a site’s hosting after the first year.

Whether or not Google Sandbox exists in such a simple form as an arbitrary waiting period, there is broad consensus amongst SEOs that new sites struggle to rank in Google for their first six to 13 months.

Google’s John Mueller backs up our head of SEO, Florian Kluge, who says, “Sandbox doesn’t exist in the classic sense, but Google certainly has different algorithms and features in place that perform a similar function.”

Matt Diggity, who participated in our 2020 SEO Roundup, developed an SEO strategy for reducing a website’s time in the Sandbox by timing backlinks to make them appear as natural to Google as possible.

SEO for Existing Sites

Once a site is indexed — a bare minimum requirement for any website — and out of the Sandbox, how long does it take for new pages and content to rank?

Whether you’re doing SEO for yourself or clients, this is likely to be one of your first questions.

Ahrefs analyzed data from 2 million random keywords and the Top 10 ranking SERPs for each one in order to find out.

Age of Page in Rankings(Source: Ahrefs)

This chart shows that the average page in the Top 10 is over two years old, and the average #1 result is nearly three years old.

Pages Less Than One Year Old(Source: Ahrefs)

Contrast that with pages less than one-year-old, and the data clearly indicates a strong correlation between age and SERP rank.

Only 5.7% of pages (on average) managed to rank in the Top 10 less than a year after publication.

Lucky Pages in Rankings(Source: Ahrefs)

Ahrefs also found that the ‘lucky’ pages that managed to rank the fastest had a relatively high Domain Rating (DR).

DR is a proprietary Ahrefs metric indicating the overall strength of a website’s backlink profile.

This finding indicates that not only does age matter when it comes to rankings, SEO also has a cumulative effect.

The more content you create that other sites link to, the more powerful your backlink profile.

The more powerful your backlink profile (as measured by DR), the more likely you’ll be able to rank content faster.

Like it or not — and your clients probably won’t — SEO is not instantaneous.

For the reasons explored above (and many, many more), SEO is a gradual and painstaking process.

Beware of any ‘expert’ or vendor who tells you different.

 

MYTH: One and Done SEO

If only it were that simple…

Hire a reputable and talented SEO or agency to soup up your site.

Or learn the ins and outs of search marketing and DIY.

Either approach can yield vastly improved performance.

But, beware of anyone who tells you your digital properties only need to be SEO’d once.

Sure, if your site has never been optimized for search, conducting thorough technical SEO and content audits will almost certainly uncover opportunities for quick and lasting wins.

But true SEO is an ongoing, ever-evolving process.

As with any well-oiled machine, your website needs regular tune-ups to operate at peak performance.

Unlike with an automobile, for example, scheduled maintenance of your sites — while certainly important — isn’t enough to maximize SEO.

Imagine if your car had to navigate different terrains and adapt to new conditions over 3,000 times a year?

That’s the number of times Google updated its search algorithm in 2018.

Of course, most of these changes are minor — and certainly not worthy of an update name like BERT or Medic.

But major core updates do happen often, and — when it comes to your rankings — they can change almost everything.

A prime example is the precipitous decline in the rankings of sites heavily dependent on Private Blog Networks (PBNs) for their position in the SERPs.

Up until several years ago, PBNs were a highly effective and easily implemented way of augmenting a site’s backlink profile to manipulate Google’s search rankings artificially.

In 2014, that all changed — resulting in “a complete slaughterfest” for sites reliant on PBNs for their inflated rankings.

PBNs never went away completely, but the reputable SEOs that still use them do so with an abundance of caution.

Our friend, Matt Diggity, recently published a guide to PBN hosting in 2020.

Nathan Gotch, founder of Gotch SEO Academy, once a huge proponent of PBNs, notes, “Knowing how to manipulate a search engine is not an evergreen skill. You [can] go from SEO expert to working at McDonald’s overnight.”

In the case of PBNs, the SEO strategy that brought untold websites ranking success was directly responsible for their downfall.

The very SEO techniques that pay dividends today may become a liability tomorrow.

If your business is at all dependent on search rankings for success, SEO needs to be an ongoing investment.

Once and done just isn’t going to cut it over the long term.

 

MYTH: Keyword Density is Crucial for SEO

Keyword density is one of the oldest SEO metrics — and it just refuses to die.

There’s no shortage of articles, even in 2020, that will tell you that keyword density is integral to ranking your content on Google.

This concept led directly to ‘keyword stuffing’ — the technique of shoehorning target keywords into content at every opportunity, regardless of context.

Keyword stuffing may have worked in the early days of SEO, but it quickly led to unnatural, often value-free content.

Keyword Stuffing Google(Source: Google)

Keyword stuffing, or ‘irrelevant keywords,’ is a specific violation of Google’s Search Quality Guidelines.

Even though keyword density has been widely discredited as a metric, a search for ‘keyword density checker’ still returns over half a million results.

There are plenty of people — especially beginners — using keyword density to inform their content creation.

But, while old-fashioned keyword density may be a useless metric in 2020, that doesn’t mean keyword placement and frequency don’t have a place in modern SEO.

Kyle Roof, founder of PageOptimizerPro (and SEOButler contributor), famously ranked a page on Google using only a keyword and lorem ipsum content in a 2018 SEO Signals Lab challenge.

Kyle and his team used SEO testing to identify where on-page keyword placement has the most impact on ranking, rated in descending order from A to D.

Keyword Placement(Source: PageOptimizerPro)

In a separate test, Kyle also found that content with an emphasis on LSI keywords performed measurably better than content that merely emphasized traditional, or ‘target,’ keywords.

LSI stands for Latent Semantic Imaging. LSI, as a concept, has been around since the late 1980s and is a complex component of Natural Language Processing (NLP), which I’ve written about extensively for the blog.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock — or you’re not an avid follower of SEO — you’ve no doubt heard both NLP and LSI bandied about with more and more regularity in the last few years.

Both acronyms have become major SEO buzzwords. They were spoken about constantly at Chiang Mai SEO 2019.

Without delving deep into the science behind it, LSI — especially as it pertains to SEO — uses machine learning to better understand what words mean in relation to the other words around them in large bodies of text.

In other words, LSI is all about context — something that comes naturally to humans but has mostly eluded technology so far.

To drill down further, ‘LSI keywords’ are, theoretically, keywords semantically-related to the target keyword or topic.

For example, if your topic is dogs, LSI keywords might be Labrador, Poodle, Welsh Terrier…

If your topic is Best Coffee Maker, LSI keywords could include filter, pod, espresso, grinder, etc.

You get the idea.

Google uses NLP (definitely) and LSI keywords (maybe), to better match the user intent behind a search query to results.

Google’s BERT update actually takes its name from NLP technology — the initials stand for Bidirectional Encoder Representations from Transformers — so there’s no doubt that Google is using NLP to improve search results.

It follows then that NLP is already impacting SEO and SERP rankings.

So, does that mean judicious use of LSI keywords will boost your rankings?

Have LSI keywords taken over from keyword density as a ‘magic bullet’ for creating SEO-friendly content in 2020?

Kyle had positive results when testing LSI keywords — so much so that an LSI feature has been added to PageOptimizer Pro.

But whether LSI keywords actually even exist is still hotly debated.

Google’s John Mueller weighed in on Twitter, with what seems like a pretty definitive answer.
John Mueller TweetSEO legend Bill Slawski explored whether Google uses LSI at length.

He concludes that LSI is an old, pre-web technology that attempted to solve NLP issues that still exist today.

LSI may indeed be a misnomer for how Google analyzes synonyms and semantics — an outdated method to solve a still relevant problem.

But, no matter what you call it, any insight into how Google’s search algorithm evaluates, ‘understands’ and ranks content is shaping up to be a crucial component of SEO strategy going forward.

Like PageOptimizer Pro, on-page SEO competitor, Surfer, also offers LSI keyword functionality and recently launched NLP analysis.

We’re big fans of Surfer — so much so that we’ve added Surfer-optimized content to our content product mix.

But even Surfer requires human finesse and skill to bring true value.

(Watch this space for an upcoming case study on this topic).

As for keyword density, next-generation on-page SEO tools like Surfer, PageOptimizer Pro, and Cora must surely be the final nail in the coffin of this SEO myth that just won’t die.

 

Top SEOs agree…

Backlinks remain one of the most important ranking signals for Google in 2020.

Ranking Factors Ranked(Source: SparkToro)

In an opinion survey of over 1,500 SEOs conducted in late 2019 by SparkToro, quality backlinks ranked second only behind the “relevance of overall page content” as the most critical ranking factor.

As Florian Kluge, head of SEO at our sister agency, Nyumi, puts it, “Link building is far from dead, it’s just harder than ever to get away with low quality, irrelevant links.”

Not all backlinks are created equal — and a link building strategy focused on quantity, not quality may end up doing more harm than good.

Certain kinds of backlinks — like links from PBNs as discussed above — can lead to Google wiping out your website rankings overnight.

In all things, Google frowns heavily on attempts to manipulate its search algorithm to boost rankings artificially.

One of the best (and most ‘legitimate’) ways to build a strong backlink profile is to publish first-rate content that other sites naturally want to link back to.

Creating ‘link-worthy’ content is no easy feat — according to a recent study by Ahrefs, over 90% of content on the web receives no traffic from Google.

90 Percent No Search Traffic(Source: Ahrefs)

Building links through thoughtful outreach to promote your content can pay dividends not only in SEO terms but also by raising awareness of you and your business.

After all, if people can’t find the content you create, what are the chances of them reading it?

Other crucial ways to promote content include:

Given how fundamental link building remains in 2020, it’s also never been harder to obtain backlinks from high-authority sites.

Guest posting remains one of the best ways to earn backlinks and build your personal and brand authority.

But the folks running high-authority websites are no longer under any illusion about the high value of any real estate — or backlink — they give you.

A solid alternative to cold outreach for guest posts is working with a service provider that has existing relationships with real, high-authority sites in a variety of niches.

After all, outreach is time-consuming and often unproductive. A study of over 12 million outreach emails found that only 8.5% even received a response.

SEOButler has a list of over 400 thoroughly vetted sites that have previously agreed to accept guest posts from our team of talented, US and UK college-educated writers.

Site owners are guaranteed content they can publish with confidence — and our clients score a backlink to the webpage of their choice.

A win-win if there ever was one.

For customers that have already made extensive use of our database, we even offer a custom outreach service, allowing customers to tap into our years of outreach experience.

Whatever method you use to build external links to your digital properties, a strong backlink profile remains crucial for SEO success.

Link building is alive and well in 2020.

What SEO Myths Are We Missing?

We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing five of the most common SEO myths debunked.

But there are so many more!

Which myths do you run into all the time?

Are some myths more dangerous than others?

Do your own myth-busting in the comments!

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