All the recent Google algorithm updates -- Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird -- have turned what were once widely practiced SEO beliefs into myths. For instance, guest blog posting used to be a popular way to get quality links, but Google recently "stuck a fork" in the practice and proclaimed it "done."
So what are the most common SEO myths and misconceptions today? We queried the SEO and online-marketing communities for their top picks and best practices in this post-Panda/Penguin world.
Myth 1: Link Building is Dead
"All the Google penalty propaganda and prevalence of spammy link building has led some people to decry the fine art of link building, claiming that pushing to gain links to improve your rankings will land you in hot water with Google," says Evan Pryce, head of SEO at SUSO.
"In reality, you're never going to compete in a competitive industry without some element of link building," Pryce says. "The risks have certainly increased if you don't know what you're doing, but smart and tactical link building from reputable websites is still the most effective way of improving your rankings and bringing in more traffic and revenue from organic search."
Pryce says companies should continue to look for link opportunities but also avoid anything that's too obvious, such as mass directory submissions or low-quality guest posts on irrelevant, small-time blogs.
"The safest and most defensible link-building strategy is to go out and build relationships with influential industry figures. The links gained from nurtured relationships will be some of the best links you can get and won't be easy for your competitors to replicate," Pryce says.
Building links is problematic these days if the intention is to "manipulate search rankings," says Nathan Joynt, SEO manager, Volusion. "This is especially true if the links gained are low quality and/or they violate Google's Webmaster guidelines. Brands and SEOs will benefit from a content marketing strategy based on providing the best content possible that will earn links naturally."
"Both the content on your site and the content that is linking to your site need to be of high quality," according to Achalu Narayanan, vice president of Internet Marketing, Egnyte. Narayanan suggests "having relevant and diverse sources that link to relevant pages. When you invest in content, that content can be used for Web pages, blog posts, lead generation offers and guest posts on other sites -- all content types that will bring more links with them over time."
Myth 2: Content Marketing Has Replaced SEO
Content marketing has existed for decades. In the past, some content was created with the sole goal of ranking well in Google searches, regardless of the content's quality, according to Steve Beatty, senior SEO director, Covario.
"Many people took advantage of this, creating bad user experiences for online searchers. Google began to roll out aggressive algorithmic updates to combat it (namely Panda and Penguin)," Beatty says. "This in essence forced marketers, PR, SEO, and social teams to change their strategies and collaborate more to create content that can reap the benefits for all channels."
In light of the recent Google algorithm updates, some believe content marketing is "the new SEO."
"This drives me absolutely crazy," says Brendan Cournoyer, director of content marketing, Brainshark. "The idea is that content and inbound marketing strategies have taken over for the SEO tactics of old, as if the two are somehow mutually exclusive."
Cournoyer believes this myth is born "from a pessimistic view of what SEO is. Content marketing can't replace SEO, because the two don't compete with each other. They work together. SEO is part of a great content strategy. Just because Google puts a premium on high-quality results doesn't mean SEO tactics still don't have value."
The Google algorithm updates have caused some content creators to "churn out garbage blog posts targeting long-tail keywords optimized in a blog-posting format," says Mike LaLonde, digital marketing consultant, Londes Digital Marketing. "Just developing 'good' content isn't enough. It has to be useful to users and something worth sharing. If they aren't sharing it, and if it isn't referenced throughout the Web, it's not useful."
Myth 3: Google Ranking Is All About Links
It's a common belief that Google ranking is focused on links.
"This is another one of those myths that, although it has a basis in truth, is still very commonly misunderstood," says Anthony Tuite, head of SEO at Barracuda Digital. "Google uses numerous factors to determine which position a page should rank for a search query. It is commonly held that backlinks are a key component of demonstrating influence, which in turn positively affects a website's rankings."
But not all links are created equal, Tuite says. "The best way to think of a link is as someone giving feedback about your website. To be considered of value, the feedback must be genuine, truthful, informative and helpful to the user. So you can forget link directories, press releases and so on."
Myth 4: Social Media Signals Directly Impact Search Rankings
The idea that social media signals impact search ranking is "hotly contested" within the SEO community, according to SUSO's Pryce. "While there is clear evidence that having an active and engaged social following can help amplify your marketing efforts and lead to earned links, there is no direct impact on search rankings," he says.
Pryce advises others to continue to grow social profiles "on the most suitable networks, but don't assume that getting more Likes, tweets and Google +1s will directly help your search visibility."
Wilfred Hirst, senior strategist and SEO expert at Brafton, has a different take. "In reality, Google weighs content that has a strong social interaction heavier than content that does not have any social presence. The best practice is to always post your content on Google+, as this will have it indexed immediately."
Myth 5: Google Killed SEO Value of Press Releases
"One of the top SEO myths that came out of Google's recent Panda 4.0 algorithm upgrade is that Google has killed the press release," says Miranda Tan, CEO of MyPRGenie. "But it doesn't mean that posting your release on a press-release site has lost its value."
"The days of writing press releases solely for 'link juice' are over," Tan says. "It's time to start using press releases the way they were used for the first 125 years of their history: as a way to tell the media about your company, products and services. And, of course, as a way to let current or prospective customers keep up with the news from your business. Instead of simply packing keywords into a press release, companies will now have to earn the attention that will get a higher search rank."
Myth 6: It Helps to Optimize All Anchor Text With Keywords
Anchor text is the text within a hyperlinked phrase, such as "click here" when written as click here. In the past, optimizing anchor text with important keywords helped boost search rankings. During the last year or so, Google algorithm updates diminished the power of optimized anchor text.
"Including targeted keywords in a site's internal and external linking structure to boost search rankings is no longer an effective strategy," says Michael Morgenstern, vice president of online marketing, The Expert Institute. "In fact, over- optimizing anchor text for targeted keywords can result in a loss of rankings and/or a manual penalty from search engines."
Myth 7: Google Authorship Helps SEO
The SEO benefits of Google Authorship are debatable. (Google Authorship is an identity-verification process that links a Google+ profile to the Google+ user's online content.)
"There is no concrete evidence showing that search results featuring a well-respected author rank better than those that don't," according to Austin Paley, corporate marketer, Blue Fountain Media. "While [Google Authorship] doesn't have a direct effect on everyone's search results, it's extremely helpful to include author mark-up when applicable."
Google used to display thumbnail photos of verified authors along with their content's search-result listings, and some believed the images helped encourage higher click-through rates. However, Google recently started to discontinue that practice, according to Search Engine Land.
Myth 8: Guest Blogging is Bad for SEO
Google's head of webspam, Matt Cutts, famously denounced guest blogging for SEO purposes in January. Cutts' blog post led many to assume that guest blogging of any type could place you in Google's crosshairs.
"Guest blog posting got nailed by Google because many websites, called spam blogs, were created to manipulate the search rankings," says Dan Stelter, an independent SEO consultant. "They had very low-quality content, and SEOs blogged on them with the sole intent of gaining a link. Others have done similar things, so if Google finds hundreds of links acquired through guest blogs, they'll probably penalize you."
"Today, you should blog with the sole intent of building authority in the eyes of your target market. And you do that by getting exposure on high-profile websites," Stelter says.
Myth 9: No Follow Links Have No Value
Backlinks marked as "rel=nofollow" don't provide the same kind of value that regular "follow" links do, because nofollow links don't pass PageRank. Nonetheless, nofollow links are "still extremely important for businesses," according to Blue Fountain Media's Paley.
"Studies have shown nofollow links have some value in search engine algorithm rankings, and they act as an important part of what Google sees as a 'natural' backlink profile," Paley says. "Not having any nofollow links in a backlink profile is sure to raise a red flag with Google, as it makes your website look as if it is only actively building links instead of naturally getting them as well. Furthermore, just because a link is marked nofollow doesn't mean it won't generate traffic and leads for your business."
Myth 10: Mobile Search is the Same as Desktop Search
Some people believe desktop and mobile search are essentially the same thing, but according to Paul Holman-Kursky, director of content marketing, Extole, that's not the case. "Even though Google dominates browser-based search on mobile devices, apps are growing more dominant in the mobile landscape," he says.
Apps account for 89 percent of mobile media time, according to Nielsen, and the mobile Web accounts for the remaining 11 percent. In addition, 50 percent of mobile searches are performed with local intent, according to MDG Advertising. "This means that when people search on a mobile device, they're often looking for what's near them in the physical world," according to Holman-Kursky.
Bottom line: Marketers, especially ecommerce brand managers, should develop mobile-specific strategies.
Myth 11: Lots of Internal Linksare Good
Internal links, or links that point to other pages on your site, were once an important on-page ranking factor. Recent research from search marketing company Moz, however, shows that the number of internal links on a page is now near the bottom of the list of search engine ranking factors.
"[W]hen it comes to internal links, less is more," according to Dina Akhmetzhanova, search and social media manager, Diligent Commerce Ltd. "Think of the user experience when linking your pages on your site. Would they benefit from five different links on your home page linking to exactly the same page? Also, diverse anchor text for the internal links is quite important. So the key is to keep the number of internal links per page to the minimum as defined by user needs, and use different anchor text every time you add a link."
Myth 13: You Need to Rank Nationally in Search to Succeed
"We have found that almost all worthwhile search is local, especially with Google pushing Google+ and Google-Map results in searches now," says Andrew Anderson, an online marketing consultant. "The reality is that local search beats out national search results in almost every niche. This is because Google+ and Google Maps show up first as more and more people are using their mobile devices for searches, especially when they're looking to purchase."
Anderson suggests updating your Google+ pages weekly.
Myth 14: Quantity of Indexed Pages Helps You Rank Higher
In the past, it was a commonly held belief that a higher number of total indexed pages helped rank a site higher in search.
"This was partially true earlier this year, but now Google is all about quality and relevancy over quantity of pages," says Hirst. "The last Panda update made sure of this. Sites that might only have 40 indexed pages are now showing up above sites that may have 4,000 indexed pages."
Myth 15: SEO Alone Drives Business
"This is one of the most dangerous myths still existing on the Internet, because tens of thousands of businesses optimizing their websites for SEO are investing for returns that will be near impossible to receive," according to Josh Meah, co-founder and COO of JackMyRep.com.
"The truth is that most purchasers of SEO services have the correct expectation that SEO can help drive business, but the wrong knowledge as to how SEO actually helps," Meah says. "SEO is a driver of web traffic, not a driver of business. It's the difference between marketing and sales. Your website or supporting sales staff still needs to close the deal through an effective on-page experience, and you need a strong online reputation in general to avoid losing business.
"Your business is getting Googled, and if you have bad reviews or unfavorable press of any kind, it will undercut your SEO effort. Similarly, if your website is an eyesore and lacks the basic attributes of a trustworthy website, you will close less business even if you're getting traffic."