Debunking a Few WordPress SEO Myths
Sarah Danks | February 9, 2016
Rebuttals to 5 “SEO Mistakes”
I just realized the other day that I’ve been in the SEO field for more than 10 years. That’s not a long time compared to some, I realize…
…but it’s a long time to me, especially when I think of how far I’ve come, and considering it’s my longest “tenure” in a career path! Obviously I didn’t attend college to study this; while search optimization existed back then, it certainly wasn’t something you could study at university.
My bag of tricks has grown beyond “mere” optimization, but as an SEO first and foremost, I’m always interested in what other SEOs have to say, especially when it involves WordPress (our bread-and-butter for designing client websites). So, recently when I saw an article outlining 5 mistakes that can ruin your WordPress SEO efforts, naturally I was intrigued.
It was an interesting read and well organized, but I have some gentle rebuttals. I’m going to dive into the 5 topics outlined in that post and offer up my own comments to debunk the myths they set forth.
1) Using Keywords = Rankings
Keyword research is the heart of SEO; everyone knows this. It begins — and drives — the entire process.
But, I disagree with this (rhetorical) statement: “If you are not targeting the right keywords within your content, how are you supposed your sites to rank well in search results?” (their grammatical mistake, not mine)
While keyword research is definitely important, the use of targeted phrases in your copy isn’t the only factor helping you show up in search results. There are a myriad of important factors that all work together to enhance your SEO — moving beyond the words you use on the page.
Something else I don’t agree with is, “you can increase your chances of getting more search traffic by targeting long tail keywords.” Myth.
Long-tail keywords are longer, more specific phrases. They’re much less searched than “short tail” keywords. They also serve up quite a different audience than generic terms: think of where someone is in the buying process if they’ve searched for “best beds” versus “Sleep Number Innovation Series i10 bed.” So, you won’t necessarily get MORE traffic if you target long-tail keywords; you’ll get BETTER traffic.
Targeting long-tail keywords in your copy ensures better quality; not better quantity.
2) Short Content Won’t Rank; Long Content Will
These days “thin,” poor-quality content is discouraged — the Panda Update is based solely on this — so you definitely need to be sure you’re offering up content that’s informational, well-written, user-friendly, etc.
That said, I disagree with this comment: “500 words articles won’t matter anymore if you want to rank higher in Google search results.”
What they’re saying is that short-form content less than 500 words won’t rank — ipso facto writing more than 500 words will get you ranked.
But that’s bullsh*t. You can write a 3,500-word blog post, but if it’s poor quality, how will that help you rank any better?
Answer: it won’t. Even Rand says so.
Just because you’ve written more content doesn’t mean Google forgives you for crappy subject matter. It’s not the length of content that counts, it’s how it’s written. (I just came up with that, so you can feel free to quote me on it.)
Take, for example, the shortest blog post I’ve ever written (for ThinkSEM, any way). It wasn’t written “to rank.” It was written to lament the loss of a great love of mine — Unbounce’s PageFights — and even though it’s only 283 words, it garnered some comments…
…and it ranks pretty well.
Check it out:
And no, I wasn’t signed in.
Remember we talked about long-tail keywords just a moment ago? Well, I probably hit on some random nuggets in this little post — plus it seems no one else was/is talking about the death of PageFights…
…so even with a “short” or “thin” blog post, I’m able to show up really well. Was that my intent? Nope. But the post is relevant to THAT type of search.
Sure, if two blog posts/articles/web pages are written about the same topic — one short; the other long — and a user types in a query relevant to that subject matter, Google will likely reward the longer, in-depth content over the short-form content.
That said, don’t just pump out 2,500-word articles because “I’ll rank if I do.” No. It’s okay to vary the length of your web pages, blog posts and articles — don’t worry about hitting a number. Focus on the quality of the work, not the word count.
Still confused about it? Check out this great post about whether to write short-form or long-form content. It all depends on your goals.
3) Slow Website Speed Kills SEO
This one I do agree with — that the speed at which your site loads has an effect on your search engine performance. However, they only discussed web hosting; there are many more factors that can cause your website to slow down than just hosting:
- Too many plugins
- Large file/image sizes
- Linked elements
It’s good to know ALL the factors that can cause slow load times on your website, so you can keep an eye on how to fix — or better yet, prevent — them.
4) Google Algorithm Updates Are The Reason Your Site Traffic is Down
We SEOs know that Google updates its algorithm. A LOT. Some changes are so minute most people (even those who’re very web-savvy) don’t notice. But, there are some that are massive and cause huge traffic fluctuations. It’s important to note when big algorithm updates occur so you’re informed…
…but if you think “keeping an eye on Google algorithm updates and changes” will keep you from losing traffic, you should probably read a few more articles on what SEO strategy is all about. It’s better to know best practices and adhere to them from the get-go than worry about algorithm updates.
Also, keep in mind Google algorithm updates aren’t the only reason websites lose traffic. There are so many reasons that traffic ebbs and flows I don’t even know if I’d have the energy to list them all out.
I mean, sure, some people see a drastic dip in traffic after algorithm changes — but they’re most likely the ones who’re trying to pass off dupe/thin site pages as 10x content, or they think link exchanges are still a good idea, etc.
If you’re writing good content, your website is user-friendly, you’re not buying mass quantities of links, and you’re hitting the items on your on-page SEO checklist each time you write an article, then you’re not going to do anything to anger the Google gods.
I’d amend this point to read, “always keep an eye on your analytics.” ALWAYS. Your analytics data will alert you to changes in traffic, visitor behavior, and the overall performance of your website. We use Google Analytics in conjunction with Google Search Console to keep a close eye on the goings-on of all our sites.
5) Social Media = SEO
Social signals are becoming increasingly more important in the scheme of SEO. As more and more people take to social venues to find, share and even search for information, the search engines are realizing this is a method of determining content’s value and credibility.
By amplifying your content on social media platforms, you distribute it to a much larger audience than will see it by merely searching on search engines. And, of course, the more people that see your content, the more likely it is they’ll share it to their networks, even more people see it…
…and you’re more likely to acquire links back to said content. And we all know incoming links are a very important SEO factor. So, social shares CAN play a role in search engine optimization — from a correlation standpoint.
However, I do have to roll my eyes a bit at this assertion: “Social media is the new SEO. Social media gives you instant traffic unlike Google. If your titles are powerful and content is informative or entertaining, it goes viral on social media in no time.”
To that, friends, I offer my 3 rebuttals to those myths:
“Social media is the new SEO”
Nope. While SEO has certainly changed quite a bit over the past umpteen years, it’s not equal to social media. Social media can help with SEO — as I just mentioned — but it certainly doesn’t replace it. Again, there are many factors that contribute to whether or not the search engines deem your content relevant; not just shares from social media.
“Social media gives you instant traffic, unlike Google”
Well, this one just makes me shake my head.
a) Sharing content on social media doesn’t guarantee traffic. You have to build an audience, learn how to write/share things they’ll like, share, and actually click through and read. Oh, and then there’s the biggie: when they link from their content to yours. But that’s not a guarantee, sorry.
b) I wish I could say it’s entirely possible to get instant traffic on search engines from SEO efforts, but we SEOs know differently. THAT SAID, in cases where there’s minimal competition and/or you’ve targeted long-tail keywords so efficiently your new content is considered instantly credible, it IS possible to start receiving organic traffic rather quickly. (See PageFights example above)
But it’s the exception, obviously, rather than the rule. Thing is, with social media you’re dealing with people; search engines “decide” whether or not to rank your content based on math.
Oh, and let’s not forget in the blog post I’m debunking, in the #2 section about thin content, they say: “If [your content] rocks, you will see your rankings climbing up even if you have a new blog.” Kinda contradictory, no?
And on to my third disagreement:
“If your titles are powerful and content is informative or entertaining, it goes viral on social media in no time”
Again, that’s not how it works — if it did, and every piece of writing with a great title + content would be “viral.” That’s just not the case.
Of course, it all depends on how they were defining “viral” — it seems these days some think it’s merely the distribution of content across social channels. In that case, sure, if you share content it’ll “go viral” in that you share it with your 1,000 followers, who in turn (hopefully) share it with their 1,000 followers, etc.
But, the historic definition of “going viral” — derived from the actual medical definition of virus — is a bit harder to pin down. Some say in order to “go viral” you need to hit one million views/shares/etc. Some say five million. Others, ten million.
Suffice it to say with those types of benchmarks not everything you share on social media has the chance of going viral — especially not just because you’ve written “a powerful title.”
A recent Search Engine Watch article laid out how social signals really affect your rankings. It basically sums up to the possibility of acquiring (more) inbound links.
See, it’s a certainty that website backlinks are an integral part in determining a website’s domain authority. The better a domain’s authority, the better it ranks in the search engines. It stands to reason that content distributed via social channels reaches a large audience, and you’d assume the more people that see the content, the more will share it.
And, if they’re sharing it, it then stands to reason more people will (hopefully) link to it. So, the theory in the SEW post is that sharing your content on social media “arguably has an indirect but significant effect on organic search rankings.”
But, of course, that’s ONLY if other websites start linking to you. There are a lot of “ifs” and “hopefully” and “it might happen” in social media strategy…
…and that doesn’t sound like SEO — which is a long process and involves much more strategy than hoping you acquire links from third-party websites — nor does it sound like going viral. In fact, the article ends with this:
“…it stands to reason that you’ll see more of your articles shared further, and you’ll earn more visibility and inbound links to your content as a result…this doesn’t prove a direct influence, but it does suggest a logical correlation.“
But, then, just because you THINK there’s a correlation doesn’t necessarily mean there’s causation. What’s that mean? Well, it means that just because you see more activity on social media and it seems to correlate with your website’s traffic/success/etc., it doesn’t mean it is.
As Josh Reynolds points out in his Correlation or Coincidence write-up on MarketingLand,
“Strong correlations aren’t a sign of what’s definitely working.”
The point? There’s definitely a link between social media marketing and search engine optimization, but you can’t just assume activity on social venues causes website success.
Also: social media isn’t the “new SEO.” The part that isn’t a myth? Social media is definitely something you should include in your online marketing efforts.
SEO Truths or Myths?
Long story short:
- keywords aren’t the only thing helping you get organic traffic
- longer content doesn’t equal rankings
- you should know ALL the factors that can cause slow site speed
- tracking algorithm updates isn’t SEO
- search optimization hasn’t been replaced by social media
My aim with this “rebuttal” isn’t to discredit the blog post in question; merely to lay out some of my SEO knowledge gleaned through the years.
That said, whenever you read anything online stating “this is the exact way to do something” or “if you’re doing X then you’re doing it wrong,” you ALWAYS need to ask yourself whether it’s the absolute truth…
…or is it a myth?