Category Archives: SEO Myths

Mythical Ranking Factors

In addition to the factors that influence your ability to rank in search engines, there are some factors that are either old and retired, or just plain myth. Yet these are myths that get reposted again and again in the echo chamber that is the SEO blogosphere, so it’s worth taking a moment to dispel them.

If you are coming into SEO with no preconceptions and no bad habits, it’s probably still worth glancing over these because I promise you, if you start talking SEO with people, you will quickly find someone whose only knowledge of SEO is that you need to put keywords in the Keywords Meta Tag.

  • Keywords Meta Tag: this is meta tag that goes in the header of your webpage code. It is invisible to users and is supposed to tell search engines what your page is about. As you might imagine, a ranking signal that you controlled and that users couldn’t see was very quickly abused. So much so that this is not a factor at all, and hasn’t been for a decade. Tests have proved there’s no ranking benefit to the tag, and both Google and Bing have publicly acknowledged that the keywords meta tag has no ranking benefit. You can read the Doctor’s detailed post on the keywords meta tag if you really want more history and detail.
  • Keyword Density: For a long time SEOs thought there was some magic ratio to word count and keyword repetition. Like a 12% keyword density (meaning 12% of the words are your keyword) is ideal: anything more will look spammy, and less is sub-optimal for ranking. This is not true, at all. It is true that using your keyword twice is better than once, but it’s not necessarily true that using it 20 times is better than 10, and using it too much is a spam signal. Just don’t worry about keyword density: it’s not a real thing.
  • Domain Age: While it’s true that at one time the age of a domain had some influence in rankings (particularly for very new domains), this is no longer a real thing. The age of your domain won’t make your rank better or worse; however, an old domain is certainly more likely to have links pointing at it, and those links could help the domain rank better. Of course if that old domain has spammy links pointing at it, it could rank worse as a result.
  • Adwords Advertising: some novice SEOs persist in believing that Google gives a benefit to companies who advertise with them. This is not true in any way. I have worked on sites that spent millions per week in Google ads, and not only did they not get any ranking benefit, but they were 100% incapable of getting any SEO-side assistance to problems no matter how hard they leaned on their Google ad reps. The wall of separation between the search and ad sides of Google is real.
  • Social Media: You don’t have to go far down the twisting corridors of the web before you hear someone telling you that social media is the future of marketing and the future of SEO. Many will talk about social signals in Google rankings. For all practical purposes, this is mythical bunk. Links from social media are nofollow links. Google can’t even see many Facebook links, let alone understand connections and engagement in Facebook. Most importantly, social media signals are far, far easier to game than links.The waters are dirtied by the fact that most correlation research finds that there is a positive correlation between pages that rank well and social media shares — often a very strong correlation. Alas this is where we have to remind people that correlation does not imply causation. Google has even stepped up to confirm that these are not ranking signals. It just turns out that pages that are really good and get lots of traffic by ranking well in Google are also likely to get a lot of social shares — which makes sense, since they’re getting a lot more eyeballs on the page from their search engine traffic!I want to stress here that social media can be a beneficial and influential traffic channel, and that a strong social media presence can also bolster your SEO tactics by spreading the word of your good works and spreading brand awareness (that can translate into branded searches). But social shares and likes themselves are not a ranking signal.

Meta Keywords Tag – SEO Value & History

The meta keywords tag remains to this day one of the most misunderstood SEO elements of a web page, with misinformation quoted and requoted across the internet. Sadly, it is also the one SEO element that everyone who doesn’t know SEO has heard of, and they always, always have it wrong.

Put very simply, the meta keywords tag has absolutely zero SEO value. It will not help a page rank in any major search engine, not even a little bit.

Let me be very clear — I’m not saying that it has very little value; I’m saying that it has no value at all. There is some slight speculation that using the tag poorly could actually hurt you, but that it won’t help you is a certainty.

If you believe me you don’t need to read any further. But if you need more evidence, to convince yourself or someone else, read on.

History of the Meta Keywords Tag

The meta keywords tag was only used for a short time in the history of search engines in the early to mid 90s. The idea was that you could toss keywords into the tag to help search engines understand what your site was about. The tag went in the site header and looked something like this:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”keyword1, keyword2, keyword3″>

It took about four seconds for this to be abused by fledgling SEO practitioners. Put a bunch (or dozens, or hundreds) of keywords in a tag that your users never see and you rank better? An idea born to fail. In fact at one point back when Inktomi was running Yahoo’s search results, Yahoo wasn’t even the first result when you searched for “Yahoo” in Yahoo. Thus pure relevance algorithms and the keyword meta tag had to change.

Search engines quickly devalued the meta keywords tag, and soon began ignoring it for ranking purposes entirely. When Google hit the scene with PageRank they completely ignored meta keywords entirely — literally Google never used meta keywords for ranking.

Here is Google’s Matt Cutts telling you on video that Google doesn’t use meta keywords:

Yahoo’s search results are now run by Bing, and Bing does not use meta keywords for ranking either. Bing’s Duane Forrester confirmed here that Bing does not use the meta tag for ranking, but they do look at it as a possible spam signal.

So that’s Google, Bing, and Yahoo totally ignoring the meta keywords tag for any kind of ranking benefit whatsoever. That’s well over 95% of all searches.

This is not to mention that SEO tests done for the past decade have all shown time and again that meta keywords doesn’t affect rankings.

How Meta Keywords Might Hurt You

As mentioned, Bing has said that they do look at meta keywords as a possible spam signal. For the record, I have never seen any SEO test demonstrate a negative impact of meta keywords.

That said, if meta keywords is a spam signal, it will only get tripped if you’re stuffing the tag with a dozen or more phrases. As long as you keep the tag reasonable, say five or so phrases, you’ll be fine (note it still won’t help, it just won’t hurt).

Even if your site is keyword stuffing the tag, it’s just one possible flag. It’s still not going to hurt you unless you have other spam flags on your site. Combine a stuffed meta keywords tag and keyword stuffed content on the site with crazy inter-linking, then it can all come together to trip the spam flag and butcher your rankings.

Why Sites Use the Keyword Tag

So if the meta keywords tag has no SEO benefit, why do so many sites still use it? Well, the most common reason is that pervasive, pernicious false information that has persisted since the early 90s. But there are other better reasons as well:

  • Site designers that know better often still include populated meta keywords tag because half their clients know only one thing about SEO and that’s the magical meta keywords tag. It’s easier for the designers to just shove the tag in rather than try to educate suspicious and unbelieving clients.
  • Some SEOs and firms use the meta keywords tag as a convenient place to keep note of which keywords they’re targeting on that page. This also informs your competition of what you’re going after, but they can deduce that just by reading your page anyway.

So that’s it — the meta keywords tag complete history and SEO benefit.

Most SEOs, myself included, frickin’ hate the thing because of all the misinformation it’s caused. If this was almost any other aspect of SEO I wouldn’t have had to spend over 700 words debunking something that can be so easily disproved with a few minutes testing, but that’s meta keywords for you.