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.
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