SEO has been around for almost as long as search engines, but attitudes toward the industry and the specific tactics used by SEOs have remained in constant flux since the beginning.
Nevertheless, most of the fundamentals of SEO have remained consistent. Despite this consistency and the relatively predictable nature of gradual, iterative Google algorithm releases, misconceptions about the strategy still persist.
If you break it down, there are two broad categories of misconceptions about SEO, each of which is damaging in its own way.
The first category is misconceptions about what SEO is and what it’s used for. Misconceptions here include:
Misconceptions in this category prevent people from pursuing the strategy altogether, and they indirectly weigh on the reputation of the industry.
The second category of misconceptions is related to the strategic execution of a campaign, such as:
These can be even more dangerous, since they influence real actions and can warrant a penalty if abused egregiously enough. Otherwise, they lead to very disappointed campaign executors who don’t see the results they think they will.
So why do all these misconceptions still persist, despite the overwhelming volume of content available explaining them away?
First, remember that some business owners and marketers — especially those from an older generation — view technology (and the internet especially) as an unnecessary novelty. They’re used to advertising their businesses through traditional means, such as word-of-mouth and printed ads.
The internet is something magical to them, and rather than trying to understand it, they write off any strategies that don’t make immediate sense to them.
These business owners are hard to convince because they’ve had so much experience with more tangible strategies that have worked.
When SEO first emerged, it was a somewhat questionable strategy. Spammy keyword stuffing was a viable means of getting your page ranked, spammers tended to reap the greatest benefits, and most people had to wade through pages of results to find what they were really looking for.
This picture of SEO became a first impression for an entire generation of marketers, and unfortunately, that first impression continues to exist in a fraction of the population.
Had SEO first emerged as the well-balanced, technically complex strategy it is today, many of these misconceptions might not have had the chance to form.
It’s also worth noting that SEO is constantly moving and changing. As I mentioned, keyword stuffing was the norm until Google took countermeasures to devalue such spammy tactics.
Since each update buries a handful of old practices and introduces a handful of new ones, new misconceptions are born from nothing every few months. The process is gradual, so it’s hard to notice, but it’s there, and it’s constantly introducing new misconceptions to the field.
While most modern SEO agencies with a decent reputation have earned their place as trusted authorities, there are still dozens, if not hundreds, of ill-intentioned scammers taking advantage of people who know nothing about SEO. They make unreasonable promises, offer obsolete services and generally use bad practices to manipulate rankings for short-term gain.
If a person’s first impression of SEO comes from one of these disreputable sources, it could easily leave a bad taste in their mouth (or set them up for failure if they choose to continue).
Last, but not least, some misconceptions arise naturally because SEO can be difficult to interpret.
If you introduce three or four new strategies and notice an uptick in your traffic, it could be any one strategy, or some combination of them, that was responsible for the growth. Or it could be a fluke occurrence unrelated to what you changed.
The misinterpretation of results and patterns leads to new misconceptions being formed every day — at least for those trying to make an impact.
No matter how many articles are written about these misconceptions or how much evidence surfaces contradicting them, people will still buy into them, at least to some degree. And, as SEO continues to evolve, new misconceptions will continue to emerge.
If you’re an SEO provider, the best thing you can do is explain these misconceptions to your target demographics as clearly as possible (maybe even bringing up why so many misconceptions exist) and offer to try and prove them wrong.
If not, others’ misconceptions really aren’t your problem. Just keep yourself as informed as possible, and try not to fall behind the times. In fact, if you’re a business owner and stay up to date, other people’s misconceptions could benefit you, so long as they keep your competitors from implementing effective SEO.