Before I started Permission I was the general manager of a smallsoft ware company whose website was in desperate need of some search engine optimization. We were nowhere to be seen in any of the results we should have been.

This was in late 1999, a time when there were only a few companies that provided search engine optimization services but somehow I managed to locate a company keen to help us out. I told them what I wanted to achieve and enquired how all this SEO ‘stuff ’ worked. Just the normal nosey Chris Price way of doing business as well as me being interested in knowing exactly what work was going to occur in exchange for my money.

Well, the salesperson then decided to throw every piece of technical web-like jargon they could muster at me, achieving their desired goal of making me feel totally confused. They then went on to tell me it was indeed a very complex area of specialization and way beyond the scope of being explained within this meeting and, anyway, I shouldn’t worry about the detail – they would manage this for me – and all for a very ‘reasonable’ fee of $2500 – per quarter over two years.

Back then I had no idea what was what, so I signed on and for two years we were ranked reasonably well for our brand name. Yep that’s all – no ranking for the generic term for the service we provided – just the brand name (which, I might add, was in the URL of our domain name). Now I know that this was something that should have taken someone about 5-10 hours to achieve. And for this I paid about $20,000 all up. Not good, and something that to this day still makes me angry.

Personally, I find the business ethics behind ensuring the prospect remains in the dark so as to ruthlessly maximize your gain to be abhorrent but, unfortunately, it is still quite apparent in the online optimization marketplace. It’s one of the reasons why we have a strategy of educating all those customers (who want to learn) on what will be done and why to achieve their goals online. And so I personally spend over 15 hours each month producing both this newsletter and the content for our monthly customer conference call.

To push this education theme even more for search optimization, I thought this month I would slay some of the many myths from this area of online marketing. I have settled on the top five I come across most often.

Myth No 1 – Search engine optimization is a mish mash of ‘black box’ techniques that only a highly skilled and technical
person can understand.

Rubbish. While Google must be one of the world’s most complex software applications to do what it does, the theory behind helping it index and rank your site for the keywords you want it to are relatively straightforward and what’s more can be explained in a few pages. Google does a good job itself on this page here:

Search Engine Optimisation by Google

There are no complex formulas or new pieces of jargon to learn. Just follow the steps and you will see results. And, as I have mentioned before, as a business owner if you can understand how New Zealand’s provisional and terminal tax works then I’m sure you can master all of the complexity that online marketing has to offer – including search engine work. But, that said, it still requires work. (Now that part you may not want to do yourself.) And the amount of work required will depend on the competitive nature of your market and style and size of your website.

Myth No 2 – Your rank is determined by the volume of traffic your website receives.

Nope – not true either. There is no correlation between your visitor count going up and your rankings moving in the same direction. It would be nice but if this was the case then all the top rankings would be filled with high-traffic brand name sites – which is definitely not the case and therein lays the opportunity for the small business wanting to level the marketing playing field online.

I see Google’s goal being to deliver highly relevant results to its searchers. And relevance is all about content and its apparent reputation online – definitely not visitor volume.

Myth No 3 – If you advertise with Google your search rankings will rise.

Sorry, a ‘no’ again. And I’m thankful this is the case, too. Now, I admit that your site may get indexed quite soon after your ads start appearing but unless something has changed since the last indexing run then this shouldn’t alter your ranking. The separation between paid and organic advertising is similar to that you experience between the editorial and advertising content in a hard copy magazine.

Myth No 4 – Every place in the search rankings has the ability to attract a similar volume of traffic.

So, if you rank No 3, then the clicks your ranking could achieve are close (but perhaps a smidgen down) on those that would come if you achieved a ranking of No 1. While this sounds like a highly logical supposition, it’s not true. That first ranking can collect an obscenely unfair amount of traffic. See the graphic to follow from Notice the super slice of traffic a top No 1 ranking achieves and how it quickly drops down for ranking 2 and again for 3 as the law of diminishing returns carries on as the rankings drop down the page.

Now knowing this you can see that optimization eff orts need to be focused on achieving No 1 rankings for as many keywords as you can sustain. Like most areas of online marketing there are limited resources to apply so trade-offs have to happen. Therefore, it may be better to apply your efforts to achieve a No 1 ranking on a lesser searched term for which you are currently recording a No 3 rank than to move your ranking up from No 11 (top of page 2) to the bottom of page one for a higher volume and more competitive term.

Likewise, if you are already No 1 for a keyword it would make sense to see if you can get another page ranked below it by moving it into the first page results, which can let Google automatically bring it up below your No 1 rank – so now you have both a No 1 and No 2 presence. See the pic to follow that shows this in action for one of our clients, Boston Wardrobes.

Myth No 5 – The content in the Keyword META tag on your web pages positively affects how they are ranked.

I once had a client call me up in a very annoyed state because he had been told (apparently by a friend of his brother) that this was the case. He promptly demanded to know why we hadn’t entered much detail in this field on his site. This told me two things. First, I hadn’t done a good enough job of telling him what did and didn’t work – so my education was off the mark. Second, that I was charging him too little as he thought his friend (who was not in the industry, I might add) knew more than me. I provided a fix for both problems and everyone was happy – eventually.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for me to show him that top-ranking pages on his site were there with absolutely no content in this field, which supported the theory that Google, and most other search engines, ignored this field when deciding who should rank where.

So there you have it, my top five search engine optimization myths debunked with a short comment on why, for you to ponder. I hope that this has gone some way to dispel any confusion you may have had about this fascinating area. It’s one we certainly enjoy working in. The challenge of facing off against your competitor in the search results is something we relish. Let us know if you would like to know more and I, or one of our team, will help out.