Last week I participated in an #seochat. One comment that someone took exception with was the idea of how “authority” is defined. Essentially, this person took exception with the notion that to be seen as an authority, you need to maintain a healthy follower/following ratio. Specifically, they argued they knew plenty of people with equal numbers in both columns and each column in the tens of thousands, and that those individuals were, in fact, seen as authorities.
I’m sure, in isolated cases, this could be true. Take your average celebrity, as an example. They sometimes have close to equal numbers, yet they are still an “authority”. Yup, they can get away with that simply because their reach gives them an edge. They are a household name.
What I found interesting about the discussion last week was someone suggesting to know that we, the engine, were in fact seeing this person as an authority. It’s not like we send out certificates. Still, they have a valid, if limited, point. In the broader picture, though, it got me thinking about some other things folks may not understand fully. And so let’s review some of the common myths around social and SEO.
Title is all I need
So many people still cling to this idea. “If I just get my title right, everyhting will be fine.” To be clear, a well written, focused title tag still matters. It helps us understand your focus and so helps us trust the content of the page when the title and content match. Stack that trust over lots of pages and our love for the domain starts to go up as well. The title is a strong signal, for sure, but thinking hitting this high point and skipping the rest will help you grow is a thing of the past. Balance is needed today to see success. User experience matters, page load times, unique content, authority signals, social signals, links and more all contribute.
Meta Description will save my bacon
No. You should not look to your meta description to directly help boost your rankings. Read that last sentence carefully. While this tag may not pump up your rankings, it can help increase click rates when you appear in the search engine results pages (SERPs) . Think of your meta description as your call to action that a searcher sees. Get this right and you can potentially influence click rates, which over time can help your rankings. Write your tags poorly, however, and we’ll do our best to fill in the blanks, but the results may be less than opitmal. Better you get these right on your own.
Meta Keywords are the bee’s knees
While meta keywords are useful, it’s not for SEO. By all means, fill in your meta keywords tags if you like. Just get it right. Keyword stuffing still gets a sideways glance and may make us wonder what else you’re capable of. By itself, its not a big deal, but since it’s not going to help, why persue it? meta keyword tags can provide some value, though. Think about some of the services, like contextul ad programs, that may reference the data inside a meta keyword tag to help align ads with page content. Or screen assistive technologies that may reference this tag to help the visitor understand the page content. In the world of SEO, meta keyword tags are optional, so think beyond SEO and consider the bigger picture.
Social is my saviour
This is today’s darling. Thinking SEO is dead and social has supplanted it is a popular notion. If you just tweet and post on the wall, you’ll be golden. Let’s not take anything away from social, as the signals it generates are valuable to helping the engine understand sentiment and intent. And let’s not overlook the timeliness and trending signals social can generate. So yeah, valuable stuff. But playing in the social wading pool won’t, by itself, secure your future. It’s important to interact with your clients, visitors, fans and friends. This helps build a sense of community around your product, service or brand, and also helps cement your role as an authority. What social cannot do is replace well written content or develop well scripted title tags and so on. Social is an important part of the mix, but alone, it won’t guarantee success in the SERPs.
Navigation doesn’t matter, my users will figure it out
Too many websites continue to overlook the user experience (UX). Cryptically naming navigational elements, hoping visitors will figure it out “if they visit often enough”. Trouble is, if the visitor thinks you’re a dead end because they cannot easily find what they seek, they won’t come back. This is a single example in a sea of UX items that need to be considered. From page load times to content hierarchy. From content quality to discoverability. From ease of consupmtion to page design. There are so many elements to consider, its worth engaging an expert. And don’t assume your SEO consultant is automatically a UX expert. Usability as a dicsipline has been around a long time, and only in recent years has there been a push to see SEO and usability in the same scope. True, some were early adopters of this thinking, but even today, so many don’t get it. Bottom line here is make sure, in all cases, you put your user first. Search crawlers come second. Be clear on that.
Links shall light the path
Yes, links are still important. No, you shouldn’t buy links. Yes, you can guest blog your way to quality links. Yes, we ignore links if we think they are sketchy. So where’s the mystery? It lies in the misconception that links are so important that their signals trump all others. So many SEOs still think links are the holy grail. True link building experts will tell you that getting an organic link is one of the hardest things to accomplish online these days. Gone are the days of simply asking for one from a site. Today, you need to be subversive about it all. You need to create such compelling content that people share it freely. Your social programs need to be so well focused, tested and refined that you know exactly which hooks get action from your followers. In the end, though, it all starts with quality, unique content. If you wow your visitors with your content, and prove yourself useful, they will share you with their friends. After all, everyone wants to impress their friends being the first to share the next coolest, most useful thing. If you’re that thing, links shall follow.
All I need is UGC
Common thinking among too many bloggers is that getting some User Generated Content (UGC) below your post will make your page unique. This then opens up the idea that the blog post needn’t be unique (enter article sharing sites) , and that you can get others to effectively create your content for you. Let’s get real about this. There is very little unique about content sourced from an article sharing site, so that won’t help. We can understand the difference between the content created by the website and comments added by visitors. And while an active, vibrant comunity can go along way to helping your site rank better for all kinds of reasons, its tough to grow to this level. If you want to leverage others to create content, hire a writer to create unique content for your site. You’ll fare better in the log run.
Auto-followers to the rescue
Don’t fall for this one folks. If you think big numbers of followers will point us in your direction, be careful. If we see you’ve got the same number of people that you follow, you effectively net a zero. This was touched on above, and yeah, there can be exceptions. Before you set out to become one of those exceptions, though, better do a gut check. What about your situation tells us you are an authority besides just these social signals? The recommendation here is to avoid using auto-follow services to grow your following. Do it the old fashioned way: share useful content. Your followers will appreciate it and recommend you to others.
In most cases, these myths, and others, persist because people are constantly seeking short cuts. But they spend as much time looking for short cuts as they would if they just invested in producing quality content from the start. If you want to be seen as quality, it helps – a lot – if you actually are quality. Think back to the ’70′s, ’80′s and even earlier. Before the Internt existed for us to populate with kittehs, notes about what we ate for lunch and online commerce, business followed a standard idea: produce a business plan and follow it. A 5 year plan was often standard.
So why, oh why, do today’s online business owners not treat their online endevours in this manner? So many more would succeed if they just treated their business like a business, and stopped seeking shortcuts. Don’t be sucked in by the myths. It still takes work to succeed.