The journey of Google is one for the ages. It went from being a simple, yet effective, search engine to something so powerful and so woven into daily life that its name is synonymous with searching the internet.
There's a good reason Google has evolved into the multibillion-dollar company it is today, with roughly 8.5 billion searches conducted on Google each day, the search technology has gone through rapid and continuous development to become the best it can be, with rich text descriptions, useful images and direct answers.
Since Google has become the number one search engine, it is the one that dictates the performance on search. This means marketers and SEO experts are tasked with keeping up with Google's latest changes, whether that's an algorithm update like August 2022's Helpful Content Update, a new search function like featured snippets, the BERT update or the web core vitals.
To help you reach the top of the SERPs, Ortto’s very own Head of SEO, Javier Dominguez will debunk the 5 most popular SEO myths, and share expert tips to save money and drive organic traffic with smart SEO.
5 SEO myths debunked
SEO is a complicated beast at times and an area prone to constant change. It’s easy for false information or myths to spread as quickly as a viral internet meme. More frustratingly, SEO myths can often keep marketers from improving their search engine rankings and website traffic. These ever-present myths are some of the most damaging flying around the internet, and we’re here to debunk them for good.
1. SEO is a one-time project
Many people think that they only need to work on their SEO once and that’s the end of the story; they’re wrong. In reality, SEO is an ongoing project that should be part of your broader marketing strategy day-in, day-out.
To avoid falling behind, your SEO efforts must also be reviewed regularly to ensure your site is constantly ranking. It’s also important to stay up to date on any changes to search engine algorithms, advances in technology and what your competitors are doing.
2. Content quality doesn’t matter
The mindset when SEO first came on the scene was ‘quantity over quality.’ The goal was to get any and all content up on your website to help you rank for as many keywords as possible. It was essentially a mad dash to the top, with no consideration for the customer experience. This has all changed.
Dominguez has noticed a welcomed industry shift where the concept of E-A-T takes priority. “E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness. It’s not an algorithm, it’s a concept in Google's Search Quality Guidelines,” Dominguez shares.
E-A-T is not a new concept, in fact it’s been around since 2014, however it's taken a bit of a back seat until recently. The quality of content and the webpage itself play a significant role in determining the rank of organic search results in Google.
Google’s Search Quality Rater guidelines outline the factors that influence a web page’s overall quality, including:
What's the purpose of the page? Is it beneficial to the user?
Expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness
Quality and amount of main content
Information about the website or the main content creator
Reputation of the website or the author of the main content
More recently, Google's Helpful Content update, which was released August 25, 2022, cemented the importance of quality. This update prioritizes people-first content: that is, content that is relevant to your industry or niche, written for humans, and demonstrates first-hand experience with the topic. It also stresses things like answering your reader's questions and giving your reader a great experience.
With these factors considered, when a page displays expertise, authority, and trustworthiness, the higher it should rank. In fact, content is so important that it made it into our six SEO tips to improve your Google ranking (scroll down for more).
3. Keyword density leads to high rankings
Keyword density is the measurement, in percentage, of the number of times a keyword (or phrase) appears on a page, relative to the total number of words.
Keyword density is integral in driving your website’s usability and relevance, two factors that search engines are really interested in. This doesn’t mean that you should be sprinkling your keywords liberally all over your page, though.
In fact, mentioning your keywords too many times can make it harder for your readers to engage with your content — exactly what Google is fighting against with the most recent update. Plus, smart readers will realize what you’re doing and be turned off by your website.
We recommend incorporating keywords in your copy as often as you can, while ensuring your content flows naturally. By ensuring your pages are user-friendly and filled with readable and interesting content, your readers are more likely to remain highly engaged.
4. Backlinks don’t work
This myth is multi-layered. Backlinks do help in raising your profile and visibility as a notable resource when it comes to search engines; however, they are only truly effective if they are high-quality links.
“My day to day revolves around researching great websites and asking for backlinks exchange. Today, to win the game, you have to play in the quality field rather than quantity,” shared Dominguez
“It’s also very important to understand that sending a link to the home page might not be the smartest thing to do, you have to link with context and with intent in order to create a positive content loop,” Dominguez continues.
Occasionally, companies may approach you for reciprocal links. You may also be confronted with offers to pay for your website to be linked elsewhere. As tempting as these strategies may be, we advise you to tread with caution. The probability of getting poor quality links is high and there is a chance a link to your page may appear on shady sites (you know, the ones that install viruses and promote weight loss pills).
If you want to be linked, your goal should be to create a website that is so user-friendly and engaging that people would genuinely want to share your links on their own pages or LinkedIn feed. And whenever this happens, search engines will naturally think you’re highly relevant (and rightfully so!), thus helping you increase your rankings.
“Here at Ortto, we take this very seriously. Ensuring that we are linking to sites that will offer not only a good read to our users but also a fantastic experience. At the end of the day, don’t forget that the name of one of Google’s latest algorithm updates is actually, the page experience algorithm.”
5. Don’t believe everything that John Mueller says
If you are new to the SEO game, John Mueller works at Google as the Senior Webmaster Trends Analyst. He started at Google in 2007, so he knows his way around the search engine. One piece of advice that Javier shares is to “not to believe everything he says. I am not saying to ignore it but at the end of the day, SEO is a trial and error game.”
“Google can’t disclose the secret behind their algorithm, and neither can John Mueller. His job is to share up to a certain extent of SEO best practice. My advice, don't waste your time following exactly what he has to say, but to get onto the tools, start testing, failing and learning, and you’ll become an expert in no time.”
And, remember, focus on the visitor or reader's experience with your website. If you are giving your reader what they want, it's likely you'll be giving Google what it wants too. You can keep track this with user signals.
The importance of SEO and user signals
In SEO terms, ranking on page one of Google search results is the equivalent of winning the Superbowl. A successful team will support each other (great content hub), learn from mistakes (SEO trial and error) and adapt to any external factors (changes in search engine algorithms). These elements will come together to create a website that user’s love, return to, and share with their network.
Google wants only the highest-quality websites to rise to the top of the SERPs to ensure that their own users continue to have a positive experience with Google. After all, who wants to search for something only to land on a website that is slow to load, broken or features misinformation? If Google were not prioritizing the websites that leave strong user signals, they'd risk losing users to competitors like Bing.
The best way to track if your website is ticking all the boxes is through the one metric that rules all - user signals.
When a user visits a site, they leave a trail of breadcrumbs that tell Google how they experienced a website through their level of interaction and engagement. These breadcrumbs are what we call user signals, and they alert search engines like Google on the quality of a website and whether or not to rank it high on search results.
The data collected from these signals gives Google key pointers on how websites are being experienced by users. Google can distinguish between content quality and technical faults to determine whether a user has a “good” or “bad” experience with a website. Users may experience slow loading times, poor quality of information, or limited navigation functionality.
A poor user experience may lead to a low rank on Google’s Search results.
Signals users emit to Google’s search engine:
Time on site: the time a user spends on a site
Bounce rate: the percentage of users that exit a website after visiting a single page
Click-through rate: the ratio of impressions to clicks
Return-to-SERP rate: the rate that users return to Google’s Search results page after visiting a web page
Track how users engage with your website and whether they leave positive or negative signals by utilizing data centers like Google Analytics or Google Search Console. Bounce rates, time spent on site, page exit, engagement, and frequency are just a few user behaviors that can be tracked.
When it comes down to it, you can optimize your website all you want but if people don’t click then you don’t rank and you might as well cease to exist (in Google’s world anyway). An experiment conducted by Neil Patel revealed that more clicks could improve your ranking tenfold.
In the experiment, users were told to search for the keyword “best-grilled steak” and to click on the first listing, hit the back button and then click on the fourth listing. Almost instantly, the fourth listing skyrocketed to the top. Why? Because in the short term, Google received more positive user signals for the fourth listing than it did for the first.
But this experiment was a quick hack, and forcing users to click on your content won’t get you far in the long run. So, here are seven ways you can improve your user signals and get your touchdown moment with Google.
7 SEO tips to improve your Google ranking
1. Enhance content
When users find what they’re looking for, they will generally stay on your site for longer. Avoid clickbait titles that trick users into engaging with content that’s not relevant to them. Ensure you publish content free of errors and add a recommended reading list so users can browse through more than one article, page, or piece of content.
When looking at how to best enhance your content, Dominguez shares, “the best tip I can give you is to conduct a side-by-side comparison with the website that’s ranked number one and then decide how to approach the new version of your article. Think about the learnings you’ve acquired that will actually outrank your competitor for top spot.”
2. Analyze your content
Keep analyzing your content long after you’ve hit publish, ensuring it remains relevant to your users. In the past two years, Google has observed a change in the way people are searching — they’ve become highly personal. When it comes to finding advice, solving a problem or looking for something, searches for words like "me," "my," and "I" have seen an increase.
By analyzing personal searches, marketers can deeply understand customer intent. These relatively new qualifiers give insight into intent and provide the opportunity to bring their messages brands front-and-center when the time is ripe. A few Google terms to take note of include:
People aren't searching for "best family car" anymore; they're searching for "best family car for me." They're looking for a highly personal response.
To help answer customer searches, meet their query with a quiz. A quiz will help them narrow down their options and it also doubles as a lead generation tool.
For example, if somebody is searching "best family car for me," design a quiz that asks: how many children do you have? What's your budget? Is 4WD important to you?
Just make sure your quiz is quick and easy to use. If not, your potential customers will likely go somewhere else — meaning you miss out on the opportunity to collect customer information like an email address.
By using a robust customer data platform you can unify quiz responses with data like transactional history, emails opened, product activity, and support interactions to give you a more robust picture of your customers to help you deliver even more relevant, helpful content.
Instead of turning to a friend or colleague, people are asking Google: "what should I get for lunch?" They're even asking highly personal questions like: "should I go vegan?"
The way to answer these questions isn't always straightforward. The modifier "what" is key here — "what should I eat for lunch" indicates the user is looking for a suggestion. If you're in the hospitality, health, or fitness industry, you can answer this question with suggestions for what to eat for lunch. It's also a clear opportunity for restaurants to get in front of audiences and suggest today's lunch specials.
"Should I" by itself is asking for a yes or no answer. For example, the current top result for "should I go vegan" is a yes; with the article "Why Go Vegan" featured as a rich snippet.
Take a deep dive into user searches surrounding your brand and industry to understand what content you need to be pushing in order to increase qualified traffic.
"Near me" is now implied Over the last five or so years, the act of including “near me” to a Google search has changed from being needed in order to trigger location based data to now being implied.
Searches for local places without the qualifier "near me" have grown 150%, faster than comparable searches that do not include "near me.” Ensure your business information (especially your address) is completed and easily identifiable by Google.
3. Improve meta descriptions
Lower your return-to-SERP rate by creating concise and engaging meta descriptions of your website, landing pages or blog. You want to give users enough information about your site that they’re intrigued to click, but not too much that they don’t engage further.
4. Improve loading time
Don’t leave your users hanging while they wait for your page to load. Websites with long loading times result in users abandoning the page quicker, and in turn losing revenue. For example, every second it takes for an ecommerce site to load could cost the company up to $2.5 million in lost sales. Speak with your dev team and work out all the kinks and closely monitor your speed with insights tools like Page Speed Insights.
5. Mobile first
Optimizing for mobile is the benchmark. If you aren’t doing this now, then you’re not only missing out on potential conversions and website traffic, but you’re risking the longevity of your business.
Thanks to the phones we all carry around, consumers can conduct research for even the smallest decision or action. Former CMO of Nestlé Waters North America, Antonio Sciuto remarked on this trend, saying "It’s not a surprise to us that some of our customers research a bottle of water as deeply as they research an expensive bottle of wine."
If you don't optimize your site for mobile, you risk customers leaving as soon as they arrive, creating a high bounce rate. A high bounce rate on mobile devices is a negative user signal for Google. Since more than 63 percent of search queries come from mobile devices, you risk missing out on a lot of traffic if Google is not ranking your site highly on mobile search.
6. Interpretation is key
Even with search terms that are not explicit, people are expecting accurate and relevant information. They're expecting short, simple phrases to deliver the results they're after when they search.
To interpret these vague signals, marketers need to capture and use contextual data. Brands that can understand the intent behind these user searches will be the ones to see results.
7. Reduce bounce rate
To decrease your bounce rate, add more landing pages to your site so users have more options of what they can explore and navigate. A study revealed that companies with 40 or more landing pages received 12 times more leads than those with fewer than five landing pages. A high bounce rate may indicate you need to improve your conversion rate, optimize your content and redesign navigation.
Also, users may bounce because there are no actions to take with your website, or maybe the actions are hard to find. Strategically place a call-to-action on every page to encourage users to make a purchase, find more information or send an inquiry.
How to maintain your first-page rankings
Your work as an SEO marketer is far from over when you’ve reached that first page status. Now begins the hard work of keeping your place. Here are seven ways to keep your golden spot, according to our in-house expert.
Content needs to stay up-to-date
Once you hold the front page listing for a given keyword, you can expect to hold that position for some time. But as time passes, much of your content will go out of date. You’ll need to perform continuous audits to ensure your content is relevant and growth remains steady.
Javier Dominguez expresses just how important it is to keep your content current, “make sure every 6 months or at least 12 months, you refresh and optimize your content. Trends change all the time and perhaps an article that's ranking on page 2 of Google, can be optimized by refreshing the approach and achieving a first page ranking.”
A lot of content can simply be updated with new stats, references, and images. However there will be some content that’s unsalvageable, so be ready to delete some of your old blogs entirely.
SEO involves the entire funnel
Some marketers think that if they are already ranking for their brand name, there’s no need to invest in organic search. This just isn’t true.
SEO captures the entire sales funnel — not just people at the bottom searching your brand name directly. By blogging about a wide range of topics surrounding your product or service, you can capture top-of-the-funnel customers who are simply doing research on Google. If they haven’t heard of your brand before, they will have after reading your blog.
Core web vitals are a group of specific factors that score the user’s experience when loading a webpage. The metrics include:
The speed of loading page content,
How quickly a browser loading a webpage can respond to a user's input, and
The instability of content as it loads in the browser.
As search engine algorithms change, they can mess with your company’s page ranking, but having a firm understanding of your core web vitals can allow you to minimize the impact or tweak your SEO strategy.
Dominguez speaks of his most recent experience, “when the last core update happened, many peers in the industry contacted me to complain and share how they have been impacted by it. My questions to them was, when was the last time you did something for your organic traffic? How often do you check your site speed? Do you fully understand the Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) or Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS)?”
While it may seem overwhelming to be able to keep up with all the updates and algorithm changes, it is important to dedicate time in learning and understanding what they mean for your SEO strategy.
“More than ever, it’s very important to understand Google’s algorithm and pay attention to every single update and then react accordingly.”
Don’t get penalized
Knowledge of search engine penalties is important, even if you’re not investing in SEO at all. Search engines run algorithms designed to punish websites that are trying to game the system. These bad actors deliberately manipulate search results to their own benefit.
Search engines are constantly crawling websites, so it’s worthwhile brushing up on what not to do. That way you won’t get any hidden surprises or accidental penalties.
Whether you’re a SEO maestro or first-timer, make sure you don’t:
Create duplicate content that’s exactly the same on multiple pages
Have low security protocols that make your website vulnerable to hacking
Create unrelated link exchanges on your website
Dilute your content with too much user-generated input
Use search engine algorithms to your advantage
Ensure you are maximizing your SEO skills in order to get the most out of search engines. Knowing how to work with search engine algorithms will provide plenty of side benefits, including:
Keyword research is also market research. Do keyword research to see what topics/products/questions your competitors and customers are interested in
Link building spreads brand awareness and captures referral traffic
Producing content for search engines isn’t just for SEO. Repurpose your content for list building, relationship marketing, lead nurture journeys and general content marketing practices
Your competitor’s search performance is just as important as yours
Nobody wants to be beat by their competitors. Monitoring your competitor’s search activity helps orient your search strategy. You’ll never get exact figures, but you will get valuable insights into the market and new content opportunities.
You can estimate your competitors’ search performance by using a digital tool like SEMrush. This will give you an idea of how much traffic your competitors are generating on particular keywords, as well as that traffic’s financial value.
Focus on your overall user experience
SEO gurus are constantly adjusting their strategies to align with the latest changes from Google.
We don’t always understand exactly what’s going on over at Google HQ, but we do understand that the search giant has been making notable efforts to emphasize signals related to engagement.
Metrics like dwell time, pages viewed per session, load speed and total time on site have all become much more important. Blogging will only improve these metrics so much, so SEO has now gone beyond just keywords and internal links.
Improving the overall user experience means improving your position on Google. High-ranking websites have earned their place by implementing:
Content that’s optimized for schema and rich snippet enhancements
Mobile responsive design and Accelerated Mobile Pages (in response to the new mobile-first index)
Progressive Web Apps (PWA)
Organic search is often the first point of contact your customers have with your brand. It helps drive traffic and ignite engagement — without it, your digital marketing strategy is incomplete.
With Google's focus on user experience, what happens after that initial touchpoint is more critical than ever. As a result, SEO today is more ingrained with digital marketing as a whole than ever before. By having a solid understanding of these basic SEO principles, keeping up with the latest updates, and considering SEO with every website change you make, it won't be long until you're the one debunking SEO myths.