SEO – Separating myth from reality

SEO Myth

July 25, 2017

During our frequent Google Hangouts with the search engine’s Webmaster Trends Analyst John Mueller, we are increasingly confronted with ever more farfetched hypotheses and theories. Even facts and practises which ought to have been basic knowledge for any SEO for years are questioned, the theories backed up by individual experiences and statistics without context. This proliferation of stories and has allowed a number of myths to develop which actually have very little to do with reality. So, enough is enough! We’ve selected some of the more common and most outlandish comments and compared them to what Google actually as to say about the subjects, so there can be no more confusion.

Hidden content

Myth: “Google cannot see content hidden behind tabs or accordions and so cannot index it.”

Reality: Of course, Google can see this content – most of the time. Sometimes, webmasters get technical aspects wrong resulting in Google being unable to see content but this is nothing do with “hidden” content; it’s just been set up wrong. In fact, Google still reads and indexes hidden content but ranks it as less important than directly visible content.

But even this won’t be the case for long, since Google will soon officially switch to its mobile first index. On mobile devices, it makes sense – and is indeed recommended – to hide content behind tabs or accordions. Otherwise, websites would quickly become completely illegible on comparatively small smartphone screens. Google is set to take this into account in its mobile first index where hidden content will have the same value as standard content.

Penalties for headings

Myth: “I will be penalized for using several of the same header types, e.g., several H1 or H2.”

Reality: It’s a commonly used tactic which SEOs use to rank better, stuffing as many keywords into headings as possible and making everything H1. They then worry that, by doing this, they are risking receiving a penalty. But in reality, that is just as unlikely as the hope that the tactic will fool Google in the first place.

Google uses headings predominantly to understand content structure. So, using several of the same type of heading isn’t necessarily a problem. But on the other hand, it doesn’t make sense to make everything H1 because that means the text loses all structure and Google will just ignore it. The same applies to keywords: if the same keyword is used over and over again, Google is more likely to just drop it. There’s no penalty, but there’s equally not much to be gained from either tactic.

Social signals

Myth: “Social Signals contribute to a page’s ranking.”

Reality: Google does not use social signals for rankings. Firstly, all social media links are nofollow and therefore don’t carry any signals. And secondly, Google can’t comprehensively crawl every social network.

Nevertheless, we mustn’t forget that social signals do help to boost traffic. These visitors don’t just become long-term fans but they are also likely to recommend the website. In this sense, a website’s ranking does improve but indirectly. As always on social media, the golden rule is: offer your users value. Having hundreds of links on your Facebook page which never get clicked doesn’t do anything for your ranking; it’s just a waste of your time.

Duplicate content penalty

Myth: “If I have duplicate content, I risk my website being penalized.”

Reality: There is no such thing as a duplicate content penalty. When Google comes across identical content, it simply picks one version and ranks it higher. Which version Google chooses depends on many factors and can, for example, be influenced by the use of a canonical tag. Having duplicate content on a well-structured website is therefore no problem in principle, provided webmasters assign the “right” version a canonical tag to prevent signals being split over several different versions.

Obviously, the biggest problem is when another website simply steals content and then even manages to rank higher with it than the original. This is where Google’s range of preventative measures come into play, ranging from spam reports to legal action.

This also explains why many affiliate pages have ranking problems, since it’s just not enough to simply reproduce the same product feed as five other competitors. Google already recognizes the content and therefore – rightly – sees no reason to rank the new kid on the block higher. In such cases, webmasters need to think of additional content to help them stand out and provide the user with extra value. But once again, there’s no penalty; Google just rewards individualism.

Crawl budget

Myth: “The more Google crawls my site, the better I will rank.”

Reality: Crawling itself doesn’t lead to better rankings – it’s rather just a prerequisite in order to rank at all. In order for Google to index and rank a page, the search engine first needs to see, understand and categorize it. The first step, seeing it, is the job of the crawler. The Googlebot takes a look at individual subpages before they are categorized in the next step. If a site cannot be crawled, it cannot be ranked.

However, artificially increasing the crawl rate will not lead to better rankings. In most cases, Google recognizes that itself. Sometimes, there are moments where crawling needs to be increased or scaled down but that’s usually to do with the server and can usually be recognized by Google. In terms of crawling, there are two things to remember: firstly, good internal linking so that the Googlebot can easily reach all subpages and secondly, blocking pointless things such as endless calendars. And if things do change drastically and need to be re-crawled quickly, sitemaps and search console can help ensure that always the most current content is that which is indexed.

Conclusion

SEOs often waste a lot of time worrying about things which are in fact a waste of time in themselves! Little things are changed and moved around instead of taking a step back and looking at the big picture. As long as a website is technically sound, features unique content and is free from spam, there should be no problems from Google. Then it’s just a case of exciting users and satisfying their needs. Whether a word in H1 or H3 is really doesn’t make a difference.

Author Michael Schoettler

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