Why we’re hardwired to believe SEO myths (and how to spot them!)

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Give somebody a fish and so they’ll EAT for at some point. Teach somebody to fish and so they’ll EAT for a lifetime. Yes, that’s an search engine optimization pun. It’s additionally the objective of this text.

If you pop into both of the incredible search engine optimization communities on Twitter or LinkedIn, you’ll inevitably encounter some widespread search engine optimization myths:

  • “Longer dwell time means a good user experience, so it must be a ranking factor”
  • “A high bounce rate indicates a bad user experience, so it must be bad for SEO”

Social media posts like these get tons of engagement. As a end result, they amplify the myths we attempt to squash by means of repetition, false proof, and defective logic. The downside isn’t restricted to social media, both. There are loads of high-profile web sites that package deal hypotheses as info as a result of readers eat them up.

These myths are an enormous downside as a result of they’re pink herrings. They trigger entrepreneurs to prioritize tasks that gained’t enhance the content material, person expertise, or Google search efficiency.

So how can the search engine optimization neighborhood rally across the fact? We can begin by doing two issues:

  1. SEOs should admit our personalities and professions hardwire us to imagine myths. We have a deep want for solutions, management, and predictability, in addition to a fierce mistrust of Google.
  2. We want to acknowledge the psychological and environmental elements that affect our potential to kind truth from fiction.

So moderately than busting particular person myths, let’s ask ourselves “why?” as a substitute. In different phrases, let’s be taught to fish.

Internal causes we imagine search engine optimization myths

Let’s dig into some inner elements, resembling our ideas and emotions, that affect our beliefs.

1. SEOs want construction and management

search engine optimization is a captivating department of selling as a result of our efficiency is pushed by a always evolving algorithm that we don’t management. In truth, there have been more than 5,000 Google algorithm updates in 2021 alone.

In different phrases, SEOs stay in a world of crippling dependency. Even the top-ranking indicators that we learn about can fluctuate based mostly on the business, question, or out there content material inside Google’s index. For instance, for those who handle web sites within the finance or well being area, E-A-T is essential. If you publish information content material, then recency is essential.

To acquire a way of construction and management, we search for extra methods to affect outcomes. But there are two issues with that method:

  • We overestimate the impression of particular person rating elements
  • We falsely imagine one thing is a Google rating issue that’s not

Our must amplify our personal degree of management is supported by psychology. A 2016 research revealed a person’s want for construction made them extra prone to believe in a conspiracy theory.

“The human tendency to recognize patterns even when none exist is shown to have applications in consumer behavior. The current research demonstrates that as one’s personal need for structure (PNS) increases (that is, requiring predictability and disfavoring uncertainty), false consumer pattern perceptions emerge.”

If you end up waffling between truth and fiction, don’t let your want for management dictate your last resolution.

2. The primal want to acknowledge patterns

The human mind is superb at recognizing patterns. Throughout historical past, we’ve relied on that potential to make higher choices and make sure the survival of our species. Unfortunately, we’re so good at recognizing patterns that we also fabricate them.

False sample recognition has a number of drawbacks –

  • It may affect search engine optimization choices that might have a sitewide impression
  • If you overstate the connection publicly, others may misread it as truth

An wonderful instance surfaced on Twitter not too long ago. Google’s John Mueller was requested if including too many hyperlinks to your web site’s major navigation might impression Google Discover visitors. The particular person who requested the query ran a number of assessments and noticed constructive outcomes, however Mueller stated it was merely an fascinating correlation.

“I’d still go with ’unrelated’. As mentioned in our docs: Given the serendipitous nature of Discover, traffic from Discover is less predictable or dependable when compared to Search, and is considered supplemental to your Search traffic.”

Fortunately, this particular person went straight to the supply for a solution as a substitute of publishing a case research that might have had severe implications for web site navigation choices.

3. Confirmation bias

It’s well-documented that individuals settle for data that helps their beliefs and reject data that doesn’t. It’s a primordial trait that advanced once we started to kind social teams. Early people surrounded themselves with others who thought and acted the identical means to make sure their survival.

One of essentially the most well-known confirmation bias studies comes from Stanford. For the research, researchers segmented college students into two opposing teams based mostly on their beliefs about capital punishment.

One group supported capital punishment and believed it diminished crime. The different opposed it and believed it had no impression on crime.

Each group was requested to react to 2 research, one which supported their views, and one which contradicted them. Both teams discovered the research that aligned with their beliefs way more credible, and every turned extra entrenched of their unique beliefs.

search engine optimization practitioners are significantly vulnerable to affirmation bias as a result of we’re scared of being fallacious. We hypothesize, take a look at, construct, optimize, and iterate. If we’re fallacious too usually, we’ll waste money and time, and we might threat our fame and our jobs.

We must be proper so badly that we might settle for myths that affirm our beliefs moderately than admit failure.

4. Lack of belief in Google

It’s secure to say most SEOs don’t belief Google. That has led to a few of the longest-running search engine optimization myths I might discover. For instance, even after seven years of repeated rejections from Google, many search engine optimization consultants nonetheless imagine engagement is a rating sign.

Here’s John Mueller taking pictures down the engagement fable in 2015:

“I don’t think we even see what people are doing on your website. If they are filling out forms or not, if they are converting and actually buying something… So if we can’t see that, then that is something we cannot take into account. So from my point of view, that is not something I’d really treat as a ranking factor.”

Nearly seven years later, in March 2022, John was requested the identical query once more, and his response was just about the identical:

“So I don’t think we would use engagement as a factor.”

And but, the SEOs piled on within the feedback. I encourage you to learn them in order for you a way of the extreme degree of distrust. Essentially, SEOs overanalyzed Mueller’s phrases, questioned his honesty, and claimed he was misinformed as a result of that they had contradictory insider data.

5. Impostor syndrome

Even essentially the most seasoned search engine optimization professionals admit they’ve felt the ache of impostor syndrome. You can simply discover discussions on Reddit, Twitter, and LinkedIn about how we query our personal degree of data. That’s very true in public settings once we’re surrounded by our friends.

Not way back Azeem Ahmad and Izzie Smith chatted about impostor syndrome. Here’s what Izzie stated:

“It’s really hard to put yourself out there and share your learnings. We’re all really afraid. I think most of us have this impostor syndrome that’s telling us we’re not good enough.”

This contributes to search engine optimization myths in a number of methods. First, it erodes self-confidence, which makes people extra vulnerable to imagine myths. Second, it prevents of us who may wish to problem inaccurate data from talking out publicly as a result of they’re afraid they’ll be attacked.

Needless to say, that allows myths to unfold all through the broader neighborhood.

The greatest solution to combat impostor syndrome is to make sure search engine optimization communities are secure and supportive of latest members and new concepts. Be respectful, open-minded, and accepting. If extra of us communicate out when one thing doesn’t really feel correct, then we are able to preserve some troublesome myths in examine.

External causes we imagine search engine optimization myths

Now let’s discover the exterior forces, like friends and publishers, that trigger us to imagine search engine optimization myths.

1. Peer stress

Peer stress is carefully associated to impostor syndrome, besides it comes from the surface. It’s a sense of coercion from friends, whether or not a big group of SEOs, a broadly recognized knowledgeable or an in depth mentor or colleague.

Because people are social creatures, our urge to slot in usually overpowers our want to be proper. When one thing doesn’t really feel proper, we flow anyway for worry of being ostracized. In truth, social proof can be more persuasive than purely evidence-based proof.

I requested the Twitter search engine optimization neighborhood if anybody ever felt compelled to just accept an search engine optimization rating issue as truth based mostly on common opinion. Several of us replied, and there was an fascinating theme round web site code.

“Back in 2014, a web developer told me he truly believed text-to-code ratio was a ranking factor. For a while, I believed him because he made convincing arguments and he was the first developer I met who had an opinion about SEO.”

—  Alice Roussel

“Years and years ago I wanted code quality to be a ranking factor. Many thought it was because it made sense to reward well-written code. But it never was. Browsers had to be very forgiving because most sites were so badly built.”

—  Simon Cox

Similar to combatting impostor syndrome, if we develop a extra tolerable search engine optimization neighborhood that’s keen to respectfully debate points, we’ll all profit from extra dependable data.

2. Outdated data

If you publish content material about search engine optimization, you then’ll be responsible of spreading search engine optimization myths in some unspecified time in the future. Google updates its algorithms 1000’s of instances annually, which implies assumptions are disproven and once-good recommendation turns into outdated.

Trusted publishers have an obligation to refresh or take away inaccurate content material to stop search engine optimization misconceptions from spreading.

For instance, in 2019 Google changed how it handles outbound hyperlinks. It launched two new hyperlink attributes into the nofollow household, UGC and sponsored, and commenced to deal with all three of those as hints as a substitute of ignoring nofollow hyperlinks.

So for those who wrote about hyperlink attributes previous to September 2019, your recommendation might be outdated.

Unfortunately, most SEOs replace content material as a result of it’s underperforming, not as a result of it’s fallacious. So maybe publishers ought to put integrity above efficiency to strengthen our neighborhood.

3. Jumping on traits

Sometimes search engine optimization myths explode as a result of the info can’t sustain with the virality of the parable. One of my favourite examples is the LSI key phrase development. This one pops up on Twitter now and again, and fortunately Bill Slawski is quick to quash it.

Trend-based myths go viral as a result of they faucet into the worry of lacking out (FOMO), and SEOs hate to overlook out on the chance to achieve a aggressive benefit. They additionally resonate with SEOs as a result of they seem to supply a secret glimpse into Google’s black field.

Although traits ultimately fade, they’ll stay a thorn in our aspect so long as the unique sources stay unchanged.

4. Correlation vs causation

The most tough myths to bust are these backed by information. No matter what number of instances Google debunks them, they gained’t die if of us come armed with case research.

Take actual match domains (EMD) for instance. This article lists a number of explanation why EMDs are good for search engine optimization, utilizing Hotels.com as a case research. But it’s a traditional rooster and egg argument. Does the positioning rank primary for “hotels” as a result of it’s an EMD? Or is it as a result of the proprietor clearly understood search engine optimization technique and prioritized key phrase analysis, hyperlink constructing, inner hyperlinks, web page velocity, and high-quality content material advertising for the final 27 years?

We can also’t low cost the truth that the area has 42 million backlinks.

But if you wish to hear it immediately from the horse’s mouth, Google’s John Mueller says EMDs present no search engine optimization bonus. Here’s what he said on Reddit:

“There’s no secret SEO bonus for having your keywords in the domain name. And for those coming with “but there are keyword domains ranking well” — in fact, you may as well rank properly with a site that has key phrases in it. But you possibly can rank properly with different domains too, and a site gained’t rank properly simply because it has key phrases in it.”

This is clearly correlation, not causation.

To be clear, I absolutely help operating search engine optimization assessments to be taught extra about Google’s algorithm. But it’s extremely tough to create a sign vacuum that stops exterior influences from skewing your outcomes. And even for those who handle to isolate one rating issue, you don’t have any means of understanding how sturdy the sign is in relation to different indicators. In a complete vacuum, one sign might win. But within the wilderness of Google, it could be so weak that it’s just about nonexistent.

Furthermore, the sign might solely apply to sure kinds of content material. We’ve seen sign fluctuations earlier than relating to product evaluations and E-A-T in YMYL areas. So even when information suggests one thing may enhance natural rankings, how dependable is the knowledge, and the way vital is the sign?

All that is to say that we must be very cautious when proclaiming new rating elements, particularly in the event that they contradict Google’s statements or stray too removed from universally measuring person expertise.

5. It’s believable, however not measurable

This group of myths is rooted in logic, which makes them significantly harmful and sticky. Usually, they observe a easy formulation: if A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

Here’s an instance:

  • Google desires to rank content material that gives a great person expertise
  • If a webpage has a excessive bounce price, it should present a nasty person expertise
  • Therefore, a excessive bounce price is dangerous for search engine optimization

This appears to make sense, proper? Yet, Google has stated many instances they will’t see what customers do in your web site, and so they don’t have a look at bounce price.

I’ve seen the identical argument utilized to dwell time, time on web page, SERP click-through charges (CTR), and so forth. To be clear, Google says CTR  doesn’t drive natural search engine rankings as a result of that may trigger outcomes to be overrun with spammy, low-quality content material.

Most usually these myths stem from competing views about what a great person expertise appears like and the best way to measure it. What constitutes a great expertise for one sort of search question is perhaps a horrible expertise for one more. This lack of consistency makes it just about unattainable to establish metrics that may be deployed universally throughout all web sites.

In different phrases, if potential person expertise indicators depend upon too many elements, Google can’t use them. That’s why they launched the web page expertise replace in 2021 which quantifies person expertise with particular, common metrics.

Here’s your fishing pole

In many instances, search engine optimization myths fall into greater than one of many above classes which makes them much more tough to dispel. That’s why we preserve seeing social media posts falsely figuring out rating elements like key phrase density, area authority, conversions, and meta key phrases.

If you perceive a number of fundamental ideas about rating elements, you’ll be higher outfitted to kind truth from fiction and prioritize search engine optimization initiatives that drive extra natural visitors.

Ask your self these 5 questions whenever you scent the stench of a fable:

  • Is it quantifiable and measurable?
  • Is it scalable?
  • Is it broadly or universally true, or does it depend upon the person?
  • Does it help Google’s targets of delivering a greater person expertise?
  • Has Google confirmed or denied it publicly?

If you possibly can examine every of these packing containers, then you could have a sound rating issue in your arms. But don’t take my phrase for it. Run some assessments, ask some mates, use logic, and ensure your idea. And if all else fails, simply ask John Mueller.


Jonas Sickler is a printed writer and digital marketer. He writes about search engine optimization, model fame, buyer consideration, and advertising. His recommendation has appeared in a whole lot of publications, together with Forbes, CNBC, CMI, and Search Engine Watch. He will be discovered on Twitter @JonasSickler.

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