Making a great website is a lot simpler than many people would have you believe. Getting a good search engine rank can be a little more effort, but again it's nowhere near the kind of struggle people often make it out to be.
But there's a big reason why internet SEO has become so confusing and complicated. That reason, as you've probably guessed, is money. The SEO industry is huge, and shouldn't rightfully exist. The people behind it know this fact and that's why they put in so much effort to keep it confusing.
So in this article we're going to smash through some of the myths and nonsense that have grown up around this largely unnecessary SEO industry.
Myth 1: You need to get your site linked to by as many other sites as possible
A very long time ago when Google was taking its first toddling steps onto the Web, one of the ways they promoted their service was to tell people that they ranked sites based on popularity and that the way they measured popularity was by how many other sites linked to a particular site. They also explained that sites that mutually linked to each other were likely to achieve a better popularity score.
This was all a big mistake, as it led to massive “link farms” that did nothing but create directories of useless links to sites that people didn't really want to visit. The idea of using links to measure popularity was fine in theory, the problem was revealing exactly how the process worked.
Google learned from that mistake and is now much less forthcoming about the techniques they use for ranking sites. They reveal just enough to help you understand the principles, but not so much that it makes it easy for black-hat SEO companies to exploit the system.
In truth, if you have a lot of links to your site these days, Google is likely to drop your site down in rank, unless the inbound links suggest that you are respected by sites or domains that Google has a lot of respect for. If your links are “low quality” then they're doing you more harm than good.
As an example, if you have a dental clinic you're promoting on the Web, inbound links from professional dental organizations, government health services, or even Trip Advisor are likely to help boost your rank on Google. But if the majority of the sites your inbound links come from have nothing to do with dentistry, nothing to do with health, and nothing to do with user reviews, then the links are probably hurting your rank.
When it comes to links pointing to your site, quality is definitely worth more than quantity, and you shouldn't let some slick “SEO expert” convince you otherwise.
Myth 2: Keywords are your friend
Not if you're using them to excess for the sole purpose of improving your rank, they're not! Again, if we look back to ancient history (some time in the early 90s), we can see the origins of this myth. Many search engines such as Yahoo primarily scored pages by keyword content back in those days, and so what happened is people made pages that were almost entirely composed of keywords.
The problem with that was that users really hated it, and the simple fact is that attracting users to your page is useless if that's all you achieve. If you're not giving them information and you're not selling them anything, what have you gained? So then the website authors (we can't dare call them designers, because they're not worthy of the title) tried “clever” tactics like keyword stuffing but making all the keywords in tiny fonts or making the text of them the same color as the page background. The idea there is to attract the search robots without the users noticing the keyword stuffing.
It probably wouldn't have been a problem if the site creators hadn't been so greedy. Not content with drawing a crowd using relevant keywords, they were also seeding their sites with totally irrelevant words. So a site that was created to sell shoe brushes was laced with all keywords related to popular sports teams, celebrities, and of course any words related to sex would always score well. People who were looking for images or videos of sports celebrities having sex were not impressed when they ended up on a site about shoe brushes!
These are the kinds of situations that prompted Google to start sanctioning websites for using the technique. Why doesn't Google just mind its own business and ignore these kinds of things? It's because Google gained its market share by connecting users to pages relevant to their searches. They want to make sure that they can continue to do that, and when people use sneaky tricks to try to lure people to irrelevant sites, it is not only annoying to Google, but threatens their market retention.
Focus on writing good content, and the keywords should end up appearing naturally in the text all by themselves. There's no need to include the same words over and over. Just be relevant, provide quality information, and gain the respect of your audience. If you can do that, your rank will improve as if by magic.
Myth 3: Metadata matters
This is more like a semi-myth. Some metadata matters, but all of it is optional, and some of it won't have any impact on anything. These days metadata is more useful for providing instructions to browsers (such as the “google-no-translate” flag) than for helping search engines to index you.
The title of your page still matters to some extent, but not as much as it once did. Many metadata tags such as “author” and “keywords” are now still usable but obsolete, and won't add much value to your pages.
Nowadays you should be using metadata as a method of describing your page and controlling browser behavior, not as a means of luring visitors.
Myth 4: Size matters
Professional web content writers get requests from clients all the time asking for very specific word counts. Sometimes it will be 800 words, sometimes 1200, or maybe even 3000. They've all been given conflicting information about how long their pages should be, but the simple truth is that there really is no ideal length for a web page. What matters is the quality of what's written. If it's good enough, people will read it anyway.
There are plenty of other myths still doing the rounds as well. You're better off disregarding all of this kind of nonsense and focusing your attention on creating quality content that people genuinely like. This will do more for your rank than any SEO tricks ever could do.
Feature image curtsey of last spark