Debunking 8 SEO / SEM / SMO Myths

I've not updated this blog in a bit, and frankly coming across this post from Peter Shankman, and The Oatmeal's latest concoction of "hits-so-close-to-home-it-would-hurt-you-if-it-weren't-presented-this-funny," it's put me in the mood to make a few points on some things.

Here are a few popular myths, some of which may not have yet been given a good poking at:

01. Myth: Being really social online is the mark of a Social Media Marketing expert.

Prelude: "Those who can do, those who can't teach." (Yeah, it's a dogmatic adage but please bear with me for a moment...)

Fact: Socially, people usually converge and carry themselves online as they to offline, for the most part. Being really social online might make you Type A, outgoing or friendly, and it might even make you an evangelist (not to be confused with a promoter / guerilla cheerleader). It does not however, necessarily make you an influencer to any degree i.e. someone who has experience in methodically generating customer acquisition, if not at least traffic / buzz, without spending money on advertising. Beyond the obvious PR considerations, that's the real point of social media marketing. Principally, while it can often be about building relationships it's much less often about making friends, and in any case it's about doing a job. It's about doing things that help elevate companies' business, directly and/or indirectly. It's about getting customers and/or things that help make it happen such as measured, increased brand visibility and Web presence, paying mind of how social campaigns can easily and/or frequently crash and burn, or yield marginal returns (e.g. traffic, nonetheless limited actual leads).

Some of the smartest social media marketers I think I've ever known keep at least relatively low profiles. They don't spend a lot of time Tweeting or proliferating photos of themselves getting drunk at conferences (not that that doesn't have its place within limits), some don't Tweet at all, and as far as I can tell keep relatively small and tight, trusted personal and professional circles. They often don't like to spill the beans into the blogosphere when they find tactics - whether new or old - that are working for them because they don't want it ruined and rendered useless fast by copycats jumping all over it. They like to make a point of not spending their whole lives online, as well.

02. Myth: Having well-ranking personal sites is the mark of a good SEO.

Fact: Not all experienced professional SEOs spend a lot of time building up their directly-owned domains. Not all SEOs can technically be presumed to even have them (though it's highly unusual). Not all SEOs are self-employed affiliate marketers. Being an experienced SEO isn't the same thing as being an experienced self-promoter. Sometimes it means one has spent most if not all their career promoting not their own stuff, but that of others. Often, it moreover means one has spent much more time doing some things within the field of SEO than in others.

At the time of this writing, this blog's Google PageRank has dropped to "Unranked" / 0. Maybe it was something I said (Were I to ever get into any debacles running my mouth about something online, this would probably be the place). Maybe its PageRank will return in a couple days or weeks. Or maybe I need to audit its outbound links to see if they're pointing to places that might now be considered "bad neighborhoods." Or maybe it's just that I've only a little over a hundred inbound links to it, only a portion of which are passing PageRank and few if any of which contain keyword-targeted anchor text. Maybe you get the point.

That said, short of disclosing confidential information of course, all successful SEOs should obviously be able to speak to online successes they've had, demonstrate their expertise and/or be willing to have it measured and tested.

03. Myth: Being a frequent blogger is the mark of a good Social Media Marketer.

Fact: One can be a good social media marketer without blogging frequently, if even at all. When I first heard that statistics started appearing about a year or more ago that the blogosphere's growth was starting to slow, I was kind of glad. We're not living in the Information Age anymore. We're living in the Noise Age. There's a ton of great stuff on the blogosphere, but much of it is also a big echo chamber with - to put it diplomatically - spatters of spam. There's something to be said for publishing not just to uniqueness, but quality over frequency or quantity. Just sayin.

04. Myth: When it comes to building links, old-school methods like dofollow link exchanges and forum signature links are useless and have been for years.

Fact: Quite the opposite. Devalued, sure I'd normally say so... but last I checked, valuation of links was one of the trickiest and most nebulous things one could try to tackle in SEO. The point is, if one just buckles down and does one's homework, sure it's laborious and "low-end" but it can also be helpful, sometimes surprisingly so.

I do totally concur with the idea that one great link can trump a thousand not-so-great links. I'll also say however, that in recent weeks for one project, I took a site optimized for a particularly targeted and competitive keyword from the bottom of SERP 6 to the top of SERP 3 for that keyword on basically just a partial-weekend's worth of targeted link exchanges (start to finish). From there, I took it from the top of 3rd SERP to the bottom of 1st SERP over a week or two of making occasional postings in forums. These are all ranks that have been holding consistently, moreover, as served to searchers nationwide. Was making this happen particularly intellectually stimulating? No, but because all the domains involved had a reasonable amount of trust, history and unique, relevant content all in between, it got done. There probably wasn't a single domain involved without a PageRank of 4 or less BTW. Nonetheless, having improved ranking on the keyword has, for the one I was building links to, become pivotal for growing and sustaining its profitability.

05. Myth: SEO should be a strategic priority for everyone trying to build a successful site.

Fact: Not if the larger online marketing strategy doesn't include developing substantial content and domain(s) history, it doesn't. For example, I've occasionally had folks come to me asking about SEO with sites built mostly or all in Flash, which in some cases where basically campaign properties meant to drive traffic to something that lacked temporal permanence, an event like a concert or a movie or record release. Thinking about SEO is due diligence for online marketing. It's not something everyone needs to make a top priority of. Maybe it's taboo for me, a guy who sells SEO services, to say it. It doesn't make it any less true.

06. Myth: Search marketing, whether paid or organic, is all about catching existing demand and not about generating demand.

Fact: This can be true in strict theory, but that theory is so strict that it discounts the increasing intersection between SEO, PR and Social Media marketing. I mulled over this occasionally in recent months, after one brief discussion with a couple people working for a pretty hot company (and I do use the phrase very, very rarely) who posited this basic notion. I thought it had merit as a thoughtful point at first. Upon thinking critically about it at the application / production level afterward (where real work gets done), I have to call it at best heavily caveated, at worst significantly flawed and ignorant. It's the kind of thinking that can come off as authoritative and decisive to all sitting around a management table, nonetheless is dismissive enough to be strategically errant in leading to missed opportunities. There's a reason we have such a thing as "linkbaiting," even if for most of us 9 times out of 10 it doesn't automagically work if even at all. The best linkbait generates not just links, but also demand, because when people choose to link to something there's a chance they did so out of it being something they liked enough to want to see more of (and will hope for, from the found source).

07. Myth: SEO and Affiliate Marketing should be segmented / sandboxed, never mixed.

Fact: That's up to every advertiser running an affiliate program to decide for themselves. Keeping tracking between channels and campaigns clean isn't the same thing as blatantly ignoring or disregarding potential cross-channel benefits. Myself, whenever I'm working on the advertiser end, even though my main concern when working with affiliates is direct conversions I'm nonetheless extremely interested in the organic quality of their sites. Worst case, if a given individual affiliate sends me few or no customers but is still sending me link juice, that alone can still be worth keeping him or her in the fold. Plus, think about it this way: When both advertiser and publisher can each walk the walk (not just talk the talk) in a given arrangement, sometimes it can go a long way in building a potentially valuable relationship.

08. Myth: Having any kind of certification from Google makes one a good SEO, and/or is directly representative of any degree of substantive hands-on, real-world Search marketing or Web Analytics experience gained.

Fact: Google's Professional Certification Program for individuals and companies is for demonstrating proficiency in using Google's advertising platform (AdWords) and related services such as Google Analytics, Conversion Optimizer and Website Optimizer. Prominent members of the SEO community have occasionally openly and freely admitted that they're "terrible with PPC." I've been doing SEO and PPC since 2002. I didn't pick up my AdWords Certification(s), fortunately passing each respective test on first attempt, until just within the past week or so. Late bloomer perhaps, I'm nonetheless happy to have finally gotten it done.

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Fact: This post technically contains far more opinions than facts.

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