SEO can often seem conceptual or difficult to grasp for those new to the topic. This is partly because Google is often secretive about what information it uses to rank websites. As such, people often guess, assume or speculate on the different ranking factors that influence search engine ranking position.
This article will address some common myths about SEO ranking factors and show you 10 examples that are common, but incorrectly cited as being direct ranking factors.
The meta keywords tag is a type of meta tag, that, like the meta title and meta description tags, exists in the HTML of your webpage.
When SEO was in its infancy, search engines used to rely more heavily on on-page content (that is, the content actually on your webpage). As such, the meta keywords tag quickly became a place where SEOs and webmasters would stuff keywords they wanted to rank for, whether they were relevant to the actual content or not.
Because the tag was abused in such a way, Google decided to ignore it and continues to do so to this day.
It is commonly thought that, like the meta title tag and the H1 of a page, the meta description is used by Google as a direct ranking factor.
This is not the case - the meta description is not assessed by Google to directly determine rankings. This doesn’t mean it’s not important however to your organic traffic.
The meta description is the perfect place to write compelling copy to get your users to click through from search engine results pages, however. This can increase your CTR (click-through rate) and your organic traffic for particular pages.
Google doesn’t always pay attention to the meta descriptions you have written and can replace it with other content on your page if it thinks it is better suited to the query.
You should ensure you have unique meta descriptions for all pages on your site as this increases the chances of Google using your meta description in search engine results.
Content on your website certainly plays a large part in determining where you rank for a given query. This can sometimes be misinterpreted as “the more, the better” with some websites opting to post lots of blog content in the hope that Google sees their site as active, thus rewarding them with a ranking boost.
While Google does like an active website, the quantity of content you produce is not a direct ranking factor. For Google, it’s a case of quality over quantity. If you are posting content for the sake of it in the hope Google will improve your rankings, you will likely be disappointed.
This goes for regular posting too, with some people believing posting once a week or month is the “ideal” for Google. This is reductive - ultimately your schedule should work for you, your website and your audience.
If you are posting unique, high-quality content that appeals to your audience on a frequent basis, then great - but simply posting a lot of content is not going to help you.
In SEO, links between different websites can be understood as acting as a voting system, with a link representing as a signal of approval or acknowledgement from one website to another. The links from other websites to yours are referred to as your link profile.
It might stand to reason that if you have lots of links then lots of people approve of your content and you should, therefore, rank higher in search engines.
In the early days of SEO, links were understood more primitively and buying a lot of links could increase your rankings substantially.
Nowadays, simply having a large link profile won’t increase your rankings. Google looks at not only the number of links but the quality and relevancy of those links to your own website. Having a large link profile, therefore, is not a direct ranking factor.
With how important social media has become over the past decade, it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that Google may start to look at your social media following to assess the size of your audience, the popularity of your brand and consequently reflect this in search engine results.
Your social media following, however, is not a direct ranking factor. While having a social media strategy and an engaged social media following can aid your organic traffic and brand awareness, Google doesn't use this information to determine where you rank in search engines.
As with how Google used to assess links (the more the better), it used to be relatively easy to rank if you spammed keywords on your page that you wanted to appear for.
Now, Google actively discourages keyword spamming and looks instead at content as a whole and if it is unique, relevant and appealing to the end user of the website.
Having keywords in the right places e.g. the meta title, headings and appropriately throughout the content can help Google understand what your page is about, but aiming for high keyword density is a very restrictive and potentially harmful way of approaching content in 2019.
It’s tinfoil hat time. There is the belief that Google rewards websites that use its own website analytics software, or uses that data in some way in their search ranking algorithms.
Google has directly stated that it does not use Google Analytics data to inform their ranking algorithm. As such having it on or off your site doesn’t make a difference to Google, there will be no positive or negative ranking benefit.
Due to Google making most of its money through Google Ads, its online paid advertising platform, it is sometimes thought that if you spend money on Google Ads, you will see positive organic ranking benefits.
This is not true - Google Ads spend is not a direct ranking factor. Having a good PPC strategy that is complementary to your organic strategy can, however, result in you taking up more space on search results and expose your website’s offering to more users - therefore supporting organic traffic through, for example, organic traffic from returning users after visiting from an ad.
But to say that spend in itself helps your organic rankings is not correct.
Favicons are the small icons that often appear in browser tabs and tend to represent the website’s logo or first initial.
Due to forming a part of the modern web, it is sometimes thought that having one is a direct ranking factor, helping identify a website more clearly for the user.
However, favicons are not a direct ranking factor. They can be used to communicate your brand, and as of May 2019 appear in Google search engine results. From this perspective, they could aid click-through rates, so it's a good idea to have one in place.
When creating a website, it can be difficult to decide whether to choose a website with or without www before your domain name. Www has been a conventional choice, but with many websites now deciding to use different domain name stylings, it isn’t hard to understand why some think that Google may have a preference for one over the other.
Google has however stated it has no preference for www or non-www. It is more of a brand consideration and up to you with which you choose. Whatever one you choose, stick to it, as having multiple variations can have damaging technical implications for your website architecture, which could end up confusing Google’s understanding of your website.