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Myths And Truths Of SEO: A Response To Ammon Johns

Ammon Johns is a great SEO, and someone I respect.  Rand Fishkin also has a great deal of respect for him as well.  So when I said that Ammon’s article had a few points wrong, he said we should dialog on the subject. This is my response, likely the rest of the dialog will happen on twitter.

1. SEO is about making your page #1 on search engines:

Ammon’s Take:

Being first in the search results is only a good tactic if you have the best deal – one that people will go back for – or if you have some other value to the searcher worth extra trouble for. In markets where many companies are all offering very similar deals, I have personally often found that position 6 or 7 in the search results gets the most conversions and sales. That usually seems to be about where people have seen a few offers and decided that they will buy rather than keep looking for a better deal that may not exist.

My Take:

Being first in search results is only a good tactic if you really can be.  Client’s come to me and say "I want to be the top hit for Ice Cream."  I tell them very politely that it is nice to have ambition, but that with 3 locations it isn’t practical to assume that they can achieve this.  SEO is STILL about being #1, but not for the most generic term.  Being the top hit for "Ice Cream San Francisco" is VERY Valuable.

I disagree with Ammon’s "Shop around" argument. There was a time when I was on the front page for the single word "Greatest", that word isn’t worth a lot, but because I was the "Greatest Living American" I was also the top hit for "Great in Bed", "Greatest Hits Of Don McLean", and a number of other "Great" keywords.  This "Synonym Authority" is huge in search rankings for things you aren’t even trying to rank for, or don’t know you want to rank for.  With recent changes to the way Google returns "long tail" results this is even more important than ever. Google often returns results that DON’T include all the words in a search query.  This means getting those first place results is the only way to get results on long tail and highly specific searches that Google returns a generic result for.

2. The more links you can get the better

We are pretty agreed on this topic.

Ammon’s Take:

This one has never been quite true. However, in years past, search engines were not anywhere near as good at filtering links to determine quality over quantity. It was once a sort of generalization truth, but in practice it needs such a long list of provisos that as an absolute statement, it has to be classed as a definite myth.

My Take:

I agree, more is not always better, and because of bad neighbor penalties I would say that this is not just a myth, but an un-truth. I have helped numerous clients remove 1000’s of links that were purchased, or were part of an affiliate program that pointed to their domain.

3. High PageRank makes your page rank higher

We are pretty agreed on this topic.

Ammon’s Take:

The only real effect of PageRank to worry about in SEO is whether a site has enough PageRank to its major pages to ensure that search spiders spend time there and index deeper content on a regular basis.

My Take:

I can get around the Spider issue regardless of Page Rank.  For me page rank is a helpful indicator as to if your engineering, User Experience, or SEO team screwed something up.  If your site drops from 5 to 2 over night, something bad is coming your way.

4. Software that compares your keyword usage against the top-ranked sites is useful.

I STRONGLY disagree on this point.

Ammon’s Take:

This is one of the myths that is far out of date, based on common practices of 1998. It became untrue when search engines first started evaluating links and anchor text. However, vendors of such software keep hawking it so strongly that it has become mythical.

My Take:

You can’t rank for a keyword that doesn’t appear on your website.  Analyzing your competitors makes sure that you aren’t missing large sections of the market based on the lack of a word on the page.  I had a client recently who tripled their traffic by adding a single word to their copy, so that every place they had used a synonym they also used the missing keyword.  6 weeks later they had increased their revenue 25%.

5. SEO is about ranking for high-volume keywords

I STRONGLY disagree on this point, and that may be because I am also an SEM.

Ammon’s Take:

This is another SEO myth because it states an absolute that is incorrect, and occasionally is the precise opposite of what may be required of SEO. Again, we have to state that quality is what is important, not quantity. There is absolutely no point at all in ranking highly for a search term that you can’t always service.

My Take:

You have to bid against those high volume keywords, and your Ad quality score is effected by where you rank organically for the keyword or phrase you are bidding against.  Doing SEO to rank organically for the terms you are already bidding against is a two fold win.  Your price drops (a lot) and you may start to get free clicks from Search Results rather than having to buy for those words on the page. 

 

Brandon Wirtz is President of BlackWaterOps.com an SEO, SEM, Social Media, and Reputation Management firm.