Why we’re hardwired to imagine website positioning myths (and how one can spot them!)


Give somebody a fish and so they’ll EAT for at some point. Train somebody to fish and so they’ll EAT for a lifetime. Sure, that’s an website positioning pun. It’s additionally the aim of this text.

In the event you pop into both of the unbelievable website positioning communities on Twitter or LinkedIn, you’ll inevitably encounter some frequent website positioning myths:

  • “Longer dwell time means a great consumer expertise, so it should be a rating issue”
  • “A excessive bounce fee signifies a foul consumer expertise, so it should be dangerous for website positioning”

Social media posts like these get tons of engagement. In consequence, they amplify the myths we attempt to squash by way of repetition, false proof, and defective logic. The issue isn’t restricted to social media, both. There are many high-profile web sites that bundle hypotheses as info as a result of readers eat them up.

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

So how can the website positioning group rally across the fact? We will begin by doing two issues:

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

So quite than busting particular person myths, let’s ask ourselves “why?” as an alternative. In different phrases, let’s study to fish.

Inside causes we imagine website positioning myths

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

1. SEOs want construction and management

website positioning is an enchanting department of selling as a result of our efficiency is pushed by a continually evolving algorithm that we don’t management. Actually, there have been more than 5,000 Google algorithm updates in 2021 alone.

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

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

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

Our have to amplify our personal stage 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 acknowledge patterns even when none exist is proven to have purposes in client habits. The present analysis demonstrates that as one’s private want for construction (PNS) will increase (that’s, requiring predictability and disfavoring uncertainty), false client sample perceptions emerge.”

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

2. The primal want to acknowledge patterns

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

False sample recognition has a number of drawbacks –

  • It would affect website positioning choices that would have a sitewide impression
  • In the event you overstate the connection publicly, others may misread it as reality

A superb instance surfaced on Twitter not too long ago. Google’s John Mueller was requested if including too many hyperlinks to your web site’s most important navigation may impression Google Uncover site visitors. The person who requested the query ran a number of assessments and noticed constructive outcomes, however Mueller mentioned it was merely an fascinating correlation.

“I’d nonetheless go together with ’unrelated’. As talked about in our docs: Given the serendipitous nature of Uncover, site visitors from Uncover is much less predictable or reliable when in comparison with Search, and is taken into account supplemental to your Search site visitors.”

Thankfully, this particular person went straight to the supply for a solution as an alternative of publishing a case research that would have had severe implications for web site navigation choices.

3. Affirmation 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 developed after we started to type social teams. Early people surrounded themselves with others who thought and acted the identical manner to make sure their survival.

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

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

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

website positioning practitioners are notably liable to affirmation bias as a result of we’re afraid of being unsuitable. We hypothesize, take a look at, construct, optimize, and iterate. If we’re unsuitable too typically, we’ll waste money and time, and we may danger our popularity and our jobs.

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

4. Lack of belief in Google

It’s protected to say most SEOs don’t belief Google. That has led to among the longest-running website positioning myths I may discover. For instance, even after seven years of repeated rejections from Google, many website positioning consultants nonetheless imagine engagement is a rating sign.

Right here’s John Mueller capturing down the engagement fantasy in 2015:

“I don’t suppose we even see what individuals are doing in your web site. If they’re filling out kinds or not, if they’re changing and really shopping for one thing… So if we will’t see that, then that’s one thing we can’t bear in mind. So from my viewpoint, that isn’t one thing I’d actually deal with as a rating issue.”

Almost 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 suppose we’d use engagement as an element.”

And but, the SEOs piled on within the feedback. I encourage you to learn them if you would like a way of the extreme stage of distrust. Basically, SEOs overanalyzed Mueller’s phrases, questioned his honesty, and claimed he was misinformed as a result of they’d contradictory insider data.

5. Impostor syndrome

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

Not way back Azeem Ahmad and Izzie Smith chatted about impostor syndrome. Right here’s what Izzie mentioned:

“It’s actually onerous to place your self on the market and share your learnings. We’re all actually afraid. I believe most of us have this impostor syndrome that’s telling us we’re not ok.”

This contributes to website positioning myths in a number of methods. First, it erodes self-confidence, which makes people extra liable 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.

Evidently, that allows myths to unfold all through the broader group.

One of the simplest ways to combat impostor syndrome is to make sure website positioning communities are protected and supportive of latest members and new concepts. Be respectful, open-minded, and accepting. If extra of us converse out when one thing doesn’t really feel correct, then we will hold some troublesome myths in verify.

Exterior causes we imagine website positioning myths

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

1. Peer strain

Peer strain is carefully associated to impostor syndrome, besides it comes from the skin. It’s a sense of coercion from friends, whether or not a big group of SEOs, a extensively recognized professional or a detailed mentor or colleague.

As a result of people are social creatures, our urge to slot in typically overpowers our want to be proper. When one thing doesn’t really feel proper, we waft anyway for worry of being ostracized. Actually, social proof can be more persuasive than purely evidence-based proof.

I requested the Twitter website positioning group if anybody ever felt compelled to simply accept an SEO ranking factor as reality primarily based on in style opinion. A number of of us replied, and there was an fascinating theme round web site code.

“Again in 2014, an internet developer informed me he really believed text-to-code ratio was a rating issue. For some time, I believed him as a result of he made convincing arguments and he was the primary developer I met who had an opinion about website positioning.”

—  Alice Roussel

“Years and years in the past I wished code high quality to be a rating issue. Many thought it was as a result of it made sense to reward well-written code. But it surely by no means was. Browsers needed to be very forgiving as a result of most websites have been so badly constructed.”

—  Simon Cox

Just like combatting impostor syndrome, if we develop a extra tolerable website positioning group that’s keen to respectfully debate points, we’ll all profit from extra dependable data.

2. Outdated data

In the event you publish content material about website positioning, then you definately’ll be responsible of spreading website positioning myths in some unspecified time in the future. Google updates its algorithms hundreds of instances every year, which suggests assumptions are disproven and once-good recommendation turns into outdated.

Trusted publishers have an obligation to refresh or take away inaccurate content material to forestall website positioning 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 started to deal with all three of those as hints as an alternative of ignoring nofollow hyperlinks.

So when you wrote about hyperlink attributes previous to September 2019, your recommendation might be old-fashioned.

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

3. Leaping on developments

Typically website positioning myths explode as a result of the info can’t sustain with the virality of the parable. One among my favourite examples is the LSI keyword development. This one pops up on Twitter sometimes, and fortunately Bill Slawski is quick to quash it.

Pattern-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 realize a aggressive benefit. In addition they resonate with SEOs as a result of they seem to supply a secret glimpse into Google’s black field.

Though developments ultimately fade, they’ll stay a thorn in our facet so long as the unique sources stay unchanged.

4. Correlation vs causation

Essentially the most tough myths to bust are these backed by knowledge. Regardless of what number of instances Google debunks them, they received’t die if of us come armed with case research.

Take precise match domains (EMD) for instance. This article lists a number of the reason why EMDs are good for website positioning, utilizing Motels.com as a case research. But it surely’s a traditional hen and egg argument. Does the location rank primary for “inns” as a result of it’s an EMD? Or is it as a result of the proprietor clearly understood website positioning technique and prioritized key phrase analysis, hyperlink constructing, inner hyperlinks, web page pace, 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.

However if you wish to hear it instantly from the horse’s mouth, Google’s John Mueller says EMDs present no website positioning bonus. Right here’s what he said on Reddit:

“There’s no secret website positioning bonus for having your key phrases within the area title. And for these coming with “however there are key phrase domains rating properly” — after all, you can too rank properly with a site that has key phrases in it. However you’ll be able to rank properly with different domains too, and a site received’t rank properly simply because it has key phrases in it.”

That is clearly correlation, not causation.

To be clear, I absolutely assist running SEO tests to study extra about Google’s algorithm. But it surely’s extremely tough to create a sign vacuum that stops outdoors influences from skewing your outcomes. And even when you handle to isolate one rating issue, you don’t have any manner of figuring out how sturdy the sign is in relation to different alerts. In a complete vacuum, one sign might win. However within the wilderness of Google, it could be so weak that it’s just about nonexistent.

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

5. It’s believable, however not measurable

This group of myths is rooted in logic, which makes them notably harmful and sticky. Normally, they comply with a easy formulation: if A = B, and B = C, then A = C.

Right here’s an instance:

  • Google desires to rank content material that gives a great consumer expertise
  • If a webpage has a excessive bounce fee, it should present a foul consumer expertise
  • Due to this fact, a excessive bounce fee is dangerous for website positioning

This appears to make sense, proper? But, Google has mentioned many instances they’ll’t see what customers do in your web site, and so they don’t take a look at bounce fee.

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 might trigger outcomes to be overrun with spammy, low-quality content material.

Most frequently these myths stem from competing views about what a good user experience appears like and how one can measure it. What constitutes a great expertise for one sort of search question is likely to be a horrible expertise for one more. This lack of consistency makes it just about unattainable to determine metrics that may be deployed universally throughout all web sites.

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

Right here’s your fishing pole

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

In the event you perceive a couple of fundamental ideas about rating elements, you’ll be higher geared up to kind reality from fiction and prioritize website positioning initiatives that drive extra natural site visitors.

Ask your self these 5 questions while you scent the stench of a fantasy:

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

In the event you can verify every of these bins, then you’ll have a sound rating issue in your fingers. However don’t take my phrase for it. Run some assessments, ask some pals, use logic, and make sure your principle. And if all else fails, simply ask John Mueller.


Jonas Sickler is a broadcast writer and digital marketer. He writes about website positioning, model popularity, buyer consideration, and advertising. His recommendation has appeared in a whole lot of publications, together with Forbes, CNBC, CMI, and Search Engine Watch. He might be discovered on Twitter @JonasSickler.

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