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Top 10 Search Engine Marketing Myths

Common myths and misconceptions about search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine advertising (SEM).

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Many advertising agencies, web hosting companies, and design firms offer search engine marketing services for their customers. However, some of the methods they use to obtain top search engine positions are considered to be spam by the major search engines.

What exactly is search engine spam? Tim Mayer, former VP of Web Search at Yahoo, stated that "We consider spam to be pages created deliberately to trick the search engine into offering inappropriate, redundant, or poor-quality search results."

An example of inappropriate content is an adult site wants to be found on Google for the keyword phrase: Barney the Dinosaur. Affiliate websites often contain the same information as the parent site. It can be quite frustrating to view the same information delivered over and over and over again in search results.

Many unethical search engine marketers will take your money by making false promises without a moment's hesitation. SEO sales reps may tell you exactly what you want to hear just to close the sale.

Before hiring a search engine marketing firm, be alert for these search engine marketing myths before you sign.

In This Article

Myth #1: Search engine marketing equals search engine advertising.

One of the most widespread beliefs about search engine marketing is search engine advertising equals search marketing.  For example, if an online marketing firm runs advertising campaigns on Google and Bing, the firm must specialize in search engine marketing.

Search engine marketing encompasses a wide variety of skills. The primary forms of search engine marketing include:

  • Search engine optimization
  • Search engine advertising
  • Link development
  • Vertical/specialized search services (news, local, travel, etc.)

The reason this myth is so widespread? Search engine marketing has become a hot new agency service. Unfortunately, many ad agencies have little or no search engine optimization skills. Writing keyword-rich text is a foreign concept to them. Juicy sales hype and buzzwords are the norm.

Agency site designers are often more concerned with sites with "pizzazz" than with searcher friendliness.

Additionally, many new search engine advertising firms consist of former search engine employees. This group specializes in search advertising — not optimization or vertical search niches.

If you hire a full-service search engine marketing firm, make sure you hire one that truly has experience in all forms of search engine marketing.

Don't hire a firm that specializes in advertising when the service you need is search engine optimization.

Myth #2: Buying search engine advertising will improve your site's rankings in the main search results.

This myth is based on an erroneous cause-and-effect occurrence.

When people launch a new website, they often purchase search engine advertising. After checking to see how their ad appears, they notice that their site URLs appear in the search results.

"Wow," they think. "I bought ads and my Web site appears in the main search results." Correct assumption?

No. Incorrect assumption. Purchasing Google AdWords will not make your site rank higher in the main search results. Purchasing Bing ads will not make your site rank higher in Bing's organic search results. 

The main reason ads rank is money, quality/relevance of the ad, and quality/relevance of the ad's landing page.

The main reasons a web page ranks well in the main (organic) search results are:

  • Keywords & labels: The web page contains words and phrases that people type into search queries. The website is likely to have a labeling system that both human users and technology can interpret.
  • Accessibility (information architecture, navigation, format): The site designers and web developers gave search engine spiders easy access to the words on the web documents via a spider-friendly navigation system and a clean URL structure.
  • Link development: The number and quality of links pointing to a website (or page) are likely relevant. The quality of links carries far more weight than the quantity of links.
  • Searcher goals & behaviors: The website accommodates established searcher intent (navigational, informational, and transactional queries).

    Please see Searcher Behavior: The 4th Building Block Of Search Engine Optimization for to understand some fundamental goals of web searchers.

Even Google states, “Running a Google AdWords campaign does not help your SEO rankings, despite some myths and claims.” (

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Myth #3: You only need to optimize your home page.

Many web hosting companies offer this sales pitch. If you cannot afford full site optimization, the next best thing is to optimize your home page only.

Unfortunately, many web hosting firms still have limited knowledge of search engine optimization. The function of a home page is to act as a site's Table of Contents.  All too often, a home page's content is not focused on targeted keyword phrases.

In addition, a home page usually does not close a sale. Very few site visitors will Add to Cart, Sign Up for Newsletter, or Enroll in Class from a site's home page. 

Very few site visitors will Add to Cart, Sign Up for Newsletter, or Enroll in Class from a site's home page. 

Which pages are the best pages to optimize on a website?  Pages that are focused on targeted keyword phrases that are likely to convert visitors into buyers — these pages deliver qualified traffic to your site. The types of pages that tend to rank well and deliver sales are:

  • Product pages (for a B2C site)
  • Service pages (for a B2B site)
  • Category pages
  • Help pages (FAQs or frequently asked questions, customer service)
  • Media pages (press releases, testimonials, case studies)
  • Informational pages (articles, tips & tools, etc.)

Product, Service, and Category pages often contain focused content and are most likely to close a sale. Help, Media, and Informational pages can also deliver focused content. These pages can also guide site visitors to more focused content.

Of course, a home page should be optimized to the best of ones ability, but do not expect that a one-page optimization strategy will deliver the same results as a site with fully optimized Product, Service, Category, Help, and Media pages.

Always optimize your most important Product and Service pages first. Home page optimization is a poor substitute for optimized Products and Services pages.

Myth #4: We know the search engine's algorithm.

Whenever any search engine marketing specialist makes this statement, do not believe them. No one knows exactly how search engines rank pages.

Even if the SEM company hired a former search engine employee, search engine algorithms change all of the time.

In addition, did the SEM company hire a search engine representative from the advertising department? An ad representative does not have the same knowledge as a software engineer for organic listings or a software engineer for local listings.

A search engine ad rep does not have the same knowledge as a software engineer for organic listings or a software engineer for local listings.

I have heard many ridiculous sales pitches from other SEM firms.

One company claims to have Google's algorithm in a black box. And, to show they are completely serious, the company makes prospects sign a non-disclosure agreement before demonstrating their black box.

Sounds impressive. Sounds serious. The SEM company must have the inside scoop on Google, right?

No. The SEM company has a well-orchestrated, but misleading, sales pitch. No search engine marketing firm knows Google's algorithm. No search engine marketing firm knows Bing's algorithm.

If you encounter a company that gives you this elaborate sales pitch? Applaud their performance. Nominate them for an Oscar, Emmy or Tony award. But do not fall for the sales pitch.

Myth #5: We guarantee top search engine positions.

This search engine myth is partially true. Search engine advertisers can almost guarantee top ad positions because the client pays for it.

In general, the person who pays the highest bid amount will show up in top ad positions in the advertising space on a search engine results page (SERP).

With search engine optimization, however, no one can truly guarantee top positions. Only one group has control over what ranks and what doesn't – the search engines. Only one group has final control over what ranks and what doesn't rank: the search engines.

All of the major search engines have some sort of disclaimer stating they ultimately decide which web pages will be included in their indexes.

Ultimately, search engine marketers have no control over positioning. They have some control over how listings can appear in SERPs. But guaranteed positions? No.

Experienced, knowledgeable SEO specialists can demonstrate results from past performance but cannot guarantee future results.

Experienced, knowledgeable SEO specialists can demonstrate results from past performance but cannot guarantee future results. In that sense, SEO specialists just like stockbrokers. No stockbroker knows how future markets will perform, and no search engine optimizer knows what future search engine algorithms will be.

Unfortunately, a large number of the SEO firms that offer guaranteed search engine positions are spammers. To achieve top positions, thousands, even millions, of doorway pages are submitted to search engines. If one such doorway page gets a top position, even if only for a few days, the SEO firm fulfilled its end of the contract.

Understandably, many website owners like the comfort of a guarantee. They believe that a guarantee demonstrates the SEM company's confidence in their skills and expertise.

However, a guarantee is merely an attractive element of a sales pitch. The same guarantee that convinces you to sign a contract may very well result in spam practices that will get your site penalized or banned in the search engines.

Myth #6: Search engine positions are permanent.

There is no such thing as permanent search engine positions. Positioning and traffic fluctuations are perfectly normal.

New pages with unique content are added to the Web all the time. Old pages are deleted or updated. How web pages and sites link to each other also change.

Because of these changes, search engine databases change and constantly evolve. Therefore, positioning will always fluctuate.

Prospects and/or clients who require permanent search engine positions have unrealistic expectations.

A more realistic expectation is to receive a regular percentage of website traffic from the search engines. For example, a properly optimized site will receive at least 10-20% (or more) of online traffic from the search engines.

Myth #7: Top search engine positions always lead to high sales.

The sales process is not a one-step process. Not only should your website receive qualified traffic from a variety of resources (search engines, public relations, advertising, etc.), it should also:

  1. Deliver useful information and value to site visitors
  2. Compel them to take a desired actions

For example, if you have an ecommerce site, the desired call-to-action might be Add to Cart. If your website is offers online courses, the desired call-to-action might be Register for Class. 

Many sites achieve top search engine positions and no sales. Many sites do not have top 10 positioning and get millions of dollars in sales. I have observed this for more than 20 years.

Instead of being overzealous about maintaining positions, online marketers should spend more time on analyzing visitor behavior and sales conversions.

If designers, developers, and search marketers would focus more on delivering user-friendly, useful, and meaningful content to users, they might find their sites can easily generate targeted search engine traffic and convert visitors into buyers within a single site.

Myth #8: We submit your site to 10,000 (or more) search engines.

This myth also has variations such as, "We will submit your article to 1,000 article sites."

Truthfully, this is a old myth in Internet land. Nevertheless, I still hear about it from clients and prospects. That is the reason I included it in this list.

The majority of websites receive qualified traffic from only a few major search engines, niche directories, and industry-specific sites.

Submission software claiming to submit your site to 10,000 places can get your site listed in many FFA (free-for-all) link farms.

A FFA link farm is a collection of web pages that contains indiscriminate, often unrelated, links to other web pages.

For example, a site that sells golf balls has nothing in common with a mortgage or gambling site. FFA link farms are used to artificially boost link popularity and are considered spam by all the major search engines.

"Spam penalties include demotion and removal from Google's index," said Matt Cutts, former software engineer at Google.

In addition, some unethical search engine marketers might not tell you that a single search engine supplies results to other websites.

Myth #9: We can get your site instant link popularity.

Truthfully, I have seen this occur. However, almost every time I see this occur? The reason is search engine spam, not link earning.

Any SEO/SEM firm who promises link popularity right off the bat is likely spamming search engines. In all likelihood, SEO firms that promise instantaneous popularity build link farms to artificially inflate link popularity.

Quite often, these firms rely on expired domains and unattended broken links.

Many of the link-farm sites aren't even in the same industry. Why would a real estate site link to a site that sells baseball bats?

Results people see from link farms are generally short-lived. Search engine software engineers discover the link farms and promptly remove their all of the sites from the search engine database.

Though no one can control which websites link to your site, site owners have complete control over which sites they link to. If a site links to another site that is considered a "bad neighborhood," such as free-for-all (FFA) link farms, the site can be penalized.

Myth #10: Meta tags are the "secret ingredient" to getting top search engine positions.

I also include this "old" SEO myth because there is some truth to this myth...depending on context.

Meta-tag content is very important to specific types of web documents such as videos and graphic images. However, meta-tag content won't make or break search engine positioning for text-based files.

Years ago, a spam technique called "keyword stacking" or "keyword stuffing" became popular because people did not want to change their visible web page content in order to rank well in the search engines.

Keyword stuffing in meta tags became so common that the search engines gradually downgraded their importance over the years.

Keyword stuffing in meta tags became so common that the search engines gradually downgraded their importance over the years.

The (X)HTML title tag is much more important than meta tags because all of the major search engines use title-tag content to determine relevancy.  Very few search engines use meta-tag content to determine relevancy.

Even if a search engine uses meta-tag content to determine relevancy, there are hundreds of other ranking factors.

I recommend writing clear, concise, and persuasive meta-tag descriptions on web pages. For meta-tag optimization tips, please see Meta-Tag Optimization Tips: A Search Usability Perspective.


To determine whether or not a search engine optimization technique can be considered spam, former Google software engineer Matt Cutts gave some of the following search engine optimization tips:

  1. Does your web page's content help end users? "Tricking end users to get to your useful content does not count," said Cutts.
  2. Would you perform on optimization strategy if web search engines did not exist?
  3. Are your pages automated? If so, Google does not want them in their indices.
In my opinion, website owners should focus their efforts on creating sites with high quality, unique content and getting other quality sites to link to them instead of trying to spam the search engines. It's a far better use of your time.

This SEO article was originally published at The Hosting Standard ( It has been updated since its original publication.

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