Search engine optimization can be a perplexing topic.
Not only is it something that’s continually evolving, but it can get fairly technical, too.
It doesn’t help that the SEO industry in particular is plagued by some shady actors who make unrealistic and sometimes downright devious claims about how they can help people.
And after helping a lot of creatives with their SEO efforts ourselves, we’ve found that we often have to spend a significant amount of time explaining SEO misunderstandings and half-truths.
This post contains a few of the claims that we frequently hear people make around SEO, and what we wish people knew.
It’s not comprehensive, but we think it contains many of the most prevalent misunderstandings.
1. “I want my website to rank for [insert single keyword here].”
There’s lots to unpack here.
But, really? You only want to rank for that keyword?
And you want your entire website to rank for it?
What people are often mean is that they want the homepage of their website to rank for a certain keyword that is integral to what they do as a business.
For instance, a wedding photographer in Houston, Texas probably wants a page on their website to rank for some variation of Houston wedding photographer.
This makes sense, but there’s so much more that could be done.
What I wish people knew… is that pages rank, not websites.*
When people work under the assumption they are “ranking their website,” they end up trying to optimize every page for the exact same keywords.
And what happens when you optimize every page for the same keywords? You’ve wasted valuable real estate that could be optimized for additional searches.
If you are a wedding photographer in Houston, Texas, there are probably a bunch more keywords for which you’d want to rank. Other keywords might include…
- Areas within or near Houston
- Popular wedding venues in Houston
- Engagement photography
- Proposal photography
- Anniversary photography
And that’s only what came to me in the last few minutes.
The point is that pages and posts on your website can rank for different searches. Instead of blindly slapping ‘Houston wedding photographer’ on every page and hoping at least one of those pages rank for that keyword.
Instead put together a plan for increasing your search visibility and being intentional about what keywords/searches you are targeting with what pages or posts (and keep in mind the same page can rank for a bunch of searches).
(*An important note: I do recognize that a website can build authority based on its overall quality, links back to the root domain, etc. And that, in turn, can help other pages rank.)
2. “Blogging is not helping me rank.”
Blogging can be good for your search engine optimization efforts. But it needs to done intentionally.
I often see people posting on Facebook that they have been ‘blogging for months’ but it hasn’t helped them rank any higher for their desired search.
Unfortunately there’s nothing inherent about having a blog that’s going to help you ‘rank higher.’
What I wish people knew… is that blogging can help increase your search visibility provided you’re creating quality, relevant content targeting specific keywords.
So, what keywords are you targeting when you’re blogging? A little keyword research using a free tool like Ubersuggest can go a long way in understanding what people are searching for and how they’re searching for it.
Are you providing value in your post? Or are you writing just enough to get the Yoast’s 300 word minimum light to turn green?
There’s nothing magical about 300 words.
Do you have a strategy for sharing your post and getting links back to your website? Or have you adopted the “if you build, they will come” strategy?
It’s unlikely people will randomly stumble across your post if you’re not sharing it. Social indicators such as shares, retweets, and pins can impact ranking (even if it’s indirectly).
Blogging is a great way to demonstrate competency, build fresh links back to your website, and target keywords that support your core keywords. It just takes a some effort and intention to do it effectively.
3. “I hired someone to do SEO on my website, and it’s had no impact at all!”
Unfortunately we hear this a lot.
While there are definitely some bad actors out there, a lot of the frustration around this statement comes from a lack of understanding around what they’re hiring someone to do.
When people think of SEO, they often think of what’s referred to as ‘on-page optimization.’ Those things you can do on your own website—such as optimizing page titles—that could impact your visibility for a given search.
What I wish people knew… is that there’s much more to optimizing for search than on-page optimization. It requires attention to factors that are largely out of your control such as the links pointing back to your website.
If you hire someone to optimize your website, be sure to understand what they are doing and set your expectations accordingly.
Building links is something that needs to be done on a regular basis. And for photographers and wedding pros, many of the best backlinks you can build will come from sites that publish your work.
An SEO can’t make (and probably can’t even influence) a publisher like the Knot to publish your work. That will likely come down to the quality of your work and taking the time to submit.
Additionally, if your content isn’t very good, it doesn’t really matter how much it is ‘optimized.’ It’s unlikely that you’ll find it on the first page for given search.
Sure, there are SEOs you can hire to publish content for you. But I would take a hard look at whether they can publish quality content that consistently meets your standards.
I’m not saying that hiring an SEO is a waste of time.
But I think the real value of hiring an SEO comes from their ability to identify and fix technical errors, conduct keyword research and on-page optimization, and provide a plan for building quality links.
SEO is not a ‘once-and-done’ project. It’s something that needs consistent attention like most other areas of your business.
4. “Platforms like Showit are not good for SEO.” Or, “WordPress is SO good for SEO.”
This is another half truth.
What people mean to say is that WordPress is inherently easier to optimize for SEO due to its open-source nature, its flexibility, the amount of tools available to help with optimization, the ability to secure your own hosting for your website, and a whole lot of other reasons.
These reasons don’t guarantee a WordPress website will rank for a given search. It doesn’t even necessarily mean that it will be a whole lot easier.
Platforms like Showit sometimes get wrongly labeled as ‘bad for SEO’ because they limit some of the control one has over their website.
For instance, using Showit means that you don’t have access to the server that’s hosting your website. It’s kind of difficult to optimize factors like website speed without access to a server.
But the trade-off is that you have a website that’s easier to manage and update.
What I wish people knew… is that much of a website’s ability to rank comes down to content quality, backlink profile, and website structure.
Sure, a self-hosted WordPress website is going to be more ‘optimizable’ than a Showit website. But just because it can be more optimized doesn’t mean that it is or will be more optimized.
There are lots of really crappy WordPress websites out there.
And I would argue that it’s more important to have a website that you feel comfortable updating and maintaining rather than something you don’t feel comfortable touching out of fear something will break.
All things equal, a Showit website might require some additional optimization vs. a WordPress website, but there’s nothing that should prevent you from getting visibility in search.
A quick note: Website platforms do have limitations. For instance, Showit is a great option if you’re a photographer, creative, or service-based business. It’s probably not the best option if you are doing e-commerce or a membership site.
5. “SEO isn’t relevant in 2019.”
When was the last time you ‘googled’ something? My guess is that it was probably today, or at least this week.
The truth is that search still plays important part in people’s research and buying decisions. And there’s no evidence that this is going to change anytime soon.
Plus, in 2017 it was reported that search outpaced social in referral traffic. I wouldn’t be surprised if 2018 wasn’t all that different.
What I wish people knew… is that search has the potential to be an effective source of qualified referral traffic.
Search provides one of the best opportunities to capture people when they’re ready to buy. If someone is searching for Houston wedding photographer, they’re most likely looking to book a wedding photographer.
This is different than social media where one is trying to ‘interrupt’ someone’s scroll.
It’s not the only way to build a business or get people on your website, but it can be an important touch-point in the customer journey.
Showing up on the first page of a Google search results page helps build brand trust. We trust that Google is going to show us the most authoritative, relevant results on the first page.
If you’re wondering whether this is true, just ask yourself how often you go to the second page when searching for something?
Avoiding SEO Misunderstandings
Misunderstandings are often the result of trying to oversimplify a subject. So what’s the best way to avoid misunderstandings?
Spend some time learning more about it.
We think one of the biggest benefits of learning more about SEO is that it also makes you a better marketer.
It’s become increasingly true that a website optimized for search engines is also a website optimized for people.
By learning more about SEO, you’ll also learn more about user experience, creating content that engages people, and conversion.
If you’re looking for a self-paced course on SEO and content, check out the Inquiry System Course.