You’d be surprised how many conversations I have with top executives and e-commerce managers who have major misconceptions about SEO.  The biggest problem is that I often find these myths guiding both decisions and budgets.  Let’s look at some of the most common that I hear.

First, we need some SEO basics to set the stage.  SEO is broken into two parts:

1. On-Page SEO – all the stuff that you can do to your actual website (title tags, h1 tags, urls, content, site speed, etc etc)

2. Off-Page SEO – all the stuff you can do that is NOT part of your site (link building, link wheel, etc)

Here’s an important distinction to kick us off.  On-Page SEO can only make you ABLE to rank while, but does not mean you WILL rank well.  Off-Page SEO is what actually gives you more Google Juice.  Keep in mind, that if you’re sending the Juice to an un-optimized page, you won’t gain any traction either, since those pages aren’t able to rank well.

Now, to the myths!

Let’s start with a big one…

SEO is a one-time activity that happens during site development.

No no no!  This one really makes me pull my hair out.  On-Page SEO starts during site development.  Real SEO is done as an ongoing campaign for both on-page and off-page.  An SEO campaign actually starts with target keyword analysis.

Good Content / More Content leads to better rankings

Nope. It’s on-page SEO.  It just makes you better ABLE to rank for keywords.  It also helps allow you to rank more organically for long tail and natural keywords.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a hugely important part of your strategy, but it can’t do much alone.

Duplicate Content Penalty

There’s no “Penalty”.  It’s really just that Dupe content pages get dropped.  So, it kind of looks like a penalty.  But especially in e-commerce, stop being so scared of dupe content created by your filters.  You CAN get more value if google knows that they’re all the same page, so use Google appropriate tagging (pagination and canonical).

Meta keywords / meta description

Useless (almost).  No search engines use them anymore for rankings.  Power Tip: some SEs will pick up the Meta Description (sometimes!) as their description for the page, so you can use meta description to possibly help click through rate.  But definitely not rankings.

Tiny links at bottom of page

Google knows that links that are tiny or the same color as backgrounds are trying to fake them out.  Don’t use them.  I have successfully used footer links to boost pages on other sites and internal pages, but make sure it’s part of the actual site, not hidden at the bottom.

Hyphenated domains are better

Nope.  Google can read words inside the url.  Google also thinks that too many dashes in your url is an indication of a spam domain

Adwords campaigns improve SEO

Most are convinced that this isn’t the case.  When you create an Adwords campaign, you usually do tweaks to improve your quality score.  Those tweaks are probably what is helping SEO, not the campaign itself.

XML Sitemaps boost rankings

Not true.  Again, on-page SEO only.  Yeah, they’ll help some of your pages get indexed faster, but will do nothing for rankings.

Title attributes are useful in img and href tags

They’re not, as far as we know.  Don’t waste your time.

Google can’t grab external CSS files

Yes, it can, and it’s looking through those too for hidden tricks.

Flash elements ruin SEO

I’m not really a fan of flash, and, as long as your site isn’t entirely flash, some flash elements are fine.  Google can even read text in flash nowadays if done properly.

H1 tags are the holy grail of on-page SEO

SEOMoz says differently (through an actual study).  But they can’t hurt, so use them both for your readers and for Google.  Just don’t rely on them.  Regular bold/larger text works just as well.

Validating your HTML will make Google read it better.

Google reads it just fine…

Buying Links

Google figures this out quickly now.  It’s a huge waste of money.

Inclusion of meta robots tag (index,follow)

Not useful.  Unless you tell an SE NOT to follow you, it will.

Google doesn’t follow JavaScript links

It’s not perfect at it, but it’s pretty good.  That’s not a good way to keep from bleeding Google Juice.

Your urls need to end in .html (or similar) to be friendly

I don’t think that’s ever mattered.  Keywords in urls are good.  End of url doesn’t matter.

Google can’t search or see search results

Not sure when it started, but it sure can see them now.  If you’re a Magento user, you’ll probably notice that the SE spiders have totally screwed up your “top searches.”

Using your keyword as anchor text for your “Home” links

Meaning, if you’re trying to rank your homepage for “cheapest widgets” then you would change all of your “Home” links to read “cheapest widgets.” I used to do this all the time, actually, especially in the footer.  That is until SEOMoz did a study and debunked it.