SEO, like most other aspects of marketing, has evolved significantly over the past several years. Much of the advice you get from ‘your friend that knows marketing’ or even other firm owners may be incorrect because it’s based on a faulty understanding of SEO. There are tons of articles and videos that do this, regurgitating the same cliche or outdated advice that keeps website owners from adopting a holistic perspective of SEO.

To provide more clarity on what SEO is and isn’t, here are 5 of the most infamous SEO myths:

Myth 1: Google can take your website down

SEO shysters often trick people into believing that Google will take their website down unless they improve their SEO (which usually means signing a proposal or buying a course). But this is a total lie: Google cannot take down your website.

Google can, however, issue a manual action against your website. A manual action is a penalty used by Google’s human reviewers against websites that violate Google’s webmaster quality guidelines. A good rule of thumb for determining if you’re violating these webmaster guidelines is to ask yourself: Would I do this if I wasn’t concerned about ranking and SEO?

Myth 2: The SEO algorithm is always changing

Nope, it’s always improving and, yes, the distinction matters. Many SEO shysters sell people on the idea that algorithms are like my finicky 5-year-old who loves chicken nuggets one day and hates them the next. But this notion is only peddled by those who lack true experience in the field. 

Veteran SEO professionals who truly understand SEO base their recommendations and behaviors on what’s best for their intended audience—not solely in response to algorithmic updates or trendy hacks.

The truth is that search engine providers like Google are incentivized to keep people using their search engine so they can charge companies for ad placements. They achieve this goal by giving people:

  • Fast Answers
    When you search ‘2+2’ on most search engines, you get a calculator instead of just a list of calculator websites. Google and other search engines love giving us fast answers because we’re more likely to use their search engine when we need another answer in the future. Other examples of fast answers are definition boxes, tabular comparisons, and semantic answers to queries like ‘What is the capital of Sweden?’
  • Valuable information
    When I’m looking for the nearest pizza shop, I don’t want to see a low-value post that only ranked because it mentioned the phrase ‘nearest pizza shop’ 190 times in the first 4 paragraphs. Rather than creating content that is ‘rankable’, focus on creating content that is valuable to people. Show them something new, make them laugh, or give them a plan for getting something done. That’s valuable content.

Myth 3: Paid ads increase organic rank

I came across this recently while reading a marketing forum question about paid ads. The logic goes something like, ‘Since we’re paying Google for ads, it will rank us higher overall over others who aren’t paying for ads.’ If this were true, companies with big advertising budgets would dominate search results while smaller companies remained undiscovered online. 

The truth is that there’s only one way to increase your accounting firm's organic rank on Google: create great content.

I know an adjective like ‘great’ isn’t really instructive when you’re trying to create good SEO content, so I prefer to focus on ‘different’ content. Instead of racking your brain for ideas on making your content ‘valuable’, try making it different instead. 

Here are some ideas for making your content stand out:

  • Make it entertaining by sharing your content in a unique format (if everyone’s writing articles, shoot a video).
  • Make it informational by teaching them something new or debunking myths about a well-known topic… 
  • Make it practical by distilling a complex process into easy-to-follow steps or providing a template your audience can use to immediately get started

Myth #4: SEO is a one-time activity

SEO is like taking a shower: just because you took one last week doesn’t mean you don’t need one today. We’ve all seen the cold emails from someone claiming to ‘give you good SEO for a one-time fee of $550’ (or some other ‘low’ amount). But SEO isn’t a one-and-done activity. It’s an ongoing effort to adjust your website and content to be valuable for everyone who sees them.

Without ongoing maintenance and upkeep, an SEO campaign will start to nosedive.

If you’re having trouble justifying the cost of ongoing SEO, invest in an SEO audit. A good audit will reveal opportunities to improve your website and content so it ranks higher in search engines. A good SEO audit should focus on the three types of SEO:

  • Technical SEO (Function)
    Can people find and use your website without a problem? That’s the overarching question for technical SEO professionals. This area of SEO is concerned with making sure Google can index and crawl your website, ensuring fast page load times, and that all pages load as expected for people.
  • On-page SEO (Form)
    How valuable is your content? That’s the question on-page SEO endeavors to answer using metrics like click-through rate, content organization, information hierarchy, text readability scores, dwell time, bounce rate, and other factors.
  • Off-page SEO (Reputation)
    In business, the quality of your reputation is just as important as the actual quality of your service. The same is true of your website. Off-page SEO is all about gauging how popular you are online by measuring the number and source of backlinks, your site’s domain authority, and a variety of other off-page SEO metrics.

Myth #5: SEO content is just blog posts and landing pages

When most people think of SEO content, they picture long pages of keyword-stuffed text. But SEO content is an approach to content in general, not a particular content format. 

Here is how you can turn any piece of content into strong SEO content:

  • Use alt text to clearly describe images and their context for people with visual impairments. This also increases your chances of appearing in Google Image Search, which is used by roughly 60% of searchers.
  • Use transcripts for podcasts and videos to generate insight-rich articles that appeal to your audience members that prefer to read.
  • Use formatting options in articles like italics and emboldening to help people capture key points as they skim (take this bullet list as an example). Just be careful not to underline plain text since most people will think it’s a link.

The best SEO puts people first, search engines second

With so many people trying to use SEO to market their course, content, service, or product, it’s more important than ever that you rely on solid first principles for your SEO strategy.

Build a website for your firm that’s easy to navigate, create content that people find valuable, and avoid falling prey to fear-mongering SEO shysters.

Note: This article was written for Karbon Magazine and first appeared here.