Myth Busting: 3 False Assumptions About SEO

Myth Busting: 3 False Assumptions About SEO

The Discovery Channels’ MythBusters tackle everything from the legend of killer quicksand to the possibility of walking on water.  Here’s one thing they haven’t ventured into yet:  search engine optimization.  So let’s go ahead and lead the way by busting some common myths about SEO.

Myth #1 – The SEO ranking report is an end-all, be-all report

It seems that every time you turn the corner, someone wants to see a “ranking report”.  It tells you how your website is positioned on search engine results when a given keyword is searched and it makes you feel all ooey-gooey inside when you’re at the top.  In fact, the SEO industry has trained business owners to look at rankings just as the social media marketing community has trained people to look at likes and fans.

However, your ranking means nothing if you can’t convert that ranking into sales and repeat traffic.  Furthermore, Google’s push for personalized search results is making a ranking report harder to justify as each person may see you ranked slightly differently, if not at all.

So what reports or metrics should you also adhere to?  Obviously it depends on your specific business goals, but whether you’re an author seeking loyal readers or a clothier hawking tees, here are a few crucial ones to consider:

Conversion Rate:  Are visitors purchasing goods, downloading content, or subscribing to your site?  You can draw 10,000 visitors each day, but if only 5 of those visitors are giving you real business (0.001%), then you need to re-evaluate the main elements of your site.

Bounce Rate:  Are visitors come to your page and then leaving right away?  If they’re not spending enough time on your site, clicking from page to page or finding what they want, then you’re going to lose them (and most likely for good).  Identify the problem page(s) and tweak them to keep your viewer’s interest.

Cost-Per-Conversion:  Are you spending more trying to drive traffic than you’re getting back?  You can spend all the money in the bank to reach that #1 ranking, but if you aren’t seeing strong returns (a positive ROI), then your business is bound to kick the bucket. If you don’t currently know your cost per acquisition from your SEO campaign, then definitely read through Myth #2.

Essentially, a ranking report should be included as a supplemental report or a document to back up recommendations and insights, but NOT as an end-all be-all report.  It’s still important to have a good rank in order to garner more organic traffic, but it’s more important to determine why you’re putting effort into rankings for certain terms first.

Myth #2 – Tracking PPC is easy, but tracking SEO is too hard

Setting up and launching your PPC plan goes off without a hitch.  After a couple of days you take a look at your stats and boom, everything is laid out for you in pretty little tables.  There’s the ROI, there’s the CPA, there’s the CTR.  It seems like tracking PPC is a no-brainer.  Then you switch screens and go over to your SEO.  You acted on your plan here too – changing your page titles, adding content to your blog, updating your keywords – and boo…hoo.  You can’t seem to figure out if all that work paid off because it’s “just too hard”.

Well I hate to be the guy to tell you this, but it’s arguably more important to track SEO than PPC.  You just have to put in more work upfront, but once you’ve got the tracking in place, analyzing your results is quite straightforward.

To start off, it’s important that you educate yourself on the SEO programs you work with.  If you work with an agency, ask them to sit down with you and run through their software platform, main metrics, and how they track results.  If you’re using your own platform, such as Google Analytics, Webtrends, Coremetrics or Adobe SiteCatalyst, it is mandatory that you set aside some time to understand the platform properties.  There are tutorials, documentation centers, and even professional YouTube videos out there for you to explore, so take advantage of those free resources.

Once you understand the programs, it’s important to identify KPIs (key performance indicators), assign benchmarks, and clarify goals.  These are all just fancy ways of saying “find out what stats you should look at and what you need to improve”.  From an SEO perspective, some top considerations could be keyword ranking, search impressions, or click-through rates.  Identify the top metrics for you and your site and put some targets around those numbers.  Is your conversion rate a measly 0.5%?  Make your target 2% and start working towards that goal.  As discussed in Myth #1, SEO is more than “increasing rank”.

Just remember to keep it simple and keep it focused.  Once you start digging, you can really get overwhelmed with the data, but vice versa, you don’t want to just look at broad stats like “overall traffic”.  One best practice is to pick 2-3 core metrics and focus your SEO strategy around improving those metrics.

So don’t let anyone tell you it’s not worth it to track SEO.  And don’t let the initial lack of concrete data put you in that mindset either.  Get educated, assign KPIs and benchmarks, and maintain focus.  Your results will be ‘thank you’ enough.

Myth #3 – SEO is free

You can blame the first two myths for this one.  Too much emphasis on ranking reports and ignorance of tracking have already put your SEO mindset off kilter.  To put the icing on the cake, the industry has been misleading people for years by preaching “free traffic” when you’re a top ranked site.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that you assume SEO is a dollar-free way of driving visitors to your website.  But this is wrong – completely wrong.

You have to assume that SEO costs you money!  Why is it important to make this shift in mentality?

First off, because SEO does cost you money, you just may not realize it on the surface (although that corporate account sure does).  Obviously hiring an agency or using a paid software program to manage your strategy is a cost.  But even if you’re simply moving a resource on your team to dedicate time on SEO, remember that time equals money.  Every effort spent on SEO is an effort you could spend elsewhere, so consider each keyword change a penny in the jar.

Furthermore, with cost comes the need to produce a positive ROI.  If you’re spending money (or time), you need to verify that it’s a worthwhile effort.  This is why it’s crucial to throw Myth #2 in the trash and put better tracking around your SEO.  More understanding leads to better tracking which leads to better results.  So if you’re spending days optimizing your keywords, then that “free traffic” you gain from these efforts better lead to more conversions.

SEO needs to be treated like any other fully trackable digital marketing strategy.  Assigning cost to SEO will help you get there.  It will help you make smarter decisions with your money and help you make smarter decisions with your site-specific SEO strategies too.

  • Great article! “SEO is free” is something I used to hear all the time. I know that our company as well as our competitors are spending thousands a month on SEO. Every time I hear someone talk about free traffic I just have to laugh. What are your thoughts on cannibalization by running PPC and SEO on the same keywords?

    • Hi Tony,

      I think the issue of cannibalization is an interesting one. It’s debatable on both sides, especially for terms you are already ranking #1 organically. You have the “take up twice the real estate” argument vs the “paying for traffic you would have gotten for free”. The best thing you can do is track this for your own company and experiment. If you experience a 30% lift in traffic by bidding on terms you rank for organically but you’re paying 50% more for the traffic it may not be worth it. However, I’ve seen conversion rates and overall sales increase in similar cases to totally justify the add’l expense of PPC. It all comes down to your specific situation. You’ll want to get yourself a solid enterprise SEO tracking platform that gives clear visibility to cannibalization like Thanks for the comment and pointing out another great myth – Bidding on terms you rank for organically is always a waste of money.

  • I think another myth which most people suffer from is that “SEO takes too long to develop”. Thankfully, a well thought out blog strategy can do a great job of ranking long-tail keywords in a short period of time.

    • Good point, Don. A balanced SEO plan should start generating ROI quicker than the old myth of “6-12 months”. Our professional blog writing is great for producing awesome content for your visitors to consume as well as target those long tail keywords.