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Common Web site misconceptions, Part 1

October 1, 2007
Jim Huber

Recently I gave a presentation on misconceptions about Web sites. No one is safe from holding such misconceptions: Web site owners, Web site users, and even Web designers. Some of you will read these and think "everyone knows that!" Well, yeah you're cool, but some of these are still out there. This paper covers a couple search engine optimization (SEO) misconceptions I discussed:

  1. "Search Engine Optimization is magic."

    Maybe no one has ever quite phrased it that way, but that's essentially what some believe.

    For one, there is no guarantee that optimizing your site will get it to #1 in Google or whatever search engine. There are no guarantees in life and this is no exception. We've had pretty good success with some of our sites, but we still know better than to make such a claim.

    Remember, you are not necessarily working in a vacuum. Your competitors are probably trying to optimize their site for similar keywords. And if you've both been guaranteed #1, at least one of you is going to be disappointed. Some places may guarantee #1 placement (I've heard some places boast this claim) and may even offer a money back guarantee. I can't indict anyone specifically, but I would think that they are using shady "black hat" search engine optimization techniques. These techniques are designed to trick Google, et al, to give the site higher placement than it deserves. Maybe presenting Google with a different page than visitors actually see. In the long term, this gets your site banned, but in the short term it gets these optimizer people paid.

    Also, search engine optimization results are not immediate. Sometimes it takes months for Google to return to your site to visit. We are at their mercy.

    And just because your site ranks high, it doesn't mean you'll get higher traffic. For sure, your chances are greatly improved. But before you start asking your optimizer guy where all the traffic is, consider a few things... Maybe no one likes you. There. I said it. Hey, if you're selling sand, it doesn't matter how many billboards you have in the Sahara - no one is going to buy your sand! Furthermore, the search terms with which your site ranks high may not be reasonable. We rank #1 for the search term "Huberspace", but who the heck is searching for that term anyway?

  2. "You need to use meta tags... whatever those are."

    I get this one all the time. People asking about how to use them, or other people saying you need to use them. Once upon a time these were pretty handy for telling search engines what keywords were relevant to that page. But along came those black hat optimizers in their trench coats (and black hats). They figured out that they could get more people to their sites by using irrelevant keywords that attract lots of people (coughsexcough). Having said that, it doesn't hurt to use meta tags. We use them, in fact. We're just not expecting Google to bow down to our awesome power. One thing that they are handy for is providing common misspellings of keywords without having use them in the content of the Web site, as that would be bad for obvious reasons.

I've only covered half the topics from the presentation. In Part 2, which may or may not be the next paper, I'll cover a few usability (surprised?) misconceptions.