Myth-busting SEO for the CMO: Myth No. 1 – SEO Is Too Unreliable

Man with a headache.

I’m sure you’ve heard the horror stories of losing rankings and traffic overnight due to a Google algorithm update.

It’s true that an algorithm update has the ability to do this to a website. But even if an update has impacted a site in this way, there’s always an SEO solution that can help.

Unfortunately, when people don’t understand how to compete in the search results, they may blame SEO as ineffective and divert more budget to other channels. But SEO continues to prove its worth as a channel that drives the most traffic and most revenue to a website.

The truth is … it’s a myth that SEO is unreliable.

SEO is built on principles that align with Google’s guidelines. The “right” side of the SEO industry is well-versed on these principles. We know what it takes to make a website relevant enough to rank in the search results. And to stay relevant even with algorithmic changes.

Let’s myth-bust the concept of SEO as an unreliable marketing channel with some facts.

Myth: Google Doesn’t Tell Us Enough to Help Us Succeed

Fact: Google is tight-lipped about some things, big on sharing others

While Google will never divulge the inner workings of its algorithm to the public, they share plenty.

Here’s a sampling of where we can get guidance from Google on our SEO programs:

  • The SEO Starter Guide outlines the foundations of how to create a site that works well for search engines and users.
  • The Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines gives us a deep dive into what Google thinks is a quality site that deserves rankings.
  • Social media accounts like Google Search Liaison on Twitter and Google Webmasters on YouTube give us timely updates about algorithm changes and our websites. It also allows marketers to interact with and learn directly from Google on specific issues. (Not to mention, you can follow specific Googlers like John Mueller and Gary Illyes on their social media accounts. They are known to be communicative.)
  • SEO and marketing events host Google representatives who give presentations. Take this presentation at SMX West 2016, for example, where Google ranking engineer Paul Haahr gave specific details on what matters most to Google.

Myth: It’s Too Hard to Figure Out Google’s Secrets

Fact: SEOs can figure a lot of things out

It’s a simple equation:

Google’s search engine guidelines + experience + research + implementation + tangible results = more SEO and Google insights.

Professionals in the SEO industry could, quite frankly, quit their day jobs and become detectives if they wanted. We are in the business of figuring things out.

Take, for example, the Search Quality Evaluator Guidelines I shared earlier. From that, we can distill the concepts of expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness and how they apply to a website’s SEO.

Or look at the SEO Starter Guide shared earlier, where we can expand on one simple thought about an organized website:

Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal “search” functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.

… and correlate that to the SEO strategy of siloing a website.

Not to mention, there are plenty out there who use their tools and research skills to reverse engineer the algorithm. Take, for instance:

Bottom line is, we’re on it — as an industry and as SEO professionals. It’s our job to figure these things out. And we have a pretty good handle on what is needed to create a quality website that offers a good user experience.

Myth: Google Changes Things Without Any Warning

Fact: For the big changes, we often get a heads up

OK, this is not true for every single change. With multiple changes happening in search each day, sometimes a fluctuation hits sites unannounced. However, it goes without saying that Google has already given fair warning around anything that has to do with its Webmaster Guidelines.

In other words: don’t spam and do your best to create a quality website. Any updates related to those are fair game.

That said, when big changes are on the horizon, Google often gives direction and time to prepare.

“Mobilegeddon” is a perfect example. In February of 2015, Google announced that it would be putting mobile-friendly sites front and center in April. In March 2016, Google announced it would increase the mobile-friendliness signal in May of that year. Both gave three months’ lead time.

This is in addition to all the other times and places that Google talked about mobile readiness leading up to the launch date.

Another example is the page experience update. Google announced it in May 2020, but it’s not set to go live until at least 2021.

SEO professionals are well-versed in Googlespeak, too. That means that even if Google doesn’t come right out and say that websites need to be focusing on something ahead of an update, they often hint at it.

Now let’s take the website that has been harmed by an unforeseen Google algorithm update or change. In those cases, we are able to use our collective tools, research, experience and knowledge to better understand why, and then make improvements to that site.

Even for troubling trends like search results yielding zero clicks, there is a solution.

Because SEO is a long-term strategy, ups and downs are inevitable. But staying in it for the long haul will pay dividends. In all cases, there are ways to make a website stay relevant in the face of algorithm updates.

One final thing to remember: SEO is not meant to beat the algorithm. What we are focused on is creating quality websites and beating the competition instead.

Fact: Google Is Not Perfect. Neither Is SEO, But It Is Effective

We are playing in Google’s sandbox. Rather than throwing up our hands and admitting defeat, we can reap the rewards of more traffic and revenue if we play the game.

Of course, there will always be unforeseen circumstances that impact traffic. The COVID-19 pandemic is a perfect example. Sometimes algorithm changes hit us unaware, too. In some instances, you have to pivot your marketing mix to address these events.

But in all cases, you should continue the path of SEO — making your website easy to crawl and index, and providing a great experience for your users. If not, your competition will.

For more SEO myth-busting, see these articles:

Need help with your SEO strategy? We’d be glad to talk with you. Request a free consultation today.

Bruce Clay is founder and president of Bruce Clay Inc., a global digital marketing firm providing search engine optimization, pay-per-click, social media marketing, SEO-friendly web architecture, and SEO tools and education. Connect with him on LinkedIn or through the website.

See Bruce's author page for links to connect on social media.

Comments (8)
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8 Replies to “Myth-busting SEO for the CMO: Myth No. 1 – SEO Is Too Unreliable”

Following SEO best practices will always win in the end

Yes, Google will not completely disclose the ranking factors of their algorithm, But there is lot of credible information and data available to understand the Google algorithm. Google search liaison is one such very useful platform for people who want to get clarity and hints about the Google algorithm. It is advisable to follow search liaison on twitter to get regular updates and notification from Google.

As you told Google does notify us before a big update and they give regular hints about their algorithm. This actually helps us to adjust and modify our existing SEO tactics and strategies.

I would like to conclude by saying that I’m truly loving your SEO myth series blog posts. Each of them has been very unique.

Following SEO best practices will always win in the end. Great myth busting!

A good read to start my day :).

Can you please help me with the following question “What information do we need to check if the vendor did a proper 301 redirect?”

Thanks in advance,

Hey Bruce. Great post. You are authoritative and willing to make bold statements (truths), that may conflict with popular thinking. But you’re the Perry Mason of SEO. You link to proofs, provide evidence, and build a case SEOs can run with. The Eagles song “The Long Run” might as well have been written about SEO.

The sites that get “caught” by Google’s changing algorithms are the ones that employ shifty tactics to get their traffic, or have ignored well-telegraphed updates. It has always been about building a site with a great user experience and the most interesting content. And SEO is invaluable for that.

A good read to start my day :-)

Hi Bruce,

Yo have covered some amazing stuff in there. It is always recommended to be up-to-date with google algorithm.

Anytime any changes can appear so accordingly we need to optimize our SEO that satisfied google policy…


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