Right now, one of the most controversial conversations you can get yourself into, in the digital marketing arena, is search engine optimization.
You’re going to get bombarded from every direction -- blackhat folks, greyhat folks, whitehat folks, folks that were around during the “golden” days, and folks that have figured out content marketing and dialed it into a precise strategy.
All of these different opinions tends to do one thing -- create more myths than facts.
The number of theories that are rolling around the industry about what’s currently working, what’s been killed off, and where the industry is heading can be mind-boggling.
To help weed through the myths, and figure out how to put an end to the controversy, I’ve devoted countless hours sifting through data, testing different theories, and figuring out what’s actually working when it comes to obtaining top rankings in the search results.
I’ve examined the highest ranking sites to find out what they have in common. If there’s one key takeaway that you should get from this post, it’s that you should always be testing.
That’s what I’ve done, and how I’ve been able to effectively dispel 10 of the most common myths that are still making their rounds in the SEO industry.
Backlink Myth #1 - Manufacturing Links Will Violate Google’s ToS
This is one of those “myths” that isn’t really a myth at all.
Yes, manufacturing links yourself does put you in the position of violating Google’s ToS, and if they catch you doing it they could penalize your website for it.
However, that caveat only exists if you get caught.
Google loves to spread their own propaganda to help keep people paranoid about what they’re capable of, and push them away from doing the things that they, themselves, know will affect their search results.
If you dug through the Google ToS and followed it as closely as they want you to, simply optimizing your page to rank for a specific keyword would have you violating the ToS and leading yourself into getting a penalty.
If you insert a keyword that you want to rank for inside of your content, you’ve immediately put yourself on the wrong side of the ToS and are risking a penalty, according to Google.
This is exactly why you need to figure out how much risk you’re willing to accept before you start optimizing your website to rank in the search results. If you’re going to rely on Google to send traffic to your site, and are actively “optimizing” your content to rank higher, you are putting yourself at their mercy and they can take that traffic away any time they deem necessary.
When it comes to getting penalized, for the most part, websites that are blatantly violating the rules get caught up in those algorithm updates. Sure, there may be times that innocent websites are affected, but if those websites were optimized, were they actually innocent?
One thing to keep in mind is that Google is extremely limited on manpower and relies almost entirely on their algorithms to weed out spammers.
They don’t have enough time to target every single website that could be violating their Terms of Service, so as long as you stick to what looks “natural” with your optimization, you really don’t have much to be paranoid about.
Backlink Myth #2 - Link Building Has Been Eliminated
This is another one of those myths that Google loves to spread.
There have even been big name content marketers and “whitehat” SEOs getting onto the bandwagon, in an attempt to get you to believe that link building has been eliminated.
They want you to assume that “if you build it they’ll come” is the best approach, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
One thing that I’ve noticed with the websites ranking at the top of the search results for some highly competitive terms is that they have a large number of “manufactured” links and other links that definitely weren’t gained naturally.
If you expect to compete on any level, you can’t just sit around idle, waiting for people to find you, because they never will.
The “build it and they’ll come” theory isn’t just a myth, it’s a blatant lie.
From my research, links are still the most important factor Google uses to determine where your pages should rank compared to your competitors.
Without having links pointing at your website, you are going to have a rough time trying to secure high rankings, especially those coveted #1 to #3 spots.
Until Google figures out a way to rewrite how the internet communicates (through links), they are going to have to rely on backlinks, themselves, as their main piece of information.
Their algorithms do focus on using other signals, like where your traffic is coming from and how that traffic is interacting with your website, but these signals really only help to validate that the links your website has are, indeed, natural.
Most of the metrics that Google uses to figure out which sites should rank where can be easily manipulated, so Google has to take a step back and look at how your website compares against others, and then determine if your website looks “natural” compared to other websites in your niche.
Backlink Myth #3 - Links From Directories Will Get You Penalized
During the early days of SEO, getting links from directories like DMOZ, Yahoo!, and others was a relatively popular strategy. Nearly every website built had a foundation of these links, and for good reasons -- they worked.
Then, like every great strategy, building directory links became over-populated and the spammers started abusing directories.
What happened next was the strategy getting blamed for these spammers getting penalties, and not necessarily the fact that those spammers were relying almost entirely on directories to obtain their links.
This is what caused the decline of using directories as a part of building a solid link profile.
I’m here to tell you that, after looking at countless different websites, directory links aren’t dead -- far from it, actually. Some of the websites I looked through with the largest link profiles did have directory links included.
While these links may not pack the punch that they did 10 years ago, having your website listed in some of the more trusted directories, and those directories that are focused in on your niche can be a great way to get new links to your website.
Niche-focused directories are going to increase your relevance, and the trusted directories, like DMOZ, have a lot of strength in the eyes of the search engines due to their editorial process.
That means you can increase your site’s trust by getting them. Trust will help you pull top rankings.
One thing to keep in mind, though. Don’t go crazy building a ton of directory links to your website. You can get more benefit by focusing on the few big directories that exist, and then find those that are highly relevant to your niche or industry.
Backlink Myth #4 - Getting Links Too Quickly Gets You Penalized
There’s no denying that building (or attracting) links nice and slowly is always going to pay off for you in the end.
Most SEO gurus tend to agree with this.
However, one myth that keeps getting passed around as fact and can be debunked relatively easy is that getting links too quickly will lead to you getting a penalty.
If you think about how the internet operates, you’ll see what I mean.
Think about content that goes viral and gets spread to thousands of websites in a single day.
Even if this content is being hosted on a brand new website, the website is going to gain a huge number of links from websites -- both relevant, and not -- from all around the web.
As time goes on, Google will analyze all of these links, and the website’s search rankings are going to increase.
Whenever you realize that fact, does it make any sense to you that building backlinks to your website too quickly could really get you penalized? Sure, you may end up in the “sandbox” where Google needs to figure out what’s going on with your site, but the chances of getting a long-term penalty -- as long as those links aren’t blatant spam -- are slim, to none.
Having a ton of variety in your backlink profile is a recipe for success, and Google doesn’t penalize websites that go viral. It’s the opposite, actually.
As long as those links are coming into your website from other websites that are trustworthy, in Google’s eyes, they’ll help you and it doesn’t matter how quickly you gain them.
Backlink Myth #5 - Anchor Text Percentages Are Out
It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to, nearly every single SEO today wants to know what percentages of links they can use, or what percentage of anchor texts they can get away with using to help influence their rankings.
Stop and think back to how often you’ve heard advice like this being given…
20% of the links you build need to be branded to your website name, while another 20% of the links you build she be the URL of your website.
Then, another 20% should be some form of the keyword you want to target, and another 20% can be the exact keyword you’re targeting.
Finally, the last 20% of the links that you build should be a mix-and-match bag of random words, with no rhyme or reason behind them -- to help you maintain a “natural” appearance.
If you have been involved in SEO for more than a couple days, you’ve heard this advice being given. Nearly every beginner wonders about percentages. It’s understandable. People like to fit things into nice, neat boxes, so their brains can move onto processing more information.
However, every “natural” website that I’ve looked at doesn’t come anywhere near these nice, neat ratios. They’re so completely random, that trying to decipher a few percentages that you can accurately follow time, and time again is nearly impossible to do.
This level of randomness is what makes a website trustworthy, in Google’s eyes.
If you do have to use a strict percentage ratio to determine how you should be building links, I’ve noticed that most high ranking websites have a percentage of around 10% of their links containing anything to do with the keywords they’re targeting.
Staying on the conservative side will help keep you away from the penalties that people who are over-optimizing their links are going to get, especially as the algorithms continue to improve.
Backlink Myth #6 - “Low Quality” Links Won’t Help You
Some of the “common knowledge” being spread today says that only links from websites that are relevant to your own are going to help increase your search rankings.
Links that are coming in from websites that aren’t related to your niche or industry aren’t going to help you rank any higher.
This is another one of those myths that have been proven to be false time after time.
At the end of the day, a backlink is a backlink.
It is true that links from websites that are closely related to yours and trusted by the search engines will help you rank higher than those links that may not be as relevant to your site, but they aren’t your only path to high search rankings.
Looking over different websites and their link profiles will show you all you need to know.
Dig through your competition, and figure out how many links they’ve obtained from relevant websites, and then look at how those numbers compare to the number of links they’ve obtained from websites that aren’t so closely related.
The results will shock you.
- A large portion of the internet is obtaining links from “general” websites, with links on pages that are related to the niche they are linking to.
- Paying attention to how the rest of the world wide web operates will show you that what most people consider to be “low quality” links are actually a necessity in a well-rounded link profile.
- This is especially true when you’re looking at websites that aren’t necessarily trying to game the search results. Find those sites, and you’ll realize what a natural link profile looks like. Hint, they’re full of “low quality” links.
Backlink Myth #7 - “Authority” Links Are Your Only Option
This myth has lived on from the days that PageRank was still being used as a ranking factor
Now, tools like Open Site Explorer and AHrefs are used to determine a website’s “authority” and SEOs are telling you that you have to get links from those high authority websites.
They’ll tell you that it’s impossible to rank without those links in your profile.
I’ll tell you right now that this is all hype, and is a huge myth that’s continuously being perpetuated in the industry.
This goes back to the last myth, about low quality links.
Sure, high authority links will help you rank higher, and get those top results faster, but you don’t need near the number that most SEOs are preaching that you need.
In fact, looking through so many different link profiles, one fact remains glaringly obvious: you can rank just fine with niche relevant links, even if you don’t have a large number of high “authority” links -- or whatever metric is being used to determine a website’s strength.
Instead of looking into what type of strength a website has, and how much of that strength can be passed onto your website by getting a link from them, focus more on getting links from pages that are relevant to the pages you’re linking to.
Niche relevance is what’s going to help you rank higher. Even if those links are coming from websites that are low on the “authority” totem pole.
Backlink Myth #8 - Nofollowed Links Can’t Help You
This is another one that gets passed around -- nofollowed links aren’t going to help you rank better. Or, will they?
Before I get into completely debunking this myth, I have to say that there is a bit of truth to it.
Nofollow links, in and of themselves, aren’t necessarily going to help you rank better. If you go into your link building efforts thinking that they will help you, you have to brush up on what “nofollow” means.
Simply put, it means that the website isn’t passing any strength to your website or vouching for your website as being trustworthy.
That means a “nofollow” link isn’t going to directly increase your rankings, but you definitely do not want to avoid them, or think that you are wasting your time by getting them in your link profile.
To debunk this, all you have to do is think about webmasters that aren’t solely focused on SEO, and those that don’t actually understand SEO. Take a look at their link profiles.
These webmasters don’t care one way or the other if a link is nofollowed, or not. They’re concerned about the traffic coming into their website from the link. You should be, too.
A natural link profile contains both types of links -- followed and nofollowed -- and ranking well for long periods of time requires that your website has what Google considers to be a natural link profile.
Their algorithms are modeled after these non-SEO focused websites. They understand what a natural link profile should look like, and those natural link profiles do have a large number of nofollow links in them.
If the link that you’re going to get has a nofollow tag on it, but that link can send you traffic on its own, get the link. It’s not going to hurt you, and can actually help you, especially in highly competitive industries.
Backlink Myth #9 - Buying Links Is A Recipe For Disaster
There’s one key takeaway that I want you to get from reading this post: your backlink profile should be natural. It should look like other, natural websites and their link profiles.
That takes us back to another myth that gurus are spreading, and that is if you are buying links you are going to get your website deindexed from the search results.
This is another one that is true and untrue at the same time.
On one hand, if you rely entirely on buying backlinks and one of your competitor’s spots your strategy, they can report your website and, yes, your website can be deindexed.
However, if you are building a natural link profile, using a wide variety of strategies, and one of those strategies happens to be buying backlinks, it’s going to be nearly impossible for anyone -- even your competitors -- to figure out what you’re doing.
There are ways to go about buying links to make sure that you are staying safe, though.
- First, you don’t want to purchase them from websites that are known for selling links on a mass scale. Websites that have devolved into being a “link farm” won’t help you much when you’re trying to build a natural link profile and stay safe.
- If you can get links from niche relevant websites, though, and those websites aren’t known for selling links to anyone and everyone that offers them a bit of cash, go for it. Buy the links, and reap the benefits.
Backlink Myth #10 - PBNs Mean Trouble
Using PBNs, or private blog networks, is a strategy that has been around as long as links have affected the search results.
Owning a private network makes link building easy -- you find websites that have existing links, buy the domain name, and then rebuild it while pointing links at the websites you own that are generating revenue.
This is also another strategy that Google has come out with a huge propaganda campaign against. That goes to show Google really has no way to deal with them. The more propaganda they release about a strategy, the more you can assume it works, and works well.
If you rebuild the domains that you buy to represent natural websites, and even take it a step further to help them stand on their own two feet as a helpful addition to your niche or community, it is impossible for Google to detect your PBN sites.
If you’re lazy about how you build the PBN sites, though, making them all look the same, outsourcing the content creation to the lowest bidder, and not caring for the sites after you’ve obtained links from them, then, yes, your PBNs can be discovered and they can hurt you.
Something to think about is that building a private blog network, and doing it right, can be a time-consuming, expensive process.
For most business owners, marketers, and SEOs, the effort you’ll put into building a high-quality PBN could be better spent focusing on obtaining high quality links naturally, and building relationships with people in your niche or industry that can be mutually beneficial.
Have You Heard Of Any Myths Not Mentioned Here?
Have you noticed strategies working that many big name “gurus” like to pass off as being ineffective, or advice being given that directly contradicts what you see in your own business?
Always keep your mind open to the possibilities, pay attention to what Google actually wants from their search results, and what other, “natural” webmasters are doing with their own websites, and you’ll always stay ahead of the SEO curve.
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