Content MarketingSearch Marketing

Confessions of the SEO Marketers

Search engine optimization is one piece of marketing optimization, and it can be as confusing and contrived as a parking sign in New York City. There’s so many people talking and writing about SEO and many contradict each other. I reached out to top contributors in the Moz community and asked them the same three questions:

  • What SEO tactic that everyone loves is actually worthless?
  • What controversial SEO tactic do you think is truly valuable?
  • Currently, what’s the biggest SEO myth?

A number of themes are evident and there’s a bit of contradiction between the experts, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions, which I hope you’ll share in the comments section below.

What SEO tactic that everyone loves is actually worthless?

I think the SEO world has actually become quite sophisticated of late. There’s very few tactics embraced by a wide range of the field that are truly useless. That said, I think one pervasive tactic that does need to die is the unpersonalized, cold-outreach for guest blogging. The vast majority of these requests are poorly done and I suspect that when they do get a response, it’s often from exactly the sites where you don’t want to be guest posting. Rand Fishkin, Moz

Link building. It has always been silly to me to spend more time on link building tactics then on creating the content in the first place. I have always said it’s like pushing a round boulder up a hill. With effort, it will climb the hill, but gravity will always put it back where it belongs. Make your page better than any other page on web about the same subject, or don’t publish it. Always works. No post-content creation effort required. Patrick Sexton, Feed The Bot

There are very few things that are completely worthless; everything has a place. With that said, adding your site to a giant directory called has now moved beyond useless into the dangerous realm. I feel comfortable advising people to never add their site to any directory that lets anyone add their own information without any moderation. Phil Buckley, Curagami

Guest Blogging. I wouldn’t touch this with a barge pole now, but only where link-building is concerned. There are still benefits to this, but people just need to get out of the mindset that this is no longer a way to gain links. Andy Drinkwater, iQ SEO

Personally, I think that content marketing is a worthless tactic – when used on its own (hey look, a cop-out answer). I see too many people adopt the “build it and they will come” approach to content, whereby they put the content out there and then just sit on their arse expecting links, shares and results. It just doesn’t work like that. You really need to be proactive with how you market your content and ideally, before you even produce the content, you should put the research into finding not just potential content ideas, but potential publishing avenues. One of the best content marketing posts I have seen in recent years is the Customer Dev Labs guide to hacking Google News, giving you a great guide on finding writers who have covered your particular topic in the past and might want to do so again. If you combine content marketing with proper research, it can go from being worthless to priceless. Tom Roberts

I would probably say Meta Keywords can be a little worthless. Some webmasters still love spamming this field. For Bing they may yield value yet for Google I’d say very limited value. James Norquay, Prosperity Media

Lots of people jump on the latest SEO tactic, irrespective of what it is simply because it is being talked about most, but without really thinking about it in context of the site and brand they are working on. Digital PR can be much more effective for some niches than others, for instance. My advice is always to look at all possible tactics initially but then whittle down based on the potential return on investment within that specific niche. Simon Penson, Zazzle

I wouldn’t say that rel=authorship is worthless, it seems it will be tremendously valuable in the future, but I think it not a major factor at the moment. Now is the time to build the foundation, it isn’t yet the time to see results. Danny Dover,

What controversial SEO tactic do you think is truly valuable?

Many SEOs ignore doing things that get them a nofollow link, but I believe there’s huge value in nofollow links that might send qualified traffic. Rand Fishkin, Moz

I’m not sure that controversial is the right adjective to describe this but guest posting is certainly an area that, on the face of it, has been lambasted by Google and others recently. In reality, the issue is not with guest posting, which to me is the art of creating and sharing great content with relevant sites, but instead “spammy” tactics that have simply been labeled with the same moniker. It has always been the case that creating cheap, unreadable content and paying a poor quality site to place it with a link is poor practice and should be stopped, but that’s not guest posting, that’s spam. Simon Penson, Zazzle

Guest blogging. Without a doubt, from a brand building perspective and a new audience perspective there’s nothing better. If the reason you’re doing it is just for the link, don’t bother, but if your goal is to educate and delight readers then you will see a positive business result. Phil Buckley, Curagami

There are many here, so I am choosing one that has people sitting on either side of the fence – and some on it! Page Rank Sculpting is one of those areas that have mixed feelings between those in the technical SEO world. However, this has to be handled carefully because you don’t want to end up with issues when the Googlebot comes along to visit. Get it right, and there are definitely benefits to be had. Andy Drinkwater, iQ SEO

I have to say guest posting, it’s one of the most valuable ways of getting your brand and proposition in front of a bigger or another audience then you already have. As I work for a publisher I often get terrible guest posting ideas and/or pitches. You should always bring your ‘A’ game, or at least try. Martijn Scheijbeler, The Next Web

Truthfully, all of those tactics that get labeled as black-hat, if hats are your thing, has some degree of value. With the exception of the downright illegal (Joomla plugin exploiters, I’m looking at you), you can – and should – see the value of all of those tactics, be it blog networks, link rentals, redirects or even good old fashion spam. The reason why some SEOs still use these tactics is because they still work. They’re still generating revenue. Sure, the sites will eventually be penalized but if you work out your budget and your return on investment, you can still make a profit.

Now, if you’re thinking of building a brand and promoting that website and want to use tactics like these, you should be shot. If you think you can risk jeopardizing your brand’s online presence by using SEO methods that could see you penalized and deindexed, you should get out of the SEO game altogether. You’re stupid, you’re ugly and you have no friends. Instead, isolate the testing and carry it out on a completely separate site and perhaps in a completely different keyword group altogether. Put some methods to the test. Measure the costs, the rankings, the traffic and the leads. How much money did you invest? How much time? Was it worth it?

Think of it like an R&D department – as marketers, we owe it to our company to explore every possible avenue that might generate revenue. It just might be that some of these other methods could do just that. Or they may not be financially viable. Or they may fail altogether. The point is to test and see what works for you. Get rid of labels and preconceptions and go on data. Tom Roberts

While it is only conversationally controversial, I still believe exact match domains (EMD’s) and partial match domains have SEO value. That does not mean you cannot rank ahead of someone with an EMD if you don’t have one. It means there is some value to it if you can get an EMD or PMD. Robert Fisher, President, drumBEAT Marketing

I would probably say webmasters building dropped domains and turning them into affiliate sites, it’s a strategy that still works, if the link profile is clean. Yet when webmasters scale it on a large degree Google can wipe it out and you see this happen time and time again. Yet, you feel for the affiliates who just want to make some money. James Norquay, Consulting Director, Prosperity Media

It is starting to look like Adwords spend is actually having an impact on organic. I don’t think it is directly tied together but it is obvious from my dataset that it is correlated. This is different from even a year ago when the correlation was unclear. As Google starts to feel more and more pressure from social media giants, it makes sense that they would loosen up their own policies regarding internal department walls. Danny Dover,

Currently, what’s the biggest SEO myth?

There’s a lot of mythology that building good, unique content should be good enough to get rankings. That hasn’t been the case for a long time, and good enough to be crawled and indexed doesn’t mean good enough to rank. If you’re not producing the best result in the top 10, why should Google rank you? Rand Fishkin, Moz

That guest posting is dead! And also that SEO is on its way out. Building audiences of value through organic search is not going away anytime soon and if that is what an SEO does then that is here to stay. The tactics required to win may now include other disciplines but the technical piece is still just as important as ever in maximizing ROI from the channel. Simon Penson, Zazzle

The biggest SEO myth in my head is that SEO is more effective than design and usefulness. SEO is a small portion of what makes a site work, not a large part. Patrick Sexton, Feed The Bot

When someone says ‘SEO my site’ what that really translates to is, I have no idea how to be relevant on the web and need help. SEO is not a stand-alone pursuit any longer. If you have your SEO person in a silo off to the side, every other aspect of your digital presence will suffer. SEO’s Venn diagram now overlaps with writers, graphics, public relations, video and R&D. Phil Buckley, Curagami

That the use of keyword Meta tags is beneficial or Keyword Density. Take your pick from either of these. Keyword Meta tags had their benefit stripped from Google a few years ago, although some say they have a minor benefit in Bing – but it is minor. Getting the Keyword Density right on a page is also another one that lost all benefits some years ago, yet on the spammy e-mails we all get from these ‘international’ SEO companies, they still talk about this. Stuff your page full of keywords now, and you will do more harm than good. Andy Drinkwater, iQ SEO

That you shouldn’t track rankings because they are too personalized these days and so on not to trust. A couple of great SEOs have written about this since ‘not provided’ has been launched on why you should track them: overall they give a great overview on how you’re doing in search engines. I absolutely agree with them, it gives you great insight in your current position in the market and provides us also with valuable data on potential competitors as we combine this with our keyword research efforts. Martijn Scheijbeler, The Next Web

That SEO is all that you need. There is a common perception that you hire a good SEO company and they will help you make millions of dollars within months and this is actually the most common myth in our industry. I believe business growth depends upon several different factors that include quality of service or product, brand value, market changes, marketing, customer services and more. SEO is just one part of marketing. Moosa Hemani, SEtalks

Something I always say to people new to SEO is to not believe all the hype. That goes for not taking Google’s word as gospel and to not believe every SEO blog post you read. Truth is, the majority of SEO blog posts are absolute bollocks. Most are theory, a lot are fiction – a lot of SEO bloggers don’t know when to shut up and a lot of them wouldn’t know humility if it jumped up and hit them in the face (you can make your own mind up on whether you see this is as ironic, or meta).

For people in the industry, I suppose Author Rank is a bit of a myth, at least in the way that a lot of SEO bloggers believe it to work. My advice there would be to avoid all the noise and go read what the likes of Bill Slawski and Mark Traphagen have to say on the matter – at least then you’ll get proper knowledge and not wild conclusions. Tom Roberts

That the majority of people who say they or their company is a professional SEO company actually is. The vast majority of firms claiming SEO knowledge have, at best, a 10 or 11% understanding of SEO. Robert Fisher, drumBEAT Marketing

The biggest SEO myth is probably people who think paying $1 million on PPC will actually help your SEO campaign. James Norquay, Prosperity Media

The current biggest SEO myth is that SEO is alive and going strong. In reality, it is much more difficult to be effective with SEO than it used to be. Everyday, SEO is becoming a less powerful organic marketing channel. Danny Dover,

That if you do PR or content marketing and get high value links rankings will come without anchor text links. Its just one piece of the SEO puzzle. David Konigsberg, Optimal Targeting

The above answers have been slightly edited for clarity and brevity.

Kieran Wilson

Kieran Wilson is the Digital Marketing Manager for Automated Insights, which recently launched Wordsmith for Marketing, an app that automates client reporting for digital marketing agencies. Specializing in digital marketing strategy, inbound marketing, and measurement and analytics; Kieran speaks and writes about these topics frequently. She has built and scaled three different marketing departments from the ground up, including one for an Omnicom subsidiary and one for a leading social media marketing agency.

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