Search engine optimization (SEO) can be divided into two main components: on-site and off-site. While it’s practically impossible to categorize one as more important than the other, on-site optimization serves a foundational role — it’s the anchor point of your SEO strategy.
With on-site SEO, most of the changes and additions you make will remain static, as opposed to off-site optimization, which demands ongoing work.
The problem is, you’ve probably heard a number of lies regarding on-site optimization that could compromise how effective your strategy is.
Why “Lies” Are Common
First off, why are these “lies” common in the first place? Well, they aren’t always lies — at least, not exactly. Instead, they’re usually misconceptions or misunderstandings that arise naturally because of the nature of SEO:
· Changing standards. Google is constantly releasing new updates, so it’s sometimes hard to tell which practices are still modern and which ones have become obsolete. If you don’t keep up with the latest information, you could easily bear a misconception forward.
· Anecdotal evidence. If you make a change on your own site and see a marked increase in your results, you might assume this change was the one that did it. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence isn’t always reliable when it comes to SEO.
· Misinterpretation and inexperience. It could also be that the person or agency telling you these bits of information have misinterpreted a piece of truth; it’s easy to do when the wording of a best practice can fundamentally alter its meaning.
On-site Optimization Lies
From those root causes, these are six of the most common on-site optimization misconceptions I’ve encountered:
1. It’s too complicated for non-experts to understand. It’s true that some elements of SEO are technically complex, and require digging into the back end of your site to alter code. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a professional web developer to understand and make these changes. Some of them can be done literally by copying and pasting certain snippets of code, such as placing a Google Analytics tracking script or making adjustments to your robots.txt file. Tactics here sport a range of difficulties, but none of them are unlearnable by non-experts.
2. Duplicate content will kill your rankings. The phrase “duplicate content,” is enough to make most SEO professionals cringe. It’s true that duplicate content is almost never a good thing, but most duplicate content arises due to canonicalization errors — essentially, Google sees one page as two because of how it interprets your page structure. Duplicate content errors are relatively easy to fix with rel=canonical tags, but don’t let anyone tell you these mistakes will kill your strategy — the difference is marginal at best. Unless you’re purposefully plagiarizing content and trying to pass it off as your own, you don’t need to worry as much about duplicate content as some would have you think.
3. 404 errors should be always be avoided. You should know first-hand the feeling of encountering a 404 error page when trying to access a piece of content, so it’s no wonder why so many agencies and professionals recommend fixing 404 errors with 301 redirects or content restoration at all costs. However, there are some functional uses for 404 pages and they won’t always damage your rankings (in fact, they can help your rankings in certain cases), so don’t feel the need to track down and redirect every single 404 page on your site.
4. Every title and description should have a keyword. Your page’s title tags and meta descriptions are what appear in its entry in search engine results pages (SERPs), and they provide meaningful information to Google about what your page is about. Some SEO practitioners will tell you to include at least one keyword for every title and description on your site, but this isn’t exactly necessary — especially now that Google indexes and provides content using semantic search. Instead, it’s better to focus on describing your page accurately and trying to entice more click-throughs on your pages by using titles and descriptions that appeal to real people. There’s evidence that the higher your click-through rate (CTR) in search engine results pages, the higher your search rankings will be.
5. More content is better. It’s a best practice to include at least a few hundred words of high-quality content on every page of your site. It’s also necessary to have a strong, ongoing content marketing strategy to add new pages to your site and provide more value to readers. However, don’t mistake these best practices as a recommendation to produce as much content as possible; more content won’t necessarily help you. Instead, focus on producing the best content you can.
6. Creating a page for each of your target keywords is ideal. This was an older on-site SEO practice, back when keyword optimization was taken more literally. The idea was to create a specific, designated page of your site for every keyword you wanted to target in order to boost your relevance for those keywords. This strategy may be marginally effective today, but in general, it’s better to focus on creating pages that fit a certain theme or topic, in which you can include all the keywords that fit within that topical theme. Focus on creating “ultimate guides” to certain topics that are, above all, valuable for your readers. Keyword rankings will come only if and when those pages are shared, engaged with, and linked to by your readers.
Once you get past these myths and misconceptions, you’ll better understand the nature of on-site optimization and what you actually need to do to get your site ready for your long-term strategy. Keep in mind that on-site changes are only a small part of SEO; you’ll still need a kick-ass content strategy and an off-site strategy to support your efforts, but with a good on-site foundation, you’ll be well poised to earn the rankings you want.