4 Common SEO Misconceptions


January 8, 2013

Chances are good that you’ve read your fair share of ‘SEO Misconceptions’ posts. You know — posts wherein authors debunk and demythologize common misconceptions that outsiders hold true about SEO as an industry. Most recently, Bill Slawski and Will Critchlow offered us a fabulous rebuttal to Paul Boag’s article, “The Inconvenient Truth About SEO.” (A must read, I might add.)

The misconceptions outlined in this post are a bit different, though. These misconceptions are ones often held by those within the SEO industry. While following best practices is generally a safe bet, it can cloud our understanding of the way things really work. In this post, we’ll look at three misconceptions born of SEO best practices and one that’s a bit more related to causal oversimplification. Let’s begin.

1. Title tag and meta description cut-off occurs at a given character count

Truth be told, keeping your title tags under 65-70 characters is generally an advisable practice. However, it’s important to understand that it isn’t the number of characters in your title that determines whether or not Google cuts it short in a site search, but rather the pixel-width of the title itself. The same holds true for the meta description. As Barry Schwartz posted recently, this is a fact that seems to have gone largely unnoticed (seemingly due to no official confirmation from Google).

Example Title Tag - 128 Characters

In the example SERP above, the title is 128 characters in length. Here’s the takeaway: Rather than using your favorite character count tool the next time you’re whipping up an on-page optimization spreadsheet, try something like SEOmofo’s Google SERP Snippet Optimization Tool. Those few extra characters can be quite valuable!

2. 302 redirects never pass any link value

Au contraire, sometimes they can. While the 301 (permanent) redirect is certainly the recommended solution for transferring link value from one URL to the next, the 302, if used like a 301, can have the same effect. Bing’s Duane Forrester points to this fact in a blog post on managing redirects:

The flip side to this is that we sometimes see 302s which are always linking to the same destination each time we crawl them, acting more like a 301 redirect. So our system may think about them more like 301s as we continue to crawl them again and again.

So, essentially, Bing understands that website owners, designers, developers, and the like don’t always use the proper redirects. As the appropriateness of a redirect’s use is something that can be defined based on crawl patterns, search engines can, in effect, interpret a 302 as a 301 (or vice-versa), regardless of status code. I would guess that Google’s redirect handling is similar.

3. No matter the size of your website, you MUST submit an XML Sitemap

Don’t get me wrong, the XML Sitemap is a great tool. In a fair portion of cases, you really should submit an XML Sitemap via Google and Bing webmaster tools. The Sitemap helps search engines understand your website’s URLs and garner more information about how to crawl them. Building and submitting a comprehensive Sitemap can, in many cases, pay dividends.

Is it a MUST, though? Not always. If the website you’re working with is small and has no orphan pages, you can do without adding a Sitemap file to the root directory. Google and Bing’s normal crawling patterns will take care of the indexation. Remember: The ability to submit an XML Sitemap shouldn’t be an excuse for poor website architecture. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Search engine friendly site architecture might be a good excuse for not submitting an XML Sitemap.

4. Disavowing bad links will return a site to its pre-Penguin SERPs standing

Disavowing bad links is like removing the feeble foundation boards of a house that’s already tipped over. The fall has already taken place. Removing the bad foundation (or the bad links) is a great place to start, but the house isn’t going to rebuild itself. First of all, it needs a new foundation.

It seems that some SEOs/website owners making use of the Disavow Links Tool have forgotten that their pre-Penguin SERPs standings were largely a product of the very links for which they received punitive action. Once these links became negative attributes, rankings plummeted, and those affected trumpeted for a disavow tool. Now that it’s come, the “it doesn’t work” mantra has become popular amongst frustrated users.

Actually, it does work. Remember, though, that links treated as manipulative by Penguin went, value-wise, from a positive on the number line to a negative. In disavowing those links, website owners are simply bringing things back to zero. If they have other non-manipulative links that make up their link profile, recovery will be a smoother process. If not, it’s back to square one.

What are some other misconceptions born of SEO best practices? What are your thoughts on those outlined above? Let us know in the comments below.