Optimization is all about understanding what search engines look for to rank a website. It’s knowing what to improve, what to avoid, and it’s knowing how to structure a site to best serve the audience searching for your content.

Because search engine optimization is an ever-changing field, certain methods that were effective yesterday can be rendered less effective – and possibly even obsolete – by tomorrow. Here’s our attempt to demystify some of the most common misperceptions about search engine optimization:

Myth 1 – SEO is a one-time thing

In reality, optimizing a website is an ongoing process that should begin in the beginning, when the site is being created.

Truth be told, though, it rarely happens. Too often the idea for a website is conceived, graphics are created, copy is written and it’s launched with high hopes. Those hopes are quickly grounded when the website owner realizes they’ve overlooked SEO best practices to create a high-ranking site.

Markets, products and services all change. Technologies evolve and search engines make refinements. Your SEO initiatives need to move in lockstep. Start with good SEO practices, stay current and make search engine optimization an ongoing part of your content and code development strategy. When you follow these steps, you’ll achieve the rankings you deserve.

Myth No. 2 – Design suffers to achieve good SEO results

Websites don't have to sacrifice quality design to achieve high-ranking search engine results.

A holistic approach to website design accounts for its visual treatment as well as its structural framework and the way it serves up information to visitors. As long as the website structure is right, written content exists on the pages and is relevant to the user, and the pages follow a logical hierarchy, your design can take most any form you like.

Myth No. 3 – Bidding on keywords improves search rankings

Google and Yahoo!/Bing’s organic search returns operate independently of their paid search programs. SEO and pay-per-click initiatives can complement one another, for sure, but spending on pay-per-click programs does not influence your organic search engine results.

Myth No. 4 – Onsite SEO doesn’t matter

Building quality inbound and outbound links is an important part of any well-executed SEO initiative, but it can’t be done at the expense of other important onsite efforts.

Creating a well-thought-out site structure, developing a consistent internal linking strategy, writing keyword-rich page titles and headings, along with crafting compelling, actionable content, is the key. When you do these things in concert with an overall website linking strategy, you are taking the right steps to deliver qualified visitors to your site.

Myth No. 5 – Metadata doesn’t matter

Certain meta tags may be declining in importance, but some still pull their weight and are worth the effort. Among the tags that still matter: the title tag <title> and the description tag <description> . 

The title tag <title> is vital because it displays in the title bar and in browser tabs, in the search engine results page, and as anchor text when external sites link to your site. Title tag information also appears in browser history, as default bookmarking content, and in back/forward button lists.

The description tag describes the page to searchers when it’s returned on a search engine results page (SERP). The description tag doesn’t influence your ranking. However, it is the equivalent of your advertising copy and largely determines if someone clicks on your page. Write it well. Use keywords. And keep it between 150 and 160 characters.

Myth No. 6 – Links are all that matter

The number of links to your website certainly matters, but search engines have refined their ranking process so that it’s now more about a combination of quality and quantity of links from a range of different sites.

A link from an established domain or page that is related to your site’s content is far more valuable than a link from a website directory, especially if the directory is relatively new. Link building takes thought and effort. It means reaching out into the appropriate communities that complement your website content to form partnerships. Don't rely on automated solution to build quality links. It can often do more harm than good.

Myth No. 7 – Social sharing doesn’t boost your ranking

Social media marketing and SEO are becoming more and more intertwined. The major search engines all assign a value to social sharing when they produce results for someone who is conducting a search. At its most basic, the more a piece of content is shared, the more valued and trusted it becomes in the eyes of the search engines.

Myth No. 8 – Search engines don’t crawl visual sources

Search engines can’t derive meaning from images and video purely by the nature of their content. They can, however, rely on the file name, the alt tag <alt> and other related content to gain context and meaning.

The first and most basic step is to take full advantage of the image tag <img>. Rather than upload a photo using your camera’s auto-generated file name (e.g., DS123456.JPG), rename the image using language that someone might enter into a search engine to find relevant content. If they’re searching to learn about the 2012 Corvette, you’re going to add value if you name your file “2012-Chevrolet-Corvette.jpg.”

It’s also important to spend time crafting a meaningful alt tag. Too often this field is left empty, and it’s a missed opportunity since the alt tag is regarded as the primary attribute of any web image. Here’s an example:

<img src="http://example.com/2011/04/2012-Chevrolet-Corvette-Stingray.jpg" 
alt="2012 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Concept Car" />

When working with video, it’s important to optimize the title and create a keyword-rich description, especially if you’re using a third-party streaming service such as YouTube or Vimeo. Another great opportunity for video and images alike is social sharing. Each time your content is viewed or shared is a like a vote of confidence. The more votes you get, the higher you’ll place in search engine results pages.

Myth No. 9 – Header tag size doesn’t matter

Heading tags (H1 to H6) are indicators of section headings and subheadings within a page, they also tell search engines what you deem most important. Scale your heading sizes accordingly and use your keywords wisely and take full advantage of this easy tool to optimize your site. 

  • The <h1> tag is the headline for the content and is seen by web crawlers as the most important header for search engine optimization. It should only appear once on every page.

  • The <h2> tag is primarily used for sub-headings. The web crawlers see this as the second most important header. 

  • The <h3> through <h6> tags are for further subheading have diminishing importance as you move on down the line. Use as many as needed to accurately represent your page and its structure. 

Remember to use the heading tags responsibly. They must make sense to your readers and should not be overloaded with keywords.

Myth No. 10 - You can just copy your competitors

Copying your competitors does nothing but put your site in direct competition. It does nothing to differentiate your product or service.

Focus instead on highlighting your unique qualities. Because, at the end of the day, the only thing that is uniquely yours is your voice and your style. Websites get copied every day. So do SEO practices. The only real way to separate from the competition is to use your unique voice and style and to stop trying to do what everyone else is doing.