Two things are equally bountiful in the world of SEO:
Those that claim to be SEO guru, and
Those that spread SEO myths
They're equally bountiful because, in most cases, the gurus are the ones spouting those myths. On-page SEO myths remain some of the most insidious and hard to root out because on-page SEO is, at first glance, the most intuitive part of SEO.
What is On-Page SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing the quality and quantity of traffic that a website gets from search engines such as Google or Bing. This is done by increasing the chances that someone on a search engine results page (SERP) will find and interact with a search result that leads to a web page on the site. The chance of interaction rises when the search result is made more visible or more enticing to click.
These tasks are generally split into two categories:
Optimizations that take place on the website itself (keywords, internal links, schema, etc.)
Optimizations that take place outside of the website (link-building, citations, Google My Business optimizations, etc.)
On-page SEO refers to optimizations that occur on the website that help Google understand and rank content. This is different from technical SEO, which covers optimizations that help Google crawl and render content. This is not a hard-and-fast rule; some choose to simply define technical SEO as “on-site optimizations that are sufficiently technical in nature.”
Considering there is little agreement over the very nature of “on-page optimization,” it should come as no surprise that myths abound.
3 On-Page SEO Myths — Debunked
Myth 1: Longer Content Ranks Better
Plenty of evidence exists to show a distinct correlation between the content length of a web page and rankings. HubSpot used its own blog posts to argue that in 2020, the ideal blog post length should be 2,100-2,400 words. This came from averaging the length of their 50 most-read blog posts.
The correlation between length and rankings brings to mind the old canard “correlation is not causation.” The fact that long content tends to rank better does not mean that the content ranks better because it is long.
SEO Truth: Quality Ranks Better
The truth is that high-quality content ranks better. Great writers will explore topics in-depth, which may require thousands of words. This writing will naturally earn more backlinks, and this does help SEO rankings. High-quality content satisfies the intent of the reader, and sometimes satisfying intent takes more words than would otherwise be necessary.
However, turning a 500-word blog into a 2,000-word blog for no reason other than length will hurt rankings more than help them. Google uses the language of a blog to try and divine meaning. Adding “fluff” will dilute the relevant words that you want Google to focus on in exchange for random word assortments that increase content length. The less Google understands a page, the less likely it is to rank for any given keyword.
Myth 2: The Perfect Keyword Density
Keyword density refers to how many times a keyword is used per 100 words. Back in the day, SEOs could legitimately give advice such as “the keyword density for all articles should be 3%.”
However, at some point, Google started treating search engine result pages (SERPs) differently depending on their vertical — the topic they cover. A few obvious examples:
Type in two airports, such as “LAX to SFO.” Instead of seeing the usual SERP, you'll find a large box with flight times listed.
Type “movies near me,” then a list of showtimes will pop up.
Type “cheap lawnmower” and notice the e-commerce options along the top of the page.
SERPs differ because the searcher’s intent differs. Someone typing “LAX to SFO” is more interested in flight times than learning about the history of LAX and SFO airports. No matter how good your article on airport history is, it will not rank well for that query. You’d have better luck with the query “history of LAX.”
SEO Truth: Searcher Intent Dictates Keyword Density
Searcher intent now defines what's required to rank on a page. The ideal keyword density, like SERP features, depends on what the searcher is interested in finding.
Tools such as Page Optimizer Pro, Website Auditor, and Surfer SEO exist to measure SERPs and show SEOs what keyword density is optimal for a given search. In some cases, the top five ranking pages on a SERP may have a keyword density of 7%. Other SERPs may have a keyword density of 1%. Any hard and fast rule is guaranteed to overlook the differences in searcher intent.
Myth 3: Ranking No.1 for “All of Google”
This may seem a little odd. There has to be a number 1 spot on every Google search, so why can’t we say that a particular webpage ranks first in all circumstances?
The problem with saying this is that Google personalizes search results. The prior search history of a user will influence what Google shows them at the top of the SERP. That’s only one reason.
Even if you use a cookie-blocking browser and a Virtual Private Network (VPN), Google will still show results personalized by time of day and whatever location your VPN claims. This effect is even more pronounced for local search SERPs.
For example, in a search for nearby pizza place, Google will prioritize those nearest to the searcher. If your restaurant has a lot of links and good reviews, searchers who are 100 miles away will not see it in their top local results.
SEO Truth: Focus on Organic Traffic
The best SEOs can claim is that they will get a page to rank in the top spot under “depersonalized” conditions. When a search is depersonalized, Google does not have a prior search history to use to personalize the results. However, very few people outside of SEOs go through the lengths necessary to depersonalize results. That means that the average Google user is going to see personalized results no matter what the SEO does.
Instead of stressing over ranking in the top spot versus second or third spot on a SERP, focus more on how much organic traffic flows from search engines to your web page.
Avoiding SEO Myths
So, how do you avoid SEO myths? As a wise SEO once said, “it depends.”
The problem is that even some of the well-meaning gurus will spout myths because that’s what their guru told them. Alternatively, they may be misinterpreting ambiguous statements unleashed from the mouths of Google oracles known by the masses as “webmasters.” In other cases, the guru may just be working off of a gut intuition.
Unlike fact-checking “Fake News,” there is no ultimate arbiter of truth in SEO. If Google allowed SEOs to know everything about the Google algorithm, then the top-ranking results would always be dictated by those who paid for SEO services rather than what the searcher (or Google) wants. They are incentivized to, if not lie, then at least withhold portions of the truth.
Similarly, SEO gurus are incentivized to speak in absolutes. “Always do this” and “never do that” give off a sense of finality and wisdom. “It depends” sounds like hedging.And if there is one sign of a trustworthy SEO, it’s one who hedges their bets when dealing with “universal truths” of SEO.
SEO experts are limited by their experience, and they’re constantly aware of this fact. That’s why they constantly run tests and seek out information from peers. When they’re asked vague questions, they correctly answer, “it depends.” While this frustrates the questioner, it’s also the truth about modern SEO: there are few absolutes.