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Even after over 20 years of search engine optim­isation, several SEO myths seem par­tic­u­larly per­sistent. With so much mis­in­form­ation flying around, it’s no wonder small business owners treat SEO with caution.

It’s one thing to see these myths sur­facing in small business net­working groups. It’s quite another when flaky “SEO spe­cialists” promote them in sales emails.

Yes, I get those emails too. So this article has bee prompted by yet another dodgy “SEO spe­cialist” site review listing fake SEO problems they’d “found”. Whilst real SEO reviews can help, spammers just send out cookie-cutter lists and hope you’ll bite. These can be hard to spot unless you keep up with current SEO best practices.

Asking non-expert friends and col­leagues may feel reas­suring, but unin­formed advice just increases risk. So many avoid SEO entirely and end up spending far more on other traffic sources.

Safer Small Business SEO

Still, why should you trust my advice? Well, I’ve been helping busi­nesses grow online since 1997 (freelance since 2005). So I’ve gained a lot of expertise, and offering a wide range of ser­vices lets me provide unbiased expert advice. Experienced spe­cialists can be great within their field, but only focusing on one solution adds bias. The real value lies in seeing how various fields work together.

Good enough? Okay, now let’s smash some SEO myths.

Myth 1: SEO Is Dead

This SEO myth is just a false sales pitch. In fact, it’s so common that it was tempting to call this whole article “SEO is dead and other lies.”

Fake claims about the demise of SEO get resur­rected whenever someone wants to sell you a new tech­nique or altern­ative. Pretty soon, it sounds like some­thing out of the Monty Python Parrot Sketch. SEO isn’t dead. It’s just evolving.

SEO evolves con­stantly, so tech­niques and con­cepts from just a couple of years ago do die. PageRank has shuffled off this mortal coil, for instance, having been replaced by other site authority measures. Yet some flaky “SEO spe­cialists” have nailed PageRank to its perch, and keep offering to boost it.

Still, why does SEO keep changing? Because your com­pet­ition is con­stantly adapting. Also because search engines are always looking for new ways to provide the high quality results searchers want.

That used to just mean that the com­panies were trying to improve. Now, AI search systems like Google’s “RankBrain” con­stantly improve their own algorithms, too. Search engine optim­isation is more alive than ever.

Myth 2: SEO Doesn’t Work

Often, SEO myths like this are just sales pitches for an altern­ative, too. However, some small business owners make this claim having tried SEO. So does SEO work, or not? That depends on what you mean by “work”.

SEO does what the name says –- it optimises your site to get better pos­i­tioning in search engines. It does that by adjusting the things search engines measure. Assuming the tech­niques used are up to date, and your site is built to allow such improve­ments (many aren’t), your site will become more competitive.

Importantly, search engines measure and promote the things that impress site vis­itors. Ad net­works do too, so SEO can also improve ad revenue and reduce advert­ising costs.

Still, many site owners under­standably want more direct results — which will depend on how strong your com­pet­itors are, and how they respond. So how can SEO work against strong competition?

Effective SEO Works Smarter, Not Harder

When your com­pet­ition seems too strong, adjust your aim. They may dom­inate keyword searhes you want to rank for, but they can’t cover every rel­evant phrase.

So it’s gen­erally more cost-effective to build rankings for more spe­cific (aka “long tail”) phrases. These also gradually increase your site’s authority, until you can compete for stronger keywords. If you pick groups of keywords that are actually popular (i.e. based on stats, not assump­tions), the traffic can be significant.

More spe­cific keywords often have more buying intent too. So ignoring these just leaves money on the table.

Still, SEO isn’t magic. It can’t guar­antee rapid first page pos­i­tioning for com­pet­itive search phrases. If anyone sold you that, they were selling snake oil, not SEO.

Myth 3: SEO Is Mysterious

If anyone tells you they know the “secrets” of search engines, run a mile. It’s a safe bet they’re lining you up for a scam.

The basic prin­ciple of SEO is that over time, investing in quality wins. Search engine com­panies don’t publish their algorithms, but they do publish guidelines. SEO researchers then infer more details through exper­i­ment­ation, and all this is dis­cussed freely online.

So, no, there’s no great mystery about SEO. The details can be very variable and a bit tech­nical, and applying them some­times takes hours of data anlysis and innov­ative problem-solving. Some of us develop more effi­cient approaches, but it’s still basically the same work. Whilst it isn’t every­one’s cup of tea, there are no “inner secrets known only to a few”.

Myth 4: SEO Is Fast

This SEO myth mostly per­sists through wishful thinking. Even flaky SEO “gurus” rarely make this claim.

We may all really want overnight success, but that doesn’t make it a real thing. So trying SEO for just a few months isn’t a real test of whether or not it works. Most (genuine) experts agree that visible results usually take from 4 to 12 months to start appearing. Putting off SEO or doing it half-heartedly will make it take even longer, of course.

Some small busi­nesses still assume SEO just involves paying search engines for better pos­i­tioning or adding some hidden keywords in the code. The first has never worked, and the second only worked briefly, when search engines were young and naiive.

Search engines compete through the quality of their results. Because any reliable quick-fix SEO tech­nique would undermine that, search engine com­panies work hard to block those. SEO means fol­lowing their guidelines over time to prove the ongoing com­mitment to quality that your cus­tomers want. That isn’t fast — but it is profitable.

Myth 5: SEO Is Expensive

This myth relies on sub­jective judge­ments rel­ative to per­sonal budgets and expect­a­tions. Still, it usually implies that SEO is over­priced, so let’s address that.

SEO requires investment, because improving quality takes time and skill. For sites that don’t aim to make money (i.e. per­sonal sites), that’s just a cost. For busi­nesses though, it’s a great investment. Given the chance to do so, good invest­ments pay for them­selves and more. That’s not overpriced.

Ultimately, SEO delivers free tar­geted traffic to your website. So it can seem expensive if you under­value the free traffic, or fail to mon­etise it effectively.

It’s easy to forget that missing that  free traffic saves the cost of getting that traffic through paid ads. That’s often between 50p and £50 per visitor, based on what your com­pet­itors will pay. They know that losing that traffic would cost even more.

So SEO pays for itself just by saving those costs. It also builds more trust than paid ads, further boosting sales. Finally, unlike paid ads, the benefits of ongoing SEO accu­mulate. So whilst SEO may not be cheap, it is cost-effective and valuable, not expensive.

Conclusion: Falling For SEO Myths Is Expensive

It’s time for these SEO myths to die. To be become bereft of life. Letting them dis­courage you from trying SEO will cost you sales.

The reality is that SEO works, and we know that because how it works isn’t magic. However, because SEO isn’t magic, expecting it to work like magic will lead to disappointment.

SEO can’t make the risks of com­peting for business vanish — it is how you compete. If you care about quality, SEO is how you prove that to Google, and to your site vis­itors. That takes com­mitment and investment, but it pays for itself. The trick is to start it before you feel you need it. It’s a strategy, not a quick-fix.

Whilst ignoring or under­valuing the benefits of SEO can make that investment seem expensive, doing so paints a false picture, and could be said of any­thing. With SEO, the altern­atives cost far more. After all, what puts your business most at risk — investing what you can into making sure potential cus­tomers find your site, or believing these SEO myths, avoiding SEO and trying to cope without customers?

Still, there is another way.

Small busi­nesses can be wary of com­mitting mar­keting budget exclus­ively to one strategy for long. That’s why I offer cost-effective, flexible small business SEO packages that let you switch to other mar­keting tactics when you feel they’d help more.

Try a more flexible approach to SEO:

See my SEO Plus Plans