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 PageRank has shuffled off this mortal coil, for instance, having been replaced by other site authority measures.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.