By Cory Collins
17 Apr 2014

SEO Myths Debunked by Matt Cutts

Basic SEO

In his latest Google Webmaster Video, Matt Cutts responds to prevalent SEO myths he commonly encounters.

The question, from Ryan in Michigan, asks:

"What are some of the biggest SEO Myths you see still being repeated (either at conferences, or in blogs, etc)"

Matt's answer is humorous and relates mostly to SEO myths regarding ranking within Google's search results. By order, he lists the myths:

  1. Buying ads from Google increases your organic search rankings.
  2. Buying ads from Google decreases your organic search rankings.
  3. Google makes algorithmic changes to their search results in order to drive people to buy more ads.
  4. There's a secret to ranking in Google, and it rests in a singular link building tactic, service, or product. Furthermore, it comes from a guy who made a ton of money online but is now giving away his secrets for free (or this low price).

Matt's responses were pretty humorous, as most of these are clearly a combination of both myth and bad ideas. Here are the three important messages contained within this video: buying/not buying ads does not affect organic, Google's biggest concern is improving their search results and creating loyal users, and there's no singular link tactic or software that can shoot you to number one.

Buying ads in Google won't help or hurt your organic search rankings

It's been said numerous times before, but Google has a separation of church and state when it comes to organic and ads. The two absolutely do not mix, and buying ads will neither help nor hurt your organic rankings within search. The only way to improve your organic rankings is to better optimize your site for search - good old fashioned SEO.

Keep in mind as well that it's not just Google saying this. SEOs watchdog SERPs more than any other group, and wouldn't hesitate to call foul if Google was allowing paid placement in organic results. And certainly don't forget the pressure Google has faced from various governmental agencies - there's been no proof that buying ads will either hurt or help your rankings.

If it did, there would have been evidence by now.

Google's biggest concern is improving their search results and improving user experience

The next myth Matt addressed is that the search team changes their algorithm to improve click through rates (CTR) on ads, or to generally improve ad revenue.

Matt goes out of his way to make it abundantly clear that is not the case:

"Having worked in the search quality group and working at Google for over 13 years, I can say here's the mental model you need to understand why Google does what it does in the search results: we want return really good search results to users, so that they're happy, so that they'll keep coming back. That's basically it. Happy users are loyal users, right? So if we give them one good experience on one search, they'll think about using us the next time they have an information need. Along the way, if someone clicks on ads, that's great. But we're not going to make an algorithmic change to try and drive people to buy ads." - Matt Cutts

Google has often stated that their number one concern is user experience, and it makes sense that developing a great user experience is the best way to drive revenue and create a loyal user base. It is in fact the advice Matt and Google commonly gives SEOs.

There is, however, a flip side to that. Google most certainly tests CTRs on ads, and because such a minor fluctuation can make such a huge impact on their bottom line, you can be sure they're optimizing to increase CTR on ads. Does that mean that Google's search team will make changes to improve those numbers? No, because according to Matt Cutts search quality is the number one priority for the search team.

The realist in me says that Cutts is being honest when he says Google's search team is most concerned with improving search quality and making a great experience for users. But there has to be another side to that which he conveniently ignored - the amount of testing and experimenting they do with ads, including placement, visibility, labeling, etc. Does that bleed over into search? What about when it comes to above the fold?

What about when their ad team wants to implement a new model? Does search have a say then? How is that decided?

I don't have the answers, but all SEOs have noticed the crowding of the SERPs. Regardless, I do believe Matt when he says that the search team's biggest concern is improving the results and user experience, and that they don't alter any algorithms to improve ad revenue.

There's no singular link tactic or software that can shoot you to number one

If you've been in SEO for more than five minutes, you've probably heard of a few guaranteed methods to shoot your rankings to number one. There's an unfortunate amount of snake oil still thriving in the SEO community, especially when it comes to doing SEO for yourself.

The simple fact of the matter is that much like any good marketing campaign, you need to diversify your tactics to create a comprehensive strategy. If you rely one a singular tactic for results, you're going to be disappointed. Only take advice from those you have established trust with.

As Matt Cutts said in the video:

"The idea that you're going to be able to buy some software package and solve every single problem you've ever had is probably a little bit of a bad idea. I read an article recently where someone was talking about using some automated software package and trying to do white hat SEO with it, which to me sound like trying to buy a gun and trying to use it as a hammer." - Matt Cutts

Buying a gun and trying to use it as a hammer - both apt and hilarious. Be careful out there people, and use good sense.

Cory Collins

Cory Collins is the Business Development Manager at Page One Power and has been with the agency since 2012. Cory is an SEO strategist, writer, runner, and outdoor enthusiast residing in Boise, Idaho, with his wife, daughter, and (too) many pets.