6 Commonly Misused SEO Industry Concepts


If you or your current agency is still positioning these concepts like it was 2009, it’s time for a refresher.

The SEO industry is very much on the up and up. Google is cracking down on spam in search, and more and more SEOs are pushing a narrative that SEO strategy should focus on users first and search engines second.

However, that doesn’t make up for the misconceptions that still exist in SEO land. I’ve compiled a short list of SEO concepts that still carry some old-school industry baggage. Some of these may still be somewhat relevant, but depending on how they’re positioned, they could separate the shady SEO snake oil salesmen from the business-minded SEO practitioners.

In other words, if you hear these concepts referenced too often from your SEO leaders (and already smell BS), take warning.

  1. ‘SEO Content’

This one is near and dear to my heart. I’d like to set the record straight– there is no such thing as “SEO content” because content isn’t for SEO. Content is for readers. It’s wise to help inform content direction with SEO insights and ensure webpages accommodate SEO requirements– but creating content for the sole purpose of manipulating search results is not a sound SEO strategy (not to mention it’s against Google’s spam policies). 

Reminder– the best SEO strategies have positive impacts on search performance and support user experience. So if your content process incorporates the needs of a user and the needs of a search engine, there should be no difference between “SEO content” and any other type of website content.

  1. ‘Keywords’

This one stretches into one of the gray areas of SEO (of which there are many). The term “keywords” is commonly used to refer to specific terms that should be incorporated into a piece of content to support organic search performance. 

The common misconceptions here are:

  1. That you need to use the exact term numerous times to appear for the target search query
  2. There is any distinction between a “keyword” and a “search query”

In reality, there is little to no difference between using “SEO agencies” and “search engine optimization agencies” because most search engines will understand the two searches are for the same thing. Instead, consider how you might craft a page that addresses the topic and user intent regardless of the exact term.

Top 3 results are (almost exactly) the same for “search engine optimization agencies” and “SEO agencies”

Secondly, consider leveraging Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools to see how your website appears for actual search queries users type into a search bar, not just the keywords you might see from a keyword research tool.

  1. ‘Search Volume’

Search volume too often guides the entire direction of an SEO strategy from the ground up. As mentioned above, it’s wise to use search volume as an input for content creation, but not as the guiding light. 

Rather, think of search volume as the addressable market for the service or product you specialize in (with a caveat: one potential customer may search multiple times for the same query). Leverage keyword research tools and real search performance data to inform how well your website aligns with what your target audience is searching for. 

Keep in mind that the most relevant and opportunistic queries to go after may appear as having zero search volume in many of the common keyword research tools. These tools rely on access to a corpus of information that only collects data when volume reaches a certain threshold. Long-tail queries (4+ words) are most often underrepresented in keyword research tools, but can also be the most opportunistic and relevant for your business.

We see ~100 impressions per month for a query that supposedly has 20 searches per month.

For example, we have a client in the industrial generator space that receives ~100 Google Search impressions per month for “types of automatic transfer switches” – a very niche but very relevant search query for the business. However, the keyword appears in keyword research tools as having a mere 20 searches per month (5x less than we see based on real search query data).

Again, it’s not to say these tools shouldn’t be trusted or leveraged– but that the data should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s best to combine the tool data with what you believe your audience may be looking for based on your niche/specialty, and what the actual search results look like for those queries.

  1. ‘Rankings’

This one is short and sweet. Simply put, rankings ≠ revenue. Similar to keywords and search volume, rankings can be a helpful leading indicator of SEO success, but they should not be a sole primary KPI for your SEO efforts.

If your SEO agency is touting “guaranteed #1 rankings” you should proceed with caution. It’s not only an impossible thing to guarantee, but it also doesn’t always equate any true bottom-line impact for your business. You may end up ranking for something entirely irrelevant, or even ranking for something no one is looking for. Neither will actually help you achieve the SEO results you’re likely after.

Furthermore, rankings are often an output of keyword tracking tools, where projects are set up to measure a website’s performance against a target keyword. Again, these can be helpful leading indicators, but it’s impossible to track everything your website could be appearing for in a keyword tracking project. Google has shared that 15% of daily searches are brand new– meaning keyword tracking tools won’t have search volume data, and it’s unlikely your keyword tracking projects include them yet. But these terms could still be driving revenue for your business.

Consider KPIs like total non-brand search traffic (GSC & BWT), organic traffic to pages or sections of the site that have been focuses for SEO efforts, or organic revenue & conversion data from your go-to analytics tool(s).

  1. ‘Link Building’

Be particularly wary of any SEO agency whose primary effort is “link building.” Like the other examples, this term may be used to describe legitimate ways of earning visibility on other websites, but it also may refer to spammy tactics like buying backlinks in bulk or using private blog networks (PBNs). 

Instead, think of “link building” as “link winning” or “link earning.” Google is getting extremely good at understanding what makes a quality backlink (and what activities indicate spammy approaches to link building). For example, if Google sees an influx new backlinks to a brand new website from a series of lesser-known sites, it may be a red flag.

In short, don’t think that acquiring a large number of links across the web will immediately help your SEO performance. Consider quality over quantity, and create compelling content that people want to share. Then consider if any outreach or engagement efforts are necessary to get visibility to your content (i.e., being active on other blogs or forums), or if you can simply earn links organically (usually easier for larger, reputable sites, or sites with an active following).

  1. ‘Penalty’

This one is pretty black and white because Google is clear on what a penalty is and is not. Unfortunately, shady SEOs still like to use the word “penalty” as a scare tactic.

Let’s start with what penalties are….

…and are not:

  • Impacts from algorithm updates
  • Slapped on a website for having too much ‘duplicate content’

First, review Google’s spam policies. If you’re doing any of those things as part of your “SEO strategy” you might have a problem.

Secondly, if you have been impacted by an algorithm update, it’s likely because your content isn’t meeting Google’s standards and/or your competitors are offering something better. This can be bad for your SEO performance, but it’s not a Google penalty/manual action.

If you’re following the other advice mentioned above, it’s likely that your website won’t ever receive a penalty/manual action (though, Google does occasionally make mistakes).

If you have received a manual action, or you’re concerned about some of the verbiage your current SEO agency is using, contact us for help.