This year has been crazy.
I liquidated my partnership in SEO AI with my old business partner Charles Floate. Released Version 2 of On-Page Mastery and built over 20 websites in the 6 months since I left the agency.
This year has been a real learning experience, but especially when it came to building 20 websites.
When I was running the agency with Charles, I went from having over 10 sites at various stages to just 3 websites…
Time commitments of running the agency were a big part of that, and it was also a big reason I wanted to leave. Running affiliate sites is definitely my passion.
I decided to hedge my bets and start a lot of new sites, so I could test things and see if I could get more conclusive data.
During the last 6 months of working on 20 affiliate sites, I have discovered a bunch of myths about SEO that I wasn’t expecting to… So I wanted to share them in this post with you guys.
The Myths I’ve Discovered:
1. Sites Don’t Need Links To Rank
I never really believed this. But to put it into context, there have been a growing group of vocal advocates out there who champion the idea that you can rank sites with very few or no links.
I always assumed maybe they knew something I didn’t, but a large number of the 20 sites I’ve been working on have been in weak niches.
If I had to compare them to a site I did in 2016 which I ranked with under 30 RD’s (Referring Domains) I would say that it’s actually got harder to rank with less links.
There are plenty of reasons for that, and I’m not saying it’s impossible… I’m just saying that you’ll need a lot more than 30 RDs usually these days to rank even some weaker competition sites.
2. Processes/SOPs Are King
Too many people rely on SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures).
In order to create 20 sites in a short amount of time, I did this as well…
What I found was that they gave me certain advantages, but there was an equal amount of disadvantages to operating under SOPs.
If you want to get the best results you need to move away from SOPs when necessary. Knowing when and for what comes down to your own knowledge and experience.
I think that anyone who thinks you can rely or operate solely with SOPs is missing the limitations and so I firmly believe that this is one of the biggest SEO Myths in 2018 that looks set to continue holding people back in 2019.
3. Tier 2 Is Dead
Tiered Link Building used to be MASSIVE.
But after a while, it became ineffective and used to cause more aggravation than it’s worth.
This year I started out doing PBNs & Paid Guest Posts which was proving massively ineffective and provided no to little ROI.
Running 20 sites meant I had to start doing more “White Hat” Link Building, and I got better results for no more cost than a bit of time and some software subscriptions for doing outreach.
What I saw around the YMYL updates was some of my own sites and others who had done completely “White Hat” (what I’d like to call promotional) link building losing out to sites with T2 link building.
Since then I’ve spoken to a bunch of people who all verified these findings and since then I’ve started to build more T2 links which have been giving me better results than direct to money site links that were either low-quality grey hat or higher quality white hat had provided me alone.
4. More Content Means Better Results
One of my sites was growing like crazy, and so I kept feeding it with more content and steady link building.
After a while, I noticed growth stall, then start going backwards.
The issue? Way too much content with not enough links/trust/authority to support it.
I’ve seen the opposite happen as well, and I’ve also seen sites that continued to grow with more and more content.
However the idea that more content always means better results is a strong myth in my book.
5. PBN Links Are Still Worth It
I’ve had good success with T2 PBN Links and that’s about it this year.
I spent over $10,000 on PBN links in 2018 before I realized that it wasn’t a provider problem, but a general problem with PBNs.
Most of the time these links had either no effect at all or a negative effect.
I spent $1,000 on 5 links from a friends “PBN” that he treated like real sites, and they all had 500 – 2,000 visitors per month. The results were amazing, but I personally don’t count these kinds of sites as PBNs anymore.
6. Auction Domains Are Always Better
Some guys sell Auction Domains for a lot of money and we almost all agree that it can be more beneficial than starting a site on a brand new domain.
But because some guys sell them for a lot of money, just like with PBNs being worth it, just like with the idea that more content is always better… The consensus is usually based more on marketing efforts of sellers than real truth.
I spent a heap of money on ‘good’ auction domains, and some of these sites worked amazingly well while others tanked anything they touched.
I would build out a site, add content and see how it indexed. The answer was outside of the top 100 on too many of these auction domains.
On the ones that failed I then added the content to a brand new domain, let it index and see what happened. Positions 50-80 for the same content pieces.
I then did .301 redirects with the auction domains and saw them tank the brand new sites, in some cases permanently. On the other hand, some .301 domains gave the sites a huge boost.
The idea that they are always better is another myth in my opinion after all of these experiences.
7. Effort Equals Reward
I’ve seen it happen so often this year where poorly optimized sites with rubbish content continue to outrank their more worthy competitors on Google.
We all assume effort equals reward, but it’s not always the case. This is why I started 20 sites and increased effort on each based on performance, not personal attachment.
I’m not saying it should always be the case, but when you see extremely well-built sites with good links and great articles struggling against competitors with awful information it’s disheartening. I’ve seen this from doing audits and my own sites in some cases as well.
In short, more effort doesn’t always equal more reward, but also… For all the improvements in tech, I actually feel like Google is falling behind in Search against competitors like Bing where I will often find better results for my searches this year.
8. Opening and Ending Paragraph Keyword Placement Matters
I tested this on 10 websites existing pieces of content for 30 days with sometimes daily adjustments on the sites. I found no conclusive or even correlative evidence that this makes a massive difference to rankings.
9. Social Signals Don’t Work
I tested Social Signals on certain types of content several times this year and got great results.
I tested dozens of things this year that all effected TF-IDF scores without my intention being to test TF-IDF.
A lot of people have said TF-IDF has improved their rankings but in my opinion, it’s more likely other factors that play a part in TF-IDF scores.
Additionally, when you adjust your TF-IDF score you can unwillingly over-optimize other ranking factors.
11. It Takes Google Weeks To Index On-Page Changes
If I was to hazard a guess I’d say I’ve run at least 700 tests this year.
I’ve had to employ some very good tracking to do this properly and I’ve seen changes in some cases index within 20 minutes. It all depends on when you’re being crawled, and if you can create a force crawl etc.
12. Site Structure Matters
Kind of a trick myth because it definitely does. Just not in the way most people think.
I’ve seen sites with all kinds of structures rank, and sites with all kinds not rank. E.g. Silos.
What usually matters most is crawlability. To me, these days good site structure means good crawl optimization.
Alongside that aspect, there is also making sure that your site structure is actually logical and relevant.
13. Link Velocity
Link Velocity hasn’t seemed to matter much this year. I’ve had no issues with sandboxed sites regardless of link velocity, and likewise, sites where I’ve not built links in a while haven’t seemed to suffer from it when I started building links again.
14. URL Length Doesn’t Matter
While plenty of sites rank with long URLs or multiple directory URLs there’s been a definite correlation of smaller URLs ranking better and better this year compared to last year from my own findings.
15. Audit Services Are A Good Idea
Kind of shooting myself in the foot since I offer audits on a case-by-case basis…
Most audits I actually take on are from clients who went to *insert audit service here* and got no results.
This is because most audit services really only do tool based audits with some nice presentation.
Tool based audits are rarely good enough to improve your rankings.
The other side of the issue is that audits are by definition a checklist, and that’s not real optimization. I offer all my audit clients that chance to have me optimize things for a fixed duration of time.
That’s because what works for one site might not work for yours, and because I find that I get the best results after tweaking things for a while – even when a change gets a positive result to begin with.
Auditing is really a means to an end, and that end goal should be optimization. Audit services go against that, which is precisely why I don’t run a service.
Unfortunately, I’m just one voice against thousands of others who don’t believe that but it is hard to argue with my results.
There’s a lot of myths floating around, and a lot of it is because our industry views things in very black and white terms.
For everything you test and get verified findings for there are going to be 100 guys telling you you’re wrong who only have anecdotal evidence to support their own claims. These people are why myths get perpetuated. There’s a lack of fresh info coming out on a lot of these topics.
If there’s one thing you can take away from this article I hope it’s that you need to start testing and aiming toward real optimization which are mutually dependent. Test my findings and try to verify them for yourself… Don’t take anyone’s word for it without objective thought and testing for yourself.