Ben Davis at Econsultancy opened an enormous can of worms at 4Ps Towers recently by talking about three of the most common potential “ranking factor myths” that prompt debate amongst the SEO community. Naturally if you get six different SEOs in a room to talk about these things you’ll get (at least) six entirely differing opinions coming out of it, but in the name of promoting sensible discussion in the industry I certainly wanted to weigh in.
Myth One: 302 redirects do not pass link equity
John Mueller of Google commented recently in a hangout, as documented by eminent SEO Barry Schwartz, that Google is smart enough to adapt its approach to both 302s and 301s and will pass authority/PageRank/SEO kudos/whatever you want to call it regardless of the actual response code – but 302ed URLs will continue to show in SERPs whereas 301s will get re-indexed so the old URL doesn’t show up.
This isn’t particularly surprising and his comment on how “we also try to be smarter about that and try to fix any mistakes the webmaster might have made” is, for lack of a better term, very Google. Other SEOs, according to the Econsultancy article, have seen evidence that 302s pass equity out in the wild on their own sites and clients (I have never met any of these SEOs myself, but clearly I don’t get out as much as I thought I did).
However Google’s official byline and industry hearsay aside, I’ve never seen any substantial evidence from any of my own clients or websites that contradicts this statement. What I have seen is plenty of site migrations where developers have popped 302s in instead of 301s on changing URLs, and organic visibility and traffic has collapsed. There are scary analytics graphs out there, and buckets of marketing director tears to support this. Never mind the fact that other less souped-up search engines like growing underdog Bing or Chinese behemoth Baidu are going to take your redirects as nature intended and will assume that if you put in a 302 you meant a 302. Web protocol and HTTP responses exist as they do for a reason, people, and it isn’t just for SEO.
So do I believe 302s pass little to no authority compared to 301s? You betcha. Am I always going to recommend that if you’re permanently changing URLs or removing content, you use a 301 to redirect to be safe? Damn right I am.
Myth Two: Social signals matter
This chestnut has been going round in the industry since before I was writing my first meta data, and Ben Davis offers a nice summary of the situation in his article so I won’t repeat it here. I agree there’s a lot of ambiguity around this – Google (via Matt Cutts) has in the past said they don’t take social signals directly into account in the algorithm, but actually with the amount of machine learning and self-improvement the algorithm does these days I suspect nobody can say for sure, and extensive studies by Moz, SearchMetrics and other industry venerables do seem to point to a level of correlation that is hard to ignore.
But let’s forget the algorithmic component and look at the bigger picture. Does improved engagement and following on social media help grow your brand and boost brand awareness? Of course it does. Do we have almost definitive confirmation in the industry that Google loves brands and gives them a boost? We do. So by a relatively simplistic form of induction we can infer that social signals matter to organic search – although perhaps not in a directly technical “more likes gives you higher rankings” sort of way.
Myth Three: Content Is King
This is the classic “build great content and SEO will just happen.” I can’t even coherently assemble my thoughts on how ridiculous this is as a statement and a concept because it seems to rely on the assumption that SEO and content marketing are inherently separate beasts and you have one box over here labelled “content” and another over here labelled “SEO” and nary the twain shall meet.
This is actually similar to Myth #2 in many ways: “social” and “SEO” aren’t silos – they both tie into brand. If you stop thinking of these different channels and skillsets as things that sit on their own, and instead view them as building blocks of an integrated strategy that focuses on customer-centricity and brand growth, suddenly everything starts to make a lot of sense.
Yes, there are some boring technical code-type elements that still have to get labelled under a certain “SEO” tag, but these are more like hygiene elements now, closer to something like site security or PCI compliance which should be viewed as just essential housekeeping rather than some mythological beastie that will magically transform your brand. The rest is just different bits of your multichannel – social, organic and paid search, offline media, video, etc – all underpinned by data to help focus on the best ROI for the business.
Lose Those Silos
We got chatting about this on our internal comms system and at Waffle Wednesday, our weekly industry catchup. Lots of opinions flying about, some of which I’m hoping will be shared in the comments below. The one that stuck in my head the most, though, was from one of our Senior Account Managers on the Food & Drink Team, Charlie Kay (last seen on the blog chowing down on industry trends with healthy snackboxes), so I’ll let her wrap this one up:
“These “myths” focus too much on SEO as an entity unrelated to users and brand and ignore things like social media and content as entities that are hugely powerful in their own right. They insinuate that “SEO” is something that only “people that do SEO” understand, when in reality these days things are much more holistic. It is a business and brand strategy that is supported by a functioning website that works well for the user without consciously pulling the wool over their eyes. That’s an integrated strategy. That’s what brands need to grow.”
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