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6 Questions answered about Google’s ranking factors

By Alexandra Gavril - June 23, 2014

Have you ever heard or read things like:

“Your page needs to have a 3% keyword density to rank high in Google’s search results.”

Or: “All link building is bad so you need to stop building links now! Matt Cutts said so!”

And my favourite: “SEO today is all about creating great content. If you create great content, they will come”.

These are all myths and need to die horrible deaths.

But how do these myths become so pervasive?

You probably agree that the world of SEO is confusing and frustrating. With Google constantly changing, updating and tweaking its algorithms, it’s no wonder there’s a lack of clarity. Not to mention the tons of misinformation published online by self-proclaimed “SEO gurus”, which only add to the mass confusion.

Listening to them can do some serious damage to your site. So I’ve prepared a Q&A that looks at the six most common myths on how Google ranks sites.


1. Is there such a thing as “ideal keyword density”?

No, there isn’t. So if you were expecting an exact percentage like 3% or 7%, I’m sorry to disappoint you but there is no one-size-fits-all optimal keyword density percentage demonstrated to have direct positive effect on improving rankings.

Here’s what Moz says about keyword density:

“Not surprisingly, a persistent myth in SEO revolves around the concept that keyword density – a mathematical formula that divides the number of words on a page by the number of instances of a given keyword – is used by the search engines for relevancy & ranking calculations.

“Despite being proven untrue time and again, this myth has legs. Many SEO tools still feed on the concept that keyword density is an important metric. It’s not. Ignore it and use keywords intelligently and with usability in mind.”

So if you thought you could fool Google by adding a certain percentage of keywords in words of text to get your page to number one, think again. On the other hand, you might risk getting penalised for keyword stuffing if you were to stuff a page and every element on it with keywords.

The best advice anyone can give you is to write natural page copy that is focused on key phrases and related key phrases that are intelligently used throughout the page. Don’t waste precious time calculating densities. Just read the copy out loud and if it sounds (and looks) natural, then that’s perfect.

Here’s a video from Matt Cutts for some extra useful information:

2. Is link building dead?

Matt Cutts shared a video last month where he talked about how backlinks might not influence rankings in the future as much as they do now. Not long after the news broke, headlines started inundating news feeds saying that “link building is dead”. The fact that Russian search engine Yandex recently abandoned links as a good ranking signal only added fuel to that fire.

But is link building really dead?

Cutts never said that links are dead or that they’re no longer a good ranking signal. He said that because of the assault on guest blogging done strictly for SEO, Google did a test trying to exclude links from the algorithm and the results were “much worse”. So while link building may not live forever, we have years before it could potentially go away, according to Cutts.

So if, for example, you’re guest posting, do it because you want to help others by sharing valuable information and advice. In return, this can help you build reputation and gain visibility on the web for you or your business. Might there also be some SEO benefit? Possibly, but if your main goal is SEO (for link building and anything else for that matter) you will make poor choices and get no results.

Bottom line: links are alive and well, just some of the (spammy) methods died.

3. Is social media the new SEO?

This myth that has been circulating the web for the past few years, and while some do argue that social media is the new SEO, it’s just a myth. In fact, Google has repeatedly denied the use of social signals as a ranking factor (other than personalised search using Google Plus).

There’s tens of good reasons to use social media to connect and engage with your audience so there’s no excuse not to have a social media strategy. Just don’t do it because you believe that it will increase your rankings on Google.

If you’re using social media (which you should), use it to build brand awareness and increase visibility online. Find out on which social networks your audience is spending time online and develop presences on them as a way to connect with your (potential) customers.

Here’s three useful articles you might want to read:

  1. Google’s Matt Cutts: Are pages from social sites ranked differently?
  2. The Totally Mathematical Reason Social Matters to SEO
  3. On brand mentions and the future of links “without links”

4. Does spending money on PPC improve my organic SEO rankings?

In a recent video Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, talked about the biggest SEO myths he sees today, one of them being that buying ads has a positive impact on your rankings.

The myth Cutts is trying to debunk is that all the changes Google makes to its algorithms are done with the only intent of making more money. However, he reassures that buying or not buying ads has no positive or negative impact on rankings.

“[…] if somebody clicks on ads, that’s great. But we’re not going to make an algorithmic change to try to drive people to buy ads,” he said. “If you buy ads it’s not going to algorithmically help your ranking in any way, and likewise, it’s not going to hurt your ranking if you buy ads.”

5. Is SEO today only about creating great content?

No one can ever deny the importance of creating great content. But it would be naive to think that that’s all you need to do to increase your rankings – just create and publish that content on your site, and expect for the rest to take care of itself and for magic to happen. You also need to help Google and your audience find your content. You need to correctly optimise your content, promote your posts, market your site to build visibility and authority, and so much more.

6. If I buy SEO software, will it help me rank #1?

This myth also comes from Matt Cutts who says that people should be cautious about various SEO tools that market themselves as “the only way” to rank number one. While the market abounds of automated tools and SEO software packages, that doesn’t mean that these tools deliver on their promises or that they solve every problem you’ve ever had.

“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 sounds like buying a gun and trying to use it as a hammer.[…] Just because somebody says they made a lot of money online doesn’t mean they really made a lot of money online,” Cutts said.

“If they really made a lot of money online, they’d normally keep doing it, rather than tell you about it. So just approach some of the tools and services and products that you see on the various boards with a little bit of caution.”

Here’s the video from Matt:

What you need to keep in mind after reading about all these myths is that you should never make changes to your SEO strategy based on a rumour or the new latest crazy idea. If you already have an SEO strategy that is working well for you, don’t change it. Stay with it and incorporate new techniques when the market has proven them out. If you don’t already have an SEO strategy or if your current one isn’t getting any results, learn the basics about SEO and stick with those until you find something else that works for you.

Your turn now

These are just a few of the many myths on Google’s ranking factors. What are your top three favourite myths you’ve heard or read about?