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Last week, something called the ‘Momo’ challenge began trending in several countries across the world, including Australia. Unlike previous challenges such as the ice bucket and bottle flip challenges that are fairly benign, this Momo challenge supposedly has a more sinister bent. As with modern urban mythologies, rumors for this Momo challenge started online in social media, warning parents that scary images of a creepy doll with bulging eyes inserted in kids videos on YouTube encouraging kids to commit dangerous stunts.

It turns out however that this Momo challenge is little more than an elaborate hoax and that the resulting hysteria actually poses more danger than the hoax itself. Fake news and hoaxes are of course something we regularly have to deal with for the past several years now and yet people are quick to accept this rumor at face value rather than wait for more news although with children being involved, it is understandable that parents are being cautious. Still, rumors and urban mythologies are everywhere, even in the world of SEO and that separating fact from fiction is something SEO services and marketers have to do on a daily basis.


Lies, damned lies and statistics

Australia has a long history of hoaxes. Ern Malley, the fictitious poet that was at the center of “the greatest literary hoax of the twentieth century”, as American poet David Lehman puts it, has grown a life of its own that Malley became the inspiration of Peter Carey’s My Life as a Fake. It’s a bit of a jump from the world of fictional literature to SEO but as a field, SEO is nominally considered to be the more esoteric branch of marketing, caused partly because the veil of secrecy around search engines.

Google’s search engine has been around for two decades now and in that timespan, there has been a number of alternative search engines such as Bing, Yahoo and the privacy-focused DuckDuckGo. Despite this long history however, there’s still a lot we don’t know about search engines in general. This is because the algorithm behind search engines are a closely-guarded trade secret the way KFC’s 11 herbs and spices is in the fast food industry. There are several things SEO services know, partly from things revealed by the companies and from observations that are later confirmed but still nowhere near enough to paint a full picture.

Looking for SEO tips can then feel like dietary advice, it’s impossible to tell which one works and you’re bound to receive conflicting advice from time to time. Some tips can also seem innocuous at first glance only for you to be hit by a penalty at a later date for using what is considered underhanded tactics by the algorithm. Trying to figure out which advice to follow can be hard given the amount that is floating on the internet but the following are some tips that you definitely should ignore.


How SEO is a scam

The short answer is no. The long answer is noooooooooooooooooo, SEO is definitely not a scam. All kiddings aside, this relates to what I said about underhanded tactics. Yes, such underhanded tactics, colloquially known as black hat SEO is more or less a scam, since it works by using cheap tricks to manipulate search engine’s algorithm to boost your rankings in the short term only for your website to fall back to earth after receiving a penalty.

Despite this black hat SEO, there is also a more organic way of SEO that is known as white hat SEO that is more natural and systematic. Actual SEO requires your commitment, time and effort and you shouldn’t think of as a get-rich-quick scheme. Services that promises your website the top of the ranking for a set fee warrants a much closer look. Remember, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


SEO is a one-and-done strategy

Think of SEO like exercising. You can’t just devote a full month to regular exercising, call it a day and hope that that month of exercising would be enough to keep you healthy for the rest of your life; your body simply doesn’t work that way. By the same token, SEO also requires an ongoing effort if you’re looking for sustained growth. Once your business is at a point where the business you’re getting is enough, you could probably cool down on your SEO efforts but if growth is what you’re looking for, SEO should always be a part of your overall marketing strategy.


Including more keywords in your content is a good thing

Keywords are good so shouldn’t we naturally assume that more keywords are better? Well, actually, no. Let’s assume that the word falconry appears at a rate of 1 every 10 million words but then you stumble into a 1,000 word article where that same word is used 20 times. You would naturally assume that falconry is the focus of the article. But what if later you encounter another 1,000 word article but this time, the word falconry is used 100 times, a rate that is 5 times greater than the last article.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that something fishy is definitely going on in that last article and search engine algorithms are particularly good at this simple act of counting words. If a word appears at a rate that is unusual even when compared to other articles that covers the same topic, search engine algorithms would assume that that particular page is being manipulative and is actually irrelevant to the topic and would penalize your webpage accordingly.


How links no longer matter

When Google’s search engine first became publicly available, the main algorithm Google used was PageRank, which determines the relevance of a website based on the number and quality of links leading through that website. It’s easy to assume that after two decades and countless updates, this would no longer be the case but actually, links are still an important factor. Just like how citations are the measure of credibility in scientific research, links are always going to be relevant in the world of SEO, even if it’s no longer the only parameter used to rank websites.