SEO Fallacies That Must Die: 2017 Edition

Ian Lurie

SEO folks are trend victims. Someone presents a new acronym, an idea, or a tool and we all pile on. Then we chase those nibbles of knowledge, good and bad alike, without thinking. And we land in deep pits lined with sharp, nasty sticks.

These ideas must go:

1: TFIDF Score Predicts Rankings

A higher TFIDF score means you’re more relevant, right? Wrong.

I remember the first time I heard about TFIDF. I latched onto it like a tick at a blood bank and started running around the office yelling “TFIDF ALL THE THINGS IT’S THE BEST THING EVER OMG WE’LL GET ALL THE RANKINGS.”

But TFIDF doesn’t measure relevance across the internet. It measures importance across a collection of documents. If you spell it out, it’s easier to figure out:

TFIDF = Term Frequency, Inverse Document Frequency

Term Frequency means “the number of times a phrase appears in this document.”

Inverse Document Frequency means “the uniqueness of this word among the document collection.”

If the target phrase occurs more often on your site, then the TFIDF score for that word on a single page may drop. TFIDF shows the importance of the phrase on a particular page. More sitewide mentions may reduce TFIDF score. As document frequency goes up, inverse document frequency goes down, and TFIDF score drops.

It does not show relevance of a page for a phrase. Use it alongside other algorithms, and it helps you filter out words you use a lot, like “crap.”

Again: It does not show relevance. A higher TFIDF score doesn’t mean you’re going to rank higher. Don’t fall into that pit.

Use TFIDF to measure the importance of a phrase on one page on your site. Use it as one signal, and use it very carefully.

2: Google Penguin is Gone

Barry Schwartz pointed out in this article that Google Penguin no longer penalizes for bad links. Instead, it devalues them.

Yaaayyy!!! Penguin is gone! Salvation! Start buying footer links on again!

Links! Links!

Yay! Penguin is dead! NOT

Not so fast. Compare the effects:

Before Penguin 4.0: Get crap links. Move up. Get in trouble. Your rankings tank. You pull the pin in your head and explode.

After Penguin 4.0: Get crap links. Move up. Get links devalued. Your rankings tank. You pull the pin in your head and explode.

Link abuse still has the same effect: Lots of wasted effort. An SEO strategy that relies on over-optimized link spam. Lost rankings. Increased dependence on chocolate and whiskey.

If I catch you telling a client they can start buying links because Penguin is dead, I’ll bury a hatchet in your medulla. It’s irresponsible advice.

3: “Faster than my competitors” is Enough

My. God.

How many more times does Google have to scream and yell about site speed before someone understands it’s about faster, not fast enough? Please, someone, tell me. Please.

If I have to trim my fingernails by the time your site loads, that’s bad, no matter how slow your competitors are.

If your site loads so fast my pupils dilate, it can still get faster.

Stop asking “how fast should it be.”

It should be faster because page speed matters.

4: Google is Fine With Javascript Frameworks: Google Cache Proves It

When I worry about javascript frameworks and SEO, I get a lot of eye rolling and “whatever, Ian, join the 21st Century.”

Then the web team loads the pages in Google Cache and says “See, all the content’s there. We’re fine!”

No. Google Cache loads the scripts on your site and populates the cached page with your content. It’s firing the javascript embedded in the cached page, which then fetches the content from your server. That content isn’t necessarily indexed.

If you want to test, pick three or four phrases from your site. Put them in quotes and do a Google site search. Does your site appear as expected? Then you might be OK.

A high authority site has this product but doesn’t rank for it:


No, I have no idea what a cigarette injector is. Nor do we help anyone sell them.

View the seller’s page without javascript and you see why:

Javascript rednering

Ohhhh, that's why

The ideal solution, though, is to render content server-side. Use frameworks to drive interaction, not basic content delivery.

If you must use a framework to improve speed (doubtful), provide device-dependent interactivity (OK, maybe), or deliver single-page experiences (OK, but why?) then understand DOM rendering. Indexing depends on when content appears in the critical rendering path.

Google/Bing have a love/hate relationship with frameworks. Use with caution, learn the nuances, and test.

5: More Blog Posts = Better

I have no words.

OK, maybe I have a few.

Broccoli is good for you. But if you eat 500 pounds of rotten broccoli, you’ll still float away, and then perish in a flaming ball of methane when struck by a passing satellite.

Blog posts are like broccoli.

Get it? No? OK. Then I have no words.

6: Rel=Canonical is Canonicalization

Canonicalization is what you need.

Rel=canonical is what you do when you can’t achieve perfect canonicalization.

Canonicalization means ensuring that all things have a single, standard, canonical form. In SEO terms, that means no duplicate content.

Rel=canonical is a spit and bailing wire fix for impossible duplication problems. Rel canonical is a mixed bag at best.

Fix duplication first. Use rel=canonical to reduce duplication only as a last resort.

7: I’m Going to Tone It Down

Some folks think that, now that Portent has a parent company, I’m going to tone down my blog posts.

Probably not.

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See how Portent can help you own your piece of the web.

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  1. Helpful corrective, Ian.
    I’ll push back a bit on the site speed thing as this is one I’ve been wrestling with recently.
    There’s a point at which you’ve done enough and shouldn’t spend more resources (time, money, attention) on the issue. That point will be different for everyone. If you’re Amazon, you might not reach that point until shortly before the singularity.
    I can imagine a developer or site owner obsessing about this with regards to ranking. My advice is to provide a good user experience (great, if your space is really competitive) and avoid/fix the usual problems.
    To clarify, not saying it isn’t very important. I’m just saying it’s a different issue for my marriage counselor client than it is for Amazon.

    1. Agreed. I just rarely see sites that have hit that point. But yeah – people have to exercise some common sense. Maybe that should’ve been the whole post…

  2. OMP Your´re right: Using TFIDF as an Onpage Metric is and can´t predict bullshit.
    Nontheless I would habe also written that Within Document Frecuency Inverse Document Frecuency (WDF*IDF) is its successor and could be used to determinate complementary (Proof) Keywords on an specific topic for Content Optimizing.
    You should just not talk about lies but also enlight the audience! I Mean if you want us back here.
    But maybe you didn´t wrote that on pourpose and used a very emotional tone (s.a. Carson Ward) just to provocate and make me writte this comment.
    Anyhow, get ready for the next trend!

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