SEO Myths (Podcast)

Saroosh Khan is our guest for today. He specializes in SEO.

C: So for anyone who is not aware of who you are and what you do, so why don’t you just give us a bit of a background as to what you’re doing and how you got there?

Seo Myth

S: I started off with SEO back in 2016. I actually left college and I had a couple of months in which I wasn’t sure what I should be doing. And then somebody just told me that, “Why don’t you go and try blogging?” And I was like, “What’s that?” He told me, “You can earn a lot of money from it.”

S: And then I went into blogging and then content writing and then, I’m not a native, so my English grammar is not that good. But I wanted to be pretty big in content writing. I started following people, and since I realized I had no SEO goal, I learned a lot through analysis.

S: I remember I used to run sites through Screaming Frog just for fun. Now I work as an SEO Manager for Tevis Interactive, a child company of one of the leading digital agencies in Pakistan, where I’m from. We’re trying to go abroad since we’ve working locally.

S: I am also doing a BS Accounting and Finance. My study field and the SEO domain are quite different. You can’t really tell by looking at me that I would be a finance guy. But SEO and this field have really helped me broaden my horizons and the basis of my analytical skills and how to deal with people. How to gather data, how to interpret data, how to analyze data to get to a proper goal — I learned all that by studying SEO.

TF-IDF

C: We’ll go on to some of the SEO myths that are out there. I’ll start going through the topics we discussed and get your input on those. So, TF-IDF. What are your thoughts on that?

S: When I started off with the choice of topic to talk today, I was looking for things that would really initiate discussion. You learn by analyzing a controversy. I remember a few days ago, somebody posted in a Facebook group about whether nofollow links work or don’t work. The sides were so enthusiastic in the way that they were putting forth their ideas. And the other side was very enthusiastic in making them appear false as well.

S: That’s why I’m always looking at SEO myths. I consider them to be myths, but it is a word that is appropriate. Because while we have a chance to discuss these kinds of things and put forward some questions that would really help us get an analytical approach, on the other hand we aren’t really sure how Google identifies these myths. What is actually Google doing with it? TF-IDF is something very similar. If you take a look at Google patents, you will see not even the exact term “TF-IDF,” but you will see terms that are closely related to it. Like, “phrase match” or “semantic relations” or “topical class.”

S: So people mostly confuse these terms. TF is a separate concept developed in the 50s whereas IDF was developed by someone else around 38 years before the Internet became a thing. people confuse the terms. TF-IDF is a concept that was pushed into the SEO community, like a “cutting-edge technology,” just because they wanted masses to adopt it. These were people who didn’t know what TF-IDF really was. They didn’t dig into the concept. They just adopted it.

S: TF:IDF is a really old concept. According to Roger Monty “In a world with AI neural networks and machine learning are the norm, TF-IDF is like a kid’s bike on training wheels compared to a Ferrari.” And he is very right about that. You need to look at the whole picture if you want to know what TF:IDF is and how it can work.

C: I think you’re right. A lot of people take things like this. People in this industry might be concentrating on things that don’t really make a difference. Because they think it’s new or it’s intelligent, they blow it all out of all proportion. But it’s always fun to talk about those guys that will swear by these methods as well. And if it’s working for someone, fair enough. If that’s what they believe, then fair play to them. But I would say to anyone, “Always do the testing for yourself. And check out whether these things actually work or not.”

S: Exactly.

LSI, Does it really work?

LSI Keywords

C: But, get on to LSI, which is another one of those words that people will debate on. You know you hear lots of people talk about LSI and in a positive and a negative way. What’re your thoughts on LSI? Do you think this is a myth, or do you feel like that’s something that works very well for you?

S: In my opinion, there are actually two kinds of communities in this respect. One is the community that uses the right kind of concept but terms it as “LSI,” which is not actually true. And the other community is the one which just goes through tools, plus the seed keywords, and tries to find out LSI keywords. I don’t really like to name tools while I’m criticizing them, but they’re a very famous tool for that. You plug in the keyword and it will say that “These are the LSI keywords.” The origin of those LSI keywords remains unknown.

S: When I really started with SEO, I was quite fond of LSI. I would be talking about LSI so much with my friends. But as time passed and I did some testing, I learned and I read some Google papers, I also read a patent about LSI itself. LSI itself is a completely separate part of information retrieval. It’s a patent filed in 1988. Again, a long time before the web even started existing so it is really absurd for me to believe that Google is using something that is so outdated. But then again, we need to understand what actually is LSI indexing and how we get it mixed up with other things.

S: People usually confuse phrase-based indexing with data and semantic indexing. People think that added synonyms or related phrases to your website works, and on other pages. They do work, but then it’s not only LSI. LSI was actually coined just because that in a data set of “X” documents if you’re performing a search query, there will be a structural and statistical framework with which all those documents could be related. It’s not always that they are related. They could be. And that was the basis of LSI. But in what we believe is, that in terms of SEO and ranking for Google, there is absolutely no indication that Google uses LSI keywords or if it even uses LSI to pull up document pages on the basis of how much they are sprinkled with LSI keywords.

S: LSI is also keyword-driven. With the advent and the progress of RankBrain algorithms and neural networks and machine learning, it is really obvious that it is not only about the keyword and intent. It is also about the relevance and the setting in which the search query is being performed. So using LSI as means of optimizing your content is not really a great idea Bill Slawski has a good scientific post on his blog, and it was the first one I read about LSI and whether it works. Now I believe LSI does not work.

S: But then again, such concepts are subject to single-variable testing. And a single-variable test is very tough to manage. Especially when it comes to LSI or something which is relevant to content. How can we create a piece of content and say that we’re only using LSI? There would be everything else, because how Google understands that piece of content is not subjective to me, it depends on Google.

C: Yes. Relevance has to come into play as well. I think you have to use common sense in a lot of these instances as well. Obviously Bill Slawski is a very intelligent guy and well known in this industry. And I think I would always recommend if anyone’s listening to this — check out what Bill says. He does a lot of research on this stuff, reads a lot of patents, and as you see, it can help broaden your horizons a little bit. It can also help you better understand what LSI actually is and how could Google possibly work that into the system.

Can SEO’s Optimise for Rankbrain?

C: And then from there, as you see, it’s all about single-variable testing. And that’s the kind of stuff, I like to read is the results of testing rather than people just throwing what’s out there, and started using and God knows what else and hoping for the best. You mentioned RankBrain a moment ago. So do you believe that SEOs can optimize for RankBrain?

S: When Google updates something or rolls out an update, there is a lot of information that’s coming regarding that update. There is a lot of misinformation as well. And I have also noticed that that misinformation is kind of hijacking peoples’ minds and ideas into launching something, a tool, a concept of your own, or something like that. I’ve always noticed this.

S: So RankBrain was something similar. People understand RankBrain that you need to have keywords that are related in terms of intent. Your content needs to be the right content to satisfy the intent. But there is one thing that people don’t look at. People really consider the user experience side of the RankBrain. RankBrain is two-sided. One part of RankBrain is intent and how you satisfy it. But the other side is the user experience. Satisfying the intent of a global user can’t be accurate or easy. If I niche down to some specific location and satisfy that user’s intent, it’s better.

S: In that case, I would actually know the kind of information he would be looking for. So if you are writing content for RankBrain or you are trying to optimize your websites for RankBrain for a very large amount of population and your audience is really large, it is not really possible. And there can’t be a definitive guide to that, but of course, there can be ways to optimize. But there is not a level of definite optimization for RankBrain. You can’t really come to a point and you can say that “Oh my website is 100% optimized for RankBrain.” For example, if you optimize for financial services, it might mean something different on Wall Street than what it would mean to a farmer or a small business owner in a remote place.

S: To achieve the level of definitive optimization is not possible. But you need to have a really great insight into your audience if you need to reach levels that are considered profitable for you.

C: Yeah. Well, I think it makes a lot of sense. You know you hear, again, just people talking a bit of doing optimizing for RankBrain, but it’s physically impossible to be able to do that given that no one actually knows what is in there.

How to measure link quality?

Link building Quality

C: So, the next thing I’ve got to ask you is about links. Because it’s all good and well talking about one-page stuff, but link building is a massive factor in rankings. And people measure this in different ways, including DA, DR, and using various other tools, Touch Flow, Citation Flow, and stuff like that.

S: First we need to understand what is “link equity.” Is link equity something that is correlated to DA or DR or some other third-party metric? No, Google doesn’t that. Then again, with the advent of these neural networks and how Google algorithms are transforming based on machine learning, it’s not only about the link place, but it’s also about how the user interacts with that link. So what I have actually tested it and it has worked really well for me was kind of a black hat test, but then again we don’t really need to have hats to learn in SEO. I actually made a few links on a very high DS site. It was a website that was really new. There was nothing else other than those links.

S: There was another website, that I started in the same niche, but it only had nofollow links. But there was one thing that made a difference. I actually asked some friends of mine that I knew that had different IP servers than me. So I had a service from Fiverr with somebody who could just go and increase the click-through rate for those links. And I actually asked them to go to that website and click through that link and come to my website and stay for some time.

S: So just I wanted to see how well these links perform. So on one of the websites, the one in which people actually clicked on that link and interacted with that link, came to my website, spent some time on there. That website really performed well, just because you need to satisfy the placement of the link. It’s not about getting the link, it’s about its intent. If for example, a webmaster that is from the same nation as you places your link, how can Google actually determine whether the link is paid or not? Google actually looks at the user interactions and the signals it gets from it.

S: If no one clicks on the link, Google understands that people aren’t interested. The link isn’t place in a natural scenario that will encourage people to click on it. So in the case that if your link is placed in such an environment, you won’t be getting a lot of link equity from that. But in a situation where someone searches for something, visits the website, and clicks on the link in the posts, follows it on your website, he’s done whatever he has to do. He spends some time on your website, scrolls through your website, and then goes back or just goes to the search results — Google will actually take notice of that.

S: A link that’s there but is not getting any clicks means that website is not getting any referral traffic. Such user experience signals are really the most important meter in my opinion of link equity. Link equity is based on link authority, but also on the user experience signals that those authoritative links pass to your website. I would say it’s a two-way approach. You need to make sure that your links are placed on pages that are contextually relevant, are in the same contextual pool, so that people actually visit your website as well. And your website shows some good user experience signals as well.

S: In my opinion, relevance is highly important as well, even though you see that most guys selling links are doing it based on that website’s traffic. Too many people get stuck up on third-party matrix, which Google clearly don’t use. And what I would say there though is, I still use DR as a gauge to whether a domain is powerful or not. It’s not the only thing I go for obviously, what I want when I’m looking for links is that they be totally relevant. I want that website to rank and have traffic. I know some guys buy links purely based on third-party metrics, but it’s never a good idea in my opinion.

S: Well the SEO community is very much widespread on these sort of links. There are people that believe that links don’t work. I’m not saying that. Links do work. They are still the most important metric when it comes to ranking on Google. But then there are people who think that only links work. No, only works don’t work either. There’s a lot more to SEO than link-building. So we need to actually find out the common ground between these two sides.

C: I think anyone who only focuses on links is crazy. There’s a lot more to it, technical, on-page, all that kind of stuff all have to be in place before you’re going to see any impact from your links. But I think it’s healthy to have a strong weight spread market campaign rather than it all being focused to one element. Because I think Google can pull the rug from under your feet very quickly with one change overnight. So it’s good to spread the risk a little.

No Follow Links, Do they pass any power?

No Follow Links

C: You mentioned nofollow links earlier. Do you believe they help in any way? Or do you feel that nofollow links are basically a waste of time?

S: I mentioned a thread on the SEO Signals Lab. Those gentlemen initiated a discussion in the lines of, “Do nofollow links work as well as dofollow links?” and that thread was really awesome. But there was one thing I actually found out, actually believed it as well. That website is totally gone, the website I’m talking about now. I actually ranked for the keyword “IT consulting companies,” or “IT consulting firms,” many of the relevant keywords, all across US, on the first page, in the featured snippet for about eight months with nothing but eight forum links exclusively from nofollow links.

S: The content was bad. I copied some from Wikipedia. It was back in the day while I was still learning these things. So I did that but it worked. I did not really understand how nofollow links worked. I used to believe that it was a fluke, but over the time when I learned how links actually work, I found out that, “Yes, it is definitely working,” because a nofollow link from a credible source which actually relates to your context is really useful.

S: For example, if you have a website of an attorney that has got absolute authority. I mean these attorneys have websites that have really good metrics in terms of links. They are really authoritative website. But if I publish an article on, I would say, keto foods over there and get a link back to my website, although a link is dofollow and the authority is immense, most of the really traditional SEOs should believe that link equity would follow. But it won’t, just because the contextual relevance is absolutely nonexistent. But then again if you have a link on, I would say, a food blog or a blog where you guest post as an author and there’s a link in your profile which is a nofollow, but then it links back to your own website, I would say that that link has much better authority than that dofollow link. Just because it’s contextually relevant and it would be, I would say, in the same topical cluster from the source of the link and the destination of the link.

S: So the relationship between the source and the destination is very important. Nofollow links were actually used in the past to fight off spam. Google actually looks at the source, if it is credible, credits the link equity, in my opinion. And if it’s not credible, it does not count it, just because it would think that nofollow link is actually used for a way to not pass link equity. Google does follow our directives to some extent, but it’s not forced to do so. So that’s what we need to understand when it comes to nofollow links and if they work at all.

C: Yeah. It’s one of those subjects, though it’s up for wide debate. Everyone’s got an opinion on it. Again, you would need to do some single-variable testing on it to see if there’s any movement of some description. Because most people do have an opinion have already got established backlink profiles and they’re not doing that single test to see whether it actually works. But I think, again, using common sense, just because it’s more full doesn’t mean it’s not passed any value. If it’s relevant on a big website and it’s passing traffic, and everything else they click through the, and other user signals, are going to benefit your website anyway. So indirectly, it would potentially still have a benefit anyway, in my opinion, if they were not to work. But that leads on to the last thing I want to talk to you about is pogo-sticking and bounce rate. Are there any factor in rankings?

Pogo sticking

Pogosticking in SEO

C: Obviously we’ve spoken about click-through rate and the rest, but bounce route and pogo-sticking — what’s your thoughts?

S: Well, my thoughts have gradually evolved. I have conflicting opinions, especially on the pogo-sticking and bounce rate. We need to understand the difference between bounce rate and pogo-sticking. Bounce rate is a user that lands on your website and visits only one page. Now that one page can be for five minutes as well, it’s not necessary for that user to just go back. People understand the word bounce rate by the word “bounce,” that a user comes and goes quickly. No, the bounce rate is defined by an action like a user visiting a webpage only and that doesn’t go to any other page. I would say, by my experience, my bounce rates are really high in these terms.

S: Just because the kind of content that I am publishing on my websites. I usually work with the services industry. For example, if somebody is someone is searching for “Rhinoplasty in Plano,” is a famous keyword in the SEOsphere. Somebody is searching for rhinoplasty. They would not only stay for that rhinoplasty page. They won’t even care, even if I have the rhinoplasty Dallas or Austin page link on the sidebar. They won’t really care about that, because they’re interested in the rhinoplasty Plano page. So even if he spends 10, 15, 20 minutes, or even 10, 15, 20 seconds over there and he just goes back, that’s not a problem for me.

S: Here comes the term pogo-sticking. I would say pogo-sticking is a very controversial term. Pogo-sticking is actually when a user comes to your page, leaves instantly in the first five seconds due to many reasons. So we actually need to figure out what reasons can be behind the pogo-sticking and why it doesn’t work. So if the reason is something like the user does not like your content, he goes back and makes another search — that’s really harmful. Google will understand that this page that the user recently visited did not satisfy the intent of that user. So if he goes back to other page or makes another complete search, that is actually the same search or a relevant search to what it previously did, it harms you in a way.

S: I would say it’s something I am actually working on these days. I’m actually experimenting with some of the CTR percentage and how this works. But I believe that it is the case. But on the other hand, if a user just leaves just because your website did not load or you had video that just ran, or you had ads, annoying ads that were pop-ups. While it does not speak for your contextual authority, it does speak for the fact that your website is not good for the experience.

S: So you need to actually figure out if there are users that are coming to your websites that are leaving in very small amounts of time with tools like Hotjar and others. It would be very beneficial to actually look at what that user is doing on your website in the four or five seconds that they are over there. What if he scrolls down and finds that the content that he is looking for is not over there? You need to tweak up your content. So instead of just debating upon whether pogo-sticking is a negative factor or not, we need to actually look into the factor why the user is experiencing pogo-sticking and actually solve the reason behind that to gain the benefit.

C: That’s common sense. You don’t want to be serving people pages that look inadequate or are not relevant to that search term. You know, of all the stuff we’ve spoken about today, obviously, it’s all subjective. It’s peoples’ interpretations of what these things are. Whether it’s LSI or DA, sometimes peoples’ perceptions is where and what they read into it.

C: And I think that’s obviously going to stand you in good stake going forward. Because you’re not taking everything at face value and I think that, for a young man, that’s quite a good skill to have. With my first few years of doing SEO, I used to take everything at face value and believe everything that everyone said. And all I found was myself going around in circles and making mistake after mistake. So it’s quite refreshing to hear that you do that level of researching stuff. It’s great to hear that. And obviously, for anyone who is listening to the podcast, what sort of things are you doing to continually develop and do your research? Is it just all Facebook groups and everything else? Or is there something else you’re doing? Where do you get all this information from?

How do you continue to learn about SEO?

S: Well I’m regularly following the people on Twitter. I actually started doing that a few months ago. And I found out that the audience and the kind of discussion on SEO on Twitter is more well-informed and unbiased than on Facebook. There’s a lot of noise on the groups on Facebook. I mean everybody’s giving an opinion. Sometimes people are giving opinions in Facebook groups, and they should answer to questions like “Who are you? What have you actually done or tested? Have you actually tested what you’re saying?”

S: Things are different on Twitter. People actually talking about things that are actually tested. They have tested something, or they have some logical proof to it. This is what I’m doing right now, but on the other hand, I’m also looking deeper into the technical SEO side and the parsing, the indexing and the JavaScript side of SEO. And I’m really thankful to my friend Pablo. He’s a great man in this. He has been guiding me, helping with this. I’m actually more of a person who actually keeps on going on and on, just as you were saying. A negative way to say that would be, “I’m a very idle person and I don’t have much to do.” But I’m enjoying it. I’m young, I’ve got years in front of me. I can try, test for a pretty long time before I actually start establishing my own authority in that.

S: But I’ve got time to that. I’ve got time to learn, test, fail, relearn, retest, again fail maybe, because failure does not mean that I’m wrong. It only means that I might be true in some other way. And SEO is a vast field. There are many ways you can look at SEO. And figuring out the right way is probably the quest of my life.

C: Yeah. I’ve had a lot more failures than I have success stories, so I think never fear to feel when the infinite just meets you at that, your approach, and then go onto other success. So it’s good that you’ve got that. I’ve got one last question for you. You mentioned that you are studying finance as well. So, what happens when you finish your studies? Do you want to continue with SEO, or are you just going to go on and have a finance career? What’re your thoughts on what you’re going to do?

S: There’s a competition they have, “The Game Changers Challenge,” in which they pick up interns based on their innovation. So they had a very initial kind of test for screening out the applicants. And the test was two parts, first part was finance, with second part being on marketing. And I actually called two of my friends to help me in that finance part. And it turned out to me that I did not know even a single proper formula for finance. Not even the basic ones. And I have been studying finance for about two years now. And all the finance, I just go in and I just go to sleep in the finance class.

S: It’s so boring over there. I don’t mean to disrespect any finance people, but that’s how it is. Finance is very boring. I’m absolutely sure I’m not going to take finance up as my career, because I would be a very broke person if I went into finance as a career. I intend to go on with SEO and I will be looking forward to working in a more competitive environment than I am right now. I’d like to learn more.

C: Good to see that you fancy sticking around in SEO. I think you do very well with it. You seem to have the right attitude. So fingers crossed, you can go on and make a good career for yourself. But, sadly we are out of time for today. I think you’ve obviously offered a lot of insights and a lot of details into a lot of different subjects, so thank you very much for that. And hopefully we can get you on again in the future, just to catch up, find out some of the new information that you’ve been studying on or whatever.

S: Thanks. It was a great experience for me to be on your podcast. Good luck to everyone!

You can find Saroosh on LinkedIn.

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Craig Campbell

I am a Glasgow based SEO expert who has been doing SEO for 17 years.

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