This article has been written after some discussion of industry myths and what could be done to help people in the SEO industry avoid some of the myths and misinformation about Search and SEO.
Building a Set of Mental Tools for Reading SEO Arguments
One of the best places to learn about the Web is on the Web. But, with all the great information that you will find online, you are going to find a lot of misinformation as well. You can set yourself up for success when learning about SEO on the Web because there are tools that you can use to avoid misinformation. And, you can learn from authoritative sources, and these may help you write and argue about topics you come across in the industry. When you find SEO arguments on the Web, there are certain things that you should keep in mind, about how people argue and inform.
I consider myself a life-long learner, and I try to avoid sharing information that is just wrong or misleading. I have found several tools to use to arm myself with. I will start this article describing those tools and providing some examples for them. I will include some resources about credibility, fact-checking, and making arguments, and supporting those arguments with evidence.
I will then talk about some of the topics we have seen in SEO that several myths have grown around. Hopefully, this article will help you learn better from the information that you see on the web and avoid learning from sources that may be sharing misinformation. I keep these tools in mind when I write about patents and papers and refer to other pages on the web, and try to inform and present some SEO arguments of my own.
Two Sides to Every Story
When I was growing up, my folks subscribed to two local newspapers, which I found to be a lot of fun. They contained news about where I lived, but one paper would tell a story one way, and the other paper would cover the same story in ways that sometimes didn’t resemble the first story at all.
Sometimes the people involved differed, or the politics or the history did. Often the facts remained the same, but sometimes they were a little different. Reading those local stories from two different perspectives allowed me to appreciate the different viewpoints that people would bring to facts. It is something I still try to do today – looking for the same story from two different sources.
Sometimes that involves more than news and politics, and it is a lesson that has stuck with me to this day. For example, I like to read User Experience articles from well known and respected researchers Jared Spool and articles from Jacob Nielsen which sometimes disagree with each other, but are well supported, reasoned and worth reading. Both authors have written about whether visitors to web pages will scroll down pages. Nielsen said they wouldn’t, and Spool said they would in certain circumstances. Nielsen updated his research years later to say that web page visitors have learned how to scroll down pages on the web.
Listen to both sides – you may not agree with one of them, but trying to understand both may benefit you — especially when they both make strong arguments that are supported with evidence.
This is something I likely learned about from my parents. They didn’t refer to it as Occam’s Razor, but they would call me on stories and excuses I used that were unlikely.
When there are two or more explanations for something that has happened, the one that requires the least speculation is usually correct.
As a moderator and administrator at Cre8asiteforums for around 8 years, I was asked a lot of questions about SEO. One that was often repeated was whether a recent update from Google was what caused someone to lose a lot of traffic to their websites. I would answer by asking them if they had made any changes to their websites, or if their competitors had made efforts to improve their websites, or if their ideal audience had changed around the way that they were searching. These questions were all very valid and worth asking because they were things that could cause drops in rankings and traffic.
A Site Audit (something that they had control over) could often uncover things to change that could bring traffic back to their sites. Starting to solve their ranking/traffic problems by looking at things that they had some control over and were reasonable to look at first made more sense than speculating that Google had made some change that negatively impacted their site
Arguments Are Well Reasoned
There are a lot of blog posts and tutorials and guides published to the Web every day. Before I rely upon information from those, I start by looking are how well reasoned those are. Skepticism in such circumstances can be your friend. I provide some tools and questions that I learned about in college and law school, after this section, that I often keep in mind when reading things that other people have written.
The first of those is whether the story, or analysis an article might tell us even believable, and well supported. Is it something that you would use on a client’s website without testing on your own content (often a good step to take.)
When someone makes a statement, they should ideally support it with some analysis. They may say something as simple as “Google has a patent about this.” If they are writing to describe what that patent is, and how it works, that isn’t a problem. If they make a statement, such as, “Google uses something like Yahoo’s version of Trust Rank”, and they then link to a Google Patent — which is about how Google might increase the rank of some results based upon trust based on annotations from custom search engines — and the only support for their statement that they provide is to simply link to that patent, that isn’t a sufficient analysis. Especially if you click through the link, and read the patent and see that the process described in it is nothing like Yahoo’s version of TrustRank, which doesn’t rank pages, but is used to instead identify web spam.
Take Note: You should support arguments with evidence that supports them.
When someone provides a tool that they call “LSI Keywords” but they don’t tell you anything about how that tool works or somewhere else on their site describes a process that has nothing to do with the pre-web technology Latent Semantic Indexing, you should be questioning why they gave their tool a name that might cause people to believe that it uses a technology that it doesn’t. Why are they purposefully misleading people with a name that implies the use of a technology that isn’t used?
When someone points out that Google has an anti-conservative bias or a brand bias, look for an actual analysis of those conclusions. If they are just accusations, without any support behind them, question the truth of those statements – they may be using what is known as a logical fallacy.
Beware of Logical Fallacies in Arguments
I was first introduced to logical fallacies in English class in college. Our professor wanted us to be able to tell when someone was making a purposefully misleading argument, which was a good lesson to learn. You can see examples of many of these in televised political debates or when politicians tweet on social media. Unfortunately, you can sometimes see some of these arguments show up in SEO industry articles, and social networking updates too.
If you see someone making one of these arguments which include one of the following fallacies, question the conclusions they arrive at.
Slippery Slope – An argument starting by warning against a relatively small first step, because it may lead to a series of related events ending with something considerably more significant.
Hasty Generalization – A conclusion is drawn based on insignificant or biased evidence which is not logically justified.
Post hoc – (Latin “after this, therefore because of this”) an inability to imply cause and effect because of an observed relationship between two variables based on a correlation or association between them.
Genetic Fallacy – Drawing a conclusion based upon someone’s or something’s history, origin, or source rather than their current meaning or context.
Begging the Question — An argument that presumes the truth of the conclusion drawn.
Circular Argument – An argument where the conclusion is assumed in one of the premises.
False Dilemma – Two choices are presented, when there may be more than two answers, and one is identified as false, leading to a conclusion that the other is true.
Ad Hominem – An argument involving misdirection, where the argument isn’t based on the topic at hand, but rather attacks another person’s character or motive who may be arguing against the person making that argument or associated with the topic.
Bandwagon Appeal – An argument that the opinion of the majority is always valid and that you should believe it.
Red Herring – an irrelevant topic is introduced to divert or misdirect people’s attention from the topic at hand. I have been asked by people if a patent has been filed by a search engine to throw off competitors and get them to work on a technology that the original filer has no intent to ever work upon, as a red herring. For most of the patents I have been asked that about, it hasn’t seemed that they were intended to throw off their competitors. Some rumors I have heard about somethings that a search engine might be working upon could possibly be red herrings.
Straw Man – An argument that gives the impression that another argument is being refuted that was not actually made.
Moral Equivalence – An attempt to draw a comparison to two things, often different and even unrelated, to show that one is just as bad as the other or just as good.
Evidence and Arguments
I also learned about some evidentiary tools in Law School. Law School was very different from college, in how you prepared for class, and how classes were run, but we spent a lot of time looking at evidence and how to argue.
Failure to Lay a Foundation – When a witness is introduced in a Courtroom to testify on a subject that they are an expert in, they will be questioned about their expertise in making such testimony, and this questioning is referred to as laying a foundation. It establishes the qualifications of a witness or the authenticity of evidence. If an argument is made calling upon someone else’s expertise or some other evidence, a foundation should be laid to establish those qualifications or authenticity.
Example: In my evidence class in law school, we had a special guest speaker in one class. He was introduced as someone who graduated towards the bottom of his law school class, and he passed around a copy of his grades to show that off to us. That wasn’t the foundation for his expertise, but rather his constant preparation for court was.
He pulled a copy of the Federal Rules of Evidence from his jacket pocket and told us that he had a few copies of the rules that he carried around with him all the time, which he studied all the time and had been for a few years while practicing as a very successful trial lawyer. He showed off his knowledge of those rules, answered questions, and provided some strategies which he had learned about from actual courtroom experience (including how to answer a judge and not sound like an idiot.). He had also worked as a prosecutor in a neighboring town, and his knowledge of evidence was very helpful in criminal cases he prosecuted. He knew an incredible amount about evidence, and he was able to convince us of that. That was his foundation to show his expertise.
Things to Consider
When someone is trying to convince you of something, how do they support their expertise? Do they show you something about their education or their experience? Do they share case studies or testimonials? Is their educational experience relevant to what they are talking about? Is their employment history? Are they able to answer questions about the field that they are claiming expertise in? Do they make reasoned arguments, or do they engage in logical fallacies to make their points?
Or do they just tell you that they are an expert, or that someone else calls them an expert? (not much of a foundation there at all.)
We were told in evidence class that a 13-year-old who had been trading baseball cards since they were five years old could reasonably be treated as an expert witness about baseball cards, even as a young teenager, without a college degree or even a job, if they could be shown to have an expertise in the area.
Hearsay – One of the rules of evidence involved who is testifying about what. When someone else’s words or actions are pointed out by someone to prove the truth of some matter asserted, and the person being spoken for is available to make their own statement, that evidence should be questioned.
For example, someone makes the claim that Google has a bias towards brands, and “even former Google CEO Eric Schmidt has said that Google trusts brands,” using Eric Schmidt’s statement about favoring brands is hearsay. Or when we are told that “Forbes Magazine has called John Doe the Best SEO in the World,” that is also hearsay.
Find Trusted Sources of Information – I often blog about patents I find on the USPTO and the WIPO websites, because patents are legally filed documents, intended to protect the intellectual property of companies filing patents, rather than being created as marketing information for the public.
Those are trusted sources, providing me with some great information that is worth exploring. I sometimes write about white papers that I find through Google Scholar and the Google Research Publications pages because those papers are often peer-reviewed documents that are often written for presentations at academic conferences, and the sources are trustworthy.
I will research the authors of those papers on the Web, and the inventors listed on those patents to see what their profiles are like at places such as LinkedIn and if they have written other patents or papers. I like to know what else they have worked upon, and if they have published a whitepaper to accompany a patent that they have written; that is often a good thing to include in a blog post about that patent.
Questions You Should Ask
What is the background of the authors of posts and papers you read? What else have they written? What previous work experience and educational experience do they have? Is it a relevant employment experience? Would you consider them an expert in what they write about?
There are some blogs in the SEO community that have been publishing for years, have editors, and follow journalistic standards that can help make you feel comfortable with what they publish. The authors of those blogs are sometimes people who have written several posts in the past, and you can get a sense of how informative and credible they are from previous posts.
Do they have a way to provide feedback on something that they have written beyond comments? Do they have a presence online elsewhere were you can interact with them? Do they participate in conferences and meetups? Do they work for a company that you have heard of?
Some Helpful Resources Online
Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility – A project at Stanford University that took 3 years and over 4,500 participants to identify and test scientifically-backed indications of credibility on Websites. I have pointed these guidelines out to clients in the past because they are helpful to them, and to people who visit their websites.
Poynter – This is a source for journalists to learn about reporting and fact-checking for journalists, and anyone interested in informing the public. They cover issues involving ethics and trust and journalism, and if you are interested in learning about those things, they are a good place to keep an eye on.
Factcheck.org – Addresses public policy issues at local, state, and federal levels. It is good seeing fact-checking in action to get a sense of how it might be helpful to the information that you may receive every day.
Argument – A definition of what an argument is, and how to write one, from the Writing Center at the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina.
If someone is going to blog about how to do SEO in a certain way, it can help if they can make an argument to support what they are saying, and present evidence, and address possible counterarguments. If you are writing such a blog post, it may be helpful for you to use such methods.
How to Write an Argumentative Essay Step by Step – A more detailed description of what an argument should contain, and how it can address issues and be strongly written and believable.
How to Write an Essay: Evidence and Citation – From Ariel Bissett, from an academic perspective, a video describing the importance of including supporting evidence and documentation when you write an essay. If what you are reading doesn’t include supporting evidence, with citations for that evidence, it may not be that strong of an argument.
The Foundation of an Argument – From a site about Blogs, Critical Thinking, and Citizenship which describes important elements of arguments and discusses good and bad arguments in blogs.
Using Evidence Effectively – A good argument will include evidence, and this article provides a detailed look at the evidence that you could include if you were writing something. Providing evidence to support an argument in the manner described in this article could lead to a strong argument. Are the articles you are reading using evidence like this?
There are some topics that there are a lot of SEO Myths about. I am going to write about some of the things that we know to be true about some of these things, and some flaws in arguments about those SEO Myths rather than all the misinformation about them, because that could take up quite a lot of space.
The sections above about fallacies in arguments and about building strong arguments by supporting evidence should be helpful guidelines when it comes to identifying articles that are misleading and maybe more “SEO myth” than helpful SEO information.
Google is one of the most used search engines in the world and one which has been used by many businesses in North America and Europe to bring traffic from targeted audiences to their websites. It is one of the focuses of many SEO campaigns and many of the SEO myths that surround the SEO industry. For that reason, it is often in the best interests of SEOs to learn as much about Google as they can from a business analyst perspective. Fortunately, Google provides a lot of information about themselves. This section will point out some sources that are recommended reading.
The first I will recommend is the Book, In The Plex, by Steven Levy, which provides a nice introduction to what the early days at Google were like. I enjoyed it because I recognized several the names from patents and papers that I had written about, and this book humanized Google for me. I believe that thinking of Google as a business filled with people trying to build something useful to people is a good way to think about the company.
Google is now a publicly-traded company, and though they are a little dry, Google has been publishing financial statements on a yearly basis to their shareholders, which often discuss the goals and directions that the company has been taking. The most recent statements are in the name of the holding company that Google acts under, Alphabet. The older statements are linked to from this page and the next page. In 2004, the founders of Google wrote what they called an “Operators Manual for Google’s Shareholders.” Which is worth reading if you want to gain some insights into what Google wanted to evolve into.
Google has been working to provide information to users of the search engine, and employ webmaster evangelists who share information on sources such as Twitter, and are worth following there, such as John Mueller, Gary Illyes, and Danny Sullivan. They are active and answer questions about Google when asked, and Danny Sullivan has been introducing new initiatives with his tweets. There are other some other twitter accounts from Google as well that are worth following as well, to keep on eye on what they have to say.
Google also shares information about what they are doing, and new updates on several blogs that they run, and those are worth keeping an eye upon. You should keep track of these and the news that they contain, and the announcements that they make about new features that may appear at Google, often giving readers time to plan for those features, and inform clients of upcoming changes.
Google also has support forums where Google employees and volunteer contributors answer questions that site owners may have about issues or problems that they are experiencing on the web. You can find those (and ask questions on them) here.
The Google Webmasters community also has video Office Hours hangouts which you can submit questions to, and participate in. Those are hosted out of YouTube here.
Google may be the focus of a lot of effort in SEO campaigns, but they do want to communicate with website owners and SEOs. They have provided several ways to communicate with them and do answer questions on social media and video and support forums, and share information using blog posts, support pages, and developer pages. These are worth looking at too:
Google has its own internal politics and policies and business motivations, but using the resources they provide to understand them better can be helpful, and they do answer questions several ways.
Latent Semantic Indexing (LSI)
In the late 1980s, before there was a world wide web, Researchers from Bell Labs published a paper and filed a patent for an indexing approach that worked ideally with a small static dataset. The patent provided an example of data from eight books and told us that every time new information would be added to a data corpus indexed using LSI that indexing would have to take place again.
The Web contains a much larger corpus of information that changes frequently with new information added, and removed, and updated on a frequent basis. This is a technology that was built before the Web and didn’t anticipate indexing something like the Web. It sometimes gets referred to as an indexing approach in some patents from Google, but not necessarily as one that they might be using for the data that they index. The patent is Computer information retrieval using latent semantic structure.
Google has been using natural language preprocessing technologies such as BERT (BERT: Pre-training of Deep Bidirectional Transformers for Language Understanding), which they opensource, and others which prepare documents for other approaches that we may see Google use, such as question-answering, and understanding sentiment in documents. They have developed a word embedding approach that is behind a recent Google algorithm referred to as RankBrain (more about that below).
These newer approaches are technologies that were developed with an understanding of the size and nature of the corpus of data in the index of the Web.
What You Should Know About the Phrase “LSI Keywords”
There is a newer tool that uses the name “LSI keywords” which doesn’t seem to use LSI and doesn’t produce keywords, but rather related words that would be placed on the same page as the keyword you have already chosen for that page. The page for the LSI Keywords tool doesn’t say that it uses LSI, like what was invented and patented in the late 1980s, which was developed as an indexing approach rather than a keyword tool.
I have heard some people suggest that what they mean by “LSI Keywords” is a matter of just adding synonyms or semantically related words to a page. It does not mean that at all. LSI Is a process which uses the underlying (or latent) structure of a page to understand the semantics of how words might be related to each other. I have also heard some people state that taking query suggestions that appear at the bottom of a set of SERPs for a query is also using “LSI Keywords” and again, that isn’t necessarily correct.
Google has shown us that they will rewrite queries that people search for to show pages that they believe meet the situational or informational needs of a searcher with content that means substantially the same thing, and that is the idea behind Google’s Hummingbird. I wrote about a patent that came out two weeks before Google made their announcement about the Hummingbird update, and it uses some of the same examples they did in their announcement, and it explains how they may rewrite queries: (Synonym identification based on co-occurring terms). Nothing in that patent describes how to optimize a web page for the Hummingbird update.
Like LSI, TF-IDF is an old indexing method that was developed before the World Wide Web was around. It looks at the frequency of a term in a document, and how often that those terms appear in a corpus of documents that has been indexed. That will tell us if a page is about a specific term, and how common or popular that term might be in a corpus of documents. It also doesn’t include very common words that often have little meaning, referred to as stop words, such as “and,” “or,” “the,” “to.”
This TF-IDF indexing approach was likely replaced in early search engines by a more advanced algorithm referred to as BM25. I have seen TF-IDF referred to as one part of a process to identify query refinements that are shown at the bottom of search results at Google. I have never seen it explicitly referred to as part of how pages on the Web are indexed.
There are tools created for use for people building pages for Websites. Those tools do things such as taking the query terms that a page may be indexed for and running a TF-IDF process on them on pages which rank highly for those terms so that you can create pages that compare well against those high-ranking pages.
I have seen people make arguments for the effectiveness of such tools, who also proclaim that those tools make it more likely that a user of them is using semantically related terms because of their use of the tool. An example of this that someone provided was an effort to cause a page to rank well for the phrase, “What does SEO Stand for?” The flaw behind that statement in that context is that the terms “Stand” and “SEO” have very little meaning for each other. Including the terms “Stand” and “SEO” more frequently on the same page, could help that page rank more highly for “What does SEO Stand for,” but wouldn’t necessarily help it rank for other things.
The concept of TrustRank first appeared in a joint paper between researchers at Yahoo and Stanford University named Combating Web Spam with TrustRank. The purpose behind the process described in the paper was to identify spammy pages on the Web. The Abstract from the paper reads as follows:
“Web spam pages use various techniques to achieve higher-than-deserved rankings in a search engine’s results. While human experts can identify spam, it is too expensive to manually evaluate many pages. Instead, we propose techniques to semi-automatically separate reputable, good pages from spam. We first select a small set of seed pages to be evaluated by an expert. Once we manually identify the reputable seed pages, we use the link structure of the web to discover other pages that are likely to be good.
In this paper, we discuss possible ways to implement the seed selection and the discovery of good pages. We present results of experiments run on the World Wide Web indexed by AltaVista and evaluate the performance of our techniques. Our results show that we can effectively filter out spam from a significant fraction of the web, based on a good seed set of less than 200 sites.”
Since this TrustRank paper was first published on the Stanford Website, many people associated it with Google, since Google was started by researchers and students at Stanford. It was not.
Google has mentioned “Trust” as something that they may look at to rank webpages, but nothing quite like Yahoo’s Trustrank is used by Google.
TrustRank does not work to rank pages on the Web, even though some writers state that it is a ranking approach used to rank content in search results. Reading the abstract for the paper, or the whole paper is enough to show that there is no support for such arguments in the source material for TrustRank.
Google has developed an approach based upon people building Google Custom Search engines, and selecting and annotating specific websites in context files for those custom searches as sources of the search engines, to consider such pages and sites as being trusted as experts in the topics that those search engines cover. This is a very different approach than Yahoo’s TrustRank. I have referred to it as Google’s TrustRank on my site and made very sure to explain how it is very different from what Yahoo came up with and patented (thus keeping Google from copying their method of filtering spam from search results.)
Google also explains in their Quality Rater’s Guides that they want their raters to evaluate web sites based on something they refer to as “E-A-T.” which is short for Expertise, Authoritativeness’, and Trustworthiness. People working in SEO have been recommending for many years that site-owners benefit from building websites that visitors to those sites trust (see the Stanford Credibility Guidelines referred to earlier in this article.) The Quality Raters’ Guidelines, as Google’s Head of Search, Ben Gomes has told us:
“You can view the rater guidelines as where we want the search algorithm to go,” Ben Gomes, Google’s vice president of search, assistant and news, told CNBC:
“They don’t tell you how the algorithm is ranking results, but they fundamentally show what the algorithm should do. “
So the trustworthiness mentioned in the Quality Rater’s Guidelines has nothing to do with TrustRank or the rating of webpages, but Google would like to see pages that people might find trustworthy to be in their search results.
If someone tells you that Google uses TrustRank to rank webpages, like the Trustrank that Yahoo developed, they are misleading you in a few ways:
- TrustRank does not rank web pages.
- The trust-based approach that Google has patented is nothing like Yahoo’s TrustRank.
- Google has referred to trustworthiness in their Quality Rater’s Guidelines, but again, that has nothing to do with TrustRank, so it is irrelevant to that argument.
Be careful about what you read about TrustRank. Some articles about TrustRank include verifiable facts about TrustRank, mixed with hasty generalizations (Google has a patent on Trust…) and completely unsupportive evidence (Google’s Raters Quality Guidelines mentions trustworthiness) to back an argument that Google uses something like Yahoo’s Trustrank to rank webpages (which TrustRank doesn’t even do). Those flaws in such arguments make them SEO myths.
Google has a long history of developing approaches to rewriting queries (they used to refer to those as “Expanding queries,’ in the past), going back to at least 2003 – the oldest patent about using query synonyms that I have seen filed from Google: Search queries improved based on query semantic information. They do this by finding terms that might be substitutes or synonyms for the original query terms that someone chooses to perform a search with.
Google’s Hummingbird update in 2013 introduced a query rewriting approach that told us Google might rewrite a query such as “what is a good place to find an Italian meal?” with something that would rewrite that to, “what is a good restaurant to find an Italian meal?”
Google introduced to a new update they called RankBrain, through an interview with Jack Clark of Bloomberg News, who interviewed a member of the Google Brain team which had developed the RankBrain Update.
We were told during the interview that it was a query rewriting approach, based upon a Word Vector technology developed by the Google Brain team. I found a patent from members of the Google Brain team that told us more about the Word Vector approach, which I wrote about in the post, Citations behind the Google Brain Word Vectors Approach.
Google has published at least one patent about a query rewriting approach that has a member of the Google Brain team listed as an inventor which uses a large amount of data from search history and web pages called, Using concepts as contexts for query term substitutions. We can’t be certain that patent is the one behind Rank Brain with certainty, but it is similar enough to consider that as a possibility. It would rewrite a query such as [New York Times Puzzle] as [New York Times puzzle crossword] since people often want to see the crossword puzzle when they search for [New York Times Puzzle]. We have been told that RankBrain aims at reducing ambiguity in queries.
Can You Optimize for RankBrain?
We have also been told by people from Google that web pages cannot be optimized for RankBrain. Since RankBrain works on rewriting queries, that would make sense, but there are people who have written articles describing approaches that they state would help your page rank for Rankbrain. These have mentioned machine learning as part of the process behind what they are suggesting, but don’t provide much in the way of details beyond that point.
Some of the articles about optimizing pages for RankBrain do include recommendations for improving the quality of content on webpages, and the amount of time that people might spend on those pages, and increasing the likelihood that someone might select one of those pages when they see it listed in search results. Those things are helpful, but they aren’t optimizing a page for RankBrain, and are misleading from that perspective, making them SEO Myths as well.
There are many websites that offer information on improving the copy on your website, and user experience on your site, and will tell you that such improvements will potentially help keep people on your pages longer or make them a more pleasant experience that may result in people recommending people to visit your pages. Having more visits from search results because your title or snippet that shows is engaging and persuasive means better results from having high ranking pages. But these things aren’t optimizing your pages for a query rewriting approach such as RankBrain, and if someone is telling you that they are, you may want to review the support they provide for the arguments they make to support such assertions.
Conclusion – Myths, Experts & Gurus
There is a lot of information and misinformation on the Web about many things. Including building websites and optimizing sites for search. Be careful about such SEO Myths.
There are people who refer to themselves as experts or gurus or who are quick to point out that someone else is referring to them as an expert or guru. Be careful about accepting such self-given accolades, or easily given platitudes.
When you read something about how to do SEO and optimize a web page, or about how something might be a ranking factor that a search engine is paying attention to, read the arguments that are being used to support those assertions.
Do they have compelling supporting evidence to back up all aspects of the arguments being made? If they are offering opinions unsupported by actual evidence, are they admitting that? Have they provided a foundation showing their experience or expertise to make such opinions? Do they have a history of writing and presenting and successes with case histories and awards?
If you are reading about SEO to learn about things that you may want to test for yourself, and what you read offers you things to test and ask questions about, then it has value to you.
If you write about SEO, are you making strong arguments, backed with compelling supporting evidence, or are you offering hasty generalizations or unsupported speculation?
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