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10 Strategic SEO Insights & Tactical Advice For 2023 And Beyond

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10 Strategic SEO Insights & Tactical Advice For 2023 And Beyond

I’ve written about search engine optimization (SEO) for over 20 years.

So, I wasn’t shocked when the editors asked me to refresh an article I wrote on October 21, 2020, titled “3 Strategic SEO Insights & Tactical Advice for 2021.”

But looking back at what I’d written two-and-a-half years ago, I realized that my actionable insights now need to be thoroughly updated in this era of constant change.

The advent of OpenAI’s ChatGPT on Nov. 30, 2022, has triggered a “code red” at Google, which rushed out a new experimental conversational AI service called Bard in response to Microsoft’s AI-enhanced Bing.

UBS estimates that ChatGPT reached 100 million monthly active users in January, 2 months after its launch. According to the Swiss bank’s analysts, it would be the fastest-growing online application in history.

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So, what strategic SEO insights and tactical advice could I share with you today that will still be relevant a year from now?

What critical data or search trends would encourage you to display a motivational poster on your wall that advises everyone to “Keep Calm and Carry On”?

By the way, that last piece of advice is not half bad.

Google was launched on Sept. 4, 1998, and didn’t pass AltaVista to become the leading search engine until the second half of 2002 – about 4 years later.

And even the Panda Update, which shocked the SEO industry and effectively ended the “content farm” business model, only impacted 12% of queries, according to the History of Google Algorithm Updates.

The Penguin Update, which downranked websites that engaged in aggressive webspam, only impacted 3.1% of English queries.

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And it’s worth recalling that the first iteration of the Panda Update started on Feb. 23, 2011, but was followed by 27 more adjustments until the final update on July 17, 2015. And the Penguin Update, which began on April 24, 2012, didn’t end until Sept. 23, 2016.

It may take more than four years to know the full impact of Google’s Bard AI or the new AI-powered Bing search engine.

So, SEO professionals would be well advised to “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

That means I can confidently share 10 strategic insights, bits of critical data, pieces of tactical advice, or search trends that will impact SEO in 2023 and beyond without losing too much sleep over the fact that 30% of them may not be relevant a year from now.

(After telling you why “the fundamental things apply as time goes by,” I’ll circle back to explain why a 70% success rate is the right benchmark.)

SEO remains an essential element of any digital marketing strategy.

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And even though the search industry is constantly changing, Google is still the leading search engine.

According to Similarweb, Google.com got 3.2 billion unique visitors in January 2023, making it the most visited website globally. The search giant also got 88.3 billion visits in January 2023.

Screenshot from Similarweb, February 2023

So, don’t bet the farm on Google going away anytime soon.

And if you need to keep other people within your company, or at one of your clients, from rushing off to panic stations, then show them the chart below from Google Trends, which displays worldwide web search interest over the past 90 days for the search terms Google, ChatGPT, and Bing.

You can calmly explain that the dips in interest for Google occur on weekends.

10 Strategic SEO Insights & Tactical Advice For 2023 And BeyondScreenshot from Google Trends, February 2023

If Google remains the dominant search engine for the foreseeable future, then SEO pros don’t need to be retrained or replaced.

Why? Because they’re already familiar with Google Search Essentials (formerly Webmaster Guidelines).

And they’ve successfully navigated through the 22 Google Search ranking updates.

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This is why I’m confident that more than 70% of SEO pros will continue successfully navigating the uncharted areas of keyword maps that bear the phrase: “Here be dragons.”

1. Focus On User Intent

One of the most important aspects of SEO is understanding user intent.

Google’s algorithms have become more sophisticated, and they’re now better able to understand the intent behind a query.

So, SEO pros should focus on creating content that satisfies user intent rather than just targeting specific keywords. This means creating content that is not only relevant to the user’s search query, but also provides helpful information or a satisfying experience.

Now, I realize this strategic insight isn’t breaking news.

But you still might benefit from re-reading my article, The Future of SEO Lies in the ‘Messy Middle’ of the Purchase Journey.

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According to research by Google’s Market Insights team in the U.K., the “messy middle” is where people decide what to buy.

Among other things, this research found:

“People look for information about a category’s products and brands, and then weigh all the options. This equates to two different mental modes in the messy middle: exploration, an expansive activity, and evaluation, a reductive activity. Whatever a person is doing, across a huge array of online sources, such as search engines, social media, aggregators, and review websites, can be classified into one of these two mental modes.”

Let me translate this “big idea” into counter-intuitive tactical advice: SEO pros must create and optimize at least two pieces of content to address the user’s different intents in the “messy middle” of the purchase journey.

And, if your company or client is targeting half a dozen different segments, then you need to create and optimize at least a dozen pieces of content.

Creating and optimizing one page for each target segment is so 2019.

2. Create High-Quality Content

Content is still king, but if SEO managers want to become prime ministers (or presidents) someday, then they need to create more original, helpful content written by people, for people.

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How can you ensure you’re creating high-quality content? By following Google’s long-standing advice and guidance for core updates to create content for people, not for search engines.

So, let me suggest you re-read my article, What Is A Content Marketing Matrix & Do We Need One?

It shows you how to use a content marketing planning tool to generate ideas for enchanting content that changes hearts, minds, and actions. That’s how you become the VP of SEO.

3. Prioritize E-E-A-T

On Dec. 15, 2022, Google updated its search rater guidelines – adding an extra E for Experience to the concept of E-A-T: Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness.

Although these guidelines don’t directly influence ranking, they are useful for anyone who works in SEO because they give us an idea of where Google wants its algorithms to go. 

To improve your content’s E-E-A-T, someone with first-hand life experience on the topic should produce it.

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If you can’t convince someone with experience to produce this content in-house, you need to find a freelance writer – or content creator – who has used your product or service, visited a place, or influenced brand purchases.

Unfortunately, many SEO pros still don’t think this is their job – even though the first mention of E-A-T occurred in 2014 when Google added the concept to its Search Quality Guidelines.

Even Google said:

“These are not fundamentally new ideas. And we’re by no means abandoning the fundamental principle that Search seeks to surface reliable information, especially on topics where information quality is critically important.”

If you’d like some practical advice, read How To Find Talented Writers To Fuel Top Quality Content Creation, which includes my interviews with a couple of thought leaders in this field.

4. Optimize YouTube Content

According to the Video & Visual Storytelling Survey by Content Marketing Institute (CMI) published on Oct. 27, 2022, 73% of marketers said videos have become more important to their business in the last year; 27% said they are about the same in importance; and, no one said videos have decreased in importance.

Why should SEO pros lose sleep over this critical data?

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Because the content marketing department, not the SEO department, is jumping on this trend.

And that means many of the videos cranked out in 2023 and beyond won’t be optimized for search – let alone integrated into an overall SEO strategy.

So, here’s some tactical advice: first, read Sam Hollingsworth’s guide, YouTube SEO: How To Optimize Videos & Rank Higher.

Next, invite the content marketing department to a brown bag lunch to discuss ways to create great content together.

5. Earn High-Quality Links

Links continue to be one of Google’s most important ranking factors. And at least 70% of SEO pros have already read articles like:

Unfortunately, the lion’s share of chief communications officers (CCOs) and public relations officers (PROs) haven’t read articles like these.

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So, only a handful of organizations use one of the most effective techniques to earn links to help your website rank higher on search engines.

Ironically, the biggest barrier is not journalists. Pogo once observed,We have met the enemy and (they are) us.”

This means you might need to invite your CCO or PRO to a swanky restaurant to discuss link building instead of hosting another brown bag lunch.

But this is a better use of your time and money than trying to figure out a clever way around Google’s December 2022 link spam update, which can now detect both sites buying links and those used to pass outgoing links.

6. Optimize For Local Search

Brick-and-mortar businesses serving specific towns, cities, regions, and states know local search is important.

When done correctly, local SEO enables people to find information about their business, putting them one step closer to making the cash register ring.

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And SEO pros specializing in local search know a consistent Name, Address, and Phone number (NAP), local links, local reviews, and star ratings, as well as optimized Google Business Profiles, are important parts of Google’s local search and Local Pack algorithms.

But, to learn the latest trends and tips to help your local business grow using local search optimization, local marketing, and local advertising, read Search Engine Journal’s A Guide to Local SEO, which tackles what you need to know about optimizing for local search.

7. Keep An Eye On Multisearch

In April 2022, Google introduced an entirely new way to search using text and images simultaneously.

With multisearch in Lens, users can go beyond the search box and ask questions about an object or refine their search by color, brand, or visual attribute.

To learn more about this, read Matt G. Southern’s article, Google Multisearch: A New Way To Search With Text & Images.

Then, read Roger Montti’s article, How Does Google Multisearch Affect SEO?

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So, keep an eye on multisearch in 2023 and beyond.

8. Keep Your Ear To The Ground For Voice Search

According to Roger Montti’s article, Google: Voice Search Is Not The Future, Google’s Martin Splitt shared his opinion that voice search is not the future and that there will be no need to optimize for it.

Even though I’ve written about Amazon’s Big Game Commercial: Mind Reader twice in the past year, I haven’t paid much attention to voice search until I was prompted to read a couple of recent articles on this topic, including:

And while writing this article, I re-read Kristopher Jones’ How Can Voice Search Benefit Your SEO? He wrote:

  • 40.2% of Americans use voice search.
  • 71% of people prefer using voice search to physically typing out a search online.
  • 27% of the online population worldwide uses voice search on mobile.
  • 58% of people have used voice search to find information about local businesses.

In other words, four out of five people with a veritable ton of E-E-A-T think that voice search represents a phenomenal SEO opportunity.

So, keep your ear to the ground for new voice search developments in 2023 and beyond.

9. Migrate To Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

I’ll bet Google sent you an email with the subject line: “We’ll soon configure Google Analytics 4 for you.”

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It said:

“For any customer who does not set up a GA4 property with basic settings, starting in March, we will configure one with a few basic settings consistent with the existing Universal Analytics property; this includes certain conversion events, Google Ads links, and existing website tags.”

This means the chaos expected on July 1, 2023, when standard Universal Analytics properties will stop working, has arrived ahead of schedule.

And, as Sun Tzu once observed, “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

In my article, Google Analytics 4 Should Trigger Reorganizations & Agency Reviews, I said the advent of GA4 would cause the marketing department to start “freaking out” if the web analytics team – which still sits in the IT department in far too many organizations – doesn’t respond to urgent requests for “help” within a week, a day, or even an hour.

So, this is the perfect time for you to make the business case for moving the analytics team out of the IT department and into the SEO department.

If there’s any pushback, remind decision-makers that 53.3% of all website traffic comes from organic search, according to BrightEdge Research.

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10. Build A War Room

If you’re a chief marketing officer (CMO) or vice president of Marketing and you move the analytics team into the SEO department, your team may ask to build a dashboard. Build a war room instead.

Why? Because “most dashboards tend to stink when it comes to helping the Executive make any decisions,” according to Avinash Kaushik, the Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google.

This is because the interpretation of the “easy-to-understand visuals” in most dashboards is left to the executive.

But most war rooms feature not only maps of the global market and charts of the company’s key performance indicators (KPIs), but also an analytics and insights manager with the experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness to interpret the trends and add context.

This “Analysis Ninja” can explain to executives why some key trends are up or down (in plain English).

And over time, executives will begin to ask their analytics and insights manager to recommend which actions or steps should be taken to move the dial.

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And an Analysis Ninja can answer the question, “As a result of this trend (up or down) what was the impact on the company and its customers?”

Why Should SEO Pros Adopt The 70% Solution?

Now that I’ve shared 10 strategic SEO insights and some counter-intuitive tactical advice for 2023 and beyond, I’ll circle back to explain why a 70% success rate is the right benchmark.

Ty Kiisel’s article, 70% Solution: The Marine Corps Framework for Making Battlefield Decisions, should be required reading for every SEO manager who wants to become the VP of SEO someday.

The Marines teach their young officers what they call the 70% solution.

And it could be a good strategy to adopt for making decisions in situations where you don’t have all the information or resources you’d like.

In a perfect world, you’d have all the critical data you need to make informed decisions. But we don’t live in a perfect world.

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Nevertheless, if you have 70% of the information you’d like to have, then you can still make good decisions – provided you accept the notion that you may need to adjust and compensate for the critical data you lack as you move forward.

And like battlefield commanders, most SEO managers never have all the resources they need to meet their objectives.

But it can sometimes be enough if you have good people and 70% of what you need. And finding creative solutions to challenges is a hallmark of successful SEO professionals.

Finally, are you 70% confident that your plan will succeed?

In other words, do you feel good about your plan’s success with the information and resources you have?

The Marines believe a well-conceived plan, along with taking the initiative, is more likely to succeed than doing nothing.

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This is why I can confidently share 10 strategic insights, bits of critical data, pieces of tactical advice, or search trends that will impact SEO in 2023 and beyond without losing too much sleep over the fact that 30% of them may not be relevant a year from now.

The Marines have given us a framework for making decisions in less-than-ideal circumstances.

That is why you should “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

More Resources:


Featured Image: Monster Ztudio/Shutterstock



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How We Built A Strong $10 Million Agency: A Proven Framework

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How We Built A Strong $10 Million Agency: A Proven Framework

Building a successful agency can be a daunting task in today’s ever-evolving space. Do you know the secrets to succeeding with yours?

Watch this informative, on-demand webinar, where link building expert Jon Ball reveals the closely guarded secrets that have propelled Page One Power to become a highly successful $10 million agency.

You’ll learn:

  • The foundational principles on which to build your business to succeed.
  • The importance of delegation, market positioning, and staffing.
  • More proven lessons learned from 14 years of experience.

With Jon, we’ll provide you with actionable insights that you can use to take your business to the next level, using foundational principles that have contributed to Page One Power’s success.

If you’re looking to establish yourself as a successful entrepreneur or grow your agency in the constantly evolving world of SEO, this webinar is for you.

Learn the secrets of establishing a thriving agency in an increasingly competitive SEO space.

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View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

Join Us For Our Next Webinar!

How An Enterprise Digital PR Firm Earns 100’s Of Links In 30 Days

Join us as we explore how to scale the very time-consuming and complicated process of earning links from digital PR, with proven case studies showing how you can earn hundreds of links in 30 days.

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SEO Woe or a Load of Baloney?

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SEO Woe or a Load of Baloney?

Toxic backlinks are links that some SEO tools say could hurt your website’s Google rankings. The implication is that you should disavow them to keep your site safe.

But there’s some disagreement and confusion among SEOs as to whether “toxic” links are actually a thing and what, if anything, you should do about them. 

If you believe Google’s John Mueller, they’re not: 

Yet, according to my poll, the majority (just!) of SEOs think they are: 

So… what’s the deal here? Are toxic backlinks actually a thing? Are they hurting your site? And if so, what should you be doing about them? 

Before we can answer those questions, we need to understand the terminology… 

Every website has some spammy backlinks that just don’t make sense. But that doesn’t necessarily make them manipulative or “toxic.”

For example, here are a couple of obviously spammy links to our site: 

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Example of spammy links, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of spammy links, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

We didn’t build or buy either of these, so they’re not “manipulative” by definition. They’re just low-quality links we’ve attracted over time because the internet is rife with spammers. 

If you study Google’s link spam documentation carefully, you’ll see that, in theory, these aren’t the kind of spammy links they have a problem with. They warn only against the ill effects of spam links intended to manipulate rankings. 

Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages. Any links that are intended to manipulate rankings in Google Search results may be considered link spam. This includes any behavior that manipulates links to your site or outgoing links from your site. 

Here are the examples Google gives of these manipulative links: 

What Google says are manipulative linksWhat Google says are manipulative links

As for “toxic backlinks,” this is just a term made up by certain SEO tools to describe backlinks they think could hurt your rankings based on several so-called “markers.”

Key takeaway

  • Spammy links are low-quality links that every site attracts through no fault of their own. 
  • Manipulative links are links built or bought solely to improve Google rankings. 
  • Toxic links are links that certain SEO tools say could hurt your website’s rankings. 

If you asked this question before September 2016, the answer would have likely been “yes.”

So what changed? 

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Penguin 4.0.

With this algorithm update, Google switched from demoting pages to a system that tries to ignore bad links.

Penguin is now more granular. Penguin now devalues spam by adjusting ranking based on spam signals, rather than affecting ranking of the whole site. 

Since then, Google’s stance has been that you can ignore spammy backlinks. 

If you’re seeing individual links that pop up and you say, “oh this looks like a spammer dropped the link” or whatever, I would completely ignore those. […] because these spammy links happen to every website and Google’s system has seen them so many times over the years that we’re very good at just ignoring them. 

John MuellerJohn Mueller

But is this true? Is Google really as good at ignoring low-level spam as we’re made to believe? 

Judging by my colleague Chris’s recent poll on LinkedIn, a good chunk of SEOs (38%) don’t think so, as they’re still disavowing them. 

Most SEOs either disavow or do nothing about spammy backlinksMost SEOs either disavow or do nothing about spammy backlinks

Does that mean they’re right to do so? Not necessarily. It just means they don’t fully trust Google that they won’t do any harm. They’re being careful. 

Personally, the person I trust most to answer this question in 2024 is Dr. Marie Haynes. I don’t think anyone’s done more research into this than her. She’s spent well over a decade working to understand Google’s search algorithms and auditing link profiles on behalf of business owners. 

Now, the interesting part of that statement (and why I actually trust her!) is the obvious conflict of interest. Until fairly recently, she made her living selling link audit and disavow file creation services—and for a pretty hefty sum at that! 

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Pricing from Marie's link audit services page in March 2023Pricing from Marie's link audit services page in March 2023
Pricing from Marie’s link audit services page in March 2023

Clearly, it would be good news for Marie if Google were still terrible at ignoring spammy backlinks because she could sell more link audits! 

Yet, these days, she no longer appears to offer such services. In fact, she’s actually been warning folks against the need to disavow low-quality, spammy backlinks for a few years. 

Here’s a quote from a 2022 blog post of hers:

While there is no harm in disavowing low quality spammy links, it likely does not help improve rankings. We believe that Google’s algorithms are already ignoring these links. […]. When we do see improvements these days after disavowing, it is always in sites where we have disavowed links that were purposely made for SEO and very little else. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

It’s clear that Marie is being cautious with her words here. But overall, her opinion after digging into this for many years seems to be that, yes, Google is now pretty good at ignoring most low-quality spammy links. 

Does that mean they’re perfect? No. But it does mean that worrying about obvious low-quality link spam is probably a waste of time for most people.

If you’re buying or building the types of links that Google class as “link spam” then, yes, they can absolutely hurt your rankings.

But before you panic about that link exchange you did with your best friend’s wife’s brother, Google is likely looking for patterns of manipulation here. In other words, manipulative link profiles rather than manipulative individual links: 

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Danny Richman, founder of Richman SEO Training, agrees: 

Here’s a bit more context from Danny: 

As for Marie Haynes, she echoes a similar sentiment in this post. She states that manual actions aside, she would only recommend a client disavow links if they have “a very large number of links that [they] feel the webspam team would consider to be ‘manipulative.’ ”

In these cases, Google often slaps the worst offenders with an unnatural links manual action. If you get one of those, that’s Google telling you, “Hey… you’re being demoted in search because we think you’ve been trying to game the system with manipulative links.” 

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But this doesn’t have to happen for manipulative links to be a problem. It’s possible for Google to algorithmically demote a site if they detect a large volume of spammy and manipulative links, at least according to John Mueller.

If we see a very strong pattern [of spammy links] there, then it can happen that our algorithms say well, we really have kind of lost trust with this website and at the moment based on the bigger picture on the web, we kind of need to be more on almost a conservative side when it comes to to understanding this website’s content and ranking it in the search results. And then you can see kind of a drop in the visibility there. 

John MuellerJohn Mueller

Either way, the point remains: it’s patterns of manipulation that are likely to hurt rankings. There’s very little chance that you need to worry about the odd potentially dodgy link here and there. 

While it might be tempting to use an SEO tool that finds “toxic backlinks” for you, I’d seriously urge you to reconsider. Trusting these can do more harm than good. Way more. 

Just look at this unfortunate Redditor’s reply to John Mueller: 

Someone on Reddit's traffic tanked 60% after disavowing "toxic" backlinks in one SEO toolSomeone on Reddit's traffic tanked 60% after disavowing "toxic" backlinks in one SEO tool
A 60% drop in traffic! That’s no joke! 

Even if this is an extreme case, worrying about these links likely only wastes time because, according to Marie Haynes, they’re rarely truly toxic: 

I find that the truly toxic links…the ones that could have the potential to harm your site algorithmically (although you’d have to really overdo it, as I’ll describe below), are rarely returned by an SEO tool. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

Sam McRoberts, CEO of VUVU Marketing, seems to agree: 

So… how do you find truly toxic backlinks that are likely to be hurting your site? 

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The truth? You might not even need to look for them. If you haven’t built or bought links that Google considers link spam at any reasonable scale, chances are you’re good. 

If you’re not confident about that, do a manual backlink audit with a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

The Anchors report is a good starting point if you’ve never done this. It shows you the words and phrases people use when linking to you. If they look unnatural or over-optimized (lots of exact matches of keywords you’re trying to rank for), that could be a sign you have paid or other links intended to manipulate rankings. 

Example of keyword-rich anchors, which are often a sign of paid backlinksExample of keyword-rich anchors, which are often a sign of paid backlinks

If things look fishy there, use the Backlinks report to dig deeper and check the context of those links. It’s usually quite easy to spot paid and unnatural ones. 

The Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer showing the context of the backlinkThe Backlinks report in Ahrefs' Site Explorer showing the context of the backlink

Just remember that you’re looking for patterns of unnatural links, not just one or two. 

WARNING

If you’re not 100% sure what you’re looking for when doing a backlink audit, hire someone who knows what they’re doing. You need to be confident that the links are truly “toxic.”

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If you have a manual action for unnatural links or a bunch of what you believe to be truly toxic backlinks, yes. Google’s advice is to disavow them (assuming you can’t get the links removed). 

You should disavow backlinks only if: 

You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site, 

AND

The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site. 

Marie Haynes advises the same: 

There are two situations where we will recommend to our clients a thorough link audit followed by filing a disavow: 

  1. The site has a manual action for unnatural links in GSC. 
  2. The site has a very large number of links that we feel the webspam team would consider to be “manipulative”.
Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

If you just have a bunch of spammy backlinks that most sites naturally attract or the odd paid backlink, probably not. Google probably ignores most, if not all, of these links, so disavowing them is likely a waste of time. 

While there is no harm in disavowing these links other than the time spent analyzing them, there is likely no benefit either. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

But what about negative SEO?

Being the victim of a negative SEO attack is indeed the possible exception here. This is when a competitor sends a load of spammy or toxic backlinks your way to try to get your site penalized. 

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Google remains adamant that it basically never works, but it really comes down to what you believe. 

[I’ve] looked at hundreds of supposed cases of negative SEO, but none have actually been the real reason a website was hurt. […] While it’s easier to blame negative SEO, typically the culprit of a traffic drop is something else you don’t know about–perhaps an algorithm update or an issue with their website. 

Gary IllyesGary Illyes

If you see a traffic drop after an influx of backlinks in Site Explorer, I’d say that it’s at least worth a bit more investigation. 

Site with traffic drop coinciding with an influx of backlinksSite with traffic drop coinciding with an influx of backlinks
This site experienced a traffic drop coinciding with an influx of referring domains. Maybe there’s benefit to disavowing here… and maybe it’s something else!

As Gary said above, something else could be to blame—but you never know. There’s always a chance that Google’s algorithms rule it was you who built or bought those backlinks to try to manipulate rankings and penalize you for it. 

If you just found a bunch of so-called “toxic backlinks” in an SEO tool, probably not. Again, most of these are probably just link spam Google already ignores. 

Here’s yet another quote from Marie Haynes backing this up: 

While there is probably no harm in disavowing [links reported as toxic in SEO tools], you are not likely to see any improvement as a result. Disavowing is meant for sites trying to remove a manual action and for those who have been actively building links for the purpose of improving rankings. 

Marie HaynesMarie Haynes

There’s also the risk that you could end up disavowing links that are actually helping you… 

Patrick showed further evidence that this can absolutely happen when he experimented with disavowing links to the Ahrefs blog. Traffic dipped, then went back up after he removed the disavow. 

The impact of disavowing links to the Ahrefs blogThe impact of disavowing links to the Ahrefs blog

Final thoughts

“Toxic backlinks” is a term made up by certain SEO tools to scare you. That’s not to say bad links can’t hurt your site. They absolutely can. But fortunately for most site owners, it’s rarely a problem worth worrying all that much about. 

Got questions? Disagree? Ping me on Twitter X.

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On-Page SEO Checklist for 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

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On-Page SEO Checklist 2024

On-Page SEO Checklist 2024

Want to make your pages rank high on Google? You won’t be able to do that if you don’t know where or how to start your on-page SEO — and with each Google update, this pillar of SEO gets more and more complicated. To keep you updated with the best and most relevant practices when it comes to this aspect of your website, I have prepared an on-page SEO checklist for 2024. 

On-Page SEO Factors

On-page SEO, in simple terms, is all the ways you can optimize your website take place on your website. Tweaking certain elements of your pages can enable them to climb very quickly up the ranks when done right. These elements include essentially everything you can see on your webpage, like its title tags, headers, and images.

Webmaster’s Note: This is part two of our SEO checklist series. Part one covers our technical SEO checklist, so go back if you haven’t seen that yet. I also do deep dives into other aspects of on-page SEO in other articles, like the best content strategy for SEO, how to hack on-page factors, and ways to dominate niche keywords in your industry.

1. Identify Your Target Keyword

This is where any SEO effort should start. Identify which basic keywords you would like each page to rank for. From there, you can expand into common phrases, questions, and related words people use to find pages like yours through keyword research. 

Key Aspects of Keyword Optimization:

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  • Keyword Research: Identifying the right keywords that your target audience is searching for.
  • Keyword Placement: Sensibly incorporating keywords in titles, headings, the first paragraph, and throughout the content.
  • Searcher Intent: Catering to why someone is performing a search, whether it’s to find information, make a purchase, etc.

Effective keyword optimization allows you to create pages that best meet user intent. This boosts your chances of ranking highly for your chosen keywords. 

Using a Keyword Research Tool for On-Page SEOUsing a Keyword Research Tool for On-Page SEO

I have longer guides on the types of keywords you should look at, and another on how to do keyword research you can follow for this step.

2. High-Quality Content Creation

Quality content is the keystone of on-page SEO. It is, after all, fundamental to the selling point of Google — which is that it is the go-to place to find answers to your questions. It’s why Google pushes Helpful Content Updates every so often.

So, your content must meet Google’s standards of quality in order to make it to the top. To do that, your content must be authoritative, valuable to the reader, and deliver on the promises made by your meta tags and headings.

What Constitutes Quality Content:

  • Originality: Your content must be unique and offer fresh insights.
  • Relevancy: It should align with your target user’s intent and be updated regularly.
  • Engagement: Content must encourage users to spend time on your site and interact with your offerings.

Creating content that exceeds user expectations can dramatically bolster your SEO as it can directly affect user engagement metrics and boost the credibility of your site. 

Webmaster’s Note: Beyond making sure all new content is high-quality, however, is ensuring all of your existing content is also up to par. I’ll be covering that in part four of this series, so keep an eye out for that. 

3. URL Structure

URLs are not only a ranking factor but also enhance the user experience when structured logically. 

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Features of an Effective URL Structure:

  • Concise and Descriptive: A URL should be concise and explain your page content. No stop words.
  • Keyword Inclusion: A relevant keyword can enhance a URL’s performance.
  • Use Hyphens instead of Underscores: Conventional use dictates using hyphens to separate words.

A clear URL helps users and search engines make sense of the page’s content before they even reach it.

Here’s an example of a bad URL slug. 

Example of Bad URL StructureExample of Bad URL Structure

And here’s an example of a good, optimized one.

Example of Good URL StructureExample of Good URL Structure

4. Title Tag and Headings

I find that certain practices for these two elements give the most benefit to a page’s SEO. 

Best Practices for Title Tag and Heading Optimization:

  • Use a Keyword-First Approach: Place keywords first in your title tag, as uninterrupted by stop-words as possible.
  • Keep it Simple: Title tags should be concise to ensure the entire tag is displayed on the SERPs.
  • Same Keyword, Different Phrasing: Use the same keyword in your title tag and heading 1. However, use different phrasing or wording for each. 
  • Insert Related Keywords: Do this for your heading 2, 3, and so on, where it makes sense.
  • Avoid Duplicates: Use different title tags and headings for every unique page.

4. Meta Tags Enhancement

Meta tags, such as the meta description, serve as a brief pitch to users on search engine results pages. Other meta tags, like your image alt text and links, provide important context to both the user and crawlbot.

Tips for Enhanced Meta Tags:

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  • Compelling Copy: Write title tags and meta descriptions that accurately summarize the page content and entice clicks.
  • Keyword Usage: Try to insert target keywords and/or related keywords effectively in your meta descriptions, and within the limit.
  • Uniqueness: Each page should have unique meta tags. 
  • Be Descriptive: Your image alt text should not only include a related keyword but should also adequately describe what is seen on the image. 
  • Add internal and external links: Semantic search means Google can use the links in your pages to gain a better understanding of its content. Always add relevant internal links, and only include external links from trusted websites. 
  • Use Noindex Robots Meta Tag: Add this to prevent any pages with thin content, or pages with little value and no intent from appearing in the SERPs.
  • Use rel=”canonical” Link Tag: Use this for any duplicate pages you have on your website. Doing this can help you control which version of the page gets indexed and ranks for your targeted keywords. 
  • Set your Open Graph Meta Tags: This will let you optimize how your pages look when they’re shared on social media.
  • Set your Viewport Meta Tag: This configures how your pages are scaled and displayed on different devices and platforms, which is important for user experience (more on that later). 

To get the most out of your SEO, don’t neglect this part of your on-page SEO checklist. The small tweaks here can add up to the big picture. 

Well-crafted meta tags have the potential to increase click-through rates, boost your visibility on organic search and image search, enhance user experience, and also distribute link equity throughout your pages. All these contribute to how well your page ranks. 

5. Internal Linking

Internal linking spreads link equity throughout your site and can help search engines discover new pages. Always link back to pillar content, or other high-value content on your website. 

Benefits of Strategic Internal Linking:

  • Navigation: They guide users through other relevant pages on your website.
  • Page Authority: Anchor text can help to convey what the linked-to page is about, which can aid in ranking for those terms.
  • User Time on Site: Providing relevant links can keep users engaged on your site for longer periods.

Good internal linking can significantly increase your engagement rates and contribute to building a robust site architecture. I have a separate post on how to build topical authority through internal linking you can check out.

6. User Experience (UX)

User experience affects on-page SEO because search engines favor websites that provide a positive user experience.

UX Factors to Consider in Your Website Design:

  • Mobile-Friendliness: The site must perform well across all devices — but especially on mobile-view, as most users use Google through their phones.
  • Ease of Use: The site should be navigable and logical in its layout. Navigation bars and other menus should be intuitive and prioritize the most important pages of your website.
  • Page Speed: Pages should load quickly to reduce bounce rates. Follow this guide to site speed optimization for this point.

As UX becomes an even more important ranking factor, I find it is necessary to add to this on-page SEO checklist. Sites that deliver a high-quality user experience will dominate search engine results pages.

Key Takeaway

Mastering this pillar of SEO is crucial for achieving high rankings on Google, and staying updated with evolving best practices is essential. But with every update, what works best changes. 

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My 2024 on-page SEO checklist provides basically the most up-to-date practices for the elements on your website. Follow it, and you should be able to boost your website’s authority, credibility, and long-term SEO performance.

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