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10 Websites That Tried to Fool Google (And Failed)

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10 Websites That Tried to Fool Google (And Failed)

SEOs have been trying to outsmart Google for as long as it has existed. Sometimes, they win; other times, their attempts fail.

Here are 10 extraordinary examples of websites that failed to fool Google. 

Overview of Conch House, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on August 19, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Conch House received an estimated 6.7M organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 2,794,551 keywords ranking, August 2022
  • 255,527 pages, August 2022
  • Estimated traffic: 3.6M, August 2022

Conch House is a review site that ranked for over 250,000 “best+[product]” keywords and acquired 14,000 number #1 rankings. 

This huge rise in organic traffic meant the website became notorious in certain SEO circles.

Value of pages, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

We can see there is some serious money at play here, and this didn’t go unnoticed on SEO Twitter.

How did it fool Google?

It used an authoritative expired domain and created content targeting “best +[product]” keywords. 

It also used dynamically created pricing tables on its landing pages to encourage visitors to click through to Amazon and maximize its income. If a user bought a product, it would earn an affiliate commission.

Shockingly, for a few months, this setup was good enough to fool Google.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

There was speculation that the site used AI to create its content, but it might have been much simpler than that. 

It might have used concatenation to stitch sentences together and insert product titles to slightly differentiate each post.

Take a look at some of its posts:

Content built at scale, via CH blog

From the website, you can see several stock phrases it used to build content at scale quickly. 

Examples:

  • Are you looking for the most reliable and efficient [product title]?”
  • If so, congratulations!”
  • What is the importance of [product title] to you?”
  • The service we provide will save you time from reading thousands of reviews.”

It also used dynamic pricing tables like the one below to supplement the content.

AAWP pricing table

If we jump into the code, we can see this is a popular table plugin called AAWP.

AAWP pricing table, via inspector

This plugin allowed the site owners to: 

  • Create best-selling product lists at scale for all of their posts dynamically.
  • Geo-target multiple locations.
  • Get automatic updates of product information via Amazon’s Product Advertising API. 

Links 

I mentioned earlier that this site used an expired domain—let’s look at it.

Let’s go to the Top pages report in Site Explorer:

View on Archive.org, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
  • Click on the downward facing caret ▼ next to the homepage URL 
  • Click View on Archive.org

We can see the site’s history:

Wayback internet archive, via Wayback Machine

Surprisingly, the domain has a continuous history back to 1996, one of the things the new owners might have been interested in. With history also came links and a degree of trust from Google.

Conch House Marina Resort 1996, via Wayback Machine
How the website appeared in 1996. 

Sidenote.

Having a continuous history this far back in the Wayback Machine is not that common. Most domain names and websites have changed digital hands many times. (1996 was two years before Google was released—making this website older than Google.)

How did it fail?

The site got serious traction for about three months. But then the traffic suddenly plummeted, and the domain was auctioned off.

The site has had three significant dips in organic traffic in its lifespan:

In a further twist, Glen Gabe, who was following the site, tweeted that he believed it was not impacted by the HCU.

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

In terms of organic traffic, it’s much lower than it was previously, with no hope of returning to those previous levels. 

However, you could argue that the site owners successfully exploited a gap in Google’s algorithm at the right time to make money. If that was their only objective, then they achieved it.

Overview of Find This Best, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
On August 27, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Find This Best received an estimated 1,951,727 organic traffic at its peak.

Key stats

  • 2,794,551 keywords ranking, August 2022
  • 255,527 pages, August 2022
  • Estimated organic traffic: 3.6M, August 2022

Just going by its homepage, this is a website that, in all honesty, doesn’t look that bad. 

Find This Best homepage

But this website may remind you not to judge a book by its cover.

How did it fool Google?

This site scraped content word for word from Amazon product listings and targeted “best +[product]” queries. It also likely used some dodgy-looking high Domain Rating (DR) links to try and fool Google. 

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

When it came to great content, this site didn’t disappoint. Somehow, Google didn’t seem to pick up on this site, but it didn’t go unnoticed by SEOs on Twitter.

Let’s look at the site.

Looking at one of the highest traffic pages from the Top pages report in August, we see the formatting of the page looks like an Amazon product page.

FTB product page
High-traffic product page on the site.

Let’s see how it compares.

If we copy and paste part of the product description into Google, it immediately brings up the equivalent Amazon product page for the same product in the search results. 

Amazon product page
Equivalent Amazon product page.

If I paste the content from the Amazon product listing and the equivalent from this website into Diffchecker, we can see that the two files are identical.

Comparing the text, via Diffchecker

Using Ahrefs, we can get an idea of how many of these types of pages exist. 

Let’s go into Site Explorer’s Top pages report and add a URL filter containing “best-” to filter for any “best-” keywords. 

Ahrefs' Top pages report

We can see that this site was targeting ~77,809 “best” keywords at its peak.

If we add a “Position” filter to filter out only the number #1 ranking positions, we can see that this site had ~4,583 number #1 ranking pages at its peak.

This is what it looks like in Ahrefs’ Top pages report.

Top pages report filtered by position and URL, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Using this level of low-quality scraped content, it was able to reach huge levels of traffic, even in 2022—albeit briefly.

Links

Let’s plug this site into the Wayback Machine to see its history.

FTB history, via Wayback Machine

As it’s a relatively new domain from 2020, we can probably assume to get these traffic levels, it’ll need some high DR links. 

We can look at the domains by going to the Referring domains report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer. We can see that this site has some dubious-looking high DR URLs pointing to it. 

Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Here’s an example of an unconventional-looking DR 81 site.

DR 81 website

We can see the link if we open the inspector and search for the domain name. 

DR 81 website with inspector

How did it fail?

The site had two sharp drops—one in mid-June and the other steeper one in September. 

The organic traffic drop rebounds slightly in early 2023, potentially suggesting that this is not a manual penalty. 

FTB's Performance chart, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

It’s impossible to confirm what exactly happened here. But based on the timing of the second drop, we can speculate that this site was hit at least by the HCU. 

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

For the most part, yes. But judging by the most recent organic traffic graph, the site appears to be trying to resuscitate itself.

Overview of For Noob, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on March 15, 2022, Ahrefs reported that For Noob received an estimated 1,706,557 organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 604,926 keywords, March 2022 
  • 82,611 pages, March 2022
  • Total traffic: 1.3M, March 2022

This next site is a basic-looking blog loaded with lots of display ads.

Can you spot the content?

For Noob homepage

The site had quite a good run compared to other sites mentioned here but experienced a slow death for almost a year.

How did it fool Google?

One of the problems this site may have had (apart from its low-quality content) is the sharp increase in unnatural-looking links.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

The website describes itself as: “The place to answer many questions in life, study, and work.” If we head to the About page, we don’t get much more information—just four lines of content surrounded by ads. 

Not a good start.

For Noob's About page

The content appears to be a mix of People Also Ask (PAA) spam, forum comments, lists, and reviews. Most pages are no longer live. But if we look at the Wayback Machine, we can see how it used to look.

For Noob pages, via Wayback Machine

If we look at one of the articles, we see it isn’t helpful or high-quality content.

For Noob low-quality content, via Wayback Machine

This content could have been scraped from a forum or somewhere like Quora.

And here’s another example:

For Noob low-quality content, via Wayback Machine

These examples indicate that the content standard, on the whole, is very low.

Links

Looking at the Referring Domains report, we can see some potentially dubious-looking links. 

For Noob's Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

The same DR 81 site we saw linking to our second site also links to this website.

DR 81 site, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

At least two other sites in this list also seem suspicious. We will come back to these later.

How did it fail?

If we go back to Overview 2.0 and switch to the “Referring domains” graph, we can see a significant increase in referring domains in December. This looks suspicious to me.

Referring domains and organic traffic graph, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

The huge spike is probably a red flag for Google’s algorithm.

As soon as the sharp increase in the graph starts to fall, we see a much more dramatic plunge in organic traffic. 

Performance report organic traffic drop, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

These updates appear to have killed the site completely, and now the organic traffic is flat-lining.

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. Undoubtedly.

Bike Hike overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on May 1, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Bike Hike received an estimated 1.3M organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 4,047,559 keywords, April 2022 
  • 523,455 pages, April 2022 
  • Total traffic: 1.3M, April 2022

When you come across a website called Bike Hike, you’ll probably assume that it has something to do with bikes, cycling, or even hiking. 

However, in this case—you’d be mistaken. 

At its organic traffic peak, this site’s top keyword was “slurp fish.” Make of that what you will.

And here’s a Twitter reaction to the site:

Tweet on website

How did it fool Google?

This site used an expired domain and created People Also Ask (PAA) spam content. It also 301 redirected several expired domains with high DR to its domain. 

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

Let’s start by going to the Organic keywords report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and see what terms this site was ranking for at its peak.

Organic keywords report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Looking at the URL column, we can see that this is probably a People Also Ask (PAA) spam site—as all ranking keywords appear to target these low Keyword Difficulty (KD) and unrelated PAA questions. 

Let’s go further and filter the domains to include only those in position #1.

Organic keywords report filtered for domains in position #1, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

We can see that many PAA-style keywords held the top spot in Google in April 2022, near this site’s peak. 

It’s safe to say that none of these landing pages are on a consistent topic. And it seems they were designed to exploit Google’s algorithm.

Looking at one of the pages, we can see that the content is never longer than four lines and is followed by a heading.

Potential no context scraped content

Once we put a few lines of this content into Google search, we can see this content is likely scraped from multiple websites.

Scraped content check, via Google.com

Looking through some of the other top-performing pages, we can also find they follow the same content format. I believe this site scraped PAA questions and answers from multiple websites for content and turned them into articles.

Links

When it comes to links, one of the tactics used was to 301 redirect expired domains with bbc.co.uk (DR 93) links to its website. 

We can see this in Ahrefs using the Backlinks report and adding a “Referring page domain” filter: bbc.co.uk.

High DR BBC domains redirected to Bike Hike, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Looking at the Anchor and target URL column, we can see that the ultimate destination for all these links is Bike Hike. This looks like an unnatural and unlikely pattern. 

Adding to this, the site was built on an expired domain. We can see this using the Wayback Machine.

Bike Hike history, via Wayback Machine

The site doesn’t have a continuous history, and the most recent owners likely bought the site in 2021.

Let’s go back in time and see what it used to look like.

Bike Hike homepage, via Wayback Machine

Bike Hike 2018 looks like it had something to do with cycling. From what I can see, it used to be a legitimate site. So it seems that the recent owners of the domain revived it to exploit this site’s past authority and links.

How did it fail?

The sharp fall of this site’s organic traffic graph looks like a site hit with a manual action

Sidenote.

The only way to confirm if there is a manual action is to check the site’s Google Search Console. As we don’t have access to this, we can only speculate that this happened based on the sharp drop in the organic traffic graph.

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. (Once a site receives a manual action, it’s usually game over.)

Overview of Asia Work, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on March 29, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Asia Work received an estimated 720K organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 1,397 keywords, March 2022
  • 957 pages, March 2022
  • Total traffic: 664.6K, March 2022

From the domain name alone, it feels like this site could be a legitimate business. But as you’ll see, when we look at the content and the links on the site, it becomes clear that this website has changed from its original intended purpose. 

How did it fool Google?

There are examples of paid link placements on the blog, and it looks like the site is trying to rank for betting login pages. 

When it comes to links, there are also a few suspicious ones there. When it comes to content, it appears to not be the best either.

So what happened?

Content

Let’s start by looking at the history of this domain through the Wayback Machine.

Asia Work history, via Wayback Machine

The history of this website looks continuous back to 2008–2009, but the domain expired around August 17, 2019.

Domain expiration, via Wayback Machine

This is how the site used to look in 2009. Even though the design is old-fashioned, it still looks much more legitimate than the present site.

Asia Work homepage 2009, via Wayback Machine

We can see the difference if we compare that with the current site version.

Asia Work homepage 2022, via Wayback Machine

Even though the images aren’t rendered properly, we can see how the text content has changed for the worse. 

With the focus of the content changing to topics like “casino,” “gambling,” and “loans,” this immediately looks like a red flag. 

Let’s take a closer look at some of the articles on the site to see what we can find.

Potential paid link example

Selling links is against Google’s terms of service. But the above is an example of a link that was probably paid for, with no attempt to hide it.

Here’s another example—this time for a different type of service.

Potential paid link example

You can see the pattern that is emerging. 

It turns out that almost every article in the blog has a single exact-match keyword anchor text link within a body of text, which leads me to believe that links were likely being sold here.

The final nail in the coffin is the website categories—when you see dating, loan, and casino in the same category as SEO, you know that it’s likely links were sold here.

List of categories

If we turn our attention to the Top pages report in Site Explorer, we can see that one of the primary purposes of the site was to rank for login pages of betting and cockfighting sites.

Asia Work's Top pages report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This shows the website’s intent and doesn’t look like a typical website’s top pages.

Links

As we have seen above, the site is an expired domain that has been revived, so it has gained a decent amount of links and authority in that period.

If we look at the Referring domains report, we can see the type of high DR links that this site once had.

Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Here’s an example of a directory link (DR 72) from a website called the Link Centre. 

Example of a DR 72 directory link

Here’s another example of a DR 72 website with a non-related link to our website on the profile page.

DR 72 link with non-related link

With two university links in the top Referring domains report, you wonder whether these were compromised sites as well.

How did it fail?

Taking a look at Overview 2.0, we can see that there were two critical Google updates in this period. 

Close-up of Performance graph, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
  • The first is the Product Reviews Update, which occurred on March 23, 2022. The second is the May 2022 Core Update. Although there isn’t an exact correlation here, these updates could have impacted the site.
  • As I suspect they were selling paid links, this could have been another factor. But the gradual fall of the organic traffic chart doesn’t align with the typical look of a manual penalty.

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

The website didn’t reach the heights of some of our other sites mentioned here, but it did manage to fool Google for around a month. 

The site hasn’t been resurrected since, so it’s fair to say that it didn’t fool Google.

Fmsppl overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on August 22, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Fmsppl received an estimated 63,880 organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 33,679 keywords, August 2022
  • 26,844 pages, August 2022 
  • Total traffic: 59.1K, August 2022

This next website was created by someone who hated vowels in their domain names. 

The main idea behind the site seems to have been to create a database-driven site targeting “people named [insert name]” searches.

If we add an “Include” filter into Keywords Explorer, we can see a lot of low-competition searches for this type of query, almost 22,000. This is probably why they decided to create a site around this particular topic.

Include filter for "people named," via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

How did it fool Google?

One of the problems with this site is that most of the content was scraped, and it had several dodgy high DR links pointing to it that didn’t look natural.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

If we go to the Top pages report on August 19, we can see that the top page is “People named Dick.”

Top pages report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Let’s look at what this page looks like on the site.

Famous people named Dick

You can see there isn’t that much information here, and most of the content is ads.

Even when we scroll down the page, we can see that it’s a list of people with some key facts about them and nothing more.

Dick Cheney profile

I’ve decided to click on the profile of the number #1 Dick—Dick Cheney.

Pasting the text of his detailed profile in Google brings up a match for Wikipedia.

Quick copy check in Google search, via Google.com

Checking a few other profiles on the site using this method also brings up Wikipedia, so it seems reasonable to conclude that this site was scraping at least some of its content directly from Wikipedia.

Returning to the homepage, you can see the general strategy of the site is quite basic. This is what the site owners did for country selectors:

Country selectors homepage

And when it came to birth years, they did something similar.

Famous people by birth years

Overall, the content standard is low, and we see a lot of scraped content on this site.

Links

Looking at the Wayback Machine, we can see this is a relatively new site that was started around 2021.

Fmsppl history, via Wayback Machine

We can assume that it needs some powerful links to get this site off the ground. 

There are several suspicious high DR links linking to this site. 

To look at them, we can jump into the Referring domains report. I’ve chosen to take a quick look at the DR 82 link, but there are many examples of high DR links with spammy content here.

DR 82 link in Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Here’s an example of a DR 82 website linking to this website, and this is what one of the links looks like.

DR 82 link
“OK, Google, is this great content?”

We have just scratched the surface here, but it’s likely that this is not an isolated case. It’s probably fair to say that this looks like a website designed to exploit search engines rather than inform people.

How did it fail?

The website appears to have been hit by two Google updates. With neither the content nor the links being that great, I can’t say I am surprised. 

I believe that this site was hit by the following:

Sidenote.

Even after the October Spam Update appears to have crushed the site, it seems there was an attempt to build more links to the site.

Fmsppl organic traffic and referring domains details, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. I imagine this site’s traffic will be flat-lining shortly.

YT5S overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
On October 21, 2021, Ahrefs reported that YT5S received an estimated 20,018,059 organic traffic at its peak.

Key stats 

  • 22,852 keywords, October 2021
  • 195 pages, October 2021
  • Total traffic: 8.3M, October 2021

This website allows users to download YouTube videos by simply entering a URL and then hitting the download button—you can see why this type of website would be popular.

How did it fool Google?

The website used an interesting tactic to stay at the top of the search results and try to fool Google repeatedly. 

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

The murky world of YouTube download sites is often filled with ads, surveys, and random floating buttons. 

YT5S is, by contrast, a fairly minimal site, which may be how it became popular early on.

YT5S homepage

When it comes to content for a YouTube download site, there usually isn’t much on the page—this site doesn’t have a blog, for example. 

So its main focus is on content to assist people in downloading YouTube videos. Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar shows us it has just 818 words on the page. Not a lot. 

YT5S content, via Ahrefs' SEO Toolbar

If we look at its Site structure report, we can see that there are many subfolders with numbers at the end. 

Site structure; subfolders list, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Clicking on the en variations often results in pages that are 301 redirected to the latest version. 

As this is such a competitive industry, certain subdomains will get penalized for various reasons. When a subdomain loses traffic, it will be redirected to a new number subfolder. 

We see a pattern emerging if we overlap the organic traffic charts for each subfolder.

Average organic traffic of YT5S subdomains
The above shows the diminishing success rate of redirects to different subfolders over time.

The site’s owners appear to be 301 redirecting the entire website to a new subfolder once the old subfolder has lost traffic.

This site is not alone in this tactic. Looking at the Position history in Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, we can see that some of the other websites in this category have cottoned on to this strategy and are doing a similar thing, judging by some of the names of the subfolders.

Position history, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Links

With a site on this topic, it will be shared widely and linked to naturally. Most of the links appear to be relatively natural.

How did it fail?

The cut-throat nature of this SERP means that it’s highly competitive. The site owners thought they had found a way to get around the loss in traffic by redirecting the website into a new subfolder. It worked for a while. But over time, the impact diminished.

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes, for now. But this method will continue being used to try and fool Google in the short term.

Board Games Tips overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on January 16, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Board Game Tips received an estimated 3,934,996 organic traffic.

Key stats

  • 6,347,025 keywords
  • 698,643 pages 
  • Total traffic: 3.8M 

In case you were wondering, this site didn’t have much to do with board game tips. 

Despite this, it reached 3.9 million organic traffic during its peak through low-quality content and some dubious-looking high DR links.

How did it fool Google?

It seems to have taken PAA scraping to the extreme, sometimes veering way off topic in the process on some of the posts. 

From my research, it also had some suspicious-looking links from some unlikely sources.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

Using the Top pages report, we can look at some of the articles.

Let’s highlight a section of the “Organic traffic” graph to select the top pages between two dates.

Board Game Tips's Top pages report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Let’s click through to the Wayback Machine again and take a look at one of the URLs. (I’ve picked a random URL with Wayback history.)

Board Game Tips's table of contents, via Wayback Machine

Even from the table of contents, we can see that this is PAA spam. The subheadings wildly switch from deploying parachutes to shotguns, tasers, and guns.

Scrolling down the page further, we get the familiar three or four lines of text followed by a heading.

PAA-style content, via Wayback Machine

If we paste the content into Google, we can understand whether it’s scraped.

Pasting the content into Google to see if it is copied, via Google.com

It looks to me like this answer came from this site.

Turning to Twitter, we can see that we are not the only people to have discovered this.

We can conclude then that the content standard for this site is again incredibly low. But it was enough to fool Google at one point.

Links

There is a horror show of links from this site.

Our old friend, Grid Server (DR 82), is linking to the site again.

DR 82 link in Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Here’s another reference to a broken link to this DR 81 domain, which you may remember from earlier on.

Board Games Tips's Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Finally, here’s a dubious-looking link from an unlikely source—Swansea University (UK) (DR74). It’s one of the domains we saw also linking to our third website.

DR 74 link, via Swansea University

Should these other academic sites be concerned?

.ac. domains filtered, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Referring domains filtered for domain name containing “.ac.”

How did it fail?

This site has it all—bad links and scraped content. As the organic traffic drop doesn’t tie in with any specific Google algorithm updates, the website may have received a manual penalty.

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. The site owners tried to 301 redirect their old domain to a new domain. Looking at the new domain in Overview 2.0, we see that the new website worked for a while and likely got hit again by a few other updates.

Your Games Tips overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
Answer To All overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
At its peak, on March 13, 2022, Ahrefs reported that Answers To All received an estimated 2,214,447 organic traffic.

Key stats 

  • 4,046,226 keywords, April 2022
  • 911,725 pages, April 2022
  • Total traffic: 1.9M, April 2022

This next website only lasted for a few months, but it did fairly well considering the standard of content and the type of links it had. 

How did it fool Google?

As the name suggests, this was a low-quality PAA spam site. It also had some dubious links pointing to it. When the site tanked, the site owners tried to 301 redirect it to a new name, but that site also had issues.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

You can probably guess what type of content this will be with a name like this. Let’s look at one of the pages to see how bad it is.

Answers To All content, via Wayback Machine

We’ve seen quite a few of these examples. But if I paste the first two lines of content into Google, we can see that this is likely scraped from Quora. 

Scraped content check, via Google.com

The flow of the content on the page follows the familiar pattern of two or three lines of text followed by a subheading. Scrolling down the page, we see the topics become less related.

PAA spam content example, via Wayback Machine

Checking a few other pages, I see the content has also been lifted from other sites. It’s relatively safe to assume that this is another PAA spam site.

Links

When we look at links, we see a few of the same culprits again. 

Swansea University’s website is back, along with 38 other academic domains. 

Suspect link, via Swansea University

I didn’t check them all, but they could likely be spam. Some more familiar faces in the links department include our favorite DR 81 website.

Potential spam link

As well as Grid Server’s DR 82 links.

Potential spam link

It seems reasonably clear that this activity is not normal and may be designed to manipulate rankings.

How did it fail?

Looking at the Overview 2.0’s “Performance” graph, we see that the drop in organic traffic occurred before the May 2022 Core Update

Performance overview zoomed in, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

This update may have contributed to the drop, but it doesn’t appear as though it is the main reason. 

It’s clear from this quick analysis that bad links and poor content are present. It may be likely that this site received a manual action for its links, although it’s impossible to confirm this.

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. I can’t see any way back for this site.

MCE Zone overview, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer
On April 25, 2022, Ahrefs reported that MCE Zone received an estimated 10,838,951 organic traffic at its peak.

Key stats 

  • 79,543 keywords, April 2022
  • 1,204 pages, April 2022 
  • Total traffic: 5.2M, April 2022

This website describes itself as the “world’s best news site”—a bold claim. 

Sadly though, it doesn’t appear to have the content or the links to back up this claim.

How did it fool Google?

It mainly focused on providing information to the Indian market about popular movie torrent sites. 

When it came to fooling Google, it used suspicious-looking links combined with fairly low-quality content that was just about good enough to fool Google for a short period.

Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

Content

Going to the Top pages report in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, we can see everything’s not right here. 

Rather than providing news content, this site seems to contain content about movie torrent sites for the Indian market.

Let’s look at the top-performing landing page that got an estimated 4,276,681 organic traffic on April 25.

Mce Zone homepage

The top-performing page appears to be an instruction manual for downloading movies from this site.

Running the text through an AI detection tool—GLTR—it seems from my tests that this content may be partially AI content or just badly translated.

AI content test, via GLTR

Either way, you’ll probably agree it’s not the type of content you would expect from the “world’s best news site.” 

This is low-quality content by most people’s definition.

Links

When it comes to links, I noticed the website has many Blogspot links. 

If we go to the Anchors report and add the following settings, we can filter the Blogspot domain anchors. As they are all very specific, it seems likely that this was part of a low-quality link building campaign.

Blogspot domain in Anchors report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

If we click on the links to target for the second row and filter by Dofollow, we can see around 50 links with exactly the same, tediously long anchor text.

Exact match anchor text across many domains, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Again, this type of link building doesn’t look great.

If we head back to the Referring domains report, we can see Grid Server is mentioned again.

Grid Server mentioned in Referring domains report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

Finally, to top it off, it has a DR 67 link that redirected a domain into its domain from this site below.

DR 67 website, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

And here’s what this site looks like.

DR 67 spam site

How did it fail?

Looking at Overview 2.0, this site was probably hit by the May 2022 Core Update

Performance report zoomed in, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

What do you think happened?

Did it really fail to fool Google?

Yes. Looking at the organic traffic, it’s nowhere near the levels it used to be. The site isn’t completely dead, but it’s fair to say that it won’t fool anyone in the future that it’s the “world’s best news site.” 

How did you find these sites?

Here’s how we did it: Internally, we call this the “Content Explorer Hack.”

Content Explorer hack, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and start an empty search
  2. Go to the Websites tab
  3. Filter for high traffic and low DR

And that’s it!

Final thoughts

As we have seen, what Google can giveth, it can also taketh away. 

The methods used by these sites to rank in Google are obviously not replicable for businesses, and I don’t suggest you try any of the methods above.

Many SEOs like to think that the days of paid links, trashy content, and shortcuts to ranking are long gone. But clearly, from these examples, it’s still possible to get significant organic traffic by breaking the rules—but only if you are willing to risk everything.

Got more questions? Ping me on Twitter. 🙂



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System Builders – How AI Changes The Work Of SEO

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Kevin Indig's Growth Memo for SEJ

AI is terraforming tech. The content and SEO ecosystem is undergoing a massive structural change.

Human-written content gains value faster for LLM training than for end consumers as the pure profit licensing deals between LLM developers and publishers show.

Publishers struggle to survive from digital subscriptions but get millions that go straight to their bottom line for providing training data.

Content platforms, social networks, SaaS companies and consumer apps coat their products with AI. A few examples:

  • Spotify DJ (AI-generated playlist).
  • AI Overview (AI answers in Google Search).
  • Instagram AI personas (celebrity AI chatbots).
  • Ebay’s magical listing (turn a photo into a listing).
  • Redfin Redesign (try interior designs on real house pictures).
Image Credit: Kevin Indig

The quality of machine-generated content (MGC) challenges human-generated content (HGC). I ran an experiment with my Twitter and LinkedIn followers: I asked them to choose which of two articles was written by a human and which by a machine – and they had to explain their answer.

Only a handful of people figured out that AI wrote both pieces. I intentionally framed the question in a leading way to see if people would challenge the setting or believe that one piece was written by a human if told so.

  • Not an isolated experiment: A survey of 1,900 Americans found that 63.5% of people can’t distinguish between AI content and human content.1
  • People seek help: Google search demand for [ai checker] has reached 100,000 in May 2024 (Glimpse).
  • Dark side: scammers use MGC to make money, as 77% of AI scam victims lost money.2
Search demand for AI checkerImage Credit: Kevin Indig

The quality level of LLMs pushes SEO work towards automating workflows and learning with AI, while writers will take content from good to great instead of zero to one.

Boost your skills with Growth Memo’s weekly expert insights. Subscribe for free!

How AI Changes The Work Of SEOImage Credit: Lyna ™

System Builders

Clients, podcasters and panel hosts often ask me what skills SEOs need to build for the AI future. For a long time, my answer was to learn, stay open-minded and gain as much practical experience with AI as possible.

Now, my answer is SEOs should learn how to build AI agents and workflows that automate tasks. AI changes the way search works but also the way SEOs work.

AI + No-code Allows SEOs To Automate Workflows

A few examples:

1/ Cannibalization

  • Old world: SEOs download search console data and create pivot tables to spot keyword cannibalization.
  • New world: SEOs build an AI workflow that sends alters, identifies true keyword cannibalization, makes content suggestions to fix the problem, and monitors the improvement.

2/ Site Crawling

  • Old world: SEOs crawl websites to find inefficiencies in internal linking, status code errors, duplicate content, etc.
  • New world: SEOs build an AI agent that regularly crawls the site and automatically suggests new internal links that are shipped after human approval, fixes broken canonical tags and excludes soft 404 errors in the robots.txt.

3/ Content Creation

  • Old world: SEOs do keyword research and write content briefs. Writers create the content.
  • New world: SEOs automate keyword research with AI and create hundreds of relevant articles as a foundation for writers to build on.

All of this is already possible today with AI workflow tools like AirOps or Apify, which chain agents and LLMs together to scrape, analyze, transform data or create content.

Moving forward, we’ll spend much more time building automated systems instead of wasting time on point analyses and catalogs of recommendations. The SEO work will be defining logic, setting rules, prompting and coding.

building automated systems Building workflows with AirOps (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

You Can Learn (Almost) Anything With AI

I never made the time to really learn Python or R, but with the help of Chat GPT and Gemini in Colab, I can write any script with natural language prompts.

When the script doesn’t work, I can paste a screenshot into Chat GPT and describe the issue to get a solution. AI helps with Regex, Google Sheets/Excel, R, Python, etc. Nothing is off-limits.

Being able to write scripts can solve problems like data analysis, a/b testing and using APIs. As an SEO, I’m no longer dependent on engineers, data scientists or writers to perform certain tasks. I can act faster and on my own account.

I’m not the only one to figure this out. People are learning to code, write and many other skills with AI. We can learn to build AI workflows by asking AI to teach us.

Search demand for coding with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig
Search demand for write with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig
Search demand for learn with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig

When you can learn almost anything, the only limit is time.

The Work Of Writers Changes

Against common belief, writers won’t be crossed out of this equation but will play the critical role of editing, directing and curating.

In any automated process, humans QA the output. Think of car assembling lines. Even though AI content leaps in quality, spot checks reduce the risk of errors. Caught issues, such as wrong facts, weird phrasing or off-brand wording, will be critical feedback to fine-tune models to improve their output.

Instead of leg work like writing drafts, writers will bring AI content from good to great. In the concept of information gain, writers will spend most of their time making a piece outstanding.

The rising quality work spans from blog content to programmatic content, where writers will add curated content when searches have a desire for human experience, such as in travel.

A mini guide to Los AngelesTripadvisor’s attraction pages feature human-curated sections. (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

Unfair Advantage

As often with new technology, a few first-mover people and companies get exponential value until the rest catch up. My worry is that a few fast-moving companies will grab massive land with AI.

And yet, this jump in progress will allow newcomers to challenge incumbents and get a fair chance to compete on the field.

AI might be a bigger game changer for SEOs than for Google. The raw power of AI might help us overcome challenges from AI Overviews and machine learning-driven algorithm updates.

But the biggest win might be that SEOs can finally make something instead of delivering recommendations. The whole value contribution of SEOs changes because my output can drive results faster.

Survey: ChatGPT and AI Content – Can people tell the difference?

Artificial Intelligence Voice Scams on the Rise with 1 in 4 Adults Impacted


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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12 SEO Meetups You Should Have On Your Radar

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12 SEO Meetups You Should Have On Your Radar

Want to meet other people interested in SEO offline? Give an SEO meetup a go.

In my experience, it’s one of the best ways to meet like-minded people and provides a more relaxed, informal setting than a bustling SEO conference. Who knows—you could make new friends at a meetup or even land new SEO clients.

But with so many events worldwide, it’s impossible to mention them all. So, here are some of the most talked-about SEO meet-ups I think you should have on your radar.

Okay—so I may be a little biased, but I wanted to start by sharing our Ahrefs’ SEO Events. We’ve run five Beer and Snacks Meetups in Singapore. We’ve also hosted an SEO Workshop and Networking meetup the day before BrightonSEO, and we just launched our London Meetup.

Tickets to the London Meetup sold out in a day and a half—it was our fastest-selling ticketed event ever.

Tim Soulo, Joshua Hardwick, and Ryan Law will speak at our inaugural event, covering topics such as improving your rankings, competitor research, and content marketing. To stay informed about our next event, follow our events page.

Sidenote.

Missed our meetups but still want to catch up with the Ahrefs team and a host of world-class speakers? Get Ahrefs Evolve tickets ✨

London SEO XL MeetupLondon SEO XL Meetup

The LondonSEO Meetup hosts an evening of networking with industry peers and leading experts featuring SEO speakers like Itamar Blauer, Steph Hugman, Reina Hanada, and many more.

The bigger XL event has even hosted prolific search engine news chronicler Barry Schwartz in 2023.

Search London Meetup PhotoSearch London Meetup Photo

With over 2,800 members, Search London is a popular meetup that has been around for over a decade.

Events are organized every 8-12 weeks, and members are from a mixture of agency, client-side, and start-up businesses.

The meet-up is open to anyone in SEO, PPC, or social media—and offers marketing professionals and first-time speakers a safe, supportive space to share their industry knowledge and experiences.

Search 'n Stuff Meetup PhotoSearch 'n Stuff Meetup Photo

Search ‘n Stuff meetups are an energetic and all-embracing community tailored to empower digital marketers, startups, in-house teams, and professionals. Expect sharings centered on strategies, campaigns, and other relevant SEO topics.

Neurodivergents In SEO Meetup PhotoNeurodivergents In SEO Meetup Photo

Neurodivergents in SEO provide a safe space for neurodivergent SEOs to network and learn.

The group holds in-person meetups at BrightonSEO, both in the UK and the US, and monthly pub quizzes with great prizes.

If you’re an SEO or marketer and identify as neurodivergent, you’re more than welcome to join the community. You can do so by signing up here.

Search Norwich PhotoSearch Norwich Photo

Search Norwich launched in 2018 as a free marketing meetup event. It often features top industry speakers who share their knowledge, tips, and advice with the search marketing community. At Search Norwich there are no sales agendas, fluff, or pitches—just valuable insights.

SEOFOMO Meetup PhotoSEOFOMO Meetup Photo

The SEOFOMO meetups are run by SEO superstar Aleyda Solis, who is a well-known SEO speaker and founder of SEO consultancy Orainti. She’ll also be the headline speaker for our first Ahrefs Evolve Conference.

SEOFOMO is a laid-back, free event perfect for learning, connecting, and sharing with other SEOs.

SEO Mastermind PhotoSEO Mastermind Photo

SEO Mastermind is a supportive, free, and friendly SEO community where you can grow your skills, meet like-minded people, and get answers to all your organic marketing questions.

SEO Mastermind meets around eight times a year, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium—but they also occasionally have meetups in other locations, for instance, at Brighton SEO and ISS Barcelona.

Organizer Jeroen Stikkelorum told me that SEO Mastermind is on a mission to build the most valuable Dutch-spoken SEO and organic marketing community in The Netherlands and Belgium. So if you’re local, give it a go.

SEO Lager Fest Meetup PhotoSEO Lager Fest Meetup Photo

SEO Lager Fest is a fun SEO meetup that (apart from drinking) enables you to network with like-minded folks in the SEO industry. They hold an SEO quiz, run case study competitions, do AMAs, and even do SEO charades.

SEOnerd Switzerland Meetup PhotoSEOnerd Switzerland Meetup Photo

SEOnerdSwitzerland is a volunteer-run association that organizes events for SEOs in Switzerland and beyond.

Dedicated to fair opportunities and diversity, they provide training and coaching for people wanting to break through as a public speaker in the SEO industry.

SEOnerdSwitzerland also offers training and coaching for speakers, aiming for a diverse and inclusive panel.

WebSchrona Meetup Photo, Salzburg, AustriaWebSchrona Meetup Photo, Salzburg, Austria

WebSchrona is a free monthly meetup for SEO and online marketing professionals in Salzburg, Austria. They meet every second Thursday at 6 p.m.

There’s no fixed agenda, so discussions are often unplanned and spontaneous and often involve a drink of some description.

Organizer Alexander Außermayr tells me that everyone is welcome to join their SEO meetups. The aim is to provide a regular, uncomplicated meetup in an open space—often a beer garden, if the weather is good.

SEO Benelux Meetup PhotoSEO Benelux Meetup Photo

SEO Benelux started in 2018 as a Facebook community for Dutch and Belgian SEO specialists. The meetup grew into the largest in the Benelux region, with more than 3,000 members.

There are four meetups each year, two in Belgium (Ghent and Antwerp) and one in the Netherlands (mostly Amsterdam). Each meetup attracts 70–90 people and features three speakers.

If you don’t live in a big city, it may be difficult to find a good meetup, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any in your local area.

Here are my tips to help you find new meetups near you.

Tip 1 – Use Google’s advanced search operators to uncover new meetups

As new meetups pop up all the time and often without notice, it’s worth doing some digging to see what’s out there.

You can just do a regular ol’ Google search, but we’re SEOs—so let’s use some advanced search operators and spice it up a bit.

In this example, I searched for the phrase “meetup” in the title, plus my location and my favorite SEO tool, and it managed to uncover Tim’s tweet on our London Meetup.

Advanced Google Search Operators ExampleAdvanced Google Search Operators Example

This is just a very basic example, and you could use any website or location, but it shows how you can uncover information about new meetups with a little research.

Tip 2 – Trigger the Events SERP feature

By searching for events or events near me, you can trigger the Events SERP feature. In the example below, I found a few SEO-related events by prepending “SEO” to the search.

Triggering the Events SERP Feature ExampleTriggering the Events SERP Feature Example

Once you’ve triggered the feature, scroll down until you find an SEO meetup that catches your eye.

Tip 3 – Use Meetup to find an SEO meetup

If you can’t find anything on Google then it’s a good idea to run a quick check on a specialist community platform.

One of the most popular platforms is Meetup. It allows you to find events near your location on any topic.

Meetup.com screenshotMeetup.com screenshot

Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of smaller meetups through this website, and they have always been interesting and a place to make new connections.

Tip 4 – No SEO meetup in your area? Start your own!

I started my own mini-meetup in 2018 on WhatsApp with some former colleagues, imaginatively titled #seodrinks.

#SEOdrinks meetup logo#SEOdrinks meetup logo

It started from humble beginnings in a room in a small pub in London, and it’s still in a room in a small pub—somewhere in London. (If you want an invite, let me know on LinkedIn.)

We only have semi-regular meetups in London and a small group, but every meetup has to start somewhere.

If you want to start your own SEO meetup, platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram are the best free places to start, but if you want a more specialized paid option, you could try Meetup or another similar platform.

Final thoughts

You don’t always have to attend a big SEO conference to meet other amazing people in the industry. Some of the smaller meetups I’ve been to have resulted in making more contacts than the bigger conferences.

As such, SEO meet-ups are one of my favorite ways to meet people who are just as interested in SEO and marketing as much as you are.

Did I miss an SEO meetup? Add your SEO meetup here, or let me know on LinkedIn.



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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

SEO and content marketing are different marketing channels. But you don’t have to choose between them. They’re complementary.

In fact, you should combine them for greater effectiveness in your marketing.

Two main reasons:

1. Content marketing and SEO are like peanut butter and jelly—they work well together

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers.

Here’s how SEO helps content marketing:

The web's largest traffic referrersThe web's largest traffic referrers

SEO is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engines to get more traffic.

Here’s how content marketing helps SEO:

  • It helps you get more search traffic — If you want more search traffic, you need to rank for more keywords, which requires you to make more content.
  • It makes SEO more effective — Thought leadership content acquires backlinks, gated content generates leads, and sales enablement converts traffic into sales.

2. The same amount of investment in effort, money, and time can generate results for both content marketing and SEO

We’re the perfect example. Our content ranks high on Google and generates hundreds of thousands of monthly search visitors:

Ahrefs blog trafficAhrefs blog traffic

It also attracts links and shares on social media because we make sure each piece is unique and not just regurgitation or “AI content”.

LinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of viewLinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of view

Finally, each piece of content introduces visitors to our product and educates them on how to use it to solve their problems. (Keep on reading and you’ll see it in action too!)

Example of how we introduce our product in our contentExample of how we introduce our product in our content

It hits all content marketing and SEO goals at once:

  • Acquires search traffic ✅
  • Builds thought leadership ✅
  • Attracts links ✅
  • Generates sales (over the long-term) ✅

How do we do what we do? Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness. Here’s one line that summarizes our entire SEO content marketing strategy:

We create and maintain high-quality, product-led, search-focused content about topics with business potential and search traffic potential.

Let me break down how we combine SEO and content marketing:

If you want to acquire search traffic, you need to target topics that your potential customers are searching for.

The easiest way to find these keywords is to use a keyword tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a few broad keywords related to your site or niche
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Filter for keywords with traffic potential (TP)
Matching terms report in Keywords ExplorerMatching terms report in Keywords Explorer

Sidenote.

Traffic Potential is the estimated monthly organic search traffic to the top-ranking page for a keyword. Since pages tend to rank for many keywords, Traffic Potential is a more reliable estimate than search volume.

Go through the report and pick out the keywords that are relevant to your site. For example, if I were an ecommerce store selling coffee equipment, this could be a potential keyword to target:

The keyword "best coffee grinder"The keyword "best coffee grinder"

A keyword’s business potential is how easy it will be to pitch your product while covering a certain topic. It’s our ‘trade secret’—it’s why we can easily introduce our product and its features in every piece of content we create.

Here’s how to score a topic’s business potential:

Business potential scoring chartBusiness potential scoring chart

So, taking the above example, the topic “best coffee grinder” would score a “3” (provided we sell coffee grinders) whereas a topic like “does decaf coffee have caffeine” would score a “1” or even a “0”.

You should prioritize topics that score high on business potential, i.e. a “2” or a “3”.

What does all of the jargon mean? Let’s break it down.

Search-focused

Part one of being ‘search-focused’ is finding keywords that people are searching for. Part two is to figure out why they’re searching for those particular keywords. This ‘why’ is known as search intent.

Given that Google’s goal is to always rank the most relevant content, we can look at the search engine results (SERPs) to uncover search intent. Take your target keyword, enter it into Keywords Explorer, scroll down to SERP Overview, and click Identify intents:

Identify intents feature in Keywords ExplorerIdentify intents feature in Keywords Explorer

So, we can see that searchers looking for the keyword “best coffee grinders” want detailed reviews and expert recommendations on the best coffee grinders. Not only that, we can also see that searchers want a list that is fresh.

Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"

If we’re targeting this topic, making it search-focused means matching this search intent—we’ll need to create a list of the best coffee grinders for the current year.

Product-led

Product-led means ensuring you’re not just creating content for the sake of it; you’re also ‘selling’ your product. You want to be aware of which use case, feature, or service you want to weave into the narrative. Naturally, of course.

Scoring a topic’s business potential would have done 90% of the work here. If you’re creating content about a topic that scored a “3”, then your product pitch would be natural. For example, we could easily add links back to our coffee equipment store after covering the best coffee grinders. Or, if we make our coffee grinders, we could pitch them as one of the best. (That’s why I say the business potential score is our secret ingredient.)

The challenge comes when you’re covering topics that score a “1” or “0”. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to be creative.

For example, I recently covered the topic “SEO specialist”. It had a business potential of “1” and was tough to include a product pitch. Fortunately, I noticed that some job listings asked for experience with different SEO toolsets (including us.) It was the perfect segue to introduce our product and certification course.

An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1

High-quality

This is subjective. Everyone’s standards are different. But here’s how we think of quality:

  • Accurate — No hype, no lying. Every statement we make should be as accurate as possible.
  • Clear — No fluff—delete all unnecessary words and sentences. Use jargon only when needed. When necessary, create illustrations to expand on ideas and concepts.
  • Helpful — Being product-led is important but the content should not just be aimed at pitching. The content should be focused primarily on helping visitors solve their problems, while creatively weaving our product into the context.
  • Unique — One way to make your content unique is to have skin in the game—conduct experiments, run data studies, and write from personal experience. If having skin is difficult, then interview practitioners. Focus on did, not could.

The deterioration of your content is inevitable:

  • Search-focused — Your rankings may drop because of competitors. Or you didn’t even rank the first time round. Or your target topic’s search intent changed (e.g., the word corona’s search intent changed during the void years of 2020-2022.)
  • Product-led — You may have new features, services, or use cases to introduce. Or your team has depreciated certain features or abandoned some services.
  • High-quality — Statements may become inaccurate over time. Or your unique idea was so successful that everyone else copied you (and outranked you.) Or you might have better ways to reword sentences and paragraphs. Or just simply the ideas, screenshots, and content has become outdated.

That’s why you don’t build a train track and disappear. You have to actively maintain it to keep it working. (I’m looking at you London tube.) Same goes for your content.

The way to maintain your content is to conduct regular content audits. We do this every quarter—Each writer on our blog team goes through their portfolio of articles and selects at least three pieces to update. Each writer may also choose a couple to do a full rewrite.

I highly recommend going through our content audit template so you can see what went wrong with your content and what to do with it next.

Final thoughts

SEO and content marketing may be different marketing types, but that doesn’t mean you need to do one to the exclusion of the other.

Both channels are highly compatible and as you see above, can be designed as an entire strategy that hits all important marketing objectives.



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