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11 Privacy-Focused, Alternative Search Engines to Google

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11 Privacy-Focused, Alternative Search Engines to Google

Google alternatives are everywhere, but are they any good?

To answer this question, I poked around a few popular alternative search engines for a day or two and used them for my daily work.

My main judging criterion was how each search engine fared in its commitment to protecting user data and privacy. Here are the 11 that got my approval:

  1. Startpage
  2. DuckDuckGo
  3. Brave Search
  4. Swisscows
  5. Search Encrypt
  6. OneSearch
  7. MetaGer
  8. Mojeek
  9. Qwant
  10. Ecosia
  11. You.com

Startpage's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

Startpage is effectively Google without the tracking. And for this reason, it takes our top spot.

According to the Netherlands-based search engine, your queries are anonymized before search results are pulled from Google. This means all identifying information is blanketed, including your IP address. No tracking cookies are used either.

Startpage also complies with GDPR, a European Union regulation that protects users’ data. Still, you should know the country is part of the Nine Eyes intelligence alliance, which shares mass surveillance data with eight countries.

Feature spotlight

"Anonymized View" message in search queries

The Anonymous View feature lets you visit websites from your search results anonymously for both desktop and mobile. It essentially behaves like a (free) VPN.

DuckDuckGo's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

DuckDuckGo is easily the most well-known private search engine around—and the antithesis to Google when it comes to favoring user privacy. (Though, it does monetize from user searches.)

Your search history is saved in a non-identifiable manner, meaning tracking cookies and personal identifiers, such as IP addresses, are not stored.

This is a huge plus for us despite the fact that results pulled from over 400 sources, including its own crawler (DuckDuckBot), crowdsourced sites like Wikipedia and partners like Bing and Yahoo.

To test its efficacy, I plugged the same keywords into Google and DuckDuckGo—from “covid-19 updates” to “kaws marina bay.” The results were often similar. I found this to be true of breaking news stories too.

A possible downside is that DuckDuckGo is based in the U.S. and, by extension, part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance—which frequently collects mass surveillance data from internet companies.

Feature spotlight

Gif showing Bangs feature

DuckDuckGo’s “Bangs” feature takes you directly to search results on other sites. For example, typing “!w” and a keyword (e.g., !w singapore) takes you directly to Wikipedia’s page for Singapore.

Brave's homepage. Search term "Ahrefs" in text field

I like Brave Search for its focus on unbiased results, which it pulls from its own index. The company made the bold move of relinquishing its reliance on Google SERPs in October 2021.

Upon searching for both evergreen content and time-sensitive news, I found the results to be similar enough to Google’s—so long as you allow for anonymous local results.

For more privacy, you can choose to turn this toggle off and conduct manual searches, e.g., “things to do in [location].”

Toggle button for "Anonymous local results"

Just like the other search engines here, there is no user profiling and no personalized or targeted ads.

The search engine is part of Brave Software, whose co-founders include Brendan Eich (creator of JavaScript and co-founder of browser Mozilla Firefox) and Brian Bondy (former senior platform engineer at Mozilla).

Feature spotlight

Search results for "marketing." Knowledge panel on the right

Brave has knowledge panels for quick answers to your burning questions, just like Google.

Swisscows' homepage. Search term "Ahrefs" in text field

Swisscows is a Switzerland-based search engine that has its own index for German-language queries. For all other languages, results are pulled from Bing. But this isn’t an issue, given that all search queries are stripped of personal identifiers.

The search engine also omits the use of tracking cookies and geo-targeting.

While Swisscows’ search results certainly aren’t on par with Google’s, I like how family friendly the search engine is: It automatically filters out violent and pornographic search results by way of an enforced feature.

As far as privacy goes, Switzerland is not part of an intelligence alliance, but it does have a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with the U.S.

Feature spotlight

Search results for "digital marketing." Semantic map on the right

Swisscows has “semantic maps” to help you refine your searches.

Search Encrypt's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

Search Encrypt sources for its results from its content partners and search engines (including Google, Bing, and Yahoo), albeit in a privacy-safe manner.

Like the other search engines on this list, Search Encrypt anonymizes search queries, doesn’t retain server logs or IP addresses, and doesn’t store tracking cookies.

When it comes to searches, your terms are encrypted locally before being sent to the servers. After 30 minutes of inactivity, your browsing history will be erased.

However, Search Encrypt does store your search data (albeit without any of your personal identifiers) to improve its product performance.

I found its search results comparable to Ecosia’s. So while it’s not quite up there with DuckDuckGo and Startpage, Search Encrypt is reliable enough to be used for all kinds of queries—whether navigational, transactional, or informational.

Feature spotlight

Options to retry search on Yahoo, Bing, and Google

If you’re dissatisfied with the results or want a quick comparison, you can easily do so using the “retry this search” function located at the top of the page.

OneSearch's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

Owned by Yahoo’s parent company, Verizon Media, OneSearch claims to be a privacy-oriented search engine—with search results pulled from Bing.

No cookies are stored, and there is no sharing of identifiable personal data with advertisers. Having also perused its privacy policy, I found the search engine to be pretty safe.

On the downside, OneSearch profiles you based on query search terms and your imprecise location at the time of your search. So you may get contextual ads—or educated guesses about your interests based on your search keywords. There is no personal profiling or retargeting, though.

What I like are the little extras: the SafeSearch function, the ability to set a more specific location, and the “Advanced Privacy Mode” option (more below).

Feature spotlight

Toggle button to turn Advance Privacy Mode on or off. Short write-up about privacy below

Enable “Advanced Privacy Mode” to encrypt search terms and search URLs, which will mask your search content from third parties.

MetaGer's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

MetaGer is a Germany-based, open-source metasearch engine. Like Ecosia, its servers run on renewable energy.

Results are pulled from Scopia, Bing, OneNewspage, and OneNewspage (Video), so they’re pretty timely. You can also deselect the search engines used or create a blacklist of websites in the settings.

I appreciate how transparent MetaGer is in its handling of user information, from queries to maps. Still, it’s not without caveats: The search engine stores your full IP address for 96 hours, and your name and email address are kept if you fill out its contact form.

However, it does use an anonymizing proxy that ensures you retain full control over your data.

Feature spotlight

Example of "Did you know" box

The “Did you know”’ box (to the right of search results) offers tidbits about MetaGer and how to refine your searches. You can also click on the text to view the full list of tips.

Mojeek's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

Mojeek is a crawler-based search engine with its own search index of over 4 billion pages. This makes it excellent for unbiased information. But it also means there may be limited results, as it doesn’t pull results from other search engines.

Still, I like the search engine for its straightforward no-tracking policy. Your personal data will also never be sold or distributed, which is a huge plus in our books. If you’ve filled its contact form, you can request to have the information deleted too, as per GDPR.

All that said, Mojeek is based in the U.K., which is part of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance—just like DuckDuckGo.

Feature spotlight

Emoticons below text field

The emotion-based search classification feature allows you to enter a keyword and search by emotion.

Qwant's homepage. Search term "ahrefs" in text field

Qwant is a Paris-based search engine whose search results are powered by Bing and its own web crawler. It’s fully accessible in over 30 countries but, alas, not Singapore.

At last check, my colleague, SQ, found the accuracy of search results to be decent enough. But don’t expect location-specific answers, as Qwant doesn’t track your geolocation.

It also doesn’t collect data or use tracking cookies. But it keeps your IP address for fraud detection purposes. If you prefer complete anonymity, Qwant suggests using a VPN or the TOR relay service.

Like Startpage, Qwant offers GDPR protection. France is, however, part of the Nine Eyes intelligence alliance.

Feature spotlight

Example of search shortcut. Typing in a specific query leads to Amazon's page

There are “search shortcuts” that offer you quick access to specific websites. For instance, using the term “&a books” yields results from Amazon’s books category.

View the list of shortcuts here.

Ecosia's logo. Next to it is a text field to enter search queries

Did you know every action you take on your digital device emits carbon dioxide? And Google plays a big part in it: It’s accountable for ~40% of the internet’s carbon footprint.

To counteract this, private search engine Ecosia donates 80% of its profits to tree-planting projects, or roughly one tree for every 45 searches made. It has also built a solar plant so that its servers can run on clean power.

On the whole, I found its search results to be close enough to Google’s.

Ecosia isn’t fully private. It collects search data and personally identifiable information, both of which are only anonymized after seven days. But we reckon using the search engine is a worthy trade-off, as it seeks to tackle climate change.

Feature spotlight

Search results page. On top right-hand corner, a small scoreboard with a tree next to it

Your number of searches is shown on a scoreboard (unless you choose to clear your browser cookies), allowing you to keep track of your impact on the environment.

You.com's logo. Next to it is a text field containing search term "ahrefs"

Rounding off the list is You.com. The beta-stage search engine offers a highly customizable experience: Your search results appear on one webpage but are split into several sections that you can rearrange according to your preferences.

"Web results," "Images," and "Videos" sections on search results page

To further customize your results, sign up for an account to add and save apps to your dashboard (find out more under Feature Spotlight below). These apps are essentially your preferred sources of information and will show up along with your search results.

Saved app "Reddit" on search results page

While it’s a neat feature, it also means your first-party cookies will be stored for personalization purposes. Alternatively, you’re able to eliminate first-party cookie-tracking entirely by browsing privately or via VPN.

I found the search results for various keywords (such as “ahrefs” and “covid-19 singapore daily cases”) to be comparable to Google’s. And while some results are drawn from Microsoft, You.com maintains that user data is kept safe and not sold to advertisers. The company is carbon neutral too.

Feature spotlight

Section to add apps

Personalize your search results by adding apps to your feed—there are scores of categories to choose from. You can even add developer apps, such as Github, to your dashboard.

Final thoughts

While Google dominates the global search engine market, it’s had its fair share of criticism: antitrust issues, creating a filter bubble, violating user privacy, and more.

For users, alternative search engines may be one workaround. But don’t take our word for it; try out the ones on this list to decide what works best for you.

Got questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.




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The 10 Best Website Builders To Consider 2024

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The 10 Best Website Builders To Consider 2024

Choosing the right website builder may depend on your goals. They have a variety of features, and some platforms excel in areas that others don’t.

Not all builders will fit if you need advanced SEO or ecommerce capabilities.

We compared 10 website builders based on price, data limits, core use cases, and whether they provide domains.

The 10 Best Website Builders Compared

Website Builder Starting Price Free Option Premium Content Gates Limits Free Domain Great For Extras We Like
WordPress.com $9/month Yes Yes 1-50 GB Yes (annual plans only) Blogging and text-based sites
  • Easily work between the .com and self-hosted sites.
  • Customizability.
Wix $17/month Yes Yes 2 GB-Unlimited Yes Small businesses & entrepreneurs
  • Educational programs and support.
  • Scheduling.
  • Ad management.
  • Email campaigns.
Duda $25/month 14 days Yes 1-4 sites No Getting started
  • Excellent help and support.
  • Zapier integration.
  • Multiple language sites.
  • Content library and free assets.
HubSpot $15/month Yes Yes Up to 30 pages on the free plan No Scaling
  • Conversational bots.
  • Wide range of free tools for sales, marketing, and services.
  • Extensive site and business owner education.
  • Mobile app.
Squarespace $25/month 14 days Yes Unlimited bandwidth, 30 minutes of video storage Yes (annual plans only) Quick, no-fuss sites
  • Custom product creation without worrying about fulfillment and shipping.
  • Integrated ecommerce on larger plans.
Webflow $18/month Yes Yes Starts with 1 GB bandwidth and 50 CMS items Yes Designers & Agencies
  • Schema markup and structured search support.
  • Pre-built interactions.
IONOS $6/month No No 50-75 GB Yes Small businesses on a budget
  • Affordable.
  • Competitor tracking.
  • Online booking included.
  • Built-in privacy and SSL.
Shopify $5/month 3 days No Unlimited products, bandwidth, and online storage No Ecommerce
  • Wide range of ecommerce features.
  • Large app store for extensions.
Weebly $12/month Yes No Unlimited storage Yes Beginners
  • Ease of use.
  • Built-in SEO tools.
Hostinger $2.99/month No No 25,000 visits,
100 GB SSD storage,
400,000 files
Yes Budget sites
  • Very affordable plans.
  • 24/7 customer support.

10 Best Website Builders For 2024

1. WordPress.com

Screenshot from WordPress.com, June 2024

With 62.7% of the market share held between WordPress.com and .org, WordPress is the largest and most prominent website builder.

Key Features

  • Over 50,000 plugins and 8,000 themes for customization.
  • Ability to transition between hosted and self-hosted options.
  • With paid plans, custom domains, site security, and advanced features are available.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • User-friendly interface suitable for beginners.
  • Flexibility to create various types of websites.
  • Built-in SEO tools and options to optimize your site for search engines.

Cost

  • $0-$70/month ($0-$45/month, billed annually), plus custom options.

2. Wix

Wix webpageScreenshot from Wix.com, June 2024

Wix controls only 4% of the CMS market, but that small number translates into hundreds of millions of users and makes it one of the most popular website builders.

It offers ease of use and flexibility, making it suitable for creating professional websites with expanded functionality.

Key Features

  • Customizable templates with drag-and-drop editing.
  • Wide range of elements and third-party apps for added functionality.
  • Comprehensive business solutions, including ecommerce and marketing tools.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Suitable for beginners and those needing advanced features.
  • SEO Wiz tool for optimizing your site’s SEO settings.
  • Extensive help, resources, and guides for website creation and promotion.

Cost

  • $0-$159/month, plus custom options.

3. Duda

Duda.coScreenshot from Duda.co, June 2024

Duda is a website builder that balances ease of use with advanced customization options, making it popular among designers and developers.

Key Features

  • Drag-and-drop interface and customizable templates.
  • Widgets and add-ons for expanded functionality, including ecommerce.
  • Mobile editor for creating mobile-friendly versions of your site

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Suitable for businesses and individuals seeking a professional website.
  • Built-in SEO optimization features, including meta descriptions and sitemaps.
  • Excellent customer support with live chat, email, and resources.

Cost:

  • $25-$199/month ($19-$149/month, billed annually), plus custom options.

4. HubSpot

HubSpot webpageScreenshot from HubSpot.com, June 2024

HubSpot is an all-in-one marketing, sales, and customer service platform with a powerful website builder.

Key Features

  • Drag-and-drop interface and customizable templates.
  • Pre-built modules for forms, CTAs, and social media integration.
  • Integrated CMS, marketing automation, and sales tools.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Ideal for businesses seeking a comprehensive solution.
  • Built-in SEO tools for keyword research, on-page optimization, and analytics.
  • Scalable platform that grows.

Cost

  • $0-$450/month, plus custom options.

5. Squarespace

SquarespaceScreenshot from Squarespace, June 2024

Squarespace is a website builder that offers beautifully designed templates and powerful ecommerce features.

Key Features

  • Customizable templates that work across devices.
  • Ecommerce tools for inventory management, order tracking, and payment processing.
  • Marketing tools for SEO, video, and audience management

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Ideal for businesses focusing on ecommerce and brand promotion.
  • Built-in SEO features and integration with Google Analytics.
  • Mobile app for managing your site on the go.

Cost

  • $25-$72/month ($16-$52/month, billed annually), and enterprise plans.

6. Webflow

Homepage of webflow.comScreenshot from webflow.com, May 2024

Webflow is a website builder offering advanced design and development features suitable for users of all skill levels.

Key Features

  • Free plan for getting started with basic features.
  • Ecommerce plan with advanced tools for selling products and managing orders.
  • Team plan with collaboration features and client billing.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Suitable for individuals and teams looking for advanced customization options.
  • Advanced SEO features, including schema and Open Graph.
  • Unique features like scheduled publishing, logic flows, and animations.

Cost

  • $0-$235/month ($0-$212/month, billed annually), including enterprise plans.

7. IONOS

Homepage of ionos.comScreenshot from: ionos.com, May 2024.

IONOS is an affordable and simple website builder that offers all the essential features for creating a functional and beautiful site.

Key Features

  • Three-step site design process: choosing a design, adding content, and promoting.
  • Search engine-optimized templates built for performance.
  • Presence Suite for managing and promoting your site

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Ideal for quick website setups, test projects, and DIYers.
  • Templates are pre-optimized for search engines.
  • Affordable pricing plans with essential features.

Cost

  • $6-$15/month ($4-$8/month billed three years in advance).

8. Shopify

1721393763 166 The 10 Best Website Builders To Consider 2024Screenshot from: Shopify.com, June 2024.

Shopify is a comprehensive ecommerce platform that enables businesses to create online stores and sell products easily.

Key Features

  • Customizable templates and drag-and-drop editing.
  • Powerful ecommerce tools for inventory management, payment processing, and shipping.
  • The app store has thousands of apps to extend functionality.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Ideal for businesses of all sizes looking to create an online store.
  • Built-in SEO features and the ability to edit meta tags, URLs, and site structure.
  • 24/7 customer support and extensive documentation.

Cost

  • $19-$399/month ($29-$299/month billed annually).

9. Weebly

1721393763 174 The 10 Best Website Builders To Consider 2024Screenshot from: weebly.com, June 2024.

Weebly is a user-friendly website builder that offers a wide range of features for creating professional websites and online stores.

Key Features

  • Drag-and-drop interface and customizable templates.
  • Ecommerce functionality with inventory management and payment processing.
  • Blogging platform and app center for additional features.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Suitable for beginners and small businesses.
  • Built-in SEO tools, including meta descriptions, alt tags, and sitemaps.
  • Responsive customer support and community forum.

Cost

  • $$0-$29/month ($10-$26/month billed annually).

10. Hostinger

1721393763 885 The 10 Best Website Builders To Consider 2024Screenshot from hostinger.com, June 2024.

Hostinger offers an easy-to-use website-building tool in its web hosting plans, designed to help users get sites up and running fast.

Key Features

  • Intuitive and user-friendly interface.
  • Suitable for beginners and those needing a website up and running quickly.
  • Free domain, website migration, email, and SSL are included in the hosting package.

Benefits & SEO Highlights

  • Optimized for speed using LiteSpeed Web Server technology, advanced cache solutions, and Object Cache for WordPress.
  • Advanced security features, including unlimited SSL certificates, DDoS protection, automatic backups, and a 99.9% uptime guarantee.

Cost

  • $2.99-$9.99 for the first month ($7.99-$19.99/month on renewal).

Find The Right Website Builder For Your Needs

When choosing a website builder, consider your needs, budget, and skill level.

  • WordPress.com offers flexibility and customization for bloggers and content-heavy sites.
  • Small businesses and entrepreneurs may prefer all-in-one solutions like Wix or HubSpot for marketing integration.
  • Ecommerce stores should evaluate dedicated platforms like Shopify for robust selling tools.
  • Beginners can start with user-friendly builders like Weebly, while designers and agencies may prefer more advanced options like Webflow.

With the variety of website builders available, there’s a solution for every need.

More resources:


Featured Image: Kaspars Grinvalds/Shutterstock

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

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How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Getting to the top of Google can be quite slow. Especially so for small, new websites. And the competition can often be too strong, which makes it quite unlikely for you to outrank your rivals in the first place.

Well… if you can’t win, change the rules.

There’s a very simple trick for getting search traffic for the keywords that you want to rank for—without actually ranking for them.

Enter…

One of the most common pieces of marketing advice is to “go fish where the fish are.” Whatever product or service you want to sell, you have to follow three simple steps:

  1. Figure out who your ideal customers are.
  2. Find the places where those people are hanging out online.
  3. Go to those places and find ways to promote your product.

Quick example: if you want to sell fitness gear, it would be good to figure out how to tap into the r/Fitness community on Reddit, which has over 12M members.

What does it have to do with SEO though?

Well, whatever search traffic you want to drive to your own website… someone is already getting it to theirs, right? And their website is not necessarily your direct competitor.

If you own a bagel joint in Singapore, you definitely want your website to rank in Google for “best bagels in Singapore.” But the pages that actually rank for this keyword are listicles, which give readers a bunch of different suggestions. So your job is to get featured in as many of those top-ranking listicles as possible.

Ranking for a keyword with your own website isn’t the only way to get customers from Google. Getting featured on other pages that rank for this keyword is incredibly effective too.

I call this tactic “second-hand search traffic”.

The underlying idea is not new though.

You might have heard of the concept called “Barnacle SEO,” shared by Rand Fishkin back in 2014. There’s also a concept called “Surround Sound,” coined by Alex Birkett. And another one called “SERP Monopoly strategy” by Nick Eubanks. There’s also a reverse concept, called “Rank & Rent.”

The idea behind all of these tactics is practically the same: if a page gets a lot of relevant search traffic from Google—you have to try and get your business mentioned there.

1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330765 614 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything
Source

But that’s easier said than done, right?

Why would anyone bother to feature your business on their website?

Well, one simple answer is money.

If a website owner can make money from mentioning your business on their page, there’s a good chance they’ll do it. This money could come in the form of an affiliate commission or a flat fee for an annual or permanent placement. Sometimes these things can also happen as part of a broader partnership deal.

Getting listed for free is very, very hard. Especially so if you’re not already a big and respected business that people naturally want to feature on their website.

And yet—it’s not completely impossible to get listed for free.

Case in point, we just published our own “best SEO conferences” post, in order to rank for relevant search queries and promote our upcoming event, Ahrefs Evolve Singapore.

And then we went ahead and reached out to all websites that rank for the “best SEO conferences” keyword and asked them to add Ahrefs Evolve to their listicles. So far 10 out of 17 featured us on their pages, without asking for any payment whatsoever.

1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 734 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

The most straightforward way to execute this strategy is to compile a list of highly relevant keywords (with high business potential scores), pull all the top-ranking pages for each of them into a spreadsheet, and start your outreach.

But there’s one other fruitful source of pages to get second-hand search traffic from. These are pages that are linking to your competitors, while getting a decent amount of search traffic themselves.

Here’s how to find these pages in 3 simple steps:

  1. Put the website of your competitor in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  2. Navigate to the Backlinks report.
  3. Apply the “Referring page > Traffic” filter.
How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for AnythingHow to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

Here’s an example of a page I found while trying this out for the ConvertKit website:

1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything1721330766 665 How to Get Search Traffic Without Ranking for Anything

As you can see, this page is not about “email marketing” (the primary topic you’d go for, if you wanted to promote an email marketing tool). And yet, this page is receiving 2.6k visitors per month from Google (as estimated by Ahrefs), and it recommends a bunch of email marketing tools to its readers.

So if you own an email marketing tool—like ConvertKit—you definitely want to get mentioned on that page alongside your competitors.

The moral of this story is that you should look outside of the topics that are immediately relevant to your business. Any page that gets traffic and mentions a competitor of yours should become your target.

And Ahrefs makes it super easy to find such pages.

That’s it.

I hope you found this tactic useful. Don’t sleep on it, because there’s a good chance that your competitors won’t.

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

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What SEO Should Know About Brand Marketing With Mordy Oberstein

For the SEO industry, the Google documents leak offered an important view behind the scenes. Although the leak was not a blueprint of how the algorithm worked, there was considerable confirmation that SEO professionals were right about many elements of the algorithm.

From all the analysis and discussion following the leak, the one insight that got my attention was how important the brand is.

Rand Fishkin, who broke the leak, said this:

“Brand matters more than anything else … If there was one universal piece of advice I had for marketers seeking to broadly improve their organic search rankings and traffic, it would be: “Build a notable, popular, well-recognized brand in your space, outside of Google search.”

Mike King echoed this statement with the following observation:

“All these potential demotions can inform a strategy, but it boils down to making stellar content with strong user experience and building a brand, if we’re being honest.”

Mordy Oberstein, who is an advocate for building a brand online, posted on X (Twitter):

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand.”

It’s not the first time that “brand” has been mentioned in SEO. We began to talk about this around 2012 after the impact of Panda and Penguin when it first became apparent that Google’s aim was to put more emphasis on brand.

Compounding this is the introduction of AI, which has accelerated the importance of taking a more holistic approach to online marketing with less reliance on Google SERPs.

When I spoke to Pedro Dias, he said, “We need to focus more than ever on building our own communities with users aligned to our brands.”

As someone who had 15 years of offline experience in marketing, design, and business before moving into SEO, I have always said that having this wide knowledge allows me to take a holistic view of SEO. So, I welcome the mindset shift towards building a brand online.

As part of his X/Twitter post, Mordy also said:

“I am SO happy that the SEO conversation has shifted to thinking about “brand” (a lot of which is the direct result of @randfish’s & @iPullRank’s great advice following the “Google leaks”).

As someone who has straddled the brand marketing and SEO world for the better part of 10 years – branding is A LOT harder than many SEOs would think and will be a HUGE adjustment for many SEOs.”

Following his X/Twitter post, I reached out to Mordy Oberstein, Head of SEO Brand at Wix, to have a conversation about branding and SEO.

What Do SEO Pros Need To Know About ‘Brand’ To Make The Mindset Shift?

I asked Mordy, “In your opinion, what does brand and building a brand mean, and can SEO pros make this mindset shift?”

Mordy responded, “Brand building basically means creating a connection between one entity and another entity, meaning the company and the audience.

It’s two people meeting, and that convergence is the building of a brand. It’s very much a relationship. And I think that’s what makes it hard for SEOs. It’s a different way of thinking; it’s not linear, and there aren’t always metrics that you can measure it by.

I’m not saying you don’t use data, or you don’t have data, but it’s harder to measure to tell a full story.

You’re trying to pick up on latent signals. A lot of the conversation is unconscious.

It’s all about the micro things that compound. So, you have to think about everything you do, every signal, to ensure that it is aligned with the brand.

For example, a website writes about ‘what is a tax return.’ However, if I’m a professional accountant and I see this on your blog, I might think this isn’t relevant to me because you’re sending me a signal that you’re very basic. I don’t need to know what a tax return is; I have a master’s degree in accounting.

The latent signals that you’re sending can be very subtle, but this is where it is a mindset shift for SEO.”

I recalled a recent conversation with Pedro Dias in which he stressed it was important to put your users front and center and create content that is relevant to them. Targeting high-volume keywords is not going to connect with your audience. Instead, think about what is going to engage, interest, and entertain them.

I went on to say that for some time, the discussion online has been about SEO pros shifting away from the keyword-first approach. However, the consequences of moving away from a focus on traffic and clicks will mean we are likely to experience a temporary decline in performance.

How Does An SEO Professional Sell This To Stakeholders – How Do They Measure Success?

I asked Mordy, “How do you justify this approach to stakeholders – how do they measure success?”

Mordy replied, “I think selling SEO will become harder over time. But, if you don’t consider the brand aspect, then you could be missing the point of what is happening. It’s not about accepting lower volumes of traffic; it’s that traffic will be more targeted.

You might see less traffic right now, but the idea is to gain a digital presence and create digital momentum that will result in more qualified traffic in the long term.”

Mordy went on to say, “It’s going to be a habit to break out of, just like when you have to go on a diet for a long-term health gain.

The ecosystem will change, and it will force change to our approach. SEOs may not have paid attention to the Google leak documents, but I think they will pay attention as the entire ecosystem shifts – they won’t have a choice.

I also think C-level will send a message that they don’t care about overall traffic numbers, but do care about whether a user appreciates what they are producing and that the brand is differentiated in some way.”

How Might The Industry Segment And What Will Be The Important Roles?

I interjected to make the point that it does look a lot like SEO is finally making that shift across marketing.

Technical SEO will always be important, and paid/programmatic will remain important because it is directly attributable.

For the rest of SEO, I anticipate it merges across brand, SEO, and content into a hybrid strategy role that will straddle those disciplines.

What we thought of as “traditional SEO” will fall away, and SEO will become absorbed into marketing.

In response, Mordy agreed and thought that SEO traffic is part of a wider scope or part of a wider paradigm, and it will sit under brand and communications.

An SEO pro that functions as part of the wider marketing and thinks about how we are driving revenue, how we are driving growth, what kind of growth we are driving, and using SEO as a vehicle to that.

The final point I raised was about social media and whether that would become a more combined facet of SEO and overall online marketing.

Mordy likened Google to a moth attracted to the biggest digital light.

He said, “Social media is a huge vehicle for building momentum and the required digital presence.

For example, the more active I am on social media, the more organic branded searches I gain through Google Search. I can see the correlation between that.

I don’t think that Google is ignoring branded searches, and it makes a semantic connection.”

SEO Will Shift To Include Brand And Marketing

The conversation I had with Mordy raised an interesting perspective that SEO will have to make significant shifts to a brand and marketing mindset.

The full impact of AI on Google SERPs and how the industry might change is yet to be realized. But, I strongly recommend that anyone in SEO consider how they can start to take a brand-first approach to their strategy and the content they create.

I suggest building and measuring relationships with audiences based on how they connect with your brand and moving away from any strategy based on chasing high-volume keywords.

Think about what the user will do once you get the click – that is where the real value lies.

Get ahead of the changes that are coming.

Thank you to Mordy Oberstein for offering his opinion and being my guest on IMHO.

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Featured Image: 3rdtimeluckystudio/Shutterstock

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