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11 Ways to Improve E-commerce Category Pages for SEO



11 Ways to Improve E-commerce Category Pages for SEO

If you’ve been doing SEO for a while, you’ll understand what I mean when I say category pages are a common area SEO and UX experts disagree on.

And this is for one key reason: SEOs tend to want to add more content and links, and UX experts want to prioritize clicks to products.

However, there is a middle ground where we can retain the commercial nature of categories and include content to help users make their purchase decision.

Throughout this guide, I’ll show how to improve your e-commerce category pages for SEO while ensuring the user remains at the core of your decisions.

But first, why are categories so important?

The importance of great categories cannot be understated.

They’re the site area where you’ll often capture “The Fat Head” and “The Chunky Middle” of search queries—the high-volume, less-specific queries that most bosses/clients want to rank for.

The search demand curve

That’s not to say categories can’t target long-tail keywords. But unless you have a lot of SKUs, sites often target the long-tail with product pages.

In addition to categories being essential for capturing traffic from high-volume terms, they also help:

  • Users discover your products when navigating your site.
  • You effectively distribute PageRank to important subcategories and products via your internal linking.
  • Users and search engines understand your information architecture (IA), i.e., how you’ve organized your content.

Before we move on with some tips, I’ll introduce the two types of category pages you’ll find on e-commerce stores:

  • Category listing pages (CLP) – Categories that predominantly list categories. 
  • Product listing pages (PLP) – Categories that predominantly list products.

You’ll see CLPs across many popular e-commerce stores, and they’re often found in categories higher up within a site’s hierarchy.

For example, here is a CLP on ASOS:

Category listing page from ASOS

And here is ASOS’ PLP:

Product listing page from ASOS

So why is understanding the difference between CLPs and PLPs significant?

CLPs target very broad topics. A site is unlikely to service the user’s requirements by displaying one product type. For example, on ASOS’ men’s clothing CLP, it doesn’t know the specific type of men’s clothing a user wants to see, so it links to a mixture of different types of products.

CLPs exist to help users navigate to a more specific page. Sites do this, as they won’t be sure specifically what the user wants yet—so they show them a selection of all relevant product types.

With PLPs, on the other hand, sites know what a user wants. If a user searches for “men’s black boots,” the intent is clear—so they show them black boots.

While we should still help users navigate to a more specific category (if possible), we know showing a list of black boots for them to purchase will fulfill their requirements.

Key elements for categories

Your typical category page is simple and looks like the PLPs I’ve just described. They’ll likely have:

  • An H1.
  • A section under the H1 with some intro copy.
  • A list of products, likely with pagination.
  • Faceted navigation to help users filter the products.

However, there are far more elements you can include to help users and SEO on both PLPs and CLPs.

Here’s a mockup of the critical elements you should consider for both types of categories that both users and search engines will love.

Critical elements of a category page (mockup)

I’ll now expand on the above points throughout the rest of the article to help you improve your category pages.

In this scenario, helpful content will help the user make a purchasing decision.

If you have an “engagement ring” category, writing about the history of engagement rings isn’t helpful.

Valuable supplementary content in this scenario will be answering questions like:

  • How have you sourced your diamonds/metals?
  • Are your diamonds lab-grown or natural? 
  • Why did you select these? Metals available? What makes yours better?
  • What’s the most popular style?

You can briefly answer key pain points below the H1, usually in around 30–60 words. But then you can also add further information lower down the page, either in a generic content block or an FAQ section.

Where to add helpful content on a category page

Not only is this useful for a user, but it also helps you rank.

In an interview with Marie Haynes, Google Search Advocate John Mueller said:

When the ecommerce category pages don’t have any other content at all, other than links to the products, then it’s really hard for us to rank those pages.

John Mueller

Google needs some content to understand the page’s content, and users who don’t know your brand need something to help them decide whether you’re the best choice.

So we know valuable content helps. However, this is sometimes taken to the extreme, resulting in a large amount of content that nobody will read below the fold.

One of the worst offenders is eBay, with many pages including over 1,000 words of text placed at the bottom of the category.

Too much "helpful content" from eBay

In the same interview, John said this about that practice.

I’m not saying all of that text at the bottom of your page is bad, but maybe 90%, 95% of that text is unnecessary. But some amount of text is useful to have on a page so that we can understand what this page is about.

John Mueller

So it’s likely not helping. But is it harming? The answer is likely—yes.

Our algorithms sometimes get confused when they have a list of products on top and essentially a giant article on the bottom when our algorithms have to figure out the intent of this page.

John Mueller

Still not convinced about removing the content? 

Here’s a case study.

At the end of June 2021, I finished a four-week rollout of new category page content. 

I updated 191 pages with 70 words of content above the fold. Previously, up to 800 words were above the fold, hidden by a “read more” toggle.

Here’s the traffic for the following weeks (“A” marks the point the rollout finished):

Traffic weeks after removing excessive content

Here are some snapshots of the ranking for key terms on the top traffic pages. Each of these moved from 800 words to around 70 words (they previously were instructed more content equals better, so they added more content to their top pages). 

Rankings after removing content

Here’s the fifth-largest, non-brand query: 

Fifth-largest, non-brand query—rankings after removing content

And here’s the sixth-largest, non-brand query:

Sixth-largest, non-brand query—rankings after removing content

And the long-term impact? 

The site has been steadily growing.

Long-term impact of removing content

There is never one single reason for SEO growth—but this change certainly did no harm.

As always, do your own testing. But my experience and comments from John have shown that filler content on categories doesn’t help.

To summarize category content: 

  • Answer questions that help users make purchase decisions
  • Answer questions succinctly
  • Don’t stuff content

2. Organize categories logically

Most e-commerce solutions provide a way for you to set parent/child relationships between categories.

Here’s an example of that functionality for a WooCommerce product category:

Parent category function in WooCommerce

Organizing your categories into a logical hierarchy results in your site outputting breadcrumbs correctly; here is an example on my SEO Toolbelt resource:

Organizing your categories into a logical hierarchy results in your site outputting breadcrumbs correctly

Breadcrumbs help users by indicating where they are on your site, and they aid SEO by distributing PageRank to the categories within the breadcrumbs.

They also help Google, as it uses internal links to understand site structure.

We do use the internal links to better understand the structure of a page.

John Mueller

However, breadcrumbs are something a lot of UX professionals are reluctant to introduce, usually because they:

  • Take up lots of room.
  • Tend to be quite ugly.
  • Promote users to navigate to categories rather than products where they’ll convert.

The good news is that breadcrumb placement doesn’t matter for SEO.

I’m always cautious about introducing breadcrumbs, as experience has shown UX experts are right. Whenever I’ve clients run an A/B test, breadcrumbs have negatively impacted conversion rates.

However, the workaround is simple: move breadcrumbs lower down the page.

3. Internally link categories

On both CLP and PLP pages, you should ensure you’re linking to other relevant categories the user may find helpful. On e-commerce sites, I advocate for a mixture of automated internal linking and manually placed links.

Automate links to parent/child categories

For large e-commerce stores, without automation, managing links will be an admin nightmare.

Take GetYourGuide, for example. On its “things to do” on the U.S. page, it has a block of internal links lower down the page to different regions in the U.S.

Regions in the U.S.—automated internal links

If we head to Colorado, scroll down to the same area. Now, it displays cities.

Cities in Colorado— automated internal links

Once you go to Boulder, you’ll see links to activity categories.

Things to do in Boulder—automated internal links

It most undoubtedly automates these links.

How? The site understands the parent/child relationship between categories. That’s how it can also display static breadcrumbs above the footer.

Static breadcrumbs above the footer generated automatically

It’ll be dynamically querying a database for the child pages of the current page and then displaying those to users.

Site structure: source of automatically generated breadcrumbs

The reason why this is so useful is that:

  • You know you won’t get orphan categories due to a human error.
  • If you create a new subcategory and set the parent category, the parent category will link to the subcategory automatically.
  • Your internal links will always indicate your site structure, e.g., Google will understand that Louisiana is a subcategory of the U.S. category, as you link to Louisiana on your U.S. page.

Another considerable benefit is that you’ll automatically create a pyramid site structure, where broader pages link to more specific ones.

Pyramid site structure

We know this helps Google understand site structure, as confirmed by John.

The top-down approach or pyramid structure helps us a lot more to understand the context of individual pages within the site.

John Mueller

Automate links to similar categories

Similar to the above, you’ll also want to link similar categories. You can automate this, but it doesn’t suit every site.

Back to the Boulder page on GetYourGuide, it also links to other popular cities.

Automated links to similar categories

For these links, it will be querying a database, getting the parent category of the current page, and then listing the parents’ child pages.

Two-step process of querying a database for parents' child pages

Subcategories of the parent are likely relevant to the current page, which will help users find other pertinent categories and help SEO by sharing PageRank between them.

Manually link popular categories

You’ll now have a good baseline for internal linking. But it’s also essential to take editorial control of links, especially on CLP pages.

Sometimes, you can have a high search opportunity page deep within the site hierarchy, so relying on parent categories linking to child categories can result in “high opportunity” categories being too deep.

Therefore, you must also ensure you manually add links to popular/important categories to pages closer to the homepage, such as your CLP pages.

Manually add links to popular/important categories to pages closer to the homepage, like your CLP pages

4. Pagination and linking to products

A fundamental purpose of categories is to link to products, but there are a few nuances on how to do this best.

Link to popular products

For larger stores, prioritizing linking to popular products is often better than linking to all products with pagination.

Take Sports Direct in the U.K., for example. On its broad CLP pages, rather than linking lots of products, it includes links to only its best sellers.

Links to popular products

This is helpful for users and also consolidates PageRank into those URLs, improving how well they rank.

PageRank of one distributed to four pages

Doing this is a much better option than linking to more products (but ones that are less popular), which results in the popular traffic-driving products receiving less PageRank and ranking worse.

PageRank of one distributed to 10 pages

Consider view-all pages

While you should aim to link to popular products for pages higher up in your category hierarchy, as you get deeper into the site, users tend to want to see as many products as possible.

Often, the best way to achieve this is by using view-all pages, which is something Google found users prefer (albeit back in 2011).

Google prefers view-all pages

The main caveat with a view-all page is that users want fast load times (as mentioned in Google’s view-all article), and Core Web Vitals can impact rankings.

View-all pages can impact site speed

If you’re going to implement view-all pages, consider that it will cause PageRank to be diluted between all the pages you link to from that category.

Don’t go overboard with pagination

You don’t need to show all your products within your pagination.

Instead, link to more specific variants of the current category, especially if you can match that to search demand (more on that shortly).

For example, on ASOS, its “women’s dresses” category has 176 pagination component pages.

Long pagination on ASOS website

Every time it links to a “women’s dress” component page, it dilutes PageRank. This effectively causes ASOS to lose some PageRank to deep component pages that are very unlikely to rank.

Rather than linking to 176 component URLs, it could limit the pagination and consolidate PageRank into other more specific categories by linking to them instead.

Generally, this will also be beneficial for UX.

If a user reaches page #20 of your pagination, you likely need to help them refine what they’re looking for—maybe by linking to “women’s dress” categories by type or color—as suggested by John.

When creating your pagination strategy, you should consider whether sequential linking like ASOS or linking to multiple component pages is the better choice.

Sequential linking causes the first set of component pages to have stronger signals, which will result in the product pages they link to also having stronger signals, as confirmed by John.

If you link sequentially, what will generally happen is the first page of your site will have a lot stronger signals in the sense that your main content links to the first page, and then it kind of like incrementally drops and drops and drops as it goes through the pagination set.

John Mueller

Therefore, if you want ranking signals to be spread across all products in a category, link to more component pages. If you want to consolidate signals into products earlier within pagination, link to fewer.

Aren’t sure which approach you should take? Do some testing!

5. Create long-tail categories

A well-known tactic to improve your categories is to create long-tail, more specific variations of broader categories.

Here’s my favorite way of doing that using Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

First, enter the query a broader category is targeting, e.g., “engagement rings,” and search for it in the tool.

Keyword research starting from a broad category in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

Next, head to the Matching terms report.

KD for "engagement rings"

In the second left sidebar that now appears, click “Parent Topics.” This will group keywords with similar search results into the highest volume keyword.

Long-tail variants for "engagement rings"

We’ve now discovered many long-tail variants of our “engagement rings” pages that we can create on our site.

By creating pages targeting these queries and better covering the topic area of “engagement rings,” we’ll rank better for broad queries within that topic. 

SEOs often refer to this as “topic expertise”—and we did not make this up.

John confirmed it’s part of Google’s algorithms.

It’s something where if we can recognize that this website is really good for this broader topic area, then if someone is searching for that broader topic area, we can try to show that website as well. We don’t have to purely focus on individual pages, but we’ll say oh, like, it looks like you’re looking for a new laptop like this website has a lot of information on various facets around laptops.

John Mueller

Want to know more? Read Ahrefs CMO Tim Soulo’s guide on the long-tail keyword strategy

6. Pick a faceted navigation strategy

A critical element that can go wrong on category pages is how you deal with faceted navigation (often referred to as “filters”).

Here’s an example of one on the Nike store:

Faceted navigation example

I recommend reading my faceted navigation guide for all the details, but the primary SEO considerations are to:

  • Restrict crawling – Do ensure you prevent Google from crawling all facet links (as there can be millions of potential combinations, wasting your crawl budget).
  • Prevent indexing of low-value facets – If you don’t, Google can index hundreds of thousands to millions of essentially duplicate pages that aren’t useful for search.

If you’re going for an ideal implementation, you’re going to want to:

  • Apply facets client-side with AJAX, and don’t include <a href> links.
  • Provide alternate crawl paths to important facets you want to be indexed.

This topic is undoubtedly a technical one—and one you’ll want to get right. So I recommend you read my guide so you don’t just prevent SEO issues with facets but take advantage of the benefits. 

Data from Reevoo suggests positive reviews result in an 18% uplift in revenue on average—so they’re pretty important.

Many sites restrict reviews to product pages, but they’re also great to include in categories.

Fanatical is a great example, an e-commerce store selling Steam Keys for PC games.

Reviews on a category page

It includes recommendations from other gamers throughout its categories.

This adds unique content to categories and helps users find well-reviewed games. Crucially, well-reviewed games (which are more likely to convert) get more PageRank and rank better.

8. Useful guides and tools

As mentioned, one element often missed in categories is that you should provide content to help users make a purchasing decision.

While adding written content to the page helps, it isn’t meant to be overly detailed. This is why you should also link to in-depth guides.

Take Sephora, for example. Its CLPs have links to guides to help users decide on a product.

Guide on a category page

For SEO, this also helps the blog posts rank, as they’ll receive more PageRank. Also, it helps Google better understand your topic expertise, as you have lots of interlinked content.

9. Pick an optimal URL structure

There is plenty of advice on URL structure already available, but the main element to consider is to pick a format you won’t need to change.

John stated that URLs are identifiers for content.

For the most part, we treat URLs as identifiers of content.

John Mueller

Changing URLs (and redirecting them) is often deemed risky activity—you can’t be sure how long it’ll take Google to consolidate signals into the new URL.

Therefore, it’s best not to change URLs unless you have a good reason (like you’re rebranding).

Preventing URL changes for categories comes down to keeping them simple and pre-planning.

For example, you may tell your developers to structure URLs based on the parent/child relationships between categories:


But what happens if you change your site hierarchy?

Say the business starts selling boots. You’ll likely want to introduce a “Shoes” category into the hierarchy as the parent of the “Trainers” page and the new “Boots” page.

Your URLs will now change to be:


We’ve now just caused redirects for the “Trainer” URL and any subcategories it had.

Herein lies the issues with hierarchical structured URLs.

But what’s the solution?

Keep them as simple as possible to reduce the need for changes. 

Here’s an example: If for the “white trainers” URL above, we instruct developers to take the very top-level category (which is less likely to change) and then include the last category, the URL will be this:

Now, if any of the parent categories of the white trainer’s category change, it won’t impact the URL but will still affect the breadcrumbs.

But wouldn’t it be better to remove the structure and have a flat URL like this:

My personal experience here is that structured URLs impact rankings, despite what Google said on the topic.

Here’s a recent example: 

Structured URLs impact rankings, as shown in line graph

This uplift only impacted the changed URLs. We altered nothing else but saw an immediate impact.

Test this yourself. But also, as I’ve mentioned, changing URLs is risky.

Thankfully, for my above example, we didn’t need to change too many URLs, and the revenue risk to the business wasn’t significant vs. the reward I’d had doing this for other clients.

I’m not writing a keyword research article, and you need to start there before you decide on H1s and title tags. But the advice here is that you should use H1s and title tags on your site that match the language users use to find your product.

For both H1s and title tags, you should test and learn what works best for your site. But there are some general guides and things you can try out.

Use templates

Generally, you will want to have a templated title tag structure that closely matches your H1. 


Ahrefs data shows Google will rewrite your title tag in 33.4% of cases after changing how it created page titles in August 2021.

Google was more likely to rewrite titles in September 2021 than in June 2021

When Google rewrites your title tag, Ahrefs data shows Google will change it to your H1 tag 50.76% of the time.

When Google ignores titles, it uses H1s

The best way to ensure you have a title tag that Google won’t rewrite is by templating it so it is generated based on your page’s H1. 

Here’s an example: [Page H1] – [Brand Name].

You may want to add some variety to the page title, but what works best comes down to testing.

Test, test, test

There are many different tests you can run to see what works best for you; here are some examples:

  • Use dashes (-) over pipes (|)
  • Include a price – [Page H1] starting from X – [Brand name]
  • Add “Buy” at the start of your title tag – Buy [Page H1] – [Brand name]
  • Add secondary keywords – [Page H1] – [Secondary Keyword] – [Brand Name]

You’ll also want to consider how templates may vary by length. Google is 57% more likely to rewrite titles over 600 px.

Google was more likely to rewrite title tags over 600 px in September 2021 than in June 2021

According to Google, long titles are also a reason why it’ll rewrite the ones you add to your pages.

Google listing length as one of the reasons for rewriting titles

I’ve tackled this before by individually customizing a template for a long category name or using different templates—depending on the length of the generated title tag.

You can add multiple structured data types to your category pages to help Google better understand your content and acquire rich results.

The main applicable types Google recommends in its search gallery are:

Adding these will directly impact your SERP snippet.

For FAQs, it enhances them by displaying the FAQs on the SERPs, which is the strategy Trip Advisor takes.

FAQs coming from schema markup

For breadcrumb structured data, Google shows the breadcrumbs on the SERPs. Here’s an example of Google doing that for Currys in the U.K.

Breadcrumbs coming from schema markup

You can see the structured data it’s added in the Schema Markup validator:

Schema code via Schema Markup validator

Outside of those two types, Google has no recommendations for product category structured data.

But you don’t have to stop there.

On a “Search Off the Record” podcast, Ryan Levering (staff software engineer working on structured data at Google) answered whether structured data beyond what Google recommends is valuable (like what you can find on

So it’s hard to convey that in some of our reporting and stuff that we actually find this [structured data] useful because it’s a nuanced calculation.

But when there is problems detecting it [what the page’s content is about], we can use it as an extra signal.

So it’s usually on the edge cases where we find that stuff useful.

Ryan Levering

While adding further structured data should be a secondary focus, I tend to take the approach of leaving as little for Google to figure out as possible.

The two main additional things I’d consider adding are:

In addition, you can also add mainEntity to CollectionPage and add the ItemList within that. By doing this, you tell Google the main part of the page is the list of products, helping it better understand that this is a category page.

Here’s a simple example of what that can look like:


  "@context": "",

  "@type": "CollectionPage",

  "mainEntity": {

    "@type": "ItemList",

    "numberOfItems": "[number of products]",

    "itemListElement": [


        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 1,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"



        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 2,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"



        "@type": "ListItem",

        "position": 3,

        "url": "[Item URL]",

        "name": "[Item Name]"






You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned review or product markup. E-commerce stores often add this markup to category pages—and you shouldn’t.

For reviews, Google mentions explicitly in the technical guidelines not to add review markup if the main content is a category listing items.

Google advises not to use review markup on product category pages

It provides the same instruction for product structured data.

Google advises to use markup for specific products rather than categories or lists

Final thoughts

There’s a lot to consider to make excellent category pages for SEO. But hopefully, this guide has made that process more painless.

Got a question about optimizing e-commerce categories? Tweet me.

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Barriers To Audience Buy-In




Barriers to audience buy-in with lead generation

This is an excerpt from the B2B Lead Generation ebook, which draws on SEJ’s internal expertise in delivering leads across multiple media types.

People are driven by a mix of desires, wants, needs, experiences, and external pressures.

It can take time to get it right and convince a person to become a lead, let alone a paying customer.

Here are some nuances of logic and psychology that could be impacting your ability to connect with audiences and build strong leads.

1. Poor Negotiations & The Endowment Effect

Every potential customer you encounter values their own effort and information. And due to something called the endowment effect, they value that time and data much more than you do.

In contrast, the same psychological effect means you value what you offer in exchange for peoples’ information more than they will.

If the value of what you’re offering fails to match the value of what consumers are giving you in exchange (read: their time and information), the conversions will be weak.

The solution? You can increase the perceived value of the thing you’re offering, or reduce the value of what the user “pays” for the thing you offer.

Want an exclusive peek into tactics we use when developing our own lead gen campaigns? Check out our upcoming webinar.

Humans evaluate rewards in multiple dimensions, including the reward amount, the time until the reward is received, and the certainty of the reward.

The more time before a reward occurs, and the less certain its ultimate value, the harder you have to work to get someone to engage.

Offering value upfront – even if you’re presenting something else soon after, like a live event, ebook, or demo – can help entice immediate action as well as convince leads of the long-term value of their investment.

It can even act as a prime for the next step in the lead gen nurturing process, hinting at even more value to come and increasing the effectiveness of the rest of your lead generation strategy.

It’s another reason why inbound content is a critical support for lead generation content. The short-term rewards of highly useful ungated content help prepare audiences for longer-term benefits offered down the line.

3. Abandonment & The Funnel Myth

Every lead generation journey is carefully planned, but if you designed it with a funnel in mind, you could be losing many qualified leads.

That’s because the imagery of a funnel might suggest that all leads engage with your brand or offer in the same way, but this simply isn’t true – particularly for products or services with high values.

Instead, these journeys are more abstract. Leads tend to move back and forth between stages depending on their circumstances. They might change their minds, encounter organizational roadblocks, switch channels, or their needs might suddenly change.

Instead of limiting journeys to audience segments, consider optimizing for paths and situations, too.

Optimizing for specific situations and encounters creates multiple opportunities to capture a lead while they’re in certain mindsets. Every opportunity is a way to engage with varying “costs” for time and data, and align your key performance indicators (KPIs) to match.

Situational journeys also create unique opportunities to learn about the various audience segments, including what they’re most interested in, which offers to grab their attention, and which aspects of your brand, product, or service they’re most concerned about.

4. Under-Pricing

Free trials and discounts can be eye-catching, but they don’t always work to your benefit.

Brands often think consumers will always choose the product with the lowest possible price. That isn’t always the case.

Consumers work within something referred to as the “zone of acceptability,” which is the price range they feel is acceptable for a purchasing decision.

If your brand falls outside that range, you’ll likely get the leads – but they could fail to buy in later. The initial offer might be attractive, but the lower perception of value could work against you when it comes time to try and close the sale.

Several elements play into whether consumers are sensitive to pricing discounts. The overall cost of a purchase matters, for example.

Higher-priced purchases, such as SaaS or real estate, can be extremely sensitive to pricing discounts. They can lead to your audience perceiving the product as lower-value, or make it seem like you’re struggling. A price-quality relationship is easy to see in many places in our lives. If you select the absolute lowest price for an airline ticket, do you expect your journey to be timely and comfortable?

It’s difficult to offer specific advice on these points. To find ideal price points and discounts, you need good feedback systems from both customers and leads – and you need data about how other audiences interact. But there’s value in not being the cheapest option.

Get more tips on how we, here at SEJ, create holistic content campaigns to drive leads in this exclusive webinar.

5. Lead Roles & Information

In every large purchasing decision, there are multiple roles in the process. These include:

  • User: The person who ultimately uses the product or service.
  • Buyer: The person who makes the purchase, but may or may not know anything about the actual product or service being purchased.
  • Decider: The person who determines whether to make the purchase.
  • Influencer: The person who provides opinions and thoughts on the product or service, and influences perceptions of it.
  • Gatekeeper: The person who gathers and holds information about the product or service.

Sometimes, different people play these roles, and other times, one person may hold more than one of these roles. However, the needs of each role must be met at the right time. If you fail to meet their needs, you’ll see your conversions turn cold at a higher rate early in the process.

The only way to avoid this complication is to understand who it is you’re attracting when you capture the lead, and make the right information available at the right time during the conversion process.

6. Understand Why People Don’t Sign Up

Many businesses put significant effort into lead nurturing and understanding the qualities of potential customers who fill out lead forms.

But what about the ones who don’t fill out those forms?

Understanding these values and the traits that drive purchasing decisions is paramount.

Your own proprietary and customer data, like your analytics, client data, and lead interactions, makes an excellent starting place, but don’t make the mistake of basing your decisions solely on the data you have collected about the leads you have.

This information creates a picture based solely on people already interacting with you. It doesn’t include information about the audience you’ve failed to capture so far.

Don’t fall for survivorship bias, which occurs when you only look at data from people who have passed your selection filters.

This is especially critical for lead generation because there are groups of people you don’t want to become leads. But you need to make sure you’re attracting as many ideal leads as possible while filtering out those that are suboptimal. You need information about the people who aren’t converting to ensure your filters are working as intended.

Gather information from the segment of your target audience that uses a competitor’s products, and pair them with psychographic tools and frameworks like “values and lifestyle surveys” (VALS) to gather insights and inform decisions.

In a digital world of tough competition and even more demands on every dollar, your lead generation needs to be precise.

Understanding what drives your target audience before you capture the lead and ensuring every detail is crafted with the final conversion in mind will help you capture more leads and sales, and leave your brand the clear market winner.

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Google Answers Question About Toxic Link Sabotage




Gary Illyes answers a question about how to notify Google about toxic link sabotage

Google’s Gary Illyes answered a question about how to notify Google that someone is poisoning their backlink profile with “toxic links” which is a problem that many people have been talking about for at least fifteen years.

Question About Alerting Google To Toxic Links

Gary narrated the question:

“Someone’s asking, how to alert Google of sabotage via toxic links?”

And this is Gary’s answer:

I know what I would do: I’d ignore those links.

Generally Google is really, REALLY good at ignoring links that are irrelevant to the site they’re pointing at. If you feel like it, you can always disavow those “toxic” links, or file a spam report.

Disavow Links If You Feel Like It

Gary linked to Google’s explainer about disavowing links where it’s explained that the disavow tool is for a site owner to tell Google about links that they are responsible for in some way, like paid links or some other link scheme.

This is what it advises:

“If you have a manual action against your site for unnatural links to your site, or if you think you’re about to get such a manual action (because of paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines), you should try to remove the links from the other site to your site. If you can’t remove those links yourself, or get them removed, then you should disavow the URLs of the questionable pages or domains that link to your website.”

Google suggests that a link disavow is only necessary when two conditions are met:

  1. “You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site,
  2. The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.”

Both of the above conditions must be met in order to file a valid link disavow tool.

Origin Of The Phrase Toxic Links

As Google became better at penalizing sites for low quality links and paid links, some in the highly competitive gambling industry started creating low quality links to sabotage their competitors. The practice was called negative SEO.

The phrase toxic link is something that was never heard of until after the Penguin link updates in 2012 which required penalized sites to remove all the paid and low quality links they created and then disavow the rest. An industry grew around disavowing links and it was that industry that invented the phrase Toxic Links for use in their marketing.

Confirmation That Google Is Able To Ignore Links

I have shared this anecdote before and I’ll share it here again. Someone I knew contacted me and said that their site lost rankings from negative SEO links. I took a look and their site had a ton of really nasty looking links. So out of curiosity (and because I knew that the site was this person’s main income), I emailed someone at Google Mountain View headquarters about it. That person checked it and replied that the site didn’t lose rankings because of the links. They lost rankings because of a Panda update related content issue.

That was around 2012 and it showed me how good Google was at ignoring links. Now, if Google was that good at ignoring really bad links back then, they’re probably better at it now, twelve years later now that they have the spam brain AI.

Listen to the question and answer at the 8:22 minute mark:

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile




How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

Search is evolving at an incredible pace and new features, formats, and even new search engines are popping up within the space.

Google’s algorithm still prioritizes backlinks when ranking websites. If you want your website to be visible in search results, you must account for backlinks and your backlink profile.

A healthy backlink profile requires a diverse backlink profile.

In this guide, we’ll examine how to build and maintain a diverse backlink profile that powers your website’s search performance.

What Does A Healthy Backlink Profile Look Like?

As Google states in its guidelines, it primarily crawls pages through links from other pages linked to your pages, acquired through promotion and naturally over time.

In practice, a healthy backlink profile can be divided into three main areas: the distribution of link types, the mix of anchor text, and the ratio of followed to nofollowed links.

Let’s look at these areas and how they should look within a healthy backlink profile.

Distribution Of Link Types

One aspect of your backlink profile that needs to be diversified is link types.

It looks unnatural to Google to have predominantly one kind of link in your profile, and it also indicates that you’re not diversifying your content strategy enough.

Some of the various link types you should see in your backlink profile include:

  • Anchor text links.
  • Image links.
  • Redirect links.
  • Canonical links.

Here is an example of the breakdown of link types at my company, Whatfix (via Semrush):

Screenshot from Semrush, May 2024

Most links should be anchor text links and image links, as these are the most common ways to link on the web, but you should see some of the other types of links as they are picked up naturally over time.

Mix Of Anchor Text

Next, ensure your backlink profile has an appropriate anchor text variance.

Again, if you overoptimize for a specific type of anchor text, it will appear suspicious to search engines like Google and could have negative repercussions.

Here are the various types of anchor text you might find in your backlink profile:

  • Branded anchor text – Anchor text that is your brand name or includes your brand name.
  • Empty – Links that have no anchor text.
  • Naked URLs – Anchor text that is a URL (e.g.,
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that exactly matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., blue shoes).
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that partially or closely matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., “comfortable blue footwear options”).
  • Generic anchor text – Anchor text such as “this website” or “here.”

To maintain a healthy backlink profile, aim for a mix of anchor text within a similar range to this:

  • Branded anchor text – 35-40%.
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – 15-20%.
  • Generic anchor text -10-15%.
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – 5-10%.
  • Naked URLs – 5-10%.
  • Empty – 3-5%.

This distribution of anchor text represents a natural mix of differing anchor texts. It is common for the majority of anchors to be branded or partially branded because most sites that link to your site will default to your brand name when linking. It also makes sense that the following most common anchors would be partial-match keywords or generic anchor text because these are natural choices within the context of a web page.

Exact-match anchor text is rare because it only happens when you are the best resource for a specific term, and the site owner knows your page exists.

Ratio Of Followed Vs. Nofollowed Backlinks

Lastly, you should monitor the ratio of followed vs. nofollowed links pointing to your website.

If you need a refresher on what nofollowed backlinks are or why someone might apply the nofollow tag to a link pointing to your site, check out Google’s guide on how to qualify outbound links to Google.

Nofollow attributes should only be applied to paid links or links pointing to a site the linking site doesn’t trust.

While it is not uncommon or suspicious to have some nofollow links (people misunderstand the purpose of the nofollow attribute all the time), a healthy backlink profile will have far more followed links.

You should aim for a ratio of 80%:20% or 70%:30% in favor of followed links. For example, here is what the followed vs. nofollowed ratio looks like for my company’s backlink profile (according to Ahrefs):

Referring domainsScreenshot from Ahrefs, May 2024

You may see links with other rel attributes, such as UGC or Sponsored.

The “UGC” attribute tags links from user-generated content, while the “Sponsored” attribute tags links from sponsored or paid sources. These attributes are slightly different than the nofollow tag, but they essentially work the same way, letting Google know these links aren’t trusted or endorsed by the linking site. You can simply group these links in with nofollowed links when calculating your ratio.

Importance Of Diversifying Your Backlink Profile

So why is it important to diversify your backlink profile anyway? Well, there are three main reasons you should consider:

  • Avoiding overoptimization.
  • Diversifying traffic sources.
  • And finding new audiences.

Let’s dive into each of these.

Avoiding Overoptimization

First and foremost, diversifying your backlink profile is the best way to protect yourself from overoptimization and the damaging penalties that can come with it.

As SEO pros, our job is to optimize websites to improve performance, but overoptimizing in any facet of our strategy – backlinks, keywords, structure, etc. – can result in penalties that limit visibility within search results.

In the previous section, we covered the elements of a healthy backlink profile. If you stray too far from that model, your site might look suspicious to search engines like Google and you could be handed a manual or algorithmic penalty, suppressing your rankings in search.

Considering how regularly Google updates its search algorithm these days (and how little information surrounds those updates), you could see your performance tank and have no idea why.

This is why it’s so important to keep a watchful eye on your backlink profile and how it’s shaping up.

Diversifying Traffic Sources

Another reason to cultivate a diverse backlink profile is to ensure you’re diversifying your traffic sources.

Google penalties come swiftly and can often be a surprise. If you have all your eggs in that basket when it comes to traffic, your site will suffer badly and might need help to recover.

However, diversifying your traffic sources (search, social, email, etc.) will mitigate risk – similar to a stock portfolio – as you’ll have other traffic sources to provide a steady flow of visitors if another source suddenly dips.

Part of building a diverse backlink profile is acquiring a diverse set of backlinks and backlink types, and this strategy will also help you find differing and varied sources of traffic.

Finding New Audiences

Finally, building a diverse backlink profile is essential, as doing so will also help you discover new audiences.

If you acquire links from the same handful of websites and platforms, you will need help expanding your audience and building awareness for your website.

While it’s important to acquire links from sites that cater to your existing audience, you should also explore ways to build links that can tap into new audiences. The best way to do this is by casting a wide net with various link acquisition tactics and strategies.

A diverse backlink profile indicates a varied approach to SEO and marketing that will help bring new visitors and awareness to your site.

Building A Diverse Backlink Profile

So that you know what a healthy backlink profile looks like and why it’s important to diversify, how do you build diversity into your site’s backlink profile?

This comes down to your link acquisition strategy and the types of backlinks you actively pursue. To guide your strategy, let’s break link building into three main categories:

  • Foundational links.
  • Content promotion.
  • Community involvement.

Here’s how to approach each area.

Foundational Links

Foundational links represent those links that your website simply should have. These are opportunities where a backlink would exist if all sites were known to all site owners.

Some examples of foundational links include:

  • Mentions – Websites that mention your brand in some way (brand name, product, employees, proprietary data, etc.) on their website but don’t link.
  • Partners – Websites that belong to real-world partners or companies you connect with offline and should also connect (link) with online.
  • Associations or groups – Websites for offline associations or groups you belong to where your site should be listed with a link.
  • Sponsorships – Any events or organizations your company sponsors might have websites that could (and should) link to your site.
  • Sites that link to competitors – If a website is linking to a competitor, there is a strong chance it would make sense for them to link to your site as well.

These link opportunities should set the foundation for your link acquisition efforts.

As the baseline for your link building strategy, you should start by exhausting these opportunities first to ensure you’re not missing highly relevant links to bolster your backlink profile.

Content Promotion

Next, consider content promotion as a strategy for building a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

Content promotion is much more proactive than the foundational link acquisition mentioned above. You must manifest the opportunity by creating link-worthy content rather than simply capitalizing on an existing opportunity.

Some examples of content promotion for links are:

  • Digital PR – Digital PR campaigns have numerous benefits and goals beyond link acquisition, but backlinks should be a primary KPI.
  • Original research – Similar to digital PR, original research should focus on providing valuable data to your audience. Still, you should also make sure any citations or references to your research are correctly linked.
  • Guest content – Whether regular columns or one-off contributions, providing guest content to websites is still a viable link acquisition strategy – when done right. The best way to gauge your guest content strategy is to ask yourself if you would still write the content for a site without guaranteeing a backlink, knowing you’ll still build authority and get your message in front of a new audience.
  • Original imagery – Along with research and data, if your company creates original imagery that offers unique value, you should promote those images and ask for citation links.

Content promotion is a viable avenue for building a healthy backlink profile as long as the content you’re promoting is worthy of links.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is the final piece of your link acquisition puzzle when building a diverse backlink profile.

After pursuing all foundational opportunities and manually promoting your content, you should ensure your brand is active and represented in all the spaces and communities where your audience engages.

In terms of backlinks, this could mean:

  • Wikipedia links – Wikipedia gets over 4 billion monthly visits, so backlinks here can bring significant referral traffic to your site. However, acquiring these links is difficult as these pages are moderated closely, and your site will only be linked if it is legitimately a top resource on the web.
  • Forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.) – Another great place to get backlinks that drive referral traffic is forums like Reddit and Quora. Again, these forums are strictly moderated, and earning link placements on these sites requires a page that delivers significant and unique value to a specific audience.
  • Social platforms – Social media platforms and groups represent communities where your brand should be active and engaged. While these strategies are likely handled by other teams outside SEO and focus on different metrics, you should still be intentional about converting these interactions into links when or where possible.
  • Offline events – While it may seem counterintuitive to think of offline events as a potential source for link acquisition, legitimate link opportunities exist here. After all, most businesses, brands, and people you interact with at these events also have websites, and networking can easily translate to online connections in the form of links.

While most of the link opportunities listed above will have the nofollow link attribute due to the nature of the sites associated with them, they are still valuable additions to your backlink profile as these are powerful, trusted domains.

These links help diversify your traffic sources by bringing substantial referral traffic, and that traffic is highly qualified as these communities share your audience.

How To Avoid Developing A Toxic Backlink Profile

Now that you’re familiar with the link building strategies that can help you cultivate a healthy, diverse backlink profile, let’s discuss what you should avoid.

As mentioned before, if you overoptimize one strategy or link, it can seem suspicious to search engines and cause your site to receive a penalty. So, how do you avoid filling your backlink profile with toxic links?

Remember The “Golden Rule” Of Link Building

One simple way to guide your link acquisition strategy and avoid running afoul of search engines like Google is to follow one “golden rule.”

That rule is to ask yourself: If search engines like Google didn’t exist, and the only way people could navigate the web was through backlinks, would you want your site to have a link on the prospective website?

Thinking this way strips away all the tactical, SEO-focused portions of the equation and only leaves the human elements of linking where two sites are linked because it makes sense and makes the web easier to navigate.

Avoid Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Another good rule is to avoid looping your site into private blog networks (PBNs). Of course, it’s not always obvious or easy to spot a PBN.

However, there are some common traits or red flags you can look for, such as:

  • The person offering you a link placement mentions they have a list of domains they can share.
  • The prospective linking site has little to no traffic and doesn’t appear to have human engagement (blog comments, social media followers, blog views, etc.).
  • The website features thin content and little investment into user experience (UX) and design.
  • The website covers generic topics and categories, catering to any and all audiences.
  • Pages on the site feature numerous external links but only some internal links.
  • The prospective domain’s backlink profile features overoptimization in any of the previously discussed forms (high-density of exact match anchor text, abnormal ratio of nofollowed links, only one or two link types, etc.).

Again, diversification – in both tactics and strategies – is crucial to building a healthy backlink profile, but steering clear of obvious PBNs and remembering the ‘golden rule’ of link building will go a long way toward keeping your profile free from toxicity.

Evaluating Your Backlink Profile

As you work diligently to build and maintain a diverse, healthy backlink profile, you should also carve out time to evaluate it regularly from a more analytical perspective.

There are two main ways to evaluate the merit of your backlinks: leverage tools to analyze backlinks and compare your backlink profile to the greater competitive landscape.

Leverage Tools To Analyze Backlink Profile

There are a variety of third-party tools you can use to analyze your backlink profile.

These tools can provide helpful insights, such as the total number of backlinks and referring domains. You can use these tools to analyze your full profile, broken down by:

  • Followed vs. nofollowed.
  • Authority metrics (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Backlink types.
  • Location or country.
  • Anchor text.
  • Top-level domain types.
  • And more.

You can also use these tools to track new incoming backlinks, as well as lost backlinks, to help you better understand how your backlink profile is growing.

Some of the best tools for analyzing your backlink profile are:

Many of these tools also have features that estimate how toxic or suspicious your profile might look to search engines, which can help you detect potential issues early.

Compare Your Backlink Profile To The Competitive Landscape

Lastly, you should compare your overall backlink profile to those of your competitors and those competing with your site in the search results.

Again, the previously mentioned tools can help with this analysis – as far as providing you with the raw numbers – but the key areas you should compare are:

  • Total number of backlinks.
  • Total number of referring domains.
  • Breakdown of authority metrics of links (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Authority metrics of competing domains.
  • Link growth over the last two years.

Comparing your backlink profile to others within your competitive landscape will help you assess where your domain currently stands and provide insight into how far you must go if you’re lagging behind competitors.

It’s worth noting that it’s not as simple as whoever has the most backlinks will perform the best in search.

These numbers are typically solid indicators of how search engines gauge the authority of your competitors’ domains, and you’ll likely find a correlation between strong backlink profiles and strong search performance.

Approach Link Building With A User-First Mindset

The search landscape continues to evolve at a breakneck pace and we could see dramatic shifts in how people search within the next five years (or sooner).

However, at this time, search engines like Google still rely on backlinks as part of their ranking algorithms, and you need to cultivate a strong backlink profile to be visible in search.

Furthermore, if you follow the advice in this article as you build out your profile, you’ll acquire backlinks that benefit your site regardless of search algorithms, futureproofing your traffic sources.

Approach link acquisition like you would any other marketing endeavor – with a customer-first mindset – and over time, you’ll naturally build a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

More resources: 

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