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12 Field-Tested Content Marketing Tactics

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12 Field-Tested Content Marketing Tactics

In this guide, we’re diving into twelve content marketing tactics we’ve tested and continue to use with some decent results. We know they work, and we’re excited to show you the proof.

Generally speaking, low-competition keywords are search terms where you likely don’t need many backlinks to rank on the first page of Google (backlinks are one of the most important ranking factors).

By focusing on these less competitive terms, you can achieve higher search engine rankings faster and with less effort; and the higher the rankings, generally the more traffic lands on your site. This makes low-competition keywords a perfect SEO tactic for new sites and sites without a strong backlink profile.

To illustrate our results, here’s a heatmap showing the relationship between keyword difficulty and Google rankings for nearly 200 pages from our SEO glossary content project.

The number of keywords in the top 10 goes dramatically down with each keyword difficulty bucket.

We were able to rank in the top ten with few links and a templated content approach. But that wasn’t enough for mid to high KD keywords; these would require more comprehensive content and additional backlinks.

How to get started

Use a tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to quickly find keywords that need fewer backlinks to rank.

  1. Enter a seed keyword (or multiple seed keywords).
  2. Go to the Matching terms report.
  3. Use the KD (Keyword Difficulty) metric to show keywords with up to 20 KD. This will show you easy keywords based on the backlink profile.
  4. Pick a relevant keyword and open the SERP panel to see what kinds of pages rank. If you see popular brands dominating, those keywords may be hard to rank despite the low KD (here’s why). SERPs without brands like that should be easier to target.
  5. Repeat step #3 for every relevant keyword on the list.
How to find low difficulty keywords with Ahrefs. How to find low difficulty keywords with Ahrefs.

And here’s an example of a keyword with low KD and just a few strong sites (based on the Domain Rating metric).

An example keywords with low-competition SERP. An example keywords with low-competition SERP.

Tip

To gain an extra point of confidence that a keyword is well within your reach, use the lowest Domain Rating (DR) filter. If you set the filter to your site’s DR (check here) or slightly higher, it will display only those keywords where a site with your DR or lower already ranks.

Lowest DR filter in Ahrefs. Lowest DR filter in Ahrefs.

Building a network involves creating and nurturing relationships that can amplify your message and expand your reach. These connections can be made through social media, online communities, forums, meetups, and conferences.

When other people share and engage with your content, you’ve got a higher chance of cutting through the noise of today’s information-saturated world making your content noticed and valued.

Here’s a small sample. At Ahrefs, we often seek expert commentary to enhance our content. I reached out to Ashley Faus with one simple question about her article and she was kind enough to share my article with her audience of 13K people (I didn’t even ask for it).

Example of content amplification through a network. Example of content amplification through a network.

Not everyone will be as generous as Ashley, but you have to assume they will.

How to get started

There are two approaches to this: broad and targeted.

In the first one, you leverage things that typically engage people on social media and weave them into your content. Rand Fishkin, in his article on content amplification, calls these share-inducing emotions, for example:

  1. Novelty: An article about “A cat learned to use sign language” will attract more attention than “Cats can meow.”
  2. Belief reinforcement: A report linking organic food to better health will be shared by those who already support organic farming.
  3. Fear: A headline like “New disease spreading rapidly” will get more shares than “Health improvements in 2024.”
  4. Controversy: Debates over “Climate change policies” attract more engagement than consensus articles.

There’s also the targeted approach, and it’s a whole different beast — it needs customization, good research, and etiquette. You need to get that person’s attention with something they will likely care about (such as their work), but you can’t ask for anything in return.

And that is exactly what happened in the example I shared above. No strings attached, just a simple request from one professional to another.

Publishing original research is a proven method to boost your SEO through backlinks (links from other sites) and becoming a thought leader in your niche through references to your work.

When you create original studies, like data analyses, case studies, or industry surveys, other authors will often use them as sources, which means more backlinks for you. These backlinks increase your site’s website’s authority, which can help other important pages on your site rank better too.

For example, we did a study on why most web content doesn’t get organic traffic and got 6K backlinks from 2.9K different sites, and those numbers keep growing without us lifting a finger.

Backlink and referring domain data via Ahrefs. Backlink and referring domain data via Ahrefs.

Besides improving your SEO, original research makes you a thought leader in your field. When other sites mention your research, it boosts your reputation, making you a trusted and respected brand.

Ahrefs mentioned in a Forbes articleAhrefs mentioned in a Forbes article

How to get started

Coming up with research ideas doesn’t have to be hard.

For example, to find relevant research about SEO, we use Ahrefs’ Content Explorer to look for content that has “study” in the title and at least 200 referring domains (to weed out some less popular ones).

Finding popular content through Ahrefs' Content ExplorerFinding popular content through Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Partnering with influencers involves paid collaboration with content creators who have a significant following (e.g., on social media or through an email list) in your target market.

Influencer partnerships are effective because they leverage the trust and loyalty that influencers have built with their audience. This authentic endorsement can introduce your brand to niche markets, sometimes more effectively than traditional advertising.

And last but not least, as a sponsor you get to feature your brand in some really unique, quality content.

We’ve been using this tactic on a constant basis for three years, now. Here are just a few examples of the amazing content from our partners.

The first is an hour-long workshop on competitive analysis for a content marketing and SEO community. This video promotes both free and our core toolset, generating 1.8k views.

And here’s a sponsored video by one of the top influencers in the SEO industry. This video promotes our free academy and our free SEO tool, generating 50k views.

And here’s a contextual ad on a channel with over 500K subscribers. This promotes our core toolset, generating 19K views.

As you can see, we’ve chosen to work with both small and big influencers, and what we promote depends on the audience and the topic. But in any case, it pays to have some kind of free offering to hook the viewers on the value you provide as a business with minimum friction.

How to get started

To find the right influencer, there are a few steps you need to take.

  1. Define your goals. Clearly outline what you aim to achieve with influencer marketing, such as increasing brand awareness, driving engagement, or boosting sign-ups.
  2. Figure out your budget. You can use average influencer earnings data like this one to estimate the budget.
  3. Identify potential influencers. Here are a few ideas: 
    1. Start by considering your own employees and customers who might already be fans of your brand and have a following .
    2. Use social media platforms and specialized tools like Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, Sparktoro, Social Blade, and Followerwonk to find relevant influencers based on your niche and keywords.
    3. Seek recommendations from your audience.
  4. Evaluate influencers. Ensure that the influencers align with your brand values and have genuine engagement. Look beyond follower counts to assess their influence and audience interaction.
  5. Monitor and measure. Ask the creator to share reports with you (including content output and engagement metrics).

Find out more about finding influencers to partner with in our guide, Find Influencers: 6 Easy Steps to Choose the Right Ones.

Using content templates and programmatic SEO is about producing more content in less time, with the latter allowing you to actually automate content production.

With templates, you can set up a standard format and just fill in the details. It’s great for things like product pages, definition glossaries or local listings where you need similar content for many items.

Example of templated content. Example of templated content.
Templated pages from our SEO glossary. You can notice the similarities in structure.

We used templates to create an SEO glossary and a directory of beginner-focused SEO guides for different professions. As of today, they’re bringing in a total of 67k visits each month.

1717194366 129 12 Field Tested Content Marketing Tactics1717194366 129 12 Field Tested Content Marketing Tactics

Programmatic SEO is basically content templates on steroids. Programmatic pages are usually created automatically directly from data, like product prices, weather, or location information. This lets you cover many keywords and topics without writing everything by hand.

We used programmatic SEO to take advantage of huge search demand for free AI writing tools. We drive over 600K monthly search visits this way, and you can see on the graph below how this approach allowed us to publish dozens of pages in a day (sharp spikes on the yellow line).

Results of a programmatic SEO project. Results of a programmatic SEO project.
Sharp spikes on the yellow line mean that many pages have been published in a short time.

How to get started

First, you need a set of keywords that could be targeted with similar types of content. One of the best ways to do this is to use a keyword research tool to categorize your keywords by terms. Terms like “definition”, “what is”, or “cost of living” indicate that people want the same kind of content for different topics.

  1. Open Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer and enter a broad seed keyword, for instance “marketing”.
  2. Go to the Matching terms report.
  3. Open the Terms tab and browse through keyword categories.
How to find scalable keywords for templated content and programmatic SEO. How to find scalable keywords for templated content and programmatic SEO.

Here’s an example – over 4.6K search keywords requiring definitions which could be targeted with the same page template.

Example of a keyword cluster organized by a common term. Example of a keyword cluster organized by a common term.

Our old newsletter was basically a handful of links to our latest blog posts, but then we made some changes:

Ahrefs' newsletter.Ahrefs' newsletter.

And it worked. People really seemed to appreciate the changes:

Some people will never bother to read a newsletter. But there are people who turn to newsletters because they save them time searching for valuable information — that’s where you come in.

Feedback to Ahrefs' newsletter. Feedback to Ahrefs' newsletter.

How to get started

Technically, starting a newsletter is straightforward — sign up for a tool like Mailchimp and get all the tools you need to start collecting emails and sending newsletters.

But what matters the most and is not that easy when you’re starting out is the content and consistency. Here are some key factors to consider:

  • Provide valuable, relevant, and unique content that addresses your audience’s needs and interests. It doesn’t have to be 100% your original content. Curating all the stuff that gets published online every week is a value on its own. If you’re not sure where to start with this, simply make this newsletter something you’d like to see in your inbox every week.
  • Include things that people wouldn’t want to miss out on.
  • Offer original insights, perspectives, or data that can’t be found elsewhere.
  • Seek feedback and refine.
  • Stick to a consistent publishing schedule, whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly.

This tactic involves giving away free tools, services, or content to attract potential customers.

Offering free stuff may be counterintuitive, but it works. It provides immediate value to users, helps to build trust, and demonstrates your expertise. Once users see the benefits of your free offerings, they are more likely to invest in your paid products or services.

We’ve developed free tools mostly by carving out small parts of our product and offering them on landing pages without any email walls to serve the intent of the searchers. So, in a sense, this way, the product promotes itself.

Results? Combined, our fourteen tools drive over 1.5M monthly organic traffic from people looking for these tools and 38.7M backlinks.

Backlink and traffic data via Ahrefs. Backlink and traffic data via Ahrefs.
The most popular tool is Backlink Checker with 215K organic traffic and 38.8M backlinks.

How to get started

When looking for ideas for free products that will generate traffic, try a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.

  1. Enter broad terms describing the functionality of your product (e.g., keywords, backlinks, traffic).
  2. Go to the Matching terms report.
  3. Use the Include filter with keyword modifiers pointing to tools, for example: “tool, check, checker, finder, analyzer, builder, free.” Set to “Any word.”
Matching terms report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer. Matching terms report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.

Now, to make sure the intent of the keyword calls for a tool to rank, look at the SERPs to see if tools rank at the top, or simply use AI to analyze the SERPs for you.

AI search intent identification feature in Ahrefs. AI search intent identification feature in Ahrefs.

Naturally, there are other ways of finding content ideas, and you don’t necessarily need to develop apps. These could be a set of free spreadsheet templates, a set of proven AI prompts, or ready-made chatbots to use in ChatGPT.

If you’re offering services, the same principles apply. Document some free work to show people how good you are. Just like Justin Veenema, who shoots photos of strangers for free that get millions of views on Instagram.

1717194367 574 12 Field Tested Content Marketing Tactics1717194367 574 12 Field Tested Content Marketing Tactics
Source

A content hub is a centralized collection of related content organized around specific themes or topics. Its structure comprises a pillar page (high-level guide about a broad topic with links to other pages), cluster content (pages on specific subtopics), and links between the pages.

What a content hub looks like. What a content hub looks like.

They’re an effective content marketing tactic for four reasons:

  • Topical authority: Connecting your hub page and subpages with relevant internal links helps establish your site as an authority on a particular topic in Google’s eyes. Internal anchor text provides additional context to Google about the page content.
  • Link authority: Strategically linking pages within a hub allows them to benefit from each other’s backlinks. This enhances the overall link authority of the hub, which can positively impact search rankings.
  • Engagement: Hubs encourage visitors to explore multiple pages of content.
  • Perceived value: Well-organized, comprehensive resources on a topic increase perceived value for visitors, often resulting in more backlinks as people prefer to link to the best, most useful resources.

Our content hubs emerged as a way to organize already existing content and get some additional traffic. For example, this hub is a beginner’s guide to SEO, consisting of seven articles already published as standalone articles.

Example of a content hub. Example of a content hub.

And just by reorganizing old content, we got new traffic and new backlinks.

Backlink and organic search traffic data via Ahrefs. Backlink and organic search traffic data via Ahrefs.

How to get started

To find opportunities for new content hubs, the process involves three steps:

  1. Identify the hub topic. Choose a broad topic with informational intent, search traffic potential, and enough subtopics. Use tools like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer to brainstorm ideas.
  2. Create subpages. Develop detailed guides on subtopics related to the main topic. Ensure each subpage links back to the hub page, which links to all subpages.
  3. Internal linking. Use hyperlinks to connect the hub page with subpages, building a cohesive structure. This boosts topical and link authority and enhances user engagement.

See the full process in our guide Content Hubs for SEO: How to Get More Traffic and Links With Topic Clusters.

Content optimization is the process of improving the quality and relevance of content to ensure it ranks higher in search engine results, engages the target audience, and achieves specific business goals.

This tactic allows you to leverage your existing content to reach more people, often with little work involved. This can be updating old information, including a missing subtopic, making a guide more beginner-friendly, etc.

Honestly, the results can be quite amazing. For example, an article we’ve recently updated article got 20 times more traffic after just a few hours of work.

Results of a content update. Results of a content update.

How to get started

The easiest way to spot content that needs optimization is to use Ahrefs’ Opportunities report.

  1. Enter your site into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.
  2. Open the Opportunities report.
  3. Click on the Low-hanging fruit keywords to see keywords that potentially need a relatively small update to rank higher.
  4. Or click on the Content with declining traffic to see all pages that could use a revamp.
How to quickly find low-hanging fruit keywords via Ahrefs. How to quickly find low-hanging fruit keywords via Ahrefs.

Once you find your pages, head to our guide on content optimization for some tried and tested SEO tips.

Repurposing content involves transforming existing content into different formats. For instance, a blog post can become a video shared on YouTube or a transcript of a video can be published as a blog post.

This tactic works because it helps you reach a wider audience who prefers different content formats and different platforms.

Here’s an example. We published our take on SEO checklists as a video on YouTube and then repurposed it as a blog post. The video got 240K views.

Video view count on YouTube. Video view count on YouTube.

And the article gets an estimated 9.5K organic visits each month, on top of the video’s performance.

Organic traffic via Ahrefs.Organic traffic via Ahrefs.

How to get started

You can repurpose any piece of content, but the best results you’ll likely get with:

  • Content that has already performed well on social media. For instance, a well-received tweet thread can be expanded into a detailed article or a video script.
  • Content on topics with search potential. Use a tool like Ahrefs’s Keywords Explorer to gauge traffic potential for topics you already covered.
  • Evergreen topics. For example, a topic like “how to lose weight” will get attention no matter the time, platform, and format.

For more ideas and tips, head to our list of 13 ways to repurpose content.

There are three key reasons why you need translations if you’re thinking about making your business international:

  • Search engines like Google and YouTube personalize search results based on language.
  • Most people simply prefer content in their native language, regardless of how well they speak other languages.
  • Content localization works like content repurposing — it gives you more mileage from the same content.

For example, the Spanish translation of our post about affiliate marketing brings in an estimated 7.3K organic visits each month. And that’s on top of the English version which bring 28.5k monthly visits.

Organic traffic data via Ahrefs. Organic traffic data via Ahrefs.

How to get started

Translating every page on your site may not be the most efficient approach. Search volumes can differ between countries, so it’s important to use your resources wisely. Focus on translating your top-performing content, but only if the search volume in the target country justifies the effort.

First, use a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer to get a list of your top-performing pages. In Ahrefs, you’d use the Top pages report:

Using top pages report to find content to translate.Using top pages report to find content to translate.

Next, you use ChatGPT to generate translations of your top pages’ target keywords. Use these translations with the free Ahrefs SEO Toolbar to simulate searches in different languages and gauge the traffic potential of a topic.

For instance, a leading French article on “free keyword research tools” receives about 714 organic visits monthly from France, suggesting potential value in content translation.

Using SEO toolbar to identify content worth translating.Using SEO toolbar to identify content worth translating.

Sidenote.

If you’re using autogenerated AI translations, make sure to have them reviewed by a human, preferably someone who knows the language and culture well. AI translations are very good these days, but they can still contain mistakes or unnatural expressions that you might not catch otherwise.

The idea behind this tactic is super simple — if you keep doing the same things, you’ll keep getting the same results.

Trying out new approaches to content is important at every stage of your strategy’s maturity. In the early stages, it helps you discover what works for your business and your audience. But once your strategy is established, experimenting with new content is crucial to avoid hitting a performance plateau.

How experimentation allows for better performance in all content strategy maturity stages. How experimentation allows for better performance in all content strategy maturity stages.

So here are some of the new things we recently tried and their results.

We released two traditional books. “SEO Book for Beginners” is our online guide to SEO repurposed in the form of a book (by the way, another great example of content repurposing we discussed earlier).

SEO Book For Beginners by Ahrefs - excerpt. SEO Book For Beginners by Ahrefs - excerpt.

“White Haired SEO (Super Exciting Odyssey)” is an SEO book for kids, designed with parents in mind. It provides a kid-friendly answer to the question, “So what do you do at work, mum?”. To be honest, this is a bit beyond typical experimentation. It’s more like a “moonshot” but we think it’s worth making time for those, too.

White Haired SEO (Super Exciting Odyssey) - excerpt. White Haired SEO (Super Exciting Odyssey) - excerpt.

Result: people love those books. When we bring them to conferences, the books fly off the shelves. For some, it’s a collector’s item; for others, it’s their kid’s favourite read. Either way, it turned out to be an effective way to delight our audience and put something tangible in their homes and offices with the “Ahrefs” name on it.

We’ve also experimented with video lately. It wasn’t easy because we were already investing a lot of effort into a quite successful formula that had been developed over the years.

So to try something new, we went from keyword research-based topics presented in “how to” style videos like this one:

To non-search topics served in a more entertaining and “light” way with elements of storytelling:

Result: this new approach led to new monthly watch time highs in several countries, including our main market, the US.

Watchtime performance data via YouTube. Watchtime performance data via YouTube.

How to get started

Here are some tips that can help you spark some new ideas and get them into production.

  1. Organize regular brainstorming sessions with a few people. These sessions should encourage open, uninhibited discussions where everyone can contribute their thoughts and suggestions.
  2. Try a few courses. Enroll in courses that focus on content creation, digital marketing, or any specific area relevant to your field. These courses can provide fresh perspectives, new skills, and innovative techniques that you can incorporate into your content strategy.
  3. Book a consultation with a pro. Seek advice from professionals or mentors who have successfully navigated the path you’re aiming to take.
  4. Use new tools to source ideas. Try tools like Ahrefs Keywords Explorer, Sparktoro, Buzzsumo, or Glimpse.
  5. Embrace a mindset of experimentation. Trying out new content formats and topics involves taking risks, but big rewards too.

Final thoughts

In marketing, it’s not really about how many tactics you use or how smart, creative, or unique they are. What matters is how you execute them. You can have a thriving business by employing just a few tactics but doing them well enough to bring you visitors on a constant basis.

So feel free to try all of the ideas we shared in this article, but we encourage you to double down on the things that work.

Got questions or comments? Find me on X or LinkedIn.



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SEO

The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

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The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

If there’s one thing we SEO pros are good at, it’s making things complicated.

That’s not necessarily a criticism.

Search engine algorithms, website coding and navigation, choosing and evaluating KPIs, setting content strategy, and more are highly complex tasks involving lots of specialized knowledge.

But as important as those things all are, at the end of the day, there is really just a small set of things that will make most of the difference in your SEO success.

In SEO, there are really just three things – three pillars – that are foundational to achieving your SEO goals.

  • Authority.
  • Relevance.
  • Experience (of the users and bots visiting the site).

Nutritionists tell us our bodies need protein, carbohydrates, and fats in the right proportions to stay healthy. Neglect any of the three, and your body will soon fall into disrepair.

Similarly, a healthy SEO program involves a balanced application of authority, relevance, and experience.

Authority: Do You Matter?

In SEO, authority refers to the importance or weight given to a page relative to other pages that are potential results for a given search query.

Modern search engines such as Google use many factors (or signals) when evaluating the authority of a webpage.

Why does Google care about assessing the authority of a page?

For most queries, there are thousands or even millions of pages available that could be ranked.

Google wants to prioritize the ones that are most likely to satisfy the user with accurate, reliable information that fully answers the intent of the query.

Google cares about serving users the most authoritative pages for their queries because users that are satisfied by the pages they click through to from Google are more likely to use Google again, and thus get more exposure to Google’s ads, the primary source of its revenue.

Authority Came First

Assessing the authority of webpages was the first fundamental problem search engines had to solve.

Some of the earliest search engines relied on human evaluators, but as the World Wide Web exploded, that quickly became impossible to scale.

Google overtook all its rivals because its creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, developed the idea of PageRank, using links from other pages on the web as weighed citations to assess the authoritativeness of a page.

Page and Brin realized that links were an already-existing system of constantly evolving polling, in which other authoritative sites “voted” for pages they saw as reliable and relevant to their users.

Search engines use links much like we might treat scholarly citations; the more scholarly papers relevant to a source document that cite it, the better.

The relative authority and trustworthiness of each of the citing sources come into play as well.

So, of our three fundamental categories, authority came first because it was the easiest to crack, given the ubiquity of hyperlinks on the web.

The other two, relevance and user experience, would be tackled later, as machine learning/AI-driven algorithms developed.

Links Still Primary For Authority

The big innovation that made Google the dominant search engine in a short period was that it used an analysis of links on the web as a ranking factor.

This started with a paper by Larry Page and Sergey Brin called The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.

The essential insight behind this paper was that the web is built on the notion of documents inter-connected with each other via links.

Since putting a link on your site to a third-party site might cause a user to leave your site, there was little incentive for a publisher to link to another site unless it was really good and of great value to their site’s users.

In other words, linking to a third-party site acts a bit like a “vote” for it, and each vote could be considered an endorsement, endorsing the page the link points to as one of the best resources on the web for a given topic.

Then, in principle, the more votes you get, the better and the more authoritative a search engine would consider you to be, and you should, therefore, rank higher.

Passing PageRank

A significant piece of the initial Google algorithm was based on the concept of PageRank, a system for evaluating which pages are the most important based on scoring the links they receive.

So, a page that has large quantities of valuable links pointing to it will have a higher PageRank and will, in principle, be likely to rank higher in the search results than other pages without as high a PageRank score.

When a page links to another page, it passes a portion of its PageRank to the page it links to.

Thus, pages accumulate more PageRank based on the number and quality of links they receive.

Not All Links Are Created Equal

So, more votes are better, right?

Well, that’s true in theory, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

PageRank scores range from a base value of one to values that likely exceed trillions.

Higher PageRank pages can have a lot more PageRank to pass than lower PageRank pages. In fact, a link from one page can easily be worth more than one million times a link from another page.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

But the PageRank of the source page of a link is not the only factor in play.

Google also looks at the topic of the linking page and the anchor text of the link, but those have to do with relevance and will be referenced in the next section.

It’s important to note that Google’s algorithms have evolved a long way from the original PageRank thesis.

The way that links are evaluated has changed in significant ways – some of which we know, and some of which we don’t.

What About Trust?

You may hear many people talk about the role of trust in search rankings and in evaluating link quality.

For the record, Google says it doesn’t have a concept of trust it applies to links (or ranking), so you should take those discussions with many grains of salt.

These discussions began because of a Yahoo patent on the concept of TrustRank.

The idea was that if you started with a seed set of hand-picked, highly trusted sites and then counted the number of clicks it took you to go from those sites to yours, the fewer clicks, the more trusted your site was.

Google has long said it doesn’t use this type of metric.

However, in 2013 Google was granted a patent related to evaluating the trustworthiness of links. We should not though that the existence of a granted patent does not mean it’s used in practice.

For your own purposes, however, if you want to assess a site’s trustworthiness as a link source, using the concept of trusted links is not a bad idea.

If they do any of the following, then it probably isn’t a good source for a link:

  • Sell links to others.
  • Have less than great content.
  • Otherwise, don’t appear reputable.

Google may not be calculating trust the way you do in your analysis, but chances are good that some other aspect of its system will devalue that link anyway.

Fundamentals Of Earning & Attracting Links

Now that you know that obtaining links to your site is critical to SEO success, it’s time to start putting together a plan to get some.

The key to success is understanding that Google wants this entire process to be holistic.

Google actively discourages, and in some cases punishes, schemes to get links in an artificial way. This means certain practices are seen as bad, such as:

  • Buying links for SEO purposes.
  • Going to forums and blogs and adding comments with links back to your site.
  • Hacking people’s sites and injecting links into their content.
  • Distributing poor-quality infographics or widgets that include links back to your pages.
  • Offering discount codes or affiliate programs as a way to get links.
  • And many other schemes where the resulting links are artificial in nature.

What Google really wants is for you to make a fantastic website and promote it effectively, with the result that you earn or attract links.

So, how do you do that?

Who Links?

The first key insight is understanding who it is that might link to the content you create.

Here is a chart that profiles the major groups of people in any given market space (based on research by the University of Oklahoma):

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Who do you think are the people that might implement links?

It’s certainly not the laggards, and it’s also not the early or late majority.

It’s the innovators and early adopters. These are the people who write on media sites or have blogs and might add links to your site.

There are also other sources of links, such as locally-oriented sites, such as the local chamber of commerce or local newspapers.

You might also find some opportunities with colleges and universities if they have pages that relate to some of the things you’re doing in your market space.

Relevance: Will Users Swipe Right On Your Page?

You have to be relevant to a given topic.

Think of every visit to a page as an encounter on a dating app. Will users “swipe right” (thinking, “this looks like a good match!)?

If you have a page about Tupperware, it doesn’t matter how many links you get – you’ll never rank for queries related to used cars.

This defines a limitation on the power of links as a ranking factor, and it shows how relevance also impacts the value of a link.

Consider a page on a site that is selling a used Ford Mustang. Imagine that it gets a link from Car and Driver magazine. That link is highly relevant.

Also, think of this intuitively. Is it likely that Car and Driver magazine has some expertise related to Ford Mustangs? Of course it does.

In contrast, imagine a link to that Ford Mustang from a site that usually writes about sports. Is the link still helpful?

Probably, but not as helpful because there is less evidence to Google that the sports site has a lot of knowledge about used Ford Mustangs.

In short, the relevance of the linking page and the linking site impacts how valuable a link might be considered.

What are some ways that Google evaluates relevance?

The Role Of Anchor Text

Anchor text is another aspect of links that matters to Google.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

The anchor text helps Google confirm what the content on the page receiving the link is about.

For example, if the anchor text is the phrase “iron bathtubs” and the page has content on that topic, the anchor text, plus the link, acts as further confirmation that the page is about that topic.

Thus, the links evaluate both the page’s relevance and authority.

Be careful, though, as you don’t want to go aggressively obtaining links to your page that all use your main keyphrase as the anchor text.

Google also looks for signs that you are manually manipulating links for SEO purposes.

One of the simplest indicators is if your anchor text looks manually manipulated.

Internal Linking

There is growing evidence that Google uses internal linking to evaluate how relevant a site is to a topic.

Properly structured internal links connecting related content are a way of showing Google that you have the topic well-covered, with pages about many different aspects.

By the way, anchor text is as important when creating external links as it is for external, inbound links.

Your overall site structure is related to internal linking.

Think strategically about where your pages fall in your site hierarchy. If it makes sense for users it will probably be useful to search engines.

The Content Itself

Of course, the most important indicator of the relevance of a page has to be the content on that page.

Most SEO professionals know that assessing content’s relevance to a query has become way more sophisticated than merely having the keywords a user is searching for.

Due to advances in natural language processing and machine learning, search engines like Google have vastly increased their competence in being able to assess the content on a page.

What are some things Google likely looks for in determining what queries a page should be relevant for?

  • Keywords: While the days of keyword stuffing as an effective SEO tactic are (thankfully) way behind us, having certain words on a page still matters. My company has numerous case studies showing that merely adding key terms that are common among top-ranking pages for a topic is often enough to increase organic traffic to a page.
  • Depth: The top-ranking pages for a topic usually cover the topic at the right depth. That is, they have enough content to satisfy searchers’ queries and/or are linked to/from pages that help flesh out the topic.
  • Structure: Structural elements like H1, H2, and H3, bolded topic headings, and schema-structured data may help Google better understand a page’s relevance and coverage.

What About E-E-A-T?

E-E-A-T is a Google initialism standing for Experienced-Expertise-Authoritativeness-Trustworthiness.

It is the framework of the Search Quality Rater’s Guidelines, a document used to train Google Search Quality Raters.

Search Quality Raters evaluate pages that rank in search for a given topic using defined E-E-A-T criteria to judge how well each page serves the needs of a search user who visits it as an answer to their query.

Those ratings are accumulated in aggregate and used to help tweak the search algorithms. (They are not used to affect the rankings of any individual site or page.)

Of course, Google encourages all site owners to create content that makes a visitor feel that it is authoritative, trustworthy, and written by someone with expertise or experience appropriate to the topic.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the more YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) your site is, the more attention you should pay to E-E-A-T.

YMYL sites are those whose main content addresses things that might have an effect on people’s well-being or finances.

If your site is YMYL, you should go the extra mile in ensuring the accuracy of your content, and displaying that you have qualified experts writing it.

Building A Content Marketing Plan

Last but certainly not least, create a real plan for your content marketing.

Don’t just suddenly start doing a lot of random stuff.

Take the time to study what your competitors are doing so you can invest your content marketing efforts in a way that’s likely to provide a solid ROI.

One approach to doing that is to pull their backlink profiles using tools that can do that.

With this information, you can see what types of links they’ve been getting and, based on that, figure out what links you need to get to beat them.

Take the time to do this exercise and also to map which links are going to which pages on the competitors’ sites, as well as what each of those pages rank for.

Building out this kind of detailed view will help you scope out your plan of attack and give you some understanding of what keywords you might be able to rank for.

It’s well worth the effort!

In addition, study the competitor’s content plans.

Learn what they are doing and carefully consider what you can do that’s different.

Focus on developing a clear differentiation in your content for topics that are in high demand with your potential customers.

This is another investment of time that will be very well spent.

Experience

As we traced above, Google started by focusing on ranking pages by authority, then found ways to assess relevance.

The third evolution of search was evaluating the site and page experience.

This actually has two separate but related aspects: the technical health of the site and the actual user experience.

We say the two are related because a site that is technically sound is going to create a good experience for both human users and the crawling bots that Google uses to explore, understand a site, and add pages to its index, the first step to qualifying for being ranked in search.

In fact, many SEO pros (and I’m among them) prefer to speak of SEO not as Search Engine Optimization but as Search Experience Optimization.

Let’s talk about the human (user) experience first.

User Experience

Google realized that authoritativeness and relevancy, as important as they are, were not the only things users were looking for when searching.

Users also want a good experience on the pages and sites Google sends them to.

What is a “good user experience”? It includes at least the following:

  • The page the searcher lands on is what they would expect to see, given their query. No bait and switch.
  • The content on the landing page is highly relevant to the user’s query.
  • The content is sufficient to answer the intent of the user’s query but also links to other relevant sources and related topics.
  • The page loads quickly, the relevant content is immediately apparent, and page elements settle into place quickly (all aspects of Google’s Core Web Vitals).

In addition, many of the suggestions above about creating better content also apply to user experience.

Technical Health

In SEO, the technical health of a site is how smoothly and efficiently it can be crawled by Google’s search bots.

Broken connections or even things that slow down a bot’s progress can drastically affect the number of pages Google will index and, therefore, the potential traffic your site can qualify for from organic search.

The practice of maintaining a technically healthy site is known as technical SEO.

The many aspects of technical SEO are beyond the scope of this article, but you can find many excellent guides on the topic, including Search Engine Journal’s Advanced Technical SEO.

In summary, Google wants to rank pages that it can easily find, that satisfy the query, and that make it as easy as possible for the searcher to identify and understand what they were searching for.

What About the Google Leak?

You’ve probably heard by now about the leak of Google documents containing thousands of labeled API calls and many thousands of attributes for those data buckets.

Many assume that these documents reveal the secrets of the Google algorithms for search. But is that a warranted assumption?

No doubt, perusing the documents is interesting and reveals many types of data that Google may store or may have stored in the past. But some significant unknowns about the leak should give us pause.

  • As  Google has pointed out, we lack context around these documents and how they were used internally by Google, and we don’t know how out of date they may be.
  • It is a huge leap from “Google may collect and store data point x” to “therefore data point x is a ranking factor.”
  • Even if we assume the document does reveal some things that are used in search, we have no indication of how they are used or how much weight they are given.

Given those caveats, it is my opinion that while the leaked documents are interesting from an academic point of view, they should not be relied upon for actually forming an SEO strategy.

Putting It All Together

Search engines want happy users who will come back to them again and again when they have a question or need.

They create and sustain happiness by providing the best possible results that satisfy that question or need.

To keep their users happy, search engines must be able to understand and measure the relative authority of webpages for the topics they cover.

When you create content that is highly useful (or engaging or entertaining) to visitors – and when those visitors find your content reliable enough that they would willingly return to your site or even seek you out above others – you’ve gained authority.

Search engines work hard to continually improve their ability to match the human quest for trustworthy authority.

As we explained above, that same kind of quality content is key to earning the kinds of links that assure the search engines you should rank highly for relevant searches.

That can be either content on your site that others want to link to or content that other quality, relevant sites want to publish, with appropriate links back to your site.

Focusing on these three pillars of SEO – authority, relevance, and experience – will increase the opportunities for your content and make link-earning easier.

You now have everything you need to know for SEO success, so get to work!

More resources: 


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Google’s Web Crawler Fakes Being “Idle” To Render JavaScript

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Google's Web Crawler Fakes Being "Idle" To Render JavaScript

In a recent episode of the Search Off The Record podcast, it was revealed that Google’s rendering system now pretends to be “idle” to trigger certain JavaScript events and improve webpage rendering.

The podcast features Zoe Clifford from Google’s rendering team, who discussed how the company’s web crawlers deal with JavaScript-based sites.

This revelation is insightful for web developers who use such methods to defer content loading.

Google’s “Idle” Trick

Googlebot simulates “idle” states during rendering, which triggers JavaScript events like requestIdleCallback.

Developers use this function to defer loading less critical content until the browser is free from other tasks.

Before this change, Google’s rendering process was so efficient that the browser was always active, causing some websites to fail to load important content.

Clifford explained:

“There was a certain popular video website which I won’t name…which deferred loading any of the page contents until after requestIdleCallback was fired.”

Since the browser was never idle, this event wouldn’t fire, preventing much of the page from loading properly.

Faking Idle Time To Improve Rendering

Google implemented a system where the browser pretends to be idle periodically, even when it’s busy rendering pages.

This tweak ensures that idle callbacks are triggered correctly, allowing pages to fully load their content for indexing.

Importance Of Error Handling

Clifford emphasized the importance of developers implementing graceful error handling in their JavaScript code.

Unhandled errors can lead to blank pages, redirects, or missing content, negatively impacting indexing.

She advised:

“If there is an error, I just try and handle it as gracefully as possible…web development is hard stuff.”

What Does This Mean?

Implications For Web Developers

  • Graceful Error Handling: Implementing graceful error handling ensures pages load as intended, even if certain code elements fail.
  • Cautious Use of Idle Callbacks: While Google has adapted to handle idle callbacks, be wary of over-relying on these functions.

Implications For SEO Professionals

  • Monitoring & Testing: Implement regular website monitoring and testing to identify rendering issues that may impact search visibility.
  • Developer Collaboration: Collaborate with your development team to create user-friendly and search engine-friendly websites.
  • Continuous Learning: Stay updated with the latest developments and best practices in how search engines handle JavaScript, render web pages, and evaluate content.

See also: Google Renders All Pages For Search, Including JavaScript-Heavy Sites

Other Rendering-Related Topics Discussed

The discussion also touched on other rendering-related topics, such as the challenges posed by user agent detection and the handling of JavaScript redirects.

The whole podcast provides valuable insights into web rendering and the steps Google takes to assess pages accurately.

See also: Google Renders All Pages For Search, Including JavaScript-Heavy Sites


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Google’s Indifference To Site Publishers Explained

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Google inadvertently reveals reasons that explain their seeming indifference to publishers hurt by algorithm updates

A publisher named Brandon Saltalamacchia interviewed Google’s SearchLiaison in which he offered hope that quality sites hit by Google’s algorithms may soon see their traffic levels bounce back. But that interview and a recent Google podcast reveal deeper issues that may explain why Google seems indifferent to publishers with every update.

Google Search Relations

Google has a team whose job is to communicate how site owners can do well on Google. So it’s not that Googlers themselves are indifferent to site publishers and creatives. Google provides a lot of feedback to publishers, especially through Google Search Console. The area in which Google is indifferent to publishers is directly in search at its most fundamental level.

Google’s algorithms are built on the premise that it has to provide a good user experience and is internally evaluated to that standard. This creates the situation where from Google’s perspective the algorithm is working the way it should. But from the perspective of website publishers Google’s ranking algorithms are failing. Putting a finger on why that’s happening is what this article is about.

Publishers Are Not Even An Afterthought To Google

The interview by Brandon Saltalamacchia comes against the background of many websites having lost traffic due to Google’s recent algorithm updates. From Google’s point of view their algorithms are working fine for users. But the steady feedback from website publishers is no, it’s not working. Google’s response for the past month is that they’re investigating how to improve.

What all of this reveals is that there is a real disconnect between how Google measures how their algorithms are working and how website publishers experience it in the real world. It may surprise most people to learn that that this disconnect begins with Google’s mission statement to make information “universally accessible and useful”  and ends with the rollout of an algorithm that is tested for metrics that take into account how users experience it but is 100% blind to how publishers experience it.

Some of the complaints about Google’s algorithms:

  • Ranking algorithms for reviews, travel and other topics are favoring big brands over smaller publishers.
  • Google’s decision to firehose traffic at Reddit contributes to the dismantling of the website publishing ecosystem.
  • AI Overviews summarizes web pages and deprives websites of search traffic.

The stated goal for Google’s algorithm decisions is to increase user satisfaction but the problem with that approach is that website publishers are left out of that equation.  Consider this: Google’s Search Quality Raters Guidelines says nothing about checking if big brands are dominating the search results. Zero.

Website publishers aren’t even an afterthought for Google. Publishers are not not considered at any stage of the creation, testing and rollout of ranking algorithms.

Google Historically Doesn’t Focus On Publishers

A remark by Gary Illyes in a recent Search Off The Record indicated that in Gary’s opinion Google is all about the user experience because if search is good for the user then that’ll trickle down to the publishers and will be good for them too.

In the context of Gary explaining whether Google will announce that something is broken in search, Gary emphasized that search relations is focused on the search users and not the publishers who may be suffering from whatever is broken.

John Mueller asked:

“So, is the focus more on what users would see or what site owners would see? Because, as a Search Relations team, we would focus more on site owners. But it sounds like you’re saying, for these issues, we would look at what users would experience.”

Gary Illyes answered:

“So it’s Search Relations, not Site Owners Relations, from Search perspective.”

Google’s Indifference To Publishers

Google’s focus on satisfying search users can in practice turn into indifference toward publishers.  If you read all the Google patents and research papers related to information retrieval (search technology) the one thing that becomes apparent is that the measure of success is always about the users. The impact to site publishers are consistently ignored. That’s why Google Search is perceived as indifferent to site publishers, because publishers have never been a part of the search satisfaction equation.

This is something that publishers and Google may not have wrapped their minds around just yet.

Later on, in the Search Off The Record  podcast, the Googlers specifically discuss how an update is deemed to be working well regardless if a (relatively) small amount of publishers are complaining that Google Search is broken, because what matters is if Google perceives that they are doing the right thing from Google’s perspective.

John said:

“…Sometimes we get feedback after big ranking updates, like core updates, where people are like, “Oh, everything is broken.”

At the 12:06 minute mark of the podcast Gary made light of that kind of feedback:

“Do we? We get feedback like that?”

Mueller responded:

“Well, yeah.”

Then Mueller completed his thought:

“I feel bad for them. I kind of understand that. I think those are the kind of situations where we would look at the examples and be like, “Oh, I see some sites are unhappy with this, but overall we’re doing the right thing from our perspective.”

And Gary responded:

“Right.”

And John asks:

“And then we wouldn’t see it as an issue, right?”

Gary affirmed that Google wouldn’t see it as an issue if a legit publisher loses traffic when overall the algorithm is working as they feel it should.

“Yeah.”

It is precisely that shrugging indifference that a website publisher, Brandon Saltalamacchia, is concerned about and discussed with SearchLiaison in a recent blog post.

Lots of Questions

SearchLiaison asked many questions about how Google could better support content creators, which is notable because Google has a long history of focusing on their user experience but seemingly not also considering what the impact on businesses with an online presence.

That’s a good sign from SearchLiaison but not entirely a surprise because unlike most Googlers, SearchLiaison (aka Danny Sullivan) has decades of experience as a publisher so he knows what it’s like on our side of the search box.

It will be interesting if SearchLiaison’s concern for publishers makes it back to Google in a more profound way so that there’s a better understanding that the Search Ecosystem is greater than Google’s users and encompasses website publishers, too. Algorithm updates should be about more than how they impact users, the updates should also be about how they impact publishers.

Hope For Sites That Lost Traffic

Perhaps the most important news from the interview is that SearchLiaison expressed that there may be changes coming over the next few months that will benefit the publishers who have lost rankings over the past few months of updates.

Brandon wrote:

“One main take away from my conversation with Danny is that he did say to hang on, to keep doing what we are doing and that he’s hopeful that those of us building great websites will see some signs of recovery over the coming months.”

Yet despite those promises from Danny, Brandon didn’t come away with hope.

Brandon wrote:

“I got the sense things won’t change fast, nor anytime soon. “

Read the entire interview:

A Brief Meeting With Google After The Apocalypse

Listen to the Search Off The Record Podcast

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