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27-Year Search Expert Shares 5 Steps To Boost Your SEO

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27-Year Search Expert Shares 5 Steps To Boost Your SEO

In a recent Yext Summit, 27-year search marketing expert Duane Forrester shared advice on how to become a better SEO and develop the skills to better anticipate where search marketing is headed.

Who Is Duane Forrester And Why His Advice Matters

Duane Forrester is one of the rare search marketers who has experience on both sides of the search box. He has 27 years of experience in the search industry with almost ten of those years spent as a Product Manager at Microsoft. He helped build and launch Bing Webmaster Tools, wrote the original Bing Webmaster Guidelines and worked with the Core Search and Spam Teams, as well as the teams who built and maintained Schema.org, Robotstxt.org and Sitemaps.org.

Five Steps To Become A Better SEO & Predict Future Trends

Duane said that in 2022 nobody was talking about AI. Now it’s been just over a year and it’s all that everyone is talking about. He said that’s an example of how SEO is one of the fastest changing industries and said that this has always been the normal pace.

What’s going on in AI is just another change in a history of changes, not all of it visible to the search community.  Machine learning, neural networks, and AI have been a part of Search behind the scenes for many years, largely unseen and not always well understood, which underlines the importance of learning.

Duane said:

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“…this industry requires a dedication to continual learning. All the time, there’s always something new. …Big steps, small steps, but it is constant.”

He suggested the following activities for attaining a strong SEO footing and maintaining it.

  1. Research 60 minutes per day
  2. Follow known experts
  3. Use official sources for SEO guidance
  4. The value of developer resources
  5. Anticipate consumer trends

1. Research 60 Minutes Per Day

Duane recommended setting aside time for research.

He explained:

“…dedicate at least 60 minutes a day, an hour, to reading new sources and the official blogs, heck even the unofficial blogs, get in and read those things.”

For some it might sound like a lot of time to dedicate to researching something that they already know, SEO. But Duane is right and I’ll tell you why.

In 2005 I was caught by surprise when a Google engineer revealed that Google was using statistical analysis to identify unnatural links. It was a mind blowing moment that made it clear I had to start reading research papers to stay on top of the search engines were doing.

I contacted Duane about it and he said that now more than ever it’s important to research everything because SEO is changing so fast that at some point it might be inadequate to call it SEO anymore.

This is what he told me:

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“Man, if things keep going the way they are, we will ALL need to learn a new profession. It simply won’t be called SEO if it’s on the front edge of what’s coming.

Bottom line, if you’re not investing in the work now, there is not going to be a tomorrow. Sorry, this train is stopping. A new train will be departing the station shortly – I suggest you get on it.”

2. Follow Known Experts

Duane asserts that it’s important to keep an open mind and absorb what others have to say. It’s consider that this is a person with 27 years experience who is saying how important it is for him to read what others are saying. So if it’s important for him it should be important for everyone else.

Duane recommends:

“Follow known experts on Twitter and LinkedIn threads, Bluesky, TikTok, wherever they have an account, go find it. If it’s on medium, sign up. If it’s on Substack sign up.

Make sure you’re getting direct access. You don’t want to rely on what someone said they read. Go read these things yourself. It makes a big difference in your understanding. Listen to the podcasts, watch the webinars, follow their YouTube channels and acknowledge you will be drinking from a fire hose.”

3. Use Official Sources For SEO Guidance

Duane emphasized the importance of getting as much information direct from the search engines. For the normal sources of official information (Search Central, Developer blog, Webmaster Tools) he said to keep those bookmarked and ready to be checked every day. But he also advised to expand your sources of information to sources most people don’t go to.

This is what he said about alternative sources:

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“So for SEOs, you wanna be looking for Microsoft, Google, DuckDuckGo, Yahoo, Baidu, and Naver. And before you say, but why Yahoo? It’s because they’re doing a lot over the last year with search and they are poised to do even more in the next 18 months. So pay attention to what they’re doing. They’re not investing in this because they don’t think there’s a reason to do so. They very much believe there is room for them in this market, and I bet consumers will agree with them.”

4. The Value Of Developer Resources

This part of his keynote is interesting because it’s about looking at where the industry is going to be 18 months in the future. Part of engaging with developer resources is understanding the technology but he also sees it as an opportunity to get ahead of everyone else by seeing where the consumers are going (because the money will follow them).

Duane recommended developer-focused resources at Meta, Amazon, Apple, TikTok, OpenAI because those are the companies that are developing the customer experiences that impact consumer behavior. He has a point. Shein revolutionized how clothing is marketed by sidestepping search altogether by targeting consumers on social media in ways that appealed to them.

Duane said:

“I also urge you take a look at what’s going on for developers, and there’s a very important reason for this. META, Amazon, Apple, TikTok, OpenAI, they all have dedicated locations for developers to come in and engage with our latest products and services…

The reason it’s important to pay attention to this is because these are the companies that are developing the customer experiences and understand how those customer experiences impact customer action and behavior. These are the official sources where those experiences are rolled out, talked about, and developers can engage with them.”

5. Anticipate Consumer Trends

One of the things that I found interesting was how he kept returning to how technology affects the customer experience and their behavior. When he talks about Apple or Meta it’s in the context of how they’re influencing customer behavior he also ties that to how money follows the consumers.

For example, in our conversation he mentioned the prospect of an ad-free AI search and said that we have to think about where that advertising money is going to go.

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“This is leaning towards “staying on top of your game” and we have to talk about how “search” is being expanded across new platforms (ChatGPT, Perplexity, etc.).

So knowing how they’re thinking about business models and such becomes a very important part of the game. If ChatGPT launches an ad-free search experience, and their current consumers adopt it (100 million active monthly users), how does this affect current search models built on top of advertising? How does this affect how teams are tasked with work inside of brands, which skills are in demand, where does ad money move to?”

Do you see what he’s doing there? He’s looking at technological trends today and then thinking where it is headed and how that affects which jobs will be in demand and where advertising and consumer spending is headed.

I’ve known Duane for almost twenty years and he’s always doing that kind of thing where he puts context on what’s happening now and what it means for the future. Those questions he asks show how to anticipate where the industry is headed .

His Yext keynote ended with a hockey analogy:

“You do not want to skate to where the puck is. You want to skate to where the puck is going to be. The greatest hockey players who have ever played the sport knew that and acted on it every time they took to the ice.

Skating to where the puck is is a sure way to miss the point and fall behind. Skating to where it will be is how you stay in front and on top of things. And you can get there by being curious, learning continuously and building a robust network.”

Watch Duane Forresters’s keynote:

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How to Keep Up with SEO Best Practices

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Artem Samokhvalov

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Google Limits News Links In California Over Proposed ‘Link Tax’ Law

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A brown cardboard price tag with a twine string and a black dollar sign symbol, influenced by the Link Tax Law, set against a dark gray background.

Google announced that it plans to reduce access to California news websites for a portion of users in the state.

The decision comes as Google prepares for the potential passage of the California Journalism Preservation Act (CJPA), a bill requiring online platforms like Google to pay news publishers for linking to their content.

What Is The California Journalism Preservation Act?

The CJPA, introduced in the California State Legislature, aims to support local journalism by creating what Google refers to as a “link tax.”

If passed, the Act would force companies like Google to pay media outlets when sending readers to news articles.

However, Google believes this approach needs to be revised and could harm rather than help the news industry.

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Jaffer Zaidi, Google’s VP of Global News Partnerships, stated in a blog post:

“It would favor media conglomerates and hedge funds—who’ve been lobbying for this bill—and could use funds from CJPA to continue to buy up local California newspapers, strip them of journalists, and create more ghost papers that operate with a skeleton crew to produce only low-cost, and often low-quality, content.”

Google’s Response

To assess the potential impact of the CJPA on its services, Google is running a test with a percentage of California users.

During this test, Google will remove links to California news websites that the proposed legislation could cover.

Zaidi states:

“To prepare for possible CJPA implications, we are beginning a short-term test for a small percentage of California users. The testing process involves removing links to California news websites, potentially covered by CJPA, to measure the impact of the legislation on our product experience.”

Google Claims Only 2% of Search Queries Are News-Related

Zaidi highlighted peoples’ changing news consumption habits and its effect on Google search queries (emphasis mine):

“It’s well known that people are getting news from sources like short-form videos, topical newsletters, social media, and curated podcasts, and many are avoiding the news entirely. In line with those trends, just 2% of queries on Google Search are news-related.”

Despite the low percentage of news queries, Google wants to continue helping news publishers gain visibility on its platforms.

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However, the “CJPA as currently constructed would end these investments,” Zaidi says.

A Call For A Different Approach

In its current form, Google maintains that the CJPA undermines news in California and could leave all parties worse off.

The company urges lawmakers to consider alternative approaches supporting the news industry without harming smaller local outlets.

Google argues that, over the past two decades, it’s done plenty to help news publishers innovate:

“We’ve rolled out Google News Showcase, which operates in 26 countries, including the U.S., and has more than 2,500 participating publications. Through the Google News Initiative we’ve partnered with more than 7,000 news publishers around the world, including 200 news organizations and 6,000 journalists in California alone.”

Zaidi suggested that a healthy news industry in California requires support from the state government and a broad base of private companies.

As the legislative process continues, Google is willing to cooperate with California publishers and lawmakers to explore alternative paths that would allow it to continue linking to news.

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

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The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: March 2024

Every week, we share hot SEO news, interesting reads, and new posts in our newsletter, Ahrefs’ Digest.

If you’re not one of our 280,000 subscribers, you’ve missed out on some great reads!

Here’s a quick summary of my personal favorites from the last month:

Best of March 2024

How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

tl;dr

Glen’s research reveals that just 16 companies representing 588 brands get 3.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly clicks from Google.

My takeaway

Glen pointed out some really actionable ideas in this report, such as the fact that many of the brands dominating search are adding mini-author bios.

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Example of mini-author bios on The VergeExample of mini-author bios on The Verge

This idea makes so much sense in terms of both UX and E-E-A-T. I’ve already pitched it to the team and we’re going to implement it on our blog.

How Google is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours

Authors: Gisele Navarro, Danny Ashton

tl;dr

Big publications have gotten into the affiliate game, publishing “best of” lists about everything under the sun. And despite often not testing products thoroughly, they’re dominating Google rankings. The result, Gisele and Danny argue, is that genuine review sites suffer and Google is fast losing content diversity.

My takeaway

I have a lot of sympathy for independent sites. Some of them are trying their best, but unfortunately, they’re lumped in with thousands of others who are more than happy to spam.

Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updatesEstimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updates
Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele’s site fell off a cliff after Google’s March updates 🙁 

I know it’s hard to hear, but the truth is Google benefits more from having big sites in the SERPs than from having diversity. That’s because results from big brands are likely what users actually want. By and large, people would rather shop at Walmart or ALDI than at a local store or farmer’s market.

That said, I agree with most people that Forbes (with its dubious contributor model contributing to scams and poor journalism) should not be rewarded so handsomely.

The Discussion Forums Dominating 10,000 Product Review Search Results

Author: Glen Allsopp

Tl;dr

Glen analyzed 10,000 “product review” keywords and found that:

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My takeaway

After Google’s heavy promotion of Reddit from last year’s Core Update, to no one’s surprise, unscrupulous SEOs and marketers have already started spamming Reddit. And as you may know, Reddit’s moderation is done by volunteers, and obviously, they can’t keep up.

I’m not sure how this second-order effect completely escaped the smart minds at Google, but from the outside, it feels like Google has capitulated to some extent.

John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...

I’m not one to make predictions and I have no idea what will happen next, but I agree with Glen: Google’s results are the worst I’ve seen them. We can only hope Google sorts itself out.

Who Sends Traffic on the Web and How Much? New Research from Datos & SparkToro

Author: Rand Fishkin

tl;dr

63.41% of all U.S. web traffic referrals from the top 170 sites are initiated on Google.com.

Data from SparktoroData from Sparktoro

My takeaway

Despite all of our complaints, Google is still the main platform to acquire traffic from. That’s why we all want Google to sort itself out and do well.

But it would also be a mistake to look at this post and think Google is the only channel you should drive traffic from. As Rand’s later blog post clarifies, “be careful not to ascribe attribution or credit to Google when other investments drove the real value.”

I think many affiliate marketers learned this lesson well from the past few Core Updates: Relying on one single channel to drive all of your traffic is not a good idea. You should be using other platforms to build brand awareness, interest, and demand.

Want more?

Each week, our team handpicks the best SEO and marketing content from around the web for our newsletter. Sign up to get them directly in your inbox.

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Google Unplugs “Notes on Search” Experiment

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Google unplugs Notes On Search Experiment

Google is shutting down it’s Google Notes Search Labs experiment that allowed users to see and leave notes on Google’s search results and many in the search community aren’t too surprised.

Google Search Notes

Availability of the feature was limited to Android and Apple devices and there was never a clearly defined practical purpose or usefulness of the Notes experiment. Search marketers reaction throughout has consistently been that would become a spam-magnet.

The Search Labs page for the experiment touts it as mode of self-expression, to help other users and as a way for users to collect their own notes within their Google profiles.

The official Notes page in Search Labs has a simple notice:

Notes on Search Ends May 2024

That’s it.

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Screenshot Of Notice

Reaction From Search Community

Kevin Indig tweeted his thoughts that anything Google makes with a user generated content aspect was doomed to attract spam.

He tweeted:

“I’m gonna assume Google retires notes because of spam.

It’s crazy how spammy the web has become. Google can’t launch anything UGC without being bombarded.”

Cindy Krum (@Suzzicks) tweeted that it was author Purna Virji (LinkedIn profile) who predicted that it would be shut down once Google received enough data.

She shared:

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“It was actually @purnavirji who predicted it when we were at @BarbadosSeo – while I was talking. Everyone agreed that it would be spammed, but she said it would just be a test to collect a certain type of information until they got what they needed, and then it would be retired.”

Purna herself responded with a tweet:

“My personal (non-employer) opinion is that everyone wants all the UGC to train the AI models. Eg Reddit deal also could potentially help with that.”

Google’s Notes for Search seemed destined to never take off, it was met with skepticism and a shrug when it came out and nobody’s really mourning that it’s on the way out, either.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Jamesbin



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