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3 Ways To Find Hidden Spam Links & Text On A Webpage

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3 Ways To Find Hidden Spam Links & Text On A Webpage

Every website on the Internet, no matter how small or large, is under some form of attack by a user-generated content spammer or a spambot.

Increasingly, many of the attacks are focused on hiding links because links are a high-value commodity, fetching hundreds of dollars each. The following solutions will help stop these attacks and keep your site safe from hidden links.

According to internet security company Barracuda, nearly 40% of all internet traffic is generated by bad bots.

If those bad bots are successful, the negative impact they can negatively impact the search visibility of a website through hidden links placed to malware and spam.

Many in the SEO community don’t think of website security as an SEO issue.

Consequently, many SEOs working in agencies and in-house don’t make security scanning a priority because it’s not traditionally thought of as part of SEO.

But security quickly becomes an SEO priority the moment a site loses ranking. So, it’s best to be proactive and not reactive.

The best SEO integrates security into their process, even if it’s to make sure that the developer team is keeping on top of it.

Here are three ways hidden links make it onto a site and the ways to keep it from happening.

1. Old And Out-Of-Date Plugins And Themes

SEO spammers purchase popular plugins and themes that have been abandoned or are not regularly updated.

The commerce in links is lucrative so it makes financial sense to purchase semi-abandoned themes and plugins in order to add backdoor access for the purpose of adding spam links to the sites.

WordFence published an article about plugin spammers a few years ago that detailed how the spammers paid $15,000 for just one plugin.

While that sounds like a decent amount of money it has to be put into context that links can be sold for $500 each.

So, gaining access to 20,000 sites through a single plugin creates a huge opportunity to illicitly sell scores of links on every site that uses that one plugin.

In that scenario, a spammer only needs to sell 30 links to recoup their investment, and the rest is pure profit.

The attack documented by WordFence describes that after the purchase of the plugin, the new owners updated the plugin to gain access to over 200,000 websites that used the plugin.

WordFence reported:

“On June 21st, the first release of Display Widgets under the new author went out. Then on June 30th there was a second release, version 2.6.1, which included the malicious code… this code allowed the new plugin author… to publish spam content on any site running Display Widgets.

There were approximately 200,000 sites using Display Widgets at the time.”

How To Protect Yourself From Plugin And Theme Spam

Always conduct an audit of plugins and themes that are used on a site. Make sure that the plugin is regularly updated and has not been abandoned.

If the plugin or theme appears to have been abandoned then the safest course of action is to seek out another plugin that is still being actively updated and improved.

Additionally, many plugins need to be updated because the WordPress core, PHP (the software that WordPress runs on), and many popular JavaScript libraries that power themes and plugins are all constantly updated, which means that plugins and themes also need to be updated in order to preserve their functionality.

Most plugins are constantly evolving and improving their usefulness. It’s normal for plugins and themes to be regularly updated, so it can be a warning signal if a plugin has stopped being updated.

The most obvious way to protect yourself from becoming a victim to plugin and theme spam is to audit your themes and plugins at least once a year (twice a year is even better).

Check each plugin and your theme to see when was the last time it was updated.

I know this might sound harsh but another warning sign to look out for is if a theme or plugin isn’t particularly popular. A lack of popularity can sometimes mean that there’s a better software product out there that most people use.

Take some time to investigate if there are better options out there.

Tools To Use To Protect Against WordPress Plugin Spam

Wordfence

Wordfence is a leading security plugin.

One of the main differences between the free and the premium versions is that the premium version is constantly updated for new threats as they happen. The free version is updated for new threats every 30 days.

Both Wordfence free and premium are effective tools to protect against out-of-date or otherwise vulnerable plugins.

Wordfence features a security scanner that helps keep your WordPress site protected.

Wordfence describes the benefits of its security scanner:

“The security scanner included with Wordfence free alerts you when your site is running vulnerable or outdated plugins, themes, or core files.

Additionally, our scanner compares your core files, themes, and plugins with known clean versions in the WordPress.org repository, checking their integrity and allowing you to repair files that have changed by reverting them to a pristine, original version.

The Wordfence scanner also scans file contents for malware, bad URLs, backdoors, SEO spam, malicious redirects and code injections, and allows you to delete malicious files.”

Sucuri Security

Another excellent WordPress security plugin is Sucuri.

Sucuri has a malware scanner that can identify out-of-date software, as well as identify signatures of a compromised WordPress website.

Sucuri lists the benefits of its free plugin:

  • Security Activity Auditing.
  • File Integrity Monitoring.
  • Remote Malware Scanning.
  • Blocklist Monitoring.
  • Effective Security Hardening.
  • Post-Hack Security Actions.
  • Security Notifications.

2. User-Generated Content Spam

There are multiple strategies employed by spammers to get their links onto websites, forums, and even on Facebook groups.

Blatant Promotion on Guest Posts, Comments, and Forums

There are multiple forms of user-generated content spam, but one of the most obvious ones is the Win-Win spam technique.

The way this method works is this: a spammer will submit a useful guest post to a website, add a useful post to a forum or Facebook group, or add a comment to a blog.

The spam part of this kind of technique is that they refer users back to their website for a more in-depth answer or they cite their site within the article.

Google frowns on using guest posts for link building. John Mueller is on record stating that guest posting for links results in unnatural links.

Marketers call that a win-win because they say they’re adding a quality link where readers can get an answer.

But one should be very careful to not allow outbound links to any site that uses these tactics to build links.

These kinds of user-generated link building tactics are generally used to promote low-quality websites. Publishers should in general be highly skeptical of publishing guest posts from any unknown individuals.

The way to protect yourself from this kind of spam is to simply ignore unsolicited emails from individuals who are unknown to you.

There’s nothing wrong with guest posting, but when it is done as part of a link building tactic then it crosses the line.

At the very least, if you’re going to publish a guest post, be sure to put a nofollow link attribute on all outgoing links and never give publishing credentials to anyone you do not know well and trust.

Tools To Use To Spot Bad Links

Screaming Frog

Screaming Frog is a downloadable software program that crawls a website and extracts a variety of useful information.

It is an excellent tool for crawling a website and identifying all outbound links.

Using the tool one can inspect all outbound links on a website and verify if the link is one that you feel comfortable with and whether or not it has a nofollow attribute.

There is a free version that has a limit of 500 URLs and a reasonably priced premium version that will provide countless hours of SEO data to investigate.

Crawling Tip: Whichever version of Screaming Frog that you use, be sure to set the User Agent to emulate Googlebot. Sometimes hidden links (from hacked sites) are hidden to everyone except to Googlebot.

WP External Links Plugin

The WP External Links plugin was produced by the popular Web Factory plugin and theme developer that has been developing free and paid plugins for over 10 years.

Their relatively new external links WordPress plugin was published in June 2021 and was quickly embraced by over 100,000 WordPress publishers.

The WP External Links plugin will check all outbound links and produce a report of where they link to, if there is a nofollow on it, and provides the ability to add different kinds of nofollow link attributes to various links, like the specialized UGC nofollow link attribute.

This is a useful plugin for auditing all external links.

3. Sneaky Links

Some spammers operate with the assumption that new members are under scrutiny. So, their approach is to hide their links in order to keep the links from being removed.

Here are a few techniques used by sneaky link spammers.

Links Hidden In A Quote

This kind of spam can be hard to notice. What the spammer does is quote a previous post by a member in good standing and then answer that member with a link-free post.

However, what they are doing is altering the quoted post and adding a link to it so that it looks like the trusted member added the link.

A moderator will look at the post and overlook the link in the quoted post, see that the new member didn’t spam, and allow the link to remain since the link was embedded in the post quoted by a trusted member.

Link Hidden In A Punctuation Mark

Some spammers will post a huge comment and somewhere inside that post they will bury a link to the site they’re promoting within a punctuation mark or in one letter.

Link Hidden By Matching Text To Page Color

This technique is literally hiding a link, and it happens on user-generated content posts where the members can change the font colors.

So, if the page background is white, they will add style codes to their post to make the spam link white.

How To Protect Against Sneaky Links

Aksimet Antispam

Akismet Antispam is known as a WordPress spam management plugin.

However, Akismet can also be used for other content management systems, too.

In addition to WordPress, Akismet can protect sites built on:

  • Joomla.
  • Drupal.
  • Perch.
  • Mediawiki.
  • Moodle.
  • phpBB.
  • SMF.
  • VBulletin.
  • Discourse.
  • Elixir.
  • Piwigo.

Akismet can be used to block spam user signups, protect email forms, as well as to block spam from comments. The Akismet module for Wikimedia can block spam edits to sites built with the Wikimedia CMS.

Cloudflare Web Application Firewall

The Pro, Business, and Enterprise levels of Cloudflare feature a web application firewall (WAF) that protects websites from many of the top intrusion techniques.

Cloudflare’s WAF will protect a site from a variety of attacks that can lead to a full site takeover where a malicious hacker can add hidden links throughout a website.

Use Better Security Challenge Questions

A popular built-in option for stopping spam links is security challenge questions.

One issue is that many spambots are able to answer most questions. The trick to a successful security challenge question is to craft questions that cannot be answered by Google or Bing.

Math questions like what is 1 + 1 are easily defeated.

Similarly, questions like who is the president of the United States are also easily defeated.

Think of questions that can’t be Googled for an answer.

For example, ask new registrations to spell a word but to spell it with the last letter capitalized. Use questions with a twist to fool automated spam software.

As long as it can’t be answered by Google then it’s likely to be impossible for a bot to defeat. The key is for the question to not be answerable by Google.

All Sites Are Under Attack

The bigger a site is, the harder it is to spot spam and the easier it is to hide it.

But even small sites are under heavy probing and attack at virtually any moment of the day.

It’s important to set up defenses to block spammers before they have a chance to hide their links on your webpages and quite possibly ruin your rankings.

It’s also important to be aware of the sneaky ways spammers try to add hidden links to a website.

Lastly, it is always a good idea to automatically apply the rel=nofollow link attribute to all user-generated content links which will signal to search engines that those links are not trustworthy and should not be considered.

That way, in the event a spam link does get in through user-generated content, the link itself will not be able to poison your rankings.

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

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Navigating The SEO Career Landscape: Degrees, Myths, And Realities

In the dynamic realm of search engine optimization (SEO), my career spans nearly two decades, starting in 2004 when I started working for an agency and just two years later moved to in-house SEO for a large company.

Since then, I’ve held various in-house SEO roles at esteemed organizations, including Classmates.com, Concur, Smartsheet, ADP (usedcars.com), Nordstrom, Groupon, GitHub, and my most recent role at RingCentral – experiences which have deepened my understanding of the field and allowed me to shape SEO within different business contexts.

I began my career as an SEO specialist at the agency; my role involved understanding website optimization, keyword research, and refining on-page and off-page strategies.

When I moved to management, I had to understand how to lead a team properly.

As my journey progressed, transitioning to roles like SEO manager involved overseeing SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, educating and leading teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals.

These roles collectively form the backbone of SEO, showcasing its dynamism and emphasizing each position’s indispensable role in driving effective digital marketing strategies.

My journey isn’t that much different from that of many SEO professionals, aside from the fact that some SEO pros may decide to stay with an agency or focus on consulting rather than working for another company.

There are so many avenues one could go down when choosing their career path for SEO, so let me help break it down.

SEO Roles

As someone immersed in the SEO field for many years, I fully understand today’s many diverse SEO roles.

Let’s explore these roles, the average salaries in the US, and advice I have for anyone looking to move into these roles, considering both their nuances and the path ahead for aspiring SEO professionals:

SEO Specialist

Embarking on the SEO journey often starts as a specialist. In this entry-level role, one will dig into the complexities of optimizing websites to boost rankings.

As a specialist, my early days involved conducting keyword research, analyzing website performance, and implementing strategies that enhanced organic visibility for clients.

This foundational role serves as a stepping stone to grasp the fundamentals of digital marketing in both the agency and in-house environments.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Focus on entry-level content optimization, conducting keyword research, and honing on-page and off-page strategies.
  • Advice: This is a great role to grasp the fundamentals, immerse yourself in various facets of digital marketing, and adapt to evolving trends.

SEO Content Strategist

Transitioning to a content strategist role within SEO reveals the creative side of drafting engaging, search-engine-friendly content.

Most SEO pros in this position are expected to sharpen their writing skills and plan and optimize content calendars based on comprehensive keyword research.

As an SEO content strategist, creating informative and captivating content is paramount to retaining readers and adhering to evolving SEO best practices.

Technical SEO Manager

My background in engineering has allowed me to focus heavily on the technical aspects of SEO. The position as a technical SEO manager requires a solid knowledge of coding, engineering processes, and database management.

The role of a technical SEO professional involves handling site structure, indexing, and resolving intricate technical issues that impact search performance.

Responsibilities extend to collaborating with engineering teams, ensuring effective communication, and mitigating risks associated with technical SEO.

This role requires a unique blend of technical acumen and collaborative skills.

  • Salary*: $99,548 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Tackle technical aspects impacting search performance, focusing on site structure, indexing, and technical troubleshooting.
  • Advice: Understand what goes into the development of a website, including the various coding languages (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Java, Python, React, Angular, etc.), database connectivity, and server administration, followed by the specifics of what Google expects and recommends for the benefits of SEO. In addition, SEO pros are expected to cultivate collaboration skills and have a solid understanding of using tools like Botify to aid in effective communication with engineers, which is pivotal for project success and seamless cooperation.

Link Building Specialist

As a link building specialist, the focus shifts to acquiring high-quality backlinks to enhance website authority and rankings.

This role demands persistence in building relationships, performing strategic outreach, and executing link-building strategies.

SEO pros interested in pursuing a career focused on off-site SEO must demonstrate the meticulous effort and specialization required in acquiring valuable links, making this role a dynamic and rewarding part of the SEO landscape.

  • Salary*: $63,699 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Acquire high-quality backlinks from relevant sites to enhance website authority, involving relationship-building and strategic outreach.
  • Advice: Develop persistence and relationship-building skills; the role demands time and specialization in acquiring valuable links while avoiding what could be considered spammy links. It would be very detrimental to a link building specialist’s career if they were to get a website banned by Google for using bad practices.

Local SEO Specialist

Optimizing websites for local searches can be a specialized avenue in any SEO journey.

Local SEO specialists manage local citations and Google My Business profiles and ensure consistent NAP (Name, Address, Phone Number) data for region-specific platforms.

This role highlights the importance of attention to detail and local nuances for businesses aiming to attract nearby customers.

  • Salary*: $62,852 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Optimize websites for local searches, manage local citations and Google My Business profiles, and ensure NAP data consistency.
  • Advice: Understand the nuances of local SEO; attention to detail and consistency are key for localized online visibility. Learn the various tools available to help manage these listings, such as RenderSEO and Yext.

Ecommerce SEO Product Manager

Working at ecommerce companies brings a unique challenge of its own.

SEO product manager roles require an SEO pro to specialize in optimizing online stores; the focus shifts to product optimization, category pages, site structure, and enhancing user experience.

Balancing SEO knowledge with product management skills becomes essential in navigating this niche, offering both challenges and lucrative opportunities.

  • Salary*: $117,277 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Specialize in optimizing online stores, focusing on product optimization, category pages, and user experience.
  • Advice: Combine SEO knowledge with product management skills; leveling up enhances prospects in this unique and lucrative niche.

SEO Consultant

My role as an SEO consultant involved advising businesses on enhancing online visibility. Analyzing websites, developing customized strategies, and offering guidance on effective SEO became integral.

The SEO consultant role offers relief when I find myself out of work in my in-house roles due to a layoff or if the company culture isn’t a good fit.

While my consulting is a second and infrequent role, many SEO pros decide that consulting is what they prefer to do full-time.

Either way, providing optimization services to companies neglecting SEO is a great way to make a substantial income.

  • Salary*: $63,298 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Advise businesses on improving online visibility, analyzing websites, developing strategies, and offering SEO guidance.
  • Advice: Gain diverse optimization experience; providing services to companies neglecting SEO can yield rapid improvement.

SEO Account Manager

Anyone interested in an SEO account manager role will experience the dynamic facet of serving as a bridge between clients and staff.

Meeting clients to understand their needs and relaying information for improved optimization efforts is the cornerstone of this position.

Performance-driven account managers could earn additional commissions, adding an incentive-driven layer to the role.

  • Salary*: $68,314 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Serve as a company’s point of contact, meeting clients and relaying information for improved optimization efforts.
  • Advice: Understand industry standards; performance-driven account managers can earn additional commissions, boosting income.

SEO Data Analyst

An SEO data analyst role involves collecting and interpreting website performance and search rankings data.

Using tools like Google Analytics, Semrush, and Botify while obtaining knowledge of running SQL queries provides insights to inform strategic decisions.

This role underlines the significance of data analysis, specifically focusing on SEO-related metrics and their implications.

  • Salary*: $76,575 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Collect and interpret website performance and search rankings data, offering insights for strategic decisions.
  • Advice: Know how to run SQL queries and manipulate data in Excel. Focus on SEO-related data analysis and understanding traffic from various search engines to improve decision-making.

SEO Manager

The majority of my roles in my career have been under the SEO manager title.

Those roles involved overseeing entire SEO strategies, developing comprehensive plans, managing teams, and ensuring alignment with overarching business goals. This mid-to-senior-level management position requires a diverse skill set.

  • Salary*: $74,494 per year (Indeed).
  • Duties: Oversee entire SEO strategy, develop comprehensive plans, manage teams, and ensure alignment with business goals.
  • Advice: Understand what it takes to be a team leader. Nurture your team, build relationships in the organization, and articulate the benefits of what you’re asking to accomplish SEO growth. Management books like StrengthsFinder 2.0: Gallup by Don Clifton and Radical Candor by Kim Scott are great resources for becoming a good leader. If an SEO manager can tap into effective communication and leadership, the senior positions can lead to higher earnings of up to $210,000.

Notes:

The salary for the link building and local specialist roles are the same as that of an SEO specialist, since they tend to be at the same level.

In addition, the SEO product manager’s salary is taken from what a standard product manager makes since the roles are very similar.

Also, note that consultants can make upwards of $200,000 per year or more as they decide what to charge clients and how many clients they choose to take on.

*US National average salary reported by Indeed.com as of January 2024

Is SEO A Good Career Choice? Debunking Myths And Realities

Having navigated the dynamic landscape of SEO for over two decades, I have found that, while choosing a career in SEO has been rewarding, there are many things I would have done differently if I had the chance to do it all over again.

The good part about the SEO career path is that it unfolds across various roles, each offering unique challenges and opportunities for growth.

Starting from entry-level positions to assuming leadership roles like SEO manager, professionals gain a diverse skill set and invaluable experience.

However, it’s crucial to understand that the journey rarely leads to executive positions like director of SEO in larger companies and even more rarely to vice president positions.

The salaries of roles that SEO pros work with (i.e., product managers, engineers, growth managers, etc.) are much higher than what SEO pros usually make. So if it’s money you’re after in an SEO career, then you may be on the wrong path.

Agencies often embrace SEO professionals in executive roles, highlighting the need for a blended approach to SEO strategy involving in-house and agency collaboration. Still, the salaries tend to be less than for in-house roles.

Most SEO professionals should begin their journey as specialists and envision their desired position in 5 to 10 years.

If aspirations lean towards engineering, take the initiative to learn to code and acquire the necessary skills expected of an engineer. Collaborate closely with engineering teams, expressing a keen interest in contributing to their projects to transition to an engineering role.

For those eyeing executive roles in large corporations, strategically plan a career trajectory that navigates beyond SEO and aligns with roles leading to executive positions.

Typically, chief marketing officers (CMOs) have backgrounds in product marketing or growth marketing, progressing from directors to VPs in those domains before making the leap to CMO.

While SEO expertise enhances marketability, transitioning from SEO to these roles can be challenging. Therefore, be prepared to undertake the necessary steps to facilitate a smooth transition when the time comes.

For those contemplating an SEO career, embrace the diverse roles within SEO, each contributing to a robust skill set.

Junior roles provide foundational knowledge, strategists refine creativity and analytical abilities, and managers oversee comprehensive SEO plans.

It’s essential to evaluate personal preferences – whether one aspires to be a specialist excelling in a specific area or climb the ladder to managerial roles.

Be aware that large companies might not offer executive SEO positions, leading to the importance of understanding the industry’s dynamics and considering agency opportunities.

Education In SEO: Unveiling The Reality of Degrees

After spending over two decades submerged in SEO, a formal degree is not a prerequisite for a successful career in SEO.

My journey began with college, where I majored in English and Art History. However, realizing the potential in web design and development, I dropped out to focus on freelance work.

The SEO industry thrives on practical skills and hands-on experience, making degrees less significant.

Numerous online resources and guides offer a wealth of information to aid in mastering SEO techniques. It’s a field where continuous learning is integral, and personal initiative often surpasses the value of formal education.

The insights shared by others resonate with my own experiences. SEO is a realm where proven expertise often outshines academic credentials.

The industry includes individuals with diverse educational backgrounds, from MBAs to those without formal education. What matters most is the ability to adapt, learn, and implement effective strategies.

For aspiring SEO professionals, the key lies in taking the initiative, exploring online resources, and gaining practical experience.

Whether starting a business or pursuing a career, hands-on learning and staying updated with industry trends are the real benchmarks of success. While a degree might be a plus, it’s not mandatory for carving a rewarding path in SEO.

The Diverse Paths Of SEO

The potential routes within the SEO career landscape are numerous, starting with opportunities at agencies that provide an excellent learning ground, exposing individuals to various aspects of digital marketing.

Alternatively, one could enter an in-house position at a company where guidance from an experienced SEO professional is crucial.

Freelancing or working as an independent consultant presents another viable option, offering flexibility in the work environment and schedule.

The SEO career path encompasses a spectrum of roles, from entry-level to junior roles, strategists, managers, and senior managers, each with distinctive responsibilities and salary ranges.

Agency

One significant route involves commencing the journey at agencies, which serve as excellent learning grounds.

Working at an agency exposes individuals to various facets of digital marketing, offering a dynamic environment where skills are honed through hands-on experience.

This path allows for a comprehensive understanding of SEO within the broader context of marketing strategies.

In-House

On the other hand, individuals may choose to embark on an in-house position within a company.

The crucial guidance characterizes this path experienced SEO professionals provide in the corporate setting.

The in-house route often entails a deeper integration with the company’s goals and strategies, requiring a specialized skill set tailored to the organization’s needs.

Freelancing

For those inclined towards independence and flexibility, freelancing or working as an independent consultant represents a viable option within the SEO career landscape.

This path allows individuals to shape their work environment and schedules according to personal preferences.

Freelancers have the opportunity to work with a variety of clients, gaining diverse experiences that contribute to their professional growth.

Conclusion

In this exploration of the SEO career landscape, I am reminded of the dynamic and ever-evolving nature of SEO.

From my humble beginnings as a freelance developer optimizing websites to my most recent work as a consultant, each step has presented unique challenges and learning opportunities, adding to my comprehensive grasp of SEO.

These experiences have enriched my understanding of various business environments.

I hope this article helps readers interested in a career in SEO carve out a path for themselves.

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Technical SEO Checklist for 2024: A Comprehensive Guide

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Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

Technical SEO Checklist 2024 Comprehensive Strategies

With Google getting a whopping total of six algorithmic updates and four core updates in 2023, you can bet the search landscape is more complicated (and competitive) to navigate nowadays.

To succeed in SEO this year, you will need to figure out what items to check and optimize to ensure your website stays visible. And if your goal is to not just make your website searchable, but have it rank at the top of search engine results, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 is essential.

Webmaster’s Note: This is part one of our three-part SEO checklist for 2024. I also have a longer guide on advanced technical SEO, which covers best practices and how to troubleshoot and solve common technical issues with your websites.

Technical SEO Essentials for 2024

Technical SEO refers to optimizations that are primarily focused on helping search engines access, crawl, interpret, and index your website without any issues. It lays the foundation for your site to be properly understood and served up by search engines to users.

1. Website Speed Optimization

A site’s loading speed is a significant ranking factor for search engines like Google, which prioritize user experience. Faster websites generally provide a more pleasant user experience, leading to increased engagement and improved conversion rates.

Server Optimization

Often, the reason why your website is loading slowly is because of the server it’s hosted on. It’s important to choose a high-quality server that ensures quick loading times from the get-go so you skip the headache that is server optimization.

Google recommends keeping your server response time under 200ms. To check your server’s response time, you need to know your website’s IP address. Once you have that, use your command prompt.

In the window that appears, type ping, followed by your website’s IP address. Press enter and the window should show how long it took your server to respond. 

If you find that your server goes above the recommended 200ms loading time, here’s what you need to check:

  1. Collect the data from your server and identify what is causing your response time to increase. 
  2. Based on what is causing the problem, you will need to implement server-side optimizations. This guide on how to reduce initial server response times can help you here.
  3. Measure your server response times after optimization to use as a benchmark. 
  4. Monitor any regressions after optimization.

If you work with a hosting service, then you should contact them when you need to improve server response times. A good hosting provider should have the right infrastructure, network connections, server hardware, and support services to accommodate these optimizations. They may also offer hosting options if your website needs more server resources to run smoothly.

Website Optimization

Aside from your server, there are a few other reasons that your website might be loading slowly. 

Here are some practices you can do:

  1. Compressing images to decrease file sizes without sacrificing quality
  2. Minimizing the code, eliminating unnecessary spaces, comments, and indentation.
  3. Using caching to store some data locally in a user’s browser to allow for quicker loading on subsequent visits.
  4. Implementing Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to distribute the load, speeding up access for users situated far from the server.
  5. Lazy load your web pages to prioritize loading the objects or resources only your users need.

A common tool to evaluate your website speed is Google’s PageSpeed Insights or Google Lighthouse. Both tools can analyze the content of your website and then generate suggestions to improve its overall loading speed, all for free. There are also some third-party tools, like GTMetrix, that you could use as well.

Here’s an example of one of our website’s speeds before optimization. It’s one of the worst I’ve seen, and it was affecting our SEO.

slow site speed score from GTMetrixslow site speed score from GTMetrix

So we followed our technical SEO checklist. After working on the images, removing render-blocking page elements, and minifying code, the score greatly improved — and we saw near-immediate improvements in our page rankings. 

site speed optimization results from GTMetrixsite speed optimization results from GTMetrix

That said, playing around with your server settings, coding, and other parts of your website’s backend can mess it up if you don’t know what you’re doing. I suggest backing up all your files and your database before you start working on your website speed for that reason. 

2. Mobile-First Indexing

Mobile-first Indexing is a method used by Google that primarily uses the mobile version of the content for indexing and ranking. 

It’s no secret that Google places a priority on the mobile users’ experience, what with mobile-first indexing being used. Beyond that, optimizing your website for mobile just makes sense, given that a majority of people now use their phones to search online.

This change signifies that a fundamental shift in your approach to your website development and design is needed, and it should also be part of your technical SEO checklist.

  1. Ensuring the mobile version of your site contains the same high-quality, rich content as the desktop version.
  2. Make sure metadata is present on both versions of your site.
  3. Verify that structured data is present on both versions of your site.

Tools like Google’s mobile-friendly test can help you measure how effectively your mobile site is performing compared to your desktop versions, and to other websites as well.

3. Crawlability & Indexing Check

Always remember that crawlability and Indexing are the cornerstones of SEO. Crawlability refers to a search engine’s ability to access and crawl through a website’s content. Indexing is how search engines organize information after a crawl and before presenting results.

  1. Utilizing a well-structured robots.txt file to communicate with web crawlers about which of your pages should not be processed or scanned.
  2. Using XML sitemaps to guide search engines through your site’s content and ensure that all valuable content is found and indexed. There are several CMS plugins you can use to generate your sitemap.
  3. Ensuring that your website has a logical structure with a clear hierarchy, helps both users and bots navigate to your most important pages easily. 

Google Search Console is the tool you need to use to ensure your pages are crawled and indexed by Google. It also provides reports that identify any problems that prevent crawlers from indexing your pages. 

4. Structured Data Markup

Structured Data Markup is a coding language that communicates website information in a more organized and richer format to search engines. This plays a strategic role in the way search engines interpret and display your content, enabling enhanced search results through “rich snippets” such as stars for reviews, prices for products, or images for recipes.

Doing this allows search engines to understand and display extra information directly in the search results from it.

Key Takeaway

With all the algorithm changes made in 2023, websites need to stay adaptable and strategic to stay at the top of the search results page. Luckily for you, this technical SEO checklist for 2024 can help you do just that. Use this as a guide to site speed optimization, indexing, and ensuring the best experience for mobile and desktop users.

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

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Why Google Seems To Favor Big Brands & Low-Quality Content

Many people are convinced that Google shows a preference for big brands and ranking low quality content, something that many feel has become progressively worse. This may not be a matter of perception, something is going on, nearly everyone has an anecdote of poor quality search results. The possible reasons for it are actually quite surprising.

Google Has Shown Favoritism In The Past

This isn’t the first time that Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs) have shown a bias that favored big brand websites. During the early years of Google’s algorithm it was obvious that sites with a lot of PageRank ranked for virtually anything they wanted.

For example, I remember a web design company that built a lot of websites, creating a network of backlinks, raising their PageRank to a remarkable level normally seen only in big corporate sites like IBM. As a consequence they ranked for the two-word keyword phrase, Web Design and virtually every other variant like Web Design + [any state in the USA].

Everyone knew that websites with a PageRank of 10, the highest level shown on Google’s toolbar, practically had a free pass in the SERPs, resulting in big brand sites outranking more relevant webpages. It didn’t go unnoticed when Google eventually adjusted their algorithm to fix this issue.

The point of this anecdote is to point out an instance of where Google’s algorithm unintentionally created a bias that favored big brands.

Here are are other  algorithm biases that publishers exploited:

  • Top 10 posts
  • Longtail “how-to” articles
  • Misspellings
  • Free Widgets in footer that contained links (always free to universities!)

Big Brands And Low Quality Content

There are two things that have been a constant for all of Google’s history:

  • Low quality content
  • Big brands crowding out small independent publishers

Anyone that’s ever searched for a recipe knows that the more general the recipe the lower the quality of recipe that gets ranked. Search for something like cream of chicken soup and the main ingredient for nearly every recipe is two cans of chicken soup.

A search for Authentic Mexican Tacos results in recipes with these ingredients:

  • Soy sauce
  • Ground beef
  • “Cooked chicken”
  • Taco shells (from the store!)
  • Beer

Not all recipe SERPs are bad. But some of the more general recipes Google ranks are so basic that a hobo can cook them on a hotplate.

Robin Donovan (Instagram), a cookbook author and online recipe blogger observed:

“I think the problem with google search rankings for recipes these days (post HCU) are much bigger than them being too simple.

The biggest problem is that you get a bunch of Reddit threads or sites with untested user-generated recipes, or scraper sites that are stealing recipes from hardworking bloggers.

In other words, content that is anything but “helpful” if what you want is a tested and well written recipe that you can use to make something delicious.”

Explanations For Why Google’s SERPs Are Broken

It’s hard not to get away from the perception that Google’s rankings for a variety of topics always seem to default to big brand websites and low quality webpages.

Small sites grow to become big brands that dominate the SERPs, it happens. But that’s the thing, even when a small site gets big, it’s now another big brand dominating the SERPs.

Typical explanations for poor SERPs:

  • It’s a conspiracy to increase ad clicks
  • Content itself these days are low quality across the board
  • Google doesn’t have anything else to rank
  • It’s the fault of SEOs
  • Affiliates
  • Poor SERPs is Google’s scheme to drive more ad clicks
  • Google promotes big brands because [insert your conspiracy]

So what’s going on?

People Love Big Brands & Garbage Content

The recent Google anti-trust lawsuit exposed the importance of the Navboost algorithm signals as a major ranking factor. Navboost is an algorithm that interprets user engagement signals to understand what topics a webpage is relevant for, among other things.

The idea of using engagement signals as an indicator of what users expect to see makes sense. After all, Google is user-centric and who better to decide what’s best for users than the users themselves, right?

Well, consider that arguably the the biggest and most important song of 1991, Smells Like Teen Spirt by Nirvana, didn’t make the Billboard top 100 for that year. Michael Bolton and Rod Stewart made the list twice, with Rod Stewart top ranked for a song called “The Motown Song” (anyone remember that one?)

Nirvana didn’t make the charts until the next year…

My opinion, given that we know that user interactions are a strong ranking signal, is that Google’s search rankings follow a similar pattern related to users’ biases.

People tend to choose what they know. It’s called a Familiarity Bias.

Consumers have a habit of choosing things that are familiar over those that are unfamiliar. This preference shows up in product choices that prefer brands, for example.

Behavioral scientist, Jason Hreha, defines Familiarity Bias like this:

“The familiarity bias is a phenomenon in which people tend to prefer familiar options over unfamiliar ones, even when the unfamiliar options may be better. This bias is often explained in terms of cognitive ease, which is the feeling of fluency or ease that people experience when they are processing familiar information. When people encounter familiar options, they are more likely to experience cognitive ease, which can make those options seem more appealing.”

Except for certain queries (like those related to health), I don’t think Google makes an editorial decision to certain kinds of websites, like brands.

Google uses many signals for ranking. But Google is strongly user focused.

I believe it’s possible that strong user preferences can carry a more substantial weight than Reviews System signals. How else to explain why Google seemingly has a bias for big brand websites with fake reviews rank better than honest independent review sites?

It’s not like Google’s algorithms haven’t created poor search results in the past.

  • Google’s Panda algorithm was designed to get rid of a bias for cookie cutter content.
  • The Reviews System is a patch to fix Google’s bias for content that’s about reviews but aren’t necessarily reviews.

If Google has systems for catching low quality sites that their core algorithm would otherwise rank, why do big brands and poor quality content still rank?

I believe the answer is that is what users prefer to see those sites, as indicated by user interaction signals.

The big question to ask is whether Google will continue to rank what users biases and inexperience trigger user satisfaction signals.  Or will Google continue serving the sugar-frosted bon-bons that users crave?

Should Google make the choice to rank quality content at the risk that users find it too hard to understand?

Or should publishers give up and focus on creating for the lowest common denominator like the biggest popstars do?



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