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8 Easy (But Effective) Ways to Grow Your Email List



8 Easy (But Effective) Ways to Grow Your Email List

Your email list is one of your business’s most important marketing assets. Rather than fleeting traffic from temporary social media posts or paid ads, these are people who have engaged with you and you have direct access to.

You can make money at the click of a button whenever you need to with a strong email list. Unlike other marketing channels, you have full control and ownership here.

So how do you grow your email list? We’ll go through the most effective tips and tactics I’ve learned by growing multiple email lists in the tens of thousands.

The email growth mindset you need

Before we dive into the action steps, let’s get your head straight. When it comes to growing an email list, you don’t just want as many raw numbers as possible.

Not only does this get expensive fast, it also hurts your email deliverability when you send content to lots of unengaged (and downright non-existent) email addresses.

Instead, you want to focus on growing a highly engaged email list. Quality AND quantity.

That means you should clean your list often, never buy generic lists, and always offer something of value to your newsletter subscribers. I’ll talk more about that last point later.

Eight key tactics to grow your email list

Now that I’ve got you thinking about quality leads, let’s talk about the tried and tested tactics for growing your email list.

1. Put your opt-ins in all the right places

Start with all your bases covered. Make sure you have email opt-ins in the usual places: 

  • On your homepage
  • In your sidebar
  • At the end of your blog content

These are obvious places, but they can be overlooked—we want to start with a strong baseline before we get into the more advanced tactics.

Something like this works well:

Email opt-in example

What should you say in your opt-in? 

While you can have a general “Join 7,000+ brilliant minds like yourself,” it’s better to have something more targeted to your audience’s desires. 

Unless your content is something special to your readers (which, let’s be honest, it better be if you want to grow an online business), no one is going to sign up for another generic email spam list.

2. Attract high-quality website traffic

The quality of your email list starts with the quality of your website traffic. No matter how well your opt-ins convert, it won’t matter if the right people aren’t visiting your website.

That’s where SEO and content marketing come in. Great content targeting relevant keywords can attract quality traffic on autopilot from search engines like Google.

SEO has a learning curve and takes time to work, but it’s one of the most effective forms of content marketing to grow your email list.

It starts with keyword research—knowing what keywords your ideal customers are searching for and how to rank for those keywords.

You can do this quickly with a competitor content gap analysis. Simply type your website into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and click the Content gap button at the bottom of the left-hand menu here.

Ahrefs' Content Gap tool in left-hand menu

Then, plug in three or more of your competitors. If you don’t know who your competitors are, you can find them with the Competing Domains report right above the Content Gap report.

Ahrefs' Content Gap tool

Once you hit Show keywords, you’ll get a list of all the keywords your competitors rank for, but you don’t. That can sometimes be tens of thousands of keywords, so you’re better off starting with keywords that all the competitors rank for to get the most relevant results: 

Content Gap report results

From here, you’ll have a solid list of ideas for what you need to create content for.

Want to learn more? Start with these SEO guides:

3. Create content upgrades

A content upgrade is exactly what it sounds like—an “upgrade” to the content you’re currently reading.

A few examples of this can be:

  • An “ultimate guide” to burning fat on an article about exercises to lose weight.
  • A budgeting spreadsheet on an article about how to create a budget.
  • A video series about how to play the ukulele on an article about the best ukuleles for beginners.

You can get as creative as you want with this. What’s something you can give your readers that will be really valuable to them and relevant to what they’re currently reading?

For example, I’ve got thousands of emails by creating a spreadsheet comparing over 50 different small campers as a content upgrade on my guide to the best small campers.

Here’s what the opt-in form looks like:

Content upgrade email form

And here’s a look at the spreadsheet they get when they sign up:

Small camper comparison spreadsheet

My readers were more likely to subscribe to my list because they got something relevant that was really useful during their research to figure out which camper to buy.

Ready to do this yourself?

To figure out which pages you should create upgrades for, take a look at your highest-trafficked pages in Google Analytics. Just go to “Pages and screens” in GA4 (or Behavior > All Content > Landing Pages in the old GA), and it automatically sorts by number of views.

Google Analytics traffic report

Then create content upgrades that make sense for your highest-trafficked pages.

Try to think of upgrades you can use across multiple pages to save on time and costs. For example, an ultimate guide to weight loss can be promoted across articles about best foods for weight loss, best exercises for weight loss, etc.

Again, search engine optimization is going to be your best friend with this tactic. If you combine content upgrades with posts that are ranking on Google, you’ll grow your email list on autopilot.

4. Host giveaways

Let me start with a giant disclaimer: Generic giveaways are a great way to grow an email list… full of fake or unengaged emails.

Many people create emails (that they never actually check or use) for the sole purpose of signing up for giveaways. Or they sign up and then immediately unsubscribe after the giveaway is over.

Instead of giving away something generic, such as cash or some fancy electronics, stick with giving away something directly related to your target market.

For example, if you’re in the fitness space, give away fitness equipment. If you’re in the woodworking space, give away woodworking equipment. You get the idea.

Better yet, if you sell products of your own, give away your own products. That way, even if someone leaves your email list, you’re still at least on their mind whenever they use your stuff.

One example of a well-done giveaway is this one by iKamper:

Instagram email contest giveaway

Here’s what makes it good:

  • It’s giving away its own products.
  • It partnered with other big brands in the outdoor camping space.
  • All of the products in the giveaway are relevant to iKamper’s customers (no generic products or cash).

In other words, only people who may be potential iKamper customers are actually signing up for the giveaway. 

Plus, by partnering with other brands, it’s increasing its reach while also building relationships with powerful partners.

If you’re going to do a giveaway, make sure you do it legally. Notice how it says in the post that Instagram isn’t endorsing its giveaway. This is just one of the things you need to do to legally hold a giveaway. These rules differ from country to country.

5. Use exit-intent pop-ups

Pop-ups are annoying, right?

Of course—if it’s something you don’t care about.

That’s why you should only use exit-intent pop-ups with, well, intention. Don’t just spam your readers with “Hey! Sign up for my list!” without offering them something they care about.

Instead, only use exit-intent pop-ups to give your readers something they really want. A discount code can work, although that doesn’t guarantee customer retention.

The approach I’ve found to work the best is to combine these pop-ups with the content upgrades we went through in tactic #3. It makes your upgrade obvious and lowers your chances of the pop-up being really annoying.

Speaking of being less annoying… here are some other tips to avoid aggravating your readers:

  • Make sure your pop-up is easy and obvious to close out. Make the “X” in the corner easy to see and ensure the pop-up closes if they click outside the box. 
  • Only display the pop-up after a certain amount of time on a page or after a certain scroll depth so it doesn’t display right away and make people immediately leave. You should be able to set these conditions in the pop-up settings of most tools.

That way, you maximize the benefits of the pop-up and minimize the annoyance.

Here’s a great example of an exit-intent pop-up:

Tim Ferriss exit-intent pop-up

It’s good because:

  • It’s easy to close. (There’s a visible “X” and a “No, thanks” option.)
  • It’s offering something of value, not just asking you to subscribe.
  • It’s highly relevant for Tim Ferriss’ audience (he talks a lot about how to improve your life).

There are many tools and plugins you can use to create the pop-up and manage your subscribers. I personally use ConvertKit to manage my list and Thrive Lightboxes to make my pop-ups, but use whatever you prefer.

6. Never spam your list

OK, this is an obvious tip. But it can’t be overstated to not exhaust your list with useless emails. This boils down to:

  1. Not sending something your list won’t care about.
  2. Only sending two to four emails per month unless your emails are about something time-sensitive that people obviously want more frequent updates on (like news or market updates).

Subscriber retention also hugely contributes to sustainable growth. That’s it—on to #7.

7. Utilize a drip feed

The last thing you want to do is let your hard-earned email list go cold. It can be easy to forget to send consistently—besides, not everyone on your list is at the same stage of your marketing funnel.

That’s where a drip feed comes in. This is a series of emails you set up ahead of time to “drip” out to your list over time. It’s basically a way to ensure you’re sending to your list consistently without needing to write a new broadcast email every week.

For example, your drip campaign can look like this:

  1. A reader subscribes to your list to get their ultimate guide to weight loss.
  2. Your email marketing software sends them a welcome email along with their PDF.
  3. The next day, your new subscriber gets “dripped” another email with a video version of their guide that also promotes your products.
  4. A week later, they get a check-in email asking how they’re doing with their goals.
  5. Etc.

These “dripped out” emails can promote your older content, share your new content, give tips and best practices, and occasionally promote relevant products to your list. 

Plus, they give you the added benefit of only needing to schedule the emails once, then let the automation handle things for you from there.

Speaking of automation…

8. Segment your list

Would you want to get an email about weight loss tips if you’re trying to bulk up? Probably not. That’s why if you offer content on different topics within a niche, it’s best to segment your list so your readers only get the emails that are most relevant to what they care about.

There are several ways you can segment your list:

  • Segment based on which content upgrade they signed up for (i.e., weight loss guide gets into the weight loss segment, muscle building guide gets into the muscle building segment).
  • Simply ask your subscribers their preferences in the welcome email. Give them a bulleted list of topics that are hyperlinked with different tags for different segments. For example, you could make a list like this:
    • I’m interested in losing weight.
    • I’m interested in building muscle.
    • I’m interested in having more energy and being generally healthier.
  • Segment based on which product(s) the subscriber purchased.

Each email automation software is different in how it handles these types of automations and tags. But for ConvertKit (the one that I use), here’s how to do this:

Click the Automate dropdown, then Rules.

ConvertKit automation rules

Click + New Rule in the top right, and you’ll be prompted to choose a Trigger and an Action. Depending on which segmentation strategy you want to use from the three I mentioned above, you’ll need to do a different trigger.

For this example, I’ll keep it simple—click Subscribes to a form as a trigger and Subscribe to a sequence as an action. (Note that you’ll need to set up the form and sequence before this for it to work.) This makes it so whenever someone subscribes via the form you chose, they will be added to the sequence (the “drip feed”) you selected.

Additionally, click the + under the Subscribe to a sequence action and add the second action Add tag with the corresponding segment tag for that particular form. This will add a tag to anyone who subscribes to that form, thus allowing you to “segment” them.

ConvertKit triggers and actions

When you’re happy with the settings, click Save Rule. That’s all you have to do.

Final thoughts

Again, your email list is arguably one of your business’s biggest assets. It’s a customer list that you have control of—unlike other marketing channels

The tactics I’ve outlined above have helped me build several lists in the tens of thousands, with people who stay engaged and care when I send out an email.

Treat your list like gold, never take advantage of it, and remember that there are real people at the other end of those emails. That’s the way to grow and keep a high-quality email list.

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The Lean Guide (With Template)



The Lean Guide (With Template)

A competitive analysis (or market competitive analysis) is a process where you collect information about competitors to gain an edge over them and get more customers.

However, the problem is that “traditional” competitive analysis is overkill for most businesses — it requires impractical data and takes too long to complete (and it’s very expensive if you choose to outsource). 

A solution to that is a lean approach to the process — and that’s what this guide is about. 

In other words, we’ll focus on the most important data you need to answer the question: “Why would people choose them over you?”. No boring theory, outtakes from marketing history, or spending hours digging up nice-to-have information.

In this guide, you will find:

  • A real-life competitive analysis example.
  • Templates: one for input data and one for a slide deck to present your analysis to others.
  • Step-by-step instructions.

Our template consists of two documents: a slide deck and a spreadsheet. 

The Slide deck is the output document. It will help you present the analysis to your boss or your teammates.

The spreadsheet is the input document. You will find tables that act as the data source for the charts from the slide deck, as well as a prompt to use in ChatGPT to help you with user review research.

Competitive analysis template — spreadsheet sneak peek.Competitive analysis template — spreadsheet sneak peek.

We didn’t focus on aesthetics here; every marketer likes to do slide decks their own way, so feel free to edit everything you’ll find there. 

With that out of the way, let’s talk about the process. The template consists of these six tasks: 

  1. Identify your direct competitors. 
  2. Compare share of voice. 
  3. Compare pricing and features.
  4. Find strong and weak points based on reviews.
  5. Compare purchasing convenience.
  6. Present conclusions.

Going forward, we’ll explain why these steps matter and show how to complete them. 

1. Identify your direct competitors

Direct competitors are businesses that offer a similar solution to the same audience. 

They matter a lot more than indirect competitors (i.e. businesses with different products but targeting the same audience as you) because you’ll be compared with them often (e.g. in product reviews and rankings). Plus, your audience is more likely to gravitate towards them when considering different options. 

You probably have a few direct competitors in mind already, but here are a few ways to find others based on organic search and paid search ads

Our basis for the analysis was Landingi, a SaaS for building landing pages (we chose that company randomly). So in our case, we found these 3 direct competitors. 

Slide 1 — direct competitors.Slide 1 — direct competitors.

Look at keyword overlap

Keyword overlap uncovers sites that target the same organic keywords as you. Some sites will compete with you for traffic but not for customers (e.g. G2 may share some keywords with Landingi but they’re a different business). However, in many cases, you will find direct competitors just by looking at this marketing channel. 

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and enter your site’s address. 
  • Scroll down to Organic competitors
  • Visit the URLs to pick 3 – 5 direct competitors.
Top organic competitors data from Ahrefs.Top organic competitors data from Ahrefs.

To double-check the choice of competitors, we also looked at who was bidding for search ads on Google.

See who’s advertising 

If someone is spending money to show ads for keywords related to what you do, that’s a strong indication they are a direct competitor. 

  • Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer.
  • Type in a few broad keywords related to your niche, like “landing page builder” or “landing page tool”. 
  • Go to the Ads history report. 
  • Visit the sites that have a high presence of ads in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages). 
Ads history report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.Ads history report in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer.

Once you’re done checking both reports, write down competitors in the deck. 

You can also take screenshots of the reports and add them to your deck to show the supporting data for your argument. 

 Slide 2 — direct competitors by organic traffic. Slide 2 — direct competitors by organic traffic.

2. Compare share of voice

Share of voice is a measure of your reach in any given channel compared to competitors. 

A bigger share of voice (SOV) means that your competitors are more likely to reach your audience. In other words, they may be promoting more effectively than you. 

In our example, we found that Landingi’s SOV was the lowest in both of these channels. 


Slide 3 — share of voice on Google Search.Slide 3 — share of voice on Google Search.

And social media:

 Slide 4 — share of voice on social media. Slide 4 — share of voice on social media.

Here’s how we got that data using Ahrefs and Brand24.

Organic share of voice 

Before we start, make sure you have a project set up in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker

Create a new project in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.Create a new project in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.


  • Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis and enter your and your competitors’s sites as shown below. 
Create a new project in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.
Create a new project in Ahrefs' Rank Tracker.
  • On the next screen, set the country with the most important market for your business and set the filters like this:
Content gap analysis filter setup.Content gap analysis filter setup.
  • Select keywords that sound most relevant to your business (even if you don’t rank for them yet) and Add them to Rank Tracker
Common keywords found via Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis.Common keywords found via Ahrefs' Competitive Analysis.
  • Go to Rank Tracker, open your project, and look for Competitors/Overview. This report will uncover automatically calculated Share of Voice
Organic share of voice data in Ahrefs.Organic share of voice data in Ahrefs.
  • Add the numbers in corresponding cells inside the sheet and paste the graph inside the slide deck. 
Filling the share of voice template with data.Filling the share of voice template with data.

It’s normal that the numbers don’t add up to 100%. SOV is calculated by including sites that compete with you in traffic but are not your direct competitors, e.g. blogs. 

Social share of voice 

We can also measure our share of voice across social media channels using Brand24.

  • Go to Brand24.
  • Start a New project for your brand and each competitor. Use the competitors’ brand name as the keyword to monitor. 
  • Go to the Comparison report and compare your project with competitors. 
Using Brand24's Comparison tool for competitive analysis.Using Brand24's Comparison tool for competitive analysis.
  • Take a screenshot of the SOV charts and paste them into the slide deck. Make sure the charts are set to “social media”.
Social media tab in share of voice report.Social media tab in share of voice report.

3. Compare pricing and features

Consumers often choose solutions that offer the best value for money — simple as that. And that typically comes down to two things: 

  • Whether you have the features they care about. We’ll use all features available across all plans to see how likely the product is to satisfy user needs.
  • How much they will need to pay. Thing is, the topic of pricing is tricky: a) when assessing affordability, people often focus on the least expensive option available and use it as a benchmark, b) businesses in the SaaS niche offer custom plans. So to make things more practical, we’ll compare the cheapest plans, but feel free to run this analysis across all pricing tiers.

After comparing our example company to competitors, we found that it goes head-to-head with Unbounce as the most feature-rich solution on the market. 

Slide 5 — features vs. pricing.Slide 5 — features vs. pricing.

Here’s how we got that data. 

  • Note down your and your competitors’ product features. One of the best places to get this information is pricing pages. Some brands even publish their own competitor comparisons — you may find them helpful too. 
  • While making the list, place a “1” in the cell corresponding to the brand that offers the solution.
Filling data in the spreadsheet.Filling data in the spreadsheet.
  • Enter the price of the cheapest plan (excluding free plans). 
Adding pricing data inside the spreadsheet.Adding pricing data inside the spreadsheet.
  • Once finished, copy the chart and paste it inside the deck. 

4. Find strong and weak points based on user reviews

User reviews can show incredibly valuable insight into your competitors’ strong and weak points. Here’s why this matters:

  • Improving on what your competitors’ customers appreciate could help you attract similar customers and possibly win some over.
  • Dissatisfaction with competitors is a huge opportunity. Some businesses are built solely to fix what other companies can’t fix. 

Here’s a sample from our analysis: 

 Slide 6 — likes and dislikes about Competitors. Slide 6 — likes and dislikes about Competitors.

And here’s how we collated the data using ChatGPT. Important: repeat the process for each competitor.

  • Open ChatGPT and enter the prompt from the template.
ChatGPT prompt for competitive analysis.ChatGPT prompt for competitive analysis.
  • Go to G2, Capterra, or Trustpilot and find a competitor’s reviews with ratings from 2 – 4 (i.e. one rating above the lowest and one below the highest possible). Reason:

businesses sometimes solicit five-star reviews, whereas dissatisfied customers tend to leave one-star reviews in a moment of frustration. The most actionable feedback usually comes in between.

  • Copy and paste the content of the reviews into ChatGPT (don’t hit enter yet). 
  • Once you’re done pasting all reviews, hit enter in ChatGPT to run the analysis.
Sample of ChatGPT output with charts.Sample of ChatGPT output with charts.
  • Paste the graphs into the deck. If you want the graphs to look different, don’t hesitate to ask the AI. 

There’s a faster alternative, but it’s a bit more advanced. 

Instead of copy-pasting, you can use a scraping tool like this one to get all reviews at once. The downside here is that not all review sources will a have scraping tool available. 

5. Compare purchasing convenience

Lastly, we’ll see how easy it is to actually buy your products, and compare the experience to your competitors. 

This is a chance to simplify your checkout process, and even learn from any good habits your competitors have adopted.

For example, we found that our sample company had probably nothing to worry about in this area — they ticked almost all of the boxes. 

Slide 7 — purchasing convenience.Slide 7 — purchasing convenience.

Here’s how to complete this step:

  • Place a “1” if you or any of your competitors offer convenience features listed in the template. 
  • Once done, copy the chart and paste it into the deck.

Step 6. Present conclusions

This is the part of the presentation where you sum up all of your findings and suggest a course of action. 

Here are two examples: 

  • Landingi had the lowest SOV in the niche, and that is never good. So the conclusion might be to go a level deeper and do an SEO competitive analysis, and to increase social media presence by creating more share-worthy content like industry surveys, design/CRO tips, or in-house data studies.
  • Although the brand had a very high purchasing convenience score, during the analysis we found that there was a $850 gap between the monthly full plan and the previous tier. The conclusion here might be to offer a custom plan (like competitors do) to fill that gap. 

We encourage you to take your time here and think about what would make the most sense for your business. 


It’s good to be specific in your conclusions, but don’t go too deep. Competitive analysis concerns many aspects of the business, so it’s best to give other departments a chance to chime in. Just because your competitors have a few unique features doesn’t necessarily mean you need to build them too.

Final thoughts 

A competitive analysis is one of the most fruitful exercises in marketing. It can show you areas for improvement, give ideas for new features, and help you discover gaps in your strategy. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that it’s fundamental to running a successful business. 

Just don’t forget to balance “spying” on your competitors with innovation. After all, you probably don’t want to become an exact copy of someone else’s brand. 

In other words, use competitive analysis to keep up with your competitors, but don’t let that erase what’s unique about your brand or make you forget your big vision. 

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Critical WordPress Form Plugin Vulnerability Affects Up To +200,000 Installs




Critical WordPress Form Plugin Vulnerability Affects Up To +200,000 Installs

Security researchers at Wordfence detailed a critical security flaw in the MW WP Form plugin, affecting versions 5.0.1 and earlier. The vulnerability allows unauthenticated threat actors to exploit the plugin by uploading arbitrary files, including potentially malicious PHP backdoors, with the ability to execute these files on the server.

MW WP Form Plugin

The MW WP Form plugin helps to simplify form creation on WordPress websites using a shortcode builder.

It makes it easy for users to create and customize forms with various fields and options.

The plugin has many features, including one that allows file uploads using the [mwform_file name=”file”] shortcode for the purpose of data collection. It is this specific feature that is exploitable in this vulnerability.

Unauthenticated Arbitrary File Upload Vulnerability

An Unauthenticated Arbitrary File Upload Vulnerability is a security issue that allows hackers to upload potentially harmful files to a website. Unauthenticated means that the attacker does not need to be registered with the website or need any kind of permission level that comes with a user permission level.

These kinds of vulnerabilities can lead to remote code execution, where the uploaded files are executed on the server, with the potential to allow the attackers to exploit the website and site visitors.

The Wordfence advisory noted that the plugin has a check for unexpected filetypes but that it doesn’t function as it should.

According to the security researchers:

“Unfortunately, although the file type check function works perfectly and returns false for dangerous file types, it throws a runtime exception in the try block if a disallowed file type is uploaded, which will be caught and handled by the catch block.

…even if the dangerous file type is checked and detected, it is only logged, while the function continues to run and the file is uploaded.

This means that attackers could upload arbitrary PHP files and then access those files to trigger their execution on the server, achieving remote code execution.”

There Are Conditions For A Successful Attack

The severity of this threat depends on the requirement that the “Saving inquiry data in database” option in the form settings is required to be enabled in order for this security gap to be exploited.

The security advisory notes that the vulnerability is rated critical with a score of 9.8 out of 10.

Actions To Take

Wordfence strongly advises users of the MW WP Form plugin to update their versions of the plugin.

The vulnerability is patched in the lutes version of the plugin, version 5.0.2.

The severity of the threat is particularly critical for users who have enabled the “Saving inquiry data in database” option in the form settings and that is compounded by the fact that no permission levels are needed to execute this attack.

Read the Wordfence advisory:

Update ASAP! Critical Unauthenticated Arbitrary File Upload in MW WP Form Allows Malicious Code Execution

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Alexander_P

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How SEOs Make the Web Better



How SEOs Make the Web Better

SEOs catch flak for ruining the web, but they play a crucial role in the search ecosystem, and actually make the internet better for everyone.

Let’s get the criticism out of the way. There are bad actors in SEO, people who seek to extract money from the internet regardless of the cost to others. There are still scams and snake oil, posers and plagiarists. Many parts of the web have become extremely commercialized, with paid advertising and big brands displacing organic and user-generated content.

But while there are situations where SEOs have made things worse, to fixate on them is to ignore the colossal elephant in the room: in the ways that really matter, the web is the best it’s ever been:

  • It’s the easiest it has ever been to find information on the internet. Searchers have a staggering array of tutorials, teardowns, and tips at their fingertips, containing information that is generally accurate and helpful—and this was not always the case.
  • Bad actors have a smaller influence over search. Search is less of a Wild West than it used to be. Once-scam-ridden topics are subject to significant scrutiny, and the problems and loopholes in search that need fixing today—like big brands and generic content receiving undue prominence—are smaller and less painful than the problems of the past.
  • More people use search to their benefit. Online content is the most accessible it has ever been, and it’s easier than ever to grow a local business or expand into international markets on the back of search.

SEOs have played a crucial role in these improvements, poking and prodding, building and—sometimes—breaking. They are Google power users: the people who push the system to extremes, but in doing so, catalyze the change needed to make search better for everyone.

Let’s explore how.

SEOs help regular people benefit from search

SEOs are much-needed intermediaries between Google and the rest of the world, helping non-technical people acquire and benefit from search engine traffic.

There is a huge amount of valuable information locked up in the heads of people who have no idea how to build a website or index a blog post. A carpet fitter with a bricks-and-mortar business might have decades of experience solving costly problems with uneven subfloors or poor moisture management, but no understanding of how to share that information online.

SEOs provide little nudges towards topics that people care about and writing that’s accessible to people and robots. They help solve technical problems that would hinder or completely block a site from appearing in search results. They identify opportunities for companies to be rewarded for creating great content.

It’s a win-win: businesses are rewarded with traffic, searchers have their intent satisfied, and the world is made a little richer for the newfound knowledge it contains.

SEOs turn helpful standards into real websites

SEOs do many things to actively make the web a better place, tending to their own plot of the Google garden to make sure it flourishes.

Take, for example, the myriad standards and guidelines designed to make the web a more accessible place for users. The implementation of these standards—turning theoretical guidelines into real, concrete parts of the web—often happens because of the SEO team.

Technical SEOs play a big part in adhering to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, a set of principles designed to ensure online content is “perceivable, operable, understandable, and robust” for every user. Every SEO’s fixation with Core Web Vitals fuels a faster, more efficient web. Content teams translate Google’s helpful content guidelines into useful words and images on a page.

(Case in point: check out Aleyda Solis’ Content Helpfulness Analyzer.)

Screenshot: Aleyda Solis' helpful content GPTScreenshot: Aleyda Solis' helpful content GPT

There is a lot of overlap between “things that help users” and “things that improve search performance.” Even if the motive behind these changes is as simple as generating more traffic, a well-optimized website is, generally speaking, one that is also great for real human beings trying to engage with it.

SEOs pressure-test Google’s systems

The biggest criticism leveled at SEOs is that they break things. And they do! But that breakage acts as a type of pressure testing that strengthens the system as a whole.

Abuse of spintax and keyword stuffing forced Google to develop a better understanding of on-page content. Today, that loophole is closed, but more importantly, Google is much better at understanding the contents of a page and its relationship to a website as a whole.

Hacks like hiding keywords with white text on a white background (or moving them beyond the visible bounds of the screen) forced Google to expand its understanding of page styling and CSS, and how on-page information interacts with the environment that contains it.

Even today’s deluge of borderline-plagiarised AI content is not without benefit: it creates a very clear incentive for Google to get better at rewarding information gain and prioritizing publishers with solid EEAT credentials. These improvements will make tomorrow’s version of search much better.

This isn’t just Google fixing what SEOs broke: these changes usually leave lasting benefits that extend beyond any single spam tactic and make search better for all of its users.

Illustration: how fixing problems leads to smaller future problems and improved search experienceIllustration: how fixing problems leads to smaller future problems and improved search experience

This is not to argue that blackhat SEO is desirable. It would be better to make these improvements without incurring pain along the way. But Search is huge and complicated, and Google has little incentive to spend money proactively fixing problems and loopholes.

If we can’t solve every issue before it causes pain, we should be grateful for a correction mechanism that prevents it—and more extreme abuse—from happening in the future. SEOs break the system, and in doing so, make future breakages a lot less severe.

SEOs are the internet’s quality assurance team

Some SEOs take advantage of the loopholes they discover—but many don’t. They choose to raise these issues in public spaces, encourage discussion, and seek out a fix, acting like a proxy quality assurance team.

At the small end of the spectrum, SEOs often flag bugs with Google systems, like a recent error in Search Console reporting flagged independently by three separate people, or Tom Anthony famously catching an oversight in Google’s Manual Actions database. While these types of problems don’t always impact the average user’s experience using Google, they help keep search systems working as intended.

At the other end of the scale, this feedback can extend as far as the overarching quality of the search experience, like AJ Kohn writing about Google’s propensity to reward big brands over small brands, or Lily Ray calling out an uptick in spam content in Google Discover.

SEOs are Google’s most passionate users. They interact with it at a scale far beyond the average user, and they can identify trends and changes at a macroscopic level. As a result, they are usually the first to discover problems—but also the people who hold Google to the highest standard. They are a crucial part of the feedback loop that fuels improvements.

SEOs act as a check-and-balance

Lastly, SEOs act as a check-and-balance, gathering firsthand evidence of how search systems operate, letting us differentiate between useful advice, snake oil, and Google’s PR bluster. 

Google shares lots of useful guidance, but it’s important to recognize the limits of their advice. They are a profit-seeking company, and Search requires opacity to work—if everyone understood how it worked, everyone would game it, and it would stop working. Mixed in with the good advice is a healthy portion of omission and misdirection.

Google Search plays a vital role in controlling the flow of the web’s information—it is simply too important for us to leave its mechanics, biases, and imperfections unexplored. We need people who can interrogate the systems just enough to separate fact from fiction and understand how the pieces fit together.

We need people like Mic King, and his insanely detailed write-up of SGE and RAG; Britney Muller and her demystification of LLMs; the late Bill Slawki’s unfaltering patent analysis; or our own Patrick Stox’s efforts in piecing together how search works.

Screenshot from Patrick Stox's presentation, How Search WorksScreenshot from Patrick Stox's presentation, How Search Works

Final thoughts

The web has problems. We can and should expect more from Google Search. But the problems we need to solve today are far less severe and painful than the problems that needed solving in the past; and the people who have the highest expectations, and will be most vocal in shaping that positive future, are—you guessed it—SEOs.

To SEOs: the cause of (and solution to) all of the web’s problems.

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