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9 Common Technical SEO Issues That Actually Matter

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9 Common Technical SEO Issues That Actually Matter

In this article, we’ll see how to find and fix technical SEO issues, but only those that can seriously affect your rankings.

If you’d like to follow along, get Ahrefs Webmaster Tools and Google Search Console (both are free) and check for the following issues.

Indexability is a webpage’s ability to be indexed by search engines. Pages that are not indexable can’t be displayed on the search engine results pages and can’t bring in any search traffic. 

Three requirements must be met for a page to be indexable:

  1. The page must be crawlable. If you haven’t blocked Googlebot from entering the page robots.txt or you have a website with fewer than 1,000 pages, you probably don’t have an issue there. 
  2. The page must not have a noindex tag (more on that in a bit).
  3. The page must be canonical (i.e., the main version). 

Solution

In Ahrefs Webmaster Tools (AWT):  

  1. Open Site Audit
  2. Go to the Indexability report 
  3. Click on issues related to canonicalization and “noindex” to see affected pages
Indexability issues in Site Audit

For canonicalization issues in this report, you will need to replace bad URLs in the link rel="canonical" tag with valid ones (i.e., returning an “HTTP 200 OK”). 

As for pages marked by “noindex” issues, these are the pages with the “noindex” meta tag placed inside their code. Chances are most of the pages found in the report there should stay as is. But if you see any pages that shouldn’t be there, simply remove the tag. Do make sure those pages aren’t blocked by robots.txt first. 

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Click on the question mark on the right to see instructions on how to fix each issue. For more detailed instructions, click on the “Learn more” link. 
Instruction on how to fix an SEO issue in Site Audit

A sitemap should contain only pages that you want search engines to index. 

When a sitemap isn’t regularly updated or an unreliable generator has been used to make it, a sitemap may start to show broken pages, pages that became “noindexed,” pages that were de-canonicalized, or pages blocked in robots.txt. 

Solution 

In AWT:

  1. Open Site Audit 
  2. Go to the All issues report
  3. Click on issues containing the word “sitemap” to find affected pages 
Sitemap issues shown in Site Audit

Depending on the issue, you will have to:

  • Delete the pages from the sitemap.
  • Remove the noindex tag on the pages (if you want to keep them in the sitemap). 
  • Provide a valid URL for the reported page. 

Google uses HTTPS encryption as a small ranking signal. This means you can experience lower rankings if you don’t have an SSL or TLS certificate securing your website. 

But even if you do, some pages and/or resources on your pages may still use the HTTP protocol. 

Solution 

Assuming you already have an SSL/TLS certificate for all subdomains (if not, do get one), open AWT and do these: 

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  1. Open Site Audit
  2. Go to the Internal pages report 
  3. Look at the protocol distribution graph and click on HTTP to see affected pages
  4. Inside the report showing pages, add a column for Final redirect URL 
  5. Make sure all HTTP pages are permanently redirected (301 or 308 redirects) to their HTTPS counterparts 
Protocol distribution graph
Internal pages issues report with added column

Finally, let’s check if any resources on the site still use HTTP: 

  1. Inside the Internal pages report, click on Issues
  2. Click on HTTPS/HTTP mixed content to view affected resources 
Site Audit reporting six HTTPS/HTTP mixed content issues

You can fix this issue by one of these methods:

  • Link to the HTTPS version of the resource (check this option first) 
  • Include the resource from a different host, if available 
  • Download and host the content on your site directly if you are legally allowed to do so
  • Exclude the resource from your site altogether

Learn more: What Is HTTPS? Everything You Need to Know 

Duplicate content happens when exact or near-duplicate content appears on the web in more than one place. 

It’s bad for SEO mainly for two reasons: It can cause undesirable URLs to show in search results and can dilute link equity

Content duplication is not necessarily a case of intentional or unintentional creation of similar pages. There are other less obvious causes such as faceted navigation, tracking parameters in URLs, or using trailing and non-trailing slashes

Solution 

First, check if your website is available under only one URL. Because if your site is accessible as:

  • http://domain.com
  • http://www.domain.com
  • https://domain.com
  • https://www.domain.com

Then Google will see all of those URLs as different websites. 

The easiest way to check if users can browse only one version of your website: type in all four variations in the browser, one by one, hit enter, and see if they get redirected to the master version (ideally, the one with HTTPS). 

You can also go straight into Site Audit’s Duplicates report. If you see 100% bad duplicates, that is likely the reason.

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Duplicates report showing 100% bad duplicates
Simulation (other types of duplicates turned off).

In this case, choose one version that will serve as canonical (likely the one with HTTPS) and permanently redirect other versions to it. 

Then run a New crawl in Site Audit to see if there are any other bad duplicates left. 

Running a new crawl in Site Audit

There are a few ways you can handle bad duplicates depending on the case. Learn how to solve them in our guide

Learn more: Duplicate Content: Why It Happens and How to Fix It 

Pages that can’t be found (4XX errors) and pages returning server errors (5XX errors) won’t be indexed by Google so they won’t bring you any traffic. 

Furthermore, if broken pages have backlinks pointing to them, all of that link equity goes to waste

Broken pages are also a waste of crawl budget—something to watch out for on bigger websites. 

Solution

In AWT, you should: 

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  1. Open Site Audit.
  2. Go to the Internal pages report.
  3. See if there are any broken pages. If so, the Broken section will show a number higher than 0. Click on the number to show affected pages.
Broken pages report in Site Audit

In the report showing pages with issues, it’s a good idea to add a column for the number of referring domains. This will help you make the decision on how to fix the issue. 

Internal pages report with no. of referring domains column added

Now, fixing broken pages (4XX error codes) is quite simple, but there is more than one possibility. Here’s a short graph explaining the process:

How to deal with broken pages

Dealing with server errors (the ones reporting a 5XX) can be a tougher one, as there are different possible reasons for a server to be unresponsive. Read this short guide for troubleshooting.

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With AWT, you can also see 404s that were caused by incorrect links to your website. While this is not a technical issue per se, reclaiming those links may give you an additional SEO boost.
  1. Go to Site Explorer
  2. Enter your domain 
  3. Go to the Best by links report
  4. Add a “404 not found” filter
  5. Then sort the report by referring domains from high to low
How to find broken backlinks in Site Explorer
In this example, someone linked to us, leaving a comma inside the URL.

If you’ve already dealt with broken pages, chances are you’ve fixed most of the broken links issues. 

Other critical issues related to links are: 

  • Orphan pages – These are the pages without any internal links. Web crawlers have limited ability to access those pages (only from sitemap or backlinks), and there is no link equity flowing to them from other pages on your site. Last but not least, users won’t be able to access this page from the site navigation. 
  • HTTPS pages linking to internal HTTP pages – If an internal link on your website brings users to an HTTP URL, web browsers will likely show a warning about a non-secure page. This can damage your overall website authority and user experience.

Solution

In AWT, you can:

  1. Go to Site Audit.
  2. Open the Links report.
  3. Open the Issues tab. 
  4. Look for the following issues in the Indexable category. Click to see affected pages. 
Important SEO issues related to links

Fix the first issue by changing the links from HTTP to HTTPS or simply delete those links if no longer needed.

For the second issue, an orphan page needs to be either linked to from some other page on your website or deleted if a given page holds no value to you.

Sidenote.

Ahrefs’ Site Audit can find orphan pages as long as they have backlinks or are included in the sitemap. For a more thorough search for this issue, you will need to analyze server logs to find orphan pages with hits. Find out how in this guide.

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7. Mobile experience issues

Having a mobile-friendly website is a must for SEO. Two reasons: 

  1. Google uses mobile-first indexing – It’s mostly using the content of mobile pages for indexing and ranking.
  2. Mobile experience is part of the Page Experience signals – While Google will allegedly always “promote” the page with the best content, page experience can be a tiebreaker for pages offering content of similar quality. 

Solution

In GSC: 

  1. Go to the Mobile Usability report in the Experience section
  2. View affected pages by clicking on issues in the Why pages aren’t usable on mobile section 
Mobile Usability report in Google Search Console

You can read Google’s guide for fixing mobile issues here.  

8. Performance and stability issues 

Performance and visual stability are other aspects of Page Experience signals used by Google to rank pages. 

Google has developed a special set of metrics to measure user experience called Core Web Vitals (CWV). Site owners and SEOs can use those metrics to see how Google perceives their website in terms of UX. 

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Google's search signals for page experience

While page experience can be a ranking tiebreaker, CWV is not a race. You don’t need to have the fastest website on the internet. You just need to score “good” ideally in all three categories: loading, interactivity, and visual stability. 

Three categories of Core Web Vitals

Solution 

In GSC: 

  1. First, click on Core Web Vitals in the Experience section of the reports.
  2. Then click Open report in each section to see how your website scores. 
  3. For pages that aren’t considered good, you’ll see a special section at the bottom of the report. Use it to see pages that need your attention.
How to find Core Web Vitals in Google Search Console
CWV issue report in Google Search Console

Optimizing for CWV may take some time. This may include things like moving to a faster (or closer) server, compressing images, optimizing CSS, etc. We explain how to do this in the third part of this guide to CWV. 

Bad website structure in the context of technical SEO is mainly about having important organic pages too deep into the website structure. 

Pages that are nested too deep (i.e., users need >6 clicks from the website to get to them) will receive less link equity from your homepage (likely the page with the most backlinks), which may affect their rankings. This is because link value diminishes with every link “hop.” 

Sidenote.

Website structure is important for other reasons too such as the overall user experience, crawl efficiency, and helping Google understand the context of your pages. Here, we’ll only focus on the technical aspect, but you can read more about the topic in our full guide: Website Structure: How to Build Your SEO Foundation.

Solution 

In AWT

  1. Open Site Audit
  2. Go to Structure explorer, switch to the Depth tab, and set the data type to Data table
  3. Configure the Segment to only valid HTML pages and click Apply
  4. Use the graph to investigate pages with more than six clicks away from the homepage 
How to find site structure issues in Site Audit
Adding a new segment in Site Audit

The way to fix the issue is to link to these deeper nested pages from pages closer to the homepage. More important pages could find their place in site navigation, while less important ones can be just linked to the pages a few clicks closer.

It’s a good idea to weigh in user experience and the business role of your website when deciding what goes into sitewide navigation. 

For example, we could probably give our SEO glossary a slightly higher chance to get ahead of organic competitors by including it in the main site navigation. Yet we decided not to because it isn’t such an important page for users who are not particularly searching for this type of information. 

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We’ve moved the glossary only up a notch by including a link inside the beginner’s guide to SEO (which itself is just one click away from the homepage). 

Structure explorer showing glossary page is two clicks away from the homepage
One page from the glossary folder is two clicks away from the homepage.
Link that moved SEO glossary a click closer to the homepage
Just one link, even at the bottom of a page, can move a page higher in the overall structure.

Final thoughts 

When you’re done fixing the more pressing issues, dig a little deeper to keep your site in perfect SEO health. Open Site Audit and go to the All issues report to see other issues regarding on-page SEO, image optimization, redirects, localization, and more. In each case, you will find instructions on how to deal with the issue. 

All issues report in Site Audit

You can also customize this report by turning issues on/off or changing their priority. 

Issue report in Site Audit is customizable

Did I miss any important technical issues? Let me know on Twitter or Mastodon.



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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

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10 Paid Search & PPC Planning Best Practices

Whether you are new to paid media or reevaluating your efforts, it’s critical to review your performance and best practices for your overall PPC marketing program, accounts, and campaigns.

Revisiting your paid media plan is an opportunity to ensure your strategy aligns with your current goals.

Reviewing best practices for pay-per-click is also a great way to keep up with trends and improve performance with newly released ad technologies.

As you review, you’ll find new strategies and features to incorporate into your paid search program, too.

Here are 10 PPC best practices to help you adjust and plan for the months ahead.

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1. Goals

When planning, it is best practice to define goals for the overall marketing program, ad platforms, and at the campaign level.

Defining primary and secondary goals guides the entire PPC program. For example, your primary conversion may be to generate leads from your ads.

You’ll also want to look at secondary goals, such as brand awareness that is higher in the sales funnel and can drive interest to ultimately get the sales lead-in.

2. Budget Review & Optimization

Some advertisers get stuck in a rut and forget to review and reevaluate the distribution of their paid media budgets.

To best utilize budgets, consider the following:

  • Reconcile your planned vs. spend for each account or campaign on a regular basis. Depending on the budget size, monthly, quarterly, or semiannually will work as long as you can hit budget numbers.
  • Determine if there are any campaigns that should be eliminated at this time to free up the budget for other campaigns.
  • Is there additional traffic available to capture and grow results for successful campaigns? The ad platforms often include a tool that will provide an estimated daily budget with clicks and costs. This is just an estimate to show more click potential if you are interested.
  • If other paid media channels perform mediocrely, does it make sense to shift those budgets to another?
  • For the overall paid search and paid social budget, can your company invest more in the positive campaign results?

3. Consider New Ad Platforms

If you can shift or increase your budgets, why not test out a new ad platform? Knowing your audience and where they spend time online will help inform your decision when choosing ad platforms.

Go beyond your comfort zone in Google, Microsoft, and Meta Ads.

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Here are a few other advertising platforms to consider testing:

  • LinkedIn: Most appropriate for professional and business targeting. LinkedIn audiences can also be reached through Microsoft Ads.
  • TikTok: Younger Gen Z audience (16 to 24), video.
  • Pinterest: Products, services, and consumer goods with a female-focused target.
  • Snapchat: Younger demographic (13 to 35), video ads, app installs, filters, lenses.

Need more detailed information and even more ideas? Read more about the 5 Best Google Ads Alternatives.

4. Top Topics in Google Ads & Microsoft Ads

Recently, trends in search and social ad platforms have presented opportunities to connect with prospects more precisely, creatively, and effectively.

Don’t overlook newer targeting and campaign types you may not have tried yet.

  • Video: Incorporating video into your PPC accounts takes some planning for the goals, ad creative, targeting, and ad types. There is a lot of opportunity here as you can simply include video in responsive display ads or get in-depth in YouTube targeting.
  • Performance Max: This automated campaign type serves across all of Google’s ad inventory. Microsoft Ads recently released PMAX so you can plan for consistency in campaign types across platforms. Do you want to allocate budget to PMax campaigns? Learn more about how PMax compares to search.
  • Automation: While AI can’t replace human strategy and creativity, it can help manage your campaigns more easily. During planning, identify which elements you want to automate, such as automatically created assets and/or how to successfully guide the AI in the Performance Max campaigns.

While exploring new features, check out some hidden PPC features you probably don’t know about.

5. Revisit Keywords

The role of keywords has evolved over the past several years with match types being less precise and loosening up to consider searcher intent.

For example, [exact match] keywords previously would literally match with the exact keyword search query. Now, ads can be triggered by search queries with the same meaning or intent.

A great planning exercise is to lay out keyword groups and evaluate if they are still accurately representing your brand and product/service.

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Review search term queries triggering ads to discover trends and behavior you may not have considered. It’s possible this has impacted performance and conversions over time.

Critical to your strategy:

  • Review the current keyword rules and determine if this may impact your account in terms of close variants or shifts in traffic volume.
  • Brush up on how keywords work in each platform because the differences really matter!
  • Review search term reports more frequently for irrelevant keywords that may pop up from match type changes. Incorporate these into match type changes or negative keywords lists as appropriate.

6. Revisit Your Audiences

Review the audiences you selected in the past, especially given so many campaign types that are intent-driven.

Automated features that expand your audience could be helpful, but keep an eye out for performance metrics and behavior on-site post-click.

Remember, an audience is simply a list of users who are grouped together by interests or behavior online.

Therefore, there are unlimited ways to mix and match those audiences and target per the sales funnel.

Here are a few opportunities to explore and test:

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  • LinkedIn user targeting: Besides LinkedIn, this can be found exclusively in Microsoft Ads.
  • Detailed Demographics: Marital status, parental status, home ownership, education, household income.
  • In-market and custom intent: Searches and online behavior signaling buying cues.
  • Remarketing: Advertisers website visitors, interactions with ads, and video/ YouTube.

Note: This varies per the campaign type and seems to be updated frequently, so make this a regular check-point in your campaign management for all platforms.

7. Organize Data Sources

You will likely be running campaigns on different platforms with combinations of search, display, video, etc.

Looking back at your goals, what is the important data, and which platforms will you use to review and report? Can you get the majority of data in one analytics platform to compare and share?

Millions of companies use Google Analytics, which is a good option for centralized viewing of advertising performance, website behavior, and conversions.

8. Reevaluate How You Report

Have you been using the same performance report for years?

It’s time to reevaluate your essential PPC key metrics and replace or add that data to your reports.

There are two great resources to kick off this exercise:

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Your objectives in reevaluating the reporting are:

  • Are we still using this data? Is it still relevant?
  • Is the data we are viewing actionable?
  • What new metrics should we consider adding we haven’t thought about?
  • How often do we need to see this data?
  • Do the stakeholders receiving the report understand what they are looking at (aka data visualization)?

Adding new data should be purposeful, actionable, and helpful in making decisions for the marketing plan. It’s also helpful to decide what type of data is good to see as “deep dives” as needed.

9. Consider Using Scripts

The current ad platforms have plenty of AI recommendations and automated rules, and there is no shortage of third-party tools that can help with optimizations.

Scripts is another method for advertisers with large accounts or some scripting skills to automate report generation and repetitive tasks in their Google Ads accounts.

Navigating the world of scripts can seem overwhelming, but a good place to start is a post here on Search Engine Journal that provides use cases and resources to get started with scripts.

Luckily, you don’t need a Ph.D. in computer science — there are plenty of resources online with free or templated scripts.

10. Seek Collaboration

Another effective planning tactic is to seek out friendly resources and second opinions.

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Much of the skill and science of PPC management is unique to the individual or agency, so there is no shortage of ideas to share between you.

You can visit the Paid Search Association, a resource for paid ad managers worldwide, to make new connections and find industry events.

Preparing For Paid Media Success

Strategies should be based on clear and measurable business goals. Then, you can evaluate the current status of your campaigns based on those new targets.

Your paid media strategy should also be built with an eye for both past performance and future opportunities. Look backward and reevaluate your existing assumptions and systems while investigating new platforms, topics, audiences, and technologies.

Also, stay current with trends and keep learning. Check out ebooks, social media experts, and industry publications for resources and motivational tips.

More resources: 

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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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