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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. 

Recommendation

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: 

  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.

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: 

  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.

Recommendation

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.

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. 

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. 

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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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

SEO and content marketing are different marketing channels. But you don’t have to choose between them. They’re complementary.

In fact, you should combine them for greater effectiveness in your marketing.

Two main reasons:

1. Content marketing and SEO are like peanut butter and jelly—they work well together

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers.

Here’s how SEO helps content marketing:

The web's largest traffic referrersThe web's largest traffic referrers

SEO is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engines to get more traffic.

Here’s how content marketing helps SEO:

  • It helps you get more search traffic — If you want more search traffic, you need to rank for more keywords, which requires you to make more content.
  • It makes SEO more effective — Thought leadership content acquires backlinks, gated content generates leads, and sales enablement converts traffic into sales.

2. The same amount of investment in effort, money, and time can generate results for both content marketing and SEO

We’re the perfect example. Our content ranks high on Google and generates hundreds of thousands of monthly search visitors:

Ahrefs blog trafficAhrefs blog traffic

It also attracts links and shares on social media because we make sure each piece is unique and not just regurgitation or “AI content”.

LinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of viewLinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of view

Finally, each piece of content introduces visitors to our product and educates them on how to use it to solve their problems. (Keep on reading and you’ll see it in action too!)

Example of how we introduce our product in our contentExample of how we introduce our product in our content

It hits all content marketing and SEO goals at once:

  • Acquires search traffic ✅
  • Builds thought leadership ✅
  • Attracts links ✅
  • Generates sales (over the long-term) ✅

How do we do what we do? Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness. Here’s one line that summarizes our entire SEO content marketing strategy:

We create and maintain high-quality, product-led, search-focused content about topics with business potential and search traffic potential.

Let me break down how we combine SEO and content marketing:

If you want to acquire search traffic, you need to target topics that your potential customers are searching for.

The easiest way to find these keywords is to use a keyword tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a few broad keywords related to your site or niche
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Filter for keywords with traffic potential (TP)
Matching terms report in Keywords ExplorerMatching terms report in Keywords Explorer

Sidenote.

Traffic Potential is the estimated monthly organic search traffic to the top-ranking page for a keyword. Since pages tend to rank for many keywords, Traffic Potential is a more reliable estimate than search volume.

Go through the report and pick out the keywords that are relevant to your site. For example, if I were an ecommerce store selling coffee equipment, this could be a potential keyword to target:

The keyword "best coffee grinder"The keyword "best coffee grinder"

A keyword’s business potential is how easy it will be to pitch your product while covering a certain topic. It’s our ‘trade secret’—it’s why we can easily introduce our product and its features in every piece of content we create.

Here’s how to score a topic’s business potential:

Business potential scoring chartBusiness potential scoring chart

So, taking the above example, the topic “best coffee grinder” would score a “3” (provided we sell coffee grinders) whereas a topic like “does decaf coffee have caffeine” would score a “1” or even a “0”.

You should prioritize topics that score high on business potential, i.e. a “2” or a “3”.

What does all of the jargon mean? Let’s break it down.

Search-focused

Part one of being ‘search-focused’ is finding keywords that people are searching for. Part two is to figure out why they’re searching for those particular keywords. This ‘why’ is known as search intent.

Given that Google’s goal is to always rank the most relevant content, we can look at the search engine results (SERPs) to uncover search intent. Take your target keyword, enter it into Keywords Explorer, scroll down to SERP Overview, and click Identify intents:

Identify intents feature in Keywords ExplorerIdentify intents feature in Keywords Explorer

So, we can see that searchers looking for the keyword “best coffee grinders” want detailed reviews and expert recommendations on the best coffee grinders. Not only that, we can also see that searchers want a list that is fresh.

Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"

If we’re targeting this topic, making it search-focused means matching this search intent—we’ll need to create a list of the best coffee grinders for the current year.

Product-led

Product-led means ensuring you’re not just creating content for the sake of it; you’re also ‘selling’ your product. You want to be aware of which use case, feature, or service you want to weave into the narrative. Naturally, of course.

Scoring a topic’s business potential would have done 90% of the work here. If you’re creating content about a topic that scored a “3”, then your product pitch would be natural. For example, we could easily add links back to our coffee equipment store after covering the best coffee grinders. Or, if we make our coffee grinders, we could pitch them as one of the best. (That’s why I say the business potential score is our secret ingredient.)

The challenge comes when you’re covering topics that score a “1” or “0”. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to be creative.

For example, I recently covered the topic “SEO specialist”. It had a business potential of “1” and was tough to include a product pitch. Fortunately, I noticed that some job listings asked for experience with different SEO toolsets (including us.) It was the perfect segue to introduce our product and certification course.

An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1

High-quality

This is subjective. Everyone’s standards are different. But here’s how we think of quality:

  • Accurate — No hype, no lying. Every statement we make should be as accurate as possible.
  • Clear — No fluff—delete all unnecessary words and sentences. Use jargon only when needed. When necessary, create illustrations to expand on ideas and concepts.
  • Helpful — Being product-led is important but the content should not just be aimed at pitching. The content should be focused primarily on helping visitors solve their problems, while creatively weaving our product into the context.
  • Unique — One way to make your content unique is to have skin in the game—conduct experiments, run data studies, and write from personal experience. If having skin is difficult, then interview practitioners. Focus on did, not could.

The deterioration of your content is inevitable:

  • Search-focused — Your rankings may drop because of competitors. Or you didn’t even rank the first time round. Or your target topic’s search intent changed (e.g., the word corona’s search intent changed during the void years of 2020-2022.)
  • Product-led — You may have new features, services, or use cases to introduce. Or your team has depreciated certain features or abandoned some services.
  • High-quality — Statements may become inaccurate over time. Or your unique idea was so successful that everyone else copied you (and outranked you.) Or you might have better ways to reword sentences and paragraphs. Or just simply the ideas, screenshots, and content has become outdated.

That’s why you don’t build a train track and disappear. You have to actively maintain it to keep it working. (I’m looking at you London tube.) Same goes for your content.

The way to maintain your content is to conduct regular content audits. We do this every quarter—Each writer on our blog team goes through their portfolio of articles and selects at least three pieces to update. Each writer may also choose a couple to do a full rewrite.

I highly recommend going through our content audit template so you can see what went wrong with your content and what to do with it next.

Final thoughts

SEO and content marketing may be different marketing types, but that doesn’t mean you need to do one to the exclusion of the other.

Both channels are highly compatible and as you see above, can be designed as an entire strategy that hits all important marketing objectives.



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Trending Content Output Compared in ChatGPT, Gemini & Claude

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Trending Content Output Compared in ChatGPT, Gemini & Claude

“Should we use ChatGPT, Gemini, or Claude to create trending content?”

That’s a good question – and one that I’m frequently asked when teaching a live class about engaging audiences through content.

You might mistakenly assume that instructors are supposed to answer questions like that. But my colleagues and I do something different.

We give our students relevant assignments that provide them with the opportunity to discover the answers to good questions for themselves.

This test-and-learn approach is something that you can also apply within your own company, agency, or team. Want to know which generative AI model to use to create trending content?

Well, conduct a test and compare the output.

Write Concise Descriptions Of The Most Emotionally Engaging Video Ads Of Euros 2024

You already know how to use Google Trends to identify search terms or topics that are trending now. In fact, many journalists use this free tool to get story ideas.

Over the long Fourth of July weekend, I used Google Trends and saw that the topic “Euros 2024” ranked No. 1 in Trending Searches with more than 1 million queries.

Next, I decided to avoid using OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5 for my tests. Why? Because it’s the most popular generative AI model, which means that your competitors are probably using it, too.

That means the content that this tool creates is less likely “to provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results,” as Google’s long-standing advice recommends.

ChatGPT Output

So, I explored the custom versions of ChatGPT and selected Write For Me by puzzle.today.

Why? Because it ranked No. 1 in the Writing category. The tool also claimed it would help me “write tailored, engaging content with a focus on quality, relevance and precise word count.”

I want to create better content, not just content that is different from what everyone else is creating. So, I asked Write For Me to “write concise descriptions of the most emotionally engaging video ads of Euros 2024.”

Here’s what this generative AI tool produced:

1. Unity Through Football

 “A diverse group of children from different European countries come together on a pristine football pitch. As they play, the camera captures their joy and camaraderie, transcending language and cultural barriers. The ad concludes with a montage of professional players joining the children, emphasizing football's power to unite nations and foster friendship.”

2. Legacy of Legends

 “The ad begins with black-and-white footage of iconic moments from past Euros, highlighting legendary players. It transitions to vibrant, modern clips of current stars recreating these moments, symbolizing the passing of the torch. A heartfelt narration speaks to the continuity of dreams and the legacy carried by each generation.”

3. Homecoming

 “A montage of fans traveling from various parts of Europe to the host country, capturing their excitement and anticipation. Emotional reunions with fellow fans, old friends, and family members create a sense of belonging and community. The ad closes with a panoramic shot of a stadium filled with cheering supporters, underscoring the tournament's role in bringing people together.”

4. The Dream Begins

 “The ad follows a young aspiring footballer practicing tirelessly, inspired by their favorite Euros moments. Interspersed with clips of professional matches, it shows the child's journey from local games to a stadium filled with fans. The message is clear: dreams start small but can lead to greatness, encouraging viewers to pursue their passions.”

5. Heartbeat of the Game

 “This ad features a rhythmic sequence of football-related sounds: the thud of a ball, cheers from the crowd, and the whistle of the referee. These sounds build into a symphony, interspersed with clips of players’ intense focus and emotional celebrations. The heartbeat sound underscores the passion and excitement of the Euros, resonating with fans’ own emotions.”

6. From Streets to Stadiums

 “Children playing football in urban alleys, rural fields, and makeshift pitches across Europe are showcased. Their raw passion and joy are mirrored by professional players in grand stadiums, blurring the lines between dreams and reality. The ad concludes with a powerful message: football belongs to everyone, from the streets to the grandest arenas.

Now, it’s perfectly clear why video ads with these descriptions would be emotionally engaging, but it is frustratingly unclear which brands are running these ads during Euros 2024.

So, I’d have to do some double-checking to make sure that ChatGPT isn’t hallucinating.

Gemini Output

Next, I gave Google’s Gemini (formerly Bard) the same prompt. Here’s what this generative AI model produced:

1. Adidas: "Hey Jude" (Most Engaging)

 “This ad features rising England star Jude Bellingham alongside football legends like David Beckham and Frank Lampard. It taps into positive emotions by showcasing the passing of the torch and the enduring spirit of the game.”

2. Irn-Bru: "Get to Germany"

 “This ad, likely using humor, aims to create positive feelings and excitement around the Euros being held in Germany.”

3. Budweiser: "Bring it Home"

“This ad uses a patriotic theme, likely aiming to inspire viewers and evoke a sense of national pride for their team's chance to win the Euros.”

It’s perfectly clear which brands are running the most emotionally engaging video ads of Euros 2024, but it’s still unclear which methodology Gemini is using to make this selection.

So, I’d still have to do more due diligence to discover that it’s probably recent articles and posts about new research from DAIVID.

Claude Output

I asked Anthropic’s Claude 3.5 Sonnet to “write concise descriptions of the most emotionally engaging video ads of Euros 2024.” Here’s what this generative AI tool replied:

“I apologize, but I don't have access to specific information about video ads from Euro 2024, as my knowledge cutoff is in April 2024, and I can't browse the internet for current information.”

 “I can, however, offer some general thoughts on what makes emotionally engaging soccer/football ads:”

“Underdog stories of players or teams overcoming adversity.”
“Nostalgic montages showcasing historic Euro moments.”
“Depictions of passionate fans and their connection to the sport.”
“Inspirational messages about unity and international cooperation.”
“Cinematic recreations of iconic goals or plays.”

 “If you'd like me to expand on any of these concepts or discuss emotionally engaging sports ads in general, I'd be happy to do so. For accurate information about Euro 2024 ads, I'd recommend checking official UEFA sources or recent sports media coverage.”

Well, Claude’s honesty is admirable. But its knowledge cutoff means that I shouldn’t use this generative AI model for content about fairly recent trends.

Write Short Captions For The Funniest Photos From The 2024 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest

For my second test, I used the Google autocomplete feature to confirm that the phrase, [Nathan’s hot dog eating contest], was a trending search term.

Then, I asked each of the three generative AI tools to “write short captions for the funniest photos from the 2024 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.”

ChatGPT Output

Here’s what Write For Me generated:

“Captions for Funniest Photos from the 2024 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest:”

"When you realize you're only halfway through your 50 hot dogs."
"Eyes on the prize: the ketchup bottle!"
"Training for this by swallowing my pride daily."
"When the bun hits you harder than the hot dog."
"Mustard not? I mustered up the courage!"
"New strategy: inhale, don’t chew."
"Hot dogs: 10, Dignity: 0."
"When you think it’s the last dog but it’s not."
"The face you make when you beat your personal best... by 1 dog."
"Calories don’t count if you don’t chew, right?"

Okay, I admit that many of these captions are funny. But it’s difficult to tell if they belong to actual photos or if this custom version of ChatGPT hallucinated the entire list.

And don’t get me started on getting permission to use any photos that exist. Of course, I could always use DALL-E 3 to turn the text above into images.

Gemini Output

Next, I gave Gemini the same assignment. Here’s what it generated:

1. Mustard Mishap: "Someone's about to be redecorated in yellow!" (Photo of a competitor with mustard splattered all over their face).

2. Relish the Moment: "This is what pure competitive joy looks like." (Photo of a competitor mid-devour with a look of intense concentration and relish dripping down their chin).

3. Bun Bungee: "Is that a hot dog or a bungee jumper? Defying the laws of physics, one frankfurter at a time." (Photo of a competitor with a hot dog halfway down their esophagus).

4. Fountain of Fury: "Looks like someone forgot their manners! (But they're probably winning.)" (Photo of a competitor with a spray of water and ketchup erupting from their mouth).

5. Doggy Downtime: "Even champions gotta rest sometimes. (Just don't let Joey Chestnut see this.)" (Photo of a competitor slumped back in their chair with a belly full of hot dogs).”

Um, okay. These are also funny captions.

But it’s hard to know if they go with actual photos that were posted on July 4, 2024, without using Google Images to conduct a series of relevant searches. And that still doesn’t give me permission to use them even if they do exist.

[Note, these responses were generated a few days before Google announced their support for labelling AI-generated images.]

Claude Output

Then, I asked Claude 3.5 Sonnet to “write short captions for the funniest photos from the 2024 Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.” Here’s what it replied:

“I apologize, but I don't have access to specific photos from the 2024 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, as my knowledge cutoff is in April 2024. Additionally, I can't generate, produce, edit, manipulate or create images.”

 “However, I can suggest some hypothetical humorous captions that might be appropriate for funny moments at a hot dog eating contest:”

"When the hot dogs fight back"
"Regretting that 50th hot dog"
"Mid-contest nap: Expert level achieved"
"Ketchup everywhere... except on the hot dogs"
"When you realize it's only been 2 minutes"
"The face of a champion... or indigestion"
"Spectators' faces: Equal parts horror and awe"
"When the bun-to-dog ratio is all wrong"
"Competitive eating: Where table manners go to die"
"That moment you question all your life choices"

 
“Remember, these are fictional captions for imaginary photos. For accurate information about the 2024 contest, you'd need to check official sources or news reports from after the event.”

Once again, Claude gets high marks for being honest about its limitations.

But unless I want to select some of these hypothetical humorous captions and use them as prompts in Adobe Firefly, then I need to use one of the other options.

Write A 400-Word Blog Post About The Top Omni Channel Retailing Trends Of 2024

For my third test, I used SparkToro to research the audience of 5,000 to 6,000 people who search for the keyword [customer retention] each month.

I used SparkToro’s trending keywords feature to analyze the search terms that have risen in popularity among searchers for “customer retention” over the last quarter.

Then, I selected the trending keyword, “omni channel retailing trends,” for this test.

ChatGPT Output

When I asked Write For Me to “write a 400-word blog post about the top omni channel retailing trends of 2024,” here’s what this generative AI tool produced:

Top Omnichannel Retailing Trends of 2024

 “As we move into 2024, the landscape of retail continues to evolve rapidly, driven by technological advancements and changing consumer expectations. Omnichannel retailing, which integrates various shopping channels into a seamless customer experience, remains at the forefront of this evolution. Here are the top omnichannel retailing trends to watch out for in 2024.”
 
1. Enhanced Personalization Through AI and Data Analytics
“In 2024, personalization goes beyond just using the customer’s name in emails. Retailers are leveraging advanced AI and data analytics to offer hyper-personalized shopping experiences. By analyzing consumer behavior, preferences, and purchase history, retailers can tailor recommendations, promotions, and content to individual customers. This level of personalization enhances customer satisfaction and increases conversion rates.”
 
2. Seamless Integration of Physical and Digital Channels 
“The line between online and offline shopping continues to blur. In 2024, more retailers are perfecting the integration of physical and digital channels. Innovations like in-store augmented reality (AR) mirrors, smart fitting rooms, and mobile app functionalities that enhance in-store experiences are becoming standard. Additionally, services like click-and-collect and in-store returns for online purchases are expected to become more streamlined and widespread.”
 
3. Expansion of Mobile Commerce (M-Commerce) 
“Mobile commerce continues to grow as consumers increasingly use their smartphones for shopping. Retailers are optimizing their mobile websites and apps to provide faster, more intuitive, and secure shopping experiences. Features like one-click purchasing, mobile wallets, and personalized push notifications are becoming essential components of mobile strategies.”

 4. Social Commerce Revolution 
“Social media platforms are transforming into powerful retail channels. In 2024, social commerce, where shopping experiences are embedded within social media, is set to explode. Platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok are enhancing their shopping functionalities, allowing users to discover, browse, and purchase products without leaving the app. Influencer marketing and user-generated content continue to drive this trend, making social media a critical part of omnichannel strategies.”
 
5. Sustainable and Ethical Retailing
“Consumers are increasingly demanding sustainability and transparency from the brands they support. In response, retailers are incorporating sustainable practices and ethical sourcing into their omnichannel strategies. This includes offering eco-friendly products, reducing packaging waste, and providing transparency about product origins and manufacturing processes. Brands that can effectively communicate their sustainability efforts through all channels will gain a competitive edge.”
 
6. Voice Commerce and Conversational AI 
“Voice-activated shopping and conversational AI are becoming more prevalent. With the rise of smart speakers and virtual assistants, consumers are using voice commands to search for products, place orders, and track deliveries. Retailers are integrating voice commerce capabilities into their omnichannel strategies to enhance convenience and improve customer engagement.”
 
Conclusion 
“In 2024, the retail industry is embracing these omnichannel trends to create more cohesive and engaging shopping experiences. By focusing on personalization, integrating physical and digital channels, leveraging mobile and social commerce, prioritizing sustainability, and adopting voice commerce, retailers can stay ahead in a competitive market. These trends highlight the importance of flexibility and innovation in meeting the evolving needs of modern consumers.”

Um, okay. This is 498 words long. This content seems designed for publication at the beginning of the year.

The blog post is missing citations from reliable sources, credible quotes, and relevant statistics, as Roger Montti’s article, “Researchers Discover How To SEO For AI Search,” noted back on Dec. 18, 2023.

So, it’s not as bad as a first draft. But I would hope that writers would learn by using this custom version of ChatGPT that they need to craft something a little bit better.

Gemini Output

Next, I asked Gemini to tackle the same assignment. Here’s what this generative AI tool produced:

The Future of Shopping: Top Omnichannel Retail Trends in 2024
 
“The retail landscape is ever-evolving, and 2024 is no exception. Consumers today expect a seamless shopping experience, regardless of whether they're browsing online, visiting a physical store, or interacting with a brand on social media. This is where omnichannel retail thrives. By creating a unified experience across all touchpoints, retailers can build stronger customer loyalty and drive sales.”
 
“Let's delve into the top omnichannel retail trends shaping the industry in 2024:”

 1. The Rise of the Data-Driven Experience:
 “With the demise of third-party cookies, retailers are focusing on collecting and utilizing first-party customer data. This data allows for real-time personalization across all channels. Imagine receiving targeted email promotions based on your recent in-store purchases, or seeing personalized product recommendations on a brand's app. Advanced analytics will not only personalize marketing efforts but also optimize search functionalities and product merchandising on e-commerce platforms.”

 2. AI Takes Center Stage: 
“Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly transforming the retail experience. AI-powered chatbots can answer customer queries 24/7, recommend products based on browsing history, and even assist with in-store tasks. Generative AI can create personalized marketing content at scale, while AI-driven sales automation streamlines processes for both retailers and customers.”
 
3. The Blur Between Physical and Digital: 
“The lines between online and offline shopping are continuing to blur. We're seeing a rise in ‘phygital’ experiences, such as augmented reality (AR) apps that allow customers to virtually try on clothes or visualize furniture in their homes. In-store kiosks can facilitate online purchases and allow for easy returns or exchanges. Additionally, ‘showrooming,’ where customers browse in-store and then purchase online, necessitates seamless product availability and pricing across channels.”
 
4. Social Commerce Takes Off: 
“Social media platforms are no longer just for browsing; they're becoming powerful shopping destinations. ‘Live shopping’ experiences with influencers showcasing products are gaining traction, while social media platforms are integrating smoother buying functionalities within their apps. User-generated content and social proof will continue to influence purchasing decisions, making social media a crucial touchpoint in the omnichannel journey.”

 5. Personalization Beyond Products: 
“The future of omnichannel retail goes beyond just product recommendations. Retailers are focusing on creating personalized experiences that cater to individual customer preferences. This could involve offering flexible delivery options, loyalty programs with tiered benefits, or the ability to curate in-store shopping experiences through appointments or personalized product selections.”

Conclusion: 
“In today's competitive retail environment, omnichannel isn't just a trend; it's a necessity. By embracing these trends and prioritizing a data-driven, personalized approach, retailers can not only survive but thrive in the ever-evolving landscape of commerce.”

Well, the headline is better and it’s 433 words long, which is closer to what I’d asked for. But this blog post is also missing citations from reliable sources, credible quotes, and relevant statistics.

So, I hope writers would learn the same lesson by using Gemini that they learned using a custom version of ChatGPT: It’s not bad, but a human with experience and expertise can do better.

Claude Output

Finally, I asked Claude 3.5 Sonnet to “write a 400-word blog post about the top omni channel retailing trends of 2024.” Here’s what this generative AI tool produced:

Top Omnichannel Retailing Trends Shaping 2024
 
“As we navigate through 2024, the retail landscape continues to evolve rapidly. Omnichannel strategies have become more crucial than ever, with consumers expecting seamless experiences across all touchpoints. Let's explore the key trends defining omnichannel retailing this year.”
 
1. AI-Powered Personalization: “Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing how retailers understand and cater to individual customer preferences. In 2024, we're seeing more sophisticated AI algorithms that analyze customer data across channels to deliver hyper-personalized recommendations, offers, and experiences.”
 
2. Augmented Reality Integration: “AR is bridging the gap between online and offline shopping. Retailers are leveraging AR technology to allow customers to virtually try on clothes, visualize furniture in their homes, or explore products in detail before making a purchase decision.”
 
3. Social Commerce Acceleration: “Social media platforms are increasingly becoming direct sales channels. Retailers are optimizing their presence on platforms like Instagram, TikTok, and Pinterest, enabling in-app purchases and creating shoppable content that seamlessly integrates with users' social experiences.”
 
4. Sustainable and Ethical Omnichannel Practices: “Consumers are more environmentally conscious than ever. Retailers are responding by implementing sustainable practices across their omnichannel operations, from eco-friendly packaging to transparent supply chains and ethical sourcing information available across all channels.”
 
5. Voice Commerce Integration: “With the growing adoption of smart speakers and voice assistants, retailers are optimizing their digital presence for voice search and enabling voice-activated purchases, adding another dimension to the omnichannel experience.”
 
6. Phygital Experiences: “The blend of physical and digital experiences, or ‘phygital,’ is gaining traction. Retailers are creating innovative in-store digital touchpoints and bringing elements of the physical store experience to online platforms.”
 
7. Unified Customer Data Platforms: “Retailers are investing in advanced customer data platforms that consolidate information from all channels, providing a single view of the customer and enabling more cohesive marketing and service strategies.”

8. Flexible Fulfillment Options: “The line between online and offline continues to blur with the expansion of services like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and same-day delivery. Retailers are optimizing their logistics to offer customers maximum flexibility.”

9. Subscription-Based Models: “More retailers are incorporating subscription services into their omnichannel strategies, providing regular product deliveries or exclusive access to content and experiences across multiple platforms.”
 
10. Advanced Analytics for Real-Time Insights: “Retailers are leveraging advanced analytics tools to gain real-time insights into customer behavior across channels, allowing for quick adjustments to inventory, pricing, and marketing strategies.”
 
“As these trends show, the future of retail lies in creating cohesive, customer-centric experiences that seamlessly blend online and offline touchpoints. Retailers who successfully adapt to these omnichannel trends will be well-positioned to thrive in the dynamic retail environment of 2024 and beyond.”

Claude’s content is 443 words long, which is longer than Gemini’s, but shorter than the custom version of ChatGPT. And Claude generated 10 trends, while ChatGPT generated six, and Gemini generated five.

But just like the other generative AI tools, Claude’s blog post is missing citations from reliable sources, credible quotes, and relevant statistics.

So, Claude is also good at creating a rough draft. But I’d hope that writers would learn by using ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude that they shouldn’t become a tool of their tools.

AI Is Not Going To Take Your Job

A year ago, Jensen Huang, the founder, president, and CEO of Nvidia, said,

“AI is not going to take your job. The person who uses AI is going to take your job.”

Well, a year later, we’ve learned by comparing the content output generated by ChatGPT, Gemini, and Claude that it’s still smarter to use generative AI tools to brainstorm or create a good first draft.

Then, use your experience, expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) to add emotionally engaging videos, eye-catching photos, citations from reliable sources, credible quotes, and relevant statistics to your content.

Why? Because this is the best way to provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results.

More resources:  


Featured Image: jomel alos/Shutterstock

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Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts?

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Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts?

Website traffic data normally looks like this:

Ups and downs, peaks and troughs.

If we’re doing our job properly, we generally expect traffic to trend upwards over time, but in any given month, it’s difficult to say whether a peak or a trough is worth paying attention to.

Did we do something great and trigger a new phase of growth? Did we benefit from a new Google update? Or is it just normal variation, part of the natural ebb and flow of people finding our website?

Or suppose you make a change to your content process—you pruned and redirected a bunch of old content—and then traffic dropped the next month. Was that drop caused by the change, or was it just a coincidence?

I’ve been experimenting with a simple statistical tool designed to help answer these questions: XmR charts, also known as process control charts.

Here’s an XmR chart:

Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR ChartsCan You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

XmR charts are designed to tell you whether any single data point from a time series is likely to be caused by normal fluctuation (“routine variation”) or a sign that something happened and needs to be investigated (“exceptional variation”).

XmR charts consist of an X plot (named after the x-value, the “thing” we care about—like widgets produced or sales closed)…

1721658366 562 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 562 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

…and an MR plot (named after the moving range, basically the “gap” between each data point):

1721658366 191 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 191 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

In its simplest use, if you plot your data on the chart and it wiggles up and down around the central line, without crossing the upper and lower bounds—no problem! These ups and downs likely represent normal variation.

But any points that appear outside the upper or lower bounds (shown in red) should be treated as anomalies that need to be investigated.

In the X plot above, the time series seems to show routine variation until January 16th, when the first red out-of-bounds point appears.

1721658366 804 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 804 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

The XmR chart suggests that something happened on the 16th to mess with our production process (for better or for worse). Our job is to investigate why.

Sidenote.

The line in the middle is the average value of the dataset; the upper and lower bounds represent 3-standard deviations away from the average (known as three-sigma). Any point that falls outside of these upper and lower bounds is very likely to be an anomaly, and not part of the original probability distribution.

There are other “signals” that the XmR chart can show you (like eight consecutive points on one side of the average line representing another type of exceptional variation)—but I will leave you to investigate those on your own time.

When I started reading about XmR charts, one obvious use came to mind: identifying the impact of Google algorithm updates.

If a site’s traffic tanks to zero, it’s easy to say “we were hit by a manual penalty.” But for smaller changes, like a few months’ consecutive traffic decline, it’s harder to work out the cause. Did we get caught out by a Google update? Is it seasonality? Or is it just a coincidence, with traffic likely to return to normal in the future?

Here’s two years of monthly organic traffic data for the Ahrefs blog, pulled from Site Explorer and plotted on an XmR chart:

1721658366 298 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 298 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

Now… this is not particularly useful.

There are tons of data points outside the expected range (red), with very few sitting nearer the center line than the quartile limits (orange).

The XmR chart is supposed to show exceptional variation in a consistent process—but in this image, almost all of the data points suggest exceptional variation. What gives?

Process charts were designed around simple manufacturing processes, and they work very well when the expected output of a process is constant.

If your goal is manufacturing 10,000 widgets each and every week, an XmR chart will help you work out if that 5,600-widget month was a normal “blip” in routine operation, or caused by a real problem that needs to be investigated.

Website traffic is more complicated. There are tons of variables that impact traffic:

  • the fluctuating search volume of each topic,
  • individual ranking positions,
  • new competing articles,
  • search features,
  • seasonality,
  • publishing frequency,
  • Google algorithm updates

That means that running an XmR analysis on a long series of traffic data probably won’t be very helpful. Your “blogging process” is not likely to remain stable for very long.

In my case, this particular two-year snapshot of data probably doesn’t come from a single, stable process—there may be multiple probability distributions hidden in there.

But we can make the analysis more useful.

The best practice for XmR charts is to limit the analysis to a period of time when you know the process was relatively static, and recalculate it when you suspect something has changed.

Looking at the Moving Range chart for this data below, large amounts of traffic variance happened in November and December. We should investigate possible causes. 1721658366 887 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 887 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

I know that our publishing frequency was fairly static (we definitely didn’t double our content output). Seasonality would cause a traffic drop, not a spike (we’re writing about SEO, not holiday gift guides).

But there was a big Google update at the start of December:

1721658366 313 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 313 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts
Source

If we work on the assumption that something happened to our blog process around this time—likely a change to traffic caused by the Google update—we can add a divider to our XmR chart.

Instead of trying to analyze our traffic as a single process, we can treat it as two processes, and calculate XmR charts separately:

1721658366 499 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 499 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

Now the first process looks stable (all black dots). The second process shows less extreme variation (red) too, but there’s still too much moderate variation (orange) to look stable. There may be another process lurking within.

And per a rule of thumb for analyzing XmR charts: “the duration of an XmR chart needs to be revisited when a ‘long-run’ of data remains above or below the Average line.” This trend begins in late summer (which is also around the time that Google announced another core update):

1721658366 566 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 566 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

We can add another divider at the start of this “long-run” of data to create three separate XmR analyses:

1721658366 941 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 941 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

In doing so, all three analyses seem stable, with no points of extreme variance. In other words, we seem to have done a good job at capturing three distinct processes happening within our traffic data.

From this analysis, there seems to be a good chance that our traffic was impacted by external factors around the time of two major Google updates.

Now… this is basically a post-hoc data torturing exercise. We can’t infer any causation from this analysis, and it’s entirely possible that other arbitrary divisions would yield similar results.

But that’s okay. These charts can’t give you definitive, concrete reasons why your traffic changed, but they can tell you where to look, and help you work out whether troubleshooting a traffic dip or spike is a good use of your time.

The ultimate measure of a model’s usefulness is its ability to help you predict things. Will XmR charts help me do a better job running the Ahrefs blog in the future?

I think yes.

Assuming my “blog process” remains relatively stable—I publish at the same frequency, target the same topics, compete with the same competitors—I now have a set of “stable” data that I can use to provide extra context for future traffic numbers:

1721658366 754 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 754 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

In the months that follow, I can work out whether dips or spikes in our traffic are likely the result of normal variance, or whether something has changed that requires my attention—like a Google update.

If, for example, my traffic does this next month… 1721658366 36 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658366 36 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

…I know that—given this distribution—that traffic drop could well be normal, unexciting variance.

But if it does this…

1721658367 676 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts1721658367 676 Can You Spot Google Updates with XmR Charts

…there’s probably something else at work.

With extreme traffic changes you can usually “eyeball” traffic charts and guess what happened. But XmR charts are useful for more subtle variations, and there’s a chance I will be able to identify and act on just a single month’s worth of data. That’s pretty cool.

Final thoughts

Troubleshooting traffic changes is a big challenge for SEOs and content marketers (and we’re working on a few ways to help you identify the signal amongst the noise of your traffic data).

In the meantime, I have found XmR charts an interesting tool in my toolkit, useful for contextualizing my monthly reporting numbers and justifying when I should (or shouldn’t) spend my energy troubleshooting a down month.

(At the very least, XmR charts might just give you the confidence necessary to say “get off my back” when that VP sends you a brusque 3AM email complaining about last month’s 8% traffic dip.)

Sidenote.

Thanks to Benyamin Elias, VP of Marketing at Podia, for introducing me to XmR charts.

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