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A Checklist For Essential Year-Round Tasks

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A Checklist For Essential Year-Round Tasks

SEO is a big discipline. Without structure and planning, a lot of time and dollars can be wasted or used inefficiently.

A lot of SEO activities are started and never completed.

Couple that with the fact that SEO is never “done,” and it can be hard to start, finish, and stay on track with prioritized strategic and tactical elements that have a chance to make a real impact.

By breaking SEO down into daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual milestones and process-driven tactics, you can build the right level of planning to keep it on track and efficient.

These activities should be tied to goals and a larger strategy, but offer a great framework for how to make sure SEO is well planned and structured on an annual basis.

Daily

Educate Yourself

Staying up to date on industry news is a critical aspect of SEO that must be built into any maintenance or ongoing management plan.

This ranges from the mission-critical alerts and updates the search engines announce themselves to keeping tabs on SEO best practices and breaking news from sources like Search Engine Journal.

Big shifts in the industry are hard to miss.

But smaller, more subtle changes can become magnified when you miss them or best practices become outdated.

Don’t fall behind or deploy outdated tactics!

Know Your Current Metrics

Monitoring your key SEO performance metrics in real-time, or at least once per day, is especially necessary for brands and companies that rely on ecommerce transactions or lead volume to feed a sales team.

Knowing how your website is performing in search through top-level metrics is important for recognizing any red flags. These could include:

  • A specific or aggregate positioning drop.
  • An organic traffic drop.
  • A decrease in sales or lead volume.

Being able to recognize problems as soon as they happen is key.

You need to be able to diagnose issues and reverse any negative trends before they impact your overall marketing and business goals.

By keeping tabs on actual performance, you can compare to benchmarks and baselines to make sure that you fully understand cause and effect with your metrics and not have an issue happen for too long before you can intervene.

You can monitor less critical KPIs (any that don’t necessitate an immediate reaction) on a weekly basis.

Make Progress On Tactics

A solid SEO plan or campaign must have goals, a strategy, and specific tactics outlined.

Without a plan, process, or defined approach, you can waste a lot of time chasing specific SEO aspects that might be low impact and low priority.

The daily process should include specific tasks, milestones, and achievable actions that work toward the bigger picture.

The tactics can include things being done for the first time in a phased approach or action items that are more in a rinse and repeat methodology.

Regardless, the list of specific technical, on-page, and off-page action items should be defined for the year, broken out into months, and further into tactics and progress that can be made on a daily basis to stay on track.

SEO requires both big picture thinking and the ability to tackle daily tasks and action items.

Monthly

Report On Performance

Beyond the daily or weekly KPI monitoring, it’s often important to use monthly cycles to more broadly report on performance.

The focus of monthly checkpoints allows for dedicated time to compare a larger sample size of data and see trends.

Monthly performance reporting should include year-over-year comparisons of the completed month plus any available year-to-date stats.

Find meaningful intervals to measure and be consistent. Looking at bigger ranges of time helps to see trends that are hard to decipher in small sample sizes.

Any stories of the what and why for deviations in goal, celebrations for exceeding goals, and metrics that warrant possible changes to the plan are critical to the surface and prioritize through a dashboard or snapshot report of the performance data.

Recap Completed & Continuing Action Items

This is a chance to evaluate the tactics and execution in the previous month against the plan.

  • Was everything completed?
  • Were there deviations?
  • What obstacles or roadblocks were in the way or overcome?

Looking at the past helps shape the future.

When you combine the action items and tactics with the performance data, you should get an overall picture of the reality of what is driving SEO performance.

Plan Next Month’s Action Items & Evaluate The Plan

Monthly intervals are great for ensuring accountability for the completion of tasks.

Even when the year is planned out, things change in SEO, and performance isn’t always what we expect after doing something the first time.

Taking a monthly planning approach, adjustments can be made to the plan like doubling down on a specific tactic or adjusting the overall strategy to recalibrate.

By being agile enough to monthly evaluate performance and tactics, you can avoid overthinking things and reacting too swiftly, but also not let too much time pass and lose footing with trends toward goals.

Having a good balance of planned tactics and actions versus the need for agile methods to pivot when needed is often the best approach to stay current and proactive.

Quarterly

Technical Issues Auditing

Assuming you have covered technical issues at the beginning of your SEO focus and are also watching for any that trigger red flags in daily and weekly monitoring, it is important to take a broader look through an audit each quarter.

This audit should include a review of reported issues in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.

Plus, comparison to benchmarks and standards for site speed, mobile usability, validation of structured data, and the aspects that aren’t often looked at on a more frequent basis.

On-Page Issues Auditing

Without an audit process and even with frequent monitoring, things happen on websites.

A code update, database update, a plugin/extension update, or publishing content can cause duplicate tags, duplicate content, or even missing on-page elements.

A quarterly audit of on-page issues that can be conducted using a wide range of free and subscription third-party tools is important.

There are tools that will even send alerts and factor into the daily process if something changes like a meta description being wiped out.

Regardless, having a solid tools stack and process for quarterly evaluation and comparison to the previous audit is important to ensure that the results of the audit and any fixes needed are noted and make it into the tactical plan.

Link Profile Auditing

The SEO plan overall likely includes some form of link building.

Whether that is through attracting links with engaging content or a more focused plan of research and outreach, it is likely a part of the ongoing tactics (or should be considered, if it isn’t).

The investment of time and effort into the tactics makes it important to have visibility of the overall link profile and progress.

This might be a performance metric tracked in the monthly reporting phase, but quarterly should be audited in a deeper sense.

Evaluating the quality of links, the number of links, diversity of sources, relevancy of linked content, comparisons to competitors, comparisons to benchmarks, and period-over-period comparisons are all important aspects to ensure that the plan is performing as intended in the area of backlinks.

Plus, if not caught through daily or monthly efforts, any spammy links or negative SEO attempts can be caught here and addressed through the disavow process.

Local Listings Audit

Once local listings management is in maintenance mode, there won’t be a frequent need for major changes with NAP (name, address, phone) data or inconsistencies in listing data.

However, that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen and that it can be “set it and forget it.”

An audit using third-party tools to ensure accuracy and consistency of data is strongly advised at least quarterly.

This audit can identify issues that can be addressed on a one-off basis as well as provide guidance on performance and any needed changes to the content, reviews, and other aspects of the listings themselves beyond the basic NAP data.

If any third-party data sources or listings were missed, Google Business Profile data can be overwritten with inaccurate listing info.

Even if nothing changes with your management of listings, data can change and needs to be monitored at a minimum.

Yearly

Measure Performance

When running annual plans for SEO – and even when not on annual agreements or evaluation cycles – taking an entire year of data and evaluating it is helpful to advise strategy and find measurable ROI calculations.

SEO is a long-term process to achieve the most competitive positioning possible in search engines. It is a valuable investment of time to look at performance data over 12-month spans, compare it to previous periods, look at benchmarks, and celebrate successes.

Even if you don’t have annual budgets or agreements with outside partners/providers, taking an annual step back and looking at performance and the effort like an investment rather than an expense is important.

Planning Strategy & Tactics

In addition to reviewing yearly performance data, you should also be planning out your goals, strategy, and tactics for the next year.

Even though the plan could change a week into maintenance, having a plan, and setting a target is a key to measuring progress.

Without a plan and using past learnings and a realistic view of the resources being invested in the coming year, there can be a gap between expectations and reality.

It is best to sort this out before getting months down the road.

Conclusion

We all have goals and specific outcomes we want to achieve from our SEO investments and efforts.

Rather than reacting and getting pulled into things that scream the loudest, having a structure and organization to how the work is done can keep your time and investment focused.

Whether it is technical factors, on-page, content, or backlinks, by having a set cadence and structure in your approach you can balance both planned activities and maintain the agility needed to react at the moment.

And make sure that progress is made and priorities for SEO work don’t get out of balance.

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

There is concern about the lack of an easy way to opt out of having one’s content used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. There is a way to do it, but it’s neither straightforward nor guaranteed to work.

How AIs Learn From Your Content

Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained on data that originates from multiple sources. Many of these datasets are open source and are freely used for training AIs.

Some of the sources used are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Government court records
  • Books
  • Emails
  • Crawled websites

There are actually portals and websites offering datasets that are giving away vast amounts of information.

One of the portals is hosted by Amazon, offering thousands of datasets at the Registry of Open Data on AWS.

Screenshot from Amazon, January 2023

The Amazon portal with thousands of datasets is just one portal out of many others that contain more datasets.

Wikipedia lists 28 portals for downloading datasets, including the Google Dataset and the Hugging Face portals for finding thousands of datasets.

Datasets of Web Content

OpenWebText

A popular dataset of web content is called OpenWebText. OpenWebText consists of URLs found on Reddit posts that had at least three upvotes.

The idea is that these URLs are trustworthy and will contain quality content. I couldn’t find information about a user agent for their crawler, maybe it’s just identified as Python, I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, we do know that if your site is linked from Reddit with at least three upvotes then there’s a good chance that your site is in the OpenWebText dataset.

More information about OpenWebText is here.

Common Crawl

One of the most commonly used datasets for Internet content is offered by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Common Crawl data comes from a bot that crawls the entire Internet.

The data is downloaded by organizations wishing to use the data and then cleaned of spammy sites, etc.

The name of the Common Crawl bot is, CCBot.

CCBot obeys the robots.txt protocol so it is possible to block Common Crawl with Robots.txt and prevent your website data from making it into another dataset.

However, if your site has already been crawled then it’s likely already included in multiple datasets.

Nevertheless, by blocking Common Crawl it’s possible to opt out your website content from being included in new datasets sourced from newer Common Crawl data.

The CCBot User-Agent string is:

CCBot/2.0

Add the following to your robots.txt file to block the Common Crawl bot:

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

An additional way to confirm if a CCBot user agent is legit is that it crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also obeys the nofollow robots meta tag directives.

Use this in your robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

Blocking AI From Using Your Content

Search engines allow websites to opt out of being crawled. Common Crawl also allows opting out. But there is currently no way to remove one’s website content from existing datasets.

Furthermore, research scientists don’t seem to offer website publishers a way to opt out of being crawled.

The article, Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair? explores the topic of whether it’s even ethical to use website data without permission or a way to opt out.

Many publishers may appreciate it if in the near future, they are given more say on how their content is used, especially by AI products like ChatGPT.

Whether that will happen is unknown at this time.

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Featured image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio



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Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

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Google's Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.

While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.

The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.

What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke

The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.

He tweeted:

“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”

The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.

Here’s the background information about that.

Link Disavow Tool

In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.

I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.

Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.

The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.

Thousands of websites lost rankings.

SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.

So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.

Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:

“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.

If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.

Link Disavow Takes Months To Work

There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.

They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.

But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.

Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:

“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.

So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.

And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.

So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up

Context is important to understand what was said.

So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.

The SEO (SEOGuruJaipur) tweeted:

“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”

SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.

SEOGuruJaipur tweeted:

“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.

He tweeted:

“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.

It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.

They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:

“That’s all made up & irrelevant.

These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweeted a response:

“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”

Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services

A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.

That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.

It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero



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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked. 

Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.

But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm. 

Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.

Yandex vs Google

As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.

Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex. 

So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come. 

That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does. 

Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).

An early analysis of ranking factors

Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:

  • Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
  • Content relevance, age, and freshness.
  • Host reliability
  • End-user behavior signals.

Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points. 

These are all things that we already know.

But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.

Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.

You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.

The possible negative ranking factors:

Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting: 

FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings. 

FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important. 

FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this. 

FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.

FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.

FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.

FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most. 

FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.

The possible positive ranking factors:

FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.

FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.

FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.

FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.

This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors. 

CTR ranking factors from Yandex

It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.

Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.

FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.

FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.

Key Takeaway

Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to. 

Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.

These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy. 

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