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A Complete SEO Checklist for Website Owners

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A Complete SEO Checklist for Website Owners

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a broad discipline where it can be easy to get stuck or caught up in details.

Sure, the specifics matter – but a top-down approach with a comprehensive strategy to keep you on track is essential.

Whether you’re just starting out or are a Fortune 500 brand, you’ll find that an SEO plan that considers the full set of factors and ongoing updates will help you improve and grow.

So in this column, you’ll find a full checklist to help you craft an SEO strategy built for your unique needs. You’ll work through key considerations for:

  • Technical SEO.
  • On-page optimizations.
  • External factors.

You’ll want to keep these factors that make up a good website in mind, too. Have your content, UX, IT, and other marketing resources ready to join you on your SEO journey for the best possible outcomes.

Happy optimizing!

Technical SEO Cheat Sheet

Before focusing on the specific content that you want to rank in the search engines, you have to make sure that your site can be indexed and crawled.

This all falls into the category of technical SEO.

Free Reporting Platforms

Start off by making sure you have Google Search Console, Bing Webmaster Tools, Google Analytics, and Google Tag Manager tied into your site.

These tools all deliver great diagnostic and analytics data to help you along the way.

XML Sitemap

This is a table of contents for your website. The sitemap file is the modern way of “submitting” your pages to search engines.

Most website platforms have this built-in or have plugins/add-ons that will create a dynamic sitemap that stays in sync with the pages on your site.

At worst, you should at least have a static one that you can generate through a number of free tools.

Robots.txt

This file provides instructions to the search engines on what pages or parts of the site to not index. By default, the search engines will look at all the content they can find.

Even if you don’t want to restrict the search engines from indexing any pages on your site, make sure this file:

  • Is accurate.
  • Validates in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools.
  • Doesn’t accidentally block important content from being indexed (or your whole site).

See Best Practices for Setting Up Meta Robots Tags & Robots.txt to learn more.

Domains

If you own more than just your primary domain name, make sure you know what each of your additional domain names is doing. If they are parked and not in use, that’s fine.

If they redirect to your website, check to ensure that they 301 redirect to it (versus mirroring the site or doing a 302 redirect).

This could be a quick area to simply check and move on from, but don’t overlook it as it can cause issues with duplicate content and confusion over which domain name is the real one.

Site Architecture

The more hierarchy and structure you can build into your navigation and sections of your site, the better. This will benefit users and the search engines and present organized topics and content (more on that later).

Aim to get your directory structure and URLs to match the literal page and file structure of your site’s content.

Stepping back and mapping out your site structure or sitemap is a good starting point. This gets you to think about the content, how you prioritize certain aspects of your site, and how you want to funnel your users (as well as the search engines) through it.

Speed

We continue to see stats showing that users spend less and less time before bouncing.

The search engines have worked over the years to incorporate page speed into their ranking factors.

Look for ways to minimize the use of JavaScript and heavy loading pieces of code in your pages and find ways to cache or load elements externally.

There are some great developer tools that can help you identify the right areas to optimize in your own website to get your page load times to competitive levels.

See How to Improve Site Performance: 4 Speed Audit Quick Wins for more.

Mobile-Friendly

It’s a given that we have to be mobile-friendly. However, even if you built your site in a mobile framework like responsive design, it’s important to make sure that it actually validates.

Be sure to run it through Google’s mobile-friendly test.

Also, do as much user experience (UX) and quality assurance (QA) testing as possible to make sure it truly works for your users on all devices you anticipate them using.

404 Pages

Don’t forget to create a custom 404 page and put helpful information on it. You don’t want to lose a visitor to your site by having a default browser error come up.

You should create a 404 page that includes helpful links, navigation, site search functionality, and contact options.

SSL

Much like mobile-friendly and site speed needs, having a secure site is important.

If your website isn’t under an SSL, you may lose users before they even get to your site when they see a security warning in Chrome or other browsers.

Instill trust in your website by taking the typically simple step of implementing an SSL certification on your site.

Plugins, Add-ons, Or Extensions

If you’re using a content management system, chances are that you are already using plugins or other code extensions that you trust.

Most platforms have tools that you can add to your site that provide additional control over SEO and analytics functions.

Whether these are WordPress SEO plugins or others for Drupal, Magento, etc., you should watch for trusted plugins, extensions, or add-ons that give you maximum control and functionality.

Core Web Vitals

Core Web Vitals is a category of additional technical page factors that now matter to Google.

These ranking factors are in addition to the Page Experience factors like mobile-friendliness and page speed. These page experience factors can definitely take you down a path into detailed coding and IT areas.

Be sure to do your research to learn about CWV. If you’re not the person responsible for the technical implementation of updates to optimize for LCP, FID, and CLS, then prepare your compelling case why they matter to SEO and bring the information to the team members you’ll rely on for implementing.

Pre-existing Issues

Do you have baggage from a previous site or old, outdated SEO tactics?

Or, maybe you have a legitimate reason for having duplicate content all over your site and the web.

Knowing what you’re facing is important before you get into on-page optimization.

If you have multiple duplicate pages, for a good reason, you’ll want to consider a canonical strategy or how you want to use robots instructions for indexing.

This is important to be aware of and sort out before you invest time and effort into page-level optimization.

Copyscape and Screaming Frog are among my favorite tools for finding duplication and analyzing content before digging into on-page SEO.

On-Page SEO Cheat Sheet

Most people tend to think about on-page factors (e.g., keywords, content, title tags) whenever SEO is mentioned. However, the days of optimizing just single parts of pages or websites as a strategy are gone.

The search engines care about context way more than keywords, so don’t be tempted to just update meta tags or body copy and move on.

The way we build context is in all of the on-page elements within a page and then thinking about how pages relate to each other within sections and navigation of the site.

Keywords & Topics

Before you can really focus on building context, you have to know what you want to build it for.

If you haven’t done keyword research or broader research on your target audiences, you’ll need to pause here and take some time to learn what topics and phrases your audience will use to find your website.

Remember that the days of stuffing terms into page copy or tags are long gone.

We have to use SEO tools to uncover the right terms, phrases, and topics that align with what we do. From there, we can drill down into individual words to apply within the site architecture.

Basically, you need to know the terms that matter, map them to your content, and then get to work on the rest of the on-page factors list to follow.

Content

Content is necessary to show relevancy.

If you have few words and aspects to your website it is hard to compete with sites that are robust and full of content. More isn’t always better as high quality definitely beats high quantity.

But, if you can achieve both, you’ll be in an even better place.

Rich content written for users that resonates with them and is clear to the search engines is where you win. Don’t be tempted to use outdated tactics that will harm the user experience and put you at risk with the search engines.

See Why Content Is Important for SEO for tips.

URL

This is the first element of a page and one that is sometimes overlooked. The search engines can index ugly, faceted URLs just fine.

However, the URL is an opportunity to present a clean directory structure that includes keywords and context as to what the page is about.

Don’t miss the opportunity to customize the URL paths.

Title

Again, the title tag alone is not going to do much for you. However, you need to have a relevant, unique tag for each page.

Be mindful of best practices for length and the keywords that are most relevant to the page topic and write and implement static tags or ensure that you have dynamic formulas in place to populate the title.

Meta Description

Like the title tag, we need to have a custom and topically relevant meta description for each page.

Whether static or dynamic, make sure it is helpful to the user, contains keywords relevant to the content, and helps build context with the title tag.

Headings

Heading or “H” tags are debated in importance for SEO. Again, I’m not focused on a single element, but how all elements work in concert to build context.

If you can use heading tags, do so in an organized fashion and make sure they use keywords that are relevant. Try to use just one H1 tag and have it be the first.

Often website platforms or developers use these for CSS purposes so you might have no H1 tag on a page and a bunch of H6 tags. Be mindful of these and how they are woven into your code and content.

Body Copy

While much of the old school focus on latent semantic indexing, keyword density, and formulas for how many times words need to appear on a page is obsolete, you can’t ignore the fact that body copy on the page often accounts for the biggest block of indexable content.

Don’t skip out on including your focus keywords in the body copy as you need to tie into the context you’re building in the other areas up to this point.

However, don’t obsess over using a keyword 37 times. Do what’s natural and focus on the bigger picture and you’ll be in good shape.

Image Alt Attributes

One of the biggest red flags I get in results from accessibility and on-page auditing reporting tools is missing alt text. Alt text is helpful for search engines to understand what an image is about.

This is another opportunity to work keywords into a page. Plus, you need to consider those in your audience who may be using a screen-reader and ensuring that your site is fully accessible.

Structured Data

While not necessarily a direct ranking factor – Schema.org markup goes right to the heart of building context.

Using the appropriate structured data markup for your website content can help provide another cue to the search engines as to what segment or category your subject matter is in.

If your website platform doesn’t have an easy way to add this and if it is a big line item in terms of cost or time, put it at the back of the line behind the items noted above.

However, keep it on your radar.

External SEO Factors

This is the bonus section.

External factors are things that you can’t control on your website and don’t necessarily fall into a checklist.

However, I’d be remiss if I painted a picture that all you need to do are the indexing and on-page things and that you’re going to rise to the top of the search engines.

On-page factors influence relevance and trust of your content to the search engines. External factors influence your “authority” status and validate your site as the subject matter expert.

Links

Inbound links (a.k.a. backlinks) to your website from credible and authoritative websites play a huge role in SEO. Also important are unlinked brand mentions (a.k.a. citations) and how much your website is talked about on the web.

There’s a lot to be said about creating great content that people naturally want to link to.

To supplement your awesome content, it doesn’t hurt to look for great sources of quality links through natural relationships, accreditation, and possible traffic sources in your industry.

You want to focus your efforts on quality sources that are relevant to your subject matter – and never pay for a link in a way that violates the search engines’ respective guidelines.

Local Search

If you have a physical or service-based business, local directory and search site citations are key.

While claiming and properly owning your listing helps protect your brand at a basic level, you need to make sure your name, address, and phone number (NAP data) are accurate and consistent across all local and social directory listing sites that are relevant.

There’s an entire local directory ecosystem and if you can at least tackle NAP data, you’ll build a good foundation.

Social Media

Social media can also enhance your SEO (and other digital marketing) efforts, even if it won’t directly impact your rankings.

Ensuring that your website links to your owned and active social media accounts and vice versa is an important first step.

Beyond that, you need to ensure that your level of engagement is on par with your high-ranking peers. This is a relative scale, but by understanding what your competition is doing you can ensure that the SEO aspect of social is covered.

Conclusion

I hope this checklist helps you optimize your website. By making improvements to your website’s technical and on-page SEO, you will help Google find and index your content.

As you continue to optimize your website, keep an eye on your organic search traffic in Google Analytics to see the results of your changes.

More resources:


Featured Image: E.F.S/Shutterstock




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ChatGPT To Surface Reddit Content Via Partnership With OpenAI

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Reddit partners with OpenAI to integrate content into ChatGPT.

  • Reddit and OpenAI announce a partnership.
  • Reddit content will be used in ChatGPT.
  • Concerns about accuracy of Reddit user-generated content.

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SEO

All You Need to Know

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All You Need to Know

SEO tracking involves regularly checking a set of metrics to evaluate a website’s performance in search engine results. Some of the most widely adopted metrics include keyword rankings, organic traffic, conversions, and referring domain growth.

Tracking the right metrics is crucial for SEO (search engine optimization) success. You need them to analyze your SEO performance, report to stakeholders, and take the right kind of action to improve your site’s visibility (such as improving content or building more backlinks).

Besides keeping an eye on your own website’s key metrics, it’s also smart to check out how your competitors are doing on the same metrics as you. If you notice they’re getting good results, you can figure out what tactics they’re using and consider using them too.

You can track SEO for your site to a fair degree using free tools like Google Search Console or Ahrefs Webmaster Tools. If you want deeper insights, better data, and the ability to analyze your competitors’ websites, you’ll need a tool like Ahrefs.

This guide is aimed at getting you started with tracking your SEO progress the right way. We’ll cover:

  • What metrics are worth tracking in SEO.
  • How to set up the tools to get the data you need.
  • How to track your competitors.
  • How to go a step further and build an SEO report.

While there are numerous metrics and KPIs you could track, it’s not necessary to monitor all of them continuously. You really just need these seven key metrics to effectively gauge whether your SEO efforts are working.

1. Keyword rankings

Keyword ranking refers to where your page shows up on the search engine results page (SERP) for a specific keyword. It’s like a spot on a list, and you want your page to be as high up on that list as possible — the higher the spot, the more visitors you can attract.

A typical relationship between position and traffic. Traffic drops dramatically with every position in the SERPs.

It’s important to keep an eye on where your keywords are ranking because if they drop lower on the list, your website might get fewer visitors. But you don’t have to watch the rankings for every single keyword, just the main ones that matter most for your key pages.

Also, if you notice your rankings are climbing higher, that’s a good sign. It means that your SEO efforts are paying off.

How to track keyword rankings

To track your keyword rankings, it’s best to use a rank tracker tool like Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker; a tool that allows you to create a list of keywords and automatically monitor their positions in the SERPs for different locations, both for mobile and desktop.

Rank Tracker will suggest keywords for tracking when you set up a new project. Just make sure you’re tracking them in the locations you want to rank (that is, countries where you can serve clients and languages in which you create content).

Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs.Adding keywords to track in Ahrefs.

No need to add each and every keyword from that list. Just add the ones that are important to you and you’ll likely want to track and improve. Typically, you’ll want to track target keywords — the main topic of the page and the main keyword you optimize for.

Once added, you can see your keywords in Rank Tracker’s Overview report.

Overview of tracked keywords in Ahrefs.Overview of tracked keywords in Ahrefs.

Another way to start tracking keywords is to hit Add keywords in the top right corner — best for adding single keywords or importing a list from a document.

Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.

And once data starts rolling in, you will be able to see your ranking progress in time. In the screenshot below, the Ranking history report with a quick insight into recent ranking history and a full ranking history graph.

Ranking history in Ahrefs.Ranking history in Ahrefs.

Why do you need an SEO tool in the first place?

Google’s search results are personalized based on things like your location, browsing history, language, and device.

So when you check the SERPs manually, you might see results that are tailored specifically to you, which might not reflect the more general or widespread rankings.

2. Share of voice

Share of voice (SOV) is a measure of how many clicks your website gets from search engines compared to the total number of clicks available for the keywords you’re tracking.

The higher your rankings, the higher your Share of Voice, and the larger your slice of the market pie.

SOV is a one-of-a-kind metric because of two things:

  • It considers your performance in context to your competitors, giving you a more accurate picture of where you stand in your industry.
  • It doesn’t take into account the search volume of keywords with all of their fluctuations. If you see that your traffic has gone down but your Share of Voice (SOV) remains high, it suggests that the lower traffic is because the keywords you’re targeting have become less popular overall, rather than a decrease in the effectiveness of your SEO strategies.

How to track share of voice

The share of voice metric is another reason to get a rank tracking tool. If the feature is supported, these kinds of tools calculate the metric automatically, so there’s no need to keep a spreadsheet with manually tracked numbers.

In Ahrefs’s Rank Tracker, you’ll find SOV under the Competitors tab.

SOV metric in Ahrefs. SOV metric in Ahrefs.

SOV is calculated by taking all of the tracked keywords into account, yet some of your keywords might be more important than others. If that’s the case, you can track SOV only for a certain topic, SEO campaigns, specific authors, etc. Just select a set of keywords and assign a tag for them.

Adding tags in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Adding tags in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.

Then, simply select that tag in the Competitors report.

Competitors overview in Rank Tracker. Competitors overview in Rank Tracker.

3. Organic traffic

Organic traffic is basically the number of clicks that come to your website from people finding it through Google. If your website shows up higher on the SERPs, usually more people will click on it and visit your site.

Keeping track of how many visitors come to your site from search engines helps you understand if what you’re doing with SEO is actually working. If you see more visitors over time, your SEO efforts are paying off.

Organic traffic is the pinnacle of SEO, but it’s also important to understand which keywords drive that traffic. So although it’s arguably the most important metric, it’s never a good idea to track this metric alone.

How to track organic traffic

There are basically two ways to track organic traffic: through Google Search Console (and integrations) and through SEO tools.

In terms of raw organic traffic from Google Search, the most accurate data will likely come from their Search Console (for Bing, that would be Webmaster Tools). You can view this data right inside the tool or integrate it with analytics tools like Google Analytics, Hubspot, and Ahrefs for more convenience.

Performance report in GSC.Performance report in GSC.
GSC integration in Ahrefs. GSC integration in Ahrefs.
The cool thing about using Ahrefs for your GSC data is using weekly and monthly data to see spot trends easier.

Raw traffic data is useful for getting a quick snapshot of your current performance, tracking growth trends, and calculating traffic growth for your reports.

But to dive a bit deeper into your organic traffic data, you might want to use a tool like Ahrefs’ Site Explorer because it makes it easier to analyze performance. Here are a few ways you can use the Overview and Top pages report in that tool.

Overlay competitor data on top for a quick performance analysis.

Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.
Organic traffic comparison of fours sites on one graph.

Overlay organic pages to see how adding new content correlates with traffic.

Clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic. Clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic.
In this example, we see a clear correlation between the number of published organic pages and organic traffic (a sign of effective SEO).

See performance in a year-over-year comparison to gauge the impact of long-term projects.

In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.
In this example, a long-term content project allowed for the reclaiming of lost traffic from 2020.

Use daily traffic chart to pinpoint the exact day when a traffic increase or decline happened (for instance, due to a Google core update).

Organic traffic affected by Google core update. Organic traffic affected by Google core update.

Identify pages that account for the biggest traffic losses and improve them. You’ll find this in the Top pages report inside Site Explorer.

Top pages report in Ahrefs.Top pages report in Ahrefs.

4. Conversions

Conversions measure how effectively your content translates into tangible results, like profits, content downloads, free trial sign-ups, or any other user action valuable to your business that indicates you’re dealing with a potential customer.

Conversions from organic visits to paid customers are typically hard to measure since this comes down to measuring the ROI of content, which is complicated in itself. However, when we asked marketers about this metric, we found a few interesting ways to solve that problem. For your inspiration, here’s what they measure:

  • Conversion as revenue/signups correlation with traffic. This metric assumes that more website visitors increase your chances of turning them into subscribers or buyers.
  • Conversion growth from bottom-funnel content. Content aimed at users who are on the brink of purchasing can greatly boost sales because it provides that last bit of persuasion they need to complete a purchase.
  • Conversion from first page to paying customer. If the first page a visitor lands on leads to a sale, it’s a clear sign that your content is doing its job effectively.

How to track conversions

Conversions are usually tracked with website analytics tools like Google Analytics 4 (GA 4) or Matomo. They always require a custom setup for each website you want to track, but it’s not an overly complicated process.

For example, in GA4, conversions are called “key events” and are based on tracking user interaction. If a specific event takes place, such as a purchase, a file download, or a form completion, the tool records this as a conversion.

To set up conversion tracking in GA4 you first need to create an event that will be counted as conversion and mark it a key event in the Admin panel of your site (aka property).

Key events control panel in GA4.Key events control panel in GA4.

Then, to see conversion from the organic traffic channel (the channel you’re optimizing with SEO), go to the Advertising panel.

Advertising panel in GA4.Advertising panel in GA4.

Here are a few ideas to use this report:

  • See how many and which key events were driven by organic search in the last month or quarter.
  • See how organic traffic stacks up to other acquisition channels.
  • See the share of organic traffic for events with longer conversion paths (the attribution paths tab).

For more information about how to properly set up GA4 for conversion tracking, see this guide.

5. Referring domain growth

Referring domains are essentially the individual websites that link back to your website. By monitoring these, you get a clear picture of how your link profile is expanding over time.

As your link profile grows with more quality links from diverse domains, it helps to build your site’s authority. This authority is crucial because search engines use it as one of the key factors to determine where your pages should rank in search results.

Essentially, the more authoritative your site becomes, the higher your pages are likely to rank and the harder it becomes for others to outrank you.

How to track referring domain growth

Here’s how to track referring domain growth using Ahrefs.

  • Set up a project (if you haven’t done so yet) and go to your Dashboard.
  • Click on the Backlinks card, which gives you a quick insight into backlinks growth.
  • Click on the card to get more data (if you need it).
Referring domains overview in Ahrefs Site Audit.Referring domains overview in Ahrefs Site Audit.
Referring domains report in Ahrefs Site Audit. Referring domains report in Ahrefs Site Audit.

Aim to build as many or ideally more links from unique domains than your competitors to increase your chances for ranking. Read our link-building guide to learn how:

6. Technical SEO issues

Technical SEO issues, often referred to as SEO health issues, encompass a range of potential hiccups that can hinder Google from effectively finding, crawling, and indexing your website. If Google struggles with any of these steps, your site might not show up correctly — or at all — in search results.

There are eight types of SEO issues you should keep a close eye on because they can impact your ranking the most:

Besides these issues, there are more than 100 other possible issues related to less important technical SEO factors and on-page SEO. I won’t cover all of them here since you can learn what they are and how to fix them right inside Ahrefs.

How to track technical SEO issues (aka SEO health)

Use Ahrefs’ Site Audit (free in Ahrefs Webmaster Tools) to monitor for serious technical issues, marked in the tool as “errors”.

  • Open Site Audit tool inside Ahrefs.
Where to find Site Audit in Ahrefs. Where to find Site Audit in Ahrefs.
  • Click on Errors in the “Issues distribution” card.
Issues distribution in Ahrefs. Issues distribution in Ahrefs.
  • Go to the issue list, then click on the question mark next to the error and follow the instructions.
All issues report in Ahrefs. All issues report in Ahrefs.

To keep your site in good SEO health, schedule regular crawls in Site Audit and fix the most pressing issues.

Note

Before we wrap up this section, here are some other popular metrics and why they haven’t made our list of recommended metrics to track regularly (although they may be useful for other things).

  • Domain Rating (DR). This metric indicates the overall strength of your website’s backlink profile. It’s a handy measure for quickly assessing other websites, particularly for link building purposes. However, it’s not the best metric for ongoing monitoring of your own site since it doesn’t provide specific actionable insights.
  • Click-through Rate (CTR). This measures the percentage of impressions on SERPs that result in clicks, and this data is accessible through Google Search Console. While CTR can be confusing as a metric for the entire site, it proves useful when analyzed at the individual page level.
  • Engagement metrics – Metrics such as bounce rate, engagement rate, dwell time, time on page, and session duration are often discussed in the context of SEO. However, they are either not directly relevant to SEO effectiveness or are unreliable for content analysis.

There are three ways you can track competitors using SEO tools.

  • Track competitors’ rankings for benchmarking.
  • Track multiple metrics for a portfolio of pages.
  • Monitor for noteworthy events: new keywords, backlinks and brand mentions.

Let’s look at them in more detail.

How to track competitors’ keyword rankings

To track your competitors’ rankings, use a rank tracking tool that allows you to automatically monitor their positions on the keywords you target yourself. So whenever you add keywords you want to target in your strategy, the tool will track both your and your competitors’ rank for that keyword.

In Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker all you need to do is set add your competitors’ URLs (you can track entire domains or specific directories). You can do it as soon as setting up your project or add them later on in the Competitors section.

Competitors overview report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker. Competitors overview report in Ahrefs Rank Tracker.

You can use competitor ranking data to:

  • Improve the pages where your competitors outrank you to gain more SOV.
  • Set goals and benchmarks.
  • Compare historical rankings to your performance over time.
  • Quickly see the competitive landscape; see how well you’re doing compared to competitors.
  • See how much more traffic you could gain if you outranked competitors.

How to track multiple metrics for a portfolio of pages

You can also track more than just rankings. Using the Portfolios feature in Ahrefs, you can monitor key metrics such as traffic growth and the increase in referring domains for multiple competitors all at once to analyze their overall SEO performance.

Portfolios feature in Ahrefs. Portfolios feature in Ahrefs.

You can use this feature to monitor specific pages on your competitors’ sites (such as topics on a blog) or combine all your competitors’ sites to see how your entire niche performs in organic search.

To create a portfolio in Ahrefs, go to the Dashboard and click New > Portfolio, then fill in the URLs you want to track.

How to create a new portfolio in Ahrefs.How to create a new portfolio in Ahrefs.

Tip

This feature is especially useful if you’re managing SEO for multiple clients — you can track their entire portfolio as one.

It’s also handy if you have multiple authors on your content team; for example, you can track all articles written by a particular author or keep tabs on all guest and freelance posts.

How to track competitors’ new keywords, backlinks, and web mentions

The final method of tracking your competitors allows you to get email alerts when a competitor:

  • Ranks for a new keyword. Useful for getting content ideas from your competitors’ new content.
  • Rise and fall in keyword rankings. For example, if you see an important keyword suddenly climbing into the top 3, that means your competitor is doing something right, and it’s worth investigating. It’s worth noting that this feature scans, all of the keywords, the site ranks for and not only the ones you track, so it gives you a much wider scope.
  • Gain or lose backlinks. Both situations are potential link building opportunities.
  • Their brand or product is mentioned online. So, when a competitor gets featured in a review, ranking, or digital PR, you can add that site to your list of link building/PR prospects.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.
Example keyword alert delivered by mail.

To set it up:

  1. Go to Ahrefs Alerts (in the More dropdown menu)
  2. Choose the type of Alert you want to set up.
  3. Click New alert or choose from one of the projects and fill out the details. In case of the mentions alerts, see our documentation to take advantage of advanced queries.
How to add a new keywords alert. How to add a new keywords alert.

Tip

You can also set this feature for your own website. Since Ahrefs Alerts monitors all keywords you rank for, you’ll know if any of your keywords suddenly rise or fall in rankings. 

This is especially useful to spot important keywords you haven’t yet added to Rank Tracker.

If you’re doing SEO for someone else, at some point, you will need to put all of those metrics in a report.

In some cases, it may be enough to show the raw data with a few sentences of commentary. This is true in in-house environments when you’re reporting to someone who can interpret the data themselves, especially if you’ve worked with them for a long time.

But if you’re reporting for a client, raw numbers won’t be enough. Additionally, you will need at least these three elements:

  • Executive summary: Summarizes the entire report, focusing on major points and outcomes for quick reading by senior stakeholders.
  • Opportunities for improvement: Identifies potential areas for SEO enhancements.
  • Roadmap: Outlines past achievements and future steps in the SEO strategy.

It’s also important how to report data for your and your stakeholders understanding and convenience. For instance, many clients require a live interactive dashboard with all the data available at all times (similar to these Ahrefs templates for Looker Studio).

Example of an live reporting dashboard with SEO data. Example of an live reporting dashboard with SEO data.

Others prefer a document where everything is laid out in layman’s terms — they appreciate the data but they don’t really want to deal with it.

Excerpt from an SEO reporting template. Excerpt from an SEO reporting template.

We’ve put together some resources, including a template, to help you quickly and efficiently create a solid report:

Final thoughts

A few tips before we wrap this up:

Got questions or comments? Let me know on X or LinkedIn.



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14 Ways to Use AI for Better, Faster SEO

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14 Ways to Use AI for Better, Faster SEO

AI can make your SEO efforts faster, better, and more fun—if you know how to use it.

Here are 14 practical ways to get faster, more efficient SEO results with help from your robot overlords friends.

To use AI in the best way (and avoid the mistakes many people make), it helps to understand what we mean when we talk about “AI”. Here’s everything you need to know about AI, in under 60 seconds:

With those ideas lodged in your brain, let’s look at how you can use AI tools for faster, better SEO.

AI is great for brainstorming keyword ideas and helping you to understand precisely what searchers need when they search for a particular keyword.

Suggest seed keywords

“Seed” keywords are words and phrases related to your business that you can use as the starting point for keyword research.

Pick a starting topic and ask AI to suggest related keywords: sub-topics, questions, similar concepts, you name it.

Take your list of ideas, plug them into a keyword research tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer, and you can quickly see the estimated traffic potential and Keyword Difficulty for each of these terms:

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Not all of these seed keywords will have meaningful volume, but that’s okay. Switch to the Matching terms or Related terms tabs, and you’ll see hundreds more related keywords that do:

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You can even skip the ChatGPT part entirely and use the built-in AI suggestion feature in Keywords Explorer:

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Here, our AI copilot has brainstormed “subtopics and niche areas” related to our core topic, content strategy:

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Sidenote.

Don’t trust any volume or difficulty numbers AI gives you. Tools like ChatGPT don’t have access to actual keyword data—but they can hallucinate and make numbers up. If you want real data, you’ll need a keyword research tool like Ahrefs.

Analyze SERP intent

AI can help you understand the different types of search intent present in a particular SERP (search engine results page).

This can be useful for working out which type of content you need to create to match the dominant intent (do searchers want an informational guide, or a free tool?).

In the example below, I copy/pasted page titles from the SERP for the keyword “LLM” and asked ChatGPT to categorize them by the different intent types present:

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After a little cajoling and refining, ChatGPT grouped the titles into a few different categories, like definitional (explaining what an LLM is) and comparative (comparing different types of AI models):

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You can take this process to the next level with the Identify intents feature in Ahrefs. For your given keyword, scroll to the SERP overview report, and hit the “Identify intents” button:

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This has the benefit of also showing you the percentage of total estimated traffic each intent receives.

In this example, with 82% of traffic, it makes sense to target the keyword “llm” with a definitional article about LLMs, and ignore the lower traffic intent associated with LLM degree programs.

AI can be used to pump out complete articles, but you’ll get better results—and have less risk of a Google penalty—if you use it like a creative sparring partner for your content creation process.

Brainstorm titles and headers

Titles and headers have a crucial indirect role in SEO by encouraging readers to actually click and read through your content. AI can dramatically speed up the process of brainstorming titles and headers.

Here, I’ve pasted the content of my latest blog post into ChatGPT and asked it to suggest title ideas:

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I generally don’t use these ideas verbatim, but ChatGPT regularly generates words or phrases that make their way into my finished titles.

You can also use our free blog post title generator in the same way. Just describe your topic, choose the writing tone, and hit “generate”:

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You can modify and create new ideas at the click of a button:

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Check grammar

AI is great for checking writing for grammar mistakes. Here, I’ve pasted an article paragraph into our free AI grammar checker

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…and a moment later, AI has flagged two possible issues for me to resolve:

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Edit transcripts

Maybe you’ve interviewed an expert and want to add their quotes and experience into your search content. Or maybe your team has created a YouTube video that you’d like to repurpose into a keyword-targeted article.

In either case, you can use AI to tidy up and correctly format transcripts, making it much easier to pull out quotes and ideas.

In this example, I’ve asked ChatGPT to correct a free (and error-prone) transcript from a YouTube video:

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And here’s the edited version, complete with correctly capitalized brand names, removed typos, and grammatically correct punctuation:

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SEO is a never-ending process, and AI can be a useful tool for speeding up some of the ongoing optimization tasks you’ll need to make to keep your pages ranking.

Add missing topics

One way to improve search content’s performance is to ensure that it includes important information that the searcher needs. Common sense can be a useful guide, asking yourself “which topics am I missing?”—but AI can help automate the process too.

Ahrefs’ new experimental Content Grader tool uses AI to automatically analyze the top-ranking articles for a particular keyword, identify the topics present, and score them according to how well they cover the topic.

Here’s an example for the keyword programmatic seo, comparing the content of my article to the content of other top-ranking pieces. We can immediately see a couple of missing topic areas:

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Content Grader can even explain how you should address the topic gap, and share an example from another top-ranking article:

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Write meta descriptions

Good meta descriptions encourage searchers to click on your pages, but Google has a tendency to change and rewrite even the most carefully-crafted meta descriptions.

If you want to generate lots of meta descriptions without sinking tons of time into the process, AI is pretty perfect. Here’s our free AI meta description generator: just describe the contents of your page, choose a writing tone and the number of variations you’d like, and hit generate.

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And here are the outputs:

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Make content more helpful

Aleyda Solis created a custom GPT (a specially trained AI model) that reviews content according to Google’s helpful content guidelines.

While I don’t think it’s a replacement for the skilled judgment of a professional SEO, it can offer a quick, automated way to pinpoint obvious problems with content.

Here I’ve asked it to compare my article on programmatic SEO to a competing article:

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It’s easy to mess up certain parts of technical SEO, like schema or hreflang implementation. From my experience, AI is better and more reliable than I am in these areas.

Create schema markup

Adding schema markup to relevant content types (like recipes or reviews) can help your pages become eligible for Rich Results, special Google features that include a ton of extra data about your content.

Here, I’ve asked for recipe schema for a chicken soup recipe. With a couple of tweaks (like adding in the recipe author), I could add this to my page and become eligible for rich results (and most likely more clicks):

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Generate hreflang

Hreflang is an HTML attribute that tells search engines about the multiple versions of a page for different languages or regions. Here, ChatGPT has written the hreflang tags for four different versions of my blog post:

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AI is great at helping with these analytical and reporting tasks, from digging through performance data to see which tactics work, to sharing your findings in easy-to-communicate ways with your company or clients.

Of all the AI/SEO use cases I’ve covered, these are probably my favorite.

Constructing regex queries

Regular expressions (or regex) allow you to search within text and data for patterns that are otherwise difficult to spot. They can be pretty complicated, but AI is extremely good at writing and troubleshooting very complex queries for you.

Here’s ChatGPT helping me extract URLs from a list of email addresses, combining regex queries with a Google Sheets formula:

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And here it’s helping me filter a spreadsheet of URLs by their crawl depth:

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And here it’s written a query to use with Ahrefs Site Audit to help me filter out localized content (pages that have country codes, like /de/ for Germany, somewhere in their URL):

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Making Google Sheets formula

SEOs spend a lot of time in spreadsheets, often wrangling lots of data with complicated formulas. ChatGPT can make this process much, much easier.

Here I’ve described the structure of an article reporting spreadsheet to ChatGPT, and asked for a very complicated formula to allow me to filter for certain types of published articles. It doesn’t even break a sweat:

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It’s also great for troubleshooting when things go wrong:

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Writing Python scripts

Python is a popular language for automating SEO processes. Generative AI is pretty darn handy at writing and troubleshooting Python code, and I’ve used it to help speed up some of my SEO processes.

Here, I asked AI to create a basic web scraper for storing data from a given webpage:

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And here I asked for help writing a script to call the Ahrefs API and collect bulk traffic and backlink data for a list of websites:

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And yes—both of these scripts worked!

Vizualize performance data

All of the visuals in this section were created with ChatGPT, Ahrefs data, and a little know-how.

For longer explanations (and the prompts used to make these visualizations), check out Patrick’s article:

Here’s a graph of organic traffic over time, with traffic anomalies (usually Google updates) highlighted:

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Here’s a plot comparing desktop and mobile rankings for a selection of keywords:

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And here’s a chart showing seasonal patterns in backlink acquisition:

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AI can help you do SEO, but it’s also changing the industry as a whole. There are lots of myths circulating about the impact of AI. Let’s address the biggest, head-on.

Does Google penalize AI content?

No, not strictly speaking. Google penalizes bad content, and AI makes it easy to make bad content.

Some companies use AI to dramatically scale and automate their content creation. When this content is thin, there’s a chance that Google will issue a manual spam penalty. In this example, a site used AI to publish 1,800 thin articles and received a penalty, tanking their traffic to virtually zero:

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As I’ve written before,

“I don’t think that publishing AI content means an automatic penalty. AI content detectors don’t work, and even if they did, Google is apparently agnostic to AI use—but it is not agnostic to bad content or bad actors. And AI makes it very easy to make bad content.”

Ryan LawRyan Law

It’s a good idea to use AI to improve the efficiency or quality of your content, but not to pump out thin spam content.

Is Google losing market share to AI?

It doesn’t look like it.

Google has always been the main search engine SEOs care about, and in the age of AI… that hasn’t really changed. According to Statcounter, Google’s market share has held relatively steady at a staggering 91%:

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But although Google’s dominance over the search market is pretty unchallenged, there are more alternatives than ever. These are useful for seeing where Google might take inspiration and improve its own search experience in the future:

  • Competing search engines are offering their own AI features (like Bing or our Yep.com).
  • Companies like Perplexity.ai offer an alternative search experience built entirely on AI models
  • Some people are even building their own AI chatbots trained on specific bodies of work—instead of asking Google for health and fitness advice, you could ask a chatbot trained on the Huberman Labs podcast.

Will SGE reduce traffic from certain keywords?

Maybe.

Google has just launched AI Overviews (formerly known as Search Generative Experience, or SGE). AI Overviews seem to work a lot like featured snippets: they try to answer the searcher’s query directly, right there in the SERP, without the need to click on another website.

There’s a concern that many websites will see a decline in search traffic from AI Overviews, and some SEOs even suggest trying to optimize your content for AI Overviews.

While we wait to see what impact AI Overviews has on traffic from Google Search, the best response is to focus on topics that can’t be neatly summarized in a single paragraph.

We call these “deep topics”: areas where AI can’t provide everything the reader needs, because there are lots of possible answers, or it requires firsthand experience.

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Does Google reward first-person experience?

Theoretically, yes.

Google already has a plan for stopping SERPs from being swamped by copycat AI content, and it involves prioritizing content that includes EEAT: expertise, experience, authority, and trust:

 

“There are some situations where really what you value most is content produced by someone who has first-hand, life experience on the topic at hand.”

EEAT is used by Google’s Quality Raters, whose experiences may be used to train Google’s machine learning models to help them identify “quality” content.

But Google aside, EEAT is great for readers, so it’s worth incorporating into your SEO strategy even if you won’t see an immediate ranking boost. There are three simple ways we recommend standing out from AI content:

  • Experimentation: create proprietary data.
  • Experience: share your real, lived experiences.
  • Effort: go further than competing content.
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Final thoughts

SEO isn’t something that can be automated to perfection at the click of a button (and any tool that promises otherwise is lying). But AI can help speed up and improve the more tedious parts of your job.

If you want to test out some AI tools in the easiest possible way, try experimenting with our 40 free AI writing tools. They can help with everything from writing clickable titles to generating tons of meta descriptions, and help you separate AI fact from AI fiction.

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