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Are Internal Links A Ranking Factor?

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Are Internal Links A Ranking Factor?

You hear about internal links all the time. But how important are they?

Do internal links affect search rankings, and if so, how can you best optimize them for SEO?

That is what we will explore by diving into Google Search Central, patents, tweets, and office hour videos.

The Claim: Internal Links As A Ranking Factor

What are internal links?

Internal links are simply hypertext links connecting two pages on the same domain. For example:

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  • A link from one Search Engine Journal article to another within the searchenginejournal.com domain would be an internal link.
  • A link from a Search Engine Journal article to an article on Google Search Central would be an external link.

Peruse articles from the top SEO blogs and experienced marketers. You will likely find advice on properly optimizing internal links to increase visibility for your key pages in search results. For example:

[Recommended Read:] Google Ranking Factors: Fact or Fiction

The Evidence For Internal Links As A Ranking Factor

Google’s page on How Search Works explains how links help Google discover new content.

“Because the web and other content is constantly changing, our crawling processes are always running to keep up. They learn how often content they’ve seen before seems to change and revisit as needed. They also discover new content as new links to those pages or information appear.”

In 2017, Gary Illyes, Chief of Sunshine and Happiness at Google, was asked if breadcrumb navigation links passed value. His response:

“We like them. We treat them as normal links in, e.g., PageRank computation.”

It sounds like he confirmed that internal links could influence a page’s performance in search results.

Does Google look at the anchor text of internal links? John Mueller, Search Advocate at Google,  tweeted a response to this question later in 2017:

“Most links do provide a bit of additional context through their anchor text. At least they should, right‽”

During a Google Webmaster Central Office Hours Hangout in 2018, Mueller was asked if updating the anchor text of internal links to help users could affect rankings.

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He responded that if you were making the anchor text more useful to users, it would also be more beneficial for search engine crawlers.

Later in 2018, when asked about ranking changes related to mobile-first indexing, Mueller stated, “…if your mobile site doesn’t have all of the content you need for ranking (including internal links, images, etc.), then that could have an effect.”

On Twitter, in response to a question about the results of a Lighthouse audit in 2020, Mueller said, “…internal links with useful anchor text help users, and they help search engines.”

In a Google Webmaster Central Office Hours later in 2020, Mueller was asked how internal linking would work for two pages about cheese on the same website. He noted that there didn’t need to be a change to the anchor text that separated a page to buy cheese from a guide to cheeses.

In 2021, during Google SEO Office Hours, Mueller discussed how Google might choose a website’s homepage, category page, or other pages as the most relevant for a specific keyword search result.

He suggests you use internal linking to let Google know the most important pages on a website. For example, if you have one more important product to your business than others, link to that product specifically from your homepage and other essential pages throughout your website.

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This would help Google recognize that one product is more important than the others on the site.

Mueller answered another question about internal links in 2021. Are internal links diluted if you use too many on a page?

Mueller’s response ultimately boiled down to site structure. If Google can still understand the site structure and see the differentiation in the importance of some pages over others, then the number of internal links is acceptable. He gives a similar answer to this question again in 2022.

In 2022, Mueller was asked if placing a link in a header, footer, or content makes a difference. He responded that it didn’t mean anything. He answered similar questions during future office hours.

Later, in March 2022, Mueller was asked if internal links are still crucial to SEO if structured data for breadcrumbs are present. He states that “…internal linking is super critical to SEO.” He calls it one of the biggest things you can do on a website to guide Google to your most important content.

The evidence is pretty straightforward. Internal links help people and search engines understand your site. Google gives internal links weight and uses them to help determine which pages are your most important.

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So, what makes a good internal link?

[Learn More:] Google Ranking Factor Insights

Google’s Advice For Effective Internal Links

Many of the Google employees’ responses focused on improving users’ experience and helping search engines understand your site. What are the most effective ways to indicate your essential pages using internal links?

Google’s documentation provides clear answers.

Google’s explanation for How Search Works For Site Owners reiterates the role that links play in helping Google discover new content.

“The first stage is finding out what pages exist on the web. There isn’t a central registry of all webpages, so Google must constantly look for new and updated pages and add them to its list of known pages. This process is called ‘URL discovery.’

Some pages are known because Google has already visited them. Other pages are discovered when Google follows a link from a known page to a new page: for example, a hub page, such as a category page, links to a new blog post.”

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They recommend that creators use Google Search Console to learn how to make their site more accessible to crawlers. GSC offers reports that help website owners identify their top-linked pages and pages with the most internal links.

Google’s official Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Starter Guide discusses internal linking, beginning with the use of breadcrumbs.

“A breadcrumb is a row of internal links at the top or bottom of the page that allows visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or the root page. Many breadcrumbs have the most general page (usually the root page) as the first, leftmost link and list the more specific sections out to the right. We recommend using breadcrumb structured data markup when showing breadcrumbs.”

The guide also references internal links as part of a naturally flowing hierarchy.

“Make it as easy as possible for users to go from general content to the more specific content they want on your site. Add navigation pages when it makes sense and effectively work these into your internal link structure. Make sure all of the pages on your site are reachable through links, and that they don’t require an internal search functionality to be found. Link to related pages, where appropriate, to allow users to discover similar content.”

As for advice on how to help your website’s SEO, Google recommends writing good link text.

“Links on your page may be internal – pointing to other pages on your site – or external – leading to content on other sites. In either of these cases, the better your anchor text is, the easier it is for users to navigate and for Google to understand what the page you’re linking to is about.”

It continues:

“You may usually think about linking in terms of pointing to outside websites, but paying more attention to the anchor text used for internal links can help users, and Google navigate your site better.”

Of course, Google also warns not to use “excessively keyword-filled or lengthy anchor text just for search engines” or links that don’t help users with navigation throughout the website.

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In a Google Search Central Blog article from 2008, Google discusses the importance of link architecture.

“Link architecture – the method of internal linking on your site – is a crucial step in site design if you want your site indexed by search engines. It plays a critical role in Googlebot’s ability to find your site’s pages and ensures that your visitors can navigate and enjoy your site.”

The article goes on to answer questions about internal linking. The answers, in short:

  • Google doesn’t recommend using nofollow with internal links for PageRank sculpting or siloing.
  • Google doesn’t have a problem with cross-themed internal linking, such as a website discussing biking and camping.

Under Advanced SEO documentation, Google discusses the importance of internal links for your website’s sitelinks in search results.

“Ensure that your internal links’ anchor text is concise and relevant to the page they’re pointing to.”

In another Google Search Central Blog article from 2010 offering website advice for non-profits, Google noted that:

“20% of our submissions could improve their sites by improving the anchor text used in some of their internal links. When writing anchor text, keep two things in mind:

  • Be descriptive: Use words relevant to the destination page, avoiding generic phrases like “click here” or “article.” Make sure the user can get a snapshot of the destination page’s overall content and functionality by reading the anchor text.
  • Keep it concise: Anchor text that contains a few words or a short phrase is more attractive and convenient for users to read than a sentence or paragraph-long link.”

Does the number of internal links matter?

Matt Cutts, former head of Google’s webspam team, answered this question in a Google Search Central video in 2013. He responded that internal links would not cause trouble. Website templates and architecture will naturally lead to many internal links with matching anchor text. So long as it is natural and for user experience, it is okay.

[Deep Dive:] Your Complete Guide To Google Ranking Factors

Our Verdict: Internal Links Are A Ranking Factor

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Google’s documentation about how search works and its starter guide on how site owners can help Google understand their content explain internal links’ importance.

You can also find advice on Twitter and YouTube from Google representatives about optimizing internal links to help Google determine the most critical pages on your website.

Internal links are a part of the ranking factors that help determine where your webpages will rank in search results.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

Ranking Factors: Fact Or Fiction? Let’s Bust Some Myths! [Ebook]



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SEOs, Are You Using These 6 Mental Models?

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SEOs, Are You Using These 6 Mental Models?

People use mental models to comprehend reality, solve problems, and make decisions in everyday life. SEO is not an exception here, yet it’s not a topic you often hear about in this industry.

The thing is, you need to be careful with mental models because they’re sneaky. We tend to develop them during our lives, inherit them from our colleagues and mentors, and rely on them almost instinctively while not fully aware of their influence or the existence of better alternatives.

So, let’s talk about mental models you will find helpful in your SEO work and the ones you should approach with caution.

3 helpful mental models

In the noisy, uncertain world of SEO, these will be your north star.

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First principles thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves breaking down complex problems into their most basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up.

It’s about asking oneself what is absolutely true about a situation and then reasoning up from there to create new solutions.

Using first principles thinking to rearrange the same building blocks into a brand new shape. 

Uncertainty is a chronic condition in SEO. And it is so by design because the whole industry is based on Google’s secrets. Access to the truth is extremely limited. We got to the point that we got used to accepting speculation and theories on SEO so much that we started to crave them.

This is where the first principles come in. Whenever you need a brand new solution for a problem or when you feel that you’ve gone too far into speculation, come back to the first principles — things that have the best chance to be true in this industry. For example:

The Pareto Principle (aka the 80/20 rule) is about a disproportionate relationship between inputs and outputs, effort and results, or causes and effects. A small number of causes (20%) often leads to a large number of effects (80%).

The Pareto principleThe Pareto principle
The 80/20 rule: 80% of results come from 20% of the projects.

This concept was named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist who, in 1906, noticed that 80% of Italy’s land was owned by 20% of the population.

If we use this principle as a mental model in decision-making, we’ll find it easier to prioritize work. It’s ok to ignore some things because they likely won’t matter that much. The result that you’re after will come from focusing on the things that will likely have the biggest impact, and not from spreading yourself too thin.

For example, if you want to build links to your site, pitch your best content. That can be the content that has already proven to earn links in the past.

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Best by links report in Ahrefs.Best by links report in Ahrefs.

Or if you need to recover some of that lost traffic, home in on the pages that lost the most traffic.

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

The key is to treat the 80/20 as an approximation, a heuristic, and not take the numbers literally. To illustrate, roughly 80% of our site’s traffic comes from no more than 6% of pages.

Total organic traffic breakdown in Ahrefs. Total organic traffic breakdown in Ahrefs.

But on the other hand, if we try to find the top 20% pages that contribute to the traffic the most, we’ll find that they bring not 80% but 96.8% traffic. However you look at it, the idea still holds — a small amount of causes led to a large portion of effects.

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

Sounds very much like SEO already, doesn’t it?

This quote comes from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass,” and it’s how the Red Queen explains to Alice the nature of her kingdom, where it requires constant effort just to maintain one’s current position.

It was used to name an evolutionary biology theory which posits that each species must adapt and evolve not just for incremental gains but for survival, as their competitors are also evolving. Sorry, we’re in an endless race.

The Red Queen Theory as an endless race.The Red Queen Theory as an endless race.
SEO is like a road with no finish line—the race continues forever.

You can probably already guess how this applies to SEO — rankings. If you want to maintain high rankings, you can’t stop improving your pages. There will always be enough competitors to challenge your position.

But in our world, pressure comes from competitors and the environment. Google keeps evolving too, pushing the bar for content higher, making elements that used to give you an edge a standard.

I’m sure we’ve all been there – even our top backlink-earning, top traffic-generating, most time-consuming content gets pushed down. But if you keep optimizing, you get a chance to come back to the top.

Position history graph in Ahrefs.Position history graph in Ahrefs.

This mental model is another way of saying that SEO works best as an always-on strategy without a set end date or final goal.

3 mental models to watch out for

It’s not so much about avoiding them but being able to spot them when they happen or could happen.

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A local maximum (aka local optimum) refers to a solution that is the best solution within a neighboring set of solutions, but not necessarily the best possible solution overall (global optimum).

Local maxima.Local maxima.

So if you’re feeling that you’re spending immense effort just to make marginal improvements, you have to be willing to assume that you’ve hit a local maxima. Then, the question to ask is: what can I do differently?

Here’s an example.

Until November last year, traffic to our site was a series of local optima. Our content marketing was delivering the results, but the growth was relatively slow. Obviously, we were doing the same tried and tested stuff. But then we launched two programmatic SEO projects that instantly elevated us to a level we’d have to work years for — look how fast the yellow line grew (pages) and how that corresponded with the orange line (traffic).

Organic performance graph in Ahrefs.Organic performance graph in Ahrefs.

The sunk cost fallacy is a cognitive bias that occurs when people continue to do something as a result of previously invested resources (time, money, effort) despite new evidence suggesting that the current path will not lead to a beneficial outcome.

Sunk cost fallacy as a graph.Sunk cost fallacy as a graph.
Sunk cost in action: the more you invest in something, the more attached to it you become.

We all know SEO is a long-term game, right? Strategies like these are crowded with long-term projects with big time and money investments. Sometimes, despite the investments, you just can’t go beyond a certain level of traffic, backlinks, etc.

Now, this mental model, this voice in your head, will tell you to keep going down the same path no matter what. Loss aversion kicks in, acting like a defense mechanism for your past selves and actions. And the more aggressive and blind the “hustle” culture is at one’s team, the harder it is to see clearly.

But, overall, it could be better for you and the company to let it go and focus on something else. You can even come back to it later with a fresh mind. But continuing something just because you’ve been doing it for some time is a losing strategy.

Example. Despite several attempts and time counted in years, Ahrefs doesn’t rank for “seo”.

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Position history for "seo" via Ahrefs.Position history for "seo" via Ahrefs.

Sad but true. And from our point of view, it’s frustrating. Almost like we’re the only ones not to get invited to the party, the only ones not to graduate from high school… you get the idea.

But not ranking for “SEO” hasn’t hindered our growth, so it’s better to cut losses and deal with unfulfilled ambition than to let that goal hold us back from other projects (like that programmatic project mentioned above).

Confirmation bias is the tendency to give more attention and weight to data that support one’s own beliefs, while simultaneously dismissing or underestimating evidence that contradicts those beliefs.

Confirmation bias - beliefs outweigh the facts. Confirmation bias - beliefs outweigh the facts.

We’re all guilty of this. It’s human nature. And it’s not exclusively a bad thing. I mean, in some situations, this tendency can keep us on “the bright side” and help us go through tough times or keep our motivation up.

So, I think that it’s not something to get out of your system completely. Just be mindful of situations where this can negatively affect your judgment:

  • Selective evidence in ranking factors. You see a page ranking high, and you think it’s because of an aspect you strongly believe in, disregarding all of the evidence against it (e.g., long-form content, social signals).
  • Bias in keyword selection. Your keyword selection runs along the lines of your beliefs about the audience preferences without substantial evidence to back up these beliefs.
  • Bias in strategy development. After developing a new strategy, you encounter a talk or an article advocating a similar approach, which immediately reinforces your confidence in this strategy.
  • Focus on confirmatory data during audits. During a content audit, you find a small piece of data that confirms your belief. As a result, you may prioritize minor findings over more significant but less personally affirming data.
  • Overconfidence in familiar tactics. Leaning on SEO tactics that have worked in the past, you develop a sense of overconfidence in them. You resist trying anything new or the idea that a dip in performance comes from an unfamiliar factor.

Keep learning

If you like what you’re reading, I think you will find other mental models fascinating:

Want to share models you find useful? Ping me on X or LinkedIn.



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PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

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PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

This is an excerpt from SEJ’s PPC Trends 2024 ebook, our annual roundup of expert opinions on what you can expect over the course of the next 12 months. 

This year, new AI features rolled out on PPC platforms, and marketers began adopting generative AI in earnest.

The dust is settling after the initial exuberance about AI, and we’re starting to see more nuanced and cautionary opinions develop.

In this section, you’ll see contributors highlighting the benefits of both AI-powered automated ad campaigns and adopting generative AI in your workflow.

You’ll also see cautionary words, reminding you that human thinking and creativity still drive online interactions.

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If I had to summarize these insights in three sentences, they would be;

  • AI is very good at the things it’s good at, and very bad at the things it’s bad at.
  • AI is a square peg, so beware of round holes; AI is not a panacea.
  • AI can be a multiplier of productivity and results, but some processes are worth the difficulty.

How AI Can Improve Social Media Advertising Performance

Akvile DeFazio, Founder, AKvertise

Akvile DeFazio

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming an integral part of the advertising industry, transforming how companies reach their target audience and how advertisers increase effectiveness and efficiency in managing ad accounts.

Here are some ways AI can help drive more results in 2024:

Targeting Improvements

Just a few short years ago, campaigns and ad sets were set up more granularly, but after iOS updates, Meta launched several new machine learning options that advertisers can leverage for better results and find their customers.

Now, in Meta Ads Manager, there are Advantage+ Audiences that leverage machine learning to help advertisers reach the most valuable audiences much faster.

By enabling this, you can also share an audience suggestion, such as recent purchasers, so then the system can prioritize people matching using this high-value audience profile before expanding the targeting net wider.

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If you work in ecommerce, Meta’s Advantage+ shopping campaigns can help find new customers using its automatic placements, lowest-cost bid strategies, and more by serving the best ads to the people most likely to convert using its AI.

Creative Optimization

When it comes to creative optimization, particularly on platforms like Meta Ads, running dynamic ads with various creatives can be highly effective.

Platforms like Meta leverage AI to serve your target audience with the most relevant creative content, increasing the likelihood of achieving your campaign optimization goals.

By trusting the system to determine the best approach, you can expect improved and faster results compared to manual testing by humans.

In this past year, its performance has improved significantly, and I believe it will continue to do so.

Measuring Results

AI also offers extensive analytics and reporting capabilities, enabling advertisers to measure the success of their campaigns accurately.

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With data-driven insights, advertisers can identify the most effective ads and targeting strategies, enabling them to make informed decisions for optimizing campaigns.

We use tools that allow us to import data, conduct trend analysis, create graphs, and obtain valuable insights.

By streamlining reporting and analysis, the right AI-powered tool serves as a time-saving asset that can guide optimization efforts and drive favorable outcomes.

This is only the start of the AI revolution transforming the social media advertising landscape. Brands can now connect and interact with their target audience in a more impactful manner and achieve their various goals.

Embracing AI experimentation can be worthwhile, as it elevates our human capabilities, increasing our efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness in our work.

If you haven’t already, add AI to your advertising stack to elevate your growth goals for 2024.

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AI & Personalization In Marketing

Alex Macura, Founder/CEO, Your Digital Assembly

Alex MacuraAlex Macura

The world is a fast-paced place, and the marketing industry is even more so. It has to be, just to keep up.

Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen growth in digital marketing, social media and mobile marketing, television, and database marketing.

But what does the future and, more specifically, 2024 hold for the industry as a whole? Let’s take a look.

A Surge In AI Marketing

AI gives marketers the ability to analyze huge amounts of data in seconds, boosting efficiency and productivity.

Predictive analytics can help to predict consumer and purchase behavior, allowing for more tailored, targeted ad campaigns.

And it can learn over time, too, constantly evolving into a more competent version of itself. So, if you’ve resisted getting on board the AI train, it’s time to step up to the platform.

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More Personalized Content

Another area AI excels in? Personalization – which is why, in 2024, hyper-personalization is set to become our new reality.

Customers want to feel seen, so any brand that takes the time to curate a buying experience specifically for them will gain traction.

Thanks to AI and advanced analytics, content can become more tailored than ever, strengthening brand relationships and boosting return on investment (ROI).


Finding The Balance Of Generative AI In Ads

Amy Hebdon, Founder + Managing Director, Paid Search Magic

Amy HebdonAmy Hebdon

There are many ways to use generative AI to enhance your campaigns – and only two ways to get it wrong:

  • Blindly rely on it for everything.
  • Refuse to use it for anything.

Generative AI is in its infancy and capable of making mistakes, so fully relying on it for 100% accuracy is a bad idea.

At the same time, avoiding it because it can’t completely replace you needlessly limits your ability to be more creative and productive.

Between those extremes are countless opportunities to improve and streamline your work. Use generative AI for discovery, challenging assumptions, brainstorming, iterating and refining ideas, editing, and strategy.

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You don’t need costly subscriptions to get started, either. The free version of ChatGPT is a great entry point to meaningfully improve your work and workflow.


Standing Out In A Playing Field Leveled By AI

Andrea Atzori, Director, Ambire

Andrea AtzoriAndrea Atzori

Automation serves as a formidable ally in streamlining the mundane aspects of our operations, such as campaign build and reporting.

By harnessing automation, we not only expedite these processes significantly but also diminish the likelihood of human errors creeping in.

Nevertheless, it remains undeniable that the very innovations ushered in by AI and machine learning (ML), if not managed, also bear the capacity to homogenize content, often yielding results that hover around the realm of mediocrity or average at best.

Consequently, if we do not settle for average but instead strive for marketing excellence, this pursuit involves leveraging the full spectrum of available data and tools to our advantage.

Only by adopting this approach can we mitigate rising costs and consistently deliver outstanding outcomes.

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Scale Isn’t Everything, Don’t Forget The Power Of Humans & Creativity

Ben Wood, Director of Growth & Innovation, Hallam

Ben WoodBen Wood

One trend we’ve been referencing for years is the growing impact of machine learning and automation on advertisers.

In 2023, we’ve seen a huge acceleration in technological innovation.

We’ve experienced the democratization of creative production via generative AI tools built into Google Ads and other networks, reducing cost and increasing the speed of production.

This has lowered the barrier to entry to platforms such as YouTube, and display formats for smaller advertisers with less budget to spend on assets.

We’ve also seen much-publicized advances in large language models (LLMs), enabling the development of scripts with limited programming capabilities, and offering huge economies of scale for campaign creation and PPC account expansion.

What we’ll start to see in 2024 are the second-order effects of generative AI. These are the less obvious ripple effects caused by AI over the longer term.

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Despite the increase in our capabilities to create ads at scale using generative AI, this might not enhance performance but could hamper it:

  • AI is already adept at creating ads at scale, such as automatically created ads and demand generation features in Performance Max.
  • It’s easier than ever for advertisers to get started and enable more features due to automated creative capabilities. The lower barrier to entry could mean users see even more ads than they’re used to.
  • Relying on automated creative may result in generic, feature-based ads.
  • Buyers will learn to tune out these ads.

Increased Value On Human Perspectives And Creators

As consumers learn to tune out to the homogenous advertising enabled by generative AI, we’ll see an increased desire for human perspectives and creativity.

We’ve already seen Google start to surface creators and influencers via their “perspectives” feature with the introduction of Search Generative Experience, and I expect this to bleed through into the advertising landscape.

Partnering with consumer-facing creators and influencers as part of your paid media strategy will increase in importance in the year ahead to maximize your reach across Google’s evolving search landscape and beyond.

Back To Basics: Creative-First Advertising

Today, we have so many channels to manage that it’s easy for things to become disconnected. What holds it together? A creative idea.

If your campaigns lack a coherent, consistent creative concept, your campaigns will not perform.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in the platform choices we forget about the message we’re trying to get out through them.

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With the advent of generative AI, I think creativity will be a key differentiating factor for successful campaigns. Starting with a strategy, then a creative concept should always come before media planning.

This serves as a golden thread – a compelling creative idea that ties all your marketing and advertising activities together and helps you stand out from the crowd.


AI-Powered Campaigns Deliver A Future Where Marketers Can Spend Less Time On Optimization

Corey Morris, President/CEO, Voltage

Corey MorrisCorey Morris

AI-generated content is not going away anytime soon and is inevitably making its way into AI-powered ad campaigns in 2024.

AI can craft descriptions, headlines, and ad copy tailored to your client’s campaign objectives, resulting in effective, personalized content.

This personalization is possible because AI can understand user behavior patterns and apply experimentation and winning results to campaigns in real time.

You can monitor and manage your client’s campaign performance in real-time, ensuring that your campaigns perform relative to your goals.

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Performance Max Campaigns

Performance Max campaigns will now utilize machine learning and artificial intelligence technology more thoroughly in 2024.

Performance Max campaigns, following search campaigns, are subjectively one of the most effective ways to reach a broader audience and achieve a higher return on investment.

Google now offers the option to upgrade various campaigns, including dynamic search ads and display campaigns to Performance Max campaigns.

Some current benefits of transitioning to Performance Max campaigns include:

1. Increasing creative assets.

The benefit of Performance Max campaigns utilizing your creative assets allows search engines to properly convert your search ad to best fit the intended user base on their search queries.

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Creative assets will now have more flexibility when changing any text in your ad copy.

2. Implementing inventory-based ads.

When your product data feed is connected to a Performance Max campaign, your ads will now function based on the inventory you have left in stock.

This can be a huge time-saving benefit because you won’t have to manually examine your product inventory amount.

The upgrades to Performance Max campaigns will ultimately lead to a higher usage rate with advertisers.


Automate Campaigns, Not Strategies: What Are You Doing & Why?

Tim Jensen, Sr. Search Marketing Specialist, M&T Bank

Tim JensenTim Jensen

As PPC managers move forward in a world of increasingly automated, “done for you” campaigns, fully understanding the concerns and goals of your client/boss will help set you ahead.

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This is not an excuse for not staying up-to-date with current ad platform functionality, but it’s too easy to drift into a “plug-and-play” mentality with the direction in which the PPC world is headed.

Setting up a conversion pixel is relatively easy these days (in many cases), but ask yourself why you are tracking that conversion, and how it ties into the business goals the company ultimately cares about.

Churning out 15 responsive search ad headlines is easier with AI, but will those stand out in the search engine results page (SERP) against creatively brainstormed headlines that speak to the heart of the customer’s needs?

Generating a list of keywords can be as simple as plugging a URL or a couple of seed phrases into Keyword Planner, but are those the most relevant terms that ideal customers are searching for?

On the positive side, increased automation in platforms has reduced the need for constant hands-on tweaking, such as in bid management. This frees up more time you can spend keeping the lines of communication open with the stakeholders you answer to.

Take some time in 2024 to think through how you can better understand stakeholder goals, and how to tie in your targeting, creative, and bidding approach to best meet those objectives.

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Expect Less Campaign Control – Find Exciting New Ways To Spend Your Time

Lauren Weisel, Director of SEM, Media.Monks

PPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & LimitationsPPC Experts On AI In PPC: Potential & Limitations

One major theme of 2023 has been automation, and I expect this to continue well into 2024.

Google continues to roll out campaign types that are heavily automated and give less control to marketers, starting with Performance Max and, most recently, with the launch of Demand Gen.

As Performance Max has evolved over the years, we see many cases where this automated campaign type works incredibly well.

With the recent rollout of Demand Gen campaigns, I suspect Google will continue to move toward either expanding these campaigns’ coverage, or rolling out more automated campaign types.

As Google continues to emphasize these automated campaign types, I expect the percentage of account spends on these campaign types to increase, as well. And beyond this, who knows!

There could be a world where traditional search campaigns as we know them sunset completely, but that’s merely a hypothesis.

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Speaking of traditional search campaigns, I’m also seeing a reduction in control with the emphasis on broad match with auto-bidding this year.

While many clients were skeptical of this new match type, it’s working quite well for many advertisers.

While still available, I’m also seeing less account spend go towards phrase match keywords, and many times without any performance losses for client accounts.

From an account structure standpoint, this rollout has, in a way, been a catalyst for campaign consolidation – a far cry from the SKAG structure I was taught early on in my career.

This reduction in control that advertisers are experiencing within Google will shift how search marketers work.

However, as I reflect on my career as a search marketer, I can point to other industry shifts that seemed huge at the time, but truly freed up time to expand my skillsets.

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I remember when auto-bidding strategies first came on the scene. What would I do with all my time freed up from daily bid adjustments? As automation evolved, marketers shifted how we spent our days (and thankfully, there was plenty of other work to be done).

As control becomes limited in the evolution of Google Ads, search marketers will need to become more creative with strategies to ensure that we continue to move search programs forward with the levers we can pull.

While automated, these campaigns shouldn’t be approached with a “set it and forget it” mindset.

It is a privilege to be able to educate clients and guide them in this ever-changing search landscape. There are so many testing and learning opportunities on the near horizon.

The search landscape has certainly changed a lot, especially over the past year.

While all this automation may seem scary, we must embrace automation to stay ahead of the curve. I suspect we’ll see the trajectory of automation continue to accelerate during the next year.

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Not only is this a hot topic in the search space, but in our culture as a whole. I look forward to all of the automation developments 2024 has in store for search marketers.


Searcher Intent & Audiences Are A Complex Human Formula

Lisa Raehsler, Founder And SEM Strategy Consultant, Big Click Co.

Lisa RaehslerLisa Raehsler

While AI and automation are always hot topics – and the technology advancements amazingly helpful – in 2024, connecting with the customer will be key.

Many advertisers will get away from this by buying into the fast and easy option: Allowing machines to do the work for their digital advertising.

That’s great for tedious task-oriented optimizations – but human strategy, experience, and even intuition will be critical for success in reaching and converting the right customer.

The pros are already in the know. Searcher intent and audiences are a complex human formula advertisers should focus on.

Societal culture, economic conditions, and political concerns change rapidly. Messaging targeting people who experience evolving needs and pain points should take center focus.

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Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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7 Changes Marketers Should Make

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7 Changes Marketers Should Make

Paid media’s main job is to increase visibility and drive traffic for your brand.

And as digital marketing evolves, so, too, will your strategy.

In the current state of paid, the main overarching theme is, you guessed it, AI and machine learning.

As paid media platforms get smarter and constantly find ways to infuse AI into campaign workflows and optimizations, marketers must find a way to keep up with the platforms.

The other side of the coin is maintaining user privacy all the while trying to use AI effectively.

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So what major changes should you make to your paid media marketing strategy in 2024?

Here are seven changes you should incorporate without a second thought.

1. Review & Revise Google Tags

If you rely on Google tags for conversion tracking, this change should not be ignored.

In January 2024, Google made an update to its Consent Mode for its Google tags, which will, for now, affect any marketers who run ads targeted to users in the European Economic Area (EEA).

This update requires marketers to take action by March 2024 in order to keep using ad personalization and remarketing features in Google Ads.

Simply speaking, the Consent Mode will need to be updated to adjust its tracking behavior based on how a user interacts with a website’s consent banner.

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The two new parameters introduced to Consent Mode are:

  • ad_user_data: This controls whether user data can be sent to Google for advertising purposes.
  • ad_personalization: This controls whether personalized advertising (remarketing) can be enabled for the user.

As privacy measures continue to become stricter in the United States, it would not be surprising if this becomes required for US advertisers in the somewhat near future.

Keep in mind that in 2024, we’ll have to get comfortable being uncomfortable with imperfect data because of privacy regulations.

2. Make Influencers Part Of Your Marketing Model

Small and large influencers alike are an awesome resource at your fingertips, just as long as your audiences align.

Even brands with a few thousand followers can utilize influencer marketing to make a big difference and gain traction in the market.

Go on a hunt to find the top influencers in your space. Then, figure out the cost per acquisition (CPA) for working with each of them (because you have to court influencers, especially the bigger ones).

From there, you can create a win-win partnership that gets you more leads while the influencer earns income.

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Pro Tip: You can use influencer marketing tools to help you in your journey to integrate core influencers into your business model. Some of the most popular include AspireIQ, BuzzSumo, Upfluence, and NeoReach.
Whichever you choose, make sure the influencers you find are big enough to provide real value to your brand — and that you’re paying a CPA that makes sense for your budget and overall goals.

3. Strategic Audience Management On Multiple Platforms

2024 is the year to nail your audience management strategy, both from a holistic perspective and within each encapsulated platform.

That means before building your audiences, you need to understand at a high level who your target customer is.

Further, identify what platforms those types of user-profiles spend their time on.

Once you’ve identified your ideal target customer, then it’s time for the first step in this process:

Building audiences.

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From there, you must set up a strategy to target folks within every stage of the funnel – from upper to lower – and decide which networks make the most sense for the different audience cohorts.

Perhaps the most crucial part of this process is analyzing and refreshing your audiences as the year goes on.

You should definitely plan on retargeting and testing new audiences throughout the year.

If you fail to incorporate this part, you run the risk of targeting the wrong sector of people, ultimately throwing money down the proverbial drain.

However, if you retarget and refresh your approach, you’re bound to find a dynamic audience that correlates with your vision.

In the end, audience management alone can be worth its weight in gold.

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4. Prepare For Video Content Dominance

You’ve likely heard this phrase before in marketing: content is king.

With a slight tweak for 2024, the new hot phrase should be: video content is king.

Not only is video taking over social platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Snapchat, but it’s also asserting its dominance in YouTube Ads. YouTube Shorts, the platform’s short-form video offering, is booming.

With this new form of video comes a new ad format: vertical video ads.

Not only should marketers focus on video marketing in general – 2024 is the year to get more sophisticated with video strategy.

Marketers should prioritize creating engaging and high-quality video content that’s appropriate for each platform on which it will be delivered.

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If the thought of creating video content for multiple platforms scares you, just remember that a little goes a long way.

Start by creating evergreen content about your brand and test those with different lengths.

These can be used and recycled on multiple platforms and can be used for organic and paid video content simultaneously.

Just remember to create a variety so that your users don’t see the same message or content on the same platforms, which can reduce the effectiveness of video marketing.

5. Don’t Sleep On Microsoft Ads

Microsoft Ads continues to enhance its advertising platform year after year.

Not only does it have many of the same coveted features as Google Ads, but it has added features that are unique to the platform.

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As a marketing professional, your brand will surely benefit from digging into it more in 2024.

Some of the most notable updates Microsoft Ads launched in the last twelve months include:

  • Video and CTV ads: Microsoft unveiled these new ad types on its platform in September of 2023. Advertisers can choose from online video ads or connected TV ads that are non-skippable while a user is streaming content. This gives advertisers big and small a leg up on what once used to be a very complicated process of buying TV ads.
  • Three new generative AI solutions: Also announced in September 2023, Microsoft came out with three new AI features to help grow and scale. These include Compare & Decide ads, ads for Chat API, and Copilot campaign creation.
  • Data-driven attribution reporting: Gone are the days of last-click measurement! Microsoft Ads enhanced its UET tagging solution and implemented data-driven attributing modeling. It uses machine learning to calculate the actual contributions of each ad interaction.

While Microsoft still holds a lower share of the available search engines, just remember that you’re leaving a whole slew of potential customers behind by not considering this underestimated ad platform.

6. Focus On Optimizing The User Experience

Between a mix of shorter human attention spans and limited marketing budgets, every interaction and website experience counts.

If you find that your pre-sale metrics are favorable – such as high engagement or high CTR – but never result in a sale, you likely don’t have an ad problem. You have a user experience problem.

In 2024, consumers expect more from brands, especially if they’re spending their hard-earned money with that company.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you sat down and went through your website’s checkout process through the lens of a customer?

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If you’re not sure where to start on optimizing your website experience for users, here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Use tools like Hot Jar or User Testing to get real-life analytics of how your customers are interacting and what their pain points are.
  • Review the website landscape on desktop and mobile. While this may be a no-brainer, many websites still forget to optimize for mobile!
  • Make sure that any relevant call-to-actions (CTAs) are above the fold – yes, on mobile, too!
  • Check your site speed.

These are items that should continuously be monitored and not a “set and forget,” which unfortunately happens quite a bit.

Optimizing the website user experience can have a positive impact on those paid media campaigns and can make those dollars go further in the future.

7. Use AI Tools To Your Advantage

Let’s face it: Machine learning and AI aren’t going anywhere.

For marketing leaders, 2024 really is the time to lean into its advantages instead of running away from the inevitable advances.

It’s not a question of whether to use AI or not. It’s a matter of how to use AI to your advantage.

While companies are tightening their budgets and scaling back staff, PPC marketers are constantly being asked to do more with less.

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This is where AI comes in.

In fact, using AI can strengthen your ROI for paid media campaigns of all kinds (whatever channel you prefer).

Just make sure you don’t sacrifice your brand’s personality for a little efficiency.

One way you can do this is with Google’s generated AI assets (currently in beta). Using its Gemini-powered AI solution, the tool allows for more streamlined campaign creation and generated ad assets, including images, headlines, and descriptions for ads, and more.

Additionally, you’re likely already using one of Google’s Smart Bidding strategies to automate the bidding process.

With a combination of creativity and machine learning, your ads have the potential to go farther than ever before.

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Your 2024 Plan Should Not Be Static

If the past year(s) have taught us anything in marketing, it’s to be fluid.

In some cases, tactics that used to be tried and true are now more volatile than ever.

Take advantage of advances in AI to boost your strategic advantage, and keep in mind platforms that you’ve typically shied away from – the time may come to incorporate them into your 2024 strategy.

What changes are you most excited to try this year?

More resources:


Featured Image: Sutthiphong Chandaeng/Shutterstock

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