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Are Outbound Links A Google Search Ranking Factor?

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Are Outbound Links A Google Search Ranking Factor?


You can’t throw a stone in SEO without hitting a link builder.

Since Google’s earliest days, links are – and have always been – an integral part of search optimization.

But what about outbound links?

These are the links in your content (the source) that point to a different website (the target).

But are outbound links actually a ranking factor?

The Claim: Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor

Google sees links from one site to another as a sort of endorsement.

When one site cites another via a link, there’s a fairly good possibility that they’re doing so because they believe the content they’re linking to is reputable, authoritative, and trustworthy.

Is that always the case? No.

As long as there have been search engines and links, marketers have been trying to find ways to manipulate Google’s perception of what a link actually means.

We know that when a site links to you, it can help improve your search rankings.

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But what about when you link to another website – can that help your site rank higher, too?

The SEO industry has never entirely come to a consensus on whether outbound links are a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.

Many believe outbound links aren’t a ranking factor at all and have no SEO benefit to the linking party (the source).

However, some believe that who you link to is a signal that can help your own rankings, as well as the page that earned your link.

The Evidence For Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor

Google’s John Mueller addressed that very question in the inaugural Ask Google Webmasters video in July 2019. He said:

“Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Oftentimes, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources, and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.”

In the same video, Mueller cautions that the reasoning behind the link matters – and Google is pretty good at sniffing out bad links.

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He calls out reciprocal links, paid links, and user-generated comments as types of links that Google may see as of dubious quality. For these links, you should be using rel=”nofollow.”

See Julie Joyce’s guide, When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To, for more on that.

In short, Google wants to see outbound links that indicate you think the page you’re linking to is a great match for users.

So, we know that user experience and the value provided to searchers/site visitors is Google’s top priority.

As Mueller said, outbound links are a great way to provide value to users.

Plus, we have a bunch of other SEO pros and blogs saying things like:

  • “…valuable outbound authority links are part of what Google likes to see as part of its recent Google Panda update.”
  • “By adhering to some of the following best practices when optimizing outbound links – you could be seeing an effect on your visibility and ranking.”

Some even quantify what you need to do for outbound links to “work” and recommend including at least two or three per piece of content.

(I’m not linking to those sources as I don’t want to lend them our credibility. See how that works? Suggesting in 2021 that a certain density of outbound links is SEO magic makes about as much sense as optimizing for a keyword density of 7%.)

Aside from the industry chatter, Shai Aharony at Reboot did a small experiment in 2016 in which his team created 10 brand new sites with articles “of comparable structures and text length” to test whether outbound links influenced ranking.

The study got a bit of attention following an endorsement from Rand Fishkin, who said,

“This study of outgoing links impacting rankings is as close to ‘proof’ as we get in the SEO world…”

Half the sites contained three links – one each to Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Genome Research Institute. Two used the name of the institution as anchor text; the anchor text for the third was the completely made-up test subject word “phylandocic.”

Another made-up control word, “ancludixis,” was placed in the content unlinked so they could determine whether the anchor text was a factor in ranking. All domains were purchased at the same time, and none were optimized for “phylandocic.”

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The study declares:

“The results are clear. Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.”

The analysis goes on to say:

“The main thing to take away from this test is that although we don’t know and have not proved how powerful outgoing links are in the grand scheme of things, we have proved they do have a positive impact if used correctly.”

However, this evidence is not exactly convincing.

Here’s what we see in the results. The author notes that the graph shows the position of the sites in the ranking.

  • Blue line = site with an outgoing link.
  • Orange line = site without outgoing links.
Screenshot from Rebootonline.com, December 2021

As you can see, the sites with the outbound links ranked in the top five Google results and those without in the next five.

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Without seeing the content itself, it’s impossible to know whether there are other factors at work.

But we do know that the made-up target keyword, “phylandocic” was used as anchor text once in at least each article. Did it increase rankings because it was anchor text, or simply because the word appeared on the page?

This test is simply too small. The fact that there’s no other content in Google’s index about this made-up word pretty much ensures you’re going to get the top 10 results with 10 articles.

All other things being equal – and it does seem they took steps to make all other things as equal as possible – this could just be a matter of the additional keyword mention making those articles more relevant to the query.

So does this actually prove anything about the value of outbound links as a direct ranking signal? No.

The Evidence Against Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor

Outbound links can tell Google a lot of positive things about the site the link is pointing to – that it’s considered authoritative and trustworthy, for example.

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Or that the person who created the content is an expert in the field.

That’s exactly what Google wants to see in the content it recommends as answers to searchers, and they tell us that throughout Google’s Search Quality Raters guidelines.

Get your free SEJ Guide to Google E-A-T & SEO to learn more about that.

But Google also has to consider that there are a lot of ways links can be manipulated. They’re a commodity that can be bought and sold.

People can exchange links for other links or for anything of value to the parties involved – for a free product or discount on services, for example.

Links can even be placed on a website without the owner/webmaster’s knowledge via code or URL injection.

There are a lot of different ways links can be gamed. Outbound links, in particular, are troublesome as a search signal.

Couldn’t I just link to a bunch of highly authoritative, popular sites in my niche and that tells Google I’m one of the cool kids, too?

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At one point, you could. This PageRank sculpting blog post by Matt Cutts resurfaced in a 2019 Twitter conversation about the benefit of linking to authoritative content.

A user asked Mueller whether the conclusion made in a graphic that cited “multiple SEO experiments and studies” was true.

Despite the fine print making it clear that the studies found correlation and not causation, the piece made a bold statement. And Mueller was clear in his response:

Here’s where the aforementioned PageRank sculpting post comes in:

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But here’s the thing – that Cutts post is from 2009.

Search is constantly evolving. It’s not a “contradiction” that the advice from that time would be different a decade later.

The issue came up in 2015 when Mueller responded to a Webmaster Central viewer question about any potential benefits of linking to one’s trade association websites:

“We would say there’s not any SEO advantage of linking to anyone else’s site.”

And again in a 2016 video where Mueller was asked:

“External links from your pages to other sites – is that a ranking factor? What if they’re nofollow?”

He responded:

“From our point of view, external links to other sites – so links from your site to other people’s sites – isn’t specifically a ranking factor.

But it can bring value to your content and, in turn, can be relevant for us in search. Whether or not they’re nofollow doesn’t really matter to us.”

Google Search Liaison Danny Sullivan echoed this advice, that the value of outbound links is for users. This was in a series of 2019 tweets, one of which advised that SEO professionals should think of them in terms of journalistic integrity:

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And this is where outbound links really shine.

Used appropriately, outbound links can tell Google things like:

  • You’re aware of which people and websites in your industry are considered authoritative and trustworthy because you’re an active member of the community.
  • You’ve done your homework and invested time in truly understanding the topic.
  • You value multiple perspectives and are doing your best to present fair, balanced information to readers.
  • You care about accuracy and it’s important to you that the information you reshare has been fact-checked.
  • You value readers’ trust and want to ensure they can verify your statements if they choose.

These are all quality indicators that can help Google understand how accurate, relevant, and authoritative that piece of content is.

But are the links themselves a ranking signal?

Outbound Links as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict

Are Outbound Links A Google Search Ranking Factor?

Here’s what we know:

  • The presence of outbound links, or lack thereof, on its own is not a ranking factor.
  • The words in outbound link anchor text are used to help Google understand the source page’s content – just like every other word on the page. They are no more or less valuable.
  • Linking to high authority sites is not an indicator of the source page’s authority because it’s just too easy to game.

Your best strategy is to use outbound links in the way Google intends them to be used – to cite sources, to improve user experience, and as endorsements of high-quality content.

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Trying to use them to whisper at Google about your authority or relevance could backfire.

Overusing outbound links looks spammy in the same way overusing any other optimization looks spammy, and it could lead Google to ignore the page entirely.

Outbound links may have been a ranking signal in the early 2000s. However, Google has so many more reliable, less noisy signals to consider today.


Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Journal





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Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

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Google's Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

Google Analyst Gary Illyes offers guidance on large robots.txt files, the SEO impact of website redesigns, and the correct use of rel-canonical tags.

Illyes is taking questions sent to him via LinkedIn direct message and answering them publicly, offering valuable insights for those in the SEO community.

It’s already newsworthy for a Google employee to share SEO advice. This is especially so given it’s Illyes, who isn’t as active on social media as colleagues like Search Advocate John Mueller and Developer Advocate Martin Splitt.

Throughout the past week, Illyes has shared advice and offered guidance on the following subjects:

  • Large robots.txt files
  • The SEO impact of website redesigns
  • The correct use of rel-canonical tags

Considering the engagement his posts are getting, there’s likely more to come. Here’s a summary of what you missed if you’re not following him on LinkedIn.

Keep Robots.Txt Files Under 500KB

Regarding a previously published poll on the size of robots.txt files, Illyes shares a PSA for those with a file size larger than 500kb.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises paying attention to the size of your website’s robots.txt file, especially if it’s larger than 500kb.

Google’s crawlers only process the first 500kb of the file, so it’s crucial to ensure that the most important information appears first.

Doing this can help ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed by Google.

Website Redesigns May Cause Rankings To Go “Nuts”

When you redesign a website, it’s important to remember that its rankings in search engines may be affected.

As Illyes explains, this is because search engines use the HTML of your pages to understand and categorize the content on your site.

If you make changes to the HTML structure, such as breaking up paragraphs, using CSS styling instead of H tags, or adding unnecessary breaking tags, it can cause the HTML parsers to produce different results.

This can significantly impact your site’s rankings in search engines. Or, as Illyes phrases it, it can cause rankings to go “nuts”:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises using semantically similar HTML when redesigning the site and avoiding adding tags that aren’t necessary to minimize the SEO impact.

This will allow HTML parsers to better understand the content on your site, which can help maintain search rankings.

Don’t Use Relative Paths In Your Rel-Canonical

Don’t take shortcuts when implementing rel-canonical tags. Illyes strongly advises spelling out the entire URL path:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Saving a few bytes using a relative path in the rel-canonical tag isn’t worth the potential issues it could cause.

Using relative paths may result in search engines treating it as a different URL, which can confuse search engines.

Spelling out the full URL path eliminates potential ambiguity and ensures that search engines identify the correct URL as the preferred version.

In Summary

By answering questions sent to him via direct message and offering his expertise, Illyes is giving back to the community and providing valuable insights on various SEO-related topics.

This is a testament to Illyes’ dedication to helping people understand how Google works. Send him a DM, and your question may be answered in a future LinkedIn post.


Source: LinkedIn

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Everything You Need To Know

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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

sitelink extensions - performance exampleScreenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

More resources:


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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

Some SEO processes involve repetitively clicking things on a screen. Not the best use of your time.

With the right tools, however, you can automate various SEO processes—and free up resources for tasks that need more creative, human input.

In this post, I’ll share two examples of how I automate SEO tasks. 

Example 1. Record and email article assignments to writers

Imagine being able to record and email article assignments to writers in seconds using a simple form like this:

Airtable article assignment form

Let’s look at how to set this up.

1. Set up an Airtable database for your writer and article data

Sign up for Airtable and create a new database with a table called “Writers.” The table should have columns for your writers:

"Writers" table in Airtable

In the same Airtable database, create a separate table called “Articles.” 

Set up columns in this table for your:

  • Article titles.
  • Article outline links.
  • Article due dates.
  • Assigned writer (set this column up as a linked record to your “Writers” table so that Airtable can retrieve data on your writers from it).
"Articles" table in Airtable

You’ll also need to add a lookup field to pull the writer’s email address from the “Writers” table. 

Add Airtable lookup field

2. Create an Airtable article assignment form

Next, create an article assignment form for the “Articles” table. You’ll use this form to add new article assignments to the “Articles” table.

Create Airtable article assignment form

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New Record in Airtable” trigger

When you submit your details on the new article assignment via the Airtable form, Airtable will automatically record the new article assignment in your “Articles” table. So that’s the first step of the article assignment workflow sorted.

Demo of how Airtable automatically records new article assignments when the article assignment form is filled out

Now, we’ll use the Zapier workflow automation tool to automate the next three steps in the workflow—namely:

  1. Create a shared Google Drive submission folder for the article.
  2. Create a Google Doc submission document in the shared Google Drive folder.
  3. Use Gmail to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Sidenote.

Instead of Zapier, you can also use any other workflow automation tool, such as Make, as long as the tool supports the automation triggers and actions you’ll need.

In Zapier, create a new automated workflow (also known as a “Zap”) with:

  • Airtable as the trigger app.
  • New Record as the trigger event.

With this trigger, your Zap will start running when you add a new record to Airtable (such as by submitting your Airtable article assignment form).

Trigger step: New Record in Airtable

4. Add a “Create Folder in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

Next, add an action step with:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Create Folder as the action event.

For the action step’s “Parent Folder” field, select the Google Drive folder in which the new submission folder should be created.

Also, provide a name for the submission folder in the “Folder Name” field. You can map the article title data from Airtable here to name your submission folder after the article’s title.

Action step: Create Folder in Google Drive

5. Add an “Add File Sharing Preference in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

The Google Drive folder created by your Zap will have its sharing permissions disabled by default, so let’s add an action step to grant folder access to anyone who has the link to the folder.

This action step should have:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Add File Sharing Preference as the action event.

Map the file ID of the Google Drive folder created in the previous action step to the “File Id” field of this action step.

Map file ID of Google Drive folder to "File Id" field

In addition, set the “Sharing Preference” field to “Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit.”

Set "Sharing Preference" field to "Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit"

6. Add a “Create Document from Text in Google Docs” action step to your Zap

Now, let’s set up the Google Doc that the writer will use to submit their draft.

We’ll have the Zap create this submission Google Doc in the shared Google Drive submission folder. And since the Google Drive folder will have general access enabled, anyone with the link to the Google Drive folder—and this includes you—will also automatically get access to the Google Doc.

No more frustration over writers forgetting to grant access to their Google Docs!

So add a new action step to your Zap with:

  • Google Docs as the action app.
  • Create Document from Text as the action event.

Map the article title data from Airtable to the action step’s “Document Name” field, and the folder ID of the shared Google Drive folder to the “Folder” field.

You’ll also need to include some default text in the Google Doc, such as “Write your article here!”

Action step: Create Document from Text in Google Docs

7. Add a “Send Email in Gmail” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll get the Zap to use your Gmail account to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Add a last action step to your Zap with:

  • Gmail as the action app.
  • Send Email as the action event.

Map the writer’s email address from Airtable to the “To” field for this action step. Also, map the article title, outline link, due date, and Google Drive submission folder link in the email body.

I also recommend adding your own email address to either the “Cc” or “Bcc” field so you get a copy of the automated email (and can confirm it’s been sent).

Sample text for automated article assignment email

Once you’re happy with your Zap, hit the Publish button to activate your automation!

Example 2. Finding and verifying prospects’ email addresses for link building outreach

Finding email addresses for link building outreach can be a massive pain.

After all, most prospects don’t advertise their email addresses publicly. And even if you’ve managed to dig up their email addresses (or guess them using trial and error), there’s no guarantee they work.

But using Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, you can generate a huge Google Sheets list of link building prospects that looks like this:

List of prospects in Google Sheets

Then as you fill out the “Approve?” column for each prospect with data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—a Zapier automation will automatically do all these for you:

  1. Find the prospect’s email address using the Hunter email lookup tool
  2. Add the email address to your Google Sheet list of prospects
  3. Verify the email address using the NeverBounce email verification tool
  4. Add the verified email address to the Woodpecker.io email outreach tool so you can start sending customized outreach emails

Here’s how to set this up.

1. Get your list of prospects

Launch Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and search for link prospects. 

For example, if you recently published a marketing survey with unique insights and statistics, you may want to look for marketing statistics pages to pitch. To do this, simply run an “In title” search for “marketing statistics.”

Report of webpages with "marketing statistics" in their title, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Next, filter your results to show only webpages that are:

  • In English (unless you’re targeting webpages in another language).
  • Live, as it’d be weird to reach out and say, “Hey, I found you through [this webpage that no longer exists].”
  • On websites with a Domain Rating (DR) of 20 to 80 because you want to prioritize pursuing backlinks from authoritative websites but also that your chances of getting backlinks from super high-authority websites are quite low.
Filtering for live, English webpages on sites with a DR between 20 and 80, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Add a last filter to show only one page per domain (since you want to reach out to only one prospect per website).

Ahrefs' Content Explorer "One page per domain" setting

Click the Export button to export your list of prospects in a CSV file.

2. Clean up your list of prospects

As mentioned, we’ll be using Hunter to help us find our prospects’ email addresses.

Hunter uses the first names, last names, and domains of prospects to find email addresses, so we’ll clean up our list of prospects to provide Hunter with the exact data it needs.

Import your CSV list of prospects in Google Sheets and delete all columns in it except for:

  • Content Title
  • Content URL
  • Author

Also, some of the prospects in the CSV don’t have author names, so it’s worth removing these rows from the CSV. To do this, just filter for rows with empty author names and delete them.

Next, use the SPLIT formula to split the author names into their first and last names based on the space between their names.

Using the =SPLIT() formula in Google Sheets to split author names based on the space between the first and last names

Finally, add two new columns to the sheet:

  1. Approve?: Adding data to this column will trigger the Zapier automation we’ll be setting up next!
  2. Email Address: This column will store the prospect’s email address (if found).
Adding of two new "Approve?" and "Email address" columns to Google Sheets

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” trigger

In Zapier, create a new Zap with:

  • Google Sheets as the trigger app.
  • New or Updated Spreadsheet Row as the trigger event.

Map the action step’s “Trigger Column” field to your Google Sheet’s “Approve?” column.

Trigger step: New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets

With this setup, you’ll trigger your Zap whenever you add new data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—to the “Approve?” column for any prospect row.

Adding of the word "Yes?" to the "Approve?" column in the Google Sheets list of prospects

4. Add a “Find Email in Hunter” action step to your Zap

Next, add a new action step with:

  • Hunter as the action app.
  • Find Email as the action event.

Map the “Content URL,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” columns in your Google Sheet to the “Domain or Company,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” fields for this action step, respectively.

Action step: Find Email in Hunter

5. Add an “Update Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” action step to your Zap

The next action step will update your Google Sheet with a prospect’s email address if Hunter finds it. Use:

  • Google Sheets as the action app.
  • Update Spreadsheet Row as the action event.

Map the Row Number of the updated row in the trigger step to this action step’s “Row” field.

Map the row number to the "Row" field

Also, map the email address that Hunter found in the previous action step to the “Email Address” field of this action step.

Map email address to the "Email Address" field

Sidenote.

This email address does not exist. It is for demo purposes only.

6. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if Hunter has found an email address

Next, set up a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if the email address data found by Hunter contains the “@” symbol.

That’s because all email addresses have the “@” symbol. If Hunter happens to find an email address value that doesn’t include this symbol, we won’t want to waste time verifying it.

Filter action: Only continue if email address contains "@"

7. Add a “Verify Email Address in NeverBounce” action step to your Zap

Now, we’ll use NeverBounce to verify the validity of the email addresses that Hunter found. Add a new action step with:

  • NeverBounce as the action app.
  • Verify Email Address as the action event.

Map the email address that Hunter found to this action step’s “Email Address to Verify” field:

Action step: Verify Email Address in NeverBounce

8. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if NeverBounce returns a “Valid” or “Catchall” status for the email address

When NeverBounce verifies an email address, it will return one of four status text codes: Valid, Catchall, Invalid, and Unknown. Email addresses marked with the “Valid” and “Catchall” NeverBounce status codes have the highest likelihood of being valid.

So we’ll add a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if an email address’s NeverBounce status text code matches either “Valid” or “Catchall” exactly.

Filter action: Only continue if NeverBounce status text code is "Valid" or "Catchall"

9. Add a “Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll set up the Zap to add the verified email address to Woodpecker.co.

Create a last action step with:

  • Woodpecker.co as the action app.
  • Create/Update Prospect as the action event.

Map the verified email address to the action step’s “Email” field, and your prospect’s first and last name (as obtained from Google Sheets) to the “First Name” and “Last Name” fields, respectively.

Action step: Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co

Hit the Publish button to turn your Zap on.

Now, when you fill out the “Approve?” column for prospects in your Google Sheet, your Zap will automatically do the heavy lifting of finding and verifying their email addresses using Hunter and NeverBounce and adding the verified email addresses to Woodpecker.co.

You can then customize your link building outreach emails in Woodpecker.co for each verified email address and, hopefully, snag yourself some backlinks!

Final thoughts

SEO automation takes some initial setup, but it’s amazing to watch your processes run automatically after that. It’s almost like magic.

And apart from the SEO processes we’ve shared here, there are probably plenty others you can automate.

Think of the apps you regularly use for SEO work. If you can connect these apps using Zapier or some other workflow automation tool, automating the workflows they support is likely more than possible.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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