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Google’s Hummingbird Update: How It Changed Search

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Google's Hummingbird Update: How It Changed Search

Google Hummingbird was a rewrite of Google’s algorithm that consciously anticipated the needs of searching on mobile devices, in particular by enabling conversational search.

Hummingbird set the stage for dramatic advances in search.

Google never published an explainer of what Hummingbird was.

However, there are records of Googlers explaining what it is.

Let’s take a look at what Google’s Hummingbird update did, how it impacted natural language search, and what Googlers and SEO industry experts had to say about it.

Google Hummingbird

The Google Hummingbird update was put into place in August 2013 and announced one month later, in September 2013.

The Hummingbird update has been described by Google as the biggest change to the algorithm since 2001.

It was also described by multiple Googlers as a total rewrite of the core algorithm.

Yet, despite the scale of this update, the immediate effect was so subtle that the update was largely unnoticed.

It seems contradictory for an update to be both wide-scale and unnoticeable.

The contradiction, however, is made more understandable when Hummingbird is viewed as the starting point for subsequent waves of innovations that were made possible by it.

Hummingbird Defined

The update was called Hummingbird because it is said to make Google’s core algorithm more precise and fast.

We all know what fast means.

Arguably the most important part of Hummingbird is the word “precise” because precision is about accuracy and being exact.

As you’ll see in the following linked conversations by Googlers, Hummingbird enabled Google to be more precise about what a query meant.

And, by moving away from matching keywords in a query to keywords on a webpage, Google became more precise about showing pages that matched the topic inherent in the search query.

A Complete Rewrite Of The Core Algorithm

Former Google Software Engineer Matt Cutts described Hummingbird as a rewrite of the entire core algorithm.

That doesn’t mean it was a brand new algorithm but rather the core algorithm was rewritten in a way that makes it able to do its job better.

In a December 4, 2013 video interview, Matt Cutts said that the Hummingbird algorithm was a rewrite of Google’s core search algorithm.

Matt Cutts explained (at the 1:20:00 mark of this video):

“Hummingbird is a rewrite of the core search algorithm.

Just to do a better job of matching the users queries with documents, especially for natural language queries, you know the queries get longer, they have more words in them and sometimes those words matter and sometimes they don’t.”

Some people think of Hummingbird as a component of Google’s core algorithm, much like Panda and Penguin are parts of the core algorithm.

Matt Cutts makes it clear that Hummingbird was not a part of the core algorithm. It was a rewrite of the core algorithm.

One of the goals of the rewrite was to make the core algorithm better able to match queries to webpages and to be able to handle longer conversational search queries.

Hummingbird Affected 90% Of Searches

Matt Cutts followed up by sharing that the precision and quickness of Hummingbird were present in 90% of searches.

Matt said:

“And so Hummingbird affects 90% of all searches.

But usually just to a small degree because we’re saying this particular document isn’t really about what the user searched for because maybe they said, ‘Okay Google, now how do I put a rutabaga up into space, what really matters is rutabaga and space and not how do I’.”

Hummingbird And Natural Language Search

When Hummingbird came out, some in the search community advised that it might be a good idea to change how content is written in order to match how searchers were searching.

Common advice was to convert articles to use more phrases like, how to.

While the advice was well-intentioned, it was also misguided.

What Hummingbird did was to make long conversational search queries understandable to the search engine.

In Matt’s example, Google was ignoring certain words in order to better understand what the search query really meant.

In the old algorithm, Google would try to rank a webpage that contained all the words in a search query, to do a word-for-word match between the search query and the webpage.

What Matt was explaining is that Google was now ignoring certain words in order to understand the queries and then use that understanding to rank a webpage.

Hummingbird enabled Google to stop relying on matching keywords to webpages, and instead, focus more on what the search query means.

That’s what he meant when he started his explanation of Hummingbird by saying:

“Just to do a better job of matching the users queries with documents, especially for natural language queries…”

Is There A Hummingbird Patent?

Some of the things that Hummingbird was doing with search queries was rewriting them by using techniques like query expansion.

For example, there are multiple ways to search for the same thing, using different words.

Five different search queries can be equal to one search query, with the only difference being that they use different words that are synonyms of each other.

With something like query expansion, Google could use synonyms to broaden the group of potential webpages to rank.

After Hummingbird, Google was no longer exact matching keywords in search queries to keywords in webpages.

This was something different that began happening after the Hummingbird update.

Bill Slawski wrote about a patent that describes things that the Hummingbird algorithm is said to be able to do, especially with regard to natural language queries.

Bill writes in his article:

“When the Hummingbird patent came out on Google’s 15th Birthday, it was like an overhaul of Google’s infrastructure, such as the Caffeine update, in the way that Googles index worked.

One thing that we were told was that the process behind Hummingbird was to rewrite queries more intelligently.”

The patent that Bill discovered and wrote about describes a breakthrough in how search queries are handled.

This patent described a way to make a search engine perform better for natural language search queries.

Thanks to Matt Cutts, we know that Hummingbird was a total rewrite of Google’s search algorithm.

Thanks to Bill Slawski, we can read a patent that describes some of the new things that the Hummingbird update made possible.

Does The Hummingbird Update Do New Things?

Similar to what Bill Slawski touched on about the patent he discovered, Matt Cutts said that the Hummingbird update allows Google to remove words from a mobile search query.

Matt Cutts said at a Pubcon 2013 keynote session that Hummingbird allows the algorithm to remove words that aren’t relevant to the context of what a user wants to find from a mobile voice search query.

You can watch Matt discuss Google Hummingbird in this video at the 6:35 minute mark:

“…the idea behind Hummingbird is, if you’re doing a query, it might be a natural language query, and you might include some word that you don’t necessarily need, like uh… [what’s the capital of Texas my dear]?

Well, ‘my dear’ doesn’t really add anything to that query.

It would be totally fine if you said just, [what is the capital of Texas?]

Or, [what is the capital of ever lovin’ Texas?]

Or, [what is the capital of crazy rebel beautiful Texas?]

Some of those words don’t matter as much.

And previously, Google used to match just the words in the query.

Now, we’re starting to say which ones are actually more helpful and which ones are more important.

And so Hummingbird is a step in that direction, where if you are saying or typing a longer query then we’re going to figure out which words matter more…”

There are three key takeaways from Matt’s explanation of what Hummingbird does:

  • Google no longer relies on just matching keywords in the search query.
  • Google identifies which words in a query are important and which are not.
  • Hummingbird is a step in the direction of understanding queries more precisely.

Hummingbird Did Not Initially Affect SEO

As previously mentioned, some SEOs advised updating webpages to make them match longer conversational search queries.

But just because Google was learning to understand conversational search queries did not mean that webpages needed to become more conversational.

In the above video recording of the 2013 Pubcon keynote address, Matt goes on to remark that Hummingbird doesn’t affect SEO.

Matt observed:

“Now, there’s a lot of articles written about Hummingbird, when even when just the code name was known, people were like, okay, how will Hummingbird affect SEO?

And even though people don’t know exactly what Hummingbird is they’re still going to write 500 words about how Hummingbird affects SEO.

And the fact is it doesn’t affect it that much.”

The Effect Of Hummingbird On Search Was Subtle

Matt next describes how the changes that Hummingbird introduced were subtle and not disruptive.

He said that the effect of the Hummingbird update was wide but the effect itself was small.

Matt explained:

“It affected 90% of queries but only to a small degree and we rolled it out over a month without people even noticing.

So it’s a subtle change, it’s not something that you need to worry about. It’s not going to rock your world like Panda and Penguin.

It’s just going to make the results a little bit better and especially on those long-tail queries or really specific queries, make them much better.”

Hummingbird & Long-Tail Keywords

Cutts continued his discussion about Hummingbird by describing its effect on sites that targeted extremely specific long-tail keywords.

We have to stop here and talk about long-tail phrases in order to better understand Matt Cutts is talking about because this part of the Hummingbird update had an effect on some SEO practices.

Long-tail keywords are search phrases that aren’t searched very often.

Many people associate long-tail with keyword phrases that have a lot of words in them – but that’s not what long-tail is.

Long tail, within the context of SEO, simply describes keyword phrases that are rarely searched for.

While some long-tail phrases may have a lot of words in them, the amount of words in a search query is not the defining characteristic of a long-tail search phrase.

The rarity of how often a phrase is used as a search query is what defines what a long-tail search query is.

The opposite of a Long-tail Search Query is a Head Phrase Search Query.

Head phrases are keyword phrases that have a high search query volume.

Screenshot by author, March 2022

Because there are so many people using the internet, spammers figured out that it was easy to rank for rare search queries so they began targeting millions of long-tail search phrases in order to attract thousands of site visitors every day and make money from ads.

Prior to Hummingbird, many legitimate sites also routinely targeted rare keyword phrase combinations for the same reason as the spammers, because they were easy to rank for.

After Hummingbird, Google began using some of the techniques that Bill Slawski reviewed in his article about the Google patent.

This change to how Google handled long-tail keyword phrases that Hummingbird introduced had a profound effect on how content was written, as many publishers learned it was not profitable to focus on thousands of granular long-tail search queries.

Cutts explained this long-tail aspect of the Hummingbird update:

“So unless you are a spammer and you’re targeting, ‘how many SEOs does it take to change a light bulb,’ and you’ve got all the keywords, you’ve got 15 variants of it, you’ve got a page for each one, you know.

If you’re doing those really long-tail things, then it might affect you.

But in general people don’t need to worry that much about Hummingbird.”

Despite his confidence that this change wouldn’t affect normal sites, Hummingbird did affect some legitimate non-spam sites that optimized webpages for highly specific search queries.

Hummingbird Was A Step Toward Conversational Search

Because Hummingbird was a rewrite of the old algorithm, which made it more precise and fast, it can be seen as a step toward today’s more modern search engine.

All of that one-to-one matching of keywords in the search query to keywords on a webpage was gone.

Combined with other improvements, such as the introduction of the Knowledge Graph, Google was now on its way to developing a deeper understanding of what users meant with their search queries and what webpages were really about.

That’s a vast improvement over the old search engine that matched keywords in the search queries to webpage content.

The improvements introduced by Google Hummingbird may have made this direction possible.

And though Cutts described the initial effect as subtle, these changes eventually lead to a more robust spoken language search experience that had a profound effect on what webpages were ranked and which pages were not ranked.

Search Innovations Sped Up After Hummingbird

What we know about Hummingbird is that it helped Google to better understand conversational search queries; it was a rewrite of the old Google core algorithm; that it helped Google understand the context of search queries; and that Google improved its ability to answer long-tail search queries.

Many significant changes to Google’s algorithm happened within months of the release of the Hummingbird update.

User Intent

Of course, when the conversation is about understanding user search queries, we’re now getting into the realm of understanding user intent.

Being able to remove superfluous words and get to the meaning of what a search query means is a step closer to understanding the user intent.

Fast Conversational Search – June 11, 2014

Conversational search began taking off in a big way in the spring of 2014, about six months after Hummingbird was introduced.

That was when Google was able to integrate the moment current events into the search results.

Read: Let Google Be Your Guide to the Beautiful Game with Real-time Highlights and Trends

Google Hummingbird was so-named because it was fast and accurate.

This new feature gave Google Search the ability to display sports scores in real-time.

There’s nothing faster than real-time, and sports scores are an example of precise information.

Ok Google Comes Online – June 26, 2014

A few weeks later Google unveiled the “Ok Google” conversational search product.

The introduction of the “Ok Google” voice command could be said to be the moment Google finally achieved its goal of providing a true conversational search experience.

Read:Ok Google” From Any Screen 

Conversational search depends heavily on understanding what people mean when they ask a question. That’s a huge leap forward.

Many other breakthroughs in conversational search followed

Conversational Search And Planning – October 14, 2014

Pravir Gupta, Senior Director of Engineering, Google Assistant posted an article on Google’s blog instructing how to utilize conversational search for doing things like verbally asking Google to find a restaurant or to give the user a reminder.

Read: Fall into Easier Planning with Google

Maybe it’s a coincidence or maybe it’s not that many of these conversational search innovations were released within months of Google’s Hummingbird update.

Regardless, these kinds of conversational search improvements are the sorts of things that Google Hummingbird was meant to support.

Though our understanding of Google Hummingbird could be better, what we do know makes it very clear that the Hummingbird update set Google on course to meet the challenges of mobile search and caused the SEO community to re-evaluate what it meant to build search optimized content.

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Featured Image: Henk Bogaard/Shutterstock

In-post Image #2: D-Krab/Shutterstock, modified by author, March 2022 

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An In-Depth Guide For Beginners

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An In-Depth Guide For Beginners

Every month, 2.98 billion people around the globe open up their laptops or smart devices and navigate their way to Facebook.

That’s roughly a quarter of everyone in the world, visiting the same social media platform, every single day.

Mark Zuckerberg likely didn’t imagine such astounding reach in his wildest dreams when he launched the first iteration of what would become the world’s most popular social networking site in 2003.

These days, nearly everyone uses Facebook, and it’s become as much a part of daily life as watching television.

For marketers, this means a massive opportunity to reach and engage with new audiences.

But you can’t just set up a company page and hope to attract millions of followers. You need a plan to capitalize on these opportunities and make the maximum impact.

If you’re a Facebook marketing beginner, this may sound like a daunting task, but don’t worry – it’s easier than you think.

Continue reading for an in-depth guide to Facebook marketing that you can use to get started right away.

What Is Facebook Marketing?

Facebook marketing is the process of using the social media platform to promote your business to potential buyers.

There are a variety of ways to do this, both paid and organic.

Paid Facebook marketing means using advertising campaigns within the platform to target people on the site and ideally, convert them into customers.

Organic marketing on Facebook occurs when you post content that your targets will find valuable, with the goal of increasing your following and engaging with your audience.

Why You Should Be Marketing On Facebook

If nearly 2 billion potential customers using Facebook didn’t entice you to create your own business profile, maybe this will: There are currently more than 200 million businesses already using Facebook’s free tools and apps.

And, of those, more than 3 million are actively advertising on the platform.

That means there’s a good chance your competition is already using this social media site to grow their business.

And if they’re not, jumping on board now will give you a serious edge over them.

So, with no further ado, let’s get started.

How To Set Up Facebook For Business

The very first thing you need to do to launch your marketing efforts on Facebook is to create a page for your business.

It’s free to set up and gives you a place for people to like or follow you. It also gives you a chance to engage with your customers (and potential customers), and share content with them via posts.

In your web browser, go to facebook.com/pages/create and select the category that best describes your organization. For most people, that’s going to be “Business or Brand.”

You’ll then be directed to a page where you can enter your brand’s name, select the category your business falls under, and add bio information.

If you’re a bit stuck on what to include in your bio, don’t worry – you can always change it later.

You’ll also have an opportunity to add a logo and cover image – again, don’t worry, these can be changed.

Next, you’ll be able to claim your unique URL, which will likely be something along the lines of facebook.com/TheNameOfYourBusiness.

The next step is an important one: editing your page info.

Make sure you provide all relevant details including your address, service hours, and other details customers and prospects might be looking for.

Congratulations – you’ve just created your Facebook business page. Now, it’s time to figure out how to use it for marketing.

How To Build A Facebook Marketing Strategy

As you probably already know, Facebook makes its money via advertising revenue. As such, it has made it simple for even the most technologically inept person to use it for marketing.

And this includes offering free information on how to create your own social media strategy.

You can read that helpful guide at your leisure, but for now, let’s break it down into eight steps:

  • Set your goals – What do you hope to accomplish via Facebook marketing? Facebook has three marketing objectives: awareness, consideration, and conversion.
  • Identify your audience – How old are they? Where do they live? What is their level of education? How can your offering solve their problem? Facebook lets your market with remarkable precision, so the more information you have on your targets, the better.
  • Plan your content – Decide what kind of things you’ll post. It could be industry news, behind-the-scenes pictures, or promotions – get as creative as you like. Just make sure you’re planning content your audience will like.
  • Create a content calendar – Decide when you will post specific pieces of content. Be as accurate as you can, right down to publishing time, because there will likely be times when your audience is more active.
  • Create your content – It’s time to put step three into action and create engaging pieces. Read this article for tips on keeping your content interesting and relevant.
  • Explore Facebook’s free tools – Facebook has several options for sharing content, including text, image, and video posts, as well as Stories and live streams.
  • Determine how you will use ads – You have multiple options for advertising on Facebook. We’ll go into them in more detail in the next section so you can choose what’s right for your needs.
  • Add the Facebook Pixel to your website – Don’t forget to add the tracking code to your website to collect data, enable retargeting, and track conversions.

Types Of Facebook Posts For Marketing

Facebook offers incredible flexibility when it comes to marketing, with numerous post and paid ad options.

Let’s first dive into the posts.

Facebook Marketing Post Types

The type of post you use when marketing on Facebook will depend on what you’re hoping to accomplish. Some of the more popular are:

  • Text posts or status updates – these are a great way to initiate conversations, share information, and educate your followers.
  • Photo posts – A great way to capture attention, images are useful for attracting new customers.
  • Video posts – Videos are a great way to engage with your audience and encourage interaction.
  • Facebook Live – Use the platform’s live streaming capabilities for product demonstrations, answering questions, or interacting with your followers.
  • Link posts – Use posts with direct links to your external website or blog. They include an automatic preview.
  • Stories – Just like Instagram Stories, Facebook Stories are great for building engagement without disrupting your followers’ feeds.
  • Pinned posts – Stuck at the top of your page, these are great for maximizing the reach of top-performing posts or relaying critical information, promotions, or events.

Once you have your business page set up and you’ve begun sharing content, the next phase of Facebook marketing is to venture into paid ads.

Facebook Ad Types

At the moment, there are four main types of ads on the platform:

Image Ads

Screenshot from Facebook, January 2023

These are static ads in JPG or PNG format. They should include a headline of up to 40 characters and the main text of 125 characters.

You also have a link description area which should be used for a clear and succinct CTA.

Image ads are easy to set up and work well for driving traffic to your website.

For a list of best practices for this ad format, click here.

Video Ads

Facebook Marketing: An In-Depth Guide For BeginnersScreenshot from Facebook, January 2023

Facebook video ads are a great way to boost your brand and don’t require expensive recording equipment or software. You can record these spots using your phone and there are a number of free editing apps that can help you.

Video ads can be placed in-stream (the short commercials that are shown before a video your target wants to watch), in-feed, or in Stories.

As a general rule of thumb, they should be under two minutes long and have an attention grabber within the first three seconds.

For more video best practices, click here.

Carousel Ads

Facebook Marketing: An In-Depth Guide For BeginnersScreenshot from Facebook, January 2923

Carousel ads combine multiple videos and images into a single ad, which is a great way to improve your chances of conversion.

They tend to work best for ecommerce brands, as they allow you to showcase multiple products or angles of a single product in one ad.

Ideally, these should point to a purpose-built landing page.

Here are some other best practices offered by Meta.

Collection Ads

Facebook Marketing: An In-Depth Guide For BeginnersScreenshot from Facebook, January 2023

Collection ads are another way for e-commerce brands to showcase products but are more similar to image ads than carousels.

You are restricted to a 40-character headline and a 125-character primary text.

Read about collection ads best practices here.

Which Goal Should I Focus on For Facebook Marketing?

The type of marketing that will work best for your brand depends on your goals.

As was mentioned previously, Facebook has three objectives that correspond with the top, middle, and bottom of the sales funnel, respectively:

Awareness

Facebook has two awareness objectives to help you expand your reach and generate interest:

  • Brand awareness – Used to entice a new audience or keep your brand top of mind. This usually results in little audience action.
  • Reach – Designed to reach as many people as possible within your ad budget.

Consideration

Consideration lets you choose from six objectives:

  • Traffic – Choose this objective when you want to increase the number of visitors to your external website.
  • Engagement – This is used to encourage people to like and comment on your posts, or respond to event invitations.
  • App promotion – Used to drive downloads of your app in Google Play or the App Store.
  • Video views – If you’re showcasing your brand or highlighting a unique value proposition (UVP). It’s also a good way to lay the groundwork for future retargeting.
  • Lead generation – Collect information about your customers and add them to your sales funnel.
  • Messages – Use this when you’re seeking to start conversations around your brand.

Conversions

Conversions lets you choose from three objectives:

  • Conversions – This could be making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter, or taking any other action.
  • Catalog sales – By connecting your e-commerce store with Facebook Ads, you can promote products from your catalog.
  • Store traffic – Use this to drive traffic to your physical location by targeting nearby potential customers.

Once you have determined your objectives, you can determine which format will work best to help you accomplish your goals.

From here, you’ll need to determine your budget and schedule. You can opt for either a daily or monthly budget, with the option for an end date for time-sensitive promotions.

Next, you’ll choose your audience – a process we’ll dive into in the next section – and select your placements.

If you’ve never placed ads on Facebook before, you will probably be best served by selecting Automatic Placements, which will allow the social media platform to determine where you’re likely to get the best results.

If you know what you’re doing, you can customize your placement and select things like device type and operating system.

When Not To Use Facebook Ads

There’s no question that running Facebook ad campaigns can be extremely beneficial. But it’s not a magical sales multiplier.

In fact, in some situations, it can be a complete waste of money – and Facebook Ads can be quite costly.

Here are some situations when you should not use Facebook Ads:

  • You’re unclear on your targeting – Nothing will blow through your ad spend faster, and with less to show for it, than going after the wrong demographic.
  • You’re not using your metrics – As with every marketing campaign, your Facebook Ads should be subject to measurement and A/B testing to find the optimal placement and format.
  • You don’t have anything worth sharing – To get engagement, your ads need to be compelling. It could be a unique product, a special event, or a sale, but people need a reason to click your ads.
  • Your landing page and ad are disconnected – If you’re promising one thing in your Facebook Ad and then delivering something different on your website, people will not follow through with your CTA.

Using Facebook Analytics

Facebook’s biggest value to marketers lies in its analytics capabilities via Facebook Insights.

To access it, go to your Page Manager and click on Insights.

You’ll be presented with quite a lot of data, created using a default range of 28 days. You can change this as needed.

The first thing you’ll likely want to check is the Overview tab, which will tell you how your page is performing. This gives you key metrics about your page and your most recent posts, and compares you to similar pages.

Use the Likes tab to see the averages, growth, and source of your likes to help you understand how your page is performing.

The Reach tab tracks how many people have seen your posts, their reactions, comments, and shares, as well as how many have hidden them or reported them as spam.

Page views help you identify where your traffic is coming from and how many views your posts are receiving.

Under the Actions of Page tab, you’ll get a report of what actions visitors took on your Facebook page, as well as demographic information on the people who clicked your phone number or website or took another action.

There are also separate tabs to tell you how your posts, events, and videos are performing on the platform.

The People tab gives you information about who saw and engaged with your posts or page. It gives you data on your fans, as well as reach and engagement numbers.

The Messages tab tracks Messenger analytics, including response time, while Promotions gives you an overview of recent sales and promotions.

Branded Content lists your mentions from Verified Pages (those with a blue checkmark).

Finally, there’s the Local tab, which while not relevant for strictly online businesses, is extremely valuable for any company with a physical location.

It gives you information about the foot traffic in your area, as well as demographic information about these people and the number of people nearby who saw your ads.

How To Create Great Facebook Campaigns

There is no question that Facebook can be an excellent marketing tool for virtually any organization.

But if you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing, it can also be an easy way to blow through your advertising budget in no time.

To ensure your Facebook marketing campaigns give you the biggest bang for your buck, here are some key takeaways to keep in mind:

  • Identify your audience and write to it – Keep your posts only as long as is required to persuade a target. Keep your ads within specified limits. Keep your CTAs short and to the point.
  • Don’t take a “one-size-fits-all” approach – Facebook allows you incredible targeting options. Use them. Highly targeted ads are going to perform much better than those that take a scattergun approach.
  • Have a good offer – Even the best copy and image can’t overcome a bad offer. Make sure you’re providing something people want.
  • Connect your visuals with your copy – Copy should reinforce your images and videos and vice versa. Make sure yours does.
  • Refine your strategy – You’re not going to get everything perfect for your first, second, or even hundredth Facebook campaign. In fact, there are no perfect campaigns. That means you should always be working on your strategy and content, striving to find something better.

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Featured Image: Production Perig/Shutterstock



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7 Essential Tips & Tricks You Might Not Know

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7 Essential Tips & Tricks You Might Not Know

It may not look like one of the fancy, paid SEO tools you’re used to logging into, but Excel remains one of the most versatile and powerful tools in an SEO professional’s toolbox.

You can use Excel to track and analyze key metrics such as rankings, website traffic, and backlinks.

Use it to create and update meta tags, track and analyze competitors’ SEO strategies and performance, build automated reports, and take care of many of the data tasks you’ll encounter every day.

Combine your Excel knowledge with Python, Tableau, R, and other tools, and there is nothing you can’t do.

If you’ve never worked with data before, you’ll find Excel has a bit of a learning curve, but you can use it right from the start. And it’s flexible enough to scale and grow as your site grows.

Why Excel For SEO Tasks?

While many paid tools can help you do the same tasks, Excel is a fantastic option to enhance, combine, or replace those tools.

  • It’s affordable and comes with a range of tools you already use.
  • There are a ton of resources and courses to help you learn.
  • Easily handles large amounts of data.
  • Sorting and de-duplicating – a feature often missing when you need it.
  • Create and manage databases with simple formulas.
  • Data ports easily to other tools and is available for other tasks.
  • Pivot tables and smart charts.

1. Combine Multiple Data Sources

You will often find yourself having to merge data from multiple sources.

This is intuitive and quick in Tableau, Python, or R, but you can do the same in Excel using Power Query.

There are a few steps to this process, but it’s not as complicated as you might think – even if you are new to working with data or Excel.

Power Query has automated and simplified tasks that required a lot of time and skill.

And it is probably THE best Excel feature for business and SEO professionals.

Seem a bit daunting? Don’t worry. There are several courses and tutorials on YouTube to get you started.

What It’s Good For:

  • Building reports.
  • Analytics and sales data.
  • Combining data sources to identify opportunities and gain insights.

2. Data Cleaning

Much of your time is lost simply preparing data for analysis. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Large lists are often larger than they need to be. Finding and manually removing all the duplicates, however, can be a serious pain.

Excel can do this instantly for you. Simply go to the “Data” tab and click “Remove Duplicates.”

Screenshot from Excel, January 2023.

Unwanted spaces and blank lines tend to cause havoc with many tasks, formulas, and statistics.

Excel will remove them for you simply by going to Edit > Find > Go To. Select “Special,” “Blanks,” and tell Excel how it should handle them.

“Convert text to columns” can be a lifesaver, especially if you’ve received data where the addresses or names are all in the same cell or you need to extract domains from email addresses.

Go to Data > Text to Columns. Then, indicate what to use for Delimiters (comma or space) and preview the results. When you’re ready, click “Next,” choose a destination, and click “Finish.”

When To Use It:

  • Data analysis.
  • Data processing.
  • Processing and cleaning lead databases.
  • Working with any data.

 3. Power Excel With Add-On Tools

Some of the more complex tasks, such as crawling, require a bit of coding knowledge.

If you don’t have that in your skillset, however, there are tools you can download, integrate with other tools, and add on.

Power Excel With Add-On ToolsScreenshot from SEOTools, January 2023.

SEOTools offers off and on-page SEO tools, integrations, connectors, spiders, and several other tools that make it easy to customize your Excel and create custom projects.

SEOGadget brings the power of Moz, Grepwords, and Majestic to Excel.

Analysis ToolPak is for serious data analysis. This add-on improves and automates in-depth statistics, perfect for forecasting, trending, regression analysis, and more complex data analysis tasks you might otherwise perform in R or Python.

When To Use It:

  • Reporting.
  • Regular data analysis.
  • Presentations.
  • Integrating and coordinating with other teams.

4. Infographics And Charts

Data is useless if you can’t understand it.

In fact, data visualization and storytelling are likely some of the most important skills you can have. This is where tools like Power Query and PivotTables come in.

Built right into Excel, pivot tables are the other valuable tools you have for this purpose.

However, instead of just creating a straight pivot table and a related chart, save yourself some steps by creating a master “template” first that you can then replicate as needed and adjust to suit your needs.

Excel pivot tables for reportingScreenshot from Excel, January 2023.

In many instances, however, you will need to work with dates or segments of the data. For that, you’ll want to enter splicers and timelines.

  • To splice data into segments: Select the pivot table and go to PivotTable Tools > Analyze > Filter > Insert Slicer. Then, simply input how you would like to segment the content (e.g., by product or topic).
  • To utilize timelines: Click the pivot table’s tools option, go to Analyze > Filter > Insert Timeline. Once there, you can choose what you’d like to use, style it, add captions, and more.

If you’ve never used Excel’s PivotTables before, a short tutorial will have you on your way to analyzing data in no time.

Still want a little more? Make your reports, social media, and updates even better by upping your data visualization game with add-ons like People Graph.

When To Use It:

  • Reporting.
  • Daily updates.
  • Surface data analysis.
  • Team collaboration and integration.

5. Automate Common Tasks With Macros

SEO, particularly agency SEO, is full of repetitive tasks like weekly reporting that consume much of your time. Excel’s macros are the answer. And they’re really easy to use.

Under the “View” tab, click “Macros” and “Record Macro.”

Automate Common Tasks With MacrosScreenshot from Excel, January 2023.

Fill out the details.

The macro is now recording. So, simply walk through the steps that you’d like to automate. And when you’re done, go back to the ribbon and stop the recording.

When you’re ready to run the automation, go to the macro button in the ribbon, click “View Macros,” and select the desired macro from the list.

If you have some macros that you use more often than others, you can add them to the Quick Access Toolbar.

When To Use It:

  • Sorting.
  • Calculations.
  • Reformatting data.
  • Setting up new site documents or new pages for reports.

6. Easily Import Feeds And Data Into Excel

If you use Google Alerts or publish frequently, automatically importing feeds into Excel can be a huge time saver.

To start, simply grab the RSS feed address. (Or, create an alert for Google Alerts and have them delivered as an RSS feed.)

Importing rss feeds into google sheets for excelScreenshot from Google Sheets, January 2023.

Then, go to Google Sheets and use the IMPORTFEED function to bring the updates straight into a spreadsheet.

Alternatively, you can add the information to separate columns.

Importing rss feeds into excel through google sheetsScreenshot from Google Sheets, January 2023.

From here, you can regularly download and import the data into Excel, combine it with other related data, or integrate it into your custom dashboards.

If you need something a little more automatic, use Google Apps Script or one of the add-ons available to automate the process.

Want a little more data behind your reports? You can scrape and import Google Search Results into Excel, too.

7. Backlink Analysis

To analyze backlinks with Excel, collect backlink data with tools such as Ahrefs, Majestic, or Google Search Console.

Then, import it into Excel and use it to analyze your backlinks in a number of ways:

  • Who links to you: Use Excel’s sorting and filtering tools to filter the data and use the IF function: IF(logic, true_value,[false_value]) to sort and identify domains linking to you.
  • What do people link to: Sort and filter to see the anchor text used most often for your backlinks (using frequency/count).
  • When did people link to you: Organize the data by date to see how old your links are and when most of your backlinks were acquired.

Find trends or patterns in your backlink profiles with pivot tables, groups, charts, and graphs by combining your backlink and sales or conversion data.

Highlight specific data based on certain conditions with conditional formatting. This makes it easy to spot backlinks from high-authority websites or backlinks with specific anchor text.

Summary

Many people overlook Excel either because they think it’s too basic to be of much use. Or it looks too intimidating or daunting to learn.

But those of us who use it understand just how powerful it can be and the unlimited possibilities it provides.

Hopefully, these tips will help you craft better strategies, find new opportunities, and tell your story with better reports and dashboards.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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12 Great Link Building Tools That Are Essential To Your Success

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12 Great Link Building Tools That Are Essential To Your Success

Link-building strategies, along with SEO tools, have certainly changed over the years.

Since the old automated link-building tools that automatically placed content like KontentMachine or GSA’s Search Engine Ranker, modern tools have moved to manual research and outreach platforms.

Tools that many of my link-building colleagues and I use today look more like ones used for public relations (PR) rather than link-building. However, there are still tools specific to link building that aren’t going anywhere.

These can be divided into four categories:

  • Link research.
  • Prospecting and outreach.
  • Reporting.
  • AI-powered tools.

Emerging technologies powered by AI can make the link-building process easier.

Link Research Prospecting And Outreach Reporting AI-Powered Tools
1. Majestic

Excellent for identifying the types of domains you should generate links from.

3. Pitchbox

Combines email outreach with SEO metrics.

8. Agency Analytics

Connects a variety of performance metrics.

10. Link Whisperer

Good for internal linking efforts.

2. Ahrefs

Provides useful reports to analyze trends.

4. BuzzSumo

Use to identify authors and sharers/backlinkers.

9. Cyfe

Customizable but automatic reporting.

11. Postaga

Find opportunities and initiate outreach.

5. Hunter.IO

A browser extension that helps you find contact information.

12. CTRify

WordPress plugin that generates content.

6. BrightLocal

Submit and manage citations.

7. HARO

Link Research Tools

Link research is vital to figuring out what type of sites you should be approaching. This includes establishing quality criteria, categories of sites, authority metrics, and others.

Majestic and Ahrefs are two research tools that provide large databases and robust reporting.

I’ve included both of these sites as I constantly see each having data that the other doesn’t.

You may find some links to your competitors’ sites in Majestic that aren’t listed in Ahrefs and vice versa.

These tools can be used together to build a comprehensive list of sites to analyze. As with many SEO tools, the pricing depends on how many features your team needs.

1. Majestic

  • Pricing: $49.99 per month with one user for the ‘Lite’ package. $99.99 per month for the “Pro” package, which they recommend for SEO agencies and consultants.
  • Payment options: Monthly or receive a discount for an annual subscription.
Screenshot from Majestic, January 2023

Here are some recommendations on using it and what reports should influence your link-building.

  • Topics: This data can be used to identify the types of sites you should be generating links from. Consider running this report on the link profiles for top-ranking sites, then finding sites that fit into similar categories.
  • Referring Domains: Use this to evaluate the number of unique domains you should focus on building for your site. This also offers a look into the trust/citation flow distribution (count of domains by trust/citation flow).

2. Ahrefs

  • Pricing: $99 per month with only one user for the ‘Lite’ plan. $199 per month for the “Standard” plan.
  • Payment options: Monthly or receive a discount for an annual subscription.
Ahrefs toolScreenshot from Ahrefs, January 2023

In contrast to Majestic, Ahrefs has some reports that are much easier to run inside the tool. It certainly costs more, but if you want more data, then Ahrefs is the right choice.

Here are reports to use in Ahrefs over Majestic:

  • Pages > Best by links: Two useful applications of this report are:
    • Identify competitors’ most linked content to influence your content strategies.
    • Identify the type of sites that link to the content you will produce.
  • Pages > Best by link growth: This is a “trend” report providing content that has been generating links over the last 30 days. Find content here that is receiving a rapid number of links and create more robust content.

Prospecting And Outreach Tools

Finding highly relevant sites that may link to your content is the most excruciating part of link building.

You can create a large list of sites and bulk outreach to save time, but when evaluating your link-building success on links gained per hour and the quality of those links, it’s best to handle prospecting manually or in a semi-automated approach.

I’ll go through five tools, Pitchbox, BuzzSumo, Hunter.io, BrightLocal, and HARO.

These tools can be used for the most popular link-building strategies.

3. Pitchbox

  • Pricing: Averages $500+ per month.
  • Payment options: Prices are dependent on an individual walkthrough with Pitchbox.

Pitchbox is one of the pricier tools on the market compared to email tools like MailChimp, but integrated prospecting helps reduce the time to qualify sites.

The prospecting sites list builder and SEO metrics integrated right into the opportunities report make the tool stand out.

PitchboxScreenshot from Pitchbox, January 2023

4. BuzzSumo

  • Pricing: $99 per month for the “Pro” package. $179 per month for the “Plus” package. There’s a pared-down free version with limited searches per month.
  • Payment options: There is also a free version with limited features.

This is an excellent tool for building lists of blogs, influencers, and authors. Out of all the prospecting tools on the list, BuzzSumo has the best filtering options.

You can use the tool for a lot of purposes, but for link building, these are two effective use cases:

  • Identifying authors: The content research and influencers sections provide lists of authors/influencers that are searchable by keywords in the content they shared or produced. One fantastic use for this is to search through the “most shared” report and find influencers that received more than 2,000 shares of their content, then outreach to them to share yours. This can yield a lot of natural links.
  • Identifying sharers/backlinks: The second use goes a layer deeper than the first, finding those that have shared the content. Pull a list of shares or backlinking websites by content, then create similar but better content.
Buzzsumo platformScreenshot from Buzzsumo, January 2023

5. Hunter.io

  • Pricing: Starts at free. The first two upgraded packages are $49 per month and $99 per month.
  • Payment options: Free for 25 monthly searches up to $399 per month for 30,000 searches.

This browser extension finds email addresses for easy contact options.

It helps cut down on time spent sifting through About pages. You can also take it a step further and use the tool for outreach.

Hunter.ioScreenshot from Hunter.io, January 2023

6. BrightLocal

  • Pricing: $29-$79 per month, depending on package size.
  • Payment options: You can also pay for the citation builder, reviews, or enterprise.

Citation building is important for local SEO and should be considered a link-building project.

One of the tools with the best value for submitting and managing citations is BrightLocal.

There are two components: citation monitoring and citation building. The tool also allows you to figure out how you’re ranking based on the local competition.

BrightLocalScreenshot from BightLocal, January 2023

7. HARO

  • Pricing: Starts at free. The first paid plan is $19 per month, which adds alerts and search functionality.
  • Payment options: The free options offer media options delivered to your email three times a day and up to $149/month for premium.

While this tool is traditionally used in the journalism world, it can also help link builders. It connects you with credible sources and allows you to build natural backlinks.

HAROScreenshot from HARO, January 2023

Reporting Tools

Although many of the tools in the previous section have reporting functionality built in, I’ve found them lacking in custom reporting or the ability to associate links to ranking performance.

These tools solve that issue; AgencyAnalytics and Cyfe.

8. Agency Analytics

  • Pricing: $12 per month, per campaign. $18 per month per campaign for custom reporting features.
  • Payment options: Pay annually to save money.

Agency Analytics automatically populates the dashboard with data from Moz and Majestic and connects that data to critical performance metrics, like ranking and organic traffic.

Qualified traffic that converts to leads or sales is the purpose of link-building and SEO efforts, so reporting needs to make a connection between them.

Agency AnalyticsScreenshot from Agency Analytics, January 2023

9. Cyfe

  • Pricing: $19 per month for one user, with higher tiers for more users.
  • Payment options: Unlimited users for $89/month.

This tool can be built out as a hybrid between Google Sheets and Agency Analytics, meaning it’s very customizable but can also automatically and easily aggregate data from multiple sources to create a meaningful report.

CyfeScreenshot from Cyfe, January 2023

AI-Powered Tools

AI-powered tools can significantly simplify otherwise complex and time-consuming tasks. Remember that some of your processes will require a human touch, so always evaluate how performance is impacted when integrating AI into your processes.

The following tools, Link Whisper, Postaga, and CTRify use AI to discover opportunities and automate processes.

10. Link Whisper

  • Pricing: $77 per month for one site, with additional plans for more sites.
  • Payment options: One to 50 site licenses.

Link Whisper is useful for internal link building.

AI technologies offer automatic link suggestions as content is produced. It can also help you recognize old content that needs more links directed to it.

The tools also automate links based on keywords and offer internal link reporting. It’s pretty all-inclusive and can help speed up internal link-building automatically.

Link WhispererScreenshot from Link Whisperer, January 2023

11. Postaga

  • Pricing: $84 per month for one account with five users. $250 per month for 30 accounts with unlimited users.
  • Payment options: Save by paying annually.

Postaga does everything from finding opportunities to initiating outreach.

AI comes into play with the outreach assistant, which finds relevant information from influencers to include in emails. You can also enter your domain into the tool to find relevant campaign ideas.

PostagaScreenshot from Postaga, January 2023

12. CTRify

  • Pricing: A free version. $197 or $497, depending on the plan.
  • Payment options: Single payment.

CTRify is a WordPress plugin that is great for content creation.

All it takes is a single keyword, and the AI creates the content you need for a specific campaign. You can then automatically publish the posts – it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

CTRifyScreenshot from CTRify, January 2023

Conclusion

I’ve curated this list with the intent to offer a tool for every reader, providing enterprise-level affordable solutions and highly technical tools.

There is diversity in the available tools, and you will need to select the right one for the job.

You don’t need to have a $1,000 monthly tool budget to be a link builder, but all of the tasks will take time. Allocating your time and budget in the right combination improves business outcomes.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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