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How to limit your reliance on canonicals and boost crawl efficiency

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How to limit your reliance on canonicals and boost crawl efficiency

30-second summary:

  • Reducing reliance on canonical tags can improve product URL discovery on Shopify
  • How you structure your products on Shopify can determine how well these pages perform
  • Shifting reliance from canonical tags to rich internal anchor text helps build relevancy

Can anything stop the relentless rise of Shopify? Back in 2012, the landscape was dominated by WordPress, Magento, and Joomla. Fast-forward 10 years and many in the industry now see Shopify as the leading ecommerce platform, with the others going from leaders to laggards.

Shopify SEO graph

There are of course multiple reasons for Shopify’s rise to prominence, but arguably one of the biggest factors is that the platform is much more technically accessible than other ecommerce infrastructure providers. Getting your head around a fresh Magento install or working out how Joomla works (which is still a mystery to me till date!) often requires a certain level of technical know-how. And, if you don’t possess it, then you need to spend extra resources outsourcing that work to someone who does.

Shopify understood that baking simplicity and an “it just works” ethos into their platform would allow everyday entrepreneurs to get their sites up and running quickly, without needing a degree in computer science or a huge budget to maintain their online presence. However, as user-friendly, as it might be, there are still a few technical and SEO hurdles to overcome if you want your Shopify site to succeed on the SERPs.

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at a key “out of the box” SEO issue that often limits the relevance of product pages within Shopify and creates significant site bloat. More importantly, I’ll also share four potential solutions that can be used to fix the problem and maximize your product page potential. Let’s dive in.

The cost of inefficiency

Something that we often discuss with our clients is ensuring that Google can crawl their websites as efficiently as possible. We explain this by breaking down the cost to Google of crawling the web. Every time Google visits a webpage on the Internet there is a physical cost to Google: the price of electricity consumption, water consumption, hardware, software, and all the other assets needed to visit that page. While this cost might be a thousandth of a penny per URL, with the sheer amount of URLs crawled by Google each day, the total cost is likely staggering.

Therefore, if you are serving Google webpages that are duplicated or not relevant, you are wasting resources. Google has made a point of stating that in their article on managing crawl budget:

“Without guidance from you, Googlebot will try to crawl all or most of the URLs that it knows about on your site. If many of these URLs are duplicates, or you don’t want them crawled for some other reason (removed, unimportant, and so on), this wastes a lot of Google crawling time on your site. This is the factor that you can positively control the most.”

The key message here is that you can control how much of Google’s crawl time is wasted. By aiming to reduce this waste, you are ensuring that the time Google spends on your website is as productive as possible. This means Google will spend more time crawling URLs that have true value, picking up changes to existing URLs, and discovering new pages much faster.

Use canonicals as a temporary solution and not the final fix

A canonical tag is used when there are multiple duplicate pages, allowing you to define which of the duplicates should be deemed the correct page for Google to index.

While they are effective in the short term, the existence of a canonical tag highlights that there are structural issues within a website, and this can impact crawl efficiency. Even though the canonical tag will indicate to Google that you have selected a preferred URL to index, the search engine still needs to crawl all duplicates that contain the canonical tag to come to the consensus that you have set.

Rather than using a canonical tag as a permanent solution, it’s important to take steps to fix the underlying structural problem, therefore negating the use of a canonical tag. This in turn will have a positive impact on crawl efficiency.

What does this have to do with Shopify product pages?

Put simply, product URLs on Shopify rely on canonical tags to be discovered. Let’s look at the two main causes of this.

Products in multiple collections

The URL below is a product page from a Shopify website.

https://www.bellfieldclothing.com/collections/mens-jackets/products/naota-mens-funnel-neck-quilted-puffer-jacket-navy

You will notice that the URL has the collection the product is in is seen in the URL as well. If this product is in multiple collections, Shopify creates multiple product URLs. As these are duplicates, Shopify handles this by using canonical tags. These canonical tags point to the preferred product URL, which does not contain a collection:

The product highlighted above is currently in four collections, meaning there are now five different product URLs for Google to crawl to find this one product that it needs to index. There is, however, another issue that further increases this number: product variants.

Product variants

A product variant is a product attribute that can implement within Shopify. This could be color, size, weight, or any other type of attribute that a product may have. Creating variants of a product within Shopify allows a user to select attributes on the product page. This can be seen below on our example product URL as “size”:

Shopift SEO canonical URL product page example

In this setup, Shopify adds a parameter to the product URL called ?variant. This contains an ID that references the selected variant. The URL below is our example product URL with the medium variant selected:

https://www.bellfieldclothing.com/collections/mens-jackets/products/naota-mens-funnel-neck-quilted-puffer-jacket-navy?variant=39593265954876

This is of course another duplicate, which is handled via a canonical tag. If we begin to calculate the total number of URLs this single product has that rely on canonical tags, you will notice how this can have a detrimental impact on crawl efficiency.

Based on this product being in four collections and having four variants, there are a total of 20 product URLs that rely on a canonical tag. This means Google needs to regularly crawl 21 product URLs to discover the single product URL that needs indexing.

10,000 URLs crawled to index 600

When you factor in the sheer number of products across an entire website, it’s easy to see how this figure can add up. If our example website has 600 products, and each product appears in four collections with four variants each, then Google will need to regularly crawl in excess of 10,000 product URLs to find the 600 that have been requested to be indexed.

How do you fix this on Shopify?

There are two distinct problems we need to fix here: the issue with products appearing in multiple collections, and the issue with product variants. There are solutions for both — however, implementing them will require compromise in certain areas.

Products in multiple collections: The fix

This fix works by removing links to product URLs with the collection name in the product URL. The main culprit here is the collection URL — specifically the theme file that powers collection URLs. On Shopify, this file is called product-grid-item.liquid.

You can navigate to this file via the following route within your Shopify admin.

Online Store > Themes > Customize > Theme Actions > Edit Code > Snippets

Within this file there are HTML hyperlinks that reference product URLs containing the collection name:

Shopify SEO code

The “within: collection” element is what is responsible for pulling the collection name into the product URL. Removing this ensures that the collection name no longer appears in the product URL.

However, before you jump in, there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind:

  • It is recommended that you consult with your web development team before making this change.
  • Apps that you use may need the “within: collection” functionality, so it is worth checking with app support on whether or not this can be changed.
  • This change impacts the breadcrumb on product URLs. If this is problematic, then I’d suggest building breadcrumbs manually using META fields with a dedicated META fields app.
  • You will also need to ensure that manual links that use this format are changed.
  • There may be other template files that contain “within: collection” so it is worth liaising with your development team to identify these.

Product variants: The fix (or is it?)

Unfortunately, the solution to product variants is more complex and ultimately depends on how much SEO value you are getting from your existing product variants. The recommendation here is to first find out how viable product variant keywords are in terms of search volume and market opportunity.

For example, if our imaginary Shopify store sells Ralph Lauren polo shirts, then my variants are likely to be color and size. By running a quick search for the product type plus these variants, we can see that there is search volume and therefore it will be important that my variants are indexable and optimized.

Shopify SEO keywords

Fix Option #1: Optimize ?variant URLs

This first option is viable if you believe that there is search volume opportunity across a wide range of your product variants. The premise of this fix is to build logic into your theme code, so that when a variant is selected, the variant name is appended into the page title tag and where possible, the product description.

This change will likely depend on your theme setup and, as with any change, it is recommended that you consult with your web development team. More details on how to do this can be found via the Shopify community thread below:

https://community.shopify.com/c/shopify-design/different-product-titles-for-different-variants-for-the-same/td-p/620113

Another thing to bear in mind with this solution is that you will need to remove the canonical tag that is currently in place on ?variant URLs. The main drawback to this approach is that you may need to implement it sitewide across all product variants — but not all variants will necessarily have available search volume.

Fix Option #2: Optimize main product URL for variants

If you want more control over which product sets have optimized variants, then this option might be for you. By optimizing the main product URL for variants, by including variant keywords in the product description and META data, you will stand a chance of being visible for these product variant keywords.

The drawback here is that product URLs could become over-optimized and not as relevant as a dedicated, optimized product variant URL.

Fix Option #3: Disallow ?variant parameter

If it turns out that your product variants have minimal or no search value then disallowing the ?variant parameter in your robots.txt file might be the best option. This will stop Google crawling ?variant URLs, therefore making crawl activity more efficient.

Fix Option #4: Individual products per variant

If your product variants do have search viability, then creating individual products per variant might be an effective option. This is something we have seen retailers like Gym Shark do with color. The product below comes in a number of different colors, each of which has its own product URL and does not rely on variants, e.g.:

https://www.gymshark.com/products/gymshark-element-baselayer-t-shirt-black-aw21

Shopify SEO Example

With more control over both META data and optimized content, this approach means it is easier to build deeper relevance for product variants. The downside here is that there are simply more products to manage within the CMS.

Shopify & SEO issues: Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons for Shopify’s meteoric rise has been the “it just works” ethos that makes the platform such a cinch to use. But that’s not to say that the platform doesn’t suffer from a few SEO snags.

In addition to the canonical issue, Google’s Core Web Vitals can be another source of headaches for SEOs who work with the platform. But there are generally workarounds for those who are willing to take the time to implement them. You can learn more about how to navigate these in our ultimate guide to Shopify SEO (2022).

There are also hopeful signs that the Shopify team are increasingly receptive to the needs of the SEO community. The team have regularly taken on board feedback from SEOs to improve their product, from allowing users to edit the robots.txt file, to allowing for sub-folder international structures. So, we can hope that easy-to-implement solutions around the use of canonicals and other issues will be rolled out before too long.

Can anything stop the relentless rise of Shopify? Back in 2012, the landscape was dominated by WordPress, Magento and Joomla. Fast-forward 10 years, and many in the industry now see Shopify as the leading e-commerce platform, with the others going from leaders to laggards.

There are of course multiple reasons for Shopify’s rise to prominence, but arguably one of the biggest factors is that the platform is much more technically accessible than other ecommerce infrastructure providers. Getting your head around a fresh Magento install or working out how Joomla works (which is still a mystery to me to this day!) often requires a certain level of technical knowhow. And, if you don’t possess it, then you need to spend extra resources outsourcing that work to someone who does.

Shopify understood that baking in simplicity and an “it just works” ethos into their platform would allow everyday entrepreneurs to get their sites up and running quickly, without needing a degree in computer science or a huge budget to maintain their online presence. However, as user-friendly as it might be, there are still a few technical and SEO hurdles to overcome if you want your Shopify site to succeed on the SERPs.

In this article, I’ll take a closer look at a key “out of the box” SEO issue that often limits the relevance of product pages within Shopify and creates significant site bloat. More importantly, I’ll also share four potential solutions that can be used to fix the problem and maximize your product page potential. Let’s dive in.

The cost of inefficiency

Something that we often discuss with our clients is ensuring that Google can crawl their websites as efficiently as possible. We explain this by breaking down the cost to Google of crawling the web. Every time Google visits a webpage on the Internet there is a physical cost to Google: the price of electricity consumption, water consumption, hardware, software, and all the other assets needed to visit that page. While this cost might be a thousandth of a penny per URL, with the sheer amount of URLs crawled by Google each day, the total cost is likely staggering.

Therefore, if you are serving Google webpages that are duplicated or not relevant, you are wasting resources. Google have made a point of stating that in their article on managing crawl budget:

“Without guidance from you, Googlebot will try to crawl all or most of the URLs that it knows about on your site. If many of these URLs are duplicates, or you don’t want them crawled for some other reason (removed, unimportant, and so on), this wastes a lot of Google crawling time on your site. This is the factor that you can positively control the most.”

The key message here is that you can control how much of Google’s crawl time is wasted. By aiming to reduce this waste, you are ensuring that the time Google spends on your website is as productive as possible. This means Google will spend more time crawling URLs that have true value, picking up changes to existing URLs and discovering new pages much faster.

Using canonicals as a temporary solution and not the final fix

A canonical tag is used when there are multiple duplicate pages, allowing you to define which of the duplicates should be deemed the correct page for Google to index.

While they are effective in the short term, the existence of a canonical tag highlights that there are structural issues within a website, and this can impact crawl efficiency. Even though the canonical tag will indicate to Google that you have selected a preferred URL to index, the search engine still needs to crawl all duplicates that contain the canonical tag to come to the consensus that you have set.

So, rather than using a canonical tag as a permanent solution, it’s important to take steps to fix the underlying structural problem, and therefore negating the use of the canonical tag. This in turn will have a positive impact on crawl efficiency.

What does this have to do with Shopify product pages?

Put simply, product URLs on Shopify rely on canonical tags to be discovered. Let’s look at the two main causes of this.

Products in multiple collections

The URL below is a product page from a Shopify website.

https://www.bellfieldclothing.com/collections/mens-jackets/products/naota-mens-funnel-neck-quilted-puffer-jacket-navy

You will notice that the URL has the collection the product is in within it. If this product is in multiple collections, Shopify creates multiple product URLs. As these are duplicates, Shopify handles this by using canonical tags. These canonical tags point to the preferred product URL, which does not contain a collection:

The product highlighted above is currently in four collections, meaning there are now five different product URLs for Google to crawl to find this one product that it needs to index. There is, however, another issue that further increases this number: product variants.

Product variants

A product variant is a product attribute that can implement within Shopify. This could be color, size, weight or any other type of attribute that a product may have. By creating variants of a product within Shopify, it allows a user to select attributes on the product page. This can be seen below on our example product URL as “size”:

Shopift SEO canonical URL product page example

In this setup, Shopify adds a parameter to the product URL called ?variant. This contains an ID that references the selected variant. The URL below is our example product URL with the medium variant selected:

https://www.bellfieldclothing.com/collections/mens-jackets/products/naota-mens-funnel-neck-quilted-puffer-jacket-navy?variant=39593265954876

This is of course another duplicate, which is handled via a canonical tag. If we begin to calculate the total number of URLs this single product has that rely on canonical tags, you will begin see how this can have a detrimental impact on crawl efficiency.

Based on this product being in four collections and having four variants, there are a total of 20 product URLs that rely on a canonical tag. This means Google needs to regularly crawl 21 product URLs to discover the single product URL that needs indexing.

10,000 URLs crawled to index 600

When you factor in the sheer number of products across an entire website, it’s easy to see how this figure can add up. If our example website has 600 products, and each product appears in four collections with four variants each, then Google will need to regularly crawl in excess of 10,000 product URLs to find the 600 that have been requested to be indexed.

How do you fix this on Shopify?

There are two distinct problems we need to fix here: the issue with products appearing in multiple collections, and the issue with product variants. There are solutions for both — however, implementing them will require compromise in certain areas.

Products in multiple collections: The fix

This fix works by removing links to product URLs with the collection name in the product URL. The main culprit here is the collection URL — specifically the theme file that powers collection URLs. On Shopify, this file is called product-grid-item.liquid.

You can navigate to this file via the following route within your Shopify admin.

Online Store > Themes > Customize > Theme Actions > Edit Code > Snippets

Within this file there are HTML hyperlinks that reference product URLs containing the collection name:

Shopify SEO code

The “within: collection” element is what is responsible for pulling the collection name into the product URL. Removing this ensures that the collection name no longer appears in the product URL.

However, before you jump in, there are a few things you’ll need to bear in mind:

  • It is recommended that you consult with your web development team before making this change.
  • Apps that you use may need the “within: collection” functionality, so it is worth checking with app support on whether or not this can be changed.
  • This change impacts the breadcrumb on product URLs. If this is problematic, then I’d suggest building breadcrumbs manually using META fields with a dedicated META fields app.
  • You will also need to ensure that manual links that use this format are changed.
  • There may be other template files that contain “within: collection” so it is worth liaising with your development team to identify these.

Product variants: The fix (or is it?)

Unfortunately, the solution to product variants is more complex and ultimately depends on how much SEO value you are getting from your existing product variants. The recommendation here is to first find out how viable product variant keywords are in terms of search volume and market opportunity.

For example, if our imaginary Shopify store sells Ralph Lauren polo shirts, then my variants are likely to be color and size. By running a quick search for the product type plus these variants, we can see that there is search volume and therefore it will be important that my variants are indexable and optimized.

Shopify SEO keywords

Fix Option #1: Optimize ?variant URLs

This first option is viable if you believe that there is search volume opportunity across a wide range of your product variants. The premise of this fix is to build logic into your theme code, so that when a variant is selected, the variant name is appended into the page title tag and where possible, the product description.

This change will likely depend on your theme setup and, as with any change, it is recommended that you consult with your web development team. More details on how to do this can be found via the Shopify community thread below:

https://community.shopify.com/c/shopify-design/different-product-titles-for-different-variants-for-the-same/td-p/620113

Another thing to bear in mind with this solution is that you will need to remove the canonical tag that is currently in place on ?variant URLs. The main drawback to this approach is that you may need to implement it sitewide across all product variants — but not all variants will necessarily have available search volume.

Fix Option #2: Optimize main product URL for variants

If you want more control over which product sets have optimized variants, then this option might be for you. By optimizing the main product URL for variants, by including variant keywords in the product description and META data, you will stand a chance of being visible for these product variant keywords.

The drawback here is that product URLs could become over-optimized and not as relevant as a dedicated, optimized product variant URL.

Fix Option #3: Disallow ?variant parameter

If it turns out that your product variants have minimal or no search value then disallowing the ?variant parameter in your robots.txt file might be the best option. This will stop Google crawling ?variant URLs, therefore making crawl activity more efficient.

Fix Option #4: Individual products per variant

If your product variants do have search viability, then creating individual products per variant might be an effective option. This is something we have seen retailers like Gym Shark do with color. The product below comes in a number of different colors, each of which has its own product URL and does not rely on variants, e.g.:

https://www.gymshark.com/products/gymshark-element-baselayer-t-shirt-black-aw21

Shopify SEO Example

With more control over both META data and optimized content, this approach means it is easier to build deeper relevance for product variants. The downside here is that there are simply more products to manage within the CMS.

Shopify & SEO issues: Final thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, one of the reasons for Shopify’s meteoric rise has been the “it just works” ethos that makes the platform such a cinch to use. But that’s not to say that the platform doesn’t suffer from a few SEO snags.

In addition to the canonical issue, Google’s Core Web Vitals can be another source of headaches for SEOs who work with the platform. But there are generally workarounds for those who are willing to take the time to implement them. You can learn more about how to navigate these in our ultimate guide to Shopify SEO (2022).

There are also hopeful signs that the Shopify team are increasingly receptive to the needs of the SEO community. The team have regularly taken on board feedback from SEOs to improve their product, from allowing users to edit the robots.txt file, to allowing for sub-folder international structures. So, we can hope that easy-to-implement solutions around the use of canonicals and other issues will be rolled out before too long.


Marc Swann is Director of Search at Glass Digital, a digital marketing agency offering SEO, affiliate marketing, and paid search services. Marc has been working in digital marketing for 12 years and specializes in technical SEO. At Glass Digital, his focus is on the organic search service, ensuring our teams are delivering maximum value for their clients.

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

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Unlocking Brand Growth: Strategies for B2B and E-commerce Marketers

In today’s fast-paced digital landscape, scaling a brand effectively requires more than just an innovative product or service. For B2B and e-commerce marketers, understanding the intricacies of growth strategies across different stages of business development is crucial.  

A recent analysis of 71 brands offers valuable insights into the optimal strategies for startups, scaleups, mature brands, and majority offline businesses. Here’s what we learned. 

Startup Stage: Building the Foundation 

Key Strategy: Startups focus on impressions-driven channels like Paid Social to establish their audience base. This approach is essential for gaining visibility and creating a strong initial footprint in the market. 

Case Study: Pooch & Mutt exemplified this strategy by leveraging Paid Social to achieve significant year-on-year revenue gains while also improving acquisition costs. This foundational step is crucial for setting the stage for future growth and stability. 

Scaleup Stage: Accelerating Conversion 

Key Strategy: For scaleups, having already established an audience, the focus shifts to conversion activities. Increasing spend in impressions-led media helps continue generating demand while maintaining a balance with acquisition costs. 

Case Study: The Essence Vault successfully applied this approach, scaling their Meta presence while minimizing cost increases. This stage emphasizes the importance of efficient spending to maximize conversion rates and sustain growth momentum. 

Mature Stage: Expanding Horizons 

Key Strategy: Mature brands invest in higher funnel activities to avoid market saturation and explore international expansion opportunities. This strategic pivot ensures sustained growth and market diversification. 

Case Study: Represent scaled their efforts on TikTok, enhancing growth and improving Meta efficiency. By expanding their presence in the US, they exemplified how mature brands can navigate saturation and seek new markets for continued success. 

Majority Offline Brands: Embracing Digital Channels 

Key Strategy: Majority offline brands primarily invest in click-based channels like Performance Max. However, the analysis reveals significant opportunities in Paid Social, suggesting a balanced approach for optimal results. 

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

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How To Use The Google Ads Search Terms Report

One of the most essential aspects of a profitable Google Ads strategy is reaching the right people, with the right message, while they’re searching.

To do this correctly, you need to know exactly how your ads are doing and what words potential customers are using to search.

This is where the Google Ads search terms report comes in handy.

This report is a goldmine and an invaluable asset to every Google Ads account.

With insights into exact phrases being used to trigger your ads, the search terms report can help:

  • Significantly refine your keyword strategy.
  • Enhance your targeting.
  • Boost your return on investment (ROI).

Let’s get into why the Google Ads search terms report is not only helpful but essential for maximizing Google Ads profitability.

What Is The Google Ads Search Terms Report?

The search terms report is a performance tool that shows how your ad performed when triggered by actual searches on the Google Search Network.

The report shows specific terms and phrases that triggered your ad to show, which helps determine if you’re bidding on the right keywords or using the right match types.

If you find search terms that aren’t relevant for your business, you can easily add them to your negative keyword list repository.

This helps you spend your budget more effectively by ensuring your ads are only triggered for relevant, useful searches by potential customers.

Keep in mind that there is a difference between a search term and a keyword:

  • Search term: Shows the exact word or phrase a customer enters on the Google Search Network to trigger an ad.
  • Keyword: The word or phrase that Google Ads advertisers target and bid on to show their ads to customers.

How To Create A Search Terms Report

Creating a search terms report in your Google Ads account is simple, and better yet – it can be automated!

To view your search terms report, you’ll need to:

  • Log into your Google Ads account.
  • Navigate to “Campaigns” >> “Insights & reports” >> “Search terms”

Below is an example of where to navigate in your Google Ads account to find the search terms report.

Screenshot taken by author, April 2024

After running this report, there are multiple actions you can take as a marketer:

  • Add top-performing searches to corresponding ad groups as keywords.
  • Select the desired match type (e.g. broad, phrase, exact) if adding new keywords.
  • Add irrelevant search terms to a negative keyword list.

3 Ways To Use Search Terms Report Data

As mentioned above, there are numerous ways you can use the search terms report data to optimize campaign performance.

Let’s take a look at three examples of how to use this report to get the best bang for your buck.

1. Refine Existing Keyword Lists

The first area the search terms report can help with is refining existing keyword lists.

By combing through the search terms report, you can find areas of opportunities, including:

  • What searches are leading to conversions.
  • What searches are irrelevant to the product or service.
  • What searches have high impressions but low clicks.
  • How searches are being mapped to existing keywords and ad groups.

For searches leading to conversions, it likely makes sense to add those as keywords to an existing ad group or create a new ad group.

If you’re finding some searches to be irrelevant to what you’re selling, it’s best to add them as negative keywords. That prevents your ad from showing up for that search moving forward.

If some searches have a high volume of impressions, but very few clicks, these will take further consideration. If it’s a keyword worth bidding on, it may indicate that the bid strategy isn’t competitive enough – meaning you’ll have to take action on your bid strategy.

If a search term is being triggered by multiple keywords and ad groups, this is a case of cross-pollution of keywords. This can lead to lower ROI because it’s essentially having multiple keywords bid on that search term, which can drive up the cost. If this happens, you have a few options:

  • Review and update existing keyword match types as necessary.
  • Add negative keywords where appropriate at the ad group or campaign level to avoid cross-pollution.

Ultimately, using the search terms report in this way allows you to determine what is performing well and eliminate poor performers.

2. Understand How Your Audience Is Actually Searching For Your Product

Something I often see is a mismatch of how a company talks about its product or service vs. how a customer is actually searching for it in the real world.

If you’re bidding on keywords you think describe your product or service but are not getting any traction, you could be misaligning expectations.

Oftentimes, searches that lead to conversions are from terms you wouldn’t have thought to bid on without looking at the search terms report.

One of this report’s most underutilized use cases is finding lesser-known ways customers are searching for and finding your product.

Finding these types of keywords may result in the creation of a new campaign, especially if the search terms don’t fit existing ad group structures.

Building out campaigns by different search themes allows for appropriate bidding strategies for each because not all keyword values are created equal!

Understanding how a customer is describing their need for a product or service not only helps your keyword strategy but can lead to better-aligned product positioning.

This leads us to a third way the search term report can help your campaigns.

3. Optimize Ad Copy and Landing Pages

As discussed in #2, customers’ language and phrases can provide valuable insights into their needs and preferences.

Marketers can use the search terms report to better tailor ad copy, making it more relevant and appealing to prospective customers.

And let’s not forget about the corresponding landing page!

Once a user clicks on an ad, they expect to see an alignment of what they searched for and what is presented on a website.

Make sure that landing page content is updated regularly to better match the searcher’s intent.

This can result in a better user experience and an improvement in conversion rates.

How Using The Search Terms Report Can Help ROI

All three examples above are ways that the search terms report can improve campaign ROI.

How so?

Let’s take a look at each example further.

How Refining Keywords Helps ROI

Part of refining existing keywords is negating any irrelevant search terms that trigger an ad.

Having a solid negative keyword strategy gets rid of “unwanted” spending on keywords that don’t make sense.

That previously “wasted” spend then gets redirected to campaigns that regularly drive higher ROI.

Additionally, adding top-performing search terms gives you better control from a bid strategy perspective.

Being able to pull the appropriate levers and setting proper bid strategies by search theme ultimately leads to better ROI.

How Understanding Audience Intent Helps ROI

By understanding the exact language and search terms that potential customers use, marketers can update ad copy and landing pages to better match those searches.

This can increase ad relevance and Ad Rank within Google Ads.

These items help with keyword Quality Score, which can help reduce CPCs as your Quality Score increases.

More relevant ads likely lead to higher click-through rates, which leads to a higher likelihood of converting those users!

How Updating Ad Copy And Landing Pages Helps ROI

This example goes hand-in-hand with the above recommendation.

As you start to better understand the audience’s search intent, updating ad copy and landing pages to reflect their search indicates better ad relevance.

Once a user clicks on that relevant ad, they find the content of the landing page matches better to what they’re looking for.

This enhanced relevance can significantly increase the likelihood of conversion, which ultimately boosts ROI.

Use This Report To Make Data-Driven Decisions

Google Ads is an integral part of any digital marketing strategy, often accounting for a large portion of your marketing budget.

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Google’s Search Algorithm Exposed in Document Leak

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The Search Algorithm Exposed: Inside Google’s Search API Documents Leak

Google’s search algorithm is, essentially, one of the biggest influencers of what gets found on the internet. It decides who gets to be at the top and enjoy the lion’s share of the traffic, and who gets regulated to the dark corners of the web — a.k.a. the 2nd and so on pages of the search results. 

It’s the most consequential system of our digital world. And how that system works has been largely a mystery for years, but no longer. The Google search document leak, just went public just yesterday, drops thousands of pages of purported ranking algorithm factors onto our laps. 

The Leak

There’s some debate as to whether the documentation was “leaked,” or “discovered.” But what we do know is that the API documentation was (likely accidentally) pushed live on GitHub— where it was then found.

The thousands and thousands of pages in these documents, which appear to come from Google’s internal Content API Warehouse, give us an unprecedented look into how Google search and its ranking algorithms work. 

Fast Facts About the Google Search API Documentation

  • Reported to be the internal documentation for Google Search’s Content Warehouse API.
  • The documentation indicates this information is accurate as of March 2024.
  • 2,596 modules are represented in the API documentation with 14,014 attributes. These are what we might call ranking factors or features, but not all attributes may be considered part of the ranking algorithm. 
  • The documentation did not provide how these ranking factors are weighted. 

And here’s the kicker: several factors found on this document were factors that Google has said, on record, they didn’t track and didn’t include in their algorithms. 

That’s invaluable to the SEO industry, and undoubtedly something that will direct how we do SEO for the foreseeable future.

Is The Document Real? 

Another subject of debate is whether these documents are real. On that point, here’s what we know so far:

  • The documentation was on GitHub and was briefly made public from March to May 2024.
  • The documentation contained links to private GitHub repositories and internal pages — these required specific, Google-credentialed logins to access.
  • The documentation uses similar notation styles, formatting, and process/module/feature names and references seen in public Google API documentation.
  • Ex-Googlers say documentation similar to this exists on almost every Google team, i.e., with explanations and definitions for various API attributes and modules.

No doubt Google will deny this is their work (as of writing they refuse to comment on the leak). But all signs, so far, point to this document being the real deal, though I still caution everyone to take everything you learn from it with a grain of salt.

What We Learnt From The Google Search Document Leak

With over 2,500 technical documents to sift through, the insights we have so far are just the tip of the iceberg. I expect that the community will be analyzing this leak for months (possibly years) to gain more SEO-applicable insights.

Other articles have gotten into the nitty-gritty of it already. But if you’re having a hard time understanding all the technical jargon in those breakdowns, here’s a quick and simple summary of the points of interest identified in the leak so far:

  • Google uses something called “Twiddlers.” These are functions that help rerank a page (think boosting or demotion calculations). 
  • Content can be demoted for reasons such as SERP signals (aka user behavior) indicating dissatisfaction, a link not matching the target site, using exact match domains, product reviews, location, or sexual content.
  • Google uses a variety of measurements related to clicks, including “badClicks”, ”goodClicks”, ”lastLongestClicks” and ”unsquashedClicks”.
  • Google keeps a copy of every version of every page it has ever indexed. However, it only uses the last 20 changes of any given URL when analyzing a page.
  • Google uses a domain authority metric, called “siteAuthority
  • Google uses a system called “NavBoost” that uses click data for evaluating pages.
  • Google has a “sandbox” that websites are segregated to, based on age or lack of trust signals. Indicated by an attribute called “hostAge
  • May be related to the last point, but there is an attribute called “smallPersonalSite” in the documentation. Unclear what this is used for.
  • Google does identify entities on a webpage and can sort, rank, and filter them.
  • So far, the only attributes that can be connected to E-E-A-T are author-related attributes.
  • Google uses Chrome data as part of their page quality scoring, with a module featuring a site-level measure of views from Chrome (“chromeInTotal”)
  • The number, diversity, and source of your backlinks matter a lot, even if PageRank has not been mentioned by Google in years.
  • Title tags being keyword-optimized and matching search queries is important.
  • siteFocusScore” attribute measures how much a site is focused on a given topic. 
  • Publish dates and how frequently a page is updated determines content “freshness” — which is also important. 
  • Font size and text weight for links are things that Google notices. It appears that larger links are more positively received by Google.

Author’s Note: This is not the first time a search engine’s ranking algorithm was leaked. I covered the Yandex hack and how it affects SEO in 2023, and you’ll see plenty of similarities in the ranking factors both search engines use.

Action Points for Your SEO

I did my best to review as much of the “ranking features” that were leaked, as well as the original articles by Rand Fishkin and Mike King. From there, I have some insights I want to share with other SEOs and webmasters out there who want to know how to proceed with their SEO.

Links Matter — Link Value Affected by Several Factors 

Links still matter. Shocking? Not really. It’s something I and other SEOs have been saying, even if link-related guidelines barely show up in Google news and updates nowadays.

Still, we need to emphasize link diversity and relevance in our off-page SEO strategies. 

Some insights from the documentation:

  • PageRank of the referring domain’s homepage (also known as Homepage Trust) affects the value of the link.
  • Indexing tier matters. Regularly updated and accessed content is of the highest tier, and provides more value for your rankings.

If you want your off-page SEO to actually do something for your website, then focus on building links from websites that have authority, and from pages that are either fresh or are otherwise featured in the top tier. 

Some PR might help here — news publications tend to drive the best results because of how well they fulfill these factors.

As for guest posts, there’s no clear indication that these will hurt your site, but I definitely would avoid approaching them as a way to game the system. Instead, be discerning about your outreach and treat it as you would if you were networking for new business partners.

Aim for Successful Clicks 

The fact that clicks are a ranking factor should not be a surprise. Despite what Google’s team says, clicks are the clearest indicator of user behavior and how good a page is at fulfilling their search intent.

Google’s whole deal is providing the answers you want, so why wouldn’t they boost pages that seem to do just that?

The core of your strategy should be creating great user experiences. Great content that provides users with the right answers is how you do that. Aiming for qualified traffic is how you do that. Building a great-looking, functioning website is how you do that.

Go beyond just picking clickbait title tags and meta descriptions, and focus on making sure users get what they need from your website.

Author’s Note: If you haven’t been paying attention to page quality since the concepts of E-E-A-T and the HCU were introduced, now is the time to do so. Here’s my guide to ranking for the HCU to help you get started.

Keep Pages Updated

An interesting click-based measurement is the “last good click.” That being in a module related to indexing signals suggests that content decay can affect your rankings. 

Be vigilant about which pages on your website are not driving the expected amount of clicks for its SERP position. Outdated posts should be audited to ensure content has up-to-date and accurate information to help users in their search journey. 

This should revive those posts and drive clicks, preventing content decay. 

It’s especially important to start on this if you have content pillars on your website that aren’t driving the same traffic as they used to.

Establish Expertise & Authority  

Google does notice the entities on a webpage, which include a bunch of things, but what I want to focus on are those related to your authors.

E-E-A-T as a concept is pretty nebulous — because scoring “expertise” and “authority” of a website and its authors is nebulous. So, a lot of SEOs have been skeptical about it.

However, the presence of an “author” attribute combined with the in-depth mapping of entities in the documentation shows there is some weight to having a well-established author on your website.

So, apply author markups, create an author bio page and archive, and showcase your official profiles on your website to prove your expertise. 

Build Your Domain Authority

After countless Q&As and interviews where statements like “we don’t have anything like domain authority,” and “we don’t have website authority score,” were thrown around, we find there does exist an attribute called “siteAuthority”.

Though we don’t know specifically how this measure is computed, and how it weighs in the overall scoring for your website, we know it does matter to your rankings.

So, what do you need to do to improve site authority? It’s simple — keep following best practices and white-hat SEO, and you should be able to grow your authority within your niche. 

Stick to Your Niche

Speaking of niches — I found the “siteFocusScore” attribute interesting. It appears that building more and more content within a specific topic is considered a positive.

It’s something other SEOs have hypothesized before. After all, the more you write about a topic, the more you must be an authority on that topic, right?

But anyone can write tons of blogs on a given topic nowadays with AI, so how do you stand out (and avoid the risk of sounding artificial and spammy?)

That’s where author entities and link-building come in. I do think that great content should be supplemented by link-building efforts, as a sort of way to show that hey, “I’m an authority with these credentials, and these other people think I’m an authority on the topic as well.”

Key Takeaway

Most of the insights from the Google search document leak are things that SEOs have been working on for months (if not years). However, we now have solid evidence behind a lot of our hunches, providing that our theories are in fact best practices. 

The biggest takeaway I have from this leak: Google relies on user behavior (click data and post-click behavior in particular) to find the best content. Other ranking factors supplement that. Optimize to get users to click on and then stay on your page, and you should see benefits to your rankings.

Could Google remove these ranking factors now that they’ve been leaked? They could, but it’s highly unlikely that they’ll remove vital attributes in the algorithm they’ve spent years building. 

So my advice is to follow these now validated SEO practices and be very critical about any Google statements that follow this leak.

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