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How To Optimize For Google Featured Snippets: A 12-step Guide

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How To Optimize For Google Featured Snippets: A 12-step Guide


It’s no secret that featured snippets are powerful. Every SEO professional (including yours truly) aims to own any available featured snippets for their content.

These expanded, descriptive search results appear as a special box prominently displayed at or near the top of the search results page (SERP). Optimizing for featured snippets (FS) can help Google better understand when your page is the best answer for a relevant query with one of these search features available.

In this column, you’ll find my tried and tested strategy for optimizing for featured snippets (including examples), my curated content calendar template for featured snippets (which you can copy and use), and FAQs to clear up any remaining questions about FS. You’ll learn:

  • What are featured snippets?
  • 4 types of featured snippets you can target.
  • A 12-step process for optimizing for featured snippets.
  • What’s new in featured snippets?
  • FAQs for featured snippets.

Let’s get started.

What Are Featured Snippets?

Featured Snippets are the expanded snippets that appear on the first position of the Google SERPs. The purpose of the Google featured snippets is to answer the user’s need right there in the search results.

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Here is Google’s definition:

Users wishing to read the complete content can click on the URL of the featured snippet.

When Google launched featured snippets, some sites were able to achieve two results on page 1 of the SERPs, which initially drove dramatic improvements in organic visibility and traffic.

But as with all things SEO, happy days never last forever; see this tweet from Danny Sullivan:

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Optimizing for featured snippets is not just about adding questions to your headlines and subheadlines. It’s much more involved than that.

4 Types Of Featured Snippets You Can Target

When looking to optimize for featured snippets, you need to understand the types of featured snippets available.

Paragraph Featured Snippets

Seventy percent of featured snippets are the paragraph type, with an average of around 42 words and 250 characters.

Paragraph Featured Snippets example.

Most of these featured snippet titles start with “What” or “Why,” indicating that they are largely informational in nature.

Pro Tip: Most of the “What” question keywords have the highest search volume, but you have to find out the question keywords with low Keyword Difficulty (KD) score to win them.

Listicle Featured Snippets

An average of 19% of featured snippets are of Listicle type, consisting of an average of 6 items and 44 words.

You’ll find two kinds of listicle featured snippets: ordered and unordered lists.

Ordered List

Ordered Listicle Featured Snippets.

Unordered List

Unordered listicle featured snippets example.Pro Tip: Listicle featured snippets are derived from “How” and “Why” keyword terms. If you’re looking to get featured snippets faster, they’re your go-to topics.

Table Featured Snippets

Around 6.3% of featured snippets are of the Table type. They have an average of five rows and two columns with 40 to 45 words.

Table featured snippets example.Pro Tip: To optimize for this type of featured snippet, mark up relevant content in a table format using the table tags in HTML. Some are tempted to make graphics for tables, but then you’re missing out on this opportunity.

Video Featured Snippets

Only 4.6% of featured snippets are of the video type, the average one being 6 minutes and 35 seconds in length.

Video featured snippet example. Pro Tip: If your audience heavily consumes video content, a video featured snippet is your way to success. Look for the keywords with low search volume and tada! You’ve got them.

How To Optimize For Featured Snippets

Whenever you see a competitor ranking on featured snippets, you should have this one question in mind:

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How do I steal that featured snippets and get one for my website?

Here’s how to get started.

1. Identify Competitors’ Featured Snippets

Stealing competitors’ featured snippets is not easy.

Put the competitors’ URL in Semrush and look for the keyword groups that own featured snippets.

Steal competitors featured snippets from Semrush.

Now, you want to:

  • Export the list.
  • Categorize them into different types of featured snippets.
  • Sort them by higher search volume.
  • Highlight the low KD score.
  • And gather them to initiate planning.

Copy this content calendar template to start planning, implementing, and optimizing your content to rank.

Content Calendar example.

Don’t forget to add the content topics and the type of featured snippet in your content calendar to keep track of why you’re optimizing the page.

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2. Gather The Keywords For Each FS-owned Content

Once you’re done with finalizing the content topics, it’s time to identify the keywords present on the content currently owning featured snippets.

Click on the down arrow in Semrush beside the selected keyword to see the expanded information on the keywords ranking on featured snippets.

Keyword Research to optimize featured snippets.

Collect the related as well as question keywords and add them to your content calendar.

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3. Understand Searcher Intent

One of the most important considerations in optimizing for featured snippets is understanding the search intent behind each triggering query.

Three types of people search for your keywords:

  • Potential customers.
  • Influencers who persuade your potential customers to buy from you.
  • And your competitors.

You’re going to write the content for the first two. Each will have different intents while searching, but it will always be informational (and navigational when users want to click through them).

Because there was only one search intent for a featured snippet, I thought to classify them further into four categories depending on whether they want:

  • A specific answer.
  • A brief answer.
  • A comparison.
  • A video.

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Get A Specific Answer

Here, a user search query is a question that requires a specific answer. This type of FS has a lower CTR as people come to get a specific answer and typically do not want or need to read further.

This type of FS can help in brand building but is unlikely to drive a lot of traffic.

Question keyword with search intent of getting specific answer.Get A Brief Answer

Here, the user expects a paragraph or listicle type of featured snippet as shown in the types section above. If users want to get more information, they’ll click on the results.

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This type of search query assists in both CTR and brand reputation.

Get A Comparison

This type of search query comes up with a table type of featured snippet. The table content is larger than what Google Featured Snippets can show. So, this type of search intent is most likely to boost the CTR.

Get A Video

And lastly, if users are looking for “how-to” answers and a video attached to those answers, it will get the maximum CTR.

Understand the different types of informational search intent behind the search query. They are relevant to the type of featured snippets available, which can help you plan and optimize your content.

4. Run A Competitive Analysis

Go back to Semrush and open its SEO content template tool. Input your keyword or content topic, select the targeted location, and click on the green button.

You’ll get the below SEO recommendations for your content to plan the content optimization for featured snippets.

  • Your top 10 rivals for target keywords to let you understand whom you’re going to compete with

SEO Recommendations by SEO Content Tool.

  • Key recommendations from them in terms of what your content must have, backlinks it shall acquire, readability it must have, and recommended text length to serve the user search intent and expectations.

Key recommendations by Semrush.

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  • Suggestions on how they’re using target keywords so you can use them better.

Competitors target keyword research.

  • Basic SEO recommendations to make your content search-friendly.

Basic SEO recommendations.

5. Create/Update The Content Outline

By now, you have the content topics, their targeted keywords, type of featured snippet, its search intent, and a pool of SEO recommendations from competitors’ snippets.

If you’re writing new content, you need to create the content outline. And if you’ve already written the piece, you may need to revamp the outline as per the research gathered above.

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6. Create Content Better Than The Competition’s

  • Cover the basic information users expect in content based on the user search query and its intent.
  • Add more value than competing blogs by including statistical data, rich media, examples, pointers, etc.
  • Write in simple and shorter sentences to improve the readability of the content.
  • Focus on research-based content over opinion-based. Citations help Google better understand your content.

You should always aim to create the best content — that is, content that delivers value for years, like the piece below.

The example of best content.

7. Validate The Content

Once you have the content ready, double-check that it meets your needs for:

  • Your target audience.
  • Defined user search intent.
  • Targeted keywords.
  • Suggestions listed.

This check is vital to ensure you’re on the right track towards getting a featured snippet.

8. Organize Your Content For Readers & Search Engines

Well-organized content is easy to scan through, read, and understand for users and search engines.

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Here’s an example of how you might organize a piece of content to give it good structure.

Organize your content with Heading Tags.

I recently tweeted about how you can turn a paragraph featured snippet into a listicle just by organizing and creating content accordingly.

9. Add Question Keywords In Heading Tags

Organizing your content to get featured snippets is incomplete without adding question keywords to the heading tags.

Pick up the relevant question keywords with high search volume and put them in your heading tags. Most of the featured snippets you see on Google start right after a heading tag.

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Look at an example below:

Heading Tags in Featured Snippets.

The right question keyword phrase in the right place can make all the difference.

10. Add Relevant Graphics

Graphics play a crucial role in owning a featured snippet, especially for the paragraph and listicle-type featured snippets.

Try to use real-life pictures or custom-made graphics rather than stock images to improve the users’ experience and avoid appearing generic.

Add as many images as your content requires.

Add relevant graphics.

11. Implement SEO Tactics

Your content is ready for users. Now you need to help Google understand what the page is all about — and quickly.

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Here are some SEO tactics that work for featured snippets:

  • Perfect URL structure: Keep your URLs short, ideally three to four words.
  • Title tag: Use Coschedule Headline Analyzer and the SEOmofo snippet optimization tool to create a catchy title tag that fits the pixel requirements.
  • Meta description tag: Use SEOmofo to make the most of the pixels available and write user-centric and keyword-specific meta descriptions to drive the highest clicks.
  • Heading tags: Use question keywords, as discussed above.
  • Image Alt attributes: For all graphics, make sure you use descriptive alt text to help Google understand what the image is all about. Most of the best-performing content has images with alt attributes.
  • Internal links: Help Google identify your site’s most important pages. If you achieve a featured snippet, you want to support the rankings of your best pages with it.
  • External links: Let Google know which external sites you trust and demonstrate credibility with your citations.
  • Schema markup tags: Help Google understand what your page is about and recognize elements like tables.
  • Link building: Build links to help Google understand your website’s authoritativeness.

12. Keep Optimizing Your Content Until You Achieve A Featured Snippet

With this process of optimizing for featured snippets in place, I check the results at 7, 14, and 21 days.

If I see an improvement in impressions, I’ll work harder for clicks. Be sure to track the differences in impressions, rankings, and CTR in Google Search Console, and traffic and visibility in Semrush.

Keep on optimizing your content until you see a featured snippet and can track results from it, such as:

Track Featured Snippets.

What’s New For Featured Snippets In 2021?

Recently, the SEO industry noticed two new features on Google Search results for featured snippets.

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“Hear this out loud” Button

When you click on this button, the content is read aloud while the text is highlighted alongside.

“Also covered on this page” Section

This section appears below the main section of the featured snippet and picks up the heading tags that you’ve added to your page.

Also covered on this page section example.

Now you have another reason to better organize your content using heading tags!

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) For Google Featured Snippets

Here are some of the most frequently asked featured snippets questions I get from SEO professionals.

Why Might Featured Snippets Be Removed?

Your featured snippet may get removed automatically or manually by Google if it comes under:

  • Dangerous content.
  • Deceptive practices.
  • Harassing content.
  • Hateful content.
  • Manipulated media.
  • Medical content.
  • Sexually explicit content.
  • Terrorist content.
  • Violence and gore.
  • Vulgar language and profanity.
  • Content that contradicts with the content by experts in the fields of civic, medical, scientific, and historical.

If you fall astray of Google’s policies, you may lose the featured snippet. Of course, you might lose it if a competitor does a better job of answering that query, too.

Are Featured Snippets Available for Ecommerce Products or Category Pages?

No. Ecommerce products can get featured listings on Google SERPs using Google Shopping and Product Listing Ads (PLAs).

However, ecommerce websites can still own featured snippets for their guides and blogs.

Featured Snippets Vs. Rich Snippets: What’s The Difference?

Featured snippets are picked up from the web page’s content to answer a user query, while rich snippets are an enhanced organic search result.

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If your search result has reviews attached to it, that’s a rich snippet. If your web page provides information to users in a bit more detailed way on the first position on SERPs, it’s a featured snippet.

Learn more about optimizing for rich snippets here.

How Do Featured Snippets Work?

To understand how featured snippets work, let’s break down Google’s patent on generating snippets based on content:

How Does Featured Snippets Work? Google Patent Figure 4AHow Does Featured Snippets Work? Google Patent Figure 4B

When Google receives a search query, it tries to find the best result to match it. And when Google is ready with the list of search results, it follows the below process to pick up the relevant featured snippet from the top 10 search results:

  1. Identifying the text features within a keyword-based sentence to check its eligibility to rank as a FS.
  2. Determining the break features that would indicate the place where the keyword-based sentence can be truncated on a featured snippet.
  3. Calculating and assigning the snippet score to identify the strength of the snippets.
  4. Selecting the snippet with the highest snippet score.

That’s how Google selects a website for featured snippets and works to provide the relevant information quickly to the users.

Go, Get Your Featured Snippets Now!

Google’s featured snippet format focuses on providing information to the users on its platform itself. However, not all information can be displayed in 40-45 words.

Hence, they can be a great tool to boost your organic traffic.

Use the above guide to own featured snippets and become a thought leader in your industry, giving your brand reputation and organic traffic a boost. If you’ve optimized your site well, conversions will follow!

2021 SEJ Christmas Countdown:

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Top 5 Essential SEO Reporting Tools For Agencies

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Top 5 Essential SEO Reporting Tools For Agencies

Your clients trust you to create real results and hit KPIs that drive their businesses forward.

Understanding the intricacies of how that works can be difficult, so it’s essential to demonstrate your progress and efforts.

SEO reporting software showcases important metrics in a digestible and visually represented way. They save guesswork and manual referencing, highlighting achievements over a specified time.

A great tool can also help you formulate action items, gauge the performance of campaigns, and see real results that can help you create new and innovative evaluations.

The latest and allegedly greatest tools hit the market all the time, promising to transform how you conduct reports.

Certainly, you have to weigh a few factors when deciding which software to implement. Price, features, and ease of use are the most important to consider.

A cost-effective tool with a steep learning curve might not be worth it for the features. Similarly, an expensive tool might be more appealing if it is user-friendly but could quickly run up costs.

Just like any transformational business decision, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons carefully to determine the right one for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Cost, accessibility, and features are the common thread of comparison for SEO reporting tools.
  • To truly get the best use out of an SEO reporting tool for your agency, you’ll need to weigh several details, including scalability, customization, integrations, and access to support.
  • What might be considered a subpar tool could be a game-changer for an agency. Due diligence and research are the keys to knowing what will work for your team.

What To Look For In SEO Reporting Tools

It can be tough to make heads or tails of the available tools and choose which will benefit your agency the most.

Here are the 10 essential requirements of SEO reporting tools.

1. Accurate And Current Regional Data

SEO reporting is all about data. The software must have access to accurate and current data localized to your client’s targeted region.

Search data from the U.S. is meaningless if your client tries to rank for [London plumbing services], so localization matters.

The tool must update data regularly and with reliable accuracy so you can make informed decisions about where your client stands against the competition.

2. Integration With Third-Party Tools

Especially for full-scale digital marketing campaigns, the ability to report on all KPIs in one place is essential.

The more available integrations with third-party tools (e.g., Google Analytics, Google Business Profile, Majestic), the better.

Some tools even allow you to upload custom data sets.

3. Scalability

You don’t want to have to retrain or reinvest in new software every time your agency reaches a new tier.

The right SEO reporting tool should work well for your current business size and leave room for expansion as you onboard more clients.

4. Strong Suite Of Features

A great SEO reporting tool should include:

  • Position tracking.
  • Backlink monitoring.
  • Competitor data.
  • Analytics.

It is a bonus if the tool has reporting features for social media, email marketing, call tracking, and/or paid ads to make it a full-suite digital marketing software.

5. Continually Improving And Updating Features

SEO is constantly evolving, and so should SEO reporting tools.

As we continue the transition from website optimization to web presence optimization, a tool’s ability to integrate new features is essential.

6. Ability To Customize Reports

Each client will have different KPIs, objectives, and priorities.

Presenting the information that clients want to see is paramount to successful campaigns and retention.

Your reporting software of choice should be able to emphasize the correct data at the right times.

7. Client Integration

A good SEO reporting tool must have the client in mind.

It should have a simple bird’s eye overview of the basics but also be easy for clients to dig into the data at a deeper level.

This can mean automated summary reports or 24/7 client access to the dashboard.

8. Ability To White Label Reports

While white labeling is not essential (no client will sniff at receiving a report with a Google logo in the top corner), it helps keep branding consistent and gives a professional sheen to everything you send a client’s way.

9. Access To Support Resources

Quality support resources can help you find a detour when you encounter a roadblock.

Whether it’s detailed support documentation, a chat feature/support desk, or responsive customer support on social media, finding the help you need to solve the issue is important.

10. Cost-To-Value Ratio

With a proper process, time investment, and leveraging support resources, it is possible to get better results from a free reporting tool than one that breaks the bank.

This can mean automated summary reports or 24/7 client access to the dashboard.

Top 5 SEO Reporting Tools

In evaluating five of the most popular SEO reporting tools, based on the above criteria, here is how they stack up:

1. AgencyAnalytics

My Overall Rating: 4.7/5

Image credit: AgencyAnalytics, December 2022

AgencyAnalytics is a quality introductory/intermediate reporting tool for agencies.

Among the tools on this list, it is one of the easiest to use for small to mid-sized agencies.

It starts at $12 per month, per client, with unlimited staff and client logins, a white-label dashboard, and automated branded reports. The minimum purchase requirements mean the first two tiers work out to $60 per month and $180 per month, respectively. But your ability to change the payment based on the number of clients could help keep costs lean.

AgencyAnalytics comes with 70+ supported third-party data integrations.

However, this reliance on third-party data means you may have incomplete reports when there is an interruption in the transmission.

Though new integrations are always being added, they can be glitchy at first, making them unreliable to share with clients until stabilized.

With the ability for clients to log in and view daily data updates, it provides real-time transparency.

Automated reports can be customized, and the drag-and-drop customized dashboard makes it easy to emphasize priority KPIs.

2. SE Ranking

My Overall Rating: 4.5/5

SE Ranking has plans starting at $39.20 per month, although the $87.20 per month plan is necessary if you need historical data or more than 10 projects.

Setup is a breeze, as the on-screen tutorial guides you through the process.

SE Ranking features a strong collection of SEO-related tools, including current and historical position tracking, competitor SEO research, keyword suggestion, a backlink explorer, and more.

SE Ranking is hooked up with Zapier, which allows users to integrate thousands of apps and provide a high level of automation between apps like Klipfolio, Salesforce, HubSpot, and Google Apps.

SE Ranking is an effective SEO reporting tool at a beginner to intermediate level.

However, you may want to look in a different direction if your agency requires more technical implementations or advanced customization.

3. Semrush

My Overall Rating: 4.4/5

Semrush is one of the most SEO-focused reporting tools on the list, which is reflected in its features.

Starting at $229.95 per month for the agency package, it’s one of the more expensive tools on the list. But Semrush provides a full suite of tools that can be learned at an intermediate level.

A major downside of Semrush, especially for cost-conscious agencies, is that an account comes with only one user login.

Having to purchase individual licenses for each SEO analyst or account manager adds up quickly, and the users you can add are limited by the plan features. This makes scalability an issue.

Semrush has both branded and white-label reports, depending on your subscription level. It uses a proprietary data stream, tracking more than 800 million keywords.

The ever-expanding “projects” feature covers everything from position tracking to backlink monitoring and social media analysis.

Though it doesn’t fall specifically under the scope of SEO reporting, Semrush’s innovation makes it a one-stop shop for many agencies.

Project features include Ad Builder, which helps craft compelling ad text for Google Ads, and Social Media Poster, which allows agencies to schedule client social posts.

Combining such diverse features under the Semrush umbrella offsets its relatively high cost, especially if you can cancel other redundant software.

4. Looker Studio

My Overall Rating: 3.6/5

Looker StudioScreenshot from Looker Studio, December 2022

Formerly known as Google Data Studio, Looker Studio is a Google service that has grown considerably since its initial launch.

Though it is much more technical and requires more time investment to set up than most other tools on this list, it should be intuitive for staff familiar with Google Analytics.

If you’re on the fence, Looker Studio is completely free.

A major upside to this software is superior integration with other Google properties like Analytics, Search Console, Ads, and YouTube.

Like other reporting tools, it also allows third-party data integration, but the ability to query data from databases, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Google’s Cloud SQL, sets it apart.

You can customize reports with important KPIs with proper setup, pulling from lead and customer information. For eCommerce clients, you can even integrate sales data.

Though the initial setup will be much more technical, the ability to import templates saves time and effort.

You can also create your own templates that better reflect your processes and can be shared across clients. Google also has introductory video walk-throughs to help you get started.

5. Authority Labs

My Overall Rating: 3.2/5

Authority Labs Ranking ReportImage credit: Authority Labs, December 2022

Authority Labs does the job if you’re looking for a straightforward position-tracking tool.

Authority Labs is $49 per month for unlimited users, though you will need to upgrade to the $99 per month plan for white-label reporting.

You can track regional ranking data, get insights into “(not provided)” keywords, track competitor keywords, and schedule automated reporting.

However, lacking other essential features like backlink monitoring or analytic data means you will have to supplement this tool to provide a full SEO reporting picture for clients.

Conclusion

There are many quality SEO reporting tools on the market. What makes them valuable depends on their ability to work for your clients’ needs.

SE Ranking has a fantastic cost-to-value ratio, while Looker Studio has advanced reporting capabilities if you can withstand a higher barrier to entry.

Agency Analytics prioritizes client access, which is a big deal if transparency is a core value for your agency.

Authority Labs keeps it lean and clean, while Semrush always adds innovative features.

These five are simply a snapshot of what is available. There are new and emerging tools that might have some features more appealing to your current clients or fill gaps that other software creates despite being a great solution.

Ultimately, you need to consider what matters most to your agency. Is it:

  • Feature depth?
  • Scalability?
  • Cost-to-value ratio?

Once you weigh the factors that matter most for your agency, you can find the right SEO reporting tool. In the meantime, don’t shy away from testing out a few for a trial period.

If you don’t want to sign up for a full month’s usage, you can also explore walkthrough videos and reviews from current users. The most informed decision requires an understanding of the intricate details.


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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

There is concern about the lack of an easy way to opt out of having one’s content used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. There is a way to do it, but it’s neither straightforward nor guaranteed to work.

How AIs Learn From Your Content

Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained on data that originates from multiple sources. Many of these datasets are open source and are freely used for training AIs.

Some of the sources used are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Government court records
  • Books
  • Emails
  • Crawled websites

There are actually portals and websites offering datasets that are giving away vast amounts of information.

One of the portals is hosted by Amazon, offering thousands of datasets at the Registry of Open Data on AWS.

Screenshot from Amazon, January 2023

The Amazon portal with thousands of datasets is just one portal out of many others that contain more datasets.

Wikipedia lists 28 portals for downloading datasets, including the Google Dataset and the Hugging Face portals for finding thousands of datasets.

Datasets of Web Content

OpenWebText

A popular dataset of web content is called OpenWebText. OpenWebText consists of URLs found on Reddit posts that had at least three upvotes.

The idea is that these URLs are trustworthy and will contain quality content. I couldn’t find information about a user agent for their crawler, maybe it’s just identified as Python, I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, we do know that if your site is linked from Reddit with at least three upvotes then there’s a good chance that your site is in the OpenWebText dataset.

More information about OpenWebText is here.

Common Crawl

One of the most commonly used datasets for Internet content is offered by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Common Crawl data comes from a bot that crawls the entire Internet.

The data is downloaded by organizations wishing to use the data and then cleaned of spammy sites, etc.

The name of the Common Crawl bot is, CCBot.

CCBot obeys the robots.txt protocol so it is possible to block Common Crawl with Robots.txt and prevent your website data from making it into another dataset.

However, if your site has already been crawled then it’s likely already included in multiple datasets.

Nevertheless, by blocking Common Crawl it’s possible to opt out your website content from being included in new datasets sourced from newer Common Crawl data.

The CCBot User-Agent string is:

CCBot/2.0

Add the following to your robots.txt file to block the Common Crawl bot:

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

An additional way to confirm if a CCBot user agent is legit is that it crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also obeys the nofollow robots meta tag directives.

Use this in your robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

Blocking AI From Using Your Content

Search engines allow websites to opt out of being crawled. Common Crawl also allows opting out. But there is currently no way to remove one’s website content from existing datasets.

Furthermore, research scientists don’t seem to offer website publishers a way to opt out of being crawled.

The article, Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair? explores the topic of whether it’s even ethical to use website data without permission or a way to opt out.

Many publishers may appreciate it if in the near future, they are given more say on how their content is used, especially by AI products like ChatGPT.

Whether that will happen is unknown at this time.

More resources:

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Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

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Google's Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.

While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.

The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.

What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke

The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.

He tweeted:

“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”

The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.

Here’s the background information about that.

Link Disavow Tool

In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.

I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.

Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.

The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.

Thousands of websites lost rankings.

SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.

So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.

Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:

“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.

If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.

Link Disavow Takes Months To Work

There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.

They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.

But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.

Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:

“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.

So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.

And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.

So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up

Context is important to understand what was said.

So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.

The SEO (SEOGuruJaipur) tweeted:

“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”

SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.

SEOGuruJaipur tweeted:

“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.

He tweeted:

“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.

It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.

They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:

“That’s all made up & irrelevant.

These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweeted a response:

“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”

Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services

A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.

That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.

It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero



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