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How to Start Affiliate Marketing With No Money in 2022 (5 Steps)

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How to Start Affiliate Marketing With No Money in 2022 (5 Steps)

If you do it right, affiliate marketing can make you money while you’re on the beach, in the mountains, or even taking a nap. I would know—I’ve been doing it for years.

I started my first affiliate marketing blog 10 years ago with just $40 and not a clue what I was doing. Now, it’s earning six figures, and I only have to work a few hours a week to run it.

In fact, that affiliate site receives over 100,000 visits per month from Google:

Google analytics for affiliate website

In this article, I’m going to teach you how to start affiliate marketing with (almost) no money. I’ll share how I did it and what you can do to get started today.

How does affiliate marketing work?

Affiliate marketing is the process of promoting someone else’s products or services and making a commission whenever someone buys after clicking your affiliate link.

For example, if you publish a blog post or a YouTube video sharing the best vacuum cleaners for pet hair and someone buys a product you recommend after clicking your affiliate link, you get paid a percentage of that sale.

It’s a great business model because it has almost no overhead and you don’t have to manufacture, or ship products, or handle customer service. You get paid to promote cool stuff.

Can you really start affiliate marketing with “no” money?

The only way to start affiliate marketing with no money is to get an affiliate link and start sending it to people you know. While this is possible, it’s not scalable and won’t make you much money unless you’re constantly networking.

Instead, the most successful affiliate marketers create a website and social media channels in order to get traffic to their affiliate links. While social media accounts are free, a website does cost a few bucks.

Specifically, you need to purchase a domain name and website hosting. A domain costs you around $3–$7 for the first year, and hosting starts at $2.75 per month (paid annually, this is $33).

So you will need at least $36 to get started as of the time this post was published.

If you’re ready to make your website, I recommend following this YouTube video by WP Beginner. It walks you through how to get your hosting and domain name set up and how to use WordPress for complete beginners.

How to start affiliate marketing with (almost) no money

If you’ve got the $36 and you want to give this business model a try, I’ve come up with five simple steps to get you started in affiliate marketing:

Step 1. Find a niche OR a good affiliate program

The first and most important step is figuring out what you want to talk about and promote—in other words, your niche.

Your niche can be almost anything, from a hobby, to an interest, to a lifestyle. Like dogs? That can be a niche. Interested in cryptocurrency? Niche potential. You get the idea.

Niche selection is one of the hardest parts of affiliate marketing. You need to pick something you won’t mind creating content about for years to come. It takes time to build the brand authority and awareness to turn this into a full-time business, so don’t be afraid to spend some time here.

Now, there are a few ways to choose your niche. You can either pick a niche you’re already interested in, OR you can look for good affiliate programs first and base your niche on those program(s).

Finding high-paying affiliate programs with quality companies can be difficult. Usually, you’ll either find good products with low commissions (2%–4%) or crappy products with high commissions (20%+).

But every once in a while, you’ll find a high-quality product with a high commission rate. And if you do, it may be worth basing your niche around. It’s much better to get high-paying partners than just to promote Amazon products.

There’s nothing wrong with building an Amazon affiliate website. However, don’t expect to make a lot of money from this unless you’re able to get a huge amount of traffic and sales. 

Last year, I sent Amazon more than $1.2 million in sales… and only made $47,310.

Amazon affiliate income

So yeah—it’s worth looking for a better affiliate program. 

The best affiliate partnerships are made by creating a direct relationship with the brand you want to promote and working out a private deal.

So where do you find great affiliate partners?

Think about the things you already enjoy doing and look at your favorite products or services in those niches. See if any of those products have an existing affiliate program. If not, call a brand to get in touch with its marketing team or even the owner to try and work something out.

You can also find potential affiliate programs by searching for “[your niche] affiliate programs” on Google. You’ll often find lists of brands that have an affiliate program, as well as the details of the program.

Lastly, you can check popular affiliate marketing platforms like AvantLink, impact.com, ShareASale, and many more.

Ready to look for a niche? Here are two guides to get you started:

Step 2. Decide on one traffic channel

One of the biggest mistakes I see beginners making (and have made myself) is focusing on creating content for too many traffic channels at once. They make accounts on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, and Pinterest, all while managing their blog—it’s too much.

Every single one of these channels takes months or years to learn and build engaged audiences on. And each of them can fill enough time to be a full-time job.

Instead, choose one or two main traffic sources—my favorites are YouTube and Google because they can bring recurring organic traffic—and get really good at them.

Yes, you can have an account on every channel. Sure, you can share your blog posts on them pretty easily. But keep the bulk of your content creation and attention on one channel, then use the others to support that channel.

At Ahrefs, we specialize in search engine optimization (SEO)—that is, creating and optimizing content to appear in search engines. 

Organic traffic from search engines like Google is one of the best ways to get recurring, passive affiliate revenue. It takes time to learn the skills and get to page #1 on Google. But SEO is worth learning in the long run because it brings you traffic every time someone makes a search and finds your content.

One of my sites received over 100,000 visits from Google in a single month without me creating or promoting a single piece of content during the entire month:

Google analytics traffic overview

YouTube is similar because it’s also often used as a search engine, making it another great source of recurring visitors without the need for constantly creating and promoting new content.

Of course, which traffic channel you choose depends on your own preference and the niche you’re in. Some niches are much more competitive in search engines than others. 

You can use Ahrefs’ free keyword difficulty checker to quickly see if the keywords in your niche are hard to rank for or not. Think of keywords you may search for in the niche and type them in the tool to get more information.

For example, “best vacuum cleaners for pet hair” may be hard to rank for:

Ahrefs' free keyword difficulty checker

Our tool estimates you’d need backlinks (links to your page from another website) from ~45 websites to rank in the top 10 for this keyword. And you can see some of the competitors are big brands like NYMag and HGTV. 

The Keyword Difficulty (KD) score—35—is on a scale from 0 to 100, with 0 being easy and 100 being extremely difficult. It’s on a logarithmic scale, which means it gets exponentially harder to rank for a keyword as the number goes up.

For comparison, the keyword “car vacuum cleaner” has a KD of 27, and we estimate you’d need ~32 backlinks to rank in the top 10.

Medium-difficulty keyword example

If you find some low- to medium-difficulty keywords, it could be a sign Google is a great traffic source for you. Otherwise, you may want to consider a different traffic source to get started with.

Here are some guides to help you learn about different traffic channels:

Step 3. Create killer content

Regardless of the platform you choose to focus on, you will need one thing to succeed:

Great content.

Your content should be so good, so interesting, so riveting that people are eager to consume and share it. Whether that’s videos, pictures, or blog posts, the only way to stand out in this saturated market is to make your content really damn good.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you need the highest-quality cameras or the best-looking website. In fact, what makes content great varies, depending on the niche and the platform.

But typically, your content needs to be good at one of two things:

  1. Entertaining
  2. Informing

If you can both inform AND entertain people, you’ll do well with affiliate marketing. That can mean excellent storytelling, deep research, or great presentation of information. 

Of course, capturing traffic from Google is going to be very different from Instagram or TikTok. The intention is different—one platform is used for learning, the others for entertaining.

Creating amazing content for Google involves a lot of research:

Then, you need to compile that research in a way that’s easy to understand, well written, and optimized for search engines. The goal is to create something that’s better than what’s already ranking on page #1 for your target keyword.

For example, a good article for Google may look something like this, which ranks #1 for “rv accessories”:

RV accessories article example

As you scroll down the article, you see recommended boxes that share product information quickly and easily; also, the products are recommended by people who have actually used them.

Affiliate product recommendations

The goal with social media is still the same—to create something that’s better than what’s already out there—but it’s done in a different way.

Instead of presenting the best research in the easiest-to-digest way, it’s often about creativity, storytelling, and unique perspectives.

That can mean a low-quality, handheld video of yourself being real in a moment when life is super difficult. Or it can mean crisp, edited films with drone footage, awesome angles, and sound design.

For example, here’s a video I posted on TikTok that blew up and received over 1.7 million views:

Social media is a different beast—people want to be entertained, not just fed information.

This is why it’s hard to define what “great content” means for social media. But generally, it comes down to being good at informing and entertaining. If you can nail those skills, the rest will fall into place.

Here are a few guides to help you create better content:

Step 4. Promote like crazy

Remember how I said to focus on one channel for traffic?

What I really mean by that is to focus on creating content for only one channel—you can still utilize other channels to boost that content.

For example, if you decide to focus on SEO or YouTube, you can still share your content on Facebook and Pinterest even without a large following. 

Social media cross-promotion

That doesn’t mean you have to dive deep into Facebook and Pinterest groups and spend hours every day on social media to grow your audience—just look at it as a small piece of a larger strategy. Share it and move on.

Other things you can do to promote your content without spending money include:

  • Engaging with others on forums.
  • Building relationships with others in your niche and similar niches.
  • Commenting on other people’s videos and content.
  • Doing cold email outreach.
  • And more.

Check out our complete guide to content promotion to learn how to get eyeballs on your content.

Step 5. Scale it up

Once you find a traffic channel that works, you can work to scale up your efforts. Double down on the content and promotion methods that are working and cut the ones that aren’t.

At this point, you can look into hiring a writer, video editor, or social media manager to help you maximize your time.

Places like UpWork and Fiverr can help you find an assistant for a relatively low cost. It may take multiple hires to find the right person. But once you do, they’ll save you time, making the hiring process worthwhile.

Finding freelance writers on Fiverr

To have the best possible chances at landing a high-quality worker, only choose people with good reviews. 

Don’t just look at a five-star review average and assume they’re good, though. Read a few of the recent reviews to make sure they’re not fake purchased reviews.

And there you have it—the five steps to start affiliate marketing with basically no money.

Final thoughts

Starting an affiliate marketing business with no money is possible, but it does have a big learning curve and requires being scrappy and thinking outside the box.

With enough determination, you can create a business that earns passive revenue while you spend your time on hobbies, relaxing, with family, or doing whatever you want to do.

It requires a lot of learning and work, but it’s worth it. If you have questions or want to get in touch, feel free to ping me on Instagram.

If you’re ready to learn more about affiliate marketing and SEO, check out these other guides:



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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:

Featured image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio



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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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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked. 

Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.

But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm. 

Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.

Yandex vs Google

As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.

Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex. 

So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come. 

That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does. 

Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).

An early analysis of ranking factors

Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:

  • Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
  • Content relevance, age, and freshness.
  • Host reliability
  • End-user behavior signals.

Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points. 

These are all things that we already know.

But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.

Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.

You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.

The possible negative ranking factors:

Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting: 

FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings. 

FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important. 

FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this. 

FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.

FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.

FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.

FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most. 

FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.

The possible positive ranking factors:

FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.

FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.

FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.

FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.

This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors. 

CTR ranking factors from Yandex

It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.

Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.

FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.

FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.

Key Takeaway

Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to. 

Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.

These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy. 

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