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How to Use Keywords for SEO: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

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How to Use Keywords for SEO: The Complete Beginner’s Guide

In this guide, I’ll cover in detail how to make the best use of keywords in three steps:

  1. Finding good keywords: keywords that are rankable and bring value to your site.
  2. Using keywords in content and meta tags: how to use the target keyword to structure and write content that will satisfy readers and send relevance signals to search engines.
  3. Tracking keywords: monitoring your (and your competitors’) performance.

There’s really a lot you can do with just a single keyword, so at the end of the article, you’ll find a few advanced SEO tips.

Once you know how to find one good keyword, you will be able to create an entire list of keywords.

1. Pick relevant seed keywords to generate keyword ideas

Seed keywords are words or phrases that you can use as the starting point in a keyword research process to unlock more keywords. For example, for our site, these could be general terms like “seo, organic traffic, digital marketing, keywords, backlinks”, etc.

There are many good sources of seed keywords, and it’s not a bad idea to try them all:

  • Brainstorming. This involves gathering a team or working solo to think deeply about the terms your potential customers might use when searching for your products or services.
  • Your competitors’ website navigation. The labels they use in their navigation menus, headers, and footers often highlight critical industry terms and popular products or services that you might also want to target.
  • Your competitors’ keywords. Tools like Ahrefs can help you discover which keywords your competitors are targeting in their SEO and paid ad campaigns. I’ll cover that in a bit.
  • Your website and promo materials. Review your website’s text, especially high-performing pages, as well as any promotional materials like brochures, ads, and press releases. These sources can reveal the terms that already resonate with your audience.
  • Generative AI. AI tools can generate keyword ideas based on brief descriptions of your business, products, or industry (example below).

Here’s what you can ask any generative AI for, whether that’s Copilot, ChatGPT, Perplexity, etc.

Next, paste your seed keywords into a tool like Ahrefs Keywords Explorer to generate keyword ideas. If you’re using Ahrefs, you can go straight into Keywords Explorer, get AI suggestions there, and start researching right away.

Using Keyword Explorer's AI feature to generate keyword ideas.Using Keyword Explorer's AI feature to generate keyword ideas.

Next, make sure you’ve set up the country in which you’ll want to rank and hit “Search”.

1715273766 703 How to Use Keywords for SEO The Complete Beginners Guide1715273766 703 How to Use Keywords for SEO The Complete Beginners Guide

After hitting the “Search” button, go to the Matching terms report. You will see a big list of keywords.

Matching terms report in Ahrefs.Matching terms report in Ahrefs.

The list you’ll get will be quite raw — not all keywords will be equally good and the list will likely be too big to manage. Next steps are all about refining the list because we’ll be looking for target keywords — the keywords that will become the topic of your content.

2. Refine the list and cluster

The next step is to refine your list using filters.

Some useful basic filters are:

  • KD (Keyword Difficulty): how difficult it would be to rank on the first page of Google for a given keyword.
  • Traffic potential: traffic you can get for ranking #1 for that keyword and other relevant keywords (based on the page that currently ranks #1).
  • Lowest DR (Domain Rating): plug in the DR of your site to see keywords where another site with the same DR already ranks in the top 10. In other words, it helps to find “rankable” keywords.
  • Target: one of the main use cases is excluding keywords you already rank for.
  • Include/Exclude: see keywords that contain specific words to increase relevancy/hide keywords with irrelevant words.

For example, here’s how to find potentially rankable keywords with traffic potential above 300 monthly visits. Go to the Matching terms report in Keywords Explorer and set filters: keyword difficulty filter (KD) to your site’s Domain Rating, Traffic potential, and Volume filters to a minimum of 300.

Using filters to find the best keywords.Using filters to find the best keywords.

Clustering is another step to refine your list. It shows you if there is another keyword you could target to get more traffic (aka parent topic). At the same time, it shows which keywords most likely belong on the same page.

For example, here are some clusters distilled from low-competition topics about marketing.

Clustering keywords by parent topic. Clustering keywords by parent topic.

Pro tip

Take keyword trends into account when choosing keywords.

For example, the keyword “is affiliate marketing legit” is at 8.8k monthly search volume right now, but based on our forecast in Keywords Explorer (the orange part of the chart), if it continues its current growth rate it should be more than triple next year.

Keyword forecasting feature. Keyword forecasting feature.

The graphs will also show you if the search volume is affected by seasonality (fluctuations in search volume throughout different times of the year).

Identifying keyword seasonality on a search volume graph.Identifying keyword seasonality on a search volume graph.

4. Identify search intent and determine value for your site

Before investing time in content, make sure you can give searchers what they want and that the keywords will attract the right kind of audience.

To identify the type of page you need to create to satisfy searchers, look at the top-ranking pages to see what purpose they serve (are they more informational or commercial), or simply use the Identify intents AI feature in Keywords Explorer.

Identify intents AI feature in Ahrefs.Identify intents AI feature in Ahrefs.

So, for example, if the top-ranking pages are ecommerce pages and you’re not offering products on your site, it’s going to be very hard to rank.

Then, ask yourself if visitors attracted by a keyword will be valuable to your business — whether they’re likely to subscribe to your newsletter or make a purchase. At Ahrefs, we use a business potential score to evaluate this.

Business potential score. Business potential score.

Finally, if a keyword checks all boxes, add it to a keyword list.

Adding a keyword to a list in Ahrefs.Adding a keyword to a list in Ahrefs.

Now you’ve got a list of relevant, valuable target keywords with traffic potential ready for content creation. You can repeat the process as many times as you like with different seed keywords or different filters and find new ideas.

There’s one more great source of keywords — competitors.

5. Enrich the list with your competitors’ keywords

In this step, we’ll do a content gap analysis to find keywords your competitors already rank for, but you don’t.

First, let’s find your competitors.

  1. Enter your domain in Ahrefs’ Site Explorer and go to the Organic competitors report.
  2. Select the most relevant competitors and click on Copy (this copies URLs — we’ll use them in another tool).
Organic competitors report in Ahrefs.Organic competitors report in Ahrefs.

Next, we’ll see which keywords you’re missing.

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Competitive Analysis tool, paste the previously copied URLs, enter your domain on top and hit Show keyword opportunities.
Competitive analysis tool in Ahrefs.Competitive analysis tool in Ahrefs.
  1. In the Content gap report, use filters to refine the report.
  2. Select keywords and add them to your list.
Content gap report in Ahrefs.Content gap report in Ahrefs.

Pro tip

If you stumble across two similar keywords there’s an easy way to determine if they belong on the same page.

  • Enter the keyword in Keywords Explorer.
  • Scroll to SERP overview, click Compare with, and enter the keyword to compare with.
SERP overview feature in Ahrefs.SERP overview feature in Ahrefs.
  • Fewer common results and low SERP (Search Engine Result Page) similarity mean separate pages should target the two keywords.
SERP overview feature in Ahrefs showing SERP similarity score. SERP overview feature in Ahrefs showing SERP similarity score.

Once you have your target keyword, you can include it in relevant places in your on-page content, including:

  • Key elements of search intent (content type, format, and angle).
  • URL slug.
  • Title and H1.
  • Meta description.
  • Subheadings (H2 – H6).
  • Main content.
  • Anchor text for links.

And, just so we’re on the same page, the target keyword is the topic of the content and the main keyword you’ll be optimizing for and tracking later on.

Use the target keyword to determine the search intent

Search intent is the reason behind the search. Understanding it tells you what users are looking for and what you need to deliver in your content.

To identify search intent, look at the top-ranking results for your target keyword on Google and identify the three Cs of search intent:

  • Content type – What is the dominating type of content? Is it a blog post, product page, video, or something else? If you’ve done that during the keyword research phase (highly recommended), only two elements to go.
  • Content format – Some common formats include how-to guides, list posts, reviews, comparisons, etc.
  • Content angle – The unique selling point of the top-ranking points, e.g., “best,” “cheapest,” “for beginners,” etc. Provides insight into what searchers value in a particular search.

For example, most top-ranking pages for “avocado seed” are blog posts serving as how-to guides for planting the seed. The use of easy and simple angles indicates that searchers are beginners looking for straightforward advice.

Dominating intent on a SERPDominating intent on a SERP

Use the target keyword in the URL slug

A URL slug is the part of the URL that identifies a specific page on a website in a form readable by both users and search engines.

If you look at the URL of the page you’re on, that will be the last part, “how-to-use-keywords-seo”.

https://ahrefs.com/blog/how-to-use-keywords-seo

Google says to use words that are relevant to your content inside page URLs (source). Usually, the easiest way to do that is to set your target keyword in the slug part of the URL.

Example of a user-friendly URL slugExample of a user-friendly URL slug

Use the target keyword in the title and match it with the H1 tag

A title tag is a bit of HTML code used to specify the title of a webpage.

<title>How to Use Keywords for SEO: A-Z Guide For Beginners</title>

The H1 tag is an HTML heading that’s most commonly used to mark up a web page title.

<h1>How to Use Keywords for SEO: A-Z Guide For Beginners</h1>

Both are very important to Google and searchers. Since they both indicate what the page is about, you can just match them, like I did in this article.

Titles help Google understand the context of a page. What’s more, even a slight improvement to your title can improve your rankings.

Higher ranking just by changing the title of a page. Higher ranking just by changing the title of a page.
My colleague Chris Haines made a small change in the tile and jumped 3 positions.

Google advises focusing on creating good titles, which should be “unique to the page, clear and concise, and accurately describe the contents of the page” (source). It’s hard to think of a better way to accurately describe the contents other than using the target keyword.

If it makes sense for the title, aim for an exact match of the keyword. But if you need to insert a preposition or break the phrase, this won’t make Google think your page is less relevant. Google understands close variations of the keyword really well, so there’s no need to stuff in similar keywords, misspellings, etc.

To illustrate, my old article on how to see keywords that Google Analytics won’t show ranks #1 for many variations of the phrase in the title.

Article header - example of using target keyword in the title. Article header - example of using target keyword in the title.
Keyword variations of the target keyword. Keyword variations of the target keyword.

Use the keyword in meta description

However, don’t write meta descriptions solely for Google; Google rewrites them more than half of the time (study) and doesn’t use them for ranking purposes. Instead, focus on crafting meta descriptions for searchers.

These descriptions appear in the SERPs, where users can read them. If your description is relevant and compelling, it can increase the likelihood of users clicking on your link.

Including your target keyword in the meta description is usually natural. For instance, consider the description of the article mentioned earlier. Incorporating the keyword into the sentences simply provides a comprehensive way to describe the issue.

Example of a meta description. Example of a meta description.

Use the target keyword to find secondary keywords

Secondary keywords are any keywords closely related to the primary keyword that you’re targeting with your page.

You can find them through your primary keyword and use them as subheadings (H2 to H6 tags) and talking points throughout the content. Here’s how.

Go to Keywords Explorer and plug in your target keyword. From there, head on to the Related terms report and toggle between:

  • Also rank for: keywords that the top 10 ranking pages also rank for.
  • Also talk about: keywords frequently mention by top-ranking articles.
Also rank for and also talk about reports in Ahrefs. Also rank for and also talk about reports in Ahrefs.

Now, to know how to use these keywords in your text, just manually look at the top ranking pages and see how and where they cover the keywords.

For example, looking at one of the top articles for “digital marketing”, we can see right away that some of the most important aspects are the definition, a template and importance. You can use the free Ahrefs SEO Toolbar to break down the structure of any page instantly.

Content structure displayed in Ahrefs SEO Toolbar. Content structure displayed in Ahrefs SEO Toolbar.

Another place you can look for inspiration is the People Also Ask Box in the SERPs. Use it to find words and subtopics that may be worth adding to the article.

People Also Ask box in Google SERPs.People Also Ask box in Google SERPs.

Pro tip

Optimizing an existing article?

Use the Content Gap tool to find subtopics you may be missing. The tool shows keywords that your competitors’ pages rank for, and your page doesn’t.

  • Go to Keywords Explorer and enter your target keyword.
  • Scroll down to the SERP overview, select a few top pages, and click Open in Content Gap.
Accessing content gap via a shortcut in Keywords Explorer. Accessing content gap via a shortcut in Keywords Explorer.
  • In Content Gap, click on Targets and add the page you’re optimizing in the last field.
Content gap tool in Ahrefs Site Explorer. Content gap tool in Ahrefs Site Explorer.

Use primary and secondary keywords in the main content

To rank high on search engines, it’s important to include your keywords in your text. Even though Google is good at understanding similar words and variations, it still helps to use the specific keywords people might search for. Google explains that in their short guide to how search works:

The most basic signal that information is relevant is when content contains the same keywords as your search query. For example, with webpages, if those keywords appear on the page, or if they appear in the headings or body of the text, the information might be more relevant.

When writing, it’s important to incorporate keywords naturally. Start your content with the most relevant information that people are likely to search for. This ensures that key points are immediately visible to your readers and search engines.

Close variations of the target keyword included naturally in the intro.
Close variations of the target keyword included naturally in the intro.
Close variations of the target keyword included naturally in the intro.

If you have a secondary keyword that’s less critical but still relevant, consider giving it a dedicated section. This approach allows you to explore the topic in detail, rather than briefly mentioning it at the end of your content.

Secondary keywords included in subheadings. Secondary keywords included in subheadings.
Secondary keywords included in subheadings.

However, avoid overemphasizing the frequency of your keywords. Effective SEO involves more than just repeating keywords. If SEO were simply about keyword density, it would be straightforward, but such strategies don’t lead to long-term success and can make your content feel spammy.

For instance, if ‘content strategy’ is a central theme of your discussion and you mention it only once, Google might perceive your content as incomplete. On the other hand, stuffing your article with the term ‘content strategy’ more than necessary won’t outperform your competitors and could potentially lead to your site being flagged as spam.

Use the target keyword in link anchor text and/or surrounding text

The anchor text or link text is the clickable text of an HTML hyperlink.

Google uses anchors to understand the page’s context. There even seems to be a consensus that anchor text is a ranking factor, although, according to our study, it is likely a weak one.

In situations like these, it’s just best to stick with Google’s advice:

Good anchor text is descriptive, reasonably concise, and relevant to the page that it’s on and to the page it links to. It provides context for the link, and sets the expectation for your readers. (…)

Remember to give context to your links: the words before and after links matter, so pay attention to the sentence as a whole.

So use the target keyword in the anchor text and or surrounding text but keep it natural — add only on pages that are related to the page you’re linking to and use text that will help the readers understand where and why you’re linking.

1715273771 346 How to Use Keywords for SEO The Complete Beginners Guide1715273771 346 How to Use Keywords for SEO The Complete Beginners Guide
For example, on this page about “content optimization” there’s a link including “featured snippets” in the anchor, which is also the target keyword of the page linked to.

Rank tracking refers to monitoring the positions of a website’s pages in search engine results for specific keywords.

It’s pretty much an automated process; everything can be handled by a tool like Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. No need to check rankings manually and note them down in a spreadsheet.

If you have a keyword list ready, all you need to do is add that list to Rank Tracker.

Adding keywords to a rank tracking list.Adding keywords to a rank tracking list.

The keywords will appear in Rank Tracker’s Overview report.

Rank Tracker’s Overview report. Rank Tracker’s Overview report.

Another way to add keywords is to hit Add keywords in the top right corner (best for adding single keywords or importing a list from a document).

Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.Adding single keywords or keywords from a list.

Now to compare your performance against competitors, just go to the Competitors report. The metric I recommend tracking is SOV (Share of Voice). It shows how many clicks go to your pages compared to competitors.

Share of Voice metric in Ahrefs. Share of Voice metric in Ahrefs.

One of the key advantages of SOV is that it accounts for fluctuations in search volume trends. Therefore, if you notice a decrease in traffic but maintain a high SOV, it indicates that the drop is due to a decrease in the overall popularity of the keywords, not a decline in your SEO effectiveness.

But not only can you track your competitors’ keywords, you can also monitor them. Use a tool like Ahrefs Alerts to get notifications whenever your competitors started working for a new keyword.

Just to go Alerts tool in Ahrefs and fill in the details.

Alerts feature in Ahrefs. Alerts feature in Ahrefs.

There’s even more you can do with keywords and a bit more you should know to avoid some common mistakes.

1. Use keywords to find guest blogging opportunities

Guest blogging is the practice of writing and publishing a blog post on another person or company’s website.

It’s one of the most popular link building tactics with a few other benefits like exposure to a new, targeted audience.

Here’s how to find relevant, high-quality sites to pitch:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Content Explorer.
  2. Enter a broad keyword or phrase related to your niche.
  3. Select In title from the drop-down menu.
  4. Run the search.
Finding guest post opportunities using Ahrefs' Content ExplorerFinding guest post opportunities using Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Next, refine the list by applying these filters:

  • Domain Rating (DR) from 30 to 60.
  • Click the One page per domain filter.
  • Click the Exclude homepages filter.
  • Click the Exclude subdomains filter.
Narrowing down Content Explorer's results using filters
Narrowing down Content Explorer's results using filters

Finally, click on the Websites tab to see potential websites you could guest blog for.

Using the "Websites" tab to find the best guest blogging opportunities.
Using the "Websites" tab to find the best guest blogging opportunities.

2. Use keywords to find internal link opportunities

Internal links take visitors from one page to another on your website. Their main purpose is to help visitors easily navigate your website, but they can also help boost SEO by aiding the flow of link equity.

Finding new internal link opportunities is also a time-consuming process if done manually, but you can identify them in bulk using Ahrefs’ Site Audit. The tool takes the top 10 keywords (by traffic) for each crawled page, then looks for mentions of those on your other crawled pages.

Click on the Internal link opportunities report in Site Audit.

Internal link opportunities tool in Ahrefs.Internal link opportunities tool in Ahrefs.

You’ll see a bunch of suggestions on how to improve your internal linking using new links. The tool even suggests exactly where to place the internal link.

Ahrefs' Site Audit showing where to add internal link
Ahrefs' Site Audit showing where to add internal link

3. Use keywords to find link building opportunities

Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to pages on your website. Its purpose is to boost the “authority” of your pages in the eyes of Google and help your pages rank.

A good place to start is to pull up the top-ranking pages for your target keyword and research where they got their links from.

Put your keyword into Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview. You’ll see the top-ranking pages and their number of backlinks (and linking domains).

Backlinks to the top-ranking pages for "best productivity apps".Backlinks to the top-ranking pages for "best productivity apps".

Once you click on any of the backlink numbers, you’ll be redirected to a list of backlinks of a given page in Site Explorer.

Backlinks report in Site Explorer.Backlinks report in Site Explorer.

From that point, the typical process involves identifying sites with the highest potential to boost your SEO and contacting their owners if you think they’d be willing to link to your content. We’re covering the details of this process and everything else you need to know to start with link building in this guide.

4. Avoid common keyword pitfalls

Four big don’ts of using keywords.

  • Don’t use the same keyword excessively on a page. Repeating a keyword too frequently within a single page can lead to keyword stuffing, which is treated as spam by Google.
  • Don’t use the same focus keyword across multiple pages. Each page on your website should have a unique focus keyword. Using the same keyword across multiple pages can lead to keyword cannibalization, where pages compete against each other in search results.
  • Don’t sacrifice quality content for keyword usage. While keywords are essential for SEO, prioritize high-quality, informative content above all else. Don’t make your content read unnatural or too long by cramming in keywords. This won’t help you rank and will decrease content quality.
  • Don’t use keywords just for the sake of using them. This means two things. First, don’t target keywords not related to your website or business — this will only bring you useless traffic. Second, don’t try to hit some keyword frequency goal which is often suggested by content optimization tools by just mentioning the keyword without any substance — SEO doesn’t work that way anymore.

Final thoughts

This article focused on general SEO for text-based content. For using keywords in other types of content and SEO, see these guides:

Got questions or comments? Find me on X or LinkedIn.



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SEO

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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Google Search Leak: Conflicting Signals, Unanswered Questions

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Google Search Leak: Conflicting Signals, Unanswered Questions

An apparent leak of Google Search API documentation has sparked intense debate within the SEO community, with some claiming it proves Google’s dishonesty and others urging caution in interpreting the information.

As the industry grapples with the allegations, a balanced examination of Google’s statements and the perspectives of SEO experts is crucial to understanding the whole picture.

Leaked Documents Vs. Google’s Public Statements

Over the years, Google has consistently maintained that specific ranking signals, such as click data and user engagement metrics, aren’t used directly in its search algorithms.

In public statements and interviews, Google representatives have emphasized the importance of relevance, quality, and user experience while denying the use of specific metrics like click-through rates or bounce rates as ranking-related factors.

However, the leaked API documentation appears to contradict these statements.

It contains references to features like “goodClicks,” “badClicks,” “lastLongestClicks,” impressions, and unicorn clicks, tied to systems called Navboost and Glue, which Google VP Pandu Nayak confirmed in DOJ testimony are parts of Google’s ranking systems.

The documentation also alleges that Google calculates several metrics using Chrome browser data on individual pages and entire domains, suggesting the full clickstream of Chrome users is being leveraged to influence search rankings.

This contradicts past Google statements that Chrome data isn’t used for organic searches.

The Leak’s Origins & Authenticity

Erfan Azimi, CEO of digital marketing agency EA Eagle Digital, alleges he obtained the documents and shared them with Rand Fishkin and Mike King.

Azimi claims to have spoken with ex-Google Search employees who confirmed the authenticity of the information but declined to go on record due to the situation’s sensitivity.

While the leak’s origins remain somewhat ambiguous, several ex-Googlers who reviewed the documents have stated they appear legitimate.

Fishkin states:

“A critical next step in the process was verifying the authenticity of the API Content Warehouse documents. So, I reached out to some ex-Googler friends, shared the leaked docs, and asked for their thoughts.”

Three ex-Googlers responded, with one stating, “It has all the hallmarks of an internal Google API.”

However, without direct confirmation from Google, the authenticity of the leaked information is still debatable. Google has not yet publicly commented on the leak.

It’s important to note that, according to Fishkin’s article, none of the ex-Googlers confirmed that the leaked data was from Google Search. Only that it appears to have originated from within Google.

Industry Perspectives & Analysis

Many in the SEO community have long suspected that Google’s public statements don’t tell the whole story. The leaked API documentation has only fueled these suspicions.

Fishkin and King argue that if the information is accurate, it could have significant implications for SEO strategies and website search optimization.

Key takeaways from their analysis include:

  • Navboost and the use of clicks, CTR, long vs. Short clicks, and user data from Chrome appear to be among Google’s most powerful ranking signals.
  • Google employs safelists for sensitive topics like COVID-19, elections, and travel to control what sites appear.
  • Google uses Quality Rater feedback and ratings in its ranking systems, not just as a training set.
  • Click data influences how Google weights links for ranking purposes.
  • Classic ranking factors like PageRank and anchor text are losing influence compared to more user-centric signals.
  • Building a brand and generating search demand is more critical than ever for SEO success.

However, just because something is mentioned in API documentation doesn’t mean it’s being used to rank search results.

Other industry experts urge caution when interpreting the leaked documents.

They point out that Google may use the information for testing purposes or apply it only to specific search verticals rather than use it as active ranking signals.

There are also open questions about how much weight these signals carry compared to other ranking factors. The leak doesn’t provide the full context or algorithm details.

Unanswered Questions & Future Implications

As the SEO community continues to analyze the leaked documents, many questions still need to be answered.

Without official confirmation from Google, the authenticity and context of the information are still a matter of debate.

Key open questions include:

  • How much of this documented data is actively used to rank search results?
  • What is the relative weighting and importance of these signals compared to other ranking factors?
  • How have Google’s systems and use of this data evolved?
  • Will Google change its public messaging and be more transparent about using behavioral data?

As the debate surrounding the leak continues, it’s wise to approach the information with a balanced, objective mindset.

Unquestioningly accepting the leak as gospel truth or completely dismissing it are both shortsighted reactions. The reality likely lies somewhere in between.

Potential Implications For SEO Strategies and Website Optimization

It would be highly inadvisable to act on information shared from this supposed ‘leak’ without confirming whether it’s an actual Google search document.

Further, even if the content originates from search, the information is a year old and could have changed. Any insights derived from the leaked documentation should not be considered actionable now.

With that in mind, while the full implications remain unknown, here’s what we can glean from the leaked information.

1. Emphasis On User Engagement Metrics

If click data and user engagement metrics are direct ranking factors, as the leaked documents suggest, it could place greater emphasis on optimizing for these metrics.

This means crafting compelling titles and meta descriptions to increase click-through rates, ensuring fast page loads and intuitive navigation to reduce bounces, and strategically linking to keep users engaged on your site.

Driving traffic through other channels like social media and email can also help generate positive engagement signals.

However, it’s important to note that optimizing for user engagement shouldn’t come at the expense of creating reader-focused content. Gaming engagement metrics are unlikely to be a sustainable, long-term strategy.

Google has consistently emphasized the importance of quality and relevance in its public statements, and based on the leaked information, this will likely remain a key focus. Engagement optimization should support and enhance quality content, not replace it.

2. Potential Changes To Link-Building Strategies

The leaked documents contain information about how Google treats different types of links and their impact on search rankings.

This includes details about the use of anchor text, the classification of links into different quality tiers based on traffic to the linking page, and the potential for links to be ignored or demoted based on various spam factors.

If this information is accurate, it could influence how SEO professionals approach link building and the types of links they prioritize.

Links that drive real click-throughs may carry more weight than links on rarely visited pages.

The fundamentals of good link building still apply—create link-worthy content, build genuine relationships, and seek natural, editorially placed links that drive qualified referral traffic.

The leaked information doesn’t change this core approach but offers some additional nuance to be aware of.

3. Increased Focus On Brand Building and Driving Search Demand

The leaked documents suggest that Google uses brand-related signals and offline popularity as ranking factors. This could include metrics like brand mentions, searches for the brand name, and overall brand authority.

As a result, SEO strategies may emphasize building brand awareness and authority through both online and offline channels.

Tactics could include:

  • Securing brand mentions and links from authoritative media sources.
  • Investing in traditional PR, advertising, and sponsorships to increase brand awareness.
  • Encouraging branded searches through other marketing channels.
  • Optimizing for higher search volumes for your brand vs. unbranded keywords.
  • Building engaged social media communities around your brand.
  • Establishing thought leadership through original research, data, and industry contributions.

The idea is to make your brand synonymous with your niche and build an audience that seeks you out directly. The more people search for and engage with your brand, the stronger those brand signals may become in Google’s systems.

4. Adaptation To Vertical-Specific Ranking Factors

Some leaked information suggests that Google may use different ranking factors or algorithms for specific search verticals, such as news, local search, travel, or e-commerce.

If this is the case, SEO strategies may need to adapt to each vertical’s unique ranking signals and user intents.

For example, local search optimization may focus more heavily on factors like Google My Business listings, local reviews, and location-specific content.

Travel SEO could emphasize collecting reviews, optimizing images, and directly providing booking/pricing information on your site.

News SEO requires focusing on timely, newsworthy content and optimized article structure.

While the core principles of search optimization still apply, understanding your particular vertical’s nuances, based on the leaked information and real-world testing, can give you a competitive advantage.

The leaks suggest a vertical-specific approach to SEO could give you an advantage.

Conclusion

The Google API documentation leak has created a vigorous discussion about Google’s ranking systems.

As the SEO community continues to analyze and debate the leaked information, it’s important to remember a few key things:

  1. The information isn’t fully verified and lacks context. Drawing definitive conclusions at this stage is premature.
  2. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex and constantly evolving. Even if entirely accurate, this leak only represents a snapshot in time.
  3. The fundamentals of good SEO – creating high-quality, relevant, user-centric content and promoting it effectively – still apply regardless of the specific ranking factors at play.
  4. Real-world testing and results should always precede theorizing based on incomplete information.

What To Do Next

As an SEO professional, the best course of action is to stay informed about the leak.

Because details about the document remain unknown, it’s not a good idea to consider any takeaways actionable.

Most importantly, remember that chasing algorithms is a losing battle.

The only winning strategy in SEO is to make your website the best result for your message and audience. That’s Google’s endgame, and that’s where your focus should be, regardless of what any particular leaked document suggests.



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Google’s AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

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Google's AI Overviews Shake Up Ecommerce Search Visibility

An analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries by Bartosz Góralewicz, founder of Onely, reveals the impact of Google’s AI overviews on search visibility for online retailers.

The study found that 16% of eCommerce queries now return an AI overview in search results, accounting for 13% of total search volume in this sector.

Notably, 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.

“Ranking #1-3 gives you only an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews,” Góralewicz stated.

Shift Toward “Accelerated” Product Experiences

International SEO consultant Aleyda Solis analyzed the disconnect between traditional organic ranking and inclusion in AI overviews.

According to Solis, for product-related queries, Google is prioritizing an “accelerated” approach over summarizing currently ranking pages.

She commented Góralewicz’ findings, stating:

“… rather than providing high level summaries of what’s already ranked organically below, what Google does with e-commerce is “accelerate” the experience by already showcasing what the user would get next.”

Solis explains that for queries where Google previously ranked category pages, reviews, and buying guides, it’s now bypassing this level of results with AI overviews.

Assessing AI Overview Traffic Impact

To help retailers evaluate their exposure, Solis has shared a spreadsheet that analyzes the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.

As Góralewicz notes, this could be an initial rollout, speculating that “Google will expand AI overviews for high-cost queries when enabling ads” based on data showing they are currently excluded for high cost-per-click keywords.

An in-depth report across ecommerce and publishing is expected soon from Góralewicz and Onely, with additional insights into this search trend.

Why SEJ Cares

AI overviews represent a shift in how search visibility is achieved for ecommerce websites.

With most overviews currently pulling product data from non-ranking sources, the traditional connection between organic rankings and search traffic is being disrupted.

Retailers may need to adapt their SEO strategies for this new search environment.

How This Can Benefit You

While unsettling for established brands, AI overviews create new opportunities for retailers to gain visibility without competing for the most commercially valuable keywords.

Ecommerce sites can potentially circumvent traditional ranking barriers by optimizing product data and detail pages for Google’s “accelerated” product displays.

The detailed assessment framework provided by Solis enables merchants to audit their exposure and prioritize optimization needs accordingly.


FAQ

What are the key findings from the analysis of AI overviews & ecommerce queries?

Góralewicz’s analysis of 25,000 ecommerce queries found:

  • 16% of ecommerce queries now return an AI overview in the search results.
  • 80% of the sources listed in these AI overviews do not rank organically for the original query.
  • Ranking positions #1-3 only provides an 8% chance of being a source in AI overviews.

These insights reveal significant shifts in how ecommerce sites need to approach search visibility.

Why are AI overviews pulling product data from non-ranking sources, and what does this mean for retailers?

Google’s AI overviews prioritize “accelerated” experiences over summarizing currently ranked pages for product-related queries.

This shift focuses on showcasing directly what users seek instead of traditional organic results.

For retailers, this means:

  • A need to optimize product pages beyond traditional SEO practices, catering to the data requirements of AI overviews.
  • Opportunities to gain visibility without necessarily holding top organic rankings.
  • Potential to bypass traditional ranking barriers by focusing on enhanced product data integration.

Retailers must adapt quickly to remain competitive in this evolving search environment.

What practical steps can retailers take to evaluate and improve their search visibility in light of AI overview disruptions?

Retailers can take several practical steps to evaluate and improve their search visibility:

  • Utilize the spreadsheet provided by Aleyda Solis to assess the potential traffic impact of AI overviews.
  • Optimize product and detail pages to align with the data and presentation style preferred by AI overviews.
  • Continuously monitor changes and updates to AI overviews, adapting strategies based on new data and trends.

These steps can help retailers navigate the impact of AI overviews and maintain or improve their search visibility.


Featured Image: Marco Lazzarini/Shutterstock



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