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How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites

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How to use PageRank for ecommerce websites

30-second summary:

  • The PageRank still exists and here’s a deeper look at how Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model plays a key role
  • A well thought linking strategy both internally and externally for your ecommerce site can amplify search visibility
  • Google expert, Susan Dolan and NOVOS’, Head of SEO, Daniel Cartland guide you ahead of the holiday season

PageRank is a patent Google introduced, which used links to help determine websites rankings in the SERPs. The algorithm was named after Google founder Larry Page.

The original patent has not been renewed and has since been updated by other algorithms, which work to achieve the same goal. However, by understanding the fundamental principles, we can better understand how to position our ecommerce sites to drive traffic and revenue.

PageRank key concepts

PageRank is passed between websites through links and can be distributed through a single website with internal links.

Some pages have a higher PageRank than others and thus can pass on more PageRank to pages they link to. When a page links to another, a dampening factor is applied. The original patent set this as 0.85 – so a page with a PageRank of one, linking to another page would pass 0.85 PageRank.

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Key update: the Reasonable Surfer Model

Google’s Reasonable Surfer Model indicates that a link that is more likely to be clicked on will pass more PageRank than a link that is less likely to be clicked on. This is determined by a whole host of factors, including font size, color, and anchor text. However, the position of a link on a page is also something that we often have control over as SEOs and that we can, therefore, leverage.

Here is a simple, rather crude representation of how certain links will pass more/less PageRank based on the prominence of a link and how likely it is to be clicked on.

Build external links through to key pages

As linking pages pass PageRank, it stands to reason that we want to generate backlinks to key pages that we want to rank. For most ecommerce sites, the pages that rank for the highest volume and most revenue-driving keywords are category pages.

Wherever possible, we should therefore look to use tactics that support link building through to the pages that drive revenue, which for most sites looks something like:

  • Category pages
  • Product pages
  • Homepage
  • Blog posts

This is obviously easier said than done. Practicing these tactics with an overall aim to drive PageRank to your key pages. This reduces the dampening factors at play.

How to get past this

One common way to bypass this difficulty in building links to category pages is internally linking to key category pages we want to push from blog posts/Digital PR pieces that then get links themselves.

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Although the PageRank passed to the page we ideally want to rank will undergo a dampening factor, this can still be more beneficial than failing to get any links at all to your target page.

It is worth considering how relevant the category page is to the blog/PR piece it is being included on, as well as where the links are placed on the page, being mindful of the impact the Reasonable Surfer dampening effect can have.

1. Build links from pages with high PageRank

As any Digital PR will know, high authority pages or pages that have lots of PageRank to pass onto your own site are some of the most sought-after links to attain.

Most of the time, this is actually viewed at a domain level, however as is demonstrated in this great review of how PageRank works by Majestic, a domain that should theoretically have a high PageRank can actually be significantly decreased at a page level by its own internal linking.

One caveat for Digital PR teams in this regard is not being too reliant on domain-level metrics as a proxy for links that pass a lot of PageRank and are thus good for ranking. Exactly which pages have high PageRank is nigh-on impossible to know, and although an over-reliance on third-party tools is never optimal, they may be the closest we can get to figuring out PageRank passed by a specific page, rather than a domain.

2. Build links from relevant sites

As part of the Reasonable Surfer Model, it suggests that a link is less likely to be followed if the links are unrelated to the document:

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“This reasonable surfer model reflects the fact that not all of the links associated with a document are equally likely to be followed. Examples of unlikely followed links may include “Terms of Service” links, banner advertisements, and links unrelated to the document.”  (Source)

As a result, building links from sites that are of higher relevance to your own site, is likely to pass more PageRank.

3. Remember it is not just about the number of links

Due to how PageRank is calculated, the PageRank value passed by one site can be drastically higher than the PageRank passed by the culmination of 1000s of others combined.

This is why the reliance on the overall number of links can be misleading.

Use internal linking to spread PageRank

We need to consider a few different methods while identifying pages that will benefit the most from ranking and how you pass PageRank around an ecommerce site:

  1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves
  2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site
  3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked

1. Link to pages you want to rank from pages that have high PageRank themselves

Pages that have high PageRank, from which we can assume to be the pages most linked to from external sites, can be used to pass PageRank to – 

Homepage linking

The best example of how you can do this is through the homepage. The homepage for most websites tends to be one of the most, if not the most externally linked to page on a site.

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This means that in terms of PageRank, the homepage has the most to pass on to other internal pages.

By carefully selecting which pages you link to from the homepage, and therefore pass the high levels of PageRank to the key pages you want to rank.

2. Link to pages you want to rank more frequently throughout the site

Another method to consider is how frequently you link to the most important pages you want to rank.

Considering that each page can pass PageRank on – this stands to reason that if a page is internally linked to more frequently, it is likely to pass on more as compared to a page less internally linked to (although obviously influenced by the PageRank of the linking pages).

Therefore, you should be considering where you can add internal links to ensure that important pages are linked to more frequently, including:

Global navigation

Due to being outside of the main body content of the page, we can reasonably assume there is a dampening factor applied to links in the menu. However, given its role in navigation, this is likely to be far less than in the footer. 

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Therefore, since the global navigation is, as the name suggests, linked globally from every page on the site, the sheer number of links that will be passing PageRank is likely to funnel to those pages included in the navigation. These should therefore be the key pages you want to be ranking.

Breadcrumbs

As long-time fans of breadcrumbs at NOVOS, their benefit of passing PageRank to key pages should not be underestimated, due to the frequency with which different levels of pages are linked to.

The benefit of breadcrumbs on ecommerce sites (outside of usability benefits for the customers) is that they pass PageRank up to the core pages that generally rank for competitive keywords. They are typically helpful to rank the categories.

Most ecommerce websites have a pyramid structure with the homepage at the top, followed by some core categories, an increasing number of subcategories, and lots of product pages. By implementing breadcrumbs on the site, you use the pyramid structure to your advantage (both SEO and CX wise). Since every product page will link up to its relevant subcategories and category, and every subcategory will link through to its relevant category.

In this sense, you distribute internal links as an inverse pyramid, concentrating the highest number (if we disregard the homepage) on the core categories that are the pages generally targeted for high volume keywords. In this sense, your ecommerce site stands a great chance of receiving large amounts of PageRank from internal links.

Product pages also generally are easier to build links to and also naturally generate them. The higher PageRank product pages can distribute upwards, the greater is the relevance – which implies lesser chances of suffering significantly from dampening factors.

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Hierarchy of ecommerce site structure and how PageRank can be transferred

Footer

Based on the Reasonable Surfer Model we can assume that the PageRank passed by footer links is significantly impacted by dampening factors. However, the fact that these links are site-wide may mean that there is some benefit to including important pages in the footer for the accumulation of PageRank.

3. Give links to pages you want more prominently ranked

As the Reasonable Surfer Model applied to the likelihood of a link being clicked on a page, it is therefore worth considering whereabouts on a page. This could also mean considering page templates in general links.

For example, in a content strategy, where multiple blogs are being written on a given relevant topic to support a category page, linking to the category page early in the article, with clearly related anchor text, is likely to drive more PageRank than right at the end of an article. On a case-by-case basis, this distinction may appear trivial, however, on an ecommerce site with hundreds and thousands of blogs, the PageRank passed in total may be significant.


Susan Dolan is a Search Engine Optimization Consultant first to crack the Google PageRank algorithm as confirmed by Eric Schmidt’s office in 2014. Find her on Twitter @GoogleExpertUK.

Daniel Cartland is Head of SEO at NOVOS, Global SEO Agency Of The Year 2020 and 2021. A Brighton SEO speaker, Daniel has a particular interest in the quirks of how to optimize for different CMS. Find him on Twitter @DanielCartland.

Subscribe to the Search Engine Watch newsletter for insights on SEO, the search landscape, search marketing, digital marketing, leadership, podcasts, and more.

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

Understanding the impact of your content at every touchpoint of the customer journey is essential – but that’s easier said than done. From attracting potential leads to nurturing them into loyal customers, there are many touchpoints to look into.

So how do you identify and take advantage of these opportunities for growth?

Watch this on-demand webinar and learn a comprehensive approach for measuring the value of your content initiatives, so you can optimize resource allocation for maximum impact.

You’ll learn:

  • Fresh methods for measuring your content’s impact.
  • Fascinating insights using first-touch attribution, and how it differs from the usual last-touch perspective.
  • Ways to persuade decision-makers to invest in more content by showcasing its value convincingly.

With Bill Franklin and Oliver Tani of DAC Group, we unravel the nuances of attribution modeling, emphasizing the significance of layering first-touch and last-touch attribution within your measurement strategy. 

Check out these insights to help you craft compelling content tailored to each stage, using an approach rooted in first-hand experience to ensure your content resonates.

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Whether you’re a seasoned marketer or new to content measurement, this webinar promises valuable insights and actionable tactics to elevate your SEO game and optimize your content initiatives for success. 

View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

Competitor keywords are the keywords your rivals rank for in Google’s search results. They may rank organically or pay for Google Ads to rank in the paid results.

Knowing your competitors’ keywords is the easiest form of keyword research. If your competitors rank for or target particular keywords, it might be worth it for you to target them, too.

There is no way to see your competitors’ keywords without a tool like Ahrefs, which has a database of keywords and the sites that rank for them. As far as we know, Ahrefs has the biggest database of these keywords.

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Organic keywords report

The report is sorted by traffic to show you the keywords sending your competitor the most visits. For example, Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword “mailchimp.”

Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.Mailchimp gets most of its organic traffic from the keyword, “mailchimp”.

Since you’re unlikely to rank for your competitor’s brand, you might want to exclude branded keywords from the report. You can do this by adding a Keyword > Doesn’t contain filter. In this example, we’ll filter out keywords containing “mailchimp” or any potential misspellings:

Filtering out branded keywords in Organic keywords reportFiltering out branded keywords in Organic keywords report

If you’re a new brand competing with one that’s established, you might also want to look for popular low-difficulty keywords. You can do this by setting the Volume filter to a minimum of 500 and the KD filter to a maximum of 10.

Finding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywordsFinding popular, low-difficulty keywords in Organic keywords

How to find keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter your competitor’s domain in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis reportCompetitive analysis report

Hit “Show keyword opportunities,” and you’ll see all the keywords your competitor ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap reportContent gap report

You can also add a Volume and KD filter to find popular, low-difficulty keywords in this report.

Volume and KD filter in Content gapVolume and KD filter in Content gap

How to find keywords multiple competitors rank for, but you don’t

  1. Go to Competitive Analysis
  2. Enter your domain in the This target doesn’t rank for section
  3. Enter the domains of multiple competitors in the But these competitors do section
Competitive analysis report with multiple competitorsCompetitive analysis report with multiple competitors

You’ll see all the keywords that at least one of these competitors ranks for, but you don’t.

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

You can also narrow the list down to keywords that all competitors rank for. Click on the Competitors’ positions filter and choose All 3 competitors:

Selecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank forSelecting all 3 competitors to see keywords all 3 competitors rank for
  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer
  2. Enter your competitor’s domain
  3. Go to the Paid keywords report
Paid keywords reportPaid keywords report

This report shows you the keywords your competitors are targeting via Google Ads.

Since your competitor is paying for traffic from these keywords, it may indicate that they’re profitable for them—and could be for you, too.

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You know what keywords your competitors are ranking for or bidding on. But what do you do with them? There are basically three options.

1. Create pages to target these keywords

You can only rank for keywords if you have content about them. So, the most straightforward thing you can do for competitors’ keywords you want to rank for is to create pages to target them.

However, before you do this, it’s worth clustering your competitor’s keywords by Parent Topic. This will group keywords that mean the same or similar things so you can target them all with one page.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Export your competitor’s keywords, either from the Organic Keywords or Content Gap report
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
Clustering keywords by Parent TopicClustering keywords by Parent Topic

For example, MailChimp ranks for keywords like “what is digital marketing” and “digital marketing definition.” These and many others get clustered under the Parent Topic of “digital marketing” because people searching for them are all looking for the same thing: a definition of digital marketing. You only need to create one page to potentially rank for all these keywords.

Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"Keywords under the cluster of "digital marketing"

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

You don’t always need to create new content to rank for competitors’ keywords. Sometimes, you can optimize the content you already have to rank for them.

How do you know which keywords you can do this for? Try this:

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  1. Export your competitor’s keywords
  2. Paste them into Keywords Explorer
  3. Click the “Clusters by Parent Topic” tab
  4. Look for Parent Topics you already have content about

For example, if we analyze our competitor, we can see that seven keywords they rank for fall under the Parent Topic of “press release template.”

Our competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" clusterOur competitor ranks for seven keywords that fall under the "press release template" cluster

If we search our site, we see that we already have a page about this topic.

Site search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templatesSite search finds that we already have a blog post on press release templates

If we click the caret and check the keywords in the cluster, we see keywords like “press release example” and “press release format.”

Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"Keywords under the cluster of "press release template"

To rank for the keywords in the cluster, we can probably optimize the page we already have by adding sections about the subtopics of “press release examples” and “press release format.”

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

Paid keywords are the simplest—look through the report and see if there are any relevant keywords you might want to target, too.

For example, Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter.”

Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp is bidding for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

If you’re ConvertKit, you may also want to target this keyword since it’s relevant.

If you decide to target the same keyword via Google Ads, you can hover over the magnifying glass to see the ads your competitor is using.

Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”Mailchimp's Google Ad for the keyword “how to create a newsletter”

You can also see the landing page your competitor directs ad traffic to under the URL column.

The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”The landing page Mailchimp is directing traffic to for “how to create a newsletter”

Learn more

Check out more tutorials on how to do competitor keyword analysis:

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed at a recent search marketing conference that Google needs very few links, adding to the growing body of evidence that publishers need to focus on other factors. Gary tweeted confirmation that he indeed say those words.

Background Of Links For Ranking

Links were discovered in the late 1990’s to be a good signal for search engines to use for validating how authoritative a website is and then Google discovered soon after that anchor text could be used to provide semantic signals about what a webpage was about.

One of the most important research papers was Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment by Jon M. Kleinberg, published around 1998 (link to research paper at the end of the article). The main discovery of this research paper is that there is too many web pages and there was no objective way to filter search results for quality in order to rank web pages for a subjective idea of relevance.

The author of the research paper discovered that links could be used as an objective filter for authoritativeness.

Kleinberg wrote:

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“To provide effective search methods under these conditions, one needs a way to filter, from among a huge collection of relevant pages, a small set of the most “authoritative” or ‘definitive’ ones.”

This is the most influential research paper on links because it kick-started more research on ways to use links beyond as an authority metric but as a subjective metric for relevance.

Objective is something factual. Subjective is something that’s closer to an opinion. The founders of Google discovered how to use the subjective opinions of the Internet as a relevance metric for what to rank in the search results.

What Larry Page and Sergey Brin discovered and shared in their research paper (The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine – link at end of this article) was that it was possible to harness the power of anchor text to determine the subjective opinion of relevance from actual humans. It was essentially crowdsourcing the opinions of millions of website expressed through the link structure between each webpage.

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

At a recent search conference in Bulgaria, Google’s Gary Illyes made a comment about how Google doesn’t really need that many links and how Google has made links less important.

Patrick Stox tweeted about what he heard at the search conference:

” ‘We need very few links to rank pages… Over the years we’ve made links less important.’ @methode #serpconf2024″

Google’s Gary Illyes tweeted a confirmation of that statement:

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“I shouldn’t have said that… I definitely shouldn’t have said that”

Why Links Matter Less

The initial state of anchor text when Google first used links for ranking purposes was absolutely non-spammy, which is why it was so useful. Hyperlinks were primarily used as a way to send traffic from one website to another website.

But by 2004 or 2005 Google was using statistical analysis to detect manipulated links, then around 2004 “powered-by” links in website footers stopped passing anchor text value, and by 2006 links close to the words “advertising” stopped passing link value, links from directories stopped passing ranking value and by 2012 Google deployed a massive link algorithm called Penguin that destroyed the rankings of likely millions of websites, many of which were using guest posting.

The link signal eventually became so bad that Google decided in 2019 to selectively use nofollow links for ranking purposes. Google’s Gary Illyes confirmed that the change to nofollow was made because of the link signal.

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

In 2023 Google’s Gary Illyes shared at a PubCon Austin that links were not even in the top 3 of ranking factors. Then in March 2024, coinciding with the March 2024 Core Algorithm Update, Google updated their spam policies documentation to downplay the importance of links for ranking purposes.

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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“Google uses links as an important factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

The update to the documentation that mentioned links was updated to remove the word important.

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

“Google uses links as a factor in determining the relevancy of web pages.”

At the beginning of April Google’s John Mueller advised that there are more useful SEO activities to engage on than links.

Mueller explained:

“There are more important things for websites nowadays, and over-focusing on links will often result in you wasting your time doing things that don’t make your website better overall”

Finally, Gary Illyes explicitly said that Google needs very few links to rank webpages and confirmed it.

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

The reason why Google doesn’t need many links is likely because of the extent of AI and natural language undertanding that Google uses in their algorithms. Google must be highly confident in its algorithm to be able to explicitly say that they don’t need it.

Way back when Google implemented the nofollow into the algorithm there were many link builders who sold comment spam links who continued to lie that comment spam still worked. As someone who started link building at the very beginning of modern SEO (I was the moderator of the link building forum at the #1 SEO forum of that time), I can say with confidence that links have stopped playing much of a role in rankings beginning several years ago, which is why I stopped about five or six years ago.

Read the research papers

Authoritative Sources in a Hyperlinked Environment – Jon M. Kleinberg (PDF)

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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