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Is Google headed towards a continuous “real-time” algorithm?

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Is Google headed towards a continuous “real-time” algorithm

30-second summary:

  • The present reality is that Google presses the button and updates its algorithm, which in turn can update site rankings
  • What if we are entering a world where it is less of Google pressing a button and more of the algorithm automatically updating rankings in “real-time”?
  • Advisory Board member and Wix’s Head of SEO Branding, Mordy Oberstein shares his data observations and insights

If you’ve been doing SEO even for a short while, chances are you’re familiar with a Google algorithm update. Every so often, whether we like it or not, Google presses the button and updates its algorithm, which in turn can update our rankings. The key phrase here is “presses the button.” 

But, what if we are entering a world where it’s less of Google pressing a button and more of the algorithm automatically updating rankings in “real-time”? What would that world look like and who would it benefit? 

What do we mean by continuous real-time algorithm updates?

It is obvious that technology is constantly evolving but what needs to be made clear is that this applies to Google’s algorithm as well. As the technology available to Google improves, the search engine can do things like better understand the content and assess websites. However, this technology needs to be interjected into the algorithm. In other words, as new technology becomes available to Google or as the current technology improves (we might refer to this as machine learning “getting smarter”) Google, in order to utilize these advancements, needs to “make them a part” of its algorithms.

Take MUM for example. Google has started to use aspects of MUM in the algorithm. However, (at the time of writing) MUM is not fully implemented. As time goes on and based on Google’s previous announcements, MUM is almost certainly going to be applied to additional algorithmic tasks.  

Of course, once Google introduces new technology or has refined its current capabilities it will likely want to reassess rankings. If Google is better at understanding content or assessing site quality, wouldn’t it want to apply these capabilities to the rankings? When it does so, Google “presses the button” and releases an algorithm update. 

So, say one of Google’s current machine-learning properties has evolved. It’s taken the input over time and has been refined – it’s “smarter” for lack of a better word. Google may elect to “reintroduce” this refined machine learning property into the algorithm and reassess the pages being ranked accordingly.    

These updates are specific and purposeful. Google is “pushing the button.” This is most clearly seen when Google announces something like a core update or product review update or even a spam update. 

In fact, perhaps nothing better concretizes what I’ve been saying here than what Google said about its spam updates

“While Google’s automated systems to detect search spam are constantly operating, we occasionally make notable improvements to how they work…. From time to time, we improve that system to make it better at spotting spam and to help ensure it catches new types of spam.” 

In other words, Google was able to develop an improvement to a current machine learning property and released an update so that this improvement could be applied to ranking pages. 

If this process is “manual” (to use a crude word), what then would continuous “real-time” updates be? Let’s take Google’s Product Review Updates. Initially released in April of 2021, Google’s Product Review Updates aim at weeding out product review pages that are thin, unhelpful, and (if we’re going to call a spade a spade) exists essentially to earn affiliate revenue.

To do this, Google is using machine learning in a specific way, looking at specific criteria. With each iteration of the update (such as there was in December 2021, March 2022, etc.) these machine learning apparatuses have the opportunity to recalibrate and refine. Meaning, they can be potentially more effective over time as the machine “learns” – which is kind of the point when it comes to machine learning. 

What I theorize, at this point, is that as these machine learning properties refine themselves, rank fluctuates accordingly. Meaning, Google allows machine learning properties to “recalibrate” and impact the rankings. Google then reviews and analyzes and sees if the changes are to its liking. 

We may know this process as unconfirmed algorithm updates (for the record I am 100% not saying that all unconfirmed updates are as such). It’s why I believe there is such a strong tendency towards rank reversals in between official algorithm updates. 

It’s quite common that the SERP will see a noticeable increase in rank fluctuations that can impact a page’s rankings only to see those rankings reverse back to their original position with the next wave of rank fluctuations (whether that be a few days later or weeks later). In fact, this process can repeat itself multiple times. The net effect is a given page seeing rank changes followed by reversals or a series of reversals.  

across the board fluctuations - Google moving towards a “real-time” algorithm

A series of rank reversals impacting almost all pages ranking between position 5 and 20 that align with across-the-board heightened rank fluctuations 

This trend, as I see it, is Google allowing its machine learning properties to evolve or recalibrate (or however you’d like to describe it) in real-time. Meaning, no one is pushing a button over at Google but rather the algorithm is adjusting to the continuous “real-time” recalibration of the machine learning properties.

It’s this dynamic that I am referring to when I question if we are heading toward “real-time” or “continuous” algorithmic rank adjustments.

What would a continuous real-time google algorithm mean? 

So what? What if Google adopted a continuous real-time model? What would the practical implications be? 

In a nutshell, it would mean that rank volatility would be far more of a constant. Instead of waiting for Google to push the button on an algorithm update in order to rank to be significantly impacted as a construct, this would simply be the norm. The algorithm would be constantly evaluating pages/sites “on its own” and making adjustments to rank in more real-time. 

Another implication would be a lack of having to wait for the next update for restoration. While not a hard-fast rule, if you are significantly impacted by an official Google update, such as a core update, you generally won’t see rank restoration occur until the release of the next version of the update – whereupon your pages will be evaluated. In a real-time scenario, pages are constantly being evaluated, much the way links are with Penguin 4.0 which was released in 2016. To me, this would be a major change to the current “SERP ecosystem.” 

I would even argue that, to an extent, we already have a continuous “real-time” algorithm. In fact, that we at least partially have a real-time Google algorithm is simply fact. As mentioned, In 2016, Google released Penguin 4.0 which removed the need to wait for another version of the update as this specific algorithm evaluates pages on a constant basis. 

However, outside of Penguin, what do I mean when I say that, to an extent, we already have a continuous real-time algorithm? 

The case for real-time algorithm adjustments

The constant “real-time” rank adjustments that occur in the ecosystem are so significant that they refined the volatility landscape. 

Per Semrush data I pulled, there was a 58% increase in the number of days that reflected high-rank volatility in 2021 as compared to 2020. Similarly, there was a 59% increase in the number of days that reflected either high or very high levels of rank volatility: 

Data showing volatility - Google moving towards a “real-time” algorithm

Simply put, there is a significant increase in the number of instances that reflect elevated levels of rank volatility. After studying these trends and looking at the ranking patterns, I believe the aforementioned rank reversals are the cause. Meaning, a large portion of the increased instances in rank volatility are coming from what I believe to be machine learning continually recalibrating in “real-time,” thereby producing unprecedented levels of rank reversals. 

Supporting this is the fact (that along with the increased instances of rank volatility) we did not see increases in how drastic the rank movement is. Meaning, there are more instances of rank volatility but the degree of volatility did not increase. 

In fact, there was a decrease in how dramatic the average rank movement was in 2021 relative to 2020! 

Why? Again, I chalk this up to the recalibration of machine learning properties and their “real-time” impact on rankings. In other words, we’re starting to see more micro-movements that align with the natural evolution of Google’s machine-learning properties. 

When a machine learning property is refined as its intake/learning advances, you’re unlikely to see enormous swings in the rankings. Rather, you will see a refinement in the rankings that align with refinement in the machine learning itself. 

Hence, the rank movement we’re seeing, as a rule, is far more constant yet not as drastic. 

The final step towards continuous real-time algorithm updates

While much of the ranking movement that occurs is continuous in that it is not dependent on specific algorithmic refreshes, we’re not fully there yet. As I mentioned, much of the rank volatility is a series of reversing rank positions. Changes to these ranking patterns, again, are often not solidified until the rollout of an official Google update, most commonly, an official core algorithm update. 

Until the longer-lasting ranking patterns are set without the need to  “press the button” we don’t have a full-on continuous or “real-time” Google algorithm. 

However, I have to wonder if the trend is not heading toward that. For starters, Google’s Helpful Content Update (HCU) does function in real-time. 

Per Google

Our classifier for this update runs continuously, allowing it to monitor newly-launched sites and existing ones. As it determines that the unhelpful content has not returned in the long-term, the classification will no longer apply.”

How is this so? The same as what we’ve been saying all along here – Google has allowed its machine learning to have the autonomy it would need to be “real-time” or as Google calls it, “continuous”: 

This classifier process is entirely automated, using a machine-learning model.” 

For the record, continuous does not mean ever-changing. In the case of the HCU, there’s a logical validation period before restoration. Should we ever see a “truly” continuous real-time algorithm, this may apply in various ways as well. I don’t want to let on that the second you make a change to a page, there will be a ranking response should we ever see a “real-time” algorithm.

At the same time, the “traditional” officially “button-pushed” algorithm update has become less impactful over time. In a study I conducted back in late 2021, I noticed that Semrush data indicated that since 2018’s Medic Update, the core updates being released were becoming significantly less impactful.

the relation between Google's updates and rank volatility - Google moving towards a “real-time” algorithm

Data indicates that Google’s core updates are presenting less rank volatility overall as time goes on

Subsequently, this trend has continued. Per my analysis of the September 2022 Core Update, there was a noticeable drop-off in the volatility seen relative to the May 2022 Core Update

lesser rank volatility seen during Google's core update in Sep 2022 - Google moving towards a “real-time” algorithm

Rank volatility change was far less dramatic during the September 2022 Core Update relative to the May 2022 Core Update 

It’s a dual convergence. Google’s core update releases seem to be less impactful overall (obviously, individual sites can get slammed just as hard) while at the same time its latest update (the HCU) is continuous. 

To me, it all points towards Google looking to abandon the traditional algorithm update release model in favor of a more continuous construct. (Further evidence could be in how the release of official updates has changed. If you look back at the various outlets covering these updates, the data will show you that the roll-out now tends to be slower with fewer days of increased volatility and, again, with less overall impact). 

The question is, why would Google want to go to a more continuous real-time model? 

Why a continuous real-time google algorithm is beneficial

A real-time continuous algorithm? Why would Google want that? It’s pretty simple, I think. Having an update that continuously refreshes rankings to reward the appropriate pages and sites is a win for Google (again, I don’t mean instant content revision or optimization resulting in instant rank change).

Which is more beneficial to Google’s users? A continuous-like updating of the best results or periodic updates that can take months to present change? 

The idea of Google continuously analyzing and updating in a more real-time scenario is simply better for users. How does it help a user looking for the best result to have rankings that reset periodically with each new iteration of an official algorithm update? 

Wouldn’t it be better for users if a site, upon seeing its rankings slip, made changes that resulted in some great content, and instead of waiting months to have it rank well, users could access it on the SERP far sooner? 

Continuous algorithmic implementation means that Google can get better content in front of users far faster. 

It’s also better for websites. Do you really enjoy implementing a change in response to ranking loss and then having to wait perhaps months for restoration? 

Also, the fact that Google would so heavily rely on machine learning and trust the adjustments it was making only happens if Google is confident in its ability to understand content, relevancy, authority, etc. SEOs and site owners should want this. It means that Google could rely less on secondary signals and more directly on the primary commodity, content and its relevance, trustworthiness, etc. 

Google being able to more directly assess content, pages, and domains overall is healthy for the web. It also opens the door for niche sites and sites that are not massive super-authorities (think the Amazons and WebMDs of the world). 

Google’s better understanding of content creates more parity. Google moving towards a more real-time model would be a manifestation of that better understanding.

A new way of thinking about google updates

A continuous real-time algorithm would intrinsically change the way we would have to think about Google updates. It would, to a greater or lesser extent, make tracking updates as we now know them essentially obsolete. It would change the way we look at SEO weather tools in that, instead of looking for specific moments of increased rank volatility, we’d pay more attention to overall trends over an extended period of time. 

Based on the ranking trends we already discussed, I’d argue that, to a certain extent, that time has already come. We’re already living in an environment where rankings fluctuate far more than they used to and to an extent has redefined what stable rankings mean in many situations. 

To both conclude and put things simply, edging closer to a continuous real-time algorithm is part and parcel of a new era in ranking organically on Google’s SERP.


Mordy Oberstein is Head of SEO Branding at Wix. Mordy can be found on Twitter @MordyOberstein.

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System Builders – How AI Changes The Work Of SEO

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Kevin Indig's Growth Memo for SEJ

AI is terraforming tech. The content and SEO ecosystem is undergoing a massive structural change.

Human-written content gains value faster for LLM training than for end consumers as the pure profit licensing deals between LLM developers and publishers show.

Publishers struggle to survive from digital subscriptions but get millions that go straight to their bottom line for providing training data.

Content platforms, social networks, SaaS companies and consumer apps coat their products with AI. A few examples:

  • Spotify DJ (AI-generated playlist).
  • AI Overview (AI answers in Google Search).
  • Instagram AI personas (celebrity AI chatbots).
  • Ebay’s magical listing (turn a photo into a listing).
  • Redfin Redesign (try interior designs on real house pictures).
Image Credit: Kevin Indig

The quality of machine-generated content (MGC) challenges human-generated content (HGC). I ran an experiment with my Twitter and LinkedIn followers: I asked them to choose which of two articles was written by a human and which by a machine – and they had to explain their answer.

Only a handful of people figured out that AI wrote both pieces. I intentionally framed the question in a leading way to see if people would challenge the setting or believe that one piece was written by a human if told so.

  • Not an isolated experiment: A survey of 1,900 Americans found that 63.5% of people can’t distinguish between AI content and human content.1
  • People seek help: Google search demand for [ai checker] has reached 100,000 in May 2024 (Glimpse).
  • Dark side: scammers use MGC to make money, as 77% of AI scam victims lost money.2
Search demand for AI checkerImage Credit: Kevin Indig

The quality level of LLMs pushes SEO work towards automating workflows and learning with AI, while writers will take content from good to great instead of zero to one.

Boost your skills with Growth Memo’s weekly expert insights. Subscribe for free!

How AI Changes The Work Of SEOImage Credit: Lyna ™

System Builders

Clients, podcasters and panel hosts often ask me what skills SEOs need to build for the AI future. For a long time, my answer was to learn, stay open-minded and gain as much practical experience with AI as possible.

Now, my answer is SEOs should learn how to build AI agents and workflows that automate tasks. AI changes the way search works but also the way SEOs work.

AI + No-code Allows SEOs To Automate Workflows

A few examples:

1/ Cannibalization

  • Old world: SEOs download search console data and create pivot tables to spot keyword cannibalization.
  • New world: SEOs build an AI workflow that sends alters, identifies true keyword cannibalization, makes content suggestions to fix the problem, and monitors the improvement.

2/ Site Crawling

  • Old world: SEOs crawl websites to find inefficiencies in internal linking, status code errors, duplicate content, etc.
  • New world: SEOs build an AI agent that regularly crawls the site and automatically suggests new internal links that are shipped after human approval, fixes broken canonical tags and excludes soft 404 errors in the robots.txt.

3/ Content Creation

  • Old world: SEOs do keyword research and write content briefs. Writers create the content.
  • New world: SEOs automate keyword research with AI and create hundreds of relevant articles as a foundation for writers to build on.

All of this is already possible today with AI workflow tools like AirOps or Apify, which chain agents and LLMs together to scrape, analyze, transform data or create content.

Moving forward, we’ll spend much more time building automated systems instead of wasting time on point analyses and catalogs of recommendations. The SEO work will be defining logic, setting rules, prompting and coding.

building automated systems Building workflows with AirOps (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

You Can Learn (Almost) Anything With AI

I never made the time to really learn Python or R, but with the help of Chat GPT and Gemini in Colab, I can write any script with natural language prompts.

When the script doesn’t work, I can paste a screenshot into Chat GPT and describe the issue to get a solution. AI helps with Regex, Google Sheets/Excel, R, Python, etc. Nothing is off-limits.

Being able to write scripts can solve problems like data analysis, a/b testing and using APIs. As an SEO, I’m no longer dependent on engineers, data scientists or writers to perform certain tasks. I can act faster and on my own account.

I’m not the only one to figure this out. People are learning to code, write and many other skills with AI. We can learn to build AI workflows by asking AI to teach us.

Search demand for coding with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig
Search demand for write with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig
Search demand for learn with AI is explodingImage Credit: Kevin Indig

When you can learn almost anything, the only limit is time.

The Work Of Writers Changes

Against common belief, writers won’t be crossed out of this equation but will play the critical role of editing, directing and curating.

In any automated process, humans QA the output. Think of car assembling lines. Even though AI content leaps in quality, spot checks reduce the risk of errors. Caught issues, such as wrong facts, weird phrasing or off-brand wording, will be critical feedback to fine-tune models to improve their output.

Instead of leg work like writing drafts, writers will bring AI content from good to great. In the concept of information gain, writers will spend most of their time making a piece outstanding.

The rising quality work spans from blog content to programmatic content, where writers will add curated content when searches have a desire for human experience, such as in travel.

A mini guide to Los AngelesTripadvisor’s attraction pages feature human-curated sections. (Image Credit: Kevin Indig)

Unfair Advantage

As often with new technology, a few first-mover people and companies get exponential value until the rest catch up. My worry is that a few fast-moving companies will grab massive land with AI.

And yet, this jump in progress will allow newcomers to challenge incumbents and get a fair chance to compete on the field.

AI might be a bigger game changer for SEOs than for Google. The raw power of AI might help us overcome challenges from AI Overviews and machine learning-driven algorithm updates.

But the biggest win might be that SEOs can finally make something instead of delivering recommendations. The whole value contribution of SEOs changes because my output can drive results faster.

Survey: ChatGPT and AI Content – Can people tell the difference?

Artificial Intelligence Voice Scams on the Rise with 1 in 4 Adults Impacted


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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12 SEO Meetups You Should Have On Your Radar

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12 SEO Meetups You Should Have On Your Radar

Want to meet other people interested in SEO offline? Give an SEO meetup a go.

In my experience, it’s one of the best ways to meet like-minded people and provides a more relaxed, informal setting than a bustling SEO conference. Who knows—you could make new friends at a meetup or even land new SEO clients.

But with so many events worldwide, it’s impossible to mention them all. So, here are some of the most talked-about SEO meet-ups I think you should have on your radar.

Okay—so I may be a little biased, but I wanted to start by sharing our Ahrefs’ SEO Events. We’ve run five Beer and Snacks Meetups in Singapore. We’ve also hosted an SEO Workshop and Networking meetup the day before BrightonSEO, and we just launched our London Meetup.

Tickets to the London Meetup sold out in a day and a half—it was our fastest-selling ticketed event ever.

Tim Soulo, Joshua Hardwick, and Ryan Law will speak at our inaugural event, covering topics such as improving your rankings, competitor research, and content marketing. To stay informed about our next event, follow our events page.

Sidenote.

Missed our meetups but still want to catch up with the Ahrefs team and a host of world-class speakers? Get Ahrefs Evolve tickets ✨

London SEO XL MeetupLondon SEO XL Meetup

The LondonSEO Meetup hosts an evening of networking with industry peers and leading experts featuring SEO speakers like Itamar Blauer, Steph Hugman, Reina Hanada, and many more.

The bigger XL event has even hosted prolific search engine news chronicler Barry Schwartz in 2023.

Search London Meetup PhotoSearch London Meetup Photo

With over 2,800 members, Search London is a popular meetup that has been around for over a decade.

Events are organized every 8-12 weeks, and members are from a mixture of agency, client-side, and start-up businesses.

The meet-up is open to anyone in SEO, PPC, or social media—and offers marketing professionals and first-time speakers a safe, supportive space to share their industry knowledge and experiences.

Search 'n Stuff Meetup PhotoSearch 'n Stuff Meetup Photo

Search ‘n Stuff meetups are an energetic and all-embracing community tailored to empower digital marketers, startups, in-house teams, and professionals. Expect sharings centered on strategies, campaigns, and other relevant SEO topics.

Neurodivergents In SEO Meetup PhotoNeurodivergents In SEO Meetup Photo

Neurodivergents in SEO provide a safe space for neurodivergent SEOs to network and learn.

The group holds in-person meetups at BrightonSEO, both in the UK and the US, and monthly pub quizzes with great prizes.

If you’re an SEO or marketer and identify as neurodivergent, you’re more than welcome to join the community. You can do so by signing up here.

Search Norwich PhotoSearch Norwich Photo

Search Norwich launched in 2018 as a free marketing meetup event. It often features top industry speakers who share their knowledge, tips, and advice with the search marketing community. At Search Norwich there are no sales agendas, fluff, or pitches—just valuable insights.

SEOFOMO Meetup PhotoSEOFOMO Meetup Photo

The SEOFOMO meetups are run by SEO superstar Aleyda Solis, who is a well-known SEO speaker and founder of SEO consultancy Orainti. She’ll also be the headline speaker for our first Ahrefs Evolve Conference.

SEOFOMO is a laid-back, free event perfect for learning, connecting, and sharing with other SEOs.

SEO Mastermind PhotoSEO Mastermind Photo

SEO Mastermind is a supportive, free, and friendly SEO community where you can grow your skills, meet like-minded people, and get answers to all your organic marketing questions.

SEO Mastermind meets around eight times a year, mainly in the Netherlands and Belgium—but they also occasionally have meetups in other locations, for instance, at Brighton SEO and ISS Barcelona.

Organizer Jeroen Stikkelorum told me that SEO Mastermind is on a mission to build the most valuable Dutch-spoken SEO and organic marketing community in The Netherlands and Belgium. So if you’re local, give it a go.

SEO Lager Fest Meetup PhotoSEO Lager Fest Meetup Photo

SEO Lager Fest is a fun SEO meetup that (apart from drinking) enables you to network with like-minded folks in the SEO industry. They hold an SEO quiz, run case study competitions, do AMAs, and even do SEO charades.

SEOnerd Switzerland Meetup PhotoSEOnerd Switzerland Meetup Photo

SEOnerdSwitzerland is a volunteer-run association that organizes events for SEOs in Switzerland and beyond.

Dedicated to fair opportunities and diversity, they provide training and coaching for people wanting to break through as a public speaker in the SEO industry.

SEOnerdSwitzerland also offers training and coaching for speakers, aiming for a diverse and inclusive panel.

WebSchrona Meetup Photo, Salzburg, AustriaWebSchrona Meetup Photo, Salzburg, Austria

WebSchrona is a free monthly meetup for SEO and online marketing professionals in Salzburg, Austria. They meet every second Thursday at 6 p.m.

There’s no fixed agenda, so discussions are often unplanned and spontaneous and often involve a drink of some description.

Organizer Alexander Außermayr tells me that everyone is welcome to join their SEO meetups. The aim is to provide a regular, uncomplicated meetup in an open space—often a beer garden, if the weather is good.

SEO Benelux Meetup PhotoSEO Benelux Meetup Photo

SEO Benelux started in 2018 as a Facebook community for Dutch and Belgian SEO specialists. The meetup grew into the largest in the Benelux region, with more than 3,000 members.

There are four meetups each year, two in Belgium (Ghent and Antwerp) and one in the Netherlands (mostly Amsterdam). Each meetup attracts 70–90 people and features three speakers.

If you don’t live in a big city, it may be difficult to find a good meetup, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any in your local area.

Here are my tips to help you find new meetups near you.

Tip 1 – Use Google’s advanced search operators to uncover new meetups

As new meetups pop up all the time and often without notice, it’s worth doing some digging to see what’s out there.

You can just do a regular ol’ Google search, but we’re SEOs—so let’s use some advanced search operators and spice it up a bit.

In this example, I searched for the phrase “meetup” in the title, plus my location and my favorite SEO tool, and it managed to uncover Tim’s tweet on our London Meetup.

Advanced Google Search Operators ExampleAdvanced Google Search Operators Example

This is just a very basic example, and you could use any website or location, but it shows how you can uncover information about new meetups with a little research.

Tip 2 – Trigger the Events SERP feature

By searching for events or events near me, you can trigger the Events SERP feature. In the example below, I found a few SEO-related events by prepending “SEO” to the search.

Triggering the Events SERP Feature ExampleTriggering the Events SERP Feature Example

Once you’ve triggered the feature, scroll down until you find an SEO meetup that catches your eye.

Tip 3 – Use Meetup to find an SEO meetup

If you can’t find anything on Google then it’s a good idea to run a quick check on a specialist community platform.

One of the most popular platforms is Meetup. It allows you to find events near your location on any topic.

Meetup.com screenshotMeetup.com screenshot

Over the years, I’ve attended a lot of smaller meetups through this website, and they have always been interesting and a place to make new connections.

Tip 4 – No SEO meetup in your area? Start your own!

I started my own mini-meetup in 2018 on WhatsApp with some former colleagues, imaginatively titled #seodrinks.

#SEOdrinks meetup logo#SEOdrinks meetup logo

It started from humble beginnings in a room in a small pub in London, and it’s still in a room in a small pub—somewhere in London. (If you want an invite, let me know on LinkedIn.)

We only have semi-regular meetups in London and a small group, but every meetup has to start somewhere.

If you want to start your own SEO meetup, platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram are the best free places to start, but if you want a more specialized paid option, you could try Meetup or another similar platform.

Final thoughts

You don’t always have to attend a big SEO conference to meet other amazing people in the industry. Some of the smaller meetups I’ve been to have resulted in making more contacts than the bigger conferences.

As such, SEO meet-ups are one of my favorite ways to meet people who are just as interested in SEO and marketing as much as you are.

Did I miss an SEO meetup? Add your SEO meetup here, or let me know on LinkedIn.



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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

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How to Combine SEO and Content Marketing (The Ahrefs’ Way)

SEO and content marketing are different marketing channels. But you don’t have to choose between them. They’re complementary.

In fact, you should combine them for greater effectiveness in your marketing.

Two main reasons:

1. Content marketing and SEO are like peanut butter and jelly—they work well together

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing content to attract and retain customers.

Here’s how SEO helps content marketing:

The web's largest traffic referrersThe web's largest traffic referrers

SEO is the process of improving a website’s visibility in search engines to get more traffic.

Here’s how content marketing helps SEO:

  • It helps you get more search traffic — If you want more search traffic, you need to rank for more keywords, which requires you to make more content.
  • It makes SEO more effective — Thought leadership content acquires backlinks, gated content generates leads, and sales enablement converts traffic into sales.

2. The same amount of investment in effort, money, and time can generate results for both content marketing and SEO

We’re the perfect example. Our content ranks high on Google and generates hundreds of thousands of monthly search visitors:

Ahrefs blog trafficAhrefs blog traffic

It also attracts links and shares on social media because we make sure each piece is unique and not just regurgitation or “AI content”.

LinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of viewLinkedIn comment on how we blended an SEO-friendly term with a contrarian point of view

Finally, each piece of content introduces visitors to our product and educates them on how to use it to solve their problems. (Keep on reading and you’ll see it in action too!)

Example of how we introduce our product in our contentExample of how we introduce our product in our content

It hits all content marketing and SEO goals at once:

  • Acquires search traffic ✅
  • Builds thought leadership ✅
  • Attracts links ✅
  • Generates sales (over the long-term) ✅

How do we do what we do? Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness. Here’s one line that summarizes our entire SEO content marketing strategy:

We create and maintain high-quality, product-led, search-focused content about topics with business potential and search traffic potential.

Let me break down how we combine SEO and content marketing:

If you want to acquire search traffic, you need to target topics that your potential customers are searching for.

The easiest way to find these keywords is to use a keyword tool like Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer:

  1. Go to Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a few broad keywords related to your site or niche
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Filter for keywords with traffic potential (TP)
Matching terms report in Keywords ExplorerMatching terms report in Keywords Explorer

Sidenote.

Traffic Potential is the estimated monthly organic search traffic to the top-ranking page for a keyword. Since pages tend to rank for many keywords, Traffic Potential is a more reliable estimate than search volume.

Go through the report and pick out the keywords that are relevant to your site. For example, if I were an ecommerce store selling coffee equipment, this could be a potential keyword to target:

The keyword "best coffee grinder"The keyword "best coffee grinder"

A keyword’s business potential is how easy it will be to pitch your product while covering a certain topic. It’s our ‘trade secret’—it’s why we can easily introduce our product and its features in every piece of content we create.

Here’s how to score a topic’s business potential:

Business potential scoring chartBusiness potential scoring chart

So, taking the above example, the topic “best coffee grinder” would score a “3” (provided we sell coffee grinders) whereas a topic like “does decaf coffee have caffeine” would score a “1” or even a “0”.

You should prioritize topics that score high on business potential, i.e. a “2” or a “3”.

What does all of the jargon mean? Let’s break it down.

Search-focused

Part one of being ‘search-focused’ is finding keywords that people are searching for. Part two is to figure out why they’re searching for those particular keywords. This ‘why’ is known as search intent.

Given that Google’s goal is to always rank the most relevant content, we can look at the search engine results (SERPs) to uncover search intent. Take your target keyword, enter it into Keywords Explorer, scroll down to SERP Overview, and click Identify intents:

Identify intents feature in Keywords ExplorerIdentify intents feature in Keywords Explorer

So, we can see that searchers looking for the keyword “best coffee grinders” want detailed reviews and expert recommendations on the best coffee grinders. Not only that, we can also see that searchers want a list that is fresh.

Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"Identified search intent for "best coffee grinder"

If we’re targeting this topic, making it search-focused means matching this search intent—we’ll need to create a list of the best coffee grinders for the current year.

Product-led

Product-led means ensuring you’re not just creating content for the sake of it; you’re also ‘selling’ your product. You want to be aware of which use case, feature, or service you want to weave into the narrative. Naturally, of course.

Scoring a topic’s business potential would have done 90% of the work here. If you’re creating content about a topic that scored a “3”, then your product pitch would be natural. For example, we could easily add links back to our coffee equipment store after covering the best coffee grinders. Or, if we make our coffee grinders, we could pitch them as one of the best. (That’s why I say the business potential score is our secret ingredient.)

The challenge comes when you’re covering topics that score a “1” or “0”. It’s not impossible, but you’ll need to be creative.

For example, I recently covered the topic “SEO specialist”. It had a business potential of “1” and was tough to include a product pitch. Fortunately, I noticed that some job listings asked for experience with different SEO toolsets (including us.) It was the perfect segue to introduce our product and certification course.

An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1An example of how I managed to pitch Ahrefs in a post with a business potential of 1

High-quality

This is subjective. Everyone’s standards are different. But here’s how we think of quality:

  • Accurate — No hype, no lying. Every statement we make should be as accurate as possible.
  • Clear — No fluff—delete all unnecessary words and sentences. Use jargon only when needed. When necessary, create illustrations to expand on ideas and concepts.
  • Helpful — Being product-led is important but the content should not just be aimed at pitching. The content should be focused primarily on helping visitors solve their problems, while creatively weaving our product into the context.
  • Unique — One way to make your content unique is to have skin in the game—conduct experiments, run data studies, and write from personal experience. If having skin is difficult, then interview practitioners. Focus on did, not could.

The deterioration of your content is inevitable:

  • Search-focused — Your rankings may drop because of competitors. Or you didn’t even rank the first time round. Or your target topic’s search intent changed (e.g., the word corona’s search intent changed during the void years of 2020-2022.)
  • Product-led — You may have new features, services, or use cases to introduce. Or your team has depreciated certain features or abandoned some services.
  • High-quality — Statements may become inaccurate over time. Or your unique idea was so successful that everyone else copied you (and outranked you.) Or you might have better ways to reword sentences and paragraphs. Or just simply the ideas, screenshots, and content has become outdated.

That’s why you don’t build a train track and disappear. You have to actively maintain it to keep it working. (I’m looking at you London tube.) Same goes for your content.

The way to maintain your content is to conduct regular content audits. We do this every quarter—Each writer on our blog team goes through their portfolio of articles and selects at least three pieces to update. Each writer may also choose a couple to do a full rewrite.

I highly recommend going through our content audit template so you can see what went wrong with your content and what to do with it next.

Final thoughts

SEO and content marketing may be different marketing types, but that doesn’t mean you need to do one to the exclusion of the other.

Both channels are highly compatible and as you see above, can be designed as an entire strategy that hits all important marketing objectives.



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