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Is SEO Best Practice the Enemy of Success?

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In an industry that abounds in folklore and celebrity influencers, is SEO “best practice” the key to mastering the SERPs or a shallow goal that leads to missed opportunities?

What is “best practice,” who defines it, and why is it so widely adopted?

What Is ‘Best Practice’?

“Best practice” tends to refer to a method of working that has been generally accepted as better than others at achieving a result.

When we speak about SEO “best practice” it conjures images of page title lengths, word-counts, and Domain Authority thresholds.

It suggests that there is an accepted method of optimizing websites to make them more appealing to the search engines.

The Benefits of Best Practice

There are positives to be found from having a widely agreed set of practices. There is a reassurance that can be felt by both practitioners and their clients.

Security for Practitioners

SEO is an industry that still has so many unknowns.

When you first start out in this industry ranking a webpage can feel like a mix of science and magic.

Best practice gives us the security that we are working in a way that may generate results. It gives comfort and a clear path to follow to those who have no experience.

Security for Clients

Best practice also gives clients and stakeholders a feeling of security.

If they are familiar with some aspects of SEO, knowing that their appointed experts appear to be following those guidelines assures them of their legitimacy and potential success.

The Issues with Best Practice

There are, however, downsides to accepting a set of practices that you have not tested yourself.

Deciding on ‘Best Practice’

“Best practice” is a noble goal, it suggests there is a right and wrong way of acting and that can clearly be defined.

One problem with it within the SEO industry is that even the more common tenants are disputed amongst professionals.

Without confirmation from the search engines, arguments abound.

As seen in recent Twitter conversations following Moz’s Britney Muller’s discovery of a contentious statement in a Google document, we can’t even agree on whether click-through rate is a Google ranking factor.

If seasoned professionals are unsure of what constitutes a ranking factor, the widely believed “best practice” for this industry could be leading us all astray.

Differences

“Best practice” also suggests there is only one route to success. In SEO however, there are many facets to growing traffic.

Back in 2017 Google’s Gary Illyes stated in relation to a question about top ranking factors that “it very much depends on the query and the results which signals count more.”

How then can we suggest that there is a “best” way to optimize a page if the signals that determine its ranking are weighted differently for each search query?

Ammunition for the Competition

The touting of best practice is often the opening gambit of SEO agencies trying to get a foot in the door with a new business.

Often the lack of an H1 on a terms and conditions page, or a missing robots.txt is listed as a fundamental flaw in the optimization of a site bringing doubt over clients’ minds of the efficacy of their incumbent provider.

In reality, however, such a small detail is unlikely to bring the website to its knees as the try-hard agency might allude.

Cost

The other concern with best practice is that ticking all of those boxes can be costly.

If the only purpose of including a robots.txt file is to have one then this might not be a good use of an SEO or a developer’s time.

The resource and financial implications of following best practice can result in more important tasks that have the propensity to move the needle being relegated due to time and resource restraints.

How Was SEO ‘Best Practice’ Formed?

Determining if SEO best practice is a help or a hindrance really hinges on how it has formed and is followed.

It could be argued that best practice within the industry doesn’t really exist.

With so many methods shared and taught, however, there is definitely a set of traditions that individuals either trust or have actively rejected.

Formulas

There are many detailed and valuable guides to SEO for beginners.

They help to signpost the way forward for those who have never optimized for search engines before.

They shine a light on the way search engines work, what they favor, and how websites can capitalize on that.

The real issue with these mediums is not the resources themselves, but how SEO professionals approach them.

They should be treated like a car manual, telling you all you need to know about how the vehicle works, what the warning lights look like, and how to fix the engine if it goes wrong.

Armed with this knowledge we can feel confident to drive off into unchartered territory and explore.

Instead, some have fallen into the trap of approaching these guides like a sat-nav, fully expecting them to guide us to our desired destination of Position 1.

Many of us don’t take the time to wonder though, how is it that webpages with thin content, non-existent backlink profiles or poor meta-tag usage are ranking higher than our own, finely optimized sites?

Unfortunately, the answer would appear to be that sometimes the search engines do not behave in the way we expect them to.

When we try to follow best practice, we are in fact trying to abide by a set of rules that the likes of Google have not backed.

It is like only ever filling your car up with a certain brand of fuel because your local car owners’ forum tells you it’s the best one.

It might actually be the most expensive and unless you experiment with other types of fuel, or the manufacturer confirms the engine was built to perform best with it, why would you take that suggestion as gospel?

Unless there is evidence to back up this claim it would be foolish to assume it is correct.

Search engines are complicated, and the truth is, the algorithms are not known outside of the organization that developed them.

Any attempt to categorically state that they work in a particular way, unless confirmed by the company themselves, is naïve.

Instead, we should use the guides and checklists as our jumping-off point. They should form the start of our testing, holding our hands as we enter the murky world of SEO.

Influencers

The word “influencer” may conjure up images of make-up mavens, heavily filtered images and exotic backdrops, all hoping to persuade you to buy a product so they get a cut of the sale.

Apart from the odd entrepreneur who is trying to flog their latest online course, the SEO community taking part in social media and forums is largely trying to disseminate information and help others in their quest to improve.

These may be for purely altruistic reasons. It might be to increase their own profile. The result is the same; there are a lot of “experts” in this space touting their view on how SEO works.

There is nothing wrong with professionals who have gained experience and wish to share it with others, it truly is a selfless act.

The problem again is how we approach the insights given by these experts.

The barrier to becoming an SEO influencer is low. How do you decide who is a credible person to pay attention to?

There is the additional problem of differing opinions. There are many well-respected SEO professionals who take the time to really engage with their following.

These people give advice based on their years of experience. There are others with as large a following and impressive a career history who totally disagree with the advice they give.

So who is right?

Whenever I hear SEO best practice discussed, a tweet is often used as the evidence to substantiate it; “I saw [SEO influencer] say on Twitter that click-through rates are a ranking factor”.

Before we know it, this becomes lore.

Agencies hold meetings to update their teams, blog posts are written and strategies are altered to accommodate this new insight.

The issue with the blind following of others’ advice is that it might not be right.

It could be correct for what that SEO has seen on their own site, or within that particular vertical, but how can it be guaranteed that it will be the case for our own?

Best practice seems to pass down the lineage of SEOs through word of mouth. Juniors trust that what their seniors say is correct.

If those seniors are trusting what they see on Twitter without testing and questioning then the industry becomes rife with information that is inaccurate.

At best, the information being spread forms another checklist.

Examples of Damaging ‘Best Practice’ Myths

There are many best practice rules that can be questioned. Below are a few persistent ones that are often championed without question.

Meta Title Character Limits

Sixty characters maximum or your rankings will suffer. That’s a myth that seems to raise its head ever so often and particularly amongst newer SEO practitioners.

Although truncation does occur on both mobile and desktop SERPs, this differs between devices and search engines.

This image is an example of a page’s title truncated in the desktop search results.

Example of a truncated page title on a desktop SERP

Example of a truncated page title on a desktop SERP

This image shows the same page’s title truncated in the mobile SERPs

Example of a truncated page title on a mobile SERP

Example of a truncated page title on a mobile SERP

Google’s own guidelines on writing page titles suggest we “avoid unnecessarily long or verbose titles, which are likely to get truncated when they show up in the search results.”

There is no maximum character limit stated, however.

In fact, as discussed by Moz, “there’s no exact character limit, because characters can vary in width and Google’s display titles max out (currently) at 600 pixels.”

Imagine an “I” compared to a “W”, these take up a differing number of pixels. Sixty wide characters might take up more than 600 pixels, whereas 60 thinner characters may leave space for more letters.

My agency, Avenue Digital, recently ran an experiment to see if Google reads and indexes keywords past the truncation point.

We found that Google did pick up the keywords in the title, despite them being truncated.

This suggests that the arbitrary character limit is unnecessary for ranking purposes and therefore only needs to be considered for click-through optimization.

Example of a meta title truncated where missing words were counted for ranking

Example of a meta title truncated where missing words were counted for ranking

The issue with keeping your page titles to 60 characters or fewer means your goal of avoiding truncation in the SERPs might not be achieved and you could well be missing out on valuable keyword real-estate.

As Google is picking up words after the point of truncation and ranking the page based on those keywords (although to what degree these keywords are factored into rankings remains undetermined), then it would be foolish to miss out on this opportunity to include keywords that could help your rankings.

Include a Robots.txt File

Often one on the checklist when auditing a website is the robots.txt. It doesn’t seem to go further than that.

Now, what does the file contain?

Is it necessary considering the set-up of the site?

More often, simply, is there one present?

The presence of a robots.txt is not going to impact the crawling, indexation, or ranking of your website.

Therefore, when this point is raised in audits or adding a robots.txt is escalated as an urgent task, it is another example of best practice being followed blindly without consideration for the benefits.

When a task is executed without any clear understanding of what it is hoped to achieve then the cost of implementation should be ruled prohibitive.

Disavow All Bad Backlinks

The Google Search Console disavow tool is dangerous. It allows people with little knowledge of what they are doing to easily decimate years of constructive outreach efforts.

One common assertion in the SEO industry is that “bad” backlinks should be disavowed.

However, with recent iterations of the Google algorithm, even Google spokespeople have stated that for the majority of sites the disavow tool is not needed.

Google’s own John Mueller has declared that we shouldn’t “fret the cruft” when using the disavow tool.

That it is really designed for use with links that you intentionally built that go against Google’s guidelines, not the ones that have organically grown in your backlink profile over the years.

John Muellers Tweet about disavowing

John Muellers Tweet about disavowing

Following the “best practice” advice of disavowing any “spammy” link can damage your success. It takes time and resources away from work that could actually benefit your SEO rankings and traffic.

It can also lead to genuinely helpful backlinks being disavowed because their origin is unknown or they are misunderstood to be harmful links.

Copy Length

Another myth of the best practice lore is that copy needs to be long in order to rank.

When asked by copywriters or clients how long a piece of copy should be “for SEO” we’ll often reply “the longer the better.”

Some may even give a word count minimum, such as 800 words or even longer.

However, this is not necessarily accurate. It is more correct to say that copy should be as long as is needed to convey an adequate answer to a searcher’s query.

For example, when searching “what is the weather like in Portugal”, the first organic listing in my SERPs is https://www.theweathernetwork.com/pt/14-day-weather-trend/faro/albufeira.

The total word count for copy on this page, discounting anchor text for other pages on the site, is less than 20.

Second place is https://www.accuweather.com/en/pt/albufeira/273200/weather-forecast/273200, which has even fewer non-anchor text words.

These two pages are ranking with barely any copy on them at all because the answer to the searcher’s query can be summarized in a simple graphic showing the temperature over the upcoming week.

Writing copy is a laborious task.

Writing high-quality, well-converting copy is even harder.

Giving copywriters a minimum number of words they have to write for acceptable content is a distracting and unnecessary stipulation that can lead to poor copy being churned out.

For pages where conversion is key having reams of text that does not add value to the reader can be detrimental in achieving a sale or contact.

Conclusion

Best practice should be treated like training wheels.

It:

  • Helps us to feel safe when we’re new to the road.
  • Gives us the confidence to speak to outsiders and appear knowledgeable.
  • Gives routine and ideas when we’re lacking.

But like any training wheels, at some point, they need to be removed so you can ride over more rocky terrain and accelerate.

Following “best practice” can distract from activities that will actually benefit your SEO efforts and in some cases can be harmful.

Use it as a guide in your early days but if you have called yourself an SEO for more than a year it would be worth re-evaluating what you “know” about SEO and seek to prove your knowledge with results.

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, June 2019

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Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

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Google's Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedIn

Google Analyst Gary Illyes offers guidance on large robots.txt files, the SEO impact of website redesigns, and the correct use of rel-canonical tags.

Illyes is taking questions sent to him via LinkedIn direct message and answering them publicly, offering valuable insights for those in the SEO community.

It’s already newsworthy for a Google employee to share SEO advice. This is especially so given it’s Illyes, who isn’t as active on social media as colleagues like Search Advocate John Mueller and Developer Advocate Martin Splitt.

Throughout the past week, Illyes has shared advice and offered guidance on the following subjects:

  • Large robots.txt files
  • The SEO impact of website redesigns
  • The correct use of rel-canonical tags

Considering the engagement his posts are getting, there’s likely more to come. Here’s a summary of what you missed if you’re not following him on LinkedIn.

Keep Robots.Txt Files Under 500KB

Regarding a previously published poll on the size of robots.txt files, Illyes shares a PSA for those with a file size larger than 500kb.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises paying attention to the size of your website’s robots.txt file, especially if it’s larger than 500kb.

Google’s crawlers only process the first 500kb of the file, so it’s crucial to ensure that the most important information appears first.

Doing this can help ensure that your website is properly crawled and indexed by Google.

Website Redesigns May Cause Rankings To Go “Nuts”

When you redesign a website, it’s important to remember that its rankings in search engines may be affected.

As Illyes explains, this is because search engines use the HTML of your pages to understand and categorize the content on your site.

If you make changes to the HTML structure, such as breaking up paragraphs, using CSS styling instead of H tags, or adding unnecessary breaking tags, it can cause the HTML parsers to produce different results.

This can significantly impact your site’s rankings in search engines. Or, as Illyes phrases it, it can cause rankings to go “nuts”:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Illyes advises using semantically similar HTML when redesigning the site and avoiding adding tags that aren’t necessary to minimize the SEO impact.

This will allow HTML parsers to better understand the content on your site, which can help maintain search rankings.

Don’t Use Relative Paths In Your Rel-Canonical

Don’t take shortcuts when implementing rel-canonical tags. Illyes strongly advises spelling out the entire URL path:

Google’s Gary Illyes Answers Your SEO Questions On LinkedInScreenshot from: linkedin.com/in/garyillyes/, January 2023.

Saving a few bytes using a relative path in the rel-canonical tag isn’t worth the potential issues it could cause.

Using relative paths may result in search engines treating it as a different URL, which can confuse search engines.

Spelling out the full URL path eliminates potential ambiguity and ensures that search engines identify the correct URL as the preferred version.

In Summary

By answering questions sent to him via direct message and offering his expertise, Illyes is giving back to the community and providing valuable insights on various SEO-related topics.

This is a testament to Illyes’ dedication to helping people understand how Google works. Send him a DM, and your question may be answered in a future LinkedIn post.


Source: LinkedIn

Featured Image: SNEHIT PHOTO/Shutterstock



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Everything You Need To Know

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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

sitelink extensions - performance exampleScreenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

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Featured Image: Thaspol Sangsee/Shutterstock



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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

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How to Automate Dull SEO Tasks

Some SEO processes involve repetitively clicking things on a screen. Not the best use of your time.

With the right tools, however, you can automate various SEO processes—and free up resources for tasks that need more creative, human input.

In this post, I’ll share two examples of how I automate SEO tasks. 

Example 1. Record and email article assignments to writers

Imagine being able to record and email article assignments to writers in seconds using a simple form like this:

Airtable article assignment form

Let’s look at how to set this up.

1. Set up an Airtable database for your writer and article data

Sign up for Airtable and create a new database with a table called “Writers.” The table should have columns for your writers:

"Writers" table in Airtable

In the same Airtable database, create a separate table called “Articles.” 

Set up columns in this table for your:

  • Article titles.
  • Article outline links.
  • Article due dates.
  • Assigned writer (set this column up as a linked record to your “Writers” table so that Airtable can retrieve data on your writers from it).
"Articles" table in Airtable

You’ll also need to add a lookup field to pull the writer’s email address from the “Writers” table. 

Add Airtable lookup field

2. Create an Airtable article assignment form

Next, create an article assignment form for the “Articles” table. You’ll use this form to add new article assignments to the “Articles” table.

Create Airtable article assignment form

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New Record in Airtable” trigger

When you submit your details on the new article assignment via the Airtable form, Airtable will automatically record the new article assignment in your “Articles” table. So that’s the first step of the article assignment workflow sorted.

Demo of how Airtable automatically records new article assignments when the article assignment form is filled out

Now, we’ll use the Zapier workflow automation tool to automate the next three steps in the workflow—namely:

  1. Create a shared Google Drive submission folder for the article.
  2. Create a Google Doc submission document in the shared Google Drive folder.
  3. Use Gmail to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Sidenote.

Instead of Zapier, you can also use any other workflow automation tool, such as Make, as long as the tool supports the automation triggers and actions you’ll need.

In Zapier, create a new automated workflow (also known as a “Zap”) with:

  • Airtable as the trigger app.
  • New Record as the trigger event.

With this trigger, your Zap will start running when you add a new record to Airtable (such as by submitting your Airtable article assignment form).

Trigger step: New Record in Airtable

4. Add a “Create Folder in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

Next, add an action step with:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Create Folder as the action event.

For the action step’s “Parent Folder” field, select the Google Drive folder in which the new submission folder should be created.

Also, provide a name for the submission folder in the “Folder Name” field. You can map the article title data from Airtable here to name your submission folder after the article’s title.

Action step: Create Folder in Google Drive

5. Add an “Add File Sharing Preference in Google Drive” action step to your Zap

The Google Drive folder created by your Zap will have its sharing permissions disabled by default, so let’s add an action step to grant folder access to anyone who has the link to the folder.

This action step should have:

  • Google Drive as the action app.
  • Add File Sharing Preference as the action event.

Map the file ID of the Google Drive folder created in the previous action step to the “File Id” field of this action step.

Map file ID of Google Drive folder to "File Id" field

In addition, set the “Sharing Preference” field to “Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit.”

Set "Sharing Preference" field to "Anyone on the internet who has the link can edit"

6. Add a “Create Document from Text in Google Docs” action step to your Zap

Now, let’s set up the Google Doc that the writer will use to submit their draft.

We’ll have the Zap create this submission Google Doc in the shared Google Drive submission folder. And since the Google Drive folder will have general access enabled, anyone with the link to the Google Drive folder—and this includes you—will also automatically get access to the Google Doc.

No more frustration over writers forgetting to grant access to their Google Docs!

So add a new action step to your Zap with:

  • Google Docs as the action app.
  • Create Document from Text as the action event.

Map the article title data from Airtable to the action step’s “Document Name” field, and the folder ID of the shared Google Drive folder to the “Folder” field.

You’ll also need to include some default text in the Google Doc, such as “Write your article here!”

Action step: Create Document from Text in Google Docs

7. Add a “Send Email in Gmail” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll get the Zap to use your Gmail account to email the writer the article title, outline link, due date, and link to the shared Google Drive submission folder.

Add a last action step to your Zap with:

  • Gmail as the action app.
  • Send Email as the action event.

Map the writer’s email address from Airtable to the “To” field for this action step. Also, map the article title, outline link, due date, and Google Drive submission folder link in the email body.

I also recommend adding your own email address to either the “Cc” or “Bcc” field so you get a copy of the automated email (and can confirm it’s been sent).

Sample text for automated article assignment email

Once you’re happy with your Zap, hit the Publish button to activate your automation!

Example 2. Finding and verifying prospects’ email addresses for link building outreach

Finding email addresses for link building outreach can be a massive pain.

After all, most prospects don’t advertise their email addresses publicly. And even if you’ve managed to dig up their email addresses (or guess them using trial and error), there’s no guarantee they work.

But using Ahrefs’ Content Explorer, you can generate a huge Google Sheets list of link building prospects that looks like this:

List of prospects in Google Sheets

Then as you fill out the “Approve?” column for each prospect with data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—a Zapier automation will automatically do all these for you:

  1. Find the prospect’s email address using the Hunter email lookup tool
  2. Add the email address to your Google Sheet list of prospects
  3. Verify the email address using the NeverBounce email verification tool
  4. Add the verified email address to the Woodpecker.io email outreach tool so you can start sending customized outreach emails

Here’s how to set this up.

1. Get your list of prospects

Launch Ahrefs’ Content Explorer and search for link prospects. 

For example, if you recently published a marketing survey with unique insights and statistics, you may want to look for marketing statistics pages to pitch. To do this, simply run an “In title” search for “marketing statistics.”

Report of webpages with "marketing statistics" in their title, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Next, filter your results to show only webpages that are:

  • In English (unless you’re targeting webpages in another language).
  • Live, as it’d be weird to reach out and say, “Hey, I found you through [this webpage that no longer exists].”
  • On websites with a Domain Rating (DR) of 20 to 80 because you want to prioritize pursuing backlinks from authoritative websites but also that your chances of getting backlinks from super high-authority websites are quite low.
Filtering for live, English webpages on sites with a DR between 20 and 80, via Ahrefs' Content Explorer

Add a last filter to show only one page per domain (since you want to reach out to only one prospect per website).

Ahrefs' Content Explorer "One page per domain" setting

Click the Export button to export your list of prospects in a CSV file.

2. Clean up your list of prospects

As mentioned, we’ll be using Hunter to help us find our prospects’ email addresses.

Hunter uses the first names, last names, and domains of prospects to find email addresses, so we’ll clean up our list of prospects to provide Hunter with the exact data it needs.

Import your CSV list of prospects in Google Sheets and delete all columns in it except for:

  • Content Title
  • Content URL
  • Author

Also, some of the prospects in the CSV don’t have author names, so it’s worth removing these rows from the CSV. To do this, just filter for rows with empty author names and delete them.

Next, use the SPLIT formula to split the author names into their first and last names based on the space between their names.

Using the =SPLIT() formula in Google Sheets to split author names based on the space between the first and last names

Finally, add two new columns to the sheet:

  1. Approve?: Adding data to this column will trigger the Zapier automation we’ll be setting up next!
  2. Email Address: This column will store the prospect’s email address (if found).
Adding of two new "Approve?" and "Email address" columns to Google Sheets

3. Set up a new Zapier automation with a “New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” trigger

In Zapier, create a new Zap with:

  • Google Sheets as the trigger app.
  • New or Updated Spreadsheet Row as the trigger event.

Map the action step’s “Trigger Column” field to your Google Sheet’s “Approve?” column.

Trigger step: New or Updated Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets

With this setup, you’ll trigger your Zap whenever you add new data—such as “Yes” or “Approved”—to the “Approve?” column for any prospect row.

Adding of the word "Yes?" to the "Approve?" column in the Google Sheets list of prospects

4. Add a “Find Email in Hunter” action step to your Zap

Next, add a new action step with:

  • Hunter as the action app.
  • Find Email as the action event.

Map the “Content URL,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” columns in your Google Sheet to the “Domain or Company,” “First Name,” and “Last Name” fields for this action step, respectively.

Action step: Find Email in Hunter

5. Add an “Update Spreadsheet Row in Google Sheets” action step to your Zap

The next action step will update your Google Sheet with a prospect’s email address if Hunter finds it. Use:

  • Google Sheets as the action app.
  • Update Spreadsheet Row as the action event.

Map the Row Number of the updated row in the trigger step to this action step’s “Row” field.

Map the row number to the "Row" field

Also, map the email address that Hunter found in the previous action step to the “Email Address” field of this action step.

Map email address to the "Email Address" field

Sidenote.

This email address does not exist. It is for demo purposes only.

6. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if Hunter has found an email address

Next, set up a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if the email address data found by Hunter contains the “@” symbol.

That’s because all email addresses have the “@” symbol. If Hunter happens to find an email address value that doesn’t include this symbol, we won’t want to waste time verifying it.

Filter action: Only continue if email address contains "@"

7. Add a “Verify Email Address in NeverBounce” action step to your Zap

Now, we’ll use NeverBounce to verify the validity of the email addresses that Hunter found. Add a new action step with:

  • NeverBounce as the action app.
  • Verify Email Address as the action event.

Map the email address that Hunter found to this action step’s “Email Address to Verify” field:

Action step: Verify Email Address in NeverBounce

8. Add a Filter action that lets the Zap continue only if NeverBounce returns a “Valid” or “Catchall” status for the email address

When NeverBounce verifies an email address, it will return one of four status text codes: Valid, Catchall, Invalid, and Unknown. Email addresses marked with the “Valid” and “Catchall” NeverBounce status codes have the highest likelihood of being valid.

So we’ll add a Filter action that lets the Zap proceed only if an email address’s NeverBounce status text code matches either “Valid” or “Catchall” exactly.

Filter action: Only continue if NeverBounce status text code is "Valid" or "Catchall"

9. Add a “Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co” action step to your Zap

Finally, we’ll set up the Zap to add the verified email address to Woodpecker.co.

Create a last action step with:

  • Woodpecker.co as the action app.
  • Create/Update Prospect as the action event.

Map the verified email address to the action step’s “Email” field, and your prospect’s first and last name (as obtained from Google Sheets) to the “First Name” and “Last Name” fields, respectively.

Action step: Create/Update Prospect in Woodpecker.co

Hit the Publish button to turn your Zap on.

Now, when you fill out the “Approve?” column for prospects in your Google Sheet, your Zap will automatically do the heavy lifting of finding and verifying their email addresses using Hunter and NeverBounce and adding the verified email addresses to Woodpecker.co.

You can then customize your link building outreach emails in Woodpecker.co for each verified email address and, hopefully, snag yourself some backlinks!

Final thoughts

SEO automation takes some initial setup, but it’s amazing to watch your processes run automatically after that. It’s almost like magic.

And apart from the SEO processes we’ve shared here, there are probably plenty others you can automate.

Think of the apps you regularly use for SEO work. If you can connect these apps using Zapier or some other workflow automation tool, automating the workflows they support is likely more than possible.

Got questions? Ping me on Twitter.



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