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Steal Our SEO Report Template (Inspired by SEO Experts)

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Steal Our SEO Report Template (Inspired by SEO Experts)


How do you instantly tell the difference between a good SEO and a bad one?

Look at their SEO reports.

  • Bad SEO reports – Clients get lost in pointless data, don’t know what work was done, and get no insightful comments.
  • Good SEO reports – Clients see key data summaries and easy-to-understand insights and overview of the work done.

I’ve seen many SEO reports from consultants, in-house teams, and agencies. I discussed them with experts from our Ahrefs Insider community. The conclusion? You can’t create an SEO report template that covers everything necessary without knowing a client, their business, and your responsibilities in the project.

But what I have for you here will get you as close as possible to a perfect SEO report. That is the main reason why I started discussing SEO reporting with experts in the first place.

Before you steal our SEO report template, let’s first learn the following:

Let’s get into it.

An SEO report is an overview of important SEO metrics reflecting business growth, performance in search engines, backlink portfolio strength, and website health.

It’s the main resource for your clients, managers, or bosses that tracks the progress of your work and its impact. After all, these stakeholders want to see that their money is well spent on you.

And while you can’t win with SEO every month, an effective SEO report should still convey that your work is likely to have positive ROI in the long term.

This leads us nicely to…

What should an SEO report contain?

What and how you report on your SEO efforts depend on how you set up expectations with your client. While SEO reports are dependant on a client’s business type, this is what everyone generally wants to see:

  • SEO KPIs – Evaluate SEO metrics that are closely tied to revenue growth.
  • Ranking progress – See how rankings of the most important keywords have changed.
  • Organic traffic progress – Check how the previous two aspects translate into absolute traffic numbers.
  • Backlink growth – See new, valuable referring pages that drive traffic and/or pass link equity.
  • SEO health – Know that the website is doing well from the technical SEO perspective.

Your work doesn’t end with just dumping a bunch of metrics into a document, though. You need to interpret them. Your SEO reports should convey the impact of your work in the most succinct and coherent way possible. That’s how we made the template as well.

Now let’s get back to the expectations between you and your client. The report should primarily contain what you’ve previously discussed. If you sent an SEO report without educating the client beforehand, you’d get a lot of questions and demands to show more data. This is even if the SEO report is perfect. That’s because you’re the SEO expert, not the client.

I’ll explain all the used metrics and data as we go through the slides later on. But I also highly recommend you to check out our articles on SEO KPIs and SEO metrics that actually matter. These will help you and your clients be on the same page.

How long does it take to create the report?

Based on what I’ve heard, SEOs can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours per month on each SEO report. This depends on several factors:

  • Your responsibilities in the project
  • Complexity of the project
  • Your SEO experience and knowledge
  • Your data analytics experience and knowledge
  • Reporting format you and your clients prefer

Let me expand on the last point. It seems most SEOs prefer using the good old PDFs and decks for reporting purposes:

Our SEO report template is also in a deck format because it’s the easiest to use and read for everyone. The downside is you have to go through new data every month and put it together manually.

Some seasoned marketers prefer to use automated data dashboards like Google Data Studio, Tableau, or Power BI. These may take you a lot of time to set up initially. But they can update all the data automatically, saving you time in the long run. If you’re wondering about this option, we’ll be releasing Ahrefs’ GDS connector soon to help you with that.

But back to the actual template…

Steal our SEO report template (and make it better)

As explained previously, our SEO report template (or any other) isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s simply a great starting point to create an SEO report your clients will appreciate.

To get this done from start to finish, you’ll need the following tools:

Ready?

Click here to make a copy of the SEO report template.

You can change the color scheme to the brand colors of your client, give it a bit of your own branding, make it look fancier, whatever you like.

Before we get into explaining the rationale behind each slide, let me emphasize a few things.

First of all, feel free to tailor the slides to suit your client’s needs, as well as your service offerings. We’ve made this report to cover all SEO areas for monthly reporting.

Second, the type of business you’re doing SEO for should also be reflected in the report adjustments.

If you’re doing local SEO, you’ll probably include an overview of local rankings and local SERP features. E‑commerce client? You may want to include Average Order Value from the organic traffic and dive deeper into the technical side of things.

And lastly, keep in mind the template contains mostly made-up data, insights, and scenarios. Don’t try to analyze the content of it. Rather, use its structure as a guide.

Let’s get started.

1. Title card

The first slide is the easiest part to create.

Slide showing the title of the SEO report

Add in the date/month of the report, your own logo, as well as your client’s website URL. Once those are completed, you are good to go.

It’s time to move on to the actual SEO reporting.

2. Highlights

A highlights page that summarizes the most important information of that month is a good intro.

Slide showing key highlights for the month

This can be basically the first and also the last slide that a CMO or CEO looks at. Thirty seconds later, they’ll say, “Cool, good job,” and won’t bother with the rest.

What type of things can you include here?

  • Brief summary of your SEO KPIs
  • Stuff worth bragging about
  • Most important tasks completed during that reporting period
  • Tasks that require further attention

3. SEO KPIs overview

Next, you should dive into the SEO KPIs more. While the previous slide won’t cut it for most clients, some will already be pretty satisfied. This is as we’ve covered what matters the most on the first two slides:

Slide showing data on progress of search visibility and conversions

As said earlier, you may want to include different or more KPIs, depending on the client and their business type. The rule of thumb is to choose metrics as closely tied to the business’s revenue as possible.

You can see the most universal SEO KPIs above: search visibility and organic traffic conversions.

Search visibility is the SEO version of one of the most important marketing KPIs: share of voice (SOV). It’s basically keyword rankings on steroids.

To get the search visibility metric, create a project in Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker. In there, paste the main keywords that encompass what your audience is searching for (you need to finish keyword research first), tag it to enable filtering later, and you’re good to go:

Rank Tracker page to add keywords, also features SOV

You’ll then find the search visibility metric in the Competitors overview tab:

Competitors overview report results

Regarding organic conversions, the screenshot in the report is taken from a custom Google Analytics (GA) report that only shows the source/medium dimension and selected conversions to avoid all the clutter in the default reports. The conversions are then compared month over month (MoM).

If the client’s customers go through a complex buying process, you’ll also want to report assisted organic traffic conversions. You can find this in GA under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions. These will complete the picture of the overall impact of SEO on the business.

4. Ranking progress

The overall search visibility KPI isn’t the only visibility metric that clients are interested in. They have certain product categories or topics on the blog that usually differ in relevancy and value to the business. That’s where measuring search visibility for keyword segments comes into play.

Slide showing data on ranking progress per keyword segments

You can get this data by creating more tags in your Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker project. Scroll down to your keywords in the overview, check those that you want to tag, and assign the tag to them or create a new one:

Dropdown options for keywords in Rank Tracker

5. Money keywords ranking overview

While search visibility metrics are the best proxies to your organic growth, most clients also want to see position changes of their most important keywords.

Slide showing key data on money keywords rankings

It’ll get pretty messy to present position changes of possibly hundreds of keywords in a deck. We should, therefore, satisfy the client by only reporting on the most important keywords for the business, aka “money keywords.” You can then include the rest by linking to the exported spreadsheet if the client wants to see it.

Again, tag these keywords in the Rank Tracker. You can decide whether a keyword should be tagged like this based on its business relevancy and CPC. Or you can just go through the keyword list with the client.

6. Non-branded organic traffic progress

It took us a few slides before we got to the metrics a lot of SEOs and clients focus on first: organic traffic. The reason for showing this later is simple: Growing organic traffic doesn’t necessarily translate into business growth. The website can start ranking for keywords that drive traffic but not revenue.

The overall traffic number isn’t really a great SEO proxy for anything. To make it more relevant, let’s segment it into non-branded organic traffic only:

Slide showing data on non-branded organic traffic progress

The reason for showing non-branded traffic here is to avoid attributing organic traffic changes to marketing activities unrelated to SEO. For example, if the marketing team launched a great PR campaign or started airing mass marketing campaigns, your organic traffic would naturally go up just from people looking up your brand more.

To show a more accurate overview of organic traffic progress, simply apply a query filter in Google Search Console (GSC):

Query filter in GSC

Again, you want to compare the current month’s performance with the previous month’s and, ideally, even with the year-over-year (YoY) performance. Most businesses tend to have seasonal swings, so some MoM comparisons may look bad just because the high season has already ended.

Be careful here. GSC only provides 28-day views and comparisons by default. Thus, you need to select custom dates to compare whole months. Remember to compare the same number of days. Let’s look at a scenario where a month has 31 days (e.g., in such a case, start the comparison on the last day of August to account for only 30 days in September).

Your client may also get a significant amount of traffic from Google Discover or Google News. If that’s the case, it’s probably worth dedicating a separate slide to it.

7. New referring domains highlights

Next up is the backlink profile—showing the client what new, interesting coverage they got in the past month.

Slide showing key data on new referring domains

However, you should only report on backlink profile changes if your activities in the project influence the acquiring of new links. That can range from creating link bait content to planning and executing outreach campaigns. I mention this because link building is quite often a separate activity from many SEO projects.

If you are responsible for backlink profile growth, go to Ahrefs’ Site Explorer, check the Referring domains report, and filter for new referring domains in the past 30 days (as you can see in the slide).

We show the highlights of the newly acquired referring domains sorted by Domain Rating (DR) score because it’s a solid and easy-to-understand proxy for improving backlink profile growth.

If you engage in outreach activities and see a new referring domain gained from that, you can highlight it in the screenshot so that the client can differentiate earned and acquired links.

8. Link building progress

This slide is designed to let you go into further detail about your link building work done during the month.

Slide showing data on link building progress

It can include:

  • The pages you built links to.
  • Any standout, new referring pages.
  • The number of links those pages got.
  • Your link building statistics, e.g., prospects contacted and success rate.
  • Any insights you deem relevant, e.g., exceptionally good or bad link bait content.

Ahrefs’ Best by links growth report in Site Explorer is good to include here because it shows you pages that received the most backlinks in the past 30 days.

Truth to be told, there’s much more to evaluating link building than the number of links and DRs of referring domains. But that’s relevant for link prospecting before launching outreach campaigns, not for SEO reporting. Your clients don’t need to dive into all the nuances.

9. Technical SEO health overview

This is where you’ll give a snapshot of the website’s health that takes into account all technical SEO errors and issues.

Slide showing Health Scores for this month and last month, respectively

To get this data:

Go to Ahrefs’ Site Audit, set up a project for the client’s website if you haven’t done so already, and let the tool crawl the website. Depending on your crawl settings, Site Audit can recrawl the website periodically, providing you with all the current and historical technical SEO data.

You get the Health Score on the overview page after each crawl is done:

Various data on technical SEO overview page

If this is your first time crawling the website, use this Health Score as a starting point. You can start referencing monthly comparisons in your second report.

Now, you may be thinking that one metric isn’t enough to reflect the whole state of technical SEO. And you’re right. But you’re usually not sending SEO reports to developers or other SEOs who can easily understand more in-depth information. For this reason, the Health Score is the best proxy for a client-friendly, technical SEO metric.

Again, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t report on more technical SEO metrics, etc. Some projects involve huge websites and complex, technical SEO tasks. In such situations, it’s likely the client will welcome crawling and indexing statistics, details about the most important issues, etc.

10. Next month

After showing your client all the data and reports, you should give them a plan of the most important SEO tasks you’ll be working on next month.

Slide showing "to-dos" for next month

A quick to-do list that summarizes your main focus for the following month will suffice. It will also serve as an anchor for your next SEO report.

Final thoughts

So there you have it. A fully customizable SEO reporting template to give to your clients. In case you skimmed through the article first, here’s the link again:

Click here to make a copy of the SEO report template.

Reporting will probably never be anyone’s favorite activity. But it’s crucial that you nail this to have satisfied and well-paying clients.

To wrap up, I want to thank everyone who shared their reporting insights with me over the years. I’m also grateful for Ahrefs Insider members, who proactively reached out with their knowledge and reports before I even started creating the template. And special thanks to Gyorgy Bolla, the search performance lead at Westpac, who introduced me to enterprise SEO reporting—the only area I wasn’t familiar with.

Think there are more metrics or slides this SEO report template should have? Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.





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Where Are The Advertisers Leaving Twitter Going For The Super Bowl?

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Where Are The Advertisers Leaving Twitter Going For The Super Bowl?

Since Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter last October 27, 2022, things at the social media company have gone from bad to worse.

You probably saw this coming from a mile away – especially if you had read about a study by Media Matters that was published on November 22, 2022, entitled, “In less than a month, Elon Musk has driven away half of Twitter’s top 100 advertisers.”

If you missed that, then you’ve probably read Matt G. Southern’s article in Search Engine Journal, which was entitled, “Twitter’s Revenue Down 40% As 500 Top Advertisers Pull Out.”

This mass exodus creates a challenge for digital advertising executives and their agencies. Where should they go long term?

And what should they do in the short term – with Super Bowl LVII coming up on Sunday, February 12, 2023?

Ideally, these advertisers would follow their audience. If they knew where Twitter users were going, their ad budgets could follow them.

But it isn’t clear where Twitter users are going – or if they’ve even left yet.

Fake Followers On Twitter And Brand Safety

According to the latest data from Similarweb, a digital intelligence platform, there were 6.9 billion monthly visits to Twitter worldwide during December 2022 – up slightly from 6.8 billion in November, and down slightly from 7.0 billion in October.

So, if a high-profile user like Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has taken a step back from the frequent posts on her Twitter account, @wutrain, which has more than 152,000 followers, then it appears that other users have stepped up their monthly visits.

This includes several accounts that had been banned previously for spreading disinformation, which Musk unbanned.

(Disinformation is defined as “deliberately misleading or biased information,” while misinformation may be spread without the sender having harmful intentions.)

It’s also worth noting that SparkToro, which provides audience research software, also has a free tool called Fake Follower Audit, which analyzes Twitter accounts.

This tool defines “fake followers” as ones that are unreachable and will not see the account’s tweets either because they’re spam, bots, and propaganda, or because they’re no longer active on Twitter.

On Jan. 24, 2023, I used this tool and found that 70.2% of the 126.5 million followers of the @elonmusk account were fake.

According to the tool, accounts with a similar-sized following to @elonmusk have a median of 41% fake followers. So, Elon Musk’s account has more fake followers than most.

Screenshot from SparkToro, January 2023

By comparison, 20.6% of the followers of the @wutreain account were fake. So, Michelle Wu’s account has fewer fake followers than accounts with a similar-sized following.

Sparktoro results for fake followersScreenshot from SparkToro, January 2023

In fact, most Twitter accounts have significant numbers of fake followers.

This underlines the brand safety concerns that many advertisers and media buyers have, but it doesn’t give them any guidance on where they should move their ad dollars.

Who Are Twitter’s Top Competitors And What Are Their Monthly Visits?

So, I asked Similarweb if they had more data that might help. And they sent me the monthly visits from desktop and mobile devices worldwide for Twitter and its top competitors:

  • YouTube.com: 34.6 billion in December 2022, down 2.8% from 35.6 billion in December 2021.
  • Facebook.com: 18.1 billion in December 2022, down 14.2% from 21.1 billion in December 2021.
  • Twitter.com: 6.9 billion in December 2022, up 1.5% from 6.8 billion in December 2021.
  • Instagram.com: 6.3 billion in December 2022, down 3.1% from 6.5 billion in December 2021.
  • TikTok.com: 1.9 billion in December 2022, up 26.7% from 1.5 billion in December 2021.
  • Reddit.com: 1.8 billion in December 2022, down 5.3% from 1.9 billion in December 2021.
  • LinkedIn.com: 1.5 billion in December 2022, up 7.1% from 1.4 billion in December 2021.
  • Pinterest.com: 1.0 billion in December 2022, up 11.1% from 0.9 billion in December 2021.

The most significant trends worth noting are monthly visits to TikTok are up 26.7% year over year from a smaller base, while monthly visits to Facebook are down 14.2% from a bigger base.

So, the short-term events at Twitter over the past 90 days may have taken the spotlight off the long-term trends at TikTok and Facebook over the past year for some industry observers.

But based on Southern’s article in Search Engine Journal, “Facebook Shifts Focus To Short-Form Video After Stock Plunge,” which was published on February 6, 2022, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is focused on these trends.

In a call with investors, Zuckerberg said back then:

“People have a lot of choices for how they want to spend their time, and apps like TikTok are growing very quickly. And this is why our focus on Reels is so important over the long term.”

Meanwhile, there were 91% more monthly visits to YouTube in December 2022 than there were to Facebook. And that only counts the visits that Similarweb tracks from mobile and desktop devices.

Similarweb doesn’t track visits from connected TVs (CTVs).

Measuring Data From Connected TVs (CTVs) And Co-Viewing

Why would I wish to draw your attention to CTVs?

First, global viewers watched a daily average of over 700 million hours of YouTube content on TV devices, according to YouTube internal data from January 2022.

And Insider Intelligence reported in 2022 that 36.4% of the U.S. share of average time spent per day with YouTube came from connected devices, including Apple TV, Google Chromecast, Roku, and Xfinity Flex, while 49.3% came from mobile devices, and 14.3% came from desktops or laptops.

Second, when people watch YouTube on a connected TV, they often watch it together with their friends, family, and colleagues – just like they did at Super Bowl parties before the pandemic.

There’s even a term for this behavior: Co-viewing.

And advertisers can now measure their total YouTube CTV audience using real-time and census-level surveys in over 100 countries and 70 languages.

This means Heineken and Marvel Studios can measure the co-viewing of their Super Bowl ad in more than 100 markets around the globe where Heineken 0.0 non-alcoholic beer is sold, and/or 26 countries where “Ant-Man and The Wasp: Quantumania” is scheduled to be released three to five days after the Big Game.

It also enables Apple Music to measure the co-viewing of their Super Bowl LVII Halftime Show during Big Game parties worldwide (except Mainland China, Iran, North Korea, and Turkmenistan, where access to YouTube is currently blocked).

And, if FanDuel has already migrated to Google Analytics 4 (GA4), then the innovative sports-tech entertainment company can not only measure the co-viewing of their Big Game teasers on YouTube AdBlitz in 16 states where sports betting is legal, but also measure engaged-view conversions (EVCs) from YouTube within 3 days of viewing Rob Gronkowski’s attempt to kick a live field goal.

 

Advertisers couldn’t do that in 2022. But they could in a couple of weeks.

If advertisers want to follow their audience, then they should be moving some of their ad budgets out of Facebook, testing new tactics, and experimenting with new initiatives on YouTube in 2023.

Where should the advertisers leaving Twitter shift their budgets long term? And how will that change their Super Bowl strategies in the short term?

According to Similarweb, monthly visits to ads.twitter.com, the platform’s ad-buying portal dropped 15% worldwide from 2.5 million in December 2021 to 2.1 million in December 2022.

So, advertisers were heading for the exit weeks before they learned that 500 top advertisers had left the platform.

Where Did Their Ad Budgets Go?

Well, it’s hard to track YouTube advertising, which is buried in Google’s sprawling ad business.

And we can’t use business.facebook.com as a proxy for interest in advertising on that platform because it’s used by businesses for other purposes, such as managing organic content on their Facebook pages.

But monthly visits to ads.snapchat.com, that platform’s ad-buying portal, jumped 88.3% from 1.6 million in December 2021 to 3.0 million in December 2022.

Monthly visits to ads.tiktok.com are up 36.6% from 5.1 million in December 2021 to 7.0 million in December 2022.

Monthly visits to ads.pinterest.com are up 23.3% from 1.1 million in December 2021 to 1.4 million in December 2022.

And monthly visits to business.linkedin.com are up 14.6% from 5.7 million in December 2021 to 6.5 million in December 2022.

It appears that lots of advertisers are hedging their bets by spreading their money around.

Now, most of them should probably continue to move their ad budgets into Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and LinkedIn – unless the “Chief Twit” can find a way to keep his microblogging service from becoming “a free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!

How will advertisers leaving Twitter change their Super Bowl plan this year?

To double-check my analysis, I interviewed Joaquim Salguerio, who is the Paid Media Director at LINK Agency. He’s managed media budgets of over eight figures at multiple advertising agencies.

Below are my questions and his answers.

Greg Jarboe: “Which brands feel that Twitter has broken their trust since Musk bought the platform?”

Joaquim Salguerio: “I would say that several brands will have different reasonings for this break of trust.

First, if you’re an automaker, there’s suddenly a very tight relationship between Twitter and one of your competitors.

Second, advertisers that are quite averse to taking risks with their communications because of brand safety concerns might feel that they still need to be addressed.

Most of all, in a year where we’re seeing mass layoffs from several corporations, the Twitter troubles have given marketing teams a reason to re-evaluate its effectiveness during a time of budget cuts. That would be a more important factor than trust for most brands.

Obviously, there are some famous cases, such as the Lou Paskalis case, but it’s difficult to pinpoint a brand list that would have trust as their only concern.”

GJ: “Do you think it will be hard for Twitter to regain their trust before this year’s Super Bowl?”

JS: “It’s highly unlikely that any brand that has lost trust in Twitter will change its mind in the near future, and definitely not in time for the Super Bowl. Most marketing plans for the event will be finalized by now and recent communications by Twitter leadership haven’t signaled any change in direction.

If anything, from industry comments within my own network, I can say that comments from Musk recently (“Ads are too frequent on Twitter and too big. Taking steps to address both in coming weeks.”) were quite badly received. For any marketers that believe Twitter advertising isn’t sufficiently effective, this pushes them further away.

Brand communications should still occur on Twitter during Super Bowl though – it will have a peak in usage. And advertising verticals that should dominate the advertising space on Twitter are not the ones crossing the platform from their plans.”

GJ: “How do you think advertisers will change their Super Bowl plans around Twitter this year?”

JS: “The main change for advertising plans will likely be for brand comms amplification. As an example, the betting industry will likely be heavily present on Twitter during the game and I would expect little to no change in plans.”

In the FCMG category, though, time sensitivity won’t be as important, which means that social media teams will likely be making an attempt at virality without relying as much on paid dollars.

If budgets are to diverge, they will likely be moved within the social space and toward platforms that will have user discussion/engagement from the Super Bowl (TikTok, Reddit, etc.)”

GJ: “What trends will we see in advertising budget allocation for this year’s Super Bowl?”

Joaquim Salguerio: “We should see budget planning much in line with previous years in all honesty. TV is still the most important media channel on Super Bowl day.

Digital spend will likely go towards social platforms, we predict a growth in TikTok and Reddit advertising around the big day for most brands.

Twitter should still have a strong advertising budget allocated to the platform by the verticals aiming to get actions from users during the game (food delivery/betting/etc.).”

GJ: “Which platforms will benefit from this shift?”

JS: “Likely, we will see TikTok as the biggest winner from a shift in advertising dollars, as the growth numbers are making it harder to ignore the platform as a placement that needs to be in the plan.

Reddit can also capture some of this budget as it has the right characteristics marketers are looking for around the Super Bowl – it’s relevant to what’s happening at the moment and similar demographics.”

GJ: “Do you think advertisers that step away from Twitter for this year’s Big Game will stay away long term?”

JS: “That is impossible to know, as it’s completely dependent on how the platform evolves and the advertising solutions it will provide. Twitter’s proposition was always centered around brand marketing (their performance offering was always known to be sub-par).

Unless brand safety concerns are addressed by brands that decided to step away, it’s hard to foresee a change.

I would say that overall, Super Bowl ad spend on Twitter should not be as affected as it’s been portrayed – it makes sense to reach audiences where audiences are.

Especially if you know the mindset. The bigger issue is what happens when there isn’t a Super Bowl or a World Cup.”

More resources:


Featured Image: Brocreative/Shutterstock



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Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair?

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Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair?

Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT train using multiple sources of information, including web content. This data forms the basis of summaries of that content in the form of articles that are produced without attribution or benefit to those who published the original content used for training ChatGPT.

Search engines download website content (called crawling and indexing) to provide answers in the form of links to the websites.

Website publishers have the ability to opt-out of having their content crawled and indexed by search engines through the Robots Exclusion Protocol, commonly referred to as Robots.txt.

The Robots Exclusions Protocol is not an official Internet standard but it’s one that legitimate web crawlers obey.

Should web publishers be able to use the Robots.txt protocol to prevent large language models from using their website content?

Large Language Models Use Website Content Without Attribution

Some who are involved with search marketing are uncomfortable with how website data is used to train machines without giving anything back, like an acknowledgement or traffic.

Hans Petter Blindheim (LinkedIn profile), Senior Expert at Curamando shared his opinions with me.

Hans commented:

“When an author writes something after having learned something from an article on your site, they will more often than not link to your original work because it offers credibility and as a professional courtesy.

It’s called a citation.

But the scale at which ChatGPT assimilates content and does not grant anything back differentiates it from both Google and people.

A website is generally created with a business directive in mind.

Google helps people find the content, providing traffic, which has a mutual benefit to it.

But it’s not like large language models asked your permission to use your content, they just use it in a broader sense than what was expected when your content was published.

And if the AI language models do not offer value in return – why should publishers allow them to crawl and use the content?

Does their use of your content meet the standards of fair use?

When ChatGPT and Google’s own ML/AI models trains on your content without permission, spins what it learns there and uses that while keeping people away from your websites – shouldn’t the industry and also lawmakers try to take back control over the Internet by forcing them to transition to an “opt-in” model?”

The concerns that Hans expresses are reasonable.

In light of how fast technology is evolving, should laws concerning fair use be reconsidered and updated?

I asked John Rizvi, a Registered Patent Attorney (LinkedIn profile) who is board certified in Intellectual Property Law, if Internet copyright laws are outdated.

John answered:

“Yes, without a doubt.

One major bone of contention in cases like this is the fact that the law inevitably evolves far more slowly than technology does.

In the 1800s, this maybe didn’t matter so much because advances were relatively slow and so legal machinery was more or less tooled to match.

Today, however, runaway technological advances have far outstripped the ability of the law to keep up.

There are simply too many advances and too many moving parts for the law to keep up.

As it is currently constituted and administered, largely by people who are hardly experts in the areas of technology we’re discussing here, the law is poorly equipped or structured to keep pace with technology…and we must consider that this isn’t an entirely bad thing.

So, in one regard, yes, Intellectual Property law does need to evolve if it even purports, let alone hopes, to keep pace with technological advances.

The primary problem is striking a balance between keeping up with the ways various forms of tech can be used while holding back from blatant overreach or outright censorship for political gain cloaked in benevolent intentions.

The law also has to take care not to legislate against possible uses of tech so broadly as to strangle any potential benefit that may derive from them.

You could easily run afoul of the First Amendment and any number of settled cases that circumscribe how, why, and to what degree intellectual property can be used and by whom.

And attempting to envision every conceivable usage of technology years or decades before the framework exists to make it viable or even possible would be an exceedingly dangerous fool’s errand.

In situations like this, the law really cannot help but be reactive to how technology is used…not necessarily how it was intended.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon, unless we hit a massive and unanticipated tech plateau that allows the law time to catch up to current events.”

So it appears that the issue of copyright laws has many considerations to balance when it comes to how AI is trained, there is no simple answer.

OpenAI and Microsoft Sued

An interesting case that was recently filed is one in which OpenAI and Microsoft used open source code to create their CoPilot product.

The problem with using open source code is that the Creative Commons license requires attribution.

According to an article published in a scholarly journal:

“Plaintiffs allege that OpenAI and GitHub assembled and distributed a commercial product called Copilot to create generative code using publicly accessible code originally made available under various “open source”-style licenses, many of which include an attribution requirement.

As GitHub states, ‘…[t]rained on billions of lines of code, GitHub Copilot turns natural language prompts into coding suggestions across dozens of languages.’

The resulting product allegedly omitted any credit to the original creators.”

The author of that article, who is a legal expert on the subject of copyrights, wrote that many view open source Creative Commons licenses as a “free-for-all.”

Some may also consider the phrase free-for-all a fair description of the datasets comprised of Internet content are scraped and used to generate AI products like ChatGPT.

Background on LLMs and Datasets

Large language models train on multiple data sets of content. Datasets can consist of emails, books, government data, Wikipedia articles, and even datasets created of websites linked from posts on Reddit that have at least three upvotes.

Many of the datasets related to the content of the Internet have their origins in the crawl created by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Their dataset, the Common Crawl dataset, is available free for download and use.

The Common Crawl dataset is the starting point for many other datasets that created from it.

For example, GPT-3 used a filtered version of Common Crawl (Language Models are Few-Shot Learners PDF).

This is how  GPT-3 researchers used the website data contained within the Common Crawl dataset:

“Datasets for language models have rapidly expanded, culminating in the Common Crawl dataset… constituting nearly a trillion words.

This size of dataset is sufficient to train our largest models without ever updating on the same sequence twice.

However, we have found that unfiltered or lightly filtered versions of Common Crawl tend to have lower quality than more curated datasets.

Therefore, we took 3 steps to improve the average quality of our datasets:

(1) we downloaded and filtered a version of CommonCrawl based on similarity to a range of high-quality reference corpora,

(2) we performed fuzzy deduplication at the document level, within and across datasets, to prevent redundancy and preserve the integrity of our held-out validation set as an accurate measure of overfitting, and

(3) we also added known high-quality reference corpora to the training mix to augment CommonCrawl and increase its diversity.”

Google’s C4 dataset (Colossal, Cleaned Crawl Corpus), which was used to create the Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer (T5), has its roots in the Common Crawl dataset, too.

Their research paper (Exploring the Limits of Transfer Learning with a Unified Text-to-Text Transformer PDF) explains:

“Before presenting the results from our large-scale empirical study, we review the necessary background topics required to understand our results, including the Transformer model architecture and the downstream tasks we evaluate on.

We also introduce our approach for treating every problem as a text-to-text task and describe our “Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus” (C4), the Common Crawl-based data set we created as a source of unlabeled text data.

We refer to our model and framework as the ‘Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer’ (T5).”

Google published an article on their AI blog that further explains how Common Crawl data (which contains content scraped from the Internet) was used to create C4.

They wrote:

“An important ingredient for transfer learning is the unlabeled dataset used for pre-training.

To accurately measure the effect of scaling up the amount of pre-training, one needs a dataset that is not only high quality and diverse, but also massive.

Existing pre-training datasets don’t meet all three of these criteria — for example, text from Wikipedia is high quality, but uniform in style and relatively small for our purposes, while the Common Crawl web scrapes are enormous and highly diverse, but fairly low quality.

To satisfy these requirements, we developed the Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus (C4), a cleaned version of Common Crawl that is two orders of magnitude larger than Wikipedia.

Our cleaning process involved deduplication, discarding incomplete sentences, and removing offensive or noisy content.

This filtering led to better results on downstream tasks, while the additional size allowed the model size to increase without overfitting during pre-training.”

Google, OpenAI, even Oracle’s Open Data are using Internet content, your content, to create datasets that are then used to create AI applications like ChatGPT.

Common Crawl Can Be Blocked

It is possible to block Common Crawl and subsequently opt-out of all the datasets that are based on Common Crawl.

But if the site has already been crawled then the website data is already in datasets. There is no way to remove your content from the Common Crawl dataset and any of the other derivative datasets like C4 and .

Using the Robots.txt protocol will only block future crawls by Common Crawl, it won’t stop researchers from using content already in the dataset.

How to Block Common Crawl From Your Data

Blocking Common Crawl is possible through the use of the Robots.txt protocol, within the above discussed limitations.

The Common Crawl bot is called, CCBot.

It is identified using the most up to date CCBot User-Agent string: CCBot/2.0

Blocking CCBot with Robots.txt is accomplished the same as with any other bot.

Here is the code for blocking CCBot with Robots.txt.

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

CCBot crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also follows the nofollow Robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

What If You’re Not Blocking Common Crawl?

Web content can be downloaded without permission, which is how browsers work, they download content.

Google or anybody else does not need permission to download and use content that is published publicly.

Website Publishers Have Limited Options

The consideration of whether it is ethical to train AI on web content doesn’t seem to be a part of any conversation about the ethics of how AI technology is developed.

It seems to be taken for granted that Internet content can be downloaded, summarized and transformed into a product called ChatGPT.

Does that seem fair? The answer is complicated.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com



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Google Updates Discover Follow Feed Guidelines

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Google Updates Discover Follow Feed Guidelines

Google updated their Google Discover feed guidelines to emphasize the most important elements to include in the feed in order for it to be properly optimized.

Google Discover Feed

The Google Discover follow feed feature offers relevant content to Chrome Android users and represents an importance source of traffic that is matched to user interests.

The Google Discover Follow feature is a component of Google Discover, a way to capture a steady stream of traffic apart from Google News and Google Search.

Google’s Discover Follow feature works by allowing users to choose to receive updates about the latest content on a site they are interested in.

The way to do participate in Discover Follow is through an optimized RSS or Atom feed.

If the feed is properly optimized on a website, users can choose to follow a website or a specific category of a website, depending on how the publisher configures their RSS/Atom feeds.

Audiences that follow a website will see the new content populate their Discover Follow feed which in turn brings fresh waves of traffic to participating websites that are properly optimized.

According to Google:

“The Follow feature lets people follow a website and get the latest updates from that website in the Following tab within Discover in Chrome.

Currently, the Follow button is a feature that’s available to signed-in users in English in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, Canada, and Australia that are using Chrome Android.”

Receiving traffic from the Discover Follow feature only happens for sites with properly optimized feeds that follow the Discover Follow feature guidelines.

Updated Guidance for Google Discover Follow Feature

Google updated their guidelines for the Discover Feed feature to emphasize the importance of the feed <title> and <link> elements, emphasizing that the feed contains these elements.

The new guidance states:

“The most important content for the Follow feature is your feed <title> element and your per item <link> elements. Make sure your feed includes these elements.”

Presumably the absence of these two elements may result in Google being unable to understand the feed and display it for users, resulting in a loss of traffic.

Site publishers who participate in the Google Discover Follow feature should verify that their RSS or Atom feeds properly display the <title> and <link> elements.

Google Discover Optimization

Publishers and SEOs are familiar with optimizing for Google Search.

But many content publishers may be unaware of how to optimize for Google Discover in order to enjoy the loads of traffic that results from properly optimizing for Google Discover and the Google Discover Follow feature.

The Follow Feed feature, a component of Google Discover, is a way to help ensure that the website obtains a steady stream of relevant traffic beyond organic search.

This is why it’s important to make sure that your RSS/Atom feeds are properly optimized.

Read Google’s announcement of the updated guidance and read the complete Follow Feature feed guidelines here.

Featured image by Shutterstock/fizkes



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