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The Beginner’s Guide to Lifecycle Marketing

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The Beginner's Guide to Lifecycle Marketing

Every customer is different.

They are at different stages of the buying journey and, therefore, respond to different messages. Having only one message—and shouting that at all of them—will not work and may even turn some of them off.

Instead, you need a better strategy. One that takes into consideration the stage customers are in. From there, you can customize a more suitable message.

How do you do that?

Well, you can do what’s called lifecycle marketing. In this post, you’ll learn the following:

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What is lifecycle marketing?

Lifecycle marketing is the process of matching the type of communication a customer wants to see as they progress along their lifecycle.

Typically, the customer lifecycle consists of six high-level stages, similar to the modern-day marketing funnel:

  1. Awareness – Your potential customers first learn about your brand.
  2. Engagement – Your potential customers interact with your brand and learn more about your offerings.
  3. Consideration – Your potential customers evaluate your offerings and decide if you’re the right fit.
  4. Purchase – Your potential customers turn into customers by buying from you.
  5. Support – You support your customers by ensuring they’re deriving maximum value and satisfaction from their purchase.
  6. Loyalty – Your customers love your brand. They purchase from you repeatedly and/or take the initiative to tell others about you.

The idea behind lifecycle marketing was developed by Infusionsoft (now Keap) to promote its email marketing software. Today, the concept continues to be associated with email marketing.

However, customers don’t just interact with a business via email. So we can expand the scope of lifecycle marketing to other marketing channels too.

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How to implement a lifecycle marketing strategy

To create a lifecycle marketing strategy, we’ll use this framework, courtesy of Barilliance. It involves three steps:

  1. Triggers
  2. Message(s)
  3. Channel

Let’s look at them in more detail.

1. Triggers

Triggers are predefined conditions that determine when a marketing message should be presented to a customer. These conditions are aligned with the six stages of the customer lifecycle.

Since the six stages of the customer lifecycle are pretty high-level ones, let’s break them down into more specific segments that can serve as triggers:

  • Prospects who have not heard of your brand [Awareness]
  • New site visitors [Awareness]
  • New email subscribers [Engagement]
  • Prospects who are comparing [Consideration]
  • Cart abandoners [Consideration]
  • First-time customers [Purchase]
  • Churned customers [Support]
  • Active customers/VIPs [Loyalty]

Basically, any customer action can be turned into a trigger.

2. Message

This is what you send your customers.

Don’t just send anything, though—not only should your customers care about the message, but it should also be related to the trigger that sent said message.

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For instance, you may want to send an email reminder to cart abandoners, i.e., customers who dropped off at the Consideration stage.

3. Channel

This is where the message is taking place. It can be any marketing channel—email, social, live chat, YouTube, etc.

Lifecycle marketing tactics

With the framework in place, let’s look at how we can apply it in reality. We’ll use the segments we created as examples of how to execute lifecycle marketing.

1. Prospects who have not heard of your brand

Trigger: Customers realize they have a problem and search on Google to learn how to resolve it
Message: Educate your customers on how to solve the problem
Channel: Search engine optimization (SEO)

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Customers can’t buy from you unless they know you exist. And discovery usually occurs because customers first find out they have a problem they need to solve.

When that happens, most of the time, they turn to Google. This means if we want potential customers to find us, we need to rank on Google. Not only that, we need to figure out what problems they’re searching for and what kinds of words they’re using.

To do that, we can use a keyword research tool. Here’s how:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter a few terms related to what you’re selling (e.g., “coffee,” “cappuccino,” “coffee bean,” etc)
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Switch the tab to Questions

Matching terms report results

Here, you’ll see over 300,000 potential topics you could target. Look through the list and pick out those that are relevant to your website. Then create content that will rank for these topics.

Recommended reading: Keyword Research: The Beginner’s Guide by Ahrefs

2. New site visitors

Trigger: Customers land on your site for the first time after discovering your content
Message: Subscribe to your newsletter
Channel: Email

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After discovering your content, most people will leave and never return. So if you want them to continue engaging with your content and brand, you need to get them to stay or return to your website again.

There are many ways to do this, including getting them to follow you on your social channels. In my opinion, email is the best channel because you own the direct communication. (Social platforms can remove you anytime.)

However, a visitor to your website won’t hand over their contact information without some enticement. You can do this in a variety of ways. For example, we keep it simple by asking them to join our weekly digest:

Text field to enter email address to subscribe to Ahrefs' newsletter. Next to text field is bearded man on a computer

E‑commerce stores tend to dangle discounts as an incentive:

Text field to enter email address and subscribe to Zalora's newsletter. Text above promising $20 voucher for those who subscribe

Whereas bloggers prefer giving away free eBooks:

Picture of man. Next to it is a CTA to unlock an ebook

3. New email subscribers

Trigger: Customers sign up for your newsletter
Message: A welcome series introducing your brand, content, and catalog/products
Channel: Email

Once the prospect signs up for your newsletter, you should deliver whatever you promised—a discount code, eBook, etc. But beyond that, it’s a great opportunity to continue engaging them and introducing more of your content (or if you’re an e‑commerce store, your catalog of products).

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For example, after confirming your subscription, marketing agency Demand Curve follows up with an email of resources you can check out:

Short write-ups, each with a link leading to various resources

Dr. Rhonda Patrick has a multiday email series that introduces you to her premium content, which she provides for free:

Rhonda's newsletter containing links to premium content

4. Prospects who are comparing

Trigger: Customers are looking for product comparisons on Google
Message: Feature comparisons, product comparisons
Channel: SEO

Customers will always want the best bang for their buck. So even if they’re familiar with your brand, they’ll make comparisons. One of the ways they do this is by searching on Google for comparisons between your brand and your competitors’.

Here’s how to find who your customers are comparing you with:

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter your brand name
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Under Terms, click on “vs”

Matching terms report results. "vs" option in the sidebar

Here, we can see the different brands that our customers are comparing us with.

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It’s up to you whether you want to create one page or individual pages for each competitor. At Ahrefs, we created one versus page:

Excerpt of Ahrefs' "versus" page

Rather than the standard side-by-side comparison of features where the page creator wins, we decided to feature independent polls and talk about the features that only our toolset has.

Polls showing most SEOs prefer Ahrefs

5. Cart abandoners

Trigger: Customers add products to the cart but don’t complete the purchase
Message: Complete the checkout process
Channel: Email, retargeting

During the process of buying, customers may procrastinate or hesitate. They begin by adding your products to the shopping cart but abandon it halfway because they are distracted, have another matter to attend to, are surprised at the total price, or are annoyed by an element of your checkout process.

In fact, Statista’s March 2021 study found that almost 80% of online shopping orders were abandoned.

Abandoned carts are fine if customers return. But many don’t. Sleeknote claims that e‑commerce brands lose around $18 billion in sales each year because of cart abandonment.

That means you need a way to try and get these customers back.

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The most common way is to send an “abandoned cart” email. Here’s an example from Bonobos, a men’s clothing brand:

Abandoned cart emails aren’t just limited to e‑commerce brands. You can use these emails for any incomplete transaction in any industry. For example, here’s one from CodeAcademy, an online programming school:

 CodeAcademy's "abandoned cart" email

Besides email, you can also retarget these customers using social media ads. That way, as they’re browsing the web, they’re reminded to complete their checkout with your brand.

6. First-time customers

Trigger: Customers buy your product
Message: How to get the best out of your product
Channel: Email, in-app, live chat, social media, video, content marketing

Give your new customers a great experience, and they’ll be on their way to becoming a VIP of your brand. One way to do this is to offer support and education—teach them how best to use your product so that they will be motivated to stay or buy more.

At Ahrefs, besides our in-app onboarding, we also send emails introducing a variety of resources we’ve created to help customers get more out of our product. This includes a brief explainer on what our toolset does, an introduction to our knowledge base and in-app tutorials, as well as reminding them they can speak to support staff on the live chat anytime they need help.

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Excerpt of Ahrefs' email with information on how to use its tools

We also share with them the best content on our blog and YouTube channel, most of which features the different ways to use our toolset and execute different tactics:

Excerpt of Ahrefs' email containing links to its best content

Finally, we also invite them to join our customers-only Facebook group, Ahrefs Insider, so they can interact with other top-tier SEOs to get the latest tips, tactics, and solutions for their problems:

Excerpt of Ahrefs' email containing invitation to join its FB page

Education and support aren’t just limited to software-as-a-service (SaaS) businesses like ours. E‑commerce brands can do it too. Take a look, for example, at how Beardbrand creates content to support its customers:

Beardbrand's content about taking care of beards

If you sell women’s clothing, you can always show your customers how to pair up different styles for different seasons. Or if you sell sneakers, teach your customers how to take care of them (especially suedes!), clean them, and pair them up with different styles (or even lace them differently!).

7. Churned customers

Trigger: Customers buy your product once and never purchase anything again
Message: Discount for returning
Channel: Email, retargeting

The above trigger is to prevent churn. But no matter how much you try, some customers will leave or stop buying from you. However, a percentage of them can be persuaded back.

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Retargeting can work well here. Use ads to remind them they’ve not bought from you for a while and invite them to check out your brand again.

Email can work too. Drew Sanocki famously helped transform streetwear brand KarmaLoop from facing bankruptcy to being acquired. One of the tools in his toolbox was the discount ladder strategy for winning back churned customers.

KarmaLoop's email offering "Welcome Back" discount to customers

Drew explains the strategy in more detail here. But basically, the idea is to give increasing discounts over time to customers who haven’t made a purchase in a while.

But once the customer buys, they’re taken off the discount ladder. This ensures you’re not driving your brand downward into a discounting spiral (incidentally the reason why KarmaLoop was on the verge of bankruptcy in the first place).

8. VIPs

Trigger: Customers who repeatedly and frequently buy your products
Message: Join VIP program
Channel: Email, in-app, in-store

Customers who love your product should be given more opportunities to buy again and buy often. If you have one, it’s a good idea to invite them to your loyalty or VIP program.

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For example, Sephora’s Beauty Insider is one of the most successful loyalty programs around. It has over 25 million members, and they make up close to 80% of Sephora’s annual sales.

The Beauty Insider program has tiers, which encourage loyal customers to buy more so that they get upgraded to higher tiers:

Table showing perks that Sephora customers can get when they unlock the various membership levels

Being a Very Important Beauty (VIB) member is important to Sephora’s community members. Not only do they get rewards and discounts, but they also get access to exclusive products and events. So much so that there is a proud VIB community on YouTube:

List of Youtube videos about Sephora's VIB sales, recommendations, etc

Final thoughts

The segments and triggers I’ve written about are not exhaustive.

Depending on your business, you can take a more granular approach and create more segments. And for each segment, you can always consider more triggers.

Bear in mind the absence of an action can also be a trigger. For example, a situation where a potential customer joins your email list but doesn’t open the past five emails can be a trigger that spurs you to send a new message.

What do you think? Did I miss out on anything about lifecycle marketing? Let me know on Twitter.

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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Measuring Content Impact Across The Customer Journey

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

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

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

You’ll learn:

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

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

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

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

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

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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How to Find and Use Competitor Keywords

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

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

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

How to find all the keywords your competitor ranks for

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Content gap reportContent gap report

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

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

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

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

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

Content gap report with multiple competitorsContent gap report with multiple competitors

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

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

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

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

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

1. Create pages to target these keywords

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

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

Here’s how to do that:

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

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

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

2. Optimize existing content by filling subtopics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Target these keywords with Google Ads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more

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

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Google Confirms Links Are Not That Important

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Google confirms that links are not that important anymore

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

Background Of Links For Ranking

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

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

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

Kleinberg wrote:

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

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

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

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

What Did Gary Illyes Say About Links In 2024?

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

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

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

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

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

Why Links Matter Less

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

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

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

Google Explicitly Confirms That Links Matter Less

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

Google March 2024 Core Update: 4 Changes To Link Signal

The documentation previously said:

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

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

Links are not just listed as just another factor:

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

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

Mueller explained:

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

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

Why Google Doesn’t Need Links

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

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

Read the research papers

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

The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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