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The Content Marketer’s Guide to Performance Reviews

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The Content Marketer’s Guide to Performance Reviews


Employee performance reviews have been used in companies for decades. For employees, these reviews are an opportunity to get feedback on their work and even a raise. For managers, reviews are an important management and leadership tool.

The problem is nobody really likes performance reviews. They’re stressful, awkward, and ineffective (according to some). Yet it seems they are necessary. 

So how should managers go about performance reviews in their content marketing teams? Read on to learn some basic theories and see the insights that some marketing managers shared with us. 

We’re going to cover:

What is a performance review?

​​A performance review (also called performance evaluation or appraisal) is a process where managers assess an employee’s work performance to identify their strengths and weaknesses, offer feedback, and assist with goal setting.

Why are performance reviews important in marketing?

A common misconception about performance reviews is that they are meant to benefit only the businesses or managers and not the employees. However, properly conducted reviews (in any form) can offer an immediate lift for all “sides.”

For businesses (and managers conducting the reviews), performance reviews are a tool for optimizing the performance of staff, strengthening leadership, creating a better alignment with the strategy, and understanding the perspectives of employees. 

For employees, reviews are a way to get an overview of their strengths and weaknesses and progress. During reviews, employees can also voice criticisms, discuss career opportunities with managers, or get a raise.

Types of performance reviews

A performance review, in general, is a multi-layered phenomenon, such as the obvious business performance side of things, different management theories, company policies, HR and, of course, the psychological aspect of giving and receiving a performance review in a modern workplace. 

In the past, when businesses tried to prioritize some aspects over others or balance them, new types of performance reviews emerged. These days, it seems there is no consensus for a single, right way to do a performance review. Each way has its advantages and disadvantages. 

If you’re interested in how performance reviews evolved, see this timeline. 

Among all of the alternatives, here are the types of performance reviews that seem to be most relevant to evaluating the work of content marketers.

  • Rating scale – Probably the most traditional type. The reviewer evaluates the reviewee by assigning ratings to variables (e.g., creativity, teamwork) arranged in a table.
  • Self-assessment – As the name suggests, the employee performs a self-assessment based on goals, KPIs, or OKRs defined either by the manager or by the employee themself. Then the employee discusses the results with the manager; for example, both sides can compare results of the same appraisal form. 
  • 360 feedback – Practically, the entire professional surrounding of the employee takes part in the evaluation process: managers, co-workers, customers and, sometimes, even the employee themself. This method usually utilizes a questionnaire handed out to the participants. 
  • Management by objectives (MOB) – Performance is reviewed based on how well an employee meets their goals. In content marketing, the goals can be something like the number of articles written, traffic growth, generated leads, etc. 
  • Continuous, real-time feedback – In this method, the employee receives ongoing feedback by openly discussing how tasks and projects are progressing. Often used in agile management. Typically, it does not utilize any form of scorecards or formal appraisals set in longer intervals; it’s sort of an antithesis of the traditional way of doing performance reviews. 

Within those types, with the exception of real-time feedback, there are three commonly used techniques for gathering and passing information: checklist (aka forced choice), scorecard, and free form (aka an essay). Let’s take a quick look at some simple examples. 

Example 1. A scorecard technique used in the rating scale method. Here, the manager marks the score of an employee for a given period of time, e.g., the last three months. In the end, all of the points can be summed up to constitute a general score. 

Performance level/ Work dimension 1 — Poor 2 — Fairly poor 3 — Fairly good 4 — Good 5 — Excellent
Creativity X
Efficiency X
Teamwork X

Example 2. A checklist technique used in the self-assessment method. The employee is handed a questionnaire with forced-choice questions. There is no scale here, only “black” and “white.”

Statement Yes No
I am creative at work.  X
I fulfill the quota of written articles.  X
I help other team members achieve their goals when needed.  X

Example 3. A free-form essay technique. This can be used as a standalone technique or as a supplement to the other techniques. 

Employee XYZ is a skilled writer with a head full of ideas. She puts her full creative effort into each written article, resulting in great, original content. In addition to that, her articles are always on time.

However, XYZ could work on her teamwork skills. They’re not horrible, but neither are they great. Other team members could learn much from her. But she rarely shares her perspective, and I rarely see her offering assistance to co-workers.

With some basic theory out of the way, let’s look at the practical side of things. Let’s see how some of the marketers we asked conduct performance reviews for content marketers and how they feel about the idea in general. 

Some of the methods listed in the section above are decades-old, some have been transplanted from other fields (e.g., military), and some were designed for corporations. 

This means that what we have just discussed may potentially be outdated and/or not suitable for startups and SMBs. After all, marketers may have adopted different methods over the years that work well, especially in the area of content marketing.

So in our search for the answer to doing performance reviews for content marketers, we decided to go further than just understanding the theories.

What’s more, we also wanted to learn what particular metrics are being used to assess the performance of content marketers. 

So we asked marketing managers to answer these two questions in a quick survey on social media: 

In some cases, we’ve added an additional question: How do you determine if a content marketer deserves a raise?

Two disclaimers to note here. First, marketing is a broad field with various specializations. Hence, we decided to limit the scope of the survey to just content marketing. Second, the survey was conducted on social media in an open forum. So we chose not to rule out the possibility of respondents being influenced by existing responses. 

All in all, we’ve got 20 responses to questions #1 and #2 and 10 responses to the additional question #3, plus some comments. Here’s what we found:

  1. Marketers use different types of metrics to measure the performance of content marketers:
    1. 55% use only quantitative metrics.
    2. 20% don’t use any metrics. 
    3. 15% use both qualitative and quantitative metrics.
    4. 10% use only qualitative metrics.
      Performance-review-metrics
  2. Among the quantitative metrics, the most popular are traffic and MQLs. Some others mentioned are social media shares, influence on MRR, keyword rankings, engagement rate, referrals to shop, and dwell time.
  3. Among qualitative metrics, marketers mentioned feedback from readers, quality of product placement, internal feedback, managers’ personal opinions.
  4. Half of the surveyed managers (50%) use a quarterly interval for conducting performance reviews. However, managers often mix those with monthly, weekly, and even real-time feedback.
  5. For reasons to give a raise, the clearest pattern among the responses is that managers utilize the same metrics used for measuring performance. However, some managers mentioned they consider additional factors like work ethic, a regular annual raise, employee being underpaid, or wanting to keep the employee. 
    When-content-marketers-should-get-a-raise
  6. A minority of marketers don’t perform performance reviews. Notably, most answers came from Twitter. Here are a couple of those answers that explain the reasons for this approach: 

I think every reader will make their own conclusions after studying the survey results. Some will treat it as a sign that the “traditional way” of doing performance reviews is still the way to go. 

Others may flinch at the mere sight of any kind of scorecard, and they may treat the small but significant percentage of managers who don’t use any metrics or do performance reviews as the most important group. 

Here’s my take on the subject. It’s based on the data from the survey, the research I did for this article, and my personal experience as a marketing manager a couple of years back. I tried to distill them, and this brings us to the following tips… 

Five tips to ensure effective performance reviews in the context of content marketing

Finding one definitive answer to the problem of performance reviews seems impossible until you try it out on your own turf. Whatever you do, you may want to consider these tips. 

1. Try different methods and techniques to find what works

One undeniable conclusion from our survey is that managers assess the performance of content marketers differently. There sure are patterns and commonalities but no unanimity. 

Reason? Very prosaic: People are different, and organizations are different. What could work in a 500+ corporation may fail miserably in a startup. While some content marketers like to have strict guidelines and follow exactly what is expected of them, others perform best if they are left with a lot of room to move. 

Then we have different styles, strategies, and types of content marketing. One team may focus on writing SEO content; another may focus on social media, sales enablement, or video marketing. They won’t have the same process, challenges, and objectives.

In all of those differences and complexities, I think nailing the right performance review method boils down to one thing: How can you as a manager help your team members achieve their goals? 

In other words, nobody needs (and trusts) a manager who only judges people. Your performance reviews should be constructive and ideally benefit both “sides.”

So don’t just blindly copy what someone else is doing. Instead, take any advice for a “test drive” and see what happens. Observe your team, get feedback, and look at the impact of your decisions on the performance and quality of content. 

2. Be careful with the “carrot and stick” 

What often concludes a performance review is the possibility of a raise for the reviewee. 

If you want to reward employees by giving them a raise, you probably can’t go wrong with the answers our respondents gave. But if raises are a part of an incentive plan in a creative field like content marketing, things become a bit tricky. 

Incentive plans are essentially “carrot and stick” systems: rewards and punishments used to induce a certain behavior or a certain level of work performance. Using direct punishments (pay decrease, demotions, etc.) is probably rare. But in a workplace, a lack of reward practically equals punishment. 

A number of studies (e.g., here and here) have shown that incentive plans may do more harm than good. Here’s why:

  • Any pay-for-performance system tends to make people less enthusiastic about their work. They become less committed to excellence and less creative. This isn’t great for content marketing, an area that requires more open-ended thinking and, thus, is more cognitively demanding.
  • If people are forced to compete for rewards—especially if they are ranked against each other—it’s the end of teamwide cooperation. 
  • When people work for a reward, they may be more tempted to conceal problems, take on easier tasks, and minimize the challenge (i.e., avoid risk-taking and innovation). 
  • If you’re looking to induce a long-term change in an employee’s behavior, don’t bother. Rewards result in temporary compliance only. 

Let’s make things clear here. Rewarding content marketers with raises and bonuses for great work is nothing short of doing justice for their inputs. 

But it doesn’t work the other way around. Introducing a reward system to improve the quantity and quality of content is probably a bad idea for the reasons mentioned above. 

You may want to do this instead: provide training, give useful feedback, and leave room for self-determination. Other than that, you may want to review your recruitment process, which brings us to the next tip. 

3. Performance reviews won’t fix a broken recruitment process

From my experience, if you hire the right people, all you need to do in terms of performance reviews is to regularly talk to them. No awkward pressure, no formalities, no scores. In fact, casual chats work best. 

The reason for this is the right person for the job will have the intrinsic motivation to excel at their role. They will want to do the job as best as possible. They may even be more concerned about their performance than the manager. 

So if they understand that you, as a manager, are there to help them achieve their goals, remove roadblocks when needed, remove yourself from a given process when needed, or even step in when needed, you will gain their trust. 

Otherwise, you will become another dark cloud in their blue sky. Another problem to solve and obstacle to avoid. You won’t earn their trust. And without trust, you won’t see their true potential.

If your recruitment process is broken and you end up hiring people who don’t really fit the role or the company culture, you will likely struggle with performance reviews as a result. This means you will have to devise some complex system of assessment instead of simply having regular chats. 

4. Let your employees track their own performance 

A good idea may be to ask your employees to prepare their own performance reports. Here’s why:

  • Makes assessment standards more transparent 
  • Leaves less room for unfair assessments from managers 
  • Gives employees an increased sense of ownership of their work 
  • Makes it easier for managers to collect information (especially in bigger organizations) 

For example, if your strategy is based on content designed to rank on search engines, content marketers on your team can use an SEO tool like Ahrefs to track things such as keyword rankings, search visibility, backlinks, or organic traffic growth. This data can then be aggregated for any period of time and discussed with a manager. 

3-tagging-keywords-in-rank-tracker

In Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker, tags can help to filter articles by author. This way, all writers can easily monitor the performance of their work.

5. Don’t forget the small things 

Last but not least, let’s take note of the small details that can make or break your performance reviews. Without further ado, here’s a short list of things worth remembering:

  • Make performance standards clear– Don’t make your team members guess what effects you’re after. Also, don’t make it a weird psychological game of “impress me.”
  • Find the right time and place – A room full of people at 7 a.m. won’t be a time and place where thoughts and words will flow. Reviews are a sensitive matter. Try to keep it private and non-intimidating. Typically, the best time is close to the end of the day but leave enough time for discussions. If you’re doing the review remotely, don’t sit in a place where the whole company can hear you (or the reviewee). 
  • Give your employee a copy of the review – If you’re using some kind of a scorecard or checklist, it’s a good idea to share it with your employee. Otherwise, your performance standards are not clear. 
  • Prepare notes and agenda – Don’t come to the performance review meeting unprepared. Take time to gather your thoughts and write them down. You can even send the meeting agenda to your employee beforehand. 
  • Ensure a two-way conversation – This is true for all review methods. If you don’t let the reviewee express their opinions, you’ll make them frustrated. Nothing good can come out of that. 

Final thoughts

Our initial plan for this article was to include a template for performance reviews. A one-size-fits-all solution all content marketing managers and heads of content departments can use to measure the performance of content marketers. 

I’m glad we didn’t go in that direction.

If we did, we would lose all that diversity in opinions on the topic and different practices of conducting performance reviews. 

So to reiterate the question from the introduction: How should managers conduct performance reviews of their content marketing teams? Well, it seems that they should find their own way because no one will answer this question for them. 

Sure, there are methods and techniques, but they don’t come with any promises. Furthermore, asking other managers won’t result in a simple answer either. 

When it comes to performance reviews, you need to consider the consequences of choosing one method over the other. They should be tested within one’s specific work environment, as they can enhance just as many things as they can undermine. 

Got questions or comments? Ping me on Twitter.





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Top 5 Essential SEO Reporting Tools For Agencies

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Top 5 Essential SEO Reporting Tools For Agencies

Your clients trust you to create real results and hit KPIs that drive their businesses forward.

Understanding the intricacies of how that works can be difficult, so it’s essential to demonstrate your progress and efforts.

SEO reporting software showcases important metrics in a digestible and visually represented way. They save guesswork and manual referencing, highlighting achievements over a specified time.

A great tool can also help you formulate action items, gauge the performance of campaigns, and see real results that can help you create new and innovative evaluations.

The latest and allegedly greatest tools hit the market all the time, promising to transform how you conduct reports.

Certainly, you have to weigh a few factors when deciding which software to implement. Price, features, and ease of use are the most important to consider.

A cost-effective tool with a steep learning curve might not be worth it for the features. Similarly, an expensive tool might be more appealing if it is user-friendly but could quickly run up costs.

Just like any transformational business decision, you’ll have to weigh the pros and cons carefully to determine the right one for you.

Key Takeaways

  • Cost, accessibility, and features are the common thread of comparison for SEO reporting tools.
  • To truly get the best use out of an SEO reporting tool for your agency, you’ll need to weigh several details, including scalability, customization, integrations, and access to support.
  • What might be considered a subpar tool could be a game-changer for an agency. Due diligence and research are the keys to knowing what will work for your team.

What To Look For In SEO Reporting Tools

It can be tough to make heads or tails of the available tools and choose which will benefit your agency the most.

Here are the 10 essential requirements of SEO reporting tools.

1. Accurate And Current Regional Data

SEO reporting is all about data. The software must have access to accurate and current data localized to your client’s targeted region.

Search data from the U.S. is meaningless if your client tries to rank for [London plumbing services], so localization matters.

The tool must update data regularly and with reliable accuracy so you can make informed decisions about where your client stands against the competition.

2. Integration With Third-Party Tools

Especially for full-scale digital marketing campaigns, the ability to report on all KPIs in one place is essential.

The more available integrations with third-party tools (e.g., Google Analytics, Google Business Profile, Majestic), the better.

Some tools even allow you to upload custom data sets.

3. Scalability

You don’t want to have to retrain or reinvest in new software every time your agency reaches a new tier.

The right SEO reporting tool should work well for your current business size and leave room for expansion as you onboard more clients.

4. Strong Suite Of Features

A great SEO reporting tool should include:

  • Position tracking.
  • Backlink monitoring.
  • Competitor data.
  • Analytics.

It is a bonus if the tool has reporting features for social media, email marketing, call tracking, and/or paid ads to make it a full-suite digital marketing software.

5. Continually Improving And Updating Features

SEO is constantly evolving, and so should SEO reporting tools.

As we continue the transition from website optimization to web presence optimization, a tool’s ability to integrate new features is essential.

6. Ability To Customize Reports

Each client will have different KPIs, objectives, and priorities.

Presenting the information that clients want to see is paramount to successful campaigns and retention.

Your reporting software of choice should be able to emphasize the correct data at the right times.

7. Client Integration

A good SEO reporting tool must have the client in mind.

It should have a simple bird’s eye overview of the basics but also be easy for clients to dig into the data at a deeper level.

This can mean automated summary reports or 24/7 client access to the dashboard.

8. Ability To White Label Reports

While white labeling is not essential (no client will sniff at receiving a report with a Google logo in the top corner), it helps keep branding consistent and gives a professional sheen to everything you send a client’s way.

9. Access To Support Resources

Quality support resources can help you find a detour when you encounter a roadblock.

Whether it’s detailed support documentation, a chat feature/support desk, or responsive customer support on social media, finding the help you need to solve the issue is important.

10. Cost-To-Value Ratio

With a proper process, time investment, and leveraging support resources, it is possible to get better results from a free reporting tool than one that breaks the bank.

This can mean automated summary reports or 24/7 client access to the dashboard.

Top 5 SEO Reporting Tools

In evaluating five of the most popular SEO reporting tools, based on the above criteria, here is how they stack up:

1. AgencyAnalytics

My Overall Rating: 4.7/5

Image credit: AgencyAnalytics, December 2022

AgencyAnalytics is a quality introductory/intermediate reporting tool for agencies.

Among the tools on this list, it is one of the easiest to use for small to mid-sized agencies.

It starts at $12 per month, per client, with unlimited staff and client logins, a white-label dashboard, and automated branded reports. The minimum purchase requirements mean the first two tiers work out to $60 per month and $180 per month, respectively. But your ability to change the payment based on the number of clients could help keep costs lean.

AgencyAnalytics comes with 70+ supported third-party data integrations.

However, this reliance on third-party data means you may have incomplete reports when there is an interruption in the transmission.

Though new integrations are always being added, they can be glitchy at first, making them unreliable to share with clients until stabilized.

With the ability for clients to log in and view daily data updates, it provides real-time transparency.

Automated reports can be customized, and the drag-and-drop customized dashboard makes it easy to emphasize priority KPIs.

2. SE Ranking

My Overall Rating: 4.5/5

SE Ranking has plans starting at $39.20 per month, although the $87.20 per month plan is necessary if you need historical data or more than 10 projects.

Setup is a breeze, as the on-screen tutorial guides you through the process.

SE Ranking features a strong collection of SEO-related tools, including current and historical position tracking, competitor SEO research, keyword suggestion, a backlink explorer, and more.

SE Ranking is hooked up with Zapier, which allows users to integrate thousands of apps and provide a high level of automation between apps like Klipfolio, Salesforce, HubSpot, and Google Apps.

SE Ranking is an effective SEO reporting tool at a beginner to intermediate level.

However, you may want to look in a different direction if your agency requires more technical implementations or advanced customization.

3. Semrush

My Overall Rating: 4.4/5

Semrush is one of the most SEO-focused reporting tools on the list, which is reflected in its features.

Starting at $229.95 per month for the agency package, it’s one of the more expensive tools on the list. But Semrush provides a full suite of tools that can be learned at an intermediate level.

A major downside of Semrush, especially for cost-conscious agencies, is that an account comes with only one user login.

Having to purchase individual licenses for each SEO analyst or account manager adds up quickly, and the users you can add are limited by the plan features. This makes scalability an issue.

Semrush has both branded and white-label reports, depending on your subscription level. It uses a proprietary data stream, tracking more than 800 million keywords.

The ever-expanding “projects” feature covers everything from position tracking to backlink monitoring and social media analysis.

Though it doesn’t fall specifically under the scope of SEO reporting, Semrush’s innovation makes it a one-stop shop for many agencies.

Project features include Ad Builder, which helps craft compelling ad text for Google Ads, and Social Media Poster, which allows agencies to schedule client social posts.

Combining such diverse features under the Semrush umbrella offsets its relatively high cost, especially if you can cancel other redundant software.

4. Looker Studio

My Overall Rating: 3.6/5

Looker StudioScreenshot from Looker Studio, December 2022

Formerly known as Google Data Studio, Looker Studio is a Google service that has grown considerably since its initial launch.

Though it is much more technical and requires more time investment to set up than most other tools on this list, it should be intuitive for staff familiar with Google Analytics.

If you’re on the fence, Looker Studio is completely free.

A major upside to this software is superior integration with other Google properties like Analytics, Search Console, Ads, and YouTube.

Like other reporting tools, it also allows third-party data integration, but the ability to query data from databases, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Google’s Cloud SQL, sets it apart.

You can customize reports with important KPIs with proper setup, pulling from lead and customer information. For eCommerce clients, you can even integrate sales data.

Though the initial setup will be much more technical, the ability to import templates saves time and effort.

You can also create your own templates that better reflect your processes and can be shared across clients. Google also has introductory video walk-throughs to help you get started.

5. Authority Labs

My Overall Rating: 3.2/5

Authority Labs Ranking ReportImage credit: Authority Labs, December 2022

Authority Labs does the job if you’re looking for a straightforward position-tracking tool.

Authority Labs is $49 per month for unlimited users, though you will need to upgrade to the $99 per month plan for white-label reporting.

You can track regional ranking data, get insights into “(not provided)” keywords, track competitor keywords, and schedule automated reporting.

However, lacking other essential features like backlink monitoring or analytic data means you will have to supplement this tool to provide a full SEO reporting picture for clients.

Conclusion

There are many quality SEO reporting tools on the market. What makes them valuable depends on their ability to work for your clients’ needs.

SE Ranking has a fantastic cost-to-value ratio, while Looker Studio has advanced reporting capabilities if you can withstand a higher barrier to entry.

Agency Analytics prioritizes client access, which is a big deal if transparency is a core value for your agency.

Authority Labs keeps it lean and clean, while Semrush always adds innovative features.

These five are simply a snapshot of what is available. There are new and emerging tools that might have some features more appealing to your current clients or fill gaps that other software creates despite being a great solution.

Ultimately, you need to consider what matters most to your agency. Is it:

  • Feature depth?
  • Scalability?
  • Cost-to-value ratio?

Once you weigh the factors that matter most for your agency, you can find the right SEO reporting tool. In the meantime, don’t shy away from testing out a few for a trial period.

If you don’t want to sign up for a full month’s usage, you can also explore walkthrough videos and reviews from current users. The most informed decision requires an understanding of the intricate details.


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal



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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

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How to Block ChatGPT From Using Your Website Content

There is concern about the lack of an easy way to opt out of having one’s content used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. There is a way to do it, but it’s neither straightforward nor guaranteed to work.

How AIs Learn From Your Content

Large Language Models (LLMs) are trained on data that originates from multiple sources. Many of these datasets are open source and are freely used for training AIs.

Some of the sources used are:

  • Wikipedia
  • Government court records
  • Books
  • Emails
  • Crawled websites

There are actually portals and websites offering datasets that are giving away vast amounts of information.

One of the portals is hosted by Amazon, offering thousands of datasets at the Registry of Open Data on AWS.

Screenshot from Amazon, January 2023

The Amazon portal with thousands of datasets is just one portal out of many others that contain more datasets.

Wikipedia lists 28 portals for downloading datasets, including the Google Dataset and the Hugging Face portals for finding thousands of datasets.

Datasets of Web Content

OpenWebText

A popular dataset of web content is called OpenWebText. OpenWebText consists of URLs found on Reddit posts that had at least three upvotes.

The idea is that these URLs are trustworthy and will contain quality content. I couldn’t find information about a user agent for their crawler, maybe it’s just identified as Python, I’m not sure.

Nevertheless, we do know that if your site is linked from Reddit with at least three upvotes then there’s a good chance that your site is in the OpenWebText dataset.

More information about OpenWebText is here.

Common Crawl

One of the most commonly used datasets for Internet content is offered by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Common Crawl data comes from a bot that crawls the entire Internet.

The data is downloaded by organizations wishing to use the data and then cleaned of spammy sites, etc.

The name of the Common Crawl bot is, CCBot.

CCBot obeys the robots.txt protocol so it is possible to block Common Crawl with Robots.txt and prevent your website data from making it into another dataset.

However, if your site has already been crawled then it’s likely already included in multiple datasets.

Nevertheless, by blocking Common Crawl it’s possible to opt out your website content from being included in new datasets sourced from newer Common Crawl data.

The CCBot User-Agent string is:

CCBot/2.0

Add the following to your robots.txt file to block the Common Crawl bot:

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

An additional way to confirm if a CCBot user agent is legit is that it crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also obeys the nofollow robots meta tag directives.

Use this in your robots meta tag:

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

Blocking AI From Using Your Content

Search engines allow websites to opt out of being crawled. Common Crawl also allows opting out. But there is currently no way to remove one’s website content from existing datasets.

Furthermore, research scientists don’t seem to offer website publishers a way to opt out of being crawled.

The article, Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair? explores the topic of whether it’s even ethical to use website data without permission or a way to opt out.

Many publishers may appreciate it if in the near future, they are given more say on how their content is used, especially by AI products like ChatGPT.

Whether that will happen is unknown at this time.

More resources:

Featured image by Shutterstock/ViDI Studio



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Google’s Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

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Google's Mueller Criticizes Negative SEO & Link Disavow Companies

John Mueller recently made strong statements against SEO companies that provide negative SEO and other agencies that provide link disavow services outside of the tool’s intended purpose, saying that they are “cashing in” on clients who don’t know better.

While many frequently say that Mueller and other Googlers are ambiguous, even on the topic of link disavows.

The fact however is that Mueller and other Googlers have consistently recommended against using the link disavow tool.

This may be the first time Mueller actually portrayed SEOs who liberally recommend link disavows in a negative light.

What Led to John Mueller’s Rebuke

The context of Mueller’s comments about negative SEO and link disavow companies started with a tweet by Ryan Jones (@RyanJones)

Ryan tweeted that he was shocked at how many SEOs regularly offer disavowing links.

He tweeted:

“I’m still shocked at how many seos regularly disavow links. Why? Unless you spammed them or have a manual action you’re probably doing more harm than good.”

The reason why Ryan is shocked is because Google has consistently recommended the tool for disavowing paid/spammy links that the sites (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

And yet, here we are, eleven years later, and SEOs are still misusing the tool for removing other kinds of tools.

Here’s the background information about that.

Link Disavow Tool

In the mid 2000’s there was a thriving open market for paid links prior to the Penguin Update in April 2012. The commerce in paid links was staggering.

I knew of one publisher with around fifty websites who received a $30,000 check every month for hosting paid links on his site.

Even though I advised my clients against it, some of them still purchased links because they saw everyone else was buying them and getting away with it.

The Penguin Update caused the link selling boom collapsed.

Thousands of websites lost rankings.

SEOs and affected websites strained under the burden of having to contact all the sites from which they purchased paid links to ask to have them removed.

So some in the SEO community asked Google for a more convenient way to disavow the links.

Months went by and after resisting the requests, Google relented and released a disavow tool.

Google cautioned from the very beginning to only use the tool for disavowing links that the site publishers (or their SEOs) are responsible for.

The first paragraph of Google’s October 2012 announcement of the link disavow tool leaves no doubt on when to use the tool:

“Today we’re introducing a tool that enables you to disavow links to your site.

If you’ve been notified of a manual spam action based on ‘unnatural links’ pointing to your site, this tool can help you address the issue.

If you haven’t gotten this notification, this tool generally isn’t something you need to worry about.”

The message couldn’t be clearer.

But at some point in time, link disavowing became a service applied to random and “spammy looking” links, which is not what the tool is for.

Link Disavow Takes Months To Work

There are many anecdotes about link disavows that helped sites regain rankings.

They aren’t lying, I know credible and honest people who have made this claim.

But here’s the thing, John Mueller has confirmed that the link disavow process takes months to work its way through Google’s algorithm.

Sometimes things happen that are not related, no correlation. It just looks that way.

John shared how long it takes for a link disavow to work in a Webmaster Hangout:

“With regards to this particular case, where you’re saying you submitted a disavow file and then the ranking dropped or the visibility dropped, especially a few days later, I would assume that that is not related.

So in particular with the disavow file, what happens is we take that file into account when we reprocess the links kind of pointing to your website.

And this is a process that happens incrementally over a period of time where I would expect it would have an effect over the course of… I don’t know… maybe three, four, five, six months …kind of step by step going in that direction.

So if you’re saying that you saw an effect within a couple of days and it was a really strong effect then I would assume that this effect is completely unrelated to the disavow file. …it sounds like you still haven’t figured out what might be causing this.”

John Mueller: Negative SEO and Link Disavow Companies are Making Stuff Up

Context is important to understand what was said.

So here’s the context for John Mueller’s remark.

An SEO responded to Ryan’s tweet about being shocked at how many SEOs regularly disavow links.

The person responding to Ryan tweeted that disavowing links was still important, that agencies provide negative SEO services to take down websites and that link disavow is a way to combat the negative links.

The SEO (SEOGuruJaipur) tweeted:

“Google still gives penalties for backlinks (for example, 14 Dec update, so disavowing links is still important.”

SEOGuruJaipur next began tweeting about negative SEO companies.

Negative SEO companies are those that will build spammy links to a client’s competitor in order to make the competitor’s rankings drop.

SEOGuruJaipur tweeted:

“There are so many agencies that provide services to down competitors; they create backlinks for competitors such as comments, bookmarking, directory, and article submission on low quality sites.”

SEOGuruJaipur continued discussing negative SEO link builders, saying that only high trust sites are immune to the negative SEO links.

He tweeted:

“Agencies know what kind of links hurt the website because they have been doing this for a long time.

It’s only hard to down for very trusted sites. Even some agencies provide a money back guarantee as well.

They will provide you examples as well with proper insights.”

John Mueller tweeted his response to the above tweets:

“That’s all made up & irrelevant.

These agencies (both those creating, and those disavowing) are just making stuff up, and cashing in from those who don’t know better.”

Then someone else joined the discussion:

Mueller tweeted a response:

“Don’t waste your time on it; do things that build up your site instead.”

Unambiguous Statement on Negative SEO and Link Disavow Services

A statement by John Mueller (or anyone) can appear to conflict with prior statements when taken out of context.

That’s why I not only placed his statements into their original context but also the history going back eleven years that is a part of that discussion.

It’s clear that John Mueller feels that those selling negative SEO services and those providing disavow services outside of the intended use are “making stuff up” and “cashing in” on clients who might not “know better.”

Featured image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero



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