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The Essential Guide to Customer Acquisition



The Essential Guide to Customer Acquisition

Customers are the lifeblood of any business.

Without new customers, businesses cannot survive, let alone grow.

In this guide, you’ll learn how to acquire more new customers for your business.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What is customer acquisition?

Customer acquisition is the process of gaining new customers for a business.

Customer acquisition is not a “one-step” process. Most prospects don’t turn into customers instantly. Instead, they follow a journey:

  • Awareness – The buyer realizes they have a problem. They want to understand more about it.
  • Consideration – The buyer is looking for and comparing potential solutions to their problem.
  • Decision – The buyer purchases a solution.
Infographic of 3 stages of buyer's journey: awareness, consideration, and decision

So, in order to acquire new customers, you need to align your marketing with these three stages.

  1. Awareness – You need to appear in the consciousness or awareness of your potential customers. You’ll also need to show them your product or service can help to solve their problem.
  2. Consideration – You need to convince these prospects that they should choose your product or service.
  3. Decision – You need to “tip” these prospects over the finishing line. Common tactics include discounts and free trials.

How to create a customer acquisition strategy

Customer acquisition isn’t about executing a variety of tactics and hoping one sticks. You need a strategy, i.e., your battle plan. This is how you’re going to attract new customers and choose the right acquisition tactics.

Infographic of strategy vs. tactic: On left, map showing route from starting point to final destination; on right, map shows same thing but with dotted points within the route

Here’s how to create a customer acquisition strategy.

1. Identify your customers and where they hang out

If you don’t know who your customers are, you can’t attract more of them to your business.

That’s why the first step of your customer acquisition strategy is to figure out who your ideal customers are.

If you’ve done your market research and created customer personas, then this should be easy. You’ll already know who you’re trying to reach.

For example, here’s a simplified version of our ideal customer at Ahrefs:

SEO professionals and website owners who want to drive more traffic to their websites.

If you’re still in the early stages and don’t have a customer statement like this yet, don’t worry. You can use this guide to create one for your business.

Knowing who your ideal customers are will also help you figure out which marketing channels you should use. For example, we know website owners who desire more traffic are often searching on Google and looking for helpful guides.

This is one of the main reasons why SEO-driven content marketing is our main marketing tactic.

Experienced SEOs tend to hang out a lot on Twitter too, and that’s why we have a heavy presence there.

2. Set your goals

For your strategy to work, you need to know your destination. That is your goal.

Ideally, you should have goals for each stage of the buyer’s journey. But in reality, most companies have limited manpower, time, budget, and resources. So attempting to achieve goals for each stage may prove to be difficult.

In that case, you’ll have to prioritize. I suggest focusing on the area where you’re lacking the most currently.

For example, perhaps you may have a lot of traffic coming to your website (awareness). Yet you aren’t seeing any substantial increase in your sales (purchase). As such, you may want to set a goal and tackle the “problem area.”

Once you’ve identified what you want to work on, you should set a SMART objective to make it clear what it is you want to achieve.

  • ​​Specific – It should clearly state the desired outcome.
  • Measurable – It should be something you can track the success of.
  • Achievable – It should be realistic.
  • Relevant – It should align with your overall business objectives.
  • Timely – It should have a time frame attached to it.

For example, this is a good objective aligned with the SMART criteria:

Increase the conversion rate of your free trial to a paid subscription from 1% to 3% in the next 12 months.

3. Choose your customer acquisition channels

Based on what you’ve designed so far in your strategy, you should have an idea of which channels may work best to acquire new customers.

Pick one to two of the most suitable ones and begin experimenting with them. (More about the different channels in the next section.)

Customer acquisition channels

Here are some of the most popular customer acquisition channels you can experiment with for your business.

1. Search engine optimization (SEO)

SEO is the practice of optimizing a website or webpage to increase the quantity and quality of its traffic from a search engine’s organic results.


  • Passive, organic (almost free) traffic
  • Evergreen and compounding effects; article written a few years ago can still generate traffic if it ranks high on the search engines
  • Potential customers are automatically qualified by their search intents, e.g., someone searching “ahrefs vs moz” is closer to buying than someone searching “how to increase website traffic”
  • SEO content can influence entire marketing funnel


  • Ranking high on search engines takes time
  • Popular terms can get competitive (i.e., lots of time and resources required)
  • Return on investment (ROI) can be difficult to measure
  • Slower effects for newcomers; website with smaller number of high-quality backlinks and low topical authority may find it tougher to rank higher in the beginning stages

2. Content marketing

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


  • Educates potential customers
  • Builds loyalty and retention
  • Can go viral in the short term and create a lot of attention and awareness at once
  • Builds credibility
  • Can be the basis of other marketing channels (e.g., digital advertising)


  • ROI can be difficult to measure
  • Requires time to work
  • Content needs to be promoted and distributed; otherwise, attention may be scarce
  • Content must be high quality; otherwise, it can’t stand out from the tons of other published content

3. Digital advertising

Digital advertising is the process of paying a website or platform to reach its audience via ad space.


  • Fast way to get traffic; just set up an ad and get it running in a matter of minutes
  • Highly specific targeting (geography, age, gender, interests, etc)
  • Easy to measure and scale


  • Can be expensive (especially when scaling up)
  • Learning curve exists; costs time and money to figure out what works for your exact business
  • Suffers from symptoms like ad fatigue and banner blindness
  • Increasing use of ad blockers and third-party cookies blocking by web browsers may affect measurement and effectiveness

4. Influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is the practice of working with influencers—people who have an active, sizable audience—to promote your brand’s message, products, or services.


  • Good way to improve brand awareness
  • Popular influencers can “bestow” a halo effect on your brand
  • Can generate direct sales, e.g., via influencer-specific discount codes


  • ROI can be difficult to measure
  • No guaranteed returns when working with influencers
  • Risk of unwanted brand associations if you work with the wrong person
  • Limited control over creative or messaging

5. Email marketing

Email marketing lets you reach your prospects’ mailboxes with messages that either prompt direct action or aim to encourage prospects to create a long-term relationship with the brand.


  • Easily reach your prospects or customers directly (and at any time)
  • Emails sent can be highly personalized and segmented
  • Easy to measure


  • Takes time to organically build a quality email list
  • Overdoing it can cause you to break email marketing legislation (GDPR, CAN-SPAM, etc)
  • Can be competitive (people’s inboxes are flooded with emails!)

6. Video marketing

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


  • Great for demonstrating how a product works
  • Can be later repurposed into other content formats (e.g., your script can be turned into a blog post; main video can be turned into multiple, bite-sized versions)
  • Engaging videos can capture and retain attention much more effectively than other formats


  • Very resource-intensive to produce one high-quality video, let alone many

7. Social media

Social media drives traffic to your webpages and creates engagement with your brand by means of social media platforms.


  • Organic, almost free traffic
  • Massive audiences can be found on different social media platforms
  • Can interact directly with your audience


  • Not easy to build a following on social media
  • Social media platforms may decrease your organic reach (to get more people to pay for ads)
  • May be at “mercy” of these platforms; you can get banned or removed anytime, which means losing all your following
  • May experience many negative comments and trolls

8. Referral programs

A referral program incentivizes existing customers to promote your brand to their family and friends.


  • Can be a low-cost way to acquire new customers
  • Builds customer loyalty


  • No guarantees that a referral program will work
  • Can’t “force” your customers to refer their friends

Customer acquisition examples

Here are some examples of how different businesses have acquired their customers.

1. Ahrefs – Content marketing

Ahrefs is an all-in-one SEO toolset that allows you to do keyword research, competitor analysis, website audits, content research, rank tracking, and more.

The main customer acquisition strategy we use at Ahrefs is SEO-driven content marketing. Here’s how we do it:

First, we find topics that our target customers are searching for on Google.

As mentioned earlier, our customers are often searching on Google for solutions to their problems. This makes SEO an ideal acquisition channel. Ranking high on Google also ensures that we get passive, organic traffic, as long as our content stays on top.

Line chart showing spike in traffic followed by passive search traffic

How do we find these topics?

  1. Go to Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer
  2. Enter one or a few relevant keywords
  3. Go to the Matching terms report
  4. Switch to Questions
List of keywords with corresponding data such as KD, Volume, etc

As you can see, there are over 180,000 topics to choose from. We’ll eyeball the list and note down those that are relevant to our customers.

Once we have a list of topics, we decide which topics to target first using business potential.

Business potential: Table with scores 3 to 0. And explanation of criteria to meet each score.

We start with topics that have a score of “3,” then “2,” and so on.

With a list of topics to work on, we create content based on this framework:

2. Circles.Life – Referral program

Circles.Life is a digital telco based in Singapore. Despite entrenched competition from the three existing major telcos in Singapore, Circles.Life has managed to succeed. (I, too, am one of its customers.)

One of the main ways it acquired its customers (at least in the early days) was via its referral program. In fact, according to HireDigital, over 40% of Circles.Life transactions come from referrals.

Excerpt of referral page: top of page shows referral code, middle shows no. of friends referred; bottom is write-up of how referral program works

The success of a referral program depends on a few factors, but the main one is the incentive. An attractive incentive motivates customers to share; a bad one drives no action.

In this case, Circles.Life’s referral program succeeded because the prize was exactly what telco customers wanted: more data for low prices.

This is reminiscent of Dropbox’s referral program, which was also one of the main ways the cloud storage company acquired its first customers.

Recommended reading: How to Choose the Right Referral Incentives for Your Referral Program (With 20+ Examples!) 

3. Luxy Hair – Video marketing

Luxy Hair is an online store that sells hair extensions and hair-related accessories. With over 3 million subscribers on YouTube, it’s killing it.

Luxy Hair's logo; below it is no. of subscribers

Luxy Hair makes videos that get thousands, if not millions, of views.

Grid format of Luxy Hair's videos on YouTube

Each video features different ways of styling hair, taking care of it, and more. And each video—ding ding ding, you guessed it—features Luxy Hair’s own products.

The company then makes it easy for any viewer or subscriber to buy by including the relevant links in the video description.

Video description box showing relevant links to Luxy Hair products, influencer featured in the video, etc

Recommended reading: The Four-Part Formula That Got Luxy Hair 2.8 Million Subscribers on YouTube

Here are some frequently asked questions related to customer acquisition.

How do you calculate customer acquisition cost?

Customer acquisition cost (CAC) is the average amount of money you spend to acquire a single customer.

This is calculated by dividing your customer acquisition expenses by the number of acquired customers.

CAC = Total amount spent on marketing/Number of new customers acquired

For example, if you acquired 10 new customers after spending $1,000 on your marketing, your CAC would be $1000/10 = $100.

What is the average customer acquisition cost?

According to Shopify’s research, here are the average CACs by industry:

  • Arts and entertainment: $21
  • Business and industrial: $533
  • Clothing, shoes, and/or accessories: $129
  • Electronics and/or electronics accessories: $377
  • Food, beverages, and tobacco products: $462
  • Health and beauty: $127
  • Home and garden: $129

Don’t take these benchmarks as gospel. These numbers are averages and can differ depending on your brand, exact market, average order value, and more. You should always relate your CAC to your own business.

Why is customer acquisition cost important?

Many businesses calculate the CAC because they want to lower it.

However, trying to reduce your CAC in isolation is not a good idea. Most of the time, reducing your CAC and being more effective in marketing don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

If your CAC is too low, you may actually be limiting your exposure and under-spending on your marketing activities. Your balance sheet may look good in the short term, but you may be missing out on substantial growth opportunities in the long term.

So, rather than strive to pay as little as possible, aim for marketing effectiveness.

To do this, you should use CAC in relation to your customer lifetime value (CLV). This is a metric that estimates how much money an individual customer will spend on your products or services.

Here’s how CLV is calculated:

Avg. order value x Avg. annual purchase frequency x Avg. customer lifespan

Take this into account, alongside your customer base growth and overall marketing effectiveness, when deciding if you should adjust your CAC.

Recommended reading: How to Use & Reduce Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)

What is customer retention?

Customer retention happens after a customer is acquired. The goal of customer retention is to keep your customers with your brand for a long time.

This is because a loyal customer is more valuable to a business. Not only will they buy more (and buy more frequently), but new customers are also often more expensive to acquire.

Customer acquisition and customer retention are not mutually exclusive. Both are important to a business’s growth and survival and should exist at the same time.

Some marketers even argue that customer retention should actually take precedence over customer acquisition—after all, there’s no point filling a leaky bucket.

Recommended reading: What Is Customer Retention? 11 Examples and Strategies to Retain Customers

How do you measure customer acquisition?

Besides CAC and CLV, which metrics should you measure?

This depends on the exact tactic you’re using. I recommend reading the guide below for a sample of the most important customer acquisition metrics you should be tracking.

Recommended reading: 25 Marketing Metrics You Should Consider Tracking

Final thoughts

If you want to acquire new customers on a consistent basis, you need a strategy. Create one and then execute only the tactics that move your business ahead.

Did I miss out on anything important about customer acquisition? Let me know on Twitter.

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Top 5 Essential SEO Reporting Tools For Agencies



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.


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



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


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:


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



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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