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The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

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The Three Pillars Of SEO: Authority, Relevance, And Experience

What do you need to compete in SEO?

Some say more inbound links, others better content, while some might emphasize a technically healthy site.

Experienced SEOs know that the most successful sites when it comes to organic search have the right mix of high-level fundamentals.

In recent years, there has been a lot of attention around E-A-T (Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness) as mentioned in Google’s Search Rater Quality Guidelines.

Some have come to think of these as the most fundamental aspects of SEO.

However, as important as E-A-T maybe for some sites, it only addresses one aspect: content.

A holistic SEO program needs to include more.

Over the years, I’ve come to think that SEO can be reduced at its most fundamental level to building three things into a site and its pages:

  1. Authority.
  2. Relevance.
  3. Experience (of the users and bots visiting the site).

The sites that pay attention to all three of these are more likely to be valued by both search engines and users, and attract more organic traffic over time.

Notice that one of my categories, Authority, overlaps with an E-A-T category.

That’s because I believe at the highest level of SEO, expertise and trustworthiness are really parts of what makes a site or page authoritative.

Let’s dive into each of these A-R-E categories to see how they should be incorporated into a holistic SEO program.

Authority: Do You Matter?

In SEO, authority refers to the importance or weight given to a page relative to a given search query.

Modern search engines such as Google use many factors (or signals) when evaluating the authority of a webpage.

Why does Google care about assessing the authority of a page?

For most queries, there are thousands or even millions of pages available that could be ranked.

Google wants to bring to the top the ones that are most likely to satisfy the user with accurate, reliable information that fully answers the intent of the query.

Google cares about serving users the most authoritative pages for their queries because users that are satisfied by the pages they click through to from Google are more likely to use Google again, and thus get more exposure to Google’s ads, the primary source of its revenue.

Authority Came First

Assessing the authority of webpages was the first fundamental problem search engines had to solve.

Some of the earliest search engines relied on human evaluators, but as the world wide web exploded, that quickly became impossible to scale.

Google overtook all its rivals because its creators, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, developed the idea of PageRank, using links from other pages on the web as weighed citations to assess the authoritativeness of a page.

Page and Brin realized that links were an already-existing system of constantly evolving polling where other authoritative sites “voted” for pages they saw as reliable and relevant to their users.

Search engines use links much like we might treat scholarly citations. The more scholarly papers relevant to a source document that cite it, the better.

The relative authority and trustworthiness of each of the citing source come into play as well.

So, of our three fundamental categories, authority came first because it was the easiest of the three to crack given the ubiquity of hyperlinks on the web.

The other two, relevance and user experience, would be tackled later, as machine learning/AI-driven algorithms developed.

Links Still Primary For Authority

The big innovation that made Google the dominant search engine in a short period was that it used an analysis of links on the web as a ranking factor.

This started with a paper written by Larry Page and Sergey Brin called The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine.

The essential insight behind this paper was that the web is built on the notion of documents inter-connected with each other via links.

Since putting a link on your site to a third-party site might cause a user to leave your site, there was little incentive for a publisher to link to another site, unless it was really good and of great value to their site’s users.

In other words, linking to a third-party site acts a bit like a “vote” for it, and each vote could be considered an endorsement, endorsing the page the link points to as one of the best resources on the web for a given topic.

Then, in principle, the more votes you get, the better and the more authoritative a search engine would consider you to be, and you should therefore rank higher.

Passing PageRank

A significant piece of the initial Google algorithm was based on the concept of PageRank, a system for evaluating which pages are the most important based on scoring the links they receive.

So, a page that has large quantities of valuable links pointing to it will have a higher PageRank, and in principle will be likely to rank higher in the search results than other pages without as high a PageRank score.

When a page links to another page, it passes a portion of its PageRank to the page it links to.

Thus, pages accumulate more PageRank based on the number and quality of links they receive.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Not All Links Are Created Equal

So more votes are better, right?

Well, that’s true in theory, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

PageRank scores range from a base value of one to values that likely exceed trillions.

Higher PageRank pages can have a lot more PageRank to pass than lower PageRank pages. In fact, a link from one page can easily be worth more than one million times a link from another page.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Let’s use our intuition for a moment.

Imagine you have a page that’s selling a book, and it gets two links. One is from Joe’s Book Store, and the other one is from Amazon.

It’s pretty obvious which one you would value more as a user, right? As users, we recognize that Amazon has more authority on this topic.

As it turns out, the web has recognized this as well, and Amazon has a much more powerful link profile (and higher PageRank) than any other site involved in selling books.

As a result, it has a much higher PageRank, and can pass more PageRank to the pages that it links to.

It’s important to note that Google’s algorithms have evolved a long way from the original PageRank thesis.

The way that links are evaluated has changed in significant ways – some of which we know, and some of which we don’t.

What About Trust?

You may hear many people talk about the role of trust in search rankings and in evaluating link quality.

For the record, Google says they don’t have a concept of trust they apply to links (or ranking), so you should take those discussions with many grains of salt.

These discussions began because of a Yahoo patent on the concept of TrustRank.

The idea was that if you started with a seed set of hand-picked, highly trusted sites, and you then counted the number of clicks it took you to go from those sites to yours, the fewer clicks the more trusted your site was.

Mark Traphagen on the concept of trust in search engine ranking.

Google has long said they don’t use this type of metric.

However, in April 2018, Google was granted a patent related to evaluating the trustworthiness of links. But the existence of a granted patent does not mean it’s used in practice.

For your own purposes, however, if you want to assess the trustworthiness of a site as a source of a link, using the concept of trusted links is not a bad idea.

If they do any of the following, then it probably isn’t a good source for a link:

  • Sell links to others.
  • Have less than great content.
  • Otherwise don’t appear reputable.

Google may not be calculating trust the way you do in your analysis, but chances are good that some other aspect of their system will devalue that link anyway.

Fundamentals Of Earning & Attracting Links

Now that you know that obtaining links to your site is critical to SEO success, it’s time to start putting together a plan to get some.

The key to success is understanding that Google wants this entire process to be holistic.

Google actively discourages, and in some cases punishes, schemes to get links in an artificial way. This means certain practices are seen as bad, such as:

  • Buying links for SEO purposes.
  • Going to forums and blogs and adding comments with links back to your site.
  • Hacking people’s sites and injecting links into their content.
  • Distributing poor-quality infographics or widgets that include links back to your pages.
  • Offering discount codes or affiliate programs as a way to get links.
  • And many other schemes where the resulting links are artificial in nature.

What Google really wants is for you to make a fantastic website, and promote it effectively, with the result that you earn or attract links.

So, how do you do that?

Who Links?

The first key insight is to understand who it is that might link to the content that you create.

Here is a chart that profiles the major groups of people in any given market space:

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

Who do you think are the people that might implement links?

It’s certainly not the laggards, and it’s also not the early or late majority.

It’s the innovators and early adopters. These are the people who write on media sites, or have blogs, and who might add links to your site.

There are also other sources of links, such as locally-oriented sites, such as the local chamber of commerce or local newspapers.

You might also find some opportunities with colleges and universities if they have pages that relate to some of the things you’re doing in your market space.

Relevance: Will Users Swipe Right On Your Page?

You have to be relevant to a given topic.

Think of every visit to a page as an encounter on a dating app. Will users “swipe right” (thinking, “this looks like a good match!)?

If you have a page about Tupperware, it doesn’t matter how many links you get – you’ll never rank for queries related to used cars.

This defines a limitation on the power of links as a ranking factor, and it shows how relevance also impacts the value of a link.

Consider a page on a site that is selling a used Ford Mustang. Imagine that it gets a link from Car and Driver magazine. That link is highly relevant.

Also, think of this intuitively. Is it likely that Car and Driver magazine has some expertise related to Ford Mustangs? Of course, they do.

In contrast, imagine a link to that Ford Mustang from a site that usually writes about sports. Is the link still helpful?

Probably, but not as helpful, because there is less evidence to Google that the sports site has a lot of knowledge about used Ford Mustangs.

In short, the relevance of the linking page, and the linking site, impacts how valuable a link might be considered.

What are some ways that Google evaluates relevance?

The Role Of Anchor Text

Anchor text is another aspect of links that matters to Google.

Three Pillars of SEO: Authority, Relevance, and Trust | SEJ

The anchor text helps Google confirm what the content on the page receiving the link is about.

For example, if the anchor text is the phrase “iron bathtubs” and the page has content on that topic, the anchor text, plus the link, acts as further confirmation that the page is about that topic.

Thus, the links act to evaluate both the relevance and authority of the page.

Be careful, though, as you don’t want to go aggressively obtaining links to your page that all use your main key phrase as the anchor text.

Google also looks for signs that you are manually manipulating links for SEO purposes.

One of the simplest indicators is if your anchor text looks manually manipulated.

Internal Linking

There is growing evidence that Google uses internal linking to evaluate how relevant a site is to a topic.

Properly structured internal links connecting related content are a way of showing Google that you have the topic well-covered, with pages about many different aspects.

By the way, anchor text is as important when creating external links as it is for external, inbound links.

Related to internal linking is your overall site structure.

Think strategically about where your pages fall in your site hierarchy. If it makes sense for users it will probably be useful to search engines.

The Content Itself

Of course, the most important indicator of the relevance of a page has to be the content on that page.

Most SEOs are aware that assessing the relevance of content to a query has become way more sophisticated than merely having the keywords a user is searching for.

Due to advances in natural language processing and machine learning, search engines like Google have vastly increased their competence in being able to assess the content on a page.

What are some things Google likely looks for in determining what queries a page should be relevant for?

  • Keywords: While the days of keyword stuffing as an effective SEO tactic are (thankfully) way behind us, having certain words on a page still matters. My company has numerous case studies showing that merely adding key terms that are common among top-ranking pages for a topic is often enough to increase organic traffic to a page.
  • Depth: The top-ranking pages for a topic usually cover the topic at the right depth. That is, they have enough content to cover the topic to satisfy searchers for a query, and/or are linked to/from pages that help flesh out the topic.
  • Structure: Structural elements like H1…H2…H3, bolded topic headings, and schema structured data may help Google better understand the relevance and coverage of a page.

What About E-A-T?

Of course, Google encourages all site owners to create content that makes a visitor feel like this is authoritative, trustworthy content written by someone with expertise appropriate to the topic.

But how much they do or are able to evaluate those categories is still a topic of debate.

The main thing to keep in mind is that the more YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) your site is the more you should pay attention to E-A-T.

YMYL sites are those whose main content addresses things that might have an effect on people’s well-being or finances.

If your site is YMYL, you should go the extra mile in ensuring the accuracy of your content, and displaying that you have qualified experts writing it.

Building A Content Marketing Plan

Last, but certainly not least, create a real plan for your content marketing.

Don’t just suddenly start doing a lot of random stuff.

Take the time to study what your competitors are doing so you can invest your content marketing efforts in a way that’s likely to provide a solid ROI.

One approach to doing that is to pull their backlink profiles using tools that can do that.

With this information, you can see what types of links they’ve been getting and then based on that figure out what links you need to get to beat them.

Take the time to do this exercise and also to map which links are going to which pages on the competitors’ sites, as well as what each of those pages rank for.

Building out this kind of detailed view will help you scope out your plan of attack and give you some understanding of what keywords you might be able to rank for.

It’s well worth the effort!

In addition, study the competitor’s content plans.

Learn what they are doing and carefully consider what you can do that’s different.

Focus on developing a very clear differentiation in your content for topics that are in high demand with your potential customers.

This is another investment of time that will be very well spent.

Experience

As we traced above, Google started by focusing on the ranking pages by authority, then found ways to assess relevance.

The third evolution of search was the evaluation of user experience.

In fact, many SEOs (and I’m among them) prefer to speak of SEO not as Search Engine Optimization, but as Search Experience Optimization.

Google realized that authoritativeness and relevancy, as important as they are, were not the only things users were looking for when searching.

Users also want a good experience on the pages and sites Google sends them to.

What is a “good user experience”? It includes at least the following:

  • The page the searcher lands on is what they would expect to see given their query. No bait and switch.
  • The content on the landing page is highly relevant to the user’s query.
  • The content is sufficient to answer the intent of the user’s query but also links to other relevant sources and related topics.
  • The page loads quickly, the relevant content is immediately apparent, and page elements settle into place quickly (all aspects of Google’s Page Experience Update).

In addition, many of the suggestions made above about creating better content apply to user experience as well.

In summary, Google wants to rank pages that satisfy the query and make it as easy as possible for the searcher to identify and understand what they were searching for.

Putting It All Together

Search engines want happy users who will come back to them again and again when they have a question or need.

The way they create and sustain that happiness is by providing the best possible results that satisfy that question or need.

To keep their users happy, search engines must be able to understand and measure the relative authority of webpages for the topics they cover.

When you create content that is highly useful (or engaging or entertaining) to visitors – and when those visitors find your content reliable enough that they would willingly return again to your site, or even seek you out above others – you’ve gained authority.

The search engines work hard at continually improving their ability to match that human quest for trustworthy authority.

As we explained above, that same kind of quality content is key to earning the kinds of links that assure the search engines you should rank highly for relevant searches.

That can be either content on your site that others want to link to or content that other quality, relevant sites want to publish, with appropriate links back to your site.

Focusing on these three pillars of SEO – authority, relevance, and experience – will increase the opportunities for your content and make link-earning easier.

You now have everything you need to know for SEO success, so get to work!


Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business for Local SEO

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The Complete Guide to Google My Business

What is Google My Business?

Google My Business (GMB) is a free tool that business owners can use to manage their online presence across Google Search and Google Maps.

This profile also puts out important business details, such as address, phone number, and operating hours, making it easily accessible to potential customers. 

Google My Business profile shown on Google MapsGoogle My Business profile shown on Google Maps

When you click on a business listing in the search results it will open a detailed sidebar on the right side of the screen, providing comprehensive information about the business. 

This includes popular times, which show when the business is busiest, a Q&A section where potential users can ask questions and receive responses from the business or other customers, and a photos and videos section that showcases products and services. Customer reviews and ratings are also displayed, which are crucial for building trust and credibility.

Business details on Google My Business profileBusiness details on Google My Business profile

Using Google My Business for Local SEO

Having an optimized Google Business Profile ensures that your business is visible, searchable, and can attract potential customers who are looking for your products and services.

  • Increased reliance on online discovery: More consumers are going online to search and find local businesses, making it crucial to have a GMB listing.
  • Be where your customers are searching: GMB ensures your business information is accurate and visible on Google Search and Maps, helping you stay competitive.
  • Connect with customers digitally: GMB allows customers to connect with your business through various channels, including messaging and reviews.
  • Build your online reputation: GMB makes it easy for customers to leave reviews, which can improve your credibility and trustworthiness.
  • Location targeting: GMB enables location-based targeting, showing your ads to people searching for businesses in your exact location.
  • Measurable results: GMB provides actionable analytics, allowing you to track your performance and optimize your listing.

How to Set Up Google My Business

If you already have a profile and need help claiming, verifying, and/or optimizing it, skip to the next sections.

If you’re creating a new Google My Business profile, here’s a step-by-step guide:

Access or Create your Google AccountAccess or Create your Google Account

Step 1: Access or Create your Google Account:

If you don’t already have a Google account, follow these steps to create one:

  • Visit the Google Account Sign-up Page: Go to the Google Account sign-up page and click on “Create an account.”
  • Enter Your Information: Fill in the required fields, including your name, email address, and password.
  • Verify Your Account: Google will send a verification email to your email address. Click on the link in the email to confirm your account.

Step 2:  Access Google My Business

Business name on Google My BusinessBusiness name on Google My Business

Step 3: Enter Your Business Name and Category

  • Type in your exact business name. Google will suggest existing businesses as you type
  • If your business is not listed, fully type out the name as it appears
  • Search for and select your primary business category

Adding business address to Google My Business profileAdding business address to Google My Business profile

Step 4: Provide Your Business Address

  • If you have a physical location where customers can visit, select “Yes” and enter your address.
  • If you are a service area business without a physical location, select “No” and enter your service area.

Adding contact information to Google My Business profileAdding contact information to Google My Business profile

Step 5: Add Your Contact Information

  • Enter your business phone number and website URL
  • You can also create a free website based on your GMB information

Complete Your ProfileComplete Your Profile

Step 6: Complete Your Profile

To complete your profile, add the following details:

  • Hours of Operation: Enter your business’s operating hours to help customers plan their visits.
  • Services: List the services your business offers to help customers understand what you do.
  • Description: Write a detailed description of your business to help customers understand your offerings.

Now that you know how to set up your Google My Business account, all that’s left is to verify it. 

Verification is essential for you to manage and update business information whenever you need to, and for Google to show your business profile to the right users and for the right search queries. 

If you are someone who wants to claim their business or is currently on the last step of setting up their GMB, this guide will walk you through the verification process to solidify your business’ online credibility and visibility.

How to Verify Google My Business

There are several ways you can verify your business, including:

  • Postcard Verification: Google will send a postcard to your business address with a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Phone Verification: Google will call your business phone number and provide a verification code. Enter the code on your GMB dashboard to verify.
  • Email Verification: If you have a business email address, you can use it to verify your listing.
  • Instant Verification: If you have a Google Analytics account linked to your business, you can use instant verification.

How to Claim & Verify an Existing Google My Business Profile

If your business has an existing Google My Business profile, and you want to claim it, then follow these steps:

Sign in to Google AccountSign in to Google Account

Step 1: Sign in to Google My Business

Access Google My Business: Go to the Google My Business website and sign in with your Google account. If you don’t have a Google account, create one by following the sign-up process.

Search for Your BusinessSearch for Your Business

Step 2: Search for Your Business

Enter your business name in the search bar to find your listing. If your business is already listed, you will see it in the search results.

Request access to existing Google My Business accountRequest access to existing Google My Business account

Step 3: Claim Your Listing

If your business is not already claimed, you will see a “Claim this business” button. Click on this button to start the claiming process.

Editing business information on Google My BusinessEditing business information on Google My Business

Step 4: Complete Your Profile

Once your listing is verified, you can complete your profile by adding essential business information such as:

  • Business Name: Ensure it matches your business name.
  • Address: Enter your business address accurately.
  • Phone Number: Enter your business phone number.
  • Hours of Operation: Specify your business hours.
  • Categories: Choose relevant categories that describe your business.
  • Description: Write a brief description of your business.

Step 5: Manage Your Listing

Regularly check and update your listing to ensure it remains accurate and up-to-date. Respond to customer reviews and use the insights provided by Google Analytics to improve your business.

Unverified Google My Business profileUnverified Google My Business profile

Step 6: Verification 

Verify your business through postcard, email, or phone numbers as stated above. 

Now that you have successfully set up and verified your Google My Business listing, it’s time to optimize it for maximum visibility and effectiveness. By doing this, you can improve your local search rankings, increase customer engagement, and drive more conversions.

How to Optimize Google My Business

Here are the tips that I usually do when I’m optimizing my GMB account: 

    1. Complete Your Profile: Start by ensuring every section applicable to your business is filled out with accurate and up-to-date information. Use your real business name without keyword stuffing to avoid suspension. Ensure your address and phone number are consistent with those on your website and other online directories, and add a link to your website and social media accounts.
    2. Optimize for Keywords: Integrate relevant keywords into your business description, services, and posts. However, avoid stuffing your GMB profile with keywords, as this can appear spammy and reduce readability.
    3. Add Backlinks: Encourage local websites, blogs, and business directories to link to your GMB profile. 
  1. Select Appropriate Categories: Choose the most relevant primary category for your business to help Google understand what your business is about. Additionally, add secondary categories that accurately describe your business’s offerings to capture more relevant search traffic.
  2. Encourage and Manage Reviews: Ask satisfied customers to leave positive reviews on your profile, as reviews significantly influence potential customers. Respond to all reviews, both positive and negative, in a professional and timely manner. Addressing negative feedback shows that you value customer opinions and are willing to improve.
  3. Add High-Quality Photos and Videos: Use high-quality images for your profile and cover photos that represent your business well. Upload additional photos of your products, services, team, and premises. Adding short, engaging videos can give potential customers a virtual tour or highlight key services, enhancing their interest.

By following this comprehensive guide, you have successfully set up, verified, and optimized your GMB profile. Remember to continuously maintain and update your profile to ensure maximum impact and success.

Key Takeaway: 

With more and more people turning to Google for all their needs, creating, verifying, and optimizing your Google My Business profile is a must if you want your business to be found. 

Follow this guide to Google My Business, and you’re going to see increased online presence across Google Search and Google Maps in no time.

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LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter Tools

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LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter Tools

LinkedIn is launching several new features for people who publish newsletters on its platform.

The professional networking site wants to make it easier for creators to grow their newsletter audiences and engage readers.

More People Publishing Newsletters On LinkedIn

The company says the number of LinkedIn members publishing newsletter articles has increased by 59% over the past year.

Engagement on these creator-hosted newsletters is also up 47%.

With this growing interest, LinkedIn is updating its newsletter tools.

A New Way To View & Comment

One of the main changes is an updated reading experience that displays comments alongside the newsletter articles.

This allows readers to view and participate in discussions more easily while consuming the content.

See an example of the new interface below.

Screenshot from: linkedin.com, June 2024.

Design Your Own Cover Images

You can now use Microsoft’s AI-powered Designer tool to create custom cover images for their newsletters.

The integration provides templates, size options, and suggestions to help design visually appealing covers.

More Subscriber Notifications

LinkedIn is improving the notifications sent to newsletter subscribers to drive more readership.

When a new issue is published, subscribers will receive email alerts and in-app messages. LinkedIn will also prompt your followers to subscribe.

Mention Other Profiles In Articles

You can now embed links to other LinkedIn profiles and pages directly into their newsletter articles.

This lets readers click through and learn more about the individuals or companies mentioned.

In the example below, you can see it’s as easy as adding a link.

1718346362 491 LinkedIn Rolls Out New Newsletter ToolsScreenshot from: linkedin.com, June 2024.

Preview Links Before Publishing

Lastly, LinkedIn allows you to access a staging link that previews the newsletter URL before hitting publish.

This can help you share and distribute their content more effectively.

Why SEJ Cares

As LinkedIn continues to lean into being a publishing platform for creators and thought leaders, updates that enhance the newsletter experience are noteworthy for digital marketers and industry professionals looking to build an audience.

The new tools are part of LinkedIn’s broader effort to court creators publishing original content on its platform amid rising demand for newsletters and knowledge-sharing.

How This Can Help You

If you publish a newsletter on LinkedIn, these new tools can help you design more visually appealing content, grow your subscriber base, interact with your audience through comments, and preview your content before going live.


Featured Image: Tada Images/Shutterstock

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The 6 Biggest SEO Challenges You’ll Face in 2024

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The 6 Biggest SEO Challenges You'll Face in 2024

Seen any stressed-out SEOs recently? If so, that’s because they’ve got their work cut out this year.

Between navigating Google’s never-ending algorithm updates, fighting off competitors, and getting buy-in for projects, there are many significant SEO challenges to consider.

So, which ones should you focus on? Here are the six biggest ones I think you should pay close attention to.

Make no mistake—Google’s algorithm updates can make or break your site.

Core updates, spam updates, helpful content updates—you name it, they can all impact your site’s performance.

As we can see below, the frequency of Google updates has increased in recent years, meaning that the likelihood of being impacted by a Google update has also increased.

How to deal with it:

Recovering from a Google update isn’t easy—and sometimes, websites that get hit by updates may never fully recover.

For the reasons outlined above, most businesses try to stay on the right side of Google and avoid incurring Google’s wrath.

SEOs do this by following Google’s Search Essentials, SEO best practices and avoiding risky black hat SEO tactics. But sadly, even if you think you’ve done this, there is no guarantee that you won’t get hit.

If you suspect a website has been impacted by a Google update, the fastest way to check is to plug the domain into Ahrefs’ Site Explorer.

Ahrefs Site Explorer screenshotAhrefs Site Explorer screenshot

Here’s an example of a website likely affected by Google’s August 2023 Core Update. The traffic drop started on the update’s start date.

Website impacted by Google's August 2023 Core UpdateWebsite impacted by Google's August 2023 Core Update
Hover over the G circles on the X axis to get information about each update.

From this screen, you can see if a drop in traffic correlates with a Google update. If there is a strong correlation, then that update may have hit the site. To remedy it, you will need to understand the update and take action accordingly.

Follow SEO best practices

It’s important your website follows SEO best practices so you can understand why it has been affected and determine what you need to do to fix things.

For example, you might have missed significant technical SEO issues impacting your website’s traffic. To rule this out, it’s worth using Site Audit to run a technical crawl of your website.

Site Audit screenshot, via Ahrefs Site AuditSite Audit screenshot, via Ahrefs Site Audit

Monitor the latest SEO news

In addition to following best practices, it’s a good idea to monitor the latest SEO news. You can do this through various social media channels like X or LinkedIn, but I find the two websites below to be some of the most reliable sources of SEO news.

Even if you escape Google’s updates unscathed, you’ve still got to deal with your competitors vying to steal your top-ranking keywords from right under your nose.

This may sound grim, but it’s a mistake to underestimate them. Most of the time, they’ll be trying to improve their website’s SEO just as much as you are.

And these days, your competitors will:

How to deal with it:

If you want to stay ahead of your competitors, you need to do these two things:

Spy on your competitors and monitor their strategy

Ok, so you don’t have to be James Bond, but by using a tool like Ahrefs Site Explorer and our Google Looker Studio Integration (GLS), you can extract valuable information and keep tabs on your competitors, giving you a competitive advantage in the SERPs.

Using a tool like Site Explorer, you can use the Organic Competitors report to understand the competitor landscape:

Organic competitors screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerOrganic competitors screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can check out their Organic traffic performance across the years:

Year on Year comparison of organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerYear on Year comparison of organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can use Calendar to see which days changes in Positions, Pages, Referring domains Backlinks occurred:

Screenshot of Ahrefs' Calendar, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerScreenshot of Ahrefs' Calendar, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

You can see their Top pages’ organic traffic and Organic keywords:

Top pages report, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerTop pages report, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

And much, much more.

If you want to monitor your most important competitors more closely, you can even create a dashboard using Ahrefs’ GLS integration.

Google Looker Studio integration screenshot,Google Looker Studio integration screenshot,

Acquire links and create content that your competitors can’t recreate easily

Once you’ve done enough spying, it’s time to take action.

Links and content are the bread and butter for many SEOs. But a lot of the time the links that are acquired and the content that is created just aren’t that great.

So, to stand the best chance of maintaining your rankings, you need to work on getting high-quality backlinks and producing high-quality content that your competitors can’t easily recreate.

It’s easy to say this, but what does it mean in practice?

The best way to create this type of content is to create deep content.

At Ahrefs, we do this by running surveys, getting quotes from industry experts, running data studies, creating unique illustrations or diagrams, and generally fine-tuning our content until it is the best it can be.

As if competing against your competitors wasn’t enough, you must also compete against Google for clicks.

As Google not-so-subtly transitions from a search engine to an answer engine, it’s becoming more common for it to supply the answer to search queries—rather than the search results themselves.

The result is that even the once top-performing organic search websites have a lower click-through rate (CTR) because they’re further down the page—or not on the first page.

Whether you like it or not, Google is reducing traffic to your website through two mechanisms:

  • AI overviews – Where Google generates an answer based on sources on the internet
  • Zero-click searches – Where Google shows the answer in the search results

With AI overviews, we can see that the traditional organic search results are not visible.

And with zero-click searches, Google supplies the answer directly in the SERP, so the user doesn’t have to click anything unless they want to know more.

Zero Click searches example, via Google.comZero Click searches example, via Google.com

These features have one thing in common: They are pushing the organic results further down the page.

With AI Overviews, even when links are included, Kevin Indig’s AI overviews traffic impact study suggests that AI overviews will reduce organic clicks.

In this example below, shared by Aleyda, we can see that even when you rank organically in the number one position, it doesn’t mean much if there are Ads and an AI overview with the UX with no links in the AI overview answer; it just perpetuates the zero-clicks model through the AI overview format.

How to deal with it:

You can’t control how Google changes the SERPs, but you can do two things:

Make your website the best it can be

If you focus on the latter, your website will naturally become more authoritative over time. This isn’t a guarantee that your website will be included in the AI overview, but it’s better than doing nothing.

Prevent Google from showing your website in an AI Overview

If you want to be excluded from Google’s AI Overviews, Google says you can add no snippet to prevent your content from appearing in AI Overviews.

nosnippet code explanation screemshot, via Google's documentationnosnippet code explanation screemshot, via Google's documentation

One of the reasons marketers gravitated towards Google in the early days was that it was relatively easy to set up a website and get traffic.

Recently, there have been a few high-profile examples of smaller websites that have been impacted by Google:

Apart from the algorithmic changes, I think there are two reasons for this:

  • Large authoritative websites with bigger budgets and SEO teams are more likely to rank well in today’s Google
  • User-generated content sites like Reddit and Quora have been given huge traffic boosts from Google, which has displaced smaller sites from the SERPs that used to rank for these types of keyword queries

Here’s Reddit’s traffic increase over the last year:

Reddit's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site ExplorerReddit's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site Explorer

And here’s Quora’s traffic increase:

Quora's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site ExplorerQuora's organic traffic increase, via Ahrefs Site Explorer

How to deal with it:

There are three key ways I would deal with this issue in 2024:

Focus on targeting the right keywords using keyword research

Knowing which keywords to target is really important for smaller websites. Sadly, you can’t just write about a big term like “SEO” and expect to rank for it in Google.

Use a tool like Keywords Explorer to do a SERP analysis for each keyword you want to target. Use the effort-to-reward ratio to ensure you are picking the right keyword battles:

Effort to reward ratio illustrationEffort to reward ratio illustration

If you’re concerned about Reddit, Quora, or other UGC sites stealing your clicks, you can also use Keywords Explorer to target SERPs where these websites aren’t present.

To do this:

  • Enter your keyword in the search bar and head to the matching terms report
  • Click on the SERP features drop-down box
  • Select Not on SERP and select Discussions and forums
Example of removing big UGC sites from keyword searches using filters in Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerExample of removing big UGC sites from keyword searches using filters in Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer

This method can help you find SERPs where these types of sites are not present.

Build more links to become more authoritative

Another approach you could take is to double down on the SEO basics and start building more high-quality backlinks.

Write deep content

Most SEOs are not churning out 500-word blog posts and hoping for the best; equally, the content they’re creating is often not deep or the best it can possibly be.

This is often due to time restraints, budget and inclination. But to be competitive in the AI era, deep content is exactly what you should be creating.

As your website grows, the challenge of maintaining the performance of your content portfolio gets increasingly more difficult.

And what may have been an “absolute banger” of an article in 2020 might not be such a great article now—so you’ll need to update it to keep the clicks rolling in.

So how can you ensure that your content is the best it can be?

How to deal with it:

Here’s the process I use:

Steal this content updating framework

And here’s a practical example of this in action:

Use Page Inspect with Overview to identify pages that need updating

Here’s an example of an older article Michal Pecánek wrote that I recently updated. Using Page Inspect, we can pinpoint the exact date of the update was on May 10, 2024, with no other major in the last year.

Ahrefs Page Inspect screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerAhrefs Page Inspect screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

According to Ahrefs, this update almost doubled the page’s organic traffic, underlining the value of updating old content. Before the update, the content had reached its lowest performance ever.

Example of a content update and the impact on organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerExample of a content update and the impact on organic traffic, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

So, what changed to casually double the traffic? Clicking on Page Inspect gives us our answer.

Page Inspect detail screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerPage Inspect detail screenshot, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

I was focused on achieving three aims with this update:

  • Keeping Michal’s original framework for the post intact
  • Making the content as concise and readable as it can be
  • Refreshing the template (the main draw of the post) and explaining how to use the updated version in a beginner-friendly way to match the search intent

Getting buy-in for SEO projects has never been easy compared to other channels. Unfortunately, this meme perfectly describes my early days of agency life.

SEO meme, SEO vs PPC budgetsSEO meme, SEO vs PPC budgets

SEO is not an easy sell—either internally or externally to clients.

With companies hiring fewer SEO roles this year, the appetite for risk seems lower than in previous years.

SEO can also be slow to take impact, meaning getting buy-in for projects is harder than other channels.

How long does SEO take illustrationHow long does SEO take illustration

How to deal with it:

My colleague Despina Gavoyannis has written a fantastic article about how to get SEO buy-in, here is a summary of her top tips:

  • Find key influencers and decision-makers within the organization, starting with cross-functional teams before approaching executives. (And don’t forget the people who’ll actually implement your changes—developers.)
  • Adapt your language and communicate the benefits of SEO initiatives in terms that resonate with different stakeholders’ priorities.
  • Highlight the opportunity costs of not investing in SEO by showing the potential traffic and revenue being missed out on using metrics like Ahrefs’ traffic value.
  • Collaborate cross-functionally by showing how SEO can support other teams’ goals, e.g. helping the editorial team create content that ranks for commercial queries.

And perhaps most important of all: build better business cases and SEO opportunity forecasts.

If you just want to show the short-term trend for a keyword, you can use Keywords Explorer:

Forecasting feature for keywords, via Ahrefs' Keywords ExplorerForecasting feature for keywords, via Ahrefs' Keywords Explorer
The forecasted trend is shown in orange as a dotted line.

If you want to show the Traffic potential of a particular keyword, you can use our Traffic potential metric in SERP overview to gauge this:

Traffic potential example, via Ahrefs' Site ExplorerTraffic potential example, via Ahrefs' Site Explorer

And if you want to go the whole hog, you can create an SEO forecast. You can use a third-party tool to create a forecast, but I recommend you use Patrick Stox’s SEO forecasting guide.

Final thoughts

Of all the SEO challenges mentioned above, the one keeping SEOs awake at night is AI.

It’s swept through our industry like a hurricane, presenting SEOs with many new challenges. The SERPs are changing, competitors are using AI tools, and the bar for creating basic content has been lowered, all thanks to AI.

If you want to stay competitive, you need to arm yourself with the best SEO tools and search data on the market—and for me, that always starts with Ahrefs.

Got questions? Ping me on X.



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