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What Is Forensic SEO?

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Forensic SEO

One of the core areas of SEO services for me over the last 10+ years has been forensic SEO.

And hell, I drop that term all the time in various conversations, groups, interviews like it’s something that everyone knows about.

Apparently, not so much.

There does seem to be a little confusion out there on what it is exactly. And so today, we’re going to try and clear that up.

Oh, by the way, I am quite aware of the myriad of existing “definitions” of forensic SEO that currently litter the landscape.

Uhm, yeah. Sigh.

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This is about how those I know that specialize in it, view forensic SEO. Feel free to argue with me about it all you want (I’m kinda used to it lol).

Forensic SEO: The Basics

To start with I’m not even sure where the term came from, but I started using it maybe 10+ years ago.

Essentially, it’s a form of (SEO) audit that isn’t about optimizing. It’s more about dealing with a site that has lost visibility.

It could be a straight-up manual action.

It could be a dampening effect (think: Penguin/Panda back in the day).

It could be on-site issues.

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And many times, it’s a combination of things.

I like to teach folks/clients that it’s often about the “Sherlock Holmes School of SEO”:

“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.”

As such, when we’re doing forensic SEO we really do want to cover all the bases and look into areas such as:

  • Data assessment (Analytics, Search Console, etc.)
  • Recent and past SEO changes to the site
  • Accessing developer changelogs (changes to the site)
  • Look at hosting (server) changes (updating tech, etc.)
  • External factors (link building, etc.)
  • Known changes to Google’s algorithms
  • Market segment evolution
  • Negative SEO (malicious actions by others)
  • Site integrity (has it been hacked?)

And there’s always room for more. It’s somewhat situational.

But the main thing is that when one approaches lost visibility, never be myopic.

Look under every stone and never have a biased or preconceived mindset when you get started.

As I touched on above, it’s often a combination of elements. If you approach things with an existing hypothesis, you’re very likely to miss pieces of the puzzle that will gift insight into the overall issues.

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The good news is that if you’re thorough and comprehensive about the process, you’ll inevitably find unrelated issues that can be turned into opportunities.

Types of visibility loss

The Process

We really can’t get into the specifics of the approach. Or I’d be writing a book here, not an article.

Maybe if there’s some interest, I’ll work on something more detailed in the future (hit me up in the comments on that… thanks!). But lets at least work out some basic details.

The obvious starting point in most cases will be the client. They’ve brought you in for a given reason. That onboarding meeting makes for a good starting point.

If you’re in-house/agency, then you have a good sense of where to start as well.

If it’s a manual action? Oddly, that’s even better as you have clues and a good recourse (reinclusion request).

But again, this is just a starting point. Now we have to remove ourselves from the situation. Start to dig through the potential offenders as per the points mentioned earlier. Isolate each area and make notes.

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Some important considerations include:

Data

Getting the timelines for visibility loss is a no-brainer. That being said, dig back as far as possible historically, because there may be past demons that a short temporal analysis might miss.

Knee Jerk

Often times management, in their panic, will have implemented some potential fixes. This is often done with little or no consideration of the effects.

Make sure you address these in the onboarding. It’s a separate consideration from the original problem.

Lack of Data

Like a doctor that has no patient records, you will often be faced with a lack of data.

If that’s web developer changelogs, SEO activity records (and dates), annotated analytics, etc… it’s a very common obstacle. Some of your process is going to involve instincts.

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By the end of the process, you should at the very least, have some solid leads on what the issues are.

Working on Recovery

But identifying the issues isn’t where it ends. The next part is recovery.

Manual actions are reasonably straightforward. You know what the problem is, you just need to fully correct them and work on the reconsideration request.

While they’re scary and can potentially have long term effects (loss of trust, etc.), at least we have a solid starting point.

The rest? Not so much.

We’re going to have to cover as much ground as possible with the data and information at hand.

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Those that are struggling financially with lost traffic often have a knee jerk reaction and start plugging away at multiple elements. That won’t work.

You have to actually implement one fix at a time and let it percolate.

This is because one “fix” might have a positive effect, while another has a negative one. As such, it would show a relative net effect of 0.

As tough as it is, we must get the client/webmaster to buy-in to the process for recovery.

What Is Forensic SEO?

Recovery Buy-in

This, much like an audit, can be the hardest part.

There’s often a ton of resistance to the recommendations which can vary from financial, convolution and even egos.

And while you can stand by your assertions and convictions, you may still run out of runway.

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I would have to say that in many situations I’ve been in, the adoption of the recommendations and the metered approach isn’t fully realized. That’s the sad truth.

When doing forensic SEO work, focus on the job at hand.

Focus on the health of the site. Listen to the data and info at hand. That’s about all you can do.

Regardless of the possible push-back or the whacky client theories, just clear your mind and find the truth.

And there we have it… if you wanted to the basics of forensic SEO, you got it. Below is just a bit of insight I wanted to add to the conversation… but not mandatory reading for the piece.

On a Personal Note…

All of this brings me to the hardest part, on a personal note; The pain.

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I used to do pretty much full-time forensic SEO. I had to give it up on a full-time basis. Each and every person that comes to you is suffering.

I’ve heard stories of people at risk of losing their business, their life savings, kids college fund and more. It’s not a great way to make a living (specializing in forensic SEO).

In fact, the pressure became too much and I often had poor health and sleep habits (couldn’t stop thinking about a given situation). I still work in this area, but not full time. It was just too much.

Which brings me back around to my passion for the industry. Our everyday SEO actions have repercussions. We have a responsibility that can have real-world effects.

People lose jobs and the ability to feed their family. I get very pissed off at crap-hat SEO. I go off constantly on those types in various groups (Facebook, etc.) and peeps know me for that… I don’t stand for garbage SEO.

Please… PLEASE… remember the downside of bad SEO. This is a serious business, this “thing of ours”.

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As you were….

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Top Priorities, Challenges, And Opportunities

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Top Priorities, Challenges, And Opportunities

The world of search has seen massive change recently. Whether you’re still in the planning stages for this year or underway with your 2024 strategy, you need to know the new SEO trends to stay ahead of seismic search industry shifts.

It’s time to chart a course for SEO success in this changing landscape.

Watch this on-demand webinar as we explore exclusive survey data from today’s top SEO professionals and digital marketers to inform your strategy this year. You’ll also learn how to navigate SEO in the era of AI, and how to gain an advantage with these new tools.

You’ll hear:

  • The top SEO priorities and challenges for 2024.
  • The role of AI in SEO – how to get ahead of the anticipated disruption of SGE and AI overall, plus SGE-specific SEO priorities.
  • Winning SEO resourcing strategies and reporting insights to fuel success.

With Shannon Vize and Ryan Maloney, we’ll take a deep dive into the top trends, priorities, and challenges shaping the future of SEO.

Discover timely insights and unlock new SEO growth potential in 2024.

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

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Join Us For Our Next Webinar!

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Reserve your spot and discover 10 quick and easy SEO wins to boost your site’s rankings.

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E-E-A-T’s Google Ranking Influence Decoded

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E-E-A-T's Google Ranking Influence Decoded

The idea that something is not a ranking factor that nevertheless plays a role in ranking websites seems to be logically irreconcilable. Despite seeming like a paradox that cancels itself out, SearchLiaison recently tweeted some comments that go a long way to understanding how to think about E-E-A-T and apply it to SEO.

What A Googler Said About E-E-A-T

Marie Haynes published a video excerpt on YouTube from an event at which a Googler spoke, essentially doubling down on the importance of E-A-T.

This is what he said:

“You know this hasn’t always been there in Google and it’s something that we developed about ten to twelve or thirteen years ago. And it really is there to make sure that along the lines of what we talked about earlier is that it really is there to ensure that the content that people consume is going to be… it’s not going to be harmful and it’s going to be useful to the user. These are principles that we live by every single day.

And E-A-T, that template of how we rate an individual site based off of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, we do it to every single query and every single result. So it’s actually very pervasive throughout everything that we do .

I will say that the YMYL queries, the Your Money or Your Life Queries, such as you know when I’m looking for a mortgage or when I’m looking for the local ER,  those we have a particular eye on and we pay a bit more attention to those queries because clearly they’re some of the most important decisions that people can make.

So I would say that E-A-T has a bit more of an impact there but again, I will say that E-A-T applies to everything, every single query that we actually look at.”

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How can something be a part of every single search query and not be a ranking factor, right?

Background, Experience & Expertise In Google Circa 2012

Something to consider is that in 2012 Google’s senior engineer at the time, Matt Cutts, said that experience and expertise brings a measure of quality to content and makes it worthy of ranking.

Matt Cutts’ remarks on experience and expertise were made in an interview with Eric Enge.

Discussing whether the website of a hypothetical person named “Jane” deserves to rank with articles that are original variations of what’s already in the SERPs.

Matt Cutts observed:

“While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table.

Google would seek to detect that there is no real differentiation between these results and show only one of them so we could offer users different types of sites in the other search results.

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They need to ask themselves what really is their value add? …they need to figure out what… makes them special.

…if Jane is just churning out 500 words about a topic where she doesn’t have any background, experience or expertise, a searcher might not be as interested in her opinion.”

Matt then cites the example of Pulitzer Prize-Winning movie reviewer Roger Ebert as a person with the background, experience and expertise that makes his opinion valuable to readers and the content worthy of ranking.

Matt didn’t say that a webpage author’s background, experience and expertise were ranking factors. But he did say that these are the kinds of things that can differentiate one webpage from another and align it to what Google wants to rank.

He specifically said that Google’s algorithm detects if there is something different about it that makes it stand out. That was in 2012 but not much has changed because Google’s John Mueller says the same thing.

For example, in 2020 John Mueller said that differentiation and being compelling is important for getting Google to notice and rank a webpage.

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“So with that in mind, if you’re focused on kind of this small amount of content that is the same as everyone else then I would try to find ways to significantly differentiate yourselves to really make it clear that what you have on your website is significantly different than all of those other millions of ringtone websites that have kind of the same content.

…And that’s the same recommendation I would have for any kind of website that offers essentially the same thing as lots of other web sites do.

You really need to make sure that what you’re providing is unique and compelling and high quality so that our systems and users in general will say, I want to go to this particular website because they offer me something that is unique on the web and I don’t just want to go to any random other website.”

In 2021, in regard to getting Google to index a webpage, Mueller also said:

“Is it something the web has been waiting for? Or is it just another red widget?”

This thing about being compelling and different than other sites, it’s something that’s been a part of Google’s algorithm awhile, just like the Googler in the video said, just like Matt Cutts said and exactly like what Mueller has said as well.

Are they talking about signals?

E-EA-T Algorithm Signals

We know there’s something in the algorithm that relates to someone’s expertise and background that Google’s looking for. The table is set and we can dig into the next step of what it all means.

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A while back back I remember reading something that Marie Haynes said about E-A-T, she called it a framework. And I thought, now that’s an interesting thing she just did, she’s conceptualizing E-A-T.

When SEOs discussed E-A-T it was always in the context of what to do in order to demonstrate E-A-T. So they looked at the Quality Raters Guide for guidance, which kind of makes sense since it’s a guide, right?

But what I’m proposing is that the answer isn’t really in the guidelines or anything that the quality raters are looking for.

The best way to explain it is to ask you to think about the biggest part of Google’s algorithm, relevance.

What’s relevance? Is it something you have to do? It used to be about keywords and that’s easy for SEOs to understand. But it’s not about keywords anymore because Google’s algorithm has natural language understanding (NLU). NLU is what enables machines to understand language in the way that it’s actually spoken (natural language).

So, relevance is just something that’s related or connected to something else. So, if I ask, how do I satiate my thirst? The answer can be water, because water quenches the thirst.

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How is a site relevant to the search query: “how do I satiate my thirst?”

An SEO would answer the problem of relevance by saying that the webpage has to have the keywords that match the search query, which would be the words “satiate” and “thirst.”

The next step the SEO would take is to extract the related entities for “satiate” and “thirst” because every SEO “knows” they need to do entity research to understand how to make a webpage that answers the search query, “How do I satiate my thirst?”

Hypothetical Related entities:

  • Thirst: Water, dehydration, drink,
  • Satiate: Food, satisfaction, quench, fulfillment, appease

Now that the SEO has their entities and their keywords they put it all together and write a 600 word essay that uses all their keywords and entities so that their webpage is relevant for the search query, “How do I satiate my thirst?”

I think we can stop now and see how silly that is, right? If someone asked you, “How do I satiate my thirst?” You’d answer, “With water” or “a cold refreshing beer” because that’s what it means to be relevant.

Relevance is just a concept. It doesn’t have anything to do with entities or keywords in today’s search algorithms because the machine is understanding search queries as natural language, even more so with AI search engines.

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Similarly, E-E-A-T is also just a concept. It doesn’t have anything to do with author bios, LinkedIn profiles, it doesn’t have anything at all to do with making your content say that you handled the product that’s being reviewed.

Here’s what SearchLiaison recently said about an E-E-A-T, SEO and Ranking:

“….just making a claim and talking about a ‘rigorous testing process’ and following an ‘E-E-A-T checklist’ doesn’t guarantee a top ranking or somehow automatically cause a page to do better.”

Here’s the part where SearchLiaison ties a bow around the gift of E-E-A-T knowledge:

“We talk about E-E-A-T because it’s a concept that aligns with how we try to rank good content.”

E-E-A-T Can’t Be Itemized On A Checklist

Remember how we established that relevance is a concept and not a bunch of keywords and entities? Relevance is just answering the question.

E-E-A-T is the same thing. It’s not something that you do. It’s closer to something that you are.

SearchLiaison elaborated:

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“…our automated systems don’t look at a page and see a claim like “I tested this!” and think it’s better just because of that. Rather, the things we talk about with E-E-A-T are related to what people find useful in content. Doing things generally for people is what our automated systems seek to reward, using different signals.”

A Better Understanding Of E-E-A-T

I think it’s clear now how E-E-A-T isn’t something that’s added to a webpage or is something that is demonstrated on the webpage. It’s a concept, just like relevance.

A good way to think o fit is if someone asks you a question about your family and you answer it. Most people are pretty expert and experienced enough to answer that question. That’s what E-E-A-T is and how it should be treated when publishing content, regardless if it’s YMYL content or a product review, the expertise is just like answering a question about your family, it’s just a concept.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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Google Announces A New Carousel Rich Result

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Google Announces A New Carousel Rich Result

Google announced a new carousel rich result that can be used for local businesses, products, and events which will show a scrolling horizontal carousel displaying all of the items in the list. It’s very flexible and can even be used to create a top things to do in a city list that combines hotels, restaurants, and events. This new feature is in beta, which means it’s being tested.

The new carousel rich result is for displaying lists in a carousel format. According to the announcement the rich results is limited to the following types:

LocalBusiness and its subtypes, for example:
– Restaurant
– Hotel
– VacationRental
– Product
– Event

An example of subtypes is Lodgings, which is a subset of LocalBusiness.

Here is the Schema.org hierarchical structure that shows the LodgingBusiness type as being a subset of the LocalBusiness type.

  • Thing > Organization > LocalBusiness > LodgingBusiness
  • Thing > Place > LocalBusiness > LodgingBusiness

ItemList Structured Data

The carousel displays “tiles” that contain information from the webpage that’s about the price, ratings and images. The order of what’s in the ItemList structured data is the order that they will be displayed in the carousel.

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Publishers must use the ItemList structured data in order to become eligible for the new rich result

All information in the ItemList structured data must be on the webpage. Just like any other structured data, you can’t stuff the structured data with information that is not visible on the webpage itself.

There are two important rules when using this structured data:

  1. 1. The ItemList type must be the top level container for the structured data.
  2. 2. All the URLs of in the list must point to different webpages on the same domain.

The part about the ItemList being the top level container means that the structured data cannot be merged together with another structured data where the top-level container is something other than ItemList.

For example, the structured data must begin like this:

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "ItemList", "itemListElement": [ { "@type": "ListItem", "position": 1,

A useful quality of this new carousel rich result is that publishers can mix and match the different entities as long as they’re within the eligible structured data types.

Eligible Structured Data Types

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  • LocalBusiness and its subtypes
  • Product
  • Event

Google’s announcement explains how to mix and match the different structured data types:

“You can mix and match different types of entities (for example, hotels, restaurants), if needed for your scenario. For example, if you have a page that has both local events and local businesses.”

Here is an example of a ListItem structured data that can be used in a webpage about Things To Do In Paris.

The following structured data is for two events and a local business (the Eiffel Tower):

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "ItemList", "itemListElement": [ { "@type": "ListItem", "position": 1, "item": { "@type": "Event", "name": "Paris Seine River Dinner Cruise", "image": [ "https://example.com/photos/1x1/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/4x3/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/16x9/photo.jpg" ], "offers": { "@type": "Offer", "price": 45.00, "priceCurrency": "EUR" }, "aggregateRating": { "@type": "AggregateRating", "ratingValue": 4.2, "reviewCount": 690 }, "url": "https://www.example.com/event-location1" } }, { "@type": "ListItem", "position": 2, "item": { "@type": "LocalBusiness", "name": "Notre-Dame Cathedral", "image": [ "https://example.com/photos/1x1/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/4x3/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/16x9/photo.jpg" ], "priceRange": "$", "aggregateRating": { "@type": "AggregateRating", "ratingValue": 4.8, "reviewCount": 4220 }, "url": "https://www.example.com/localbusiness-location" } }, { "@type": "ListItem", "position": 3, "item": { "@type": "Event", "name": "Eiffel Tower With Host Summit Tour", "image": [ "https://example.com/photos/1x1/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/4x3/photo.jpg", "https://example.com/photos/16x9/photo.jpg" ], "offers": { "@type": "Offer", "price": 59.00, "priceCurrency": "EUR" }, "aggregateRating": { "@type": "AggregateRating", "ratingValue": 4.9, "reviewCount": 652 }, "url": "https://www.example.com/event-location2" } } ] } </script>

Be As Specific As Possible

Google’s guidelines recommends being as specific as possible but that if there isn’t a structured data type that closely matches with the type of business then it’s okay to use the more generic LocalBusiness structured data type.

“Depending on your scenario, you may choose the best type to use. For example, if you have a list of hotels and vacation rentals on your page, use both Hotel and VacationRental types. While it’s ideal to use the type that’s closest to your scenario, you can choose to use a more generic type (for example, LocalBusiness).”

Can Be Used For Products

A super interesting use case for this structured data is for displaying a list of products in a carousel rich result.

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The structured data for that begins as a ItemList structured data type like this:

<script type="application/ld+json"> { "@context": "https://schema.org", "@type": "ItemList", "itemListElement": [ { "@type": "ListItem", "position": 1, "item": { "@type": "Product",

The structured data can list images, ratings, reviewCount, and currency just like any other product listing, but doing it like this will make the webpage eligible for the carousel rich results.

Google has a list of recommended recommended properties that can be used with the Products version, such as offers, offers.highPrice, and offers.lowPrice.

Good For Local Businesses and Merchants

This new structured data is a good opportunity for local businesses and publishers that list events, restaurants and lodgings to get in on a new kind of rich result.

Using this structured data doesn’t guarantee that it will display as a rich result, it only makes it eligible for it.

This new feature is in beta, meaning that it’s a test.

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Read the new developer page for this new rich result type:

Structured data carousels (beta)

Featured Image by Shutterstock/RYO Alexandre

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