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What Is IMC? Integrated Marketing Communications Explained



What Is IMC? Integrated Marketing Communications Explained

Integrated marketing communications is a requirement for long-term marketing success. The effectiveness of all your marketing campaigns largely depends on it.

One can easily get lost in what it entails, though. Some universities even offer degrees in marketing communications. On top of that, there are now more media and marketing channels than ever before.

But don’t worry, we’ll only focus on the most important aspects of integrated marketing communications. In this article, we’ll go through the following:

Let’s start with a proper definition.

What is integrated marketing communications?

Integrated marketing communications (IMC) is the process of unifying a brand’s messaging to make it consistent across all media that the brand uses to reach its target audience. It’s a strategic approach that guides communication and tactics used across all marketing channels.

Why is integrated marketing communications important?

Every organization uses multiple channels to communicate with its audiences. We’ve come a long way from having a relatively small number of “traditional” channels like TV, radio, newspapers, out-of-home advertising, and mailboxes. In today’s digital world, it can get difficult to keep track of all the media you can reach your potential customers with.

Focusing on multiple marketing channels at once is a necessity for many companies. This omnichannel marketing requires a strategic approach to make it all work together toward achieving marketing objectives. This is when IMC comes into play.

There are four main reasons why IMC is important:

  1. Need for consistency throughout the whole customer journey
  2. IMC helps with brand-building
  3. Properly using right mix of marketing channels helps boost campaign effectiveness
  4. IMC contributes to marketing channels reinforcing each other

Let’s expand on each point a bit more. Some of the research findings included may even change the way you look at marketing.

1. Need for consistency throughout the whole customer journey

The next time you buy something, think about when you first heard of the brand of the product, the product itself, and how you arrived at the decision to make the purchase.

Besides commodities, chances are that you’ll not buy a product the first time you see it. You usually go through a whole buying journey that may be done from start to finish on the same day (clothes) but can also span several years (cars):

Infographic of three stages of buyer's journey: awareness, consideration, and decision

This is related to the marketing funnel. It’s a model that depicts how people become customers—from first learning about the brand to making the purchase:

Funnel with four sections. From top to bottom (Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Conversion)

In principle, increasing your customer base is straightforward: get as many people to the top of the funnel as possible and minimize the leaks between stages of the funnel. The way you achieve that is, of course, much more complicated (otherwise we marketers wouldn’t have jobs).

But one thing is certain.

Communicating in a consistent and recognizable way across all your marketing channels creates a smooth customer journey throughout the whole marketing funnel.

You ideally want to build on the product and brand associations you create in the Awareness stage and guide the potential customers further down the funnel. This is what IMC largely contributes to.

Take Wise, for example. No matter when and how you encounter its communications, that will always revolve around the company promising the best exchange rates and no hidden fees for its money transfer and exchange services. This is all accompanied by blue, its brand color.

Here’s an excerpt from one of its top-of-the-funnel organic search landing pages:

One of Wise's search landing pages showing a currency converter

Then we have an example of its PR campaign:

And lastly, here are a few of its most visited PPC search ads that people can encounter further down the funnel in the U.K.:


Consistency is one of the four Cs of IMC introduced by David Pickton and Amanda Broderick in 2001 in their book, “Integrated Marketing Communications.” The other Cs stand for coherence, complementary, and continuity.

I’m covering the four Cs of the IMC model here in this article, but I refuse to refer to them as such. That’s because there’s already a more famous four Cs marketing model that refers to the marketing mix. Just be aware of the ambiguity of the four Cs.

2. IMC helps with brand-building

Let me expand on some of the previously mentioned points. Communicating in a consistent and recognizable way is a big part of brand-building. You want people to join the dots between all your campaigns to build and strengthen the set of associations they have with your brand.

It should now be obvious that you should strive to deliver the right message at the right time. But the key to brand-building lies in accompanying all your communications with brand codes to increase distinctiveness.

A brand code, or distinctive asset, is anything that you consistently use in your communications. See how this intertwines with IMC? Codifying your communications should be part of integrating it. That way, you can better link together all your campaigns, maintain salience, and bolster your brand image.

The most common brand code is a logo. Every company has one. The logo alone doesn’t cut it, though. Most companies also have certain visual styles, but that’s about it. You should strive to have three to five brand codes in total.

At Ahrefs, besides our logo and the color blue, we also have two more brand codes. The first is our custom font:

Excerpt of Ahrefs' homepage showing text with our custom font

The second is our bearded guy mascot, who’s often accompanied by a corgi. You may have noticed them in the header image of this article:

If not, here they are again:

Ahrefs' mascots holding hands/paws and moving in a circle; notably, our bearded man and corgi make an appearance in the image

One last point is regarding brand codes and IMC. When you start to think that you’re pushing the codes into your communications too much, codify even more. As marketers, we perceive this differently from the target audience. What’s overwhelming for us may just be the threshold for people consistently noticing the codes.

3. Properly using right mix of marketing channels helps boost campaign effectiveness

IMC makes you rethink what marketing channels you’re on and how you use them. There are now myriads of ways to reach people online and offline. But let’s face it: Unless you’re selling products to the mass market, you should be rather picky with your choices. You can’t likely do much with an industrial B2B product on TikTok, and it is hard to integrate that with the rest of your communication channels.

On the other hand, you should strive to have a great presence on all the relevant channels and media. Research suggests the more media channels in the mix, the more effective the campaign is likely to be. I know. It’s easier said than done, given the limited resources in every company.

Speaking of resources…

Generally, the most ideal approach to integrating your communications is to spend 60% of your budget on the brand-building part and the remaining 40% on uplifting sales. This is based on one of the most insightful and valuable marketing researches of the past two decades:

Line graph showing effects of short- and long-term focused promotion. Line for long-term generally goes up over time. Line for short-term goes up and down repeatedly over time

Your marketing channels mix should reflect the approximate 60:40 ratio. Some are more suitable for brand-building (TV, billboards, YouTube ads), while others are better for sales activation (search ads, remarketing ads). There will be overlaps in the purpose of many channels too, so don’t worry about trying to be accurate here.

4. IMC contributes to marketing channels reinforcing each other

When you do communication right, marketing channels have the ability to make each other more powerful as your company grows. This concept of “marketing flywheel” was popularized by Rand Fishkin, and the best way to explain it in detail is to show you one of the flywheel diagrams:

Flywheel cycle: attract fans, optimize funnel and reward loyal fans, launch media campaigns, build press relationships and get coverage, boost coverage

As long as your marketing channels are properly integrated, you can rely on this flywheel effect. Ahrefs is proof of that. The main marketing driver behind our growth is the long-term, compounding effect of word-of-mouth marketing combined with SEO and content marketing.

Three examples of good integrated marketing communications

Enough theory. Let’s take a look at three specific examples of well-integrated marketing communications in practice.

Patagonia – Reflecting what it stands for

There are not many companies like Patagonia, a brand that reflects core values in its communications and actions.

Patagonia constantly succeeds in making the point that it cares about the planet and sustainability. This was its Black Friday ad, for example:

Except of ad with these large words in all caps: "Don't buy this jacket." Below, cropped picture of a gray jacket

It sometimes goes way beyond anyone’s expectations, such as cutting off one of its main marketing channels for good:

This directly affects its business and goes against the practice of utilizing as many suitable marketing channels as possible. But this may be balanced by the reinforcing of its brand image and it staying true to the company values.

If that’s not enough, the company even gets political at times. Patagonia sued former President Donald Trump’s administration to support its environmental causes with this:

Clothing tag that reads, "Vote the assholes out"

I don’t know how this activism affected sales, but one thing is clear: Patagonia is consistent and believable in what it stands for. You can’t say that about many other companies promoting a “higher good.” Just recall some controversial Pepsi or Gillette ads.

Sephora – Masterclass in codifying communications

Remember the part about codifying what you put out into the world to the point where it seems exceedingly overwhelming to you? Sephora does a great job at maximizing the exposure of its distinctive assets.

First of all, it has a carefully selected palette of brand codes:

Sephora utilizes its name, the curved “S” logo (some people refer to it as “flame”), black and white stripes, and the color red as a contrasting element. These are simple yet effective when you look at the brand’s communications.

Here’s one of its sales activation FB ads running at the time of me writing this article:

Sephora's Facebook ad about its sale, the "Spring Savings Event"

Basically, when the target audience sees a cosmetic ad that’s black and white with some red elements, Sephora is most likely what comes to mind for most of them—and they may not even need to check the ad’s details.

But I think Sephora’s real-life presence is even better (from a communications and branding perspective). Its store design is a branding masterpiece:

Then you can see its customers walking around with this:

Yes, even a simple paper bag can be a tool that you can integrate with your communication strategy.

To wrap this up, here’s a good celebration and summary of its brand codes usage in a rather unusual ad format:

Ahrefs – Everything revolves around the product

It would be hypocritical to sell you the idea of implementing IMC if we didn’t adhere to its principles ourselves. So here’s an example based on our own approach to marketing and communications.

Ahrefs is a product-led B2B SaaS company. We didn’t have a single dedicated marketing team member in the first four years of our existence. We still don’t have a sales team despite being a $100M+ ARR company. The value of our SEO product is the main driver behind our growth.

We now have solid marketing operations in place, but the focus is still on the product. We don’t shy away from communicating this focus on our product even in somewhat unusual ways:

Photo of Ahrefs team and banner with rough sketches on it

Nevertheless, the most important part of our communications is product-led content. Browse through our blog, watch our YouTube videos, and check out our social media posts. You’ll encounter countless ways of our product naturally being part of the conversation:

Excerpt of Ahrefs' article about CAC

Talking about SEO and showing Ahrefs’ interface as a natural part of discussing multiple ways to reduce customer acquisition cost.

This YouTube comment on one of our videos perfectly sums up what we’re going for:

YouTube comment praising Ahrefs for our valuable and free content

We even have our own private community (made up of our customers) that gets to learn about all the news first:

Tim's post in Ahrefs Insider about Overview 2.0

But rest assured. This information then gets shared on all the other distribution channels mentioned earlier.

Final thoughts

If I have to summarize the essence of IMC and its best practices, I’ll do so with these four points:

  • Be consistent with the message you send out to the world
  • Make all your marketing channels work together in the long term
  • The more channels you use, the better—as long as you can find your audience there
  • Split your marketing budget into approximately 60% brand-building and 40% short-term sales-boosting

Basically, if you have a good marketing strategy based on solid market research, you’ll be great at IMC without even knowing you do IMC.

Got any questions? Ping me on Twitter.

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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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Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider



Source Code Leak Shows New Ranking Factors to Consider

January 25, 2023, the day that Yandex—Russia’s search engine—was hacked. 

Its complete source code was leaked online. And, it might not be the first time we’ve seen hacking happen in this industry, but it is one of the most intriguing, groundbreaking events in years.

But Yandex isn’t Google, so why should we care? Here’s why we do: these two search engines are very similar in how they process technical elements of a website, and this leak just showed us the 1,922 ranking factors Yandex uses in its algorithm. 

Simply put, this information is something that we can use to our advantage to get more traffic from Google.

Yandex vs Google

As I said, a lot of these ranking factors are possibly quite similar to the signals that Google uses for search.

Yandex’s algorithm shows a RankBrain analog: MatrixNext. It also seems that they are using PageRank (almost the same way as Google does), and a lot of their text algorithms are the same. Interestingly, there are also a lot of ex-Googlers working in Yandex. 

So, reviewing these factors and understanding how they play into search rankings and traffic will provide some very useful insights into how search engines like Google work. No doubt, this new trove of information will greatly influence the SEO market in the months to come. 

That said, Yandex isn’t Google. The chances of Google having the exact same list of ranking factors is low — and Google may not even give that signal the same amount of weight that Yandex does. 

Still, it’s information that potentially will be useful for driving traffic, so make sure to take a look at them here (before it’s scrubbed from the internet forever).

An early analysis of ranking factors

Many of their ranking factors are as expected. These include:

  • Many link-related factors (e.g., age, relevancy, etc.).
  • Content relevance, age, and freshness.
  • Host reliability
  • End-user behavior signals.

Some sites also get preference (such as Wikipedia). FI_VISITS_FROM_WIKI even shows that sites that are referenced by Wikipedia get plus points. 

These are all things that we already know.

But something interesting: there were several factors that I and other SEOs found unusual, such as PageRank being the 17th highest weighted factor in Yandex, and the 19th highest weighted factor being query-document relevance (in other words, how close they match thematically). There’s also karma for likely spam hosts, based on Whois information.

Other interesting factors are the average domain ranking across queries, percent of organic traffic, and the number of unique visitors.

You can also use this Yandex Search Ranking Factor Explorer, created by Rob Ousbey, to search through the various ranking factors.

The possible negative ranking factors:

Here’s my thoughts on Yandex’s factors that I found interesting: 

FI_ADV: -0.2509284637 — this factor means having tons of adverts scattered around your page and buying PPC can affect rankings. 

FI_DATER_AGE: -0.2074373667 — this one evaluates content age, and whether your article is more than 10 years old, or if there’s no determinable date. Date metadata is important. 

FI_COMM_LINKS_SEO_HOSTS: -0.1809636391 — this can be a negative factor if you have too much commercial anchor text, particularly if the proportion of such links goes above 50%. Pay attention to anchor text distribution. I’ve written a guide on how to effectively use anchor texts if you need some help on this. 

FI_RANK_ARTROZ — outdated, poorly written text will bring your rankings down. Go through your site and give your content a refresh. FI_WORD_COUNT also shows that the number of words matter, so avoid having low-content pages.

FI_URL_HAS_NO_DIGITS, FI_NUM_SLASHES, FI_FULL_URL_FRACTION — urls shouldn’t have digits, too many slashes (too much hierarchy), and of course contain your targeted keyword.

FI_NUM_LINKS_FROM_MP — always interlink your main pages (such as your homepage or landing pages) to any other important content you want to rank. Otherwise, it can hurt your content.

FI_HOPS — reduce the crawl depth for any pages that matter to you. No important pages should be more than a few clicks away from your homepage. I recommend keeping it to two clicks, at most. 

FI_IS_UNREACHABLE — likewise, avoid making any important page an orphan page. If it’s unreachable from your homepage, it’s as good as dead in the eyes of the search engine.

The possible positive ranking factors:

FI_IS_COM: +0.2762504972 — .com domains get a boost in rankings.

FI_YABAR_HOST_VISITORS — the more traffic you get, the more ranking power your site has. The strategy of targeting smaller, easier keywords first to build up an audience before targeting harder keywords can help you build traffic.

FI_BEAST_HOST_MEAN_POS — the average position of the host for keywords affects your overall ranking. This factor and the previous one clearly show that being smart with your keyword and content planning matters. If you need help with that, check out these 5 ways to build a solid SEO strategy.

FI_YABAR_HOST_SEARCH_TRAFFIC — this might look bad but shows that having other traffic sources (such as social media, direct search, and PPC) is good for your site. Yandex uses this to determine if a real site is being run, not just some spammy SEO project.

This one includes a whole host of CTR-related factors. 

CTR ranking factors from Yandex

It’s clear that having searchable and interesting titles that drive users to check your content out is something that positively affects your rankings.

Google is rewarding sites that help end a user’s search journey (as we know from the latest mobile search updates and even the Helpful Content update). Do what you can to answer the query early on in your article. The factor “FI_VISITORS_RETURN_MONTH_SHARE“ also shows that it helps to encourage users to return to your site for more information on the topics they’re interested in. Email marketing is a handy tool here.

FI_GOOD_RATIO and FI_MANY_BAD — the percentage of “good” and “bad” backlinks on your site. Getting your backlinks from high-quality websites with traffic is important for your rankings. The factor FI_LINK_AGE also shows that adding a link-building strategy to your SEO as early as possible can help with your rankings.

FI_SOCIAL_URL_IS_VERIFIED — that little blue check has actual benefits now. Links from verified accounts have more weight.

Key Takeaway

Yandex and Google, being so similar to each other in theory, means that this data leak is something we must pay attention to. 

Several of these factors may already be common knowledge amongst SEOs, but having them confirmed by another search engine enforces how important they are for your strategy.

These initial findings, and understanding what it might mean for your website, can help you identify what to improve, what to scrap, and what to focus on when it comes to your SEO strategy. 

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