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What Is Social Listening And How To Get Started



What Is Social Listening And How To Get Started

Most marketers now understand the value of social media as a marketing tool – and countless companies have now established their own presence across a variety of social platforms.

But while the importance of creating content and building an audience is well understood, many organizations are lacking when it comes to another key strength of social media: social listening.

Social listening is a strategic approach that can help your brand tap into the incredible breadth and depth of social media to hone in on what your target audience is saying and feeling – and why.

By investing in social listening, you can gain a deeper understanding of conversations happening around not just your brand but your broader industry, and extract meaningful insights to inform multiple areas of your business.

In this article, we’ll explore what social listening is, why it’s crucial for businesses today, and the tools that exist to help you do it before diving into tips for getting started with your social listening strategy.

Let’s get started.

What Is Social Listening?

Social listening is the practice of tracking conversations on social media that are related to your brand, analyzing them, and extracting insights to help inform your future marketing efforts.

These conversations can include anything from direct mentions of your brand or product to discussions around your industry, competitors, relevant keywords, or other topics that might be tangential to your business.

The idea of social listening is that you’re really getting to know your audience by sitting back and listening in to what they talk about – what their gripes are, what they’re interested in, what’s getting them excited right now, and much more.

Gathering this data and then examining it can help you in a number of ways, from uncovering useful product development insights to inspiring new content ideas or better ways to serve your customers.

Here are some of the things you can achieve through social listening:

  • Tracking mentions of your brand, products, or services across social platforms.
  • Evaluating public perception and sentiment towards your brand by assessing whether mentions are positive, negative, or neutral.
  • Spotting trends that are emerging among your target market by noting common themes, topics, or keywords in conversations.
  • Gaining a better understanding of your audience, including who they are, where they spend time online, what they want, and how your brand can connect with them.

As such, social listening isn’t just a powerful tool for marketing, but can also be leveraged to improve customer engagement and service, product development, and other areas of your business.

What’s The Difference Between Social Listening And Social Monitoring?

If you’re finding yourself a little confused about the difference between social listening and social monitoring, you’re not alone! The terms are often used interchangeably – when, in reality, they have different scopes and objectives.

Generally speaking, social monitoring is narrower and more focused on your brand specifically, while social listening takes more of a big-picture approach to gaining insights.

If social monitoring is about seeking out brand mentions and conversations to hear what people are saying, social listening is diving even deeper to understand why they’re saying those things.

Social monitoring typically involves tracking social activity directly related to your brand so that you can stay abreast of what’s happening at the moment and tackle any pressing issues.

In this regard, it’s often leveraged as a component of a company’s customer support program to help respond to queries, answer questions, and remedy complaints in a timely manner.

It can also help to identify trending topics or industry moments that might apply to your brand. Basically, social monitoring is all about being aware of what’s happening around your brand on social media so you can respond quickly.

Social listening does all of this, but also takes things a few steps further, expanding the scope of what you’re tracking and focusing on obtaining insights to help with brand strategy, content planning, and decision-making.

Where social monitoring might focus on mentions of your brand, social listening goes beyond that to explore broader consumer behavior and emerging industry trends, and make qualitative analyses of the conversations that are happening in those areas.

One analogy I’ve encountered that I find helpful for understanding the difference between the two: If social monitoring is akin to tending your own backyard, social listening is like taking a walk through your neighborhood and eavesdropping on conversations to better understand what your neighbors are interested in and concerned about.

While we are focused on social listening in this particular article, both social monitoring and social listening are important parts of an effective marketing strategy.

Why Is Social Listening Important?

As we’ve touched on, successful social listening can benefit many areas of your business – from your marketing to your product and your customer support. And all of this means it can have a big impact on your bottom line.

Let’s look closer at just some of the reasons why social listening is an important tool in your business’s arsenal.

Reputation Management

Social listening can help you get a sense of how your audience – and the general public – feels about your brand, products, messaging, or services.

By understanding both the positive and negative sentiments around your brand and where they come from, you can work to fill the gaps and improve perceptions of your company.

Understanding Your Audience

On that note, social listening is a great way to learn more about your audience – from your current customers to your prospects and beyond.

It offers a looking glass into what your target consumer is thinking about, their opinions, pain points, desires, etc. With this information, you have the power to customize your content, message, and products to serve their needs better.

Market Analysis

Social listening is a powerful tool for unearthing insights into your industry – trends, consumer behaviors, opportunities, etc. This is the kind of information that you can use to get ahead of your competitors and deliver the ultimate customer experience.

Competitive Insights

Speaking of competitors, social listening enables you to keep a watchful eye on your competitors and learn from their successes and failures.

You can use active listening to determine how your target market perceives your competitors and apply your findings to differentiate yourself from the pack.

Crisis Management

Let’s face it: Crises happen, no matter what your business or industry. But social listening can help you identify crises before they hit a boiling point, and address them in a timely manner.

Content Strategy

Want to know what content types and formats resonate best with your audience? Try social listening! Once you have the necessary insights, you’ll be able to create more engaging content.

Lead Generation

Social listening can drive lead generation in a number of ways.

You can use it as a tool to discover prospects who are interested in your industry, product niche, or topics related to your business.

Beyond this, by improving your content strategy, reputation, products, customer experience, and more using your social listening insights, you will ultimately boost more leads to your business.

Social Listening Tools

Given that social listening requires pulling data from millions of posts across social media and analyzing it, we would recommend using a tool to help with your efforts.

Here are a few popular social listening tools.


Known for its social management features, Hootsuite also offers a comprehensive suite of capabilities to help with your social listening efforts.

The platform allows you to create custom streams to track hashtags, keywords, or mentions across a range of social platforms. You can use these to spot conversations in real-time and engage with them.

Using some of Hootsuite’s tools and integrations, you can also do things like track brand sentiment, listen into Reddit conversations, access consumer research, and more.


  • 30-day free trial.
  • Paid plans start at $99/month for the Professional tier and 249/month for the Team tier (billed annually).
  • Hootsuite offers an Enterprise tier with custom pricing.

Sprout Social

Sprout Social is another leader in the social media management space that is super useful for social listening.

With Sprout Social’s Smart Inbox, you can pull all your mentions, comments, and DMs from across your social platforms into one single feed – helping you keep on top of what’s happening.

Other key features include audience analysis, campaign analysis, crisis management, competitor comparison, influencer recognition, sentiment research, and much more.


  • 30-day free trial.
  • Paid plans start at $249/month for the Standard tier, $399/month for the Professional tier, and $499/month for the Advanced tier (billed annually).
  • Sprout Social offers an Enterprise tier with custom pricing.


Brandwatch is a strong social listening and analytics platform that can help you track and analyze conversations online. It pulls data from 100 million sources, ensuring you’re not missing anything.

The Brandwatch tool will sift through brand mentions in real-time to analyze sentiment and perception, saving you a ton of time and manual effort.

Other key features include AI alerts for unusual mentions activity, conversation translation across multiple languages, tons of historical data, and more.


  • Book a meeting with the Brandwatch team to learn more about pricing.


Meltwater’s social listening tool monitors data from a ton of different feeds, from Facebook to Instagram, Twitch, Reddit, YouTube, and many more. It can even recognize when your brand is talked about in a podcast!

Key features include topic and conversation trends analysis, custom dashboard and report building, consumer segmentation and behavior analysis, crisis management, and more.


  • Contact the Meltwater team for pricing details.


Another top name in the social listening space, Talkwalker monitors 150 million websites and 10+ social networks to power your real-time listening experience.

It offers AI-powered sentiment analysis in over 127 languages, notifications for any atypical activity, issue detection, conversation clustering, and much more.


  • Contact the Talkwalker team for pricing.

6 Tips For Building A Social Listening Strategy

Now that you understand what social listening is and why it’s important – as well as a few of the tools you can use to power your social listening program – it’s time to start considering your strategy.

Here are six steps we recommend when building out your social listening strategy.

1. Define Your Goals & Objectives

As with any big project, your first step before starting should be to set clear goals for what you want to achieve.

Why are you doing this, and what is the desired result? Sit down with your team and talk through these points in order to align with your objectives.

You might have one key objective or several. Some potential options could be:

  • Improve your company’s customer service and support.
  • Gain insights to help inform product development and enhance product offerings.
  • Track brand sentiment across current and potential customers.
  • Develop a deeper understanding of the competitive landscape in your industry, and how your competitors are performing with social audiences.
  • Stay on top of industry events and trends so you can spot content gaps and opportunities ahead of time.

Whatever your goals are, make sure you have them set from the beginning so you have clarity as you move forward.

2. Pick Your Tool Of Choice

While social listening can technically be done manually, it will never be as comprehensive as what you can get from leveraging a tool or platform.

Social media listening tools, like the ones we highlighted above, are able to synthesize data from millions of sources at once – not to mention their abilities to analyze sentiment, identify trends, spot activity, and more.

So, while they typically come with a price tag, the good ones are worth their weight in gold.

Do your research and choose a tool that aligns with your objectives and your team’s budget.

Look for something that monitors many different touchpoints, offers comprehensive analytics, is customizable, and integrates with your existing tech stack (if necessary).

3. Identify Target Keywords And Topics

This step is crucial: Take the time to define the keywords, topics, and hashtags that you want to “listen in” to – as these will provide the basis for your listening efforts.

Be sure to include keywords and themes that are relevant to your brand but also your industry, so that you get information that’s most useful to you. You could also discuss any keywords or topics you might want to exclude and why.

These might evolve or change over time, and that’s okay – this is about setting up a well-considered and focused foundation based on what matters most right now, and what will help you achieve your goals.

4. Decide On Your Workflow

Who will be responsible for monitoring your social listening data? Who should be responding to relevant mentions? Whose job is it to analyze the data and report on learnings and progress?

These are all things you should consider early on so that you can develop a clear workflow that outlines responsibilities.

By establishing the process early on, you’ll make sure that your efforts are not in vain and that you’re able to really put your data to use.

One recommendation: Make sure that somebody is regularly monitoring conversations and engaging where necessary. You should be keeping a keen eye on your listening activity – and automated alerts can be very helpful here.

5. Adapt As Needed

As part of the workflow we just discussed, somebody (or several people) should be responsible for routinely analyzing the data you’re collecting – as, unfortunately, it won’t analyze itself.

Set up a consistent process for diving into your data, extracting insights, and then acting on them.

There’s no point in allocating resources to a social listening program if you’re not using the learnings to benefit your business.

So, be sure to adapt your content strategy, marketing efforts, customer service, and so on based on what the insights are telling you.

6. Don’t Forget Measurement

We all know the importance of social media measurement – and this extends to your social listening efforts.

As time goes on, continue to measure the success of your efforts against the goals and objectives you set out for yourself.

This will help you evaluate the impact of your social listening, and whether there are areas you should pivot or refine based on the data you’re seeing.

You can also track social engagement metrics over time to see if your learnings have provided a boost in your social performance as a whole.

In Conclusion

With millions of conversations happening all around us on social media, any brand that isn’t engaging in social listening is missing a major opportunity.

By taking the time to proactively (and attentively) listen to your audience and target consumers, understand them better, and put their feedback to use, you can drive considerable success for your business.

So, take some of the advice we’ve shared here and start building out your social listening strategy today!

More resources: 

Featured Image: batjaket/Shutterstock


What is the significance of social listening for modern businesses?

Social listening plays a pivotal role for modern businesses by offering critical insights into audience behavior, industry trends, and brand perception. By analyzing conversations on social media related to their brand or market, companies can adequately respond to customer feedback, adapt their marketing strategies, and anticipate consumer needs. It not only aids in shaping product development and content strategy but also enhances customer service, reputation management, and competitive analysis. This strategic approach empowers businesses to make informed decisions based on the direct sentiments and unfiltered conversations of their target audience.

Can you differentiate between social monitoring and social listening?

Social monitoring and social listening are distinct yet complementary components of a comprehensive social media strategy. Social monitoring is more tactical, focusing on tracking and responding to direct brand mentions, queries, and specific conversations related to immediate issues. Its objective is to maintain awareness of what’s currently being said about a brand and to participate in these conversations promptly. Social listening, on the other hand, employs a broader, more strategic approach. It goes beyond mere tracking, analyzing the underlying sentiments, causes, and implications of social discourse to extract actionable insights. This process not only involves engagement but also a deep analysis of consumer behavior patterns and industry trends for a long-term strategy formulation.

Which social listening tools are recommended for businesses to utilize?

For businesses looking to execute an effective social listening strategy, a variety of tools are available that can help streamline the process. These include:

  • Hootsuite: Offers custom streams to monitor social conversations and sentiment, alongside integrations for broader consumer research.
  • Sprout Social: Features a Smart Inbox to consolidate social interactions for monitoring. It also provides tools for audience and competitor analysis.
  • Brandwatch: Analyzes brand mentions from an extensive range of sources, offering AI-powered sentiment analysis and trend spotting.
  • Meltwater: Monitors various feeds, from mainstream social media to Reddit and podcasts, enabling comprehensive analysis.
  • Talkwalker: Provides monitoring and analytical capabilities over a broad spectrum of online platforms, backed by AI sentiment analysis.

Businesses should select a tool that aligns with their specific needs and objectives, focusing on features like comprehensive analytics, broad monitoring capabilities, and the ability to integrate with existing technological infrastructure.


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The 6 Biggest SEO Challenges You’ll Face in 2024



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

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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Why Now’s The Time To Adopt Schema Markup




Why Now's The Time To Adopt Schema Markup

There is no better time for organizations to prioritize Schema Markup.

Why is that so, you might ask?

First of all, Schema Markup (aka structured data) is not new.

Google has been awarding sites that implement structured data with rich results. If you haven’t taken advantage of rich results in search, it’s time to gain a higher click-through rate from these visual features in search.

Secondly, now that search is primarily driven by AI, helping search engines understand your content is more important than ever.

Schema Markup allows your organization to clearly articulate what your content means and how it relates to other things on your website.

The final reason to adopt Schema Markup is that, when done correctly, you can build a content knowledge graph, which is a critical enabler in the age of generative AI. Let’s dig in.

Schema Markup For Rich Results has been around since 2011. Back then, Google, Bing, Yahoo, and Yandex worked together to create the standardized vocabulary to enable website owners to translate their content to be understood by search engines.

Since then, Google has incentivized websites to implement Schema Markup by awarding rich results to websites with certain types of markup and eligible content.

Websites that achieve these rich results tend to see higher click-through rates from the search engine results page.

In fact, Schema Markup is one of the most well-documented SEO tactics that Google tells you to do. With so many things in SEO that are backward-engineered, this one is straightforward and highly recommended.

You might have delayed implementing Schema Markup due to the lack of applicable rich results for your website. That might have been true at one point, but I’ve been doing Schema Markup since 2013, and the number of rich results available is growing.

Even though Google deprecated how-to rich results and changed the eligibility of FAQ rich results in August 2023, it introduced six new rich results in the months following – the most new rich results introduced in a year!

These rich results include vehicle listing, course info, profile page, discussion forum, organization, vacation rental, and product variants.

There are now 35 rich results that you can use to stand out in search, and they apply to a wide range of industries such as healthcare, finance, and tech.

Here are some widely applicable rich results you should consider utilizing:

  • Breadcrumb.
  • Product.
  • Reviews.
  • JobPosting.
  • Video.
  • Profile Page.
  • Organization.

With so many opportunities to take control of how you appear in search, it’s surprising that more websites haven’t adopted it.

A statistic from Web Data Commons’ October 2023 Extractions Report showed that only 50% of pages had structured data.

Of the pages with JSON-LD markup, these were the top types of entities found.

  • (2,341,592,788 Entities)
  • (1,429,942,067 Entities)
  • (907,701,098 Entities)
  • (817,464,472 Entities)
  • (712,198,821 Entities)
  • (691,208,528 Entities)
  • (623,956,111 Entities)
  • (614,892,152 Entities)
  • (582,460,344 Entities)
  • (502,883,892 Entities)

(Source: October 2023 Web Data Commons Report)

Most of the types on the list are related to the rich results mentioned above.

For example, ListItem and BreadcrumbList are required for the Breadcrumb Rich Result, SearchAction is required for Sitelink Search Box, and Offer is required for the Product Rich Result.

This tells us that most websites are using Schema Markup for rich results.

Even though these types can help your site achieve rich results and stand out in search, they don’t necessarily tell search engines what each page is about in detail and help your site be more semantic.

Help AI Search Engines Understand Your Content

Have you ever seen your competitor’s sites using specific Types that are not found in Google’s structured data documentation (i.e. MedicalClinic, IndividualPhysician, Service, etc)?

The vocabulary has over 800 types and properties to help websites explain what the page is about. However, Google’s structured data features only require a small subset of these properties for websites to be eligible for a rich result.

Many websites that solely implement Schema Markup to get rich results tend to be less descriptive with their Schema Markup.

AI search engines now look at the meaning and intent behind your content to provide users with more relevant search results.

Therefore, organizations that want to stay ahead should use more specific types and leverage appropriate properties to help search engines better understand and contextualize their content. You can be descriptive with your content while still achieving rich results.

For example, each type (e.g. Article, Person, etc.) in the vocabulary has 40 or more properties to describe the entity.

The properties are there to help you fully describe what the page is about and how it relates to other things on your website and the web. In essence, it’s asking you to describe the entity or topic of the page semantically.

The word ‘semantic’ is about understanding the meaning of language.

Note that the word “understanding” is part of the definition. Funny enough, in October 2023, John Mueller at Google released a Search Update video. In this six-minute video, he leads with an update on Schema Markup.

For the first time, Mueller described Schema Markup as “a code you can add to your web pages, which search engines can use to better understand the content. ”

While Mueller has historically spoken a lot about Schema Markup, he typically talked about it in the context of rich result eligibility. So, why the change?

This shift in thinking about Schema Markup for enhanced search engine understanding makes sense. With AI’s growing role and influence in search, we need to make it easy for search engines to consume and understand the content.

Take Control Of AI By Shaping Your Data With Schema Markup

Now, if being understood and standing out in search is not a good enough reason to get started, then doing it to help your enterprise take control of your content and prepare it for artificial intelligence is.

In February 2024, Gartner published a report on “30 Emerging Technologies That Will Guide Your Business Decisions,”  highlighting generative AI and knowledge graphs as critical emerging technologies companies should invest in within the next 0-1 years.

Knowledge graphs are collections of relationships between entities defined using a standardized vocabulary that enables new knowledge to be gained by way of inferencing.

Good news! When you implement Schema Markup to define and connect the entities on your site, you are creating a content knowledge graph for your organization.

Thus, your organization gains a critical enabler for generative AI adoption while reaping its SEO benefits.

Learn more about building content knowledge graphs in my article, Extending Your Schema Markup From Rich Results to Knowledge Graphs.

We can also look at other experts in the knowledge graph field to understand the urgency of implementing Schema Markup.

In his LinkedIn post, Tony Seale, Knowledge Graph Architect at UBS in the UK, said,

“AI does not need to happen to you; organizations can shape AI by shaping their data.

It is a choice: We can allow all data to be absorbed into huge ‘data gravity wells’ or we can create a network of networks, each of us connecting and consolidating our data.”

The “networks of networks” Seale refers to is the concept of knowledge graphs – the same knowledge graph that can be built from your web data using semantic Schema Markup.”

The AI revolution has only just begun, and there is no better time than now to shape your data, starting with your web content through the implementation of Schema Markup.

Use Schema Markup As The Catalyst For AI

In today’s digital landscape, organizations must invest in new technology to keep pace with the evolution of AI and search.

Whether your goal is to stand out on the SERP or ensure your content is understood as intended by Google and other search engines, the time to implement Schema Markup is now.

With Schema Markup, SEO pros can become heroes, enabling generative AI adoption through content knowledge graphs while delivering tangible benefits, such as increased click-through rates and improved search visibility.

More resources: 

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Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results




Google Quietly Ends Covid-Era Rich Results

Google removed the Covid-era structured data associated with the Home Activities rich results that allowed online events to be surfaced in search since August 2020, publishing a mention of the removal in the search documentation changelog.

Home Activities Rich Results

The structured data for the Home Activities rich results allowed providers of online livestreams, pre-recorded events and online events to be findable in Google Search.

The original documentation has been completely removed from the Google Search Central webpages and now redirects to a changelog notation that explains that the Home Activity rich results is no longer available for display.

The original purpose was to allow people to discover things to do from home while in quarantine, particularly online classes and events. Google’s rich results surfaced details of how to watch, description of the activities and registration information.

Providers of online events were required to use Event or Video structured data. Publishers and businesses who have this kind of structured data should be aware that this kind of rich result is no longer surfaced but it’s not necessary to remove the structured data if it’s a burden, it’s not going to hurt anything to publish structured data that isn’t used for rich results.

The changelog for Google’s official documentation explains:

“Removing home activity documentation
What: Removed documentation on home activity structured data.

Why: The home activity feature no longer appears in Google Search results.”

Read more about Google’s Home Activities rich results:

Google Announces Home Activities Rich Results

Read the Wayback Machine’s archive of Google’s original announcement from 2020:

Home activities

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