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What You Need To Know

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What You Need To Know

SEOs are once again dealing with another broad core update–the first of 2023. And this one touched down hard and fast, shaking things up more than the previous September 2022 update.

With all the fluctuations and volatility in search results before and after the update, how can you ensure your website comes out as a winner once the dust settles? 

Let me discuss my insights and a few key strategies to help you deal with the March 2023 Core Update.

What Does a ‘Broad Core Algorithm’ Update Mean?

The name is self-explanatory. It’s an algorithm update that focuses on broad changes, with no specific focus in each area.

Core updates are made to keep the search results both updated and accurate to user queries. Think of it as similar to a list of recommended restaurants to eat – year to year, there may be newer, better places for you to eat at. Updating this list every few months is pretty similar to a core update in that it keeps your list relevant and up to date. 

With each core update, there are often widespread fluctuations in ranking, which ultimately means that your website could either be positively or negatively affected. 

The information we get about these updates is limited, as you can see from Google’s official document on core updates and their announcement post. Most of the data and strategies we get from this update are through webmaster tools, expert insights, and speculations. 

How often do Google core updates happen?

Generally, they’re released every few months, with the last two being in May and September of 2022. You can check the release dates of all the core updates so far in this document.

Google tends to announce these updates a few days before, or the day of. At times, you might even start to see the effects of one a few days before it’s officially announced.

Once released, it can take several days up to a few weeks to finish rolling out for users. 

The March 2023 Core Update

Google’s March 2023 Core Update was released on the 15th of March and officially finished rolling out on the 28th of March, 07:26 PDT.

The official twitter announcement of the March 2023 Core Update

It took 13 days to roll out, and this update was more noticeable than the last one we had in September 2022. 

Here’s a quick rundown of what widely notable effects I and other SEOs have seen so far:

  • Target: All types of content, as is usually the case with core updates.
  • Penalty: No penalty, focused on promoting or rewarding pages that fit their new algorithm.
  • Impact: Global update, impacting all regions, and in all languages. This one hit hard and fast, and we saw significant volatility in the SERPs (more on that later).
  • Features: Core updates impact Google’s features, such as Discover, featured snippets, and more. 

Just like any other core update from Google, the update seems to reward websites that follow E-E-A-T, high-quality content, and improved user experience. Websites that don’t hit these criteria or practice black hat SEO will likely see significant losses.

This update does not particularly target specific types of websites in fact, the goal of a core update is to improve the quality of the search engine results and make sure every result is relevant to every user by assessing the overall content in the SERPs.

SERP Volatility

Checking the SERP sensors from our various tools, it is noticeable that there were drastic movements in the SERPs, starting from the day after Google released their new broad core update. Below is a snapshot of Semrush’s Sensor:

Snapshot of SEMRush's SERPS sensor, the weeks after the March 2023 Core Update

Diagnosing an Algorithm Update

Since the algorithm changes in a core update aren’t detailed or explained in any of Google’s official documents, it can be hard to tell if your website has been hit by them.

And, because the updates are made in broader strokes than more specific changes to Google, I’ve found that pages that suddenly drop in the SERPs don’t necessarily have anything ‘wrong’ with them–it might just be that your competition better fits what Google is looking for currently. 

All in all, it can be difficult to diagnose whether the losses (or gains) you’re experiencing now are due to the March 2023 Core Update. That said, I understand that those doing less well after this rollout are feeling the need to do something about it. 

So, what SEO checklist should you look at to narrow it down? 

The Timing

First, check when your pages dropped in ranking or traffic. If it happened within a day or two of the rollout, then there’s a good chance that Google’s algorithms have changed in a way that prefers other sites’ content over yours. 

But, there are a few cases where unfortunate timing for landing page optimizations, website revamps, or any other significant changes on your site were made–which can also be the root cause of your problems. 

This is when I recommend digging around in your webmaster’s tools.

Search Console

The next step is to check your Google Search Console performance tab. This is where you can find if your impressions and clicks dropped off for specific landing pages. 

If significant drops are aligned with the initial rollout date (March 15, 2023) or the official finish date (March 28, 2023), then it’s likely caused by the Core Update.

If so, I suggest looking at the affected landing pages and keywords. You can also look at the ‘Search Appearance’ filter to see which rich results are showing for your site. Segmenting this data can help you understand what keyword clusters or specific site areas were hit by the update.

Analytics

Your Google Analytics profile is another tool I suggest you check. You can combine its data with the insights you found on Google Search Console to see what aspects or content of your website you need to work on.

Go to the Behavior category, and check on your Landing Pages report. Filter the results by ‘Organic Traffic’ to narrow down the data. Here, you can continue to dig into the issues that were revealed to you in your Google Search Console Data.

Use this to benchmark your website’s performance against previous dates, as well.

Competitor Analysis

Performing Competitor Analysis either manually or through SEO tools (such as SE Ranking, Semrush, or Ahrefs) can also highlight what your website is currently missing.

Take a look at your competitors–what are they doing that you currently aren’t? Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do they have higher quality content than what you have currently published?
  2. Do they have higher-quality link-building efforts than you?
  3. Do they have greater keyword coverage for the products and services you’re offering?
  4. Are these things you can add to or improve on your website?

Sitewide Effects

Core updates often have a sitewide impact–which means they often affect most of your pages, though not every single page on the site. 

If you notice changes on just one page, this is probably not due to a Google core update.

How Can I Optimize My Website With The March 2023 Core Update?

Similar to previous core updates, Google did not provide any specific information about their recent algorithm changes. As a result, there is no definitive procedure on how you can optimize your website following this update. Instead, you’ll have to look at holistic changes to your website and its content.

Google mentioned in their page quality guidelines that practicing E-E-A-T (Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness) is one of the important things you need to consider to maintain good quality content in the SERPs. 

If you’re interested in understanding how to recover from a broad core algorithm update, I have a few key SEO practices to help you:

Improve user experience

This is one of the relevant factors Google considers since they are user-centric. Letting users navigate your website easily will make you gain a high engagement rate online. These are the vital recommendations and some tools I would suggest for you to maintain and improve your website user experience:

  • Ensure your website is mobile-friendly: you can check your website’s mobile-friendliness through Google Search Console’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
  • Improve page speed: You can use PageSpeed Insights to check your website’s speed on mobile and desktop. This tool also suggests improvements and factors you need to improve on or avoid on your website.
  • Improve Readability: check your website regularly and make sure the font details and the positioning of the texts are readable and uniform. 
  • Improve accessibility and navigation: make sure your website is accessible and navigational to all kinds of users. This includes providing descriptive alt text on images, closed captions on videos, and ensuring compatibility for text, visuals, buttons, etc. on all types of screens.
  • Avoid using intrusive ads or pop-ups: this may lower users’ perception of your website, or distract them–both will reduce engagement. Additionally, make sure your website is secure from any kind of online threat.

Create high quality content

Creating high-quality content will always be a must for ranking high and ensuring Google finds your website authoritative. 

I’ve written a guide on how to write helpful, informative content (following Google’s most recent content update) if you want to improve your content strategy or revisit your old blogs and landing pages. 

Other standard practices you might have to double-check on your website are keyword stuffing, readability, duplicate content, scraped content, and relevance to users. Not following what we consider good practices in these areas can harm your credibility as a website. 

If you ever have trouble refreshing your old work or generating new content, you have the option of using generative AI. Tools like ChatGPT and Jasper can help you lessen the time and effort spent on updating your content–though use these tools carefully. 

Make sure to proofread and fact-check (as AI tools are never 100% accurate when it comes to data), and add your unique insight and expertise to what they generate. Doing so makes all the difference for your rankings. 

Other tools, like Bing AI, can also help generate content, though not on the same level as tools specifically designed for copywriting. Unlike ChatGPT, however, it does have access to the internet and is integrated with OpenAI’s GPT-4. So it can create more informative or insightful answers for you.

Refrain from doing Black Hat SEO

Websites that practice Black Hat SEO may experience spikes in traffic and ranking–but these are inconsistent. And, these practices essentially set you up for future penalization. 

Common black hat practices are using hidden headings, texts, or links, duplicating content, spamming, keyword stuffing, and cloaking content or URLs. 

Websites that take advantage of these methods will eventually drop off the SERPs, despite the initial visibility boost they can provide. 

How Long Will it Take to Recover from the March 2023 Core Update?

SEO, no matter what strategy you decide to use, takes time to show results. It’s why I don’t suggest you wait when it comes to recovering from a core update. Starting right away by reviewing your website and auditing your content will help you stay ahead of the competition and minimize losses as quickly as possible. 

Key Takeaway

Google is and will always be user-centric. Changes like the March 2023 core update are meant to improve user satisfaction, and push people-first content to the top of the SERPs. 

If you’re one of the many SEO specialists scrambling after this core update, it’s time to step back and start creating a plan. You should focus on improving your website as a whole. 

There is no silver bullet to recovering from this, or to jumping back to your initial position. Instead, this update calls for a thorough sweep through your website and analyzing where to improve. If you have not started practicing this, then I encourage you to.



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Google Answers Question About Toxic Link Sabotage

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Gary Illyes answers a question about how to notify Google about toxic link sabotage

Google’s Gary Illyes answered a question about how to notify Google that someone is poisoning their backlink profile with “toxic links” which is a problem that many people have been talking about for at least fifteen years.

Question About Alerting Google To Toxic Links

Gary narrated the question:

“Someone’s asking, how to alert Google of sabotage via toxic links?”

And this is Gary’s answer:

I know what I would do: I’d ignore those links.

Generally Google is really, REALLY good at ignoring links that are irrelevant to the site they’re pointing at. If you feel like it, you can always disavow those “toxic” links, or file a spam report.

Disavow Links If You Feel Like It

Gary linked to Google’s explainer about disavowing links where it’s explained that the disavow tool is for a site owner to tell Google about links that they are responsible for in some way, like paid links or some other link scheme.

This is what it advises:

“If you have a manual action against your site for unnatural links to your site, or if you think you’re about to get such a manual action (because of paid links or other link schemes that violate our quality guidelines), you should try to remove the links from the other site to your site. If you can’t remove those links yourself, or get them removed, then you should disavow the URLs of the questionable pages or domains that link to your website.”

Google suggests that a link disavow is only necessary when two conditions are met:

  1. “You have a considerable number of spammy, artificial, or low-quality links pointing to your site,
    AND
  2. The links have caused a manual action, or likely will cause a manual action, on your site.”

Both of the above conditions must be met in order to file a valid link disavow tool.

Origin Of The Phrase Toxic Links

As Google became better at penalizing sites for low quality links and paid links, some in the highly competitive gambling industry started creating low quality links to sabotage their competitors. The practice was called negative SEO.

The phrase toxic link is something that was never heard of until after the Penguin link updates in 2012 which required penalized sites to remove all the paid and low quality links they created and then disavow the rest. An industry grew around disavowing links and it was that industry that invented the phrase Toxic Links for use in their marketing.

Confirmation That Google Is Able To Ignore Links

I have shared this anecdote before and I’ll share it here again. Someone I knew contacted me and said that their site lost rankings from negative SEO links. I took a look and their site had a ton of really nasty looking links. So out of curiosity (and because I knew that the site was this person’s main income), I emailed someone at Google Mountain View headquarters about it. That person checked it and replied that the site didn’t lose rankings because of the links. They lost rankings because of a Panda update related content issue.

That was around 2012 and it showed me how good Google was at ignoring links. Now, if Google was that good at ignoring really bad links back then, they’re probably better at it now, twelve years later now that they have the spam brain AI.

Listen to the question and answer at the 8:22 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/New Africa

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

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How To Build A Diverse & Healthy Link Profile

Search is evolving at an incredible pace and new features, formats, and even new search engines are popping up within the space.

Google’s algorithm still prioritizes backlinks when ranking websites. If you want your website to be visible in search results, you must account for backlinks and your backlink profile.

A healthy backlink profile requires a diverse backlink profile.

In this guide, we’ll examine how to build and maintain a diverse backlink profile that powers your website’s search performance.

What Does A Healthy Backlink Profile Look Like?

As Google states in its guidelines, it primarily crawls pages through links from other pages linked to your pages, acquired through promotion and naturally over time.

In practice, a healthy backlink profile can be divided into three main areas: the distribution of link types, the mix of anchor text, and the ratio of followed to nofollowed links.

Let’s look at these areas and how they should look within a healthy backlink profile.

Distribution Of Link Types

One aspect of your backlink profile that needs to be diversified is link types.

It looks unnatural to Google to have predominantly one kind of link in your profile, and it also indicates that you’re not diversifying your content strategy enough.

Some of the various link types you should see in your backlink profile include:

  • Anchor text links.
  • Image links.
  • Redirect links.
  • Canonical links.

Here is an example of the breakdown of link types at my company, Whatfix (via Semrush):

Screenshot from Semrush, May 2024

Most links should be anchor text links and image links, as these are the most common ways to link on the web, but you should see some of the other types of links as they are picked up naturally over time.

Mix Of Anchor Text

Next, ensure your backlink profile has an appropriate anchor text variance.

Again, if you overoptimize for a specific type of anchor text, it will appear suspicious to search engines like Google and could have negative repercussions.

Here are the various types of anchor text you might find in your backlink profile:

  • Branded anchor text – Anchor text that is your brand name or includes your brand name.
  • Empty – Links that have no anchor text.
  • Naked URLs – Anchor text that is a URL (e.g., www.website.com).
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that exactly matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., blue shoes).
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – Anchor text that partially or closely matches the keyword the linked page targets (e.g., “comfortable blue footwear options”).
  • Generic anchor text – Anchor text such as “this website” or “here.”

To maintain a healthy backlink profile, aim for a mix of anchor text within a similar range to this:

  • Branded anchor text – 35-40%.
  • Partial match keyword-rich anchor text – 15-20%.
  • Generic anchor text -10-15%.
  • Exact match keyword-rich anchor text – 5-10%.
  • Naked URLs – 5-10%.
  • Empty – 3-5%.

This distribution of anchor text represents a natural mix of differing anchor texts. It is common for the majority of anchors to be branded or partially branded because most sites that link to your site will default to your brand name when linking. It also makes sense that the following most common anchors would be partial-match keywords or generic anchor text because these are natural choices within the context of a web page.

Exact-match anchor text is rare because it only happens when you are the best resource for a specific term, and the site owner knows your page exists.

Ratio Of Followed Vs. Nofollowed Backlinks

Lastly, you should monitor the ratio of followed vs. nofollowed links pointing to your website.

If you need a refresher on what nofollowed backlinks are or why someone might apply the nofollow tag to a link pointing to your site, check out Google’s guide on how to qualify outbound links to Google.

Nofollow attributes should only be applied to paid links or links pointing to a site the linking site doesn’t trust.

While it is not uncommon or suspicious to have some nofollow links (people misunderstand the purpose of the nofollow attribute all the time), a healthy backlink profile will have far more followed links.

You should aim for a ratio of 80%:20% or 70%:30% in favor of followed links. For example, here is what the followed vs. nofollowed ratio looks like for my company’s backlink profile (according to Ahrefs):

Referring domainsScreenshot from Ahrefs, May 2024

You may see links with other rel attributes, such as UGC or Sponsored.

The “UGC” attribute tags links from user-generated content, while the “Sponsored” attribute tags links from sponsored or paid sources. These attributes are slightly different than the nofollow tag, but they essentially work the same way, letting Google know these links aren’t trusted or endorsed by the linking site. You can simply group these links in with nofollowed links when calculating your ratio.

Importance Of Diversifying Your Backlink Profile

So why is it important to diversify your backlink profile anyway? Well, there are three main reasons you should consider:

  • Avoiding overoptimization.
  • Diversifying traffic sources.
  • And finding new audiences.

Let’s dive into each of these.

Avoiding Overoptimization

First and foremost, diversifying your backlink profile is the best way to protect yourself from overoptimization and the damaging penalties that can come with it.

As SEO pros, our job is to optimize websites to improve performance, but overoptimizing in any facet of our strategy – backlinks, keywords, structure, etc. – can result in penalties that limit visibility within search results.

In the previous section, we covered the elements of a healthy backlink profile. If you stray too far from that model, your site might look suspicious to search engines like Google and you could be handed a manual or algorithmic penalty, suppressing your rankings in search.

Considering how regularly Google updates its search algorithm these days (and how little information surrounds those updates), you could see your performance tank and have no idea why.

This is why it’s so important to keep a watchful eye on your backlink profile and how it’s shaping up.

Diversifying Traffic Sources

Another reason to cultivate a diverse backlink profile is to ensure you’re diversifying your traffic sources.

Google penalties come swiftly and can often be a surprise. If you have all your eggs in that basket when it comes to traffic, your site will suffer badly and might need help to recover.

However, diversifying your traffic sources (search, social, email, etc.) will mitigate risk – similar to a stock portfolio – as you’ll have other traffic sources to provide a steady flow of visitors if another source suddenly dips.

Part of building a diverse backlink profile is acquiring a diverse set of backlinks and backlink types, and this strategy will also help you find differing and varied sources of traffic.

Finding New Audiences

Finally, building a diverse backlink profile is essential, as doing so will also help you discover new audiences.

If you acquire links from the same handful of websites and platforms, you will need help expanding your audience and building awareness for your website.

While it’s important to acquire links from sites that cater to your existing audience, you should also explore ways to build links that can tap into new audiences. The best way to do this is by casting a wide net with various link acquisition tactics and strategies.

A diverse backlink profile indicates a varied approach to SEO and marketing that will help bring new visitors and awareness to your site.

Building A Diverse Backlink Profile

So that you know what a healthy backlink profile looks like and why it’s important to diversify, how do you build diversity into your site’s backlink profile?

This comes down to your link acquisition strategy and the types of backlinks you actively pursue. To guide your strategy, let’s break link building into three main categories:

  • Foundational links.
  • Content promotion.
  • Community involvement.

Here’s how to approach each area.

Foundational Links

Foundational links represent those links that your website simply should have. These are opportunities where a backlink would exist if all sites were known to all site owners.

Some examples of foundational links include:

  • Mentions – Websites that mention your brand in some way (brand name, product, employees, proprietary data, etc.) on their website but don’t link.
  • Partners – Websites that belong to real-world partners or companies you connect with offline and should also connect (link) with online.
  • Associations or groups – Websites for offline associations or groups you belong to where your site should be listed with a link.
  • Sponsorships – Any events or organizations your company sponsors might have websites that could (and should) link to your site.
  • Sites that link to competitors – If a website is linking to a competitor, there is a strong chance it would make sense for them to link to your site as well.

These link opportunities should set the foundation for your link acquisition efforts.

As the baseline for your link building strategy, you should start by exhausting these opportunities first to ensure you’re not missing highly relevant links to bolster your backlink profile.

Content Promotion

Next, consider content promotion as a strategy for building a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

Content promotion is much more proactive than the foundational link acquisition mentioned above. You must manifest the opportunity by creating link-worthy content rather than simply capitalizing on an existing opportunity.

Some examples of content promotion for links are:

  • Digital PR – Digital PR campaigns have numerous benefits and goals beyond link acquisition, but backlinks should be a primary KPI.
  • Original research – Similar to digital PR, original research should focus on providing valuable data to your audience. Still, you should also make sure any citations or references to your research are correctly linked.
  • Guest content – Whether regular columns or one-off contributions, providing guest content to websites is still a viable link acquisition strategy – when done right. The best way to gauge your guest content strategy is to ask yourself if you would still write the content for a site without guaranteeing a backlink, knowing you’ll still build authority and get your message in front of a new audience.
  • Original imagery – Along with research and data, if your company creates original imagery that offers unique value, you should promote those images and ask for citation links.

Content promotion is a viable avenue for building a healthy backlink profile as long as the content you’re promoting is worthy of links.

Community Involvement

Community involvement is the final piece of your link acquisition puzzle when building a diverse backlink profile.

After pursuing all foundational opportunities and manually promoting your content, you should ensure your brand is active and represented in all the spaces and communities where your audience engages.

In terms of backlinks, this could mean:

  • Wikipedia links – Wikipedia gets over 4 billion monthly visits, so backlinks here can bring significant referral traffic to your site. However, acquiring these links is difficult as these pages are moderated closely, and your site will only be linked if it is legitimately a top resource on the web.
  • Forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.) – Another great place to get backlinks that drive referral traffic is forums like Reddit and Quora. Again, these forums are strictly moderated, and earning link placements on these sites requires a page that delivers significant and unique value to a specific audience.
  • Social platforms – Social media platforms and groups represent communities where your brand should be active and engaged. While these strategies are likely handled by other teams outside SEO and focus on different metrics, you should still be intentional about converting these interactions into links when or where possible.
  • Offline events – While it may seem counterintuitive to think of offline events as a potential source for link acquisition, legitimate link opportunities exist here. After all, most businesses, brands, and people you interact with at these events also have websites, and networking can easily translate to online connections in the form of links.

While most of the link opportunities listed above will have the nofollow link attribute due to the nature of the sites associated with them, they are still valuable additions to your backlink profile as these are powerful, trusted domains.

These links help diversify your traffic sources by bringing substantial referral traffic, and that traffic is highly qualified as these communities share your audience.

How To Avoid Developing A Toxic Backlink Profile

Now that you’re familiar with the link building strategies that can help you cultivate a healthy, diverse backlink profile, let’s discuss what you should avoid.

As mentioned before, if you overoptimize one strategy or link, it can seem suspicious to search engines and cause your site to receive a penalty. So, how do you avoid filling your backlink profile with toxic links?

Remember The “Golden Rule” Of Link Building

One simple way to guide your link acquisition strategy and avoid running afoul of search engines like Google is to follow one “golden rule.”

That rule is to ask yourself: If search engines like Google didn’t exist, and the only way people could navigate the web was through backlinks, would you want your site to have a link on the prospective website?

Thinking this way strips away all the tactical, SEO-focused portions of the equation and only leaves the human elements of linking where two sites are linked because it makes sense and makes the web easier to navigate.

Avoid Private Blog Networks (PBNs)

Another good rule is to avoid looping your site into private blog networks (PBNs). Of course, it’s not always obvious or easy to spot a PBN.

However, there are some common traits or red flags you can look for, such as:

  • The person offering you a link placement mentions they have a list of domains they can share.
  • The prospective linking site has little to no traffic and doesn’t appear to have human engagement (blog comments, social media followers, blog views, etc.).
  • The website features thin content and little investment into user experience (UX) and design.
  • The website covers generic topics and categories, catering to any and all audiences.
  • Pages on the site feature numerous external links but only some internal links.
  • The prospective domain’s backlink profile features overoptimization in any of the previously discussed forms (high-density of exact match anchor text, abnormal ratio of nofollowed links, only one or two link types, etc.).

Again, diversification – in both tactics and strategies – is crucial to building a healthy backlink profile, but steering clear of obvious PBNs and remembering the ‘golden rule’ of link building will go a long way toward keeping your profile free from toxicity.

Evaluating Your Backlink Profile

As you work diligently to build and maintain a diverse, healthy backlink profile, you should also carve out time to evaluate it regularly from a more analytical perspective.

There are two main ways to evaluate the merit of your backlinks: leverage tools to analyze backlinks and compare your backlink profile to the greater competitive landscape.

Leverage Tools To Analyze Backlink Profile

There are a variety of third-party tools you can use to analyze your backlink profile.

These tools can provide helpful insights, such as the total number of backlinks and referring domains. You can use these tools to analyze your full profile, broken down by:

  • Followed vs. nofollowed.
  • Authority metrics (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Backlink types.
  • Location or country.
  • Anchor text.
  • Top-level domain types.
  • And more.

You can also use these tools to track new incoming backlinks, as well as lost backlinks, to help you better understand how your backlink profile is growing.

Some of the best tools for analyzing your backlink profile are:

Many of these tools also have features that estimate how toxic or suspicious your profile might look to search engines, which can help you detect potential issues early.

Compare Your Backlink Profile To The Competitive Landscape

Lastly, you should compare your overall backlink profile to those of your competitors and those competing with your site in the search results.

Again, the previously mentioned tools can help with this analysis – as far as providing you with the raw numbers – but the key areas you should compare are:

  • Total number of backlinks.
  • Total number of referring domains.
  • Breakdown of authority metrics of links (Domain Rating, Domain Authority, Authority Score, etc.).
  • Authority metrics of competing domains.
  • Link growth over the last two years.

Comparing your backlink profile to others within your competitive landscape will help you assess where your domain currently stands and provide insight into how far you must go if you’re lagging behind competitors.

It’s worth noting that it’s not as simple as whoever has the most backlinks will perform the best in search.

These numbers are typically solid indicators of how search engines gauge the authority of your competitors’ domains, and you’ll likely find a correlation between strong backlink profiles and strong search performance.

Approach Link Building With A User-First Mindset

The search landscape continues to evolve at a breakneck pace and we could see dramatic shifts in how people search within the next five years (or sooner).

However, at this time, search engines like Google still rely on backlinks as part of their ranking algorithms, and you need to cultivate a strong backlink profile to be visible in search.

Furthermore, if you follow the advice in this article as you build out your profile, you’ll acquire backlinks that benefit your site regardless of search algorithms, futureproofing your traffic sources.

Approach link acquisition like you would any other marketing endeavor – with a customer-first mindset – and over time, you’ll naturally build a healthy, diverse backlink profile.

More resources: 


Featured Image: Sammby/Shutterstock

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Google On Traffic Diversity As A Ranking Factor

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Google answers the question of whether traffic diversity is a ranking factor for SEO

Google’s SearchLiaison tweeted encouragement to diversify traffic sources, being clear about the reason he was recommending it. Days later, someone followed up to ask if traffic diversity is a ranking factor, prompting SearchLiaison to reiterate that it is not.

What Was Said

The question of whether diversity of traffic was a ranking factor was elicited from a previous tweet in a discussion about whether a site owner should be focusing on off-site promotion.

Here’s the question from the original discussion that was tweeted:

“Can you please tell me if I’m doing right by focusing on my site and content – writing new articles to be found through search – or if I should be focusing on some off-site effort related to building a readership? It’s frustrating to see traffic go down the more effort I put in.”

SearchLiaison split the question into component parts and answered each one. When it came to the part about off-site promotion, SearchLiaison (who is Danny Sullivan), shared from his decades of experience as a journalist and publisher covering technology and search marketing.

I’m going to break down his answer so that it’s clearer what he meant

This is the part from the tweet that talks about off-site activities:

“As to the off-site effort question, I think from what I know from before I worked at Google Search, as well as my time being part of the search ranking team, is that one of the ways to be successful with Google Search is to think beyond it.”

What he is saying here is simple, don’t limit your thinking about what to do with your site to thinking about how to make it appeal to Google.

He next explains that sites that rank tend to be sites that are created to appeal to people.

SearchLiaison continued:

“Great sites with content that people like receive traffic in many ways. People go to them directly. They come via email referrals. They arrive via links from other sites. They get social media mentions.”

What he’s saying there is that you’ll know that you’re appealing to people if people are discussing your site in social media, if people are referring the site in social media and if other sites are citing it with links.

Other ways to know that a site is doing well is when when people engage in the comments section, send emails asking follow up questions, and send emails of thanks and share anecdotes of their success or satisfaction with a product or advice.

Consider this, fast fashion site Shein at one point didn’t rank for their chosen keyword phrases, I know because I checked out of curiosity. But they were at the time virally popular and making huge amounts of sales by gamifying site interaction and engagement, propelling them to become a global brand. A similar strategy propelled Zappos when they pioneered no-questions asked returns and cheerful customer service.

SearchLiaison continued:

“It just means you’re likely building a normal site in the sense that it’s not just intended for Google but instead for people. And that’s what our ranking systems are trying to reward, good content made for people.”

SearchLiaison explicitly said that building sites with diversified content is not a ranking factor.

He added this caveat to his tweet:

“This doesn’t mean you should get a bunch of social mentions, or a bunch of email mentions because these will somehow magically rank you better in Google (they don’t, from how I know things).”

Despite The Caveat…

A journalist tweeted this:

“Earlier this week, @searchliaison told people to diversify their traffic. Naturally, people started questioning whether that meant diversity of traffic was a ranking factor.

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

SearchLiaison of course answered that he explicitly said it’s not a ranking factor and linked to his original tweet that I quoted above.

He tweeted:

“I mean that’s not exactly what I myself said, but rather repeat all that I’ll just add the link to what I did say:”

The journalist responded:

“I would say this is calling for publishers to diversify their traffic since you’re saying the great sites do it. It’s the right advice to give.”

And SearchLiaison answered:

“It’s the part of “does it matter for rankings” that I was making clear wasn’t what I myself said. Yes, I think that’s a generally good thing, but it’s not the only thing or the magic thing.”

Not Everything Is About Ranking Factors

There is a longstanding practice by some SEOs to parse everything that Google publishes for clues to how Google’s algorithm works. This happened with the Search Quality Raters guidelines. Google is unintentionally complicit because it’s their policy to (in general) not confirm whether or not something is a ranking factor.

This habit of searching for “ranking factors” leads to misinformation. It takes more acuity to read research papers and patents to gain a general understanding of how information retrieval works but it’s more work to try to understand something than skimming a PDF for ranking papers.

The worst approach to understanding search is to invent hypotheses about how Google works and then pore through a document to confirm those guesses (and falling into the confirmation bias trap).

In the end, it may be more helpful to back off of exclusively optimizing for Google and focus at least equally as much in optimizing for people (which includes optimizing for traffic). I know it works because I’ve been doing it for years.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

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