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Which Is Better for SEO?

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Which Is Better for SEO?

Long-form content isn’t necessarily better for SEO than short-form content. As with many things in SEO, it depends.

Sometimes, long-form content is overkill and a waste of resources. Other times, it’s necessary to stand the best chance of ranking.

In this guide, you’ll learn a simple way to figure out how much to write on a topic-by-topic basis.

But first, let’s get our definitions straight:

What is short-form content?

Short-form content is roughly anything under 1,000 words. This is how we choose to define it, but definitions vary. You may only consider something under 500 words to be short-form content, and that’s fine.

What is long-form content?

Long-form content is roughly anything over 1,000 words. Again, this is how we choose to define it. You may disagree and only see something as long-form content if it’s over 2,000 words. It’s up to you.

Should I write short-form or long-form content?

If you’re asking this question in the context of SEO, then what you’re probably asking is, “Do I need to write thousands of words to rank for this keyword? Or can I write something shorter?”

Fair question. But you shouldn’t decide this by setting an arbitrary word count.

Instead, ask yourself, “How much do I need to write to satisfy searchers?”

Here’s a straightforward way to answer that question in five steps:

1. Look at what’s ranking

Pull up the search results for your target keyword. You can do this in a couple of ways.

If you’re an Ahrefs user, use Keywords Explorer and scroll down to the SERP overview:

SERP overview for "ecommerce seo"

If you’re not an Ahrefs user, search on Google in an incognito tab and use Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar to view results for your target location.

Google search results for "ecommerce seo"

2. Pick a content format

Your content is unlikely to rank unless it aligns with what searchers want, regardless of how much you write. This is why it’s usually best to choose a content format that is already ranking.

Here are a few popular content formats to look out for:

  • Guides
  • Listicles
  • How-tos
  • Tutorials
  • Reviews
  • Definitions
  • Vs.” posts

For example, if we look at the blog posts ranking for “ecommerce seo,” they’re pretty much all guides…

SERP overview for "ecommerce seo"

… so it’s clear that we should also write a guide.

If we look at the posts ranking for “keyword cannibalization,” we see a mix of definitions and how-tos:

SERP overview for "keyword cannibalization"

This is known as a mixed intent keyword.

With mixed intent keywords, it’s up to you which format to create. Just keep in mind that some content formats will give you a better opportunity to promote your business than others.

For example, since you’re able to find keyword cannibalization issues using our tool, it makes more sense to write a how-to than a definition post.

3. Create a search-focused outline

A search-focused outline is a barebones plan for your content that takes inspiration from similar top-ranking content. The logic here is that similar top-ranking content is clearly satisfying searchers, so analyzing it can help you understand what they want.

The best starting point for a search-focused outline is a content gap analysis.

Let’s say we want to create a guide targeting the keyword “pour over coffee.”

If we take the top-ranking guides and plug their URLs into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, we see all the keywords that one or more of those pages rank for in the top 10. By eyeballing these keywords, we can start to pluck out subtopics that we can include in our outline:

List of keywords in Content Gap results
Initial outline for "pour-over coffee" article

If you need more inspiration for your outline, visit the pages themselves and eyeball their subheadings. This will also help you better understand how to structure your content and may unveil subtopics you missed.

For example, if we open two top-ranking guides for “pour over coffee” and use Ahrefs’ SEO Toolbar to view the subheadings, we see they both talk about equipment:

List of subtopics
List of subtopics

This is likely an important thing to include.

We can also see that both guides start with a definition. This makes total sense and is probably the best starting point for any guide to pour-over coffee.

Here’s what our final search-focused outline may look like for this topic:

Revised outline for "pour-over coffee" article

4. Start writing

It’s finally time to put pen to paper and transform your outline into “content.”

This is where you get to unleash your creativity and share your knowledge with the world. Just remember not to stray too far from your outline, as it’s there to ensure you cover what is needed to satisfy searchers.

Don’t worry about word count or length at this stage. Just focus on getting your thoughts down.

Here are a few useful tips if you’re struggling:

  1. Freewrite – This is where you write and don’t stop. No backspacing to correct spelling mistakes. No rewriting sentences. Just write. You’ll probably find that your content flows better if you can master this.
  2. Use the Pomodoro technique – This is where you write for 25 minutes before taking a five-minute break. Repeat this process as many times as necessary to get your content done. (Here’s a free Pomodoro timer.) 
  3. Use a distraction-free writing tool Bear is my favorite, but there are a few similar apps.

Whichever app you use, I don’t recommend using one that shows the word count as you type. It’s too distracting and may cause you to slip into thinking, “Hey, this is getting long” or “Hey, this seems too short.”

This is the kind of thinking you want to avoid. You just want to write as much as you need and no more. Don’t even look at the word count.

5. Trim the fluff

Regardless of whether your content ends up being short-form or long-form, your first draft will always be way too long. It’ll have run-on sentences, points that nobody cares about, and overly long paragraphs.

That may seem bad, but it’s exactly what a first draft should look like. You’ll find it much easier to trim and refine your ideas once they’re down on paper than to obsess over them as you go.

Here’s how to do that in three steps:

The first step is self-editing. This is where you go through your first draft and cut any unnecessary fluff. You should also rewrite any meandering sentences and make sure things are as concise as possible. Tools like Hemingway and Grammarly can help with this.

Longer paragraph next to a more concise version

The second step is to get a friend or colleague to provide feedback. This can be a tricky one, as most people won’t want to hurt your feelings. I recommend explicitly asking them for feedback on things you can cut or shorten. This should make their feedback more focused and reduce their anxiety about offending you.

The third and final step is a round of self-edits based on your friend’s or colleague’s feedback.

Whatever your word count is now, that’s how long your content needs to be. Maybe it’s long-form; maybe it’s short-form. It doesn’t matter. What matters is you’ve written what is required to meet searchers’ expectations.

Is it really this simple?

Kind of—although there are a few other factors to keep in mind that may influence your decision.

You shouldn’t repeat yourself

Let’s say you’re researching subtopics for a content piece and find one that you’ve already covered on your site.

For example, our beginner’s guide to link building primarily targets the keyword “link building.” If we plug two top-ranking guides for this keyword into Ahrefs’ Content Gap tool, we see that searchers want to know about link building strategies and techniques:

List of keywords in Content Gap results

But here’s the thing: We’ve already published dedicated guides about most of these strategies:

For that reason, we decided not to regurgitate everything in this guide and make it unnecessarily long. Instead, we chose to keep things brief and link to our guides on each tactic in case the reader wants to learn more.

Excerpt of blog post showing list of links

Then in each “sub-post” about an individual tactic, we added a link back to our link building guide.

Excerpt of blog post showing link to guide

This is known as a topic cluster or content hub, and there are a few reasons why it can be beneficial to SEO.

You can write multiple posts targeting multiple intents

Let’s take a keyword like “guest blogging.”

If you look at the SERP, it’s a mix of definitions and guides:

SERP overview for "guest blogging"

The definitions are generally short-form, and the guides are long-form.

Although you could pick one format to create here, you might also want to consider creating multiple posts in different formats to try to win multiple rankings. In this case, that would mean creating a short-form definition-type post and a long-form guide.

Yoast did this successfully for the keyword, “canonical URL”:

Google search result for "canonical url" showing Yoast's article first

You may want to approach competitive keywords differently

Let’s say that you’re targeting a super competitive keyword like “SEO.” We see a mix of definitions and guides in the SERP, but pretty much all of them have backlinks from thousands of websites:

SERP overview for "seo"

Most of these pages are old, have accumulated their backlinks over many years, and continue to earn backlinks thanks to the vicious cycle of SEO:

SEO cycle: People search & read #1 result, then link to that result on own site, then these new links cause #1 page to stay on top

Bottom line: If you want to rank for this keyword, you’re going to need a ton of backlinks.

In this case, you’ll probably struggle to do that by following the crowd with a search-focused piece of content. You’ll stand a better chance of attracting the links you need by publishing something interesting or innovative (and ideally then doing outreach for links).

Note that this doesn’t mean you need to publish long-form content. Long-form guides can be link magnets, but so can short-form pieces.

For example, take Aleyda’s LearningSEO.io:

Roadmap with links to free resources

The original version of this (pictured above) was published in February 2021 with just 114 words on the page. Yet it’s managed to attract links from over 560 referring domains in only nine months:

Graph showing increasing number of referring domains over 9 months

My guess is that Aleyda isn’t trying to rank for anything here (especially not “SEO”) and simply created this to give back to the community. But the point remains: If you want links, it’s not about short-form vs. long-form. It’s about creating something that resonates with people and putting it in front of them.

Final thoughts

Focus on satisfying searchers, not hitting some arbitrary word count.

If you’re working with freelancers and need to give them a ballpark figure because you’re paying by the word, let your search-focused outline guide you. If there’s not much ground to cover, tell them to keep it short and sweet. If there’s a lot to cover, give them a rough limit and have them tell you if the content needs to be longer. Giving a bit of flexibility is key here.

Got questions? Disagree? Ping me on Twitter.




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Keyword Mapping. A Practical Guide for the Curious

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Keyword Mapping. A Practical Guide for the Curious

Deciding whether a keyword should be targeted by a separate page or clustered with other keywords is a common problem in SEO. Keyword mapping is a process aimed at solving this.

Keyword mapping is popularly defined as assigning keywords to pages. But what you really need to solve the problem is assigning topics to content types

In this article, I’ll explain the benefits of this approach and, more importantly, I’ll show you the process. No templates required.

Benefits of keyword mapping (the alternative way) 

Fact 1. Google may see seemingly different keywords as the same topic.

For example, we rank for these keywords in the top 10 with a single page: 

  • seo basics”
  • how to use seo” 
  • beginner’s guide to seo”
  • getting started with seo”
  • seo knowledge”

Fact 2. Conversely, Google may see seemingly similar keywords as different topics. 

For example, let’s compare “digital marketing” with “online marketing.” I’d say those two keywords are pretty close to each other. Google disagrees. 

Low SERP similarity score signals potentially different topics
Everywhere you look, the same story. Top-ranking pages and our SERP similarity score (100-point scale; the more, the higher similarity) say that these are completely different topics SEO-wise.

The above two facts are also reasons why keyword mapping by just relying on keywords is not the optimal way. You won’t know whether you’re wasting your time targeting the same topic with different keywords or just “confusing” Google. 

But why content types instead of pages or even URLs? Because before you decide what page will be used to target the keyword, you’ll need to identify the search intent of the keyword. And a good starting point for that is identifying the dominating type of content on the first page of Google. 

To sum up, the benefits of keyword mapping using topics and content types are: 

  • Seeing keywords the same way Google sees them: as topics and subtopics. 
  • Incorporating search intent into the process. 
  • Keeping an organized list of topics, which also helps to prevent duplicating content.

Note

Keyword mapping can’t substitute keyword research. While keyword mapping is basically a form of organizing keywords, keyword research provides you the keywords and the confidence that: 

  • Your keywords have traffic potential.
  • You can match the search intent behind your keywords.
  • Your keywords will bring valuable traffic. 
  • You can rank for those keywords. 

Learn how to choose the right keywords with our full guide.

Going further, we’ll look at two levels of using this method: the fast lane and the more thorough one. 

Learn more: What Is Semantic Search? How It Impacts SEO 

Level 1 – Fast, reasonable job

You’ll need a keyword research tool that can do keyword grouping based on what’s on the SERP, such as Ahrefs’ Keywords Explorer. In the case of this tool: 

  1. Enter your keywords
  2. Open Matching terms report
  3. Go to the Parent topics tab 
Three steps to find Parent Topics via Keywords Explorer

If you click on a Parent Topic, you will find separate topics “distilled” from your keywords. So for example, you will see keywords like “can babies get covid” and “babies and covid” grouped under the same topic. 

Keywords grouped under the same Parent Topic

Sidenote.

To identify the Parent Topic, we take the #1 ranking page for your keyword and find the keyword responsible for sending the most traffic to that page.

At this level of keyword mapping, your target keyword is the Parent Topic (not the keywords inside that Parent Topic). 

The next step is to identify the content type. The easiest way to do this is to see what kind of content dominates the first three to five results in Google. 

Typical content types are:

  • Articles
  • Videos
  • Product pages
  • Product category pages
  • Landing pages 
Top-ranking pages with a dominating content type
For example, the dominating content type for “teething symptoms” is the article.

As a result, assigning topics to content types will give you a super simple yet highly actionable database.

Topic Content type
Teething symptoms Article
When do babies roll over Article
Baby formula Mixed (product pages on top)
When can babies have water Article

Sidenote.

What about secondary keywords or supporting keywords? We recommend picking them in the content creation phase as subtopics needed to cover a topic in full. Learn a few ways you can find them here.

So this is the fast method. The great thing about it is that it automates keyword grouping by using real SERP data (and not just semantics). 

However, it has its downsides too. Sometimes, it “hides” less popular topics that could potentially be targeted with a separate page. Here’s why. 

The parent keyword is derived from the top-ranking page on the SERP. If Google thinks that the best answer to the query is found on a page that is targeting a broader topic, it will still use it. This may result in a confusing SERP like this one: 

Confusing SERP example
The top result is a featured snippet taken from a page with a broader topic. Hence, the Parent Topic (here seen as “Top keyword”) in Ahrefs. But pretty much every other page on the SERP targets the keywords directly.

This kind of situation probably won’t happen too often. But if you want to squeeze everything out of your keyword mapping process, you need to go to level 2. 

Level 2 – Thorough but time consuming

In level 2, we’re going to take a closer look at the Parent Topics to see what’s in them. 

  1. First, you should pick a Parent Topic.
  2. Sort keywords inside the topic by KD (Keyword Difficulty). Big differences in KD will be an indication of a different set of pages on the SERP.
  3. If you see a keyword with a significantly different KD than the Parent Topic, click on the SERP button.
  4. See if the top-ranking pages, excluding the first result, talk about the keyword instead of the Parent Topic. You can use the Compare with feature for a quick overview of the situation. The lower the SERP similarity score, the higher the probability you’re looking at two different topics. 
How to investigate Parent Topics

Let’s look at a couple of examples. 

In the first example, we’ve got a keyword with a KD score that’s 20 higher than the Parent Topic. Upon investigating, we see that we may be dealing with two separate topics: The SERP similarity is quite low. Also, there is only one common result, while other pages target the keyword directly. 

Keywords grouped under the same topic but have dissimilar SERPs

Next example. Here we have “teething symptoms” (KD 65) and “when do babies get molars” (KD 28). Looking at SERP similarity, we see that this, again, may be a case of two topics. 

Low SERP similarity between two keywords

But there’s more. Only the bottom results target the keyword directly. Others talk about teething timelines, stages, charts, etc. This is a hint for yet another way to rank for the keyword. 

Only bottom results target the keyword directly

Generally speaking, when you see that you’re dealing with a separate topic “in disguise,” the decision comes down to:

  1. Targeting the Parent Topic anyway. For example, if the top result is a featured snippet, you may be able to win it with a page on a relevant broader topic. 
  2. Marking the keyword as a separate topic and targeting it directly with a separate page. In this case, add that keyword as a topic to target and note down the content type. 
  3. Turning to SERP analysis in tougher cases (like our example above). 

Final thoughts 

Feel free to customize the process and add your own data points. If you feel like going a step further and assigning URLs, your website folders, or introducing some kind of prioritization (e.g., business potential), this won’t hurt. 

However, keep in mind that keyword mapping is not a good way to design your entire website structure. Most often than not, not all pages on your site should be search-based. 

What are the next steps after keyword mapping? 

Got comments or questions? Ping me on Twitter or Mastodon



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Everything You Need To Know

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Of all the many, many functions available in Google Ads, I have a few that are my favorites. And sitelink assets – previously known as sitelink extensions – are at the top of my list.

Why? Because they’re so versatile. You can do almost anything with them if you think through your strategy carefully.

For example, you can use the mighty sitelink in your advertising to:

  • Promote low search volume themes.
  • Push lagging products out the door.
  • Maximize hot sellers.
  • Highlight certain product categories.
  • Answer common questions.
  • Handle PR problems.

And that’s just a start! Sitelink assets can almost do it all.

Best Practices For Using Sitelink Assets Extensions

If you truly want to get the most out of your sitelinks, you need to think about your intention.

To help you with that, I’m going to lay out a few sitelink guidelines.

1. Get clear on your objectives. Before you start, you need to think about your goals. What are you trying to achieve with these assets? Are you advertising products or services? Will the asset work well with both branded and non-branded keywords? Your answers to these questions will help determine if your sitelinks are versatile and useful to the searcher.

2. Use sitelinks as part of your larger strategy. Don’t think of your sitelinks in isolation. You should also consider the accompanying ad, landing page, and other assets. Make sure they all work together in service to your overarching strategy.

3. Use a mix of sitelinks. Sitelinks can serve multiple purposes, so make sure you’re using a variety. For example, you don’t want to use every sitelink on an ad to promote on-sale products. Instead, use a mix. One could promote an on-sale product, one could generate leads, one could highlight a new product category, and one could direct prospective clients to useful information.

4. Create landing pages for your sitelinks. Ideally, you want to send users to landing pages that tightly correlate with your sitelink instead of just a regular page on your website.

5. Track sitelink performance and adjust. It’s not enough to set up sitelinks. You should also track them to see which links are getting traction and which ones are not. This doesn’t mean that all sitelinks should perform equally (more on this below), but it does mean they should perform well given their type and objectives.

Why it’s Better To Use A Mix Of Sitelink Assets

Let’s dive deeper into this idea of using a mix of sitelinks by looking at an example.

In a new client account, we created four different types of sitelinks:

  • Two sitelinks are product-focused (as requested by the client).
  • One sitelink connects users with an engineer to learn more about the product (“Speak to an Engineer”). It has more of a sales focus.
  • One sitelink allows users to learn more about the products without speaking to an engineer (“What is?”).

The “What is?” sitelink is outperforming the “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink when we measure by CTR. While we need more data before making any changes, I predict we’ll eventually swap out the sales-y “Speak to an Engineer” sitelink for something else.

The fact that the educational link (“What is?”) is performing better than the sales-y link (“Speak to an Engineer”) isn’t too surprising in this case. The product is a new, cutting-edge robot that not many people are aware of, yet. They want more info before talking to someone.

Screenshot by author, January 2023

By using a mix of sitelinks, and assessing the performance of each, we gained a lot of valuable information that is helping to guide our strategy for this account. So going with a mix of sitelinks is always a good idea. You never know what you’ll discover!

Sitelink Assets Examples

Now, let’s look at some specific examples of sitelink assets in Google Ads.

Example 1: Chromatography

Sitelinks extension - Chromatography exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

Application Search: This ad is for a highly technical product that can be used in a wide variety of applications. (Chromatography is a laboratory technique for separating mixtures.) So putting “application search” in a sitelink here might make sense. It helps prospective clients find what they’re looking for.

Sign up and Save Big: A good sitelink for lead generation and potential revenue.

Technical Support: I’m not a big fan of putting technical support in sitelinks. Tech support seems more targeted to current users rather than prospective users. But who knows, maybe they really do want to help current users get tech support via their advertising.

Guides and Posters: Again, this sitelink is a bit unusual, but it might be appropriate for this product. Perhaps people are downloading branded posters and posting them in their workplaces. If so, it’s a great way to build brand awareness.

Example 2: Neuroscience Courses

Sitelink Extensions - Nueroscience courses exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

I love everything about these sitelinks! The advertising is using them to reach people in all phases of the buyer journey.

For people not ready to commit:

  • Study Neuroscience: This sitelink is broad and informational. It’s helpful to people who have just started to explore their options for studying neuroscience.
  • Get Course Brochure: This sitelink is also great for people in the research phase. And while we mostly live in an online world, some people still prefer to consume hard-copy books, brochures, etc. With this sitelink, the school is covering its bases.

For people getting close to committing:

  • Online Short Course: This is the course the school offers. It’s a great sitelink for those almost ready to sign up.

For people ready to sign up:

  • Register Online Now: This is the strongest call to action for those ready to commit. It takes people directly to the signup page.

Example 3: Neuroscience Degrees

Let’s look at another example from the world of neuroscience education: this time for a neuroscience degree program.

Sitelink extensions - neuroscience degree exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

In contrast to the previous two examples, the sitelinks in this ad aren’t as strong.

Academics Overview: This sitelink seems more appropriate for a broad term search, such as a search on the school’s name. If the searcher is looking for a specific degree program (which seems like the intention based on the term and the ad), the sitelinks should be something specific to that particular degree program.

Scholarships: Just as with the above sitelink, “Scholarships” doesn’t seem very helpful either. The topic of scholarships is important—but probably doesn’t need to be addressed until the person determines that this school is a good fit.

Example 4: Code Security

Next, let’s look at two Google search ads for code security products.

Sitelink extensions - code security exampleScreenshot from Google, January 2023

 

The sitelinks in these two ads look like typical assets you’d find for SaaS, cloud-based, or tech companies. They click through to a lot of helpful information, such as product plans and success stories.

I particularly like the Most Common Risks sitelink in the second ad. It leads to a helpful article that would be great for engaging top-of-funnel leads.

On the flip side, I’m not a big fan of the Blog sitelink in the first ad. “Blog” simply isn’t very descriptive or helpful.

Still, there are no right or wrong sitelinks here. And it would be interesting to test my theory that blog content is not a top-performing asset!

Sitelink Assets Are More Than An Afterthought

I hope I’ve convinced you of the usefulness and versatility of sitelinks when created with specific objectives that align with your broader strategy.

So don’t create your sitelink assets as an afterthought.

Because if you give them the careful consideration they deserve, they’ll serve you well.

Note: Google sitelink assets were previously known as sitelink extensions and renamed in September 2022.

More resources:


Featured Image: Thaspol Sangsee/Shutterstock



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AI Content In Search Results

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AI Content In Search Results

Google has released a statement regarding its approach to AI-generated content in search results.

The company has a long-standing policy of rewarding high-quality content, regardless of whether humans or machines produce it.

Above all, Google’s ranking systems aim to identify content that demonstrates expertise, experience, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness (E-E-A-T).

Google advises creators looking to succeed in search results to produce original, high-quality, people-first content that demonstrates E-E-A-T.

The company has updated its “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page with guidance on evaluating content in terms of “Who, How, and Why.”

Here’s how AI-generated content fits into Google’s approach to ranking high-quality content in search results.

Quality Over Production Method

Focusing on the quality of content rather than the production method has been a cornerstone of Google’s approach to ranking search results for many years.

A decade ago, there were concerns about the rise in mass-produced human-generated content.

Rather than banning all human-generated content, Google improved its systems to reward quality content.

Google’s focus on rewarding quality content, regardless of production method, continues to this day through its ranking systems and helpful content system introduced last year.

Automation & AI-Generated Content

Using automation, including AI, to generate content with the primary purpose of manipulating ranking in search results violates Google’s spam policies.

Google’s spam-fighting efforts, including its SpamBrain system, will continue to combat such practices.

However, Google realizes not all use of automation and AI-generated content is spam.

For example, publishers automate helpful content such as sports scores, weather forecasts, and transcripts.

Google says it will continue to take a responsible approach toward AI-generated content while maintaining a high bar for information quality and helpfulness in search results.

Google’s Advice For Publishers

For creators considering AI-generated content, here’s what Google advises.

Google’s concept of E-E-A-T is outlined in the “Creating helpful, reliable, people-first content” help page, which has been updated with additional guidance.

The updated help page asks publishers to think about “Who, How, and Why” concerning how content is produced.

“Who” refers to the person who created the content, and it’s important to make this clear by providing a byline or background information about the author.

“How” relates to the method used to create the content, and it’s helpful to readers to know if automation or AI was involved. If AI was involved in the content production process, Google wants you to be transparent and explain why it was used.

“Why” refers to the purpose of creating content, which should be to help people rather than to manipulate search rankings.

Evaluating your content in this way, regardless of whether AI-generated or not, will help you stay in line with what Google’s systems reward.


Featured Image: Alejandro Corral Mena/Shutterstock



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