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Wrapping up 2021 with our top 10!

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Wrapping up 2021 with our top 10!


30-second summary:

  • 12 months, several curveballs, and some masterstrokes
  • If you missed out, today is a great day to look through the Search Engine Watch lens for the year gone by
  • Key themes that were front of mind in 2021 – Google’s updates, cookie death counter-strategies, mastering customer experience elements, trust-building, and alternatives for search marketing and ranking

As the world, people, and of course businesses motored through a year of uncertainties – these crackers of articles gave your strategies an unfair advantage.

You asked, “What is Page Experience, anyway? Do we really need to have an overflowing to-do list?” – and we answered everything around this enigma. This piece touched upon every aspect, angle, and action point that SEOs needed to know.

The ad tech and search industry continued to remain precarious that Google will use the cookie deprecation as a new way to establish market dominance to feed its own interests. Google expert, Susan Dolan drew from her rich experience and detailed realities of the search scape. She also shared insights and predicted future key themes that rose out of the 3p cookie death.

As the industry bid farewell to BERT, Google’s Multitask Unified Model (MUM) update in June 2021 opened new search experience dimensions. The cranked-up competition for search visibility between businesses and advertisers – left SEO practitioners and agencies with yet another burning question, “How will we win MUM’s good graces?” Joe Dawson’s comprehensive guide left no stone unturned.

“Kill your darlings”, yes, we said it! Though it sounded outlandish, this piece held wise and valuable advice from best-selling author Joe Pulizzi on why this could be one of the best business decisions you could’ve made in 2021.

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Everyone is obsessed with Google, but did you know Reddit is the seventh most popular website in the US while Quora has a DR of 91? This guide shone a light on how your search strategy could take advantage of these platforms with diversification, tap into great brand-building opportunities, and enhance your E-A-T standing.

The third-party cookie still stands at a crucial intersection between digital marketing, SEO, paid media, web design, and several business tangents. The industry needed to think hard and think differently for a contingency plan. SEO pioneer, serial entrepreneur, and best-selling author, Kris Jones helped weave a tight SEO and search marketing strategy way ahead of 2022. Why? Because a stitch in time saves nine.

The internet continued zigging in a privacy-focused direction as a response to consumers’ increasing demand for a transparent, responsible, and ethical outlook towards their data. First-party data became indispensable and consumer trust, invaluable. While the playing field inched closer to the great reset, we revealed some hidden first-party gems every business could use to redesign their search marketing strategies.

The story of SEO and UX began almost 20 years ago with both making a foray into the market in the 1990s. Since then, SEO practitioners saw seasons change and the Page Experience, paired with data analysis finally etched UX as a key ranking factor. Atul Jindal condensed years of his experience working with fortune 50 companies into this SEO guide to help you win at SEO and search experience.

The pandemic didn’t let us forget that while every business is unique, budgets too took a hit, making allocation stringent. But why did so many businesses still stick to the “big guns” when allocating spending? Adzooma CEO Rob Wass and Cambridge University’s Akanshaa Khare joined forces to challenge this notion. They produced some truly unique insights that would make stakeholders rethink their media spending habits.

See also  Top 25 blogging SEO tips for 2022

Everyone remembers the chaos surrounding the Core Web Vitals in early 2021. SEO folks were keen to get ahead on optimizing their site and Twitter threads were full of speculation. Armed with information, we shared a 28-point checklist on action items to spot, optimize, and embrace the inevitable rollout of these new ranking factors.

Thank you for being valuable supporters throughout our journey. Team Search Engine Watch wishes everyone a happy year-end and an adventurous 2022!

*Ranked on page views, time on page, and bounce rate.


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Searchmetrics’ CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs

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Searchmetrics' CMO Talks Enterprise Volatility, SEO Careers & CWVs


Are there upsides to the volatility inherent to SEO with all of its Google updates, changing consumer behaviors, and constantly evolving technology?

And just how important are Core Web Vitals, anyway?

I had a chance to catch up with Lillian Haase, CMO at Searchmetrics, recently to get her take on a few enterprise SEO hot topics and advice for beginners in SEO looking to grow into leadership roles.

If you’re in the market for employment with a leading search data, software, and consulting solution, you’ll want to check out her tips as to what Searchmetrics looks for in new hires, as well.

1. Core Web Vitals (CWV) has been a hot topic this past year.

What do enterprise marketers need to know about CWVs now that the dust has settled?

Lillian Haase: “For marketers in any business, focusing on reducing friction for users when they arrive at your website is the name of the game — with or without CWVs.

Before the official announcement that CWV’s page speed signals would become ranking factors, fast-loading and easy-to-navigate websites saw better results in the search engines. The CWV rollout just made it official.

I will say, too, that the dust has only settled in terms of Google talking about CWV.

The work for many brands is still colossal.

Our team sees many large companies still experiencing major problems with site speed and shifting layouts. Until domains can fix those issues, they’ll struggle to excel in competitive SERPs.

Having a decent CWV will be the price for entry onto the playing field.

If your CWV is far worse than your competitors, you’ll struggle for rankings – but CWV goes beyond SEO. The gains are much more concrete when it comes to revenue and conversions.”

Related: Analyzing 2 Million URLs: What We Learned About Core Web Vitals

2. We’ve seen you write before on volatility as an opportunity in SEO.

Can you share a few ways these volatile times may translate to opportunities for enterprise SEO?

See also  14 Top Reasons Why Google Isn’t Indexing Your Site

Lillian Haase: “At the start of the pandemic, we had major shifts going on in marketing. This necessitated a pivoting of methods to adapt to a new, uncertain environment.

When it came to SEO, we had clients with unprecedented traffic drops and increases. The world had changed and so had their web traffic.

My advice remains the same as then.

When you’ve experienced a sudden drop in traffic, analysis of where the drop occurred is the first step towards recovery – but it’s not the last.

It’s crucial to understand why it happened.

Was it a change made to your website?

A Google algorithm update?

A loss of keyword rankings for a specific page or group of pages — or something else?

Take steps to improve, or reverse an earlier change, depending on what you find.

The opposite happens, too, and you may experience a sudden influx of traffic and better rankings.

While celebrating is certainly not to be neglected (after all, teams work for years to see increases in traffic, so be sure to enjoy it when it happens!), it’s still important to ensure it’s the right kind of traffic, and that visitors are engaging with your web content.

Look at ways you can optimize your top-traffic pages to keep visitors engaged and moving through your website. Take advantage of that extra traffic with conversion rate optimization.

In addition, update your keyword research around topics that are ranking well to determine if you missed anything.

There might be something new uncovered through research that you haven’t optimized for.

Cover all your bases and see how much more extra traffic you can get on top of those already good results. Good can always get better.”

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3. What do you think is the most underrated optimization or tactic in enterprise SEO today?

Lillian Haase: “The basics, such as optimized headers and user experience, are still the same.

But the bar for great content and high-performing websites is much higher.

Your content needs to be heads and shoulders above the rest.

For example, the Google Product Reviews Update impacted many affiliate sites.

With these and other Google Updates, the days where you could write basic copy about a product and hoping to rank are gone.

Now, you make your expertise on the topic very clear by providing a truly informed opinion about the product’s performance.”

Related: 3 Ways SEO Has Changed This Year & What It Means for You with Jordan Koene

4. What advice or recommendations do you have for junior SEO professionals who might aspire to a leadership role?

“My advice would be to learn to tell the story of SEO’s impact on the business in terms of revenue.

In other words, if you can communicate the value of organic traffic framed in business terms, you will be heard by leaders in other teams who do not understand the ins and outs of SEO.

They’re looking for the value (often, in financial terms) the channel is bringing the company.

One of the most difficult things I see SEOs struggle with is that they go into unnecessary detail about search engines.

As SEOs, we’re so interested in the many moving pieces of the work, and we get overly excited with the minutiae.

But if no one understands what we’re talking about or they think it’s boring, the message is lost.

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Try to focus on business results in your presentations, reports, and in meetings with your superiors, instead.

In most organizations, organic search is undervalued when compared with other channels such as paid search.

If you can find a way to elevate the conversation to business metrics and stay out of the technical details, you’re well on your way towards future opportunities in SEO leadership.

If you can also consistently increase organic traffic, leads, and sales for your organization, you’re also setting yourself up for success.”

5. What does it take to succeed in a role at Searchmetrics?

And are you currently looking for any specific types of talent?

Lillian Haase: “We’re growing our services teams globally, so thanks for asking this and giving me a chance to share a little more.

While we have a variety of roles open, we’re actively recruiting SEO consultants and account executives.

One of the benefits of working for a company of our size is having the opportunity to have your voice heard.

We understand the next great idea can come from anyone at any level.

Successful team members adopt the mindset of builders and innovators and seek out opportunities for growth. Then they present those opportunities with a clear focus on the bottom line.

In general, we look for people that are not just looking to “do the job.”

Yes, we want people skilled in a particular area. However, we want people that are looking to push the envelope by asking, “How can we be better in our function?”

When it comes to culture, we’re looking for a culture add, not a fit.

We understand having a true diverse Searchmetrics family not only includes diversity in gender and ethnic background but also experience and thought.”

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Featured Image: Courtesy of Searchmetrics





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What To Focus On This Year

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What To Focus On This Year


As the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight on January 1, 2022, many search engine marketers were tempted to check their analytics and rankings.

It appears that Google has replaced Santa as the purveyor of the “Naughty or Nice” list in the online world.

Some sites receive the gift of better rankings before the New Year.

Others are cleaning the coal dust out of their stockings, running frantic analyses on why they were put on the naughty list.

Holiday core algorithm updates from Google are nothing new to veteran search engine marketers.

And I don’t know who needs to hear this, but next year the update will be there after Christmas.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a few days off.

Take some time to think about how you can be even better in the New Year.

That’s what I did.

Below is my list of SEO resolutions for the New Year.

1. Remember To Have Empathy

In my experience, most search engine marketers are very “left-brained.”

Sure, there’s a ton of creativity in the search engine marketing world – but most search engine marketers would rather figure out why a piece of code isn’t loading as fast as it should versus trying to understand the intricacies of a searcher’s mind.

Don’t get me wrong, the technical aspects of SEO and paid search are essential – and without technical savvy, what we do doesn’t work.

But technical fixes are not enough to show continued improvement in your search engine marketing results.

I believe that the best tool any marketer can have is empathy, the ability to understand the feelings of others.

If we as marketers can understand the feelings, motivations, intent, and actions of search engine users, we can create webpages and content that not only provides value to visitors but also increases our site’s bottom line.

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I have always prided myself on my ability to empathize with searchers.

But with every core algorithm update or IT person screwing up a site, I find it very easy to put my empathetic impulses on the back burner to chase technical fixes.

Those technical fixes are for Google, not the searchers.

I need to remember to spend as much – or more – time understanding those who make a query as I do looking at ways to improve a site’s performance.

The dividends that come from empathetic marketing practices are usually greater than those gleaned from technical fixes.

All of us in search would be wise to remember this.

2. Automate All The Things

In the last few years, many prominent SEO professionals have touted the advantages of using the Python programming language to automate rote search engine optimization tasks.

Python, in the hands of a competent programmer, is a powerful tool that can cut the amount of time required for search engine optimization significantly.

Python can help you scrape data to come up with content ideas, analyze common on-page SEO issues, track and analyze issues in your backlink profile and much more.

Those interested in some of the possibilities with Python should read this article: How To Use Python To Analyze SEO Data: A Reference Guide.

As I’ve stated in the past, by definition I am not a coder.

However, I’ve been around code for so long I know what to look for when I’m analyzing how the code will react with the search engines.

For those like me, I encourage you to dig in and learn the basics of the Python language.

No one is going to care if you master the intricacies of the code.

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In fact, I would argue that spending too much learning the language is a waste of time.

For me, the end goal of learning about any new technology is to learn its full capabilities and limitations.

If you understand what a piece of software can do, you can then plan what you need and either figure out how to program just what you need or hire someone to program it for you.

It’s almost impossible to hire someone to automate your SEO tactics if you don’t understand how Python (or any other software) can help you achieve your goal.

My goal in 2022 is to learn everything python can do.

If you are a freelance python developer, feel free to hit me up around May, as I suspect I’ll have some projects by then.

3. Get Your Tracking Right

The introduction of Google Analytics 4 has thrown a wrench in a lot of sites’ tracking codes.

Many went from somewhat high confidence that their analytics data was correct to uncertainty.

When you don’t trust your analytics numbers, you can’t make proper decisions.

You can’t plan properly.

We often have prospects that show up with poorly executed tracking.

This has become so much of an issue that we recently implemented a policy where we don’t move on to any other work until the tracking is set up.

And it needs to be set up so everyone in your organization trusts the data.

If you increase traffic by 140% but the boss doesn’t believe the numbers are accurate, no one will get credit. There is a good chance that the tactics used to achieve the increased traffic won’t be approved again in the future.

Why would anyone approve activity that, based upon their worldview, isn’t effective?

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On the other hand, if traffic falls and no one trusts the data, it will be almost impossible to accurately diagnose what is causing the traffic decrease – at least in a way where the whole team is on board with the diagnosis and action items to fix the issues.

4. Embrace The Grind

Good SEO is a grind.

In many cases, we are implementing tactics and must wait several weeks before we know if our efforts worked or not.

We’re a lot like farmers – planting our seeds in the code of our sites, watering and caring for the code while knowing that storms from Google or drought from lack of consumer interest may mean a disastrous harvest.

Successful SEO pros embrace the daily grind.

We work on content to bolster our authority.

We check the code daily to make sure nothing is broken.

And when Google announces an upcoming update, the net looks like a town that just heard a storm is coming – SEO professionals work to batten down the hatches, even if we aren’t exactly sure what to do to prepare for the storm.

All-in-all, SEO becomes a list of daily chores.

Those SEO pros that embrace this daily grind are successful.

Those that look for magic bullets and quick fixes end up chasing their tail.

Embrace the grind.

It’s how you show long-term, sustainable SEO success.

In Conclusion

If you’ve read this far, I’d love to hear your search engine marketing resolution.

Feel free to post your SEO New Year’s resolution on Twitter using the hashtag #seo2022.

I am looking forward to reading all the new year’s resolution inspiration I’m sure the readers of Search Engine Journal can provide.

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Featured image: LanaSweet/Shutterstock





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Should You Disavow Links From Spammy Yet High Authority Sites?

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Should You Disavow Links From Spammy Yet High Authority Sites?


Today’s Ask an SEO question comes from David in Craughwell, Ireland, who asks:

“When checking my and my competitor backlink profiles, I come across many links from firebaseapp.com and web.app domains.

These domains have high DA but the pages are very often spammy and low quality. It is my instinct to disavow these links but due to the high DA I am unsure how to proceed.

Do you have any advice, please, for when an SEO encounters awful links from high DA domains?”

Hi David,

Great question! The first thing to think about is that Domain Authority (DA) does not come from Google and is not a credible metric.

How Does Domain Authority Factor Into Your Link Disavowal Strategy?

DA is a calculation devised by a popular SEO tool and used by that tool only (not Google) to evaluate a website.

If you trust that tool, then you can use the metric as a way to begin looking at a domain or a specific webpage and whether a backlink may have some value.

But I personally wouldn’t let a high DA sway me in one direction or another. There are a ton of high authority domains you likely don’t want a backlink from.

Porn sites and gambling sites may have a ton of domain authority and content that gets a lot of engagement, but that doesn’t mean a backlink could be good for you (unless you’re in those niches).

I found links to a fashion site I work on from porn sites with high DA in their cosplay section and we disavowed because we don’t want the association, even though the link was natural and benefited the end user.

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So What Should We Be Looking At?

The more important thing to look at is how Google will see that link.

Ask yourself why that site is linking to you – does your company sells something relevant to the topic of the website, the topic of the category, or the content within the page?

If you sell something unrelated like plumbing supplies or service alarm systems, Google will probably question why you have links from this site.

They will either ignore the link or potentially devalue your site as it may appear you’re building spammy links.

If this high DA site or series of sites has a ton of outbound links, there is a reasonable chance Google knows it is part of a farm and will likely ignore the link on its own.

If you’re worried about these links, you can always add them to your disavow sheet if it makes you feel more comfortable. Disavowing only takes a second and having peace of mind can last a long time.

That’s why I still do it for my clients.

For your app-specific questions: If you’re seeing this as an attack on your website, or it is a developer who is a fan of your brand and decided to link to you from all their apps or sites, you can leave it alone.

It’s likely they’re linking to all of your competitors, too, or your website is contextually relevant to the topic of the website.

If you do decide to trust a tool’s metric (all of them have their own) then I would pull a report of the specific URL linking to you (not the base domain) and look to see what the score is for that page.

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If the score is good and the content makes sense, I would keep the link. If it is clearly spam and not topically relevant I would consider disavowing the page or the entire domain to save time.

You can go a step further and pull similar reports for your top three competitors in Google search to see if they have similar backlinks. If they do then you may be in the clear as everyone in your space has the same issues.

In this situation focus on things in your control like on-page SEO with your content, page structure, schema, internal links, speed, and UX.

Do You Really Need To Worry About Disavowing Links?

Google has gotten a lot better about detecting good and quality backlinks while ignoring spammy backlinks, including high DA sites.

If the links are clearly not natural and only pointing at your site, go for the disavow and do domain-wide.

Again, peace of mind is something that can have a positive impact on your business and your personal life, so taking a couple of seconds to add the URL to your disavow file and upload is absolutely worth it – but only if you are sure it is a spammy link and from an irrelevant site/page/source.

I hope this answers your question and thank you for asking it.

These subjective questions are always more fun to tackle – you made my day!  =0)

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Editor’s note: Ask an SEO is a weekly SEO advice column written by some of the industry’s top SEO experts, who have been hand-picked by Search Engine Journal. Got a question about SEO? Fill out our form. You might see your answer in the next #AskanSEO post!


Featured image: fatmawati achmad zaenuri/Shutterstock





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