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Skills, Career Outlook & Tips For Success

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Skills, Career Outlook & Tips For Success

An SEO consultant is a specialist in search engine optimization who works outside of typical contracted employment.

For instance, they may be freelancers who work with their own clients or within an existing team but not as employees.

They might be responsible for a variety of tasks from pitching and closing to contract negotiations, as well as SEO.

And while there are some advantages to having a variety of tasks and the freedom to take on only the projects you want, SEO consulting also has its drawbacks.

This column will help you understand what to expect before choosing a career as an SEO consultant.

Are SEO Consultants Employed Or Freelance?

In the U.K., the answer gets slightly more complicated. The term “SEO consultant” can also describe the job title of an employed SEO that doesn’t really denote seniority or management responsibilities.

Like “SEO specialist” or “SEO advisor.”

This might also be how freelancers with side hustles and full-time jobs describe themselves.

It does, however, also mean an independent contractor like in the U.S.

Projects vs. Multiple Clients

An SEO consultant might choose to work with their own clients and the only person working on their SEO.

They might also choose to take contracts that embed them within an existing team, like joining as additional support to an enterprise SEO team.

Running Your Own Business

The key difference between a career as an SEO consultant and any other type of SEO job is that you will be running your own business.

As an independent contractor, you manage your contracts, pitching, and financial/tax obligations.

Essential Skills

What essential skills do you need to be a successful SEO consultant beyond being a good SEO professional?

Below is an overview of the basic skills for thriving as an independent SEO contractor, other than on-page, technical, and off-site SEO.

Budget Management

You may be used to managing a budget in your employed role to make sure clients’ hours were filled or checking profit and loss for your department.

However, additional, unforeseen costs can crop up when working as a freelancer.

That means you need to be able to manage a budget quickly, or there won’t be enough money left over at the end of each month for you to take home a wage.

There may be ad-hoc costs, such as initial legal advice, and ongoing costs like retaining an accountant.

Any marketing collateral, the cost of hosting and developing a website, those fancy tools we all love to use. You will entirely pay for them.

Without the deep pockets of an agency or brand behind you, all your business expenses will come from the money you have managed to earn as a consultant.

Time Management

Although any job requires a degree of time management, being an SEO consultant means spinning many plates at once.

There is also a lack of structure, support, and resources with an employed role.

Due to this, time management is an ever more important skill.

There will be immoveable business deadlines like legal and financial requirements and calls with stakeholders that other team members can’t cover in your absence.

Getting your invoices out on time could be most important for your longevity as a consultant.

The amount of admin that you need to find time for will increase. You will need to sort through receipts and update budgeting software.

You will need to submit financial details to make your own payroll. Then there are the emails and meetings.

No matter how many you had as an employed SEO, expect a lot as a consultant.

To be successful, you will need to be very adept at planning your time.

Pitching And Closing

From marketing your skills to pitching and closing a new client, you will need to be able to manage the entire cycle of winning new work.

There won’t be a business development team supporting you, so you may need to brush up on your persuasive skills.

Although you are an SEO by trade, I can tell you from first-hand experience that few of your business leads will come through your website even if you rank first for “SEO consultant” in your area.

You will also need to become an expert at marketing yourself in other ways.

That means picking up potential client leads through social media, events, and word of mouth.

Not only will you need to source potential client leads, but you will also need to effectively convert them. That means working on pitch decks, negotiating fees, and securing sign-off.

Contract Negotiations

Although you may have a standard contract template, expect prospective clients to go through it with a fine-tooth comb.

This might also extend to your pricing proposal and service level agreement.

A part of being an SEO contractor is the need to be able to negotiate contracts.

There may be an expectation of a certain level of compromise, especially if you want to work with smaller businesses with limited budgets.

When looking long-term at the next six to 12 months of your proposed contract, you will need to be able to predict how those compromises might affect your profit and quality of life.

A client may want you to work your proposed hours for less money, which brings down your average rate.

They might also expect you to respond to emails outside of your proposed working hours.

Although it might seem tempting to agree to these altered terms to secure the revenue, but long-term, it might not be beneficial for the growth of your business.

Understanding Of Financial And Legal Responsibilities

Being an SEO consultant means being your own boss, owning your own business, and the excitement and freedom it brings.

However, it also means being solely responsible for ensuring you are in full legal compliance.

This means understanding which business laws apply to you in your state or country, but also, if you have clients elsewhere in the world, understanding how their laws affect you.

For instance, the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) in Europe governs personal data control.

Even if you are not based in Europe, you may be subject to these rules if your clients are.

How you store information about your clients will need to comply with these regulations.

Being a consultant means no one is above you to take on this responsibility.

It’s all yours. You may be able to afford advice from lawyers or accountants to help you make informed decisions, but the ramifications are all on you if they advise you poorly.

Stakeholder Management

Another essential skill is good stakeholder management.

This includes communicating deadlines, chasing for invoice payments, and ensuring client expectations align.

When you are a consultant, your stakeholders aren’t just your clients.

They are your accountants, lawyers, suppliers, and other consultants you’re partnering with.

In a larger business, these stakeholders tend to communicate with various team members; the finance department, the CEO, the marketing team, and the account managers.

As a freelancer, you are the only point of contact.

The needs of a client versus your accountant’s needs are very different, but will both need prioritizing.

Learning to manage a wider range of stakeholders than you’re used to will greatly improve your success as an SEO consultant.

Fitting In With Teams Quickly

You will not be afforded a long onboarding period as an SEO consultant.

You will have to show value to your clients from day one. This can be a tricky skill to develop.

There will be an expectation that you can drive return on investment straight away, although you will need to learn their processes, procedures, product, and industry.

It is not just about understanding the business; you need to get on reasonably well with your new colleagues.

When working closely with other members of your client’s team, what they think of your work ethic and personality may well impact the length and recurrence of your contract.

Demonstrating ROI

When you join a new company as an employee, you will likely have a probation period – a few weeks to months where the company assesses your fit and competency.

If done well, it will be a time when you can work with your manager to fill any gaps in your knowledge and develop a training plan to make sure you are off to a great start in the company.

As a freelance SEO, you won’t get this.

Instead, you may have a break clause in your contract or simply the option for a client to cancel their recurring monthly contract if they don’t like your work.

A skill you will need to develop early on as an SEO consultant is demonstrating the return on investment of working with you.

This means understanding exactly what you are expected to deliver and making sure it is reasonable.

From there, you will need to report back on your success against these objectives.

Resilience

PsychologyToday defines resilience as “the psychological quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life’s adversities and come back at least as strong as before” and is a skill to cultivate.

Being a consultant can be galling.

One month you might have so much work to do that you wonder when sleep will be an option.

Others, you’re nervously staring at your emails, willing a proposal acceptance to come through.

Stability in the flow of work you win can be slow to build.

Then, overnight, a global pandemic can cause it all to dry up. One thing you tend to be short on as a contract SEO is certainty.

A vital skill for an SEO consultant is resilience.

Getting back up when a client unexpectedly ends their contract or there is a conflict with a competitor, is challenging.

Even when everything is going well, there will be the ever-present need to chase invoices that are 60 days overdue.

It can sometimes feel like an uphill battle.

Personal Branding

There is an element of an SEO consultant not only selling their services but also selling the dream of working with them personally.

As a consultant, you will be in a similar position to going for a job interview each time you pitch for work. Your client will need to believe that you are the best candidate for the job.

This may start well in advance of a pitch meeting.

The ideal for many consultants is that they become so well respected in the industry that word of mouth generates leads for them.

Rather than spending a lot of time and energy on marketing, they have clients approaching them.

Some of the most successful SEO consultants have chosen an industry and become experts.

By doing so, they can choose who they work with and charge fees that reflect the value they bring.

If you are looking to become an SEO consultant, it can help to understand your local market, the needs of the businesses who may work with you, and what you can do to be most attractive to them.

This might mean finding a niche and sticking to it for your market. It might mean going after smaller businesses that need the full range of SEO support.

Whatever you want to achieve as a consultant, you will need to be good at presenting your knowledge, skills, and value beyond the initial meeting with a prospect.

Salary Expectations

You may have a pretty good idea of what salaries look like in your country and region, but what about rates for SEO contractors?

Recently, Search Engine Journal conducted a salary survey looking at data points from the SEO industry.

The findings for freelance professionals were particularly interesting.

Search Engine Journal found that SEO freelance consultants earned less than $34,000 per annum on average.

The survey respondents who identified themselves as freelancers overwhelmingly had fewer than two years of experience. This will have heavily skewed their earnings.

With this in mind, take the average reported salary of an SEO consultant with a pinch of salt.

Yours may well be higher depending on location, years of experience, and specialisms.

In the U.K., Glassdoor reports that an SEO freelancer can make £31,540 per year (approximately $41,000).

What you choose to charge per project or per hour will greatly impact how much you take home each year.

You also need to consider how many hours you want to work each week. Together this will help you to identify how much you may be able to earn in a year if your client load is full.

Additional Costs

It is important to remember that you will also need to deduct the costs of running your business from your net earnings.

This may include items from networking group membership to tax and insurance.

Helpful Certifications And Experience

One of the great things about getting into a career in SEO is that there are very low barriers to entry.

There is no university degree you must have or governing body you are expected to be a part of.

On the flip side, there is little for prospective clients to use to measure how good an SEO you are.

Because of this lack of regulation in the industry, there are no standard certificates or qualifications to prove your competency.

Instead, you may need to demonstrate your expertise to prospective clients in other ways.

Helen Pollitt on selling yourself as an SEO consultant.

Demonstrable Experience

Your most obvious way to denote that you are an expert in your field is by showing your experience.

Unfortunately, many clients may equate experience with years in the industry. This isn’t always the case.

Experience With Specific Projects

A consultant may have carried out 20 website migrations during their three years in the industry because they worked at an SEO agency.

Another contractor may have only carried out one during their five years in the industry because they worked in-house for one brand.

A client looking for SEO support for their upcoming website migration might look more favorably at a consultant who has worked for five years in the industry.

They may wrongly believe more years of experience equals better performance.

If you are looking to pitch for a website migration project, as an SEO consultant, you will need to be able to show your specific experience with the facets of SEO the project will rely upon.

Industry-Specific Experience

Another aspect of your experience you will need to showcase is the industries you have worked in.

For some clients, knowing that their consultant understands their market, consumers and products will be paramount.

If you have worked across various industries, highlight them in your marketing and pitching material.

If you have worked within a limited range of verticals, you can speak more about the depth of experience.

You may benefit from showing that you have a wealth of knowledge about those particular industries that would make your learning curve with a new client quick and minimal.

Enough Experience

If you have been around the SEO industry for a while, you will likely have come across forums and threads where inexperienced SEO specialists have landed their first client and are now asking veterans how to do SEO.

This is not a situation that you will benefit from being in.

If you manage to land a client whose SEO needs are greater than you can meet, it will likely cause stress on both sides.

As a consultant, you will need to learn to identify the scope of a potential project quickly and decide if you have sufficient knowledge and experience to manage it.

Awards

As mentioned, no governing body oversees SEO practice, which can validate a consultant’s ability to carry out SEO.

However, there are many award shows and programs that serve in some way as a proxy for this.

The validity of awards is a hotly debated topic in SEO circles.

However, winning one does show that you have been independently judged as carrying out work to a high and impactful standard.

Case Studies

Giving examples of previous work in the form of case studies can help prospective clients to feel confident in your abilities.

It can sometimes be tricky to get sign-off from previous clients to use their data, so you may need to obfuscate it slightly.

Make sure you have permission to share any details, especially if it is from work you did before you became a consultant!

Recommendations And References

Just like you might need to provide for a newly employed role, having referees available to prospective clients can help them to understand what it will be like working with you.

Having a couple of current or previous clients happy to provide references can benefit a consultant.

Platforms like LinkedIn also allow you to request and receive recommendations that can go a long way to instilling trust in your work.

Additionally, although not as impartial, written recommendations on your own website may help convert prospective clients.

Certifications

Although there is no commonly accepted SEO qualification, several tools, agencies, and organizations offer certification in search.

Choosing to undertake their training and examination to receive a certification might seem redundant if you have been in the industry for many years, but it can help prove that your knowledge is current and your understanding reaches a standard.

Additionally, certifications in adjacent areas like analytics, data science, and programming can all help to demonstrate your particular skill set.

Consider certifications in specific SEO and analytics-focused tools.

These can show clients you can use their tool-stack without additional training.

Who Hires SEO Consultants And Why?

There are many types of organizations that would contract SEO consultants. It may be their only SEO resource or to complement an existing team or roster of freelancers.

Small Businesses

Small businesses that can’t afford their own internal resource will often reach out to SEO consultants.

SEO consultants often have lower overheads than agencies and may be cheaper to work with. This can be an appealing alternative to cash-strapped organizations.

Rounding Out A Team

Brands with an existing SEO team may use contractors to bolster their resources or fill a specific skill gap.

For instance, a brand looking to appear in Google Discovery for the first time may want outside advice on how best to do that if their internal team has no experience with it.

Filling A Temporary Gap

There may be a need to increase resources during busier seasons or to cover an extended leave of existing employees.

If an employee leaves the organization, a consultant might fill the gap while hiring a replacement.

Whitelabel

Some agencies may not have SEO provisions but want to partner with a consultant to offer that service to existing clients.

They may also want to test the water of how adding SEO to their services will work before hiring an employee to cover it.

Consultants can offer support without the cost of hiring, training, and employee benefits.

Assisting Agencies

Similar to brands that require temporary help in busier seasons, agencies might require an additional person in their team to bridge employee leave, skills gaps or to consult on specific industry projects.

Agencies can often offer repeat work for consultants for this reason.

Support With Hiring

A very niche project you might find yourself available to do as an SEO consultant is that of hiring support.

So rather than filling a skills gap yourself, you may be a consultant on the hiring of employed SEO professionals.

For organizations with no, or very junior, SEO teams, it can be difficult for the hiring manager to know enough about SEO to make a wise decision.

Consultants can bring their expertise to the recruitment process.

They might also recommend a job description, review CVs, and even conduct interviews.

Setting Up A Department

Along with helping with recruitment, SEO contractors might also help create a department from scratch.

This can be the case when a team is needed, but hiring talent at a senior level is proving difficult or too slow.

The SEO contractor might help create the department and potentially lead it until a permanent senior hire.

Considerations For Becoming An SEO Consultant

Ultimately, there is a lot to consider when moving from employed to contract work. It can be an exciting and liberating move, but it also risks.

No Boss

When you become an SEO consultant, you will trade the structure of a corporate world for the freedom of being independent.

That includes no longer having a manager.

Pros:

  • You are the boss! You get to make decisions that previously would be gatekept by your employer or more senior team members. Now, you are free to make those decisions yourself.
  • There is no one to disagree with your decisions or to say “no” to them. If you think something is worth trying, you do not need to get sign-off from a superior.

Cons:

  • You now have lots of bosses. It’s been said that moving to freelance means going from one boss to every client and stakeholder, essentially being your boss. They can still say no to you. You have more freedom to walk away from the project, but ultimately, you will need to concede sometimes if you want to earn money.

Legal And Financial Implications

You will need to follow laws, taxes to pay, and additional costs to being a consultant that you will need to be aware of.

All of this may affect your finances.

Pros:

  • Any money you make is for you to decide what to do with. The harder and smarter you work, the more you can be rewarded financially. No paying for your boss’s Tesla!
  • You have the freedom to be generous with your money. Your business can offer discounts for charities and free training for schools.

Cons:

  • All legal and financial obligations fall to you. The cost of non-compliance can be high both financially and on your time.
  • Getting the right advice can be costly. You may need to use the services of accountants, tax advisors, and lawyers.

Pick And Choose Projects

SEO consultants have much greater freedom to decide who they want to work with and on what projects.

Pros:

  • As an SEO consultant, there is more freedom to choose who you want to work with and what projects you want to work on. If you don’t enjoy a particular client set-up or disagree with the industry they are in, you can turn down the offer to pitch. This isn’t usually the case when you are working agency-side, for instance, where you might be expected to work with whichever client you are assigned.

Cons:

  • Being rigid in choosing who you work with and what you work on might be more challenging if you struggle to find clients. When employed in-house, you can choose the industry and the company set-up that suits you. In some agencies, you may be allowed to turn down work in certain industries you disagree with. Picking and choosing your projects as a consultant could mean not bringing in enough revenue on occasions.

Helen Pollitt on the freedom and drawbacks of being an independent SEO consultant.

Pitch For Work

You will have to develop your own business pipeline, including generating leads and ultimately converting them. This will likely mean pitching and contract negotiation.

Pros:

  • You won’t be in the situation again where someone has sold “the moon on a stick” and expects you to deliver it. You will be fully aware of your time, resources, and ability limitations and can pitch for work that fits that.
  • There should be greater freedom to showcase your abilities and demonstrate how you can help a prospective client.

Cons:

  • Not everyone enjoys the pitching process. It can be nerve-wracking and distracts from SEO execution’s day job. It’s not for everyone.
  • It can take time to put together winning proposals. They are necessary to keep work coming in but have to balance with the time requirements for actually completing client work.

Set Your Own Fee

Although dictated mainly by the type of client you want to work with and the market you are operating in, you will get to decide how much you charge.

Pros:

  • There may be greater autonomy to decide how much you want to charge for your work. You can essentially set your own salary as long as you can win the work to support it.
  • You can choose exactly how many hours and what work you are willing to do for that fee.

Cons:

  • It’s hard to get the pricing right. You may be tempted to charge what your last agency did for your time, but in reality, SEO consultants may struggle to charge high fees when they first set out unless they have good case studies and examples to back up the quality of their work.
  • Figuring out what to charge and what type of client you will need to sustain can be a bit of trial and error. Some leads may think you are over-priced; others may have been willing to pay more if asked for it.

Benefits

Depending on where you are working, the difference in employment rights for the employed and what you are entitled to as an independent contractor might be vastly different.

Beyond the legal rights you may be granted as an employed SEO, there are also likely additional benefits offered by your employer.

Pros:

  • You have greater freedom to choose the benefits that best fit your lifestyle. You can choose a medical insurance plan that works for your health needs. You can decide if the positives of having a company car outweigh the tax implications of one.

Cons:

  • You will not be automatically entitled to statutory holiday, sick leave, or other benefits afforded by your government to employed workers.
  • Maintaining the standard of living that you had as an employed SEO might be difficult once you go freelance. If you relied on your company’s great dental plan or loved the training budget, becoming a consultant might take some adjustment.

You Only Get Paid If You Issue Invoices

There are no “pros” for this one.

It’s essentially one of the most challenging aspects of being an SEO consultant.

If you can’t work for some reason, such as illness or holiday, you will not be able to bill for work. If you don’t bill for work, then you won’t get paid.

Unlike employment which may still pay you if you can’t work, that will not be something you get as a freelance SEO consultant.

If you can’t send out invoices, or worse, you do, but they don’t get paid, you may struggle to make your own payroll.

Conclusions

SEO consultants’ day-to-day working lives may look very similar to employed SEO experts in terms of work.

However, there are often additional complexities beyond SEO activity that can make it a scary prospect for some.

Taking the plunge into the freelance SEO world can be liberating, however. There is greater freedom in choosing what you want to do and when.

Some choose to dip their toe in consultancy work on the side of their regular job (if allowed by their employer).

This can help with the learning curve of running a business while in the safety of employment.

You may have no intention of leaving employment, but it is always good to keep an eye on the market. You may not want to be an SEO consultant yourself but need to hire one.

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SEO

Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair?

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Is ChatGPT Use Of Web Content Fair?

Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT train using multiple sources of information, including web content. This data forms the basis of summaries of that content in the form of articles that are produced without attribution or benefit to those who published the original content used for training ChatGPT.

Search engines download website content (called crawling and indexing) to provide answers in the form of links to the websites.

Website publishers have the ability to opt-out of having their content crawled and indexed by search engines through the Robots Exclusion Protocol, commonly referred to as Robots.txt.

The Robots Exclusions Protocol is not an official Internet standard but it’s one that legitimate web crawlers obey.

Should web publishers be able to use the Robots.txt protocol to prevent large language models from using their website content?

Large Language Models Use Website Content Without Attribution

Some who are involved with search marketing are uncomfortable with how website data is used to train machines without giving anything back, like an acknowledgement or traffic.

Hans Petter Blindheim (LinkedIn profile), Senior Expert at Curamando shared his opinions with me.

Hans commented:

“When an author writes something after having learned something from an article on your site, they will more often than not link to your original work because it offers credibility and as a professional courtesy.

It’s called a citation.

But the scale at which ChatGPT assimilates content and does not grant anything back differentiates it from both Google and people.

A website is generally created with a business directive in mind.

Google helps people find the content, providing traffic, which has a mutual benefit to it.

But it’s not like large language models asked your permission to use your content, they just use it in a broader sense than what was expected when your content was published.

And if the AI language models do not offer value in return – why should publishers allow them to crawl and use the content?

Does their use of your content meet the standards of fair use?

When ChatGPT and Google’s own ML/AI models trains on your content without permission, spins what it learns there and uses that while keeping people away from your websites – shouldn’t the industry and also lawmakers try to take back control over the Internet by forcing them to transition to an “opt-in” model?”

The concerns that Hans expresses are reasonable.

In light of how fast technology is evolving, should laws concerning fair use be reconsidered and updated?

I asked John Rizvi, a Registered Patent Attorney (LinkedIn profile) who is board certified in Intellectual Property Law, if Internet copyright laws are outdated.

John answered:

“Yes, without a doubt.

One major bone of contention in cases like this is the fact that the law inevitably evolves far more slowly than technology does.

In the 1800s, this maybe didn’t matter so much because advances were relatively slow and so legal machinery was more or less tooled to match.

Today, however, runaway technological advances have far outstripped the ability of the law to keep up.

There are simply too many advances and too many moving parts for the law to keep up.

As it is currently constituted and administered, largely by people who are hardly experts in the areas of technology we’re discussing here, the law is poorly equipped or structured to keep pace with technology…and we must consider that this isn’t an entirely bad thing.

So, in one regard, yes, Intellectual Property law does need to evolve if it even purports, let alone hopes, to keep pace with technological advances.

The primary problem is striking a balance between keeping up with the ways various forms of tech can be used while holding back from blatant overreach or outright censorship for political gain cloaked in benevolent intentions.

The law also has to take care not to legislate against possible uses of tech so broadly as to strangle any potential benefit that may derive from them.

You could easily run afoul of the First Amendment and any number of settled cases that circumscribe how, why, and to what degree intellectual property can be used and by whom.

And attempting to envision every conceivable usage of technology years or decades before the framework exists to make it viable or even possible would be an exceedingly dangerous fool’s errand.

In situations like this, the law really cannot help but be reactive to how technology is used…not necessarily how it was intended.

That’s not likely to change anytime soon, unless we hit a massive and unanticipated tech plateau that allows the law time to catch up to current events.”

So it appears that the issue of copyright laws has many considerations to balance when it comes to how AI is trained, there is no simple answer.

OpenAI and Microsoft Sued

An interesting case that was recently filed is one in which OpenAI and Microsoft used open source code to create their CoPilot product.

The problem with using open source code is that the Creative Commons license requires attribution.

According to an article published in a scholarly journal:

“Plaintiffs allege that OpenAI and GitHub assembled and distributed a commercial product called Copilot to create generative code using publicly accessible code originally made available under various “open source”-style licenses, many of which include an attribution requirement.

As GitHub states, ‘…[t]rained on billions of lines of code, GitHub Copilot turns natural language prompts into coding suggestions across dozens of languages.’

The resulting product allegedly omitted any credit to the original creators.”

The author of that article, who is a legal expert on the subject of copyrights, wrote that many view open source Creative Commons licenses as a “free-for-all.”

Some may also consider the phrase free-for-all a fair description of the datasets comprised of Internet content are scraped and used to generate AI products like ChatGPT.

Background on LLMs and Datasets

Large language models train on multiple data sets of content. Datasets can consist of emails, books, government data, Wikipedia articles, and even datasets created of websites linked from posts on Reddit that have at least three upvotes.

Many of the datasets related to the content of the Internet have their origins in the crawl created by a non-profit organization called Common Crawl.

Their dataset, the Common Crawl dataset, is available free for download and use.

The Common Crawl dataset is the starting point for many other datasets that created from it.

For example, GPT-3 used a filtered version of Common Crawl (Language Models are Few-Shot Learners PDF).

This is how  GPT-3 researchers used the website data contained within the Common Crawl dataset:

“Datasets for language models have rapidly expanded, culminating in the Common Crawl dataset… constituting nearly a trillion words.

This size of dataset is sufficient to train our largest models without ever updating on the same sequence twice.

However, we have found that unfiltered or lightly filtered versions of Common Crawl tend to have lower quality than more curated datasets.

Therefore, we took 3 steps to improve the average quality of our datasets:

(1) we downloaded and filtered a version of CommonCrawl based on similarity to a range of high-quality reference corpora,

(2) we performed fuzzy deduplication at the document level, within and across datasets, to prevent redundancy and preserve the integrity of our held-out validation set as an accurate measure of overfitting, and

(3) we also added known high-quality reference corpora to the training mix to augment CommonCrawl and increase its diversity.”

Google’s C4 dataset (Colossal, Cleaned Crawl Corpus), which was used to create the Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer (T5), has its roots in the Common Crawl dataset, too.

Their research paper (Exploring the Limits of Transfer Learning with a Unified Text-to-Text Transformer PDF) explains:

“Before presenting the results from our large-scale empirical study, we review the necessary background topics required to understand our results, including the Transformer model architecture and the downstream tasks we evaluate on.

We also introduce our approach for treating every problem as a text-to-text task and describe our “Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus” (C4), the Common Crawl-based data set we created as a source of unlabeled text data.

We refer to our model and framework as the ‘Text-to-Text Transfer Transformer’ (T5).”

Google published an article on their AI blog that further explains how Common Crawl data (which contains content scraped from the Internet) was used to create C4.

They wrote:

“An important ingredient for transfer learning is the unlabeled dataset used for pre-training.

To accurately measure the effect of scaling up the amount of pre-training, one needs a dataset that is not only high quality and diverse, but also massive.

Existing pre-training datasets don’t meet all three of these criteria — for example, text from Wikipedia is high quality, but uniform in style and relatively small for our purposes, while the Common Crawl web scrapes are enormous and highly diverse, but fairly low quality.

To satisfy these requirements, we developed the Colossal Clean Crawled Corpus (C4), a cleaned version of Common Crawl that is two orders of magnitude larger than Wikipedia.

Our cleaning process involved deduplication, discarding incomplete sentences, and removing offensive or noisy content.

This filtering led to better results on downstream tasks, while the additional size allowed the model size to increase without overfitting during pre-training.”

Google, OpenAI, even Oracle’s Open Data are using Internet content, your content, to create datasets that are then used to create AI applications like ChatGPT.

Common Crawl Can Be Blocked

It is possible to block Common Crawl and subsequently opt-out of all the datasets that are based on Common Crawl.

But if the site has already been crawled then the website data is already in datasets. There is no way to remove your content from the Common Crawl dataset and any of the other derivative datasets like C4 and .

Using the Robots.txt protocol will only block future crawls by Common Crawl, it won’t stop researchers from using content already in the dataset.

How to Block Common Crawl From Your Data

Blocking Common Crawl is possible through the use of the Robots.txt protocol, within the above discussed limitations.

The Common Crawl bot is called, CCBot.

It is identified using the most up to date CCBot User-Agent string: CCBot/2.0

Blocking CCBot with Robots.txt is accomplished the same as with any other bot.

Here is the code for blocking CCBot with Robots.txt.

User-agent: CCBot
Disallow: /

CCBot crawls from Amazon AWS IP addresses.

CCBot also follows the nofollow Robots meta tag:

<meta name="robots" content="nofollow">

What If You’re Not Blocking Common Crawl?

Web content can be downloaded without permission, which is how browsers work, they download content.

Google or anybody else does not need permission to download and use content that is published publicly.

Website Publishers Have Limited Options

The consideration of whether it is ethical to train AI on web content doesn’t seem to be a part of any conversation about the ethics of how AI technology is developed.

It seems to be taken for granted that Internet content can be downloaded, summarized and transformed into a product called ChatGPT.

Does that seem fair? The answer is complicated.

Featured image by Shutterstock/Krakenimages.com



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SEO

Google Updates Discover Follow Feed Guidelines

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Google Updates Discover Follow Feed Guidelines

Google updated their Google Discover feed guidelines to emphasize the most important elements to include in the feed in order for it to be properly optimized.

Google Discover Feed

The Google Discover follow feed feature offers relevant content to Chrome Android users and represents an importance source of traffic that is matched to user interests.

The Google Discover Follow feature is a component of Google Discover, a way to capture a steady stream of traffic apart from Google News and Google Search.

Google’s Discover Follow feature works by allowing users to choose to receive updates about the latest content on a site they are interested in.

The way to do participate in Discover Follow is through an optimized RSS or Atom feed.

If the feed is properly optimized on a website, users can choose to follow a website or a specific category of a website, depending on how the publisher configures their RSS/Atom feeds.

Audiences that follow a website will see the new content populate their Discover Follow feed which in turn brings fresh waves of traffic to participating websites that are properly optimized.

According to Google:

“The Follow feature lets people follow a website and get the latest updates from that website in the Following tab within Discover in Chrome.

Currently, the Follow button is a feature that’s available to signed-in users in English in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, UK, Canada, and Australia that are using Chrome Android.”

Receiving traffic from the Discover Follow feature only happens for sites with properly optimized feeds that follow the Discover Follow feature guidelines.

Updated Guidance for Google Discover Follow Feature

Google updated their guidelines for the Discover Feed feature to emphasize the importance of the feed <title> and <link> elements, emphasizing that the feed contains these elements.

The new guidance states:

“The most important content for the Follow feature is your feed <title> element and your per item <link> elements. Make sure your feed includes these elements.”

Presumably the absence of these two elements may result in Google being unable to understand the feed and display it for users, resulting in a loss of traffic.

Site publishers who participate in the Google Discover Follow feature should verify that their RSS or Atom feeds properly display the <title> and <link> elements.

Google Discover Optimization

Publishers and SEOs are familiar with optimizing for Google Search.

But many content publishers may be unaware of how to optimize for Google Discover in order to enjoy the loads of traffic that results from properly optimizing for Google Discover and the Google Discover Follow feature.

The Follow Feed feature, a component of Google Discover, is a way to help ensure that the website obtains a steady stream of relevant traffic beyond organic search.

This is why it’s important to make sure that your RSS/Atom feeds are properly optimized.

Read Google’s announcement of the updated guidance and read the complete Follow Feature feed guidelines here.

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SEO

Is Wix Good for SEO? Here’s Everything to Know About Wix SEO

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Is Wix Good for SEO? Here's Everything to Know About Wix SEO

As of 2023, Wix provides solid options for a basic SEO setup that will cover most needs but still lacks the flexibility of more advanced and granular settings.

In this article, I go through all the nooks and crannies of Wix SEO options so you can decide if Wix is right for your needs. I’ll also share some tips on how to make your Wix website more search-friendly if you’re already a Wix user.

Does Wix have everything you need for SEO?

Wix has a bit of a bad reputation for SEO. This is because from its launch in 2006 until its first big update in 2016, it lacked many basic SEO functionalities like adding alt text and being able to change URL structures.

However, that is no longer the case. You can now do virtually every on-page SEO task using the Wix platform. It even hired expert SEOs, such as Mordy Oberstein och Crystal Carter, who have pushed for more SEO features and better communication.

Back in 2019, we ran a study comparing Wix SEO to WordPress SEO analyzing over 6.4M websites. We found that, on average, far more WordPress websites get organic traffic than Wix websites. 

WordPress vs. Wix organic traffic

However, we believe that this is due to the website owners, not the platforms themselves. On average, Wix website owners are less tech-savvy (and less educated on SEO) than WordPress users, simply because of the extra learning curve that comes with using WordPress.

Editor’s Note

The study and its methodology weren’t great. Given that there are so many variables involved, we didn’t see a way to rerun it properly. We decided to replace the study with this guide, providing more value to readers and being more fair to Wix.

That said, we had the Wix’s SEO team provide feedback on this article as part of the editing process to ensure accuracy and increase objectivity.

Michal Pecánek

Let’s also see what Googlers have to say about Wix.

Here’s a quote by John Mueller, Google’s senior search analyst, on the topic of Wix SEO:

Wix is fine for SEO. A few years back it was pretty bad in terms of SEO, but they’ve made fantastic progress, and are now a fine platform for businesses. The reputation from back then lingers on, but don’t be swayed by it.

What they’ve done in recent years is really good stuff, including making it trivial to have a really fast site (as you see in the Lighthouse scores — admittedly, speed is only a tiny part of SEO).

If Wix works for them, and they don’t need more, there’s no reason to switch.

John Mueller

So overall, Wix has the majority of features most website users would need to manage SEO. But there’s more to the story…

While Wix has no major SEO issues, it does have three minor issues that may stop you from wanting to use it if you’re serious about search:

  1. Website builders will typically load slower than custom code – Wix inevitably has code bloat from features you will never use. This is true even if you use WordPress and install a theme builder like Elementor or Thrive Architect, so this isn’t exclusive to Wix. That said, it’s only a minor issue, and it already has great Core Web Vitals compared to other CMS types.
  2. Less-than-ideal multilingual support – If you plan on publishing your blog posts in multiple languages, you may want to skip Wix. For example, you don’t have full control over the URLs for different language versions of your site. However, some of these aspects are in its feature requests and may be available soon.
  3. Limited advanced SEO control – Wix lacks some advanced SEO features. For example, it’s difficult to edit the auto-generated sitemap. Additionally, Wix generates cryptic file names for images (e.g., 09a0ab7~mv2.jpg/), which is not good for ranking on Google Images. 

Ultimately, Wix’s SEO features will work for most website owners out there. 

If you are a business owner who wants to focus more time on running your business and less time on learning how to build the perfect website with the best features, Wix is an excellent choice.

To help you decide if Wix is right for you, we made this helpful table of who should and shouldn’t use Wix to build their website:

Type of website Is Wix a great solution? Explanation
Personal website Yes Wix provides all you need for small websites.
Local business Yes Wix provides all you need to create a quick and easy local business website and rank in local search results.
Affiliate website Maybe Wix can handle your needs for affiliate marketing and SEO well. But if you’re aiming to create a big, complex website, it may be worth your time to learn WordPress instead.
Content website Maybe Wix can handle your needs for content used to show display ads. But if you’re aiming to create a big, complex website, it may be worth your time to learn WordPress instead.
Services website Maybe If you offer a service such as SaaS, banking, etc., then Wix may be a good choice depending on the specific features needed. You’ll have to do your own research.
E-commerce website Maybe There’s no perfect out-of-the-box CMS for this. The most common choices are Shopify or WooCommerce, but Wix is a solid option for e-commerce SMBs too. It can handle even some of the more complex e-commerce SEO stuff.

I personally would never build a website on Wix over WordPress for myself. That’s because WordPress has more features and customizability. And even though it comes with a much steeper learning curve, that is something I’ve overcome. (I’ve been building WordPress websites for over a decade.)

That said, I built my dad a website for his remodeling business using Wix. I did this because it’s much easier for him to go in and edit things himself than it is with WordPress. And he’s able to rank for local keywords just fine on the Wix platform. The website is fairly new, and I will come back in a few months to update this page with the progress of his rankings.

One last thing to keep in mind is that switching your content management system (CMS) can be a massive pain. So whichever tool you choose, be ready to stick to it for a long time.

Five tips to make your Wix website SEO-friendly

Deciding to stick with Wix? Here are five Wix-specific tips to help you make sure your website is search-optimized:

1. Complete the Wix SEO Setup Checklist

Wix has a really easy-to-use SEO Setup Checklist built in its platform. To use it, navigate to the Marketing & SEO page, then click Get Found on Google.

Wix SEO Setup Checklist

From there, you’ll be asked a few questions to get started, such as your business name and the top three to five keywords you want your website to rank for. If you’re not sure which keywords to target, I highly recommend reading our guide to keyword research.

Once you answer the questions, you’ll see a screen with steps you can take to optimize your website for search engines, starting with your homepage.

Wix's steps to optimize site for search engines

SEO Setup Checklist will guide you through the process of updating your pages’ meta tags, making your website mobile-friendly, and more.

Go through each of these steps, and you’ll be well on your way to a search-optimized website.

2. Set up Google Search Console and Analytics

You’ll notice one of the steps is to connect your site to Google Search Console (GSC). This is Google’s suite of tools designed for website owners like you to more easily monitor your search rankings and find issues preventing your pages from being indexed by Googlebot

Performance report, via GSC

You can set up GSC with the click of a button using the SEO Setup Checklist. If you want to learn more, check out our complete guide to Google Search Console.

Wix SEO Wiz connecting Google Search Console

Once GSC is set up, you can connect Google Analytics (GA) to your website to get more insights into where your traffic is coming from and which pages your visitors are going to.

To connect GA, navigate to the Marketing Integrations tab under Marketing & SEO. It’s the first box that appears—click Connect.

Wix marketing integration with Google Analytics

Wix will instruct you on how to create a Google Analytics Property ID and connect that ID with your Wix website. If you need more help, we also have a guide on Google Analytics 4.

Once it’s set up and your website starts getting traffic, you’ll be able to see traffic and webpage reports. This can help you identify which pages may need improvements or how many conversions you get from organic traffic.

Google Analytics traffic report

That’s it—you’re done with step #2.

3. Create search-optimized content

If your website just has the basic homepage, as well as “about” and “contact” pages, chances are you won’t be able to rank well for much (if anything).

A crucial step in SEO is creating content that can be crawled and indexed by Googlebot. That means creating service pages if you’re a local business and possibly also creating blog content targeting relevant keywords to your industry.

Rather than making this whole article about content, I will leave you with a resource. Go check out our guide to SEO content to learn more.

4. Add internal links

Backlinks—links from another website pointing to your website—are one of the most important ranking factors in Google’s algorithm. However, they can be difficult to obtain.

Internal links from one page on your site to another on your site are almost as important as backlinks. But they are much easier to add. You just highlight some text and add the link in.

If you have pages on your website that you want to rank better, simply add more internal links to that page and you’re already on the path to higher rankings. Obviously, just adding some internal links won’t suddenly make you rank #1 for a keyword. But it’s an important—and often overlooked—step on the road to better rankings. 

To add an internal link with Wix, simply highlight the text you want to add a link to, click the “chain link” icon, then choose the page you want the link to point to.

Wix internal link settings

Check out our internal linking guide to learn more about this important SEO task.

5. Schedule regular SEO audits

Once your Wix website is set up and optimized, it’s important to schedule regular SEO audits to keep tabs on your rankings and make sure nothing gets broken.

While you can do this manually, it is time consuming and easy to overlook something. 

For example, you may not realize one of your pages broke and is now a 404 page, or that a certain blog post isn’t showing up in your sitemap, or that you’re missing metadata on a certain page… the list goes on.

Instead, you can use Ahrefs Webmaster Tools to automatically run weekly or monthly audits of your website. This free tool will give you a health score from 0 to 100 on how “healthy” your website is from an SEO perspective.

Health Score overview, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

You can then see specific tasks you need to do in order to fix these issues on your site. Go to the All issues report and check the issues we found while crawling your website.

All issues report, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

You can click the error and see exactly what it means and how to fix it.

Issue details, via Ahrefs' Site Audit

From there, you can click “View affected URLs” and go to those pages to fix the issues. Easy peasy.

Slutgiltiga tankar

Overall, Wix is a perfectly capable website builder for SEO. While it isn’t as advanced and capable as more complex CMSs like WordPress, it’s plenty good for people who just want to build a website and don’t have the time for or interest in a giant learning curve.

I still use Wix for certain client sites and to build sites for friends and family who want a website where they can still make small edits themselves. It’s my favorite website builder compared to other tools like Squarespace or WordPress.com (not to be confused with WordPress.org, which I use all the time).

One more benefit to using a website builder like Wix is that it’s a complete solution and takes care of the hosting and security. In fact, John doesn’t recommend self-hosting your websites. 

That said, if you want more advanced features and to dive deeper in SEO, I suggest learning WordPress.

Ready to keep learning? Here are some other helpful guides:



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