Reddit Traffic Up 39%: Is Google Prioritizing Opinions Over Expertise? via @sejournal, @MattGSouthern

Reddit’s website traffic has grown 39% compared to the previous year, according to data from Similarweb.

This growth seems fueled by Reddit’s increased visibility in Google search results.

Why is Reddit growing so fast, and what does this mean for businesses and SEO professionals?

Here’s our take on it.

Why Is Reddit Growing?

Several factors, including Google prioritizing “helpful content” from discussion forums in a recent algorithm update, have likely contributed to Reddit’s improved search rankings and visibility.

A report from Business Insider indicates that more people are now finding Reddit through Google searches than by directly visiting the reddit.com website.

Mordy Oberstein, Wix’s Head of SEO, shared recent data showing a consistent increase in the share of Reddit sources appearing in Google’s Discussion and Forums SERP feature.

Lily Ray, Senior Director of SEO and Head of Organic Research at Amsive Digital, tweeted about Reddit’s increased visibility in Google search results.

She noted that Reddit appeared in “Discussions and Forums” for various medical queries in recent weeks but not anymore today.

Ray also observed that the number of Discussion and Forum features with multiple Reddit URLs has decreased slightly over the past months.

Google’s $60 Million Deal with Reddit

Google recently signed a $60 million deal to license Reddit data for AI products.

The timing of the deal and Reddit’s search growth raise questions.

Google has denied a direct connection between the deal and Reddit’s search visibility, but the coincidence is notable.

Implications For Marketers & SEO Professionals

Reddit’s newfound dominance in Google search results presents business challenges and opportunities.

Challenges

Roger Montti, a staff writer for Search Engine Journal, raises concerns about the expertise and trustworthiness of Reddit content:

In the article, “Let’s Be Real: Reddit In Google Search Lacks Credibility,” Montti states:

“Opinions shared on Reddit by people who lack expertise and are sharing opinions in anonymity qualify as dubious. Yet Google is not only favoring Reddit in the search results, it is also paying millions of dollars for access to content that is lacking in expertise, experience, authoritativeness and trustworthiness.”

This is challenging because it means your expert-written content could get outranked by the opinions of anonymous Reddit users.

Opportunities

Search Engine Journal founder Brent Csutoras offers a more optimistic view, believing marketers should lean into Reddit’s newfound prominence.

In the article, “Why Every Marketer Should Be On Reddit,” Csutoras states:

“If your brand has something meaningful to say and is interested in truly connecting with your audience, then yes, you should be on Reddit.”

However, Reddit’s community-driven nature requires a delicate approach, Csutoras adds:

“Reddit communities can be highly negative toward self-serving promotion. But if you put in the effort and solve people’s needs and problems, Reddit has the potential to be a high-performance channel.”

Why SEJ Cares

SEO professionals and marketers should be mindful that expert-written resources could be outranked by Reddit threads that reflect personal opinions rather than authoritative information.

However, by providing genuine value and respecting Reddit’s community guidelines, businesses may be able to leverage the platform’s prominence for increased visibility and audience engagement.


Featured Image: rafapress/Shutterstock

Is Google Crawling Your Site A Lot? That Could Be A Bad Sign via @sejournal, @MattGSouthern

According to a recent LinkedIn post by Gary Illyes, Analyst at Google, you should be cautious if Google starts aggressively crawling your website.

While an uptick in crawling can be a good sign, Illyes says it may indicate underlying issues.

Illyes cautions:

“Don’t get happy prematurely when search engines unexpectedly start to crawl like crazy from your site.”

He says there are two common problems to watch out for: infinite spaces and website hacks.

Infinite Spaces Could Cause Crawling Spike

An issue Illyes highlighted is sites with “infinite spaces”—areas like calendar modules or endlessly filterable product listings that can generate unlimited potential URLs.

If a site is crawled a lot already, crawlers may get extra excited about infinite spaces.

Illyes explains:

“If your site generally has pages that search users find helpful, crawlers will get excited about these infinite spaces for a time.”

He recommends using the robots.txt file to block crawlers from accessing infinite spaces.

Hacked Sites Can Trigger Crawling Frenzy

Another troubling cause of a crawling spike is a security breach where hackers inject spam onto a reputable site.

Crawlers may initially interpret this as new content to index before realizing it’s malicious.

Illyes states:

“If a no-good-doer somehow managed to get access…they might flood your site with, well, crap… crawlers will get excited about these new pages for a time and happily crawl them.”

Remain Skeptical Of Crawling Spikes

Rather than assuming a crawling spike is positive, Illyes suggests treating it as a potential issue until the root cause is identified.

He states:

“Treat unexpected sharp increases in crawling as a symptom…until you can prove otherwise. Or, you know, maybe I’m just a hardline pessimist.”

Fixing Hacked Sites: Help From Google

For hacked sites, Illyes pointed to a page that includes a video with further assistance:

Here are the key points.

Tips From Google’s Video

Google’s video outlines the steps in the recovery process.

1. Identify The Vulnerability

The first crucial step is finding how the hacker gained access. Tools like Google’s Webmaster Tools can assist in detecting issues.

2. Fix The Vulnerability

Once the security hole is identified, it must be closed to prevent any future unauthorized access. This could involve updating software, changing passwords, etc.

3. Clean The Hacked Content

Check the entire site’s content and code to remove any spam, malware, defaced pages, or other injections by the hacker. Security plugins like Wordfence can assist in this process.

4. Harden Security

Beyond fixing the specific vulnerability, take additional measures to harden the site’s security. This could include enabling firewalls, limiting user permissions, and more frequent software updates.

5. Request A Review

Once the vulnerability is patched and any hacked content is removed, you can then request Google to review the site and remove any security warnings or blacklists once it’s verified as clean.

The video notes that the review process is faster for malware issues (days) than spam issues (weeks) since Google has to inspect spam cleanup efforts further.

Additional Tips From Google’s John Mueller

Google’s John Mueller has previously offered specific advice on recovering from the SEO impact of hacked pages:

  1. Use the URL removal tool to deindex the hacked pages quickly.
  2. Focus on improving the overall site quality beyond removing hacked content.
  3. Lingering impacts may persist for months until the site recovers Google’s trust.

Why SEJ Cares

Website security is crucial for all businesses, as hacked content can impact trust and search engine rankings.

Google’s Gary Illyes pointed out that sudden spikes in crawling activity could indicate security breaches or technical issues that need immediate attention.


Featured Image: Stacey Newman/Shutterstock

Google’s Unconventional Advice On Fixing Broken Backlinks via @sejournal, @martinibuster

Google’s Gary Illyes recently answered the question of whether one should spend time fixing backlinks with wrong URLs that are pointing to a website, known as broken backlinks. The answer is interesting because it suggests a way of considering this issue in a completely unorthodox manner.

Google: Should Broken Backlinks Be Fixed?

During a recent Google SEO Office Hours podcast, a question was asked about fixing broken backlinks:

“Should I fix all broken backlinks to my site to improve overall SEO?”

Google’s Gary Ilyes answered:

“You should fix the broken backlinks that you think would be helpful for your users. You can’t possibly fix all the links, especially once your site grew to the size of a mammoth. Or brontosaurus.”

Unconventional Advice

Assessing broken backlinks for those that are the the most helpful for “users” is an unconventional way to decide whether to fix them or not. The conventional SEO practice is to fix a broken backlink to assure that a site is receiving the maximum available link equity. So his advice runs counter to standard SEO practice but it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand because there may be something useful there.

Keep an open mind, be open to different ways of considering solutions. Something I like about his approach is that it’s a shortcut for determining whether or not a backlink is useful. For example, if the link is to a product that is no longer sold or supported in any way, a 404 response is the best thing to show to search crawlers and to users. So there is some validity to his way of looking at it.

Why Broken Backlinks Should Be Fixed

It’s not really a big deal to fix these kinds of backlinks, it’s one of the easier SEO chores to be done and it’s a quick win.

While any benefit is hard to measure, it’s nonetheless worth doing it for site visitors who might follow the wrong URL to the webpage that they’re looking for.

Check Backlinks After A Link Building Campaign

Checking backlinks is also important to do after a backlink campaign, even months after asking for a link, because site owners will sometimes add their links weeks or months later but it could be that they added the wrong URL. It happens, I know from experience.

Broken Backlinks That Do & Don’t Matter

The kinds of broken backlinks that usually (but not always) matter are the ones that show up as 404 errors on your server logs or in the Google Search Console.

There are two kinds of broken backlinks that matter:

  1. A backlink that’s broken because the linked page no longer exists or the URL changed.
  2. The URL of the backlink is misspelled.

Then there are backlinks that matter less and the reasons for that are:

  • Because the broken backlink is from a low quality website that doesn’t send any traffic
  • The link is to an outdated webpage that doesn’t matter and should return a 404 response
  • It’s just a random link created by an AI chatbot, spambot, or a spam web page.

How To Identify Broken Backlinks

Identifying any kind of broken backlink is (arguably) best done done by reviewing 404 errors generated from visits to pages that no longer exist or to URLs that are misspelled. If the link matters then there’s going to be web traffic from a broken backlink to a 404 page.

You might not be able to see where that link is coming from, although it may be possible to search for the broken URL and possibly find it.

The server log may show the IP address and user agent of the site visitor that created the broken link and from there a site owner can make the judgment call of whether it’s a spam or hacker bot, a search engine bot or an actual user. The Redirection WordPress plugin and the Wordfence plugin can be helpful for site owners that don’t have access to server logs.

A site owner may find that using a SaaS backlink tool might be useful for finding broken links but many sites, particularly sites that have been around awhile, have a lot of backlinks and using a tool might not be the right solution because it’s a lot of work for finding a link that doesn’t even send traffic. If the broken link sends traffic then you’ll know it because it’ll show up as a 404 error response.

Fixing Broken Backlinks

Fixing links that no longer exist can be done by recreating the resource or by redirecting requests for the missing web page to a web page that is substantially similar.

Fixing a link to a misspelled URL is easily done by redirecting the misspelled URL to the correct URL.

Another way to fix it is to contact the site that’s linking to the wrong URL but there are three things to consider before doing that.

1. The site owner may decide that they don’t want to link to the site and remove the link altogether.

2. The site owner may decide to add a no-follow link attribute to the corrected URL.

3. There are other sites that may have copied the web page and/or the link and are thus also linking to the wrong URL.

Simply adding a redirect from the misspelled URL to the correct URL fixes the problem without any risk that the backlink is going to be removed or nofollowed.

Fixing Broken Backlinks

Identifying broken backlinks is something that many site owners might stumble on when investigating 404 errors. Some call it link reclamation but any discussion of “link reclamation” is basically about fixing broken backlinks, it’s just another name for it.

Regardless, fixing these kinds of inbound links are one of the few SEO quick wins that could actually benefit a site owner and it could be a part of a site audit especially when it’s limited to finding opportunities in 404 error responses because these are links that are either getting crawled or are being used by potential site visitors.

Listen to the podcast at the 5:32 minute mark for the answer on fixing broken backlinks:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

How To Think About SEO, Content & PR Measurement (Indicated In The Google Leak) via @sejournal, @_kevinrowe

Google’s recent leak highlighted engagement as part of the ranking system, alluding to the importance of influencing audience behavior to drive SEO-specific metrics, like ranking or organic visibility.

That said, I’ve been using simple variations of these measures for a while to evaluate the impact of integrated PR and SEO campaigns. I don’t think the idea of measuring search behavior is new, but the Google leaks shed some light on its importance.

For sustainable growth in organic visibility and rankings, SEO strategies need to pivot to include measures that reflect how strongly owned assets, marketing assets, and messaging influence an audience’s search behavior.

Google’s broader objective to rank content that is genuinely helpful to specific audience segments is an important context for considering this shift.

So, SEO pros should evaluate website performance based on engagement-driven metrics like asset NPS, idea adoption rate, and time to activation, which will be important for directly and indirectly maximizing organic search visibility.

Why Measure Influence

The recent Google leaks highlight the growing importance of audience engagement measures in ranking pages.

This highlights the importance of integrating SEO, content creation, and PR, where influencing audience behavior becomes a key measure.

I see it like this:

  • Google emphasizes engagement: The Google leaks suggest that Google places a lot of weight on user engagement measures such as click data, repeat visitors, site traffic, or related click data. Despite being incomplete and likely outdated information, it is one of many examples of Google using user engagement in some way.
  • AI integration into the algorithm: With AI being integrated more heavily into Google’s ranking systems, AI could interpret and use this user engagement data to influence ranking.
  • Brand search: Site traffic from brand search is an indicator of audience engagement and can influence organic visibility.

But to drive audience engagement, we have to think beyond simple SEO activities like link building, creating keyword-focused content, or technical SEO.

The future of search marketing is designing scenarios that influence an audience’s search behavior.

Ideal Search Behavior Scenario

The audience’s journey is more complex today than ever because they use many different sources to learn about their problems, the solutions, and the opportunities they create. However, this scenario simplifies how to think about your search strategy.

Scenario: You create an asset, you get PR coverage, and the audience searches the asset in Google (maybe they don’t find it based on keywords, then search your brand name). Then, they keep returning to your site for new assets or resources to solve their problems or create an opportunity (the original one as a resource or for your offering).

Simple Search Behavior Scenario Statement:

I need to create a content asset about [a problem or opportunity], to get coverage about [an asset of the asset] that the audience will prompt because [audience interest], which will drive my audience to search for [category or terms you own], and they will immediately or return to the site to take action because [solve a problem or create an opportunity].

You’ll have to modify this based on your specific website event goals, but the statement’s essence will guide you in the right direction.

This direction will allow you to focus on the much more significant but more difficult-to-impact measures below.

I have a foundation in product management and marketing, so I adopted these measures from product marketing concepts since they directly relate to audience actions.

Measure 1: Asset NPS

How likely is your audience to promote your content assets or ideas?

NPS score is used to gauge an audience’s loyalty and satisfaction using a survey question: “How likely are you to recommend our content to a friend or colleague?”

Respondents can provide a rating from 0-10.

  • Promoters (9-10): Loyal and enthusiastic audience who keep talking about and referring your content or ideas to others.
  • Passives (7-8): Satisfied with content but not an overly enthusiastic audience who will listen to a competitor’s point of view.
  • Detractors (0-6): Unhappy audience that speaks negatively about your content.

High NPS indicates strong audience engagement, boosting engagement, and can indirectly influence organic visibility.

Typically, you’d have to survey an audience to gather the data. Use Google Forms, Survey Monkey, or any survey tool with a rating scale to collect questions.

Pro tip: Survey the audience on your site, the following you have on social media, or the email list you’re building as a result of the audience submitting contact info on the site or even through a newsletter.

Measure 2: Idea Adoption Rate

Does your audience adopt your ideas?

The adoption rate of an idea refers to the percentage of the audience segment that starts using the idea after you launch the asset.

This is a key measure to understand if your audience is accepting a particular idea, providing insights into engagement and market fit. This could directly influence engagement signals that can influence ranking.

Here’s How To Calculate

Metrics

  • Audience segment size: How many people are in your audience segment?
  • Audience usage size: Number of people who use the ideas in your content.
Formula: Adoption rate = (audience usage size/audience segment size) X 100%

You can collect this data in a lot of different ways, but shares alone are not a great metric since I don’t believe they reflect actual influence.

Find discussions or actions taken as a result of your ideas or content.

  • Is your audience discussing your ideas on LinkedIn, Twitter (X), or relevant social?
  • Are newsletters talking about your ideas or the essence of your ideas?
  • Are your process steps being discussed?
  • Do people share videos using your product or ideas?

Pro tip: I see some creators concerned about people “stealing” their original idea. I don’t think this is a bad thing. This is a signal of adoption due to the idea of solving a significant problem or opportunity.

Measure 3: Time To Activation

How long does it take your audience to take action on your site?

Time to activation measures how long it takes for your audience to take action by searching a topic or taking action on your site after engaging with your messaging.

These can include brand searches, search keywords you own, document downloads, contacting for a quote, or requesting a demo.

This measure can show how well your content is being adopted or if the messaging aligns with your audience’s journey. Shorter activation times suggest strong alignment with audience needs and higher content efficacy.

How To Measure

  • Identify an activation point (e.g., events you want the audience to trigger) or goals on the site.
  • Estimate how many people read or engaged with your content.
  • Measure how many people took action around specific events on the site.

Pro tip: Some marketers will say you shouldn’t measure your program because attribution modeling doesn’t work or SEO takes time. However, time to activation highlights the importance of evaluating the actions on the site that the campaign should drive. Design campaigns for time to activation of less than 3 months for each event, 6 months for large goals, and 12 months for larger business impacts like creating a new market category.

As you activate your audience, brand search will likely have an impact, as your audience will likely search Google for more information on your topic.

Measure 4: Brand Search Volume

Does the audience search for your brand in search engines?

Brand measures refer to the number of times users search for a specific term you branded or own in search engines.

You can measure this in Google Search Console, searching for your brand name or a term you own.

Pro tip: Brand keywords are reported in Google Analytics under the general search engine (e.g. Google) with non-brand keywords. Look for short-term spikes or sustainable trends in Google Search Console, segmenting it in any way possible (e.g. page, query, date, brand modified term) to find the impact. Design your strategy with the idea of being able to measure brand search impact.

Impact On Your Strategy

Integrating SEO and PR strategies to influence audience behavior and engagement is important for maximizing organic visibility and search rankings.

Google’s recent leaks emphasize the importance of audience engagement, highlighting the need to integrate content creation, SEO, and PR to drive meaningful interactions.

Measures such as asset NPS, idea adoption rate, and time to activation provide valuable insights into audience loyalty, idea adoption, and action times.

These seem to be important for driving engagement and influencing search engine rankings but critical for audience engagement.

These engagement-driven measures will help ensure you don’t have to keep chasing Google’s evolving algorithms and that content genuinely resonates with your audience segment.

Start designing integrated PR and SEO strategies.

More resources:


Featured Image: Yurii_Yarema/Shutterstock

Google Answers Question About Toxic Link Sabotage via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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

Question About Alerting Google To Toxic Links

Gary narrated the question:

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

And this is Gary’s answer:

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

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

Disavow Links If You Feel Like It

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

This is what it advises:

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

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

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

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

Origin Of The Phrase Toxic Links

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

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

Confirmation That Google Is Able To Ignore Links

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

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

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

Featured Image by Shutterstock/New Africa

Google On Traffic Diversity As A Ranking Factor via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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

What Was Said

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SearchLiaison continued:

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

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

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

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

SearchLiaison continued:

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

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

He added this caveat to his tweet:

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

Despite The Caveat…

A journalist tweeted this:

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

So, I asked @iPullRank what he thought.”

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

He tweeted:

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

The journalist responded:

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

And SearchLiaison answered:

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

Not Everything Is About Ranking Factors

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

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

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

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

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Asier Romero

Google: Should H1 & Title Tags Match? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

Google’s Office Hours podcast answered the important question of whether it matters if the title element and the H1 element match. It’s a good question because Google handles these elements in a unique way that’s different from how traditional SEO thinks about it.

How Important Is It For H1 & Title Tags To Match?

The question and answer are short. Google’s Gary Illyes answers the question and then links to documentation about how Google produces “title links” in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

This is the question:

“…is it important for title tags to match the H1 tag?”

Gary answers:

“No, just do whatever makes sense from a user’s perspective.”

That’s a useful answer but it’s also missing the explanation of why it’s not important that the title tag matches the first heading element.

The Title And H1 Elements

The title element is in the section with the other metadata and scripts that are used by search engines and browsers. The role of the element is to offer a general but concise description of what the web page is about before a potential site visitor clicks from the SERPs to the web page. So the title must describe the web page in a way that tells the potential visitor that the web page contains the content about whatever topic the page is about and if that’s a match to what the person is looking for then they’ll click through.

So it’s not that the title tag entices a click. It’s job is to say this is what’s on the page.

Now the heading elements (H1, H2, etc) are like mini titles, they describe what each section of a web page is about. Except for the first heading, which is usually an H1 (but could be an H2, it doesn’t matter to Google).

The first heading offers a concise description of what the web page is about to a site visitor that already knows what the page is about in a general way. So the H1 element can be said to be a little more specific in a way.

The official W3C HTML documentation for the H1 tells how the H1 is supposed to be used:

“It is suggested that the the text of the first heading be suitable for a reader who is already browsing in related information, in contrast to the title tag which should identify the node in a wider context.”

How Does Google Use H1 and Titles?

Google uses the headings and titles as a source of information about what the web page is about. But it also uses them to create the title link, which is the title that shows in the SERPs. So if the element is inappropriate because it’s got a popular keyword phrase that the SEO wants to rank for but doesn’t describe what the page is about, Google’s going to check the heading tags and use one of those as the title link.

Twenty years ago it used to be mandatory to put the keyword phrase you wanted to rank for in the title tag. But ranking factors don’t work like that anymore because Google has natural language processing, neural networks, machine learning and AI that helps it understand concepts and topics.

That’s why the title tag and the heading tags are not parking spots for the keywords you want to rank for. They are best used to describe the page in a general (title element) and a bit more specific (H1) way.

Google’s Rules For Title Links

Gary Illyes of Google linked to documentation about how Google uses titles and headings to produce title links.

Titles must be descriptive and concise. Yes, use keywords but remember that the title must accurately describe the content.

Google’s guidelines explain:

“Title links are critical to giving users a quick insight into the content of a result and why it’s relevant to their query. It’s often the primary piece of information people use to decide which result to click on, so it’s important to use high-quality title text on your web pages.”

Avoid Boilerplate

Boilerplate is a phrase that’s repeated across the site. It’s usually templated content, like:

(type of law) Lawyers In (insert city name), (insert state name) – Name Of Website

Google’s documentation recommends that a potential site visitor should be able to distinguish between different pages by the title elements.

This is the recommendation:

“Avoid repeated or boilerplate text in elements. It’s important to have distinct text that describes the content of the page in the <title> element for each page on your site.”

Branding In Title Tags

Another helpful tip is about website branding. Google advises that the home page is an appropriate location to provide extra information about the site.

Google provides this example:

ExampleSocialSite, a place for people to meet and mingle

The extra information about the site is not appropriate to have on the inner pages because that looks really bad when Google ranks more than one page from the website plus it’s missing the point about what the title tag is supposed be about.

Google advises:

“…consider including just your site name at the beginning or end of each element, separated from the rest of the text with a delimiter such as a hyphen, colon, or pipe like this:

ExampleSocialSite: Sign up for a new account.

Content That Google Uses For Title Links

Google uses the following content for creating title links:

  • “Content in elements
  • Main visual title shown on the page
  • Heading elements, such as

    elements

  • Other content that’s large and prominent through the use of style treatments
  • Other text contained in the page
  • Anchor text on the page
  • Text within links that point to the page
  • WebSite structured data”

Takeaways:

  • Google is choosing the title element to display as the title link. If it’s not a good match it may use the first heading as the title link in the SERPs. If that’s not good enough then it’ll search elsewhere on the page.
  • Use the title to describe what the page is about in a general way.
  • Headings are basically section “titles,” so the first heading (or H1) can be an opportunity to describe what the page is about in a more precise way than the title so that the reader is compelled to start reading or shopping or whatever they’re trying to do.
  • All of the headings in a web page together communicate what the entire page is about, like a table of contents.
  • The title element could be seen as serving the function similar to the title of a non-fiction book.
  • The first heading is more specific than the title about what the page is about.

Listen to the question and answer at the 10:46 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Khosro

What Is Schema Markup & Why Is It Important For SEO? via @sejournal, @ChuckPrice518

Schema.org is a collection of vocabulary (or schemas) used to apply structured data markup to web pages and content. Correctly applying schema can improve SEO outcomes through rich snippets.

Structured data markup is translated by platforms such as Google and Microsoft to provide enhanced rich results (or rich snippets) in search engine results pages or emails. For example, you can markup your ecommerce product pages with variants schema to help Google understand product variations.

Schema.org is an independent project that has helped establish structured data consistency across the internet. It began collaborating with search engines such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, and Yandex back in 2011.

The Schema vocabulary can be applied to pages through encodings such as RDFa, Microdata, and JSON-LD. JSON-LD schema is preferred by Google as it is the easiest to apply and maintain.

Does Schema Markup Improve Your Search Rankings?

Schema is not a ranking factor.

However, your webpage becomes eligible for rich snippets in SERPs only when you use schema markup. This can enhance your search visibility and increase CTR on your webpage from search results.

Schema can also be used to build a knowledge graph of entities and topics. Using semantic markup in this way aligns your website with how AI algorithms categorize entities, assisting search engines in understanding your website and content.

The information provided by structured data can provide context to an otherwise ambiguous webpage. It can also help you clarify entities with multiple potential meanings.

According to Schema.org:

“Most webmasters are familiar with HTML tags on their pages. Usually, HTML tags tell the browser how to display the information included in the tag. For example,

Avatar

tells the browser to display the text string “Avatar” in a heading 1 format.

However, the HTML tag doesn’t give any information about what that text string means—“Avatar” could refer to the hugely successful 3D movie, or it could refer to a type of profile picture—and this can make it more difficult for search engines to intelligently display relevant content to a user.”

This means that search engines should have additional information to help them figure out what the webpage is about.

You can even link your entities directly to sites like Wikipedia or Google’s knowledge graph to build explicit connections. Using Schema this way can have positive SEO results, according to Martha van Berkel, CEO of Schema App:

“At Schema App, we’ve tested how entity linking can impact SEO. We found that disambiguating entities like places resulted in pages performing better on [near me] and other location-based search queries.

Our experiments also showed that entity linking can help pages show up for more relevant non-branded search queries, increasing click-through rates to the pages.

Here’s an example of entity linking. If your page talks about “Paris”, it can be confusing to search engines because there are several cities in the world named Paris.

If you are talking about the city of Paris in Ontario, Canada, you can use the sameAs property to link the Paris entity on your site to the known Paris, Ontario entity on Wikipedia, Wikidata, and Google’s Knowledge Graph.”

By helping search engines understand content, you are assisting them in saving resources (especially important when you have a large website with millions of pages) and increasing the chances for your content to be interpreted properly and ranked well. While this may not be a ranking factor directly, Schema helps your SEO efforts by giving search engines the best chance of interpreting your content correctly, giving users the best chance of discovering it.

What Is Schema Markup Used For?

Listed above are some of the most popular uses of schema, which are supported by Google and other search engines.

You may have an object type that has a schema.org definition but is not supported by search engines.

In such cases, it is advised to implement them, as search engines may start supporting them in the future, and you may benefit from them as you already have that implementation.

Types Of Schema Encoding: JSON-LD, Microdata, & RDFa

There are three primary formats for encoding schema markup:

  • JSON-LD.
  • Microdata.
  • RDFa.

Google recommends JSON-LD as the preferred format for structured data. Microdata is still supported, but JSON-LD schema is recommended.

In certain circumstances, it isn’t possible to implement JSON-LD schema due to website technical infrastructure limitations such as old content management systems). In these cases, the only option is to markup HTML via Microdata or RDFa.

You can now mix JSON-LD and Microdata formats by matching the @id attribute of JSON-LD schema with the itemid attribute of Microdata schema. This approach helps reduce the HTML size of your pages.

For example, in a FAQ section with extensive text, you can use Microdata for the content and JSON-LD for the structured data without duplicating the text, thus avoiding an increase in page size. We will dive deeper into this below in the article when discussing each type in detail.

1. JSON-LD Schema Format

JSON-LD encodes data using JSON, making it easy to integrate structured data into web pages. JSON-LD allows connecting different schema types using a graph with @ids, improving data integration and reducing redundancy.

Let’s look at an example. Let’s say that you own a store that sells high-quality routers. If you were to look at the source code of your homepage, you would likely see something like this:

TechHaven

The best routers you’ll find online!

Address:

459 Humpback Road

Rialto, Ca

Tel: 909 574 3903

Click here to view our best routers!

We’re open:

Mon-Sat 8am - 10:30pm

Sun: 2pm - 8pm

Once you dive into the code, you’ll want to find the portion of your webpage that discusses what your business offers. In this example, that data can be found between the two

tags.

The following JSON-LD formatted text will markup the information within that HTML fragment on your webpage, which you may want to include in your webpage’s section.


This snippet of code defines your business as a store via the attribute"@type": "Store".

Then, it details its location, contact information, hours of operation from Monday to Saturday, and different operational hours for Sunday.

By structuring your webpage data this way, you provide critical information directly to search engines, which can improve how they index and display your site in search results. Just like adding tags in the initial HTML, inserting this JSON-LD script tells search engines specific aspects of your business.

Let’s review another example of WebPage schema connected with Organization and Author schemas via @id. JSON-LD is the format Google recommends and other search engines because it’s extremely flexible, and this is a great example.


In the example:

  • Website links to the organization as the publisher with @id.
  • The organization is described with detailed properties.
  • WebPage links to the WebSite with isPartOf.
  • NewsArticle links to the WebPage with isPartOf, and back to the WebPage with mainEntityOfPage, and includes the author property via @id.

You can see how graph nodes are linked to each other using the"@id"attribute. This way, we inform Google that it is a webpage published by the publisher described in the schema.

The use of hashes (#) for IDs is optional. You should only ensure that different schema types don’t have the same ID by accident. Adding custom hashes (#) can be helpful, as it provides an extra layer of insurance that they will not be repeated.

You may wonder why we use"@id"to connect graph nodes. Can’t we just drop organization, author, and webpage schemas separately on the same page, and it is intuitive that those are connected?

The issue is that Google and other search engines cannot reliably interpret these connections unless explicitly linked using @id.

Adding to the graph additional schema types is as easy as constructing Lego bricks. Say we want to add an image to the schema:

{
   "@type": "ImageObject",
   "@id": "https://www.example.com/#post-image",
   "url": "https://www.example.com/example.png",
   "contentUrl": "https://www.example.com/example.png",
   "width": 2160,
   "height": 1215,
   "thumbnail": [
     {
        "@type": "ImageObject",
        "url": "https://example.com/4x3/photo.jpg",
        "width": 1620,
        "height": 1215
      },
      {
        "@type": "ImageObject",
        "url": "https://example.com/16x9/photo.jpg",
        "width": 1440,
        "height": 810
      },
      {
        "@type": "ImageObject",
        "url": "https://example.com/1x1/photo.jpg",
        "width": 1000,
        "height": 1000
      }
    ]
}

As you already know from the NewsArticle schema, you need to add it to the above schema graph as a parent node and link via @id.

As you do that, it will have this structure:


Quite easy, isn’t it? Now that you understand the main principle, you can build your own schema based on the content you have on your website.

And since we live in the age of AI, you may also want to use ChatGPT or other chatbots to help you build any schema you want.

2. Microdata Schema Format

Microdata is a set of tags that aims to make annotating HTML elements with machine-readable tags much easier.

However, the one downside to using Microdata is that you have to mark every individual item within the body of your webpage. As you can imagine, this can quickly get messy.

Take a look at this sample HTML code, which corresponds to the above JSON schema with NewsArticle:

Our Company

Example Company, also known as Example Co., is a leading innovator in the tech industry.

Founded in 2000, we have grown to a team of 200 dedicated employees.

Our slogan is: "Innovation at its best".

Contact us at +1-800-555-1212 for customer service.

Our Founder

Our founder, Jane Smith, is a pioneer in the tech industry.

Connect with Jane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Us

This is the About Us page for Example Company.

Example News Headline

This is an example news article.

This is the full content of the example news article. It provides detailed information about the news event or topic covered in the article.

Author: John Doe. Connect with John on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Example image

If we convert the above JSON-LD schema into Microdata format, it will look like this:

Our Company

Example Company, also known as Example Co., is a leading innovator in the tech industry.

Founded in 2000-01-01, we have grown to a team of 200 dedicated employees.

Our slogan is: Innovation at its best.

Contact us at +1-800-555-1212 for Customer Service.

Example Company Logo

Connect with us on: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

Our Founder

Our founder, Jane Smith, is a pioneer in the tech industry.

Connect with Jane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Us

This is the About Us page for Example Company.

Example News Headline

This is an example news article.

This is the full content of the example news article. It provides detailed information about the news event or topic covered in the article.

Author:

Example image

This example shows how complicated it becomes compared to JSON-LD since the markup is spread over HTML. Let’s understand what is in the markup.

You can see

tags like:

By adding this tag, we’re stating that the HTML code contained between the

blocks identifies a specific item.

Next, we have to identify what that item is by using the ‘itemtype’ attribute to identify the type of item (Person).

An item type comes in the form of a URL (such as https://schema.org/Person). Let’s say, for example, you have a product you may use http://schema.org/Product.

To make things easier, you can browse a list of item types here and view extensions to identify the specific entity you’re looking for. Keep in mind that this list is not all-encompassing but only includes ones that are supported by Google, so there is a possibility that you won’t find the item type for your specific niche.

It may look complicated, but Schema.org provides examples of how to use the different item types so you can see what the code is supposed to do.

Don’t worry; you won’t be left out in the cold trying to figure this out on your own!

If you’re still feeling a little intimidated by the code, Google’s Structured Data Markup Helper makes it super easy to tag your webpages.

To use this amazing tool, just select your item type, paste in the URL of the target page or the content you want to target, and then highlight the different elements so that you can tag them.

3. RDFa Schema Format

RDFa is an acronym for Resource Description Framework in Attributes. Essentially, RDFa is an extension to HTML5 designed to aid users in marking up structured data.

RDFa isn’t much different from Microdata. RDFa tags incorporate the preexisting HTML code in the body of your webpage. For familiarity, we’ll look at the same code above.

The HTML for the same JSON-LD news article will look like:

vocab="https://schema.org/" typeof="WebSite" resource="https://www.example.com/#website">

Our Company

Example Company, also known as Example Co., is a leading innovator in the tech industry.

Founded in 2000-01-01, we have grown to a team of 200 dedicated employees.

Our slogan is: Innovation at its best.

Contact us at +1-800-555-1212 for Customer Service.

https://www.example.com Example Company Logo

Connect with us on: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn

Our Founder

Our founder, Jane Smith, is a pioneer in the tech industry.

Connect with Jane on Twitter and LinkedIn.

About Us

This is the About Us page for Example Company.

https://www.example.com/about

Example News Headline

This is an example news article.

This is the full content of the example news article. It provides detailed information about the news event or topic covered in the article.

Author: John Doe Profile Twitter LinkedIn

Example image

Unlike Microdata, which uses a URL to identify types, RDFa uses one or more words to classify types.

vocab=”http://schema.org/” typeof=”WebPage”>

If you wish to identify a property further, use the ‘typeof’ attribute.

Let’s compare JSON-LD, Microdata, and RDFa side by side. The @type attribute of JSON-LD is equivalent to the itemtype attribute of Microdata format and the typeof attribute in RDFa. Furthermore, the propertyName of JSON-LD attribute would be the equivalent of the itemprop and property attributes.

Attribute Name JSON-LD Microdata RDFa
Type @type itemtype typeof
ID @id itemid resource
Property propertyName itemprop property
Name name itemprop=”name” property=”name”
Description description itemprop=”description” property=”description”

For further explanation, you can visit Schema.org to check lists and view examples. You can find which kinds of elements are defined as properties and which are defined as types.

To help, every page on Schema.org provides examples of how to apply tags properly. Of course, you can also fall back on Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

4. Mixing Different Formats Of Structured Data With JSON-LD

If you use JSON-LD schema but certain parts of pages aren’t compatible with it, you can mix schema formats by linking them via @id.

For example, if you have live blogging on the website and a JSON-LD schema, including all live blogging items in the JSON schema would mean having the same content twice on the page, which may increase HTML size and affect First Contentful Paint and Largest Contentful Paint page speed metrics.

You can solve this either by generating JSON-LD dynamically with JavaScript when the page loads or by marking up HTML tags of live blogging via the Microdata format, then linking to your JSON-LD schema in the head section via “@id“.

Here is an example of how to do it.

Say we have this HTML with Microdata markup with itemid="https://www.example.com/live-blog-page/#live-blog"

Live Blog Headline

Explore the biggest announcements from DevDay

OpenAI is taking the first step in gradual deployment of GPTs – tailored ChatGPT for a specific purpose – for safety purposes.

ChatGPT now uses GPT-4 turbo with current knowledge.

It also knows which tool to choose for a task with GPT-4 All Tools.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella joined Altman to announce deeper partnership with OpenAI to help developers bring more AI advancements.

We can link to it from the sample JSON-LD example we had like this:


If you copy and paste HTML and JSON examples underneath in the schema validator tool, you will see that they are validating properly.

The schema validator does validate the above example.The schema validator does validate the above example.

The SEO Impact Of Structured Data

This article explored the different schema encoding types and all the nuances regarding structured data implementation.

Schema is much easier to apply than it seems, and it’s a best practice you must incorporate into your webpages. While you won’t receive a direct boost in your SEO rankings for implementing Schema, it can:

  • Make your pages eligible to appear in rich results.
  • Ensure your pages get seen by the right users more often.
  • Avoid confusion and ambiguity.

The work may seem tedious. However, given time and effort, properly implementing Schema markup is good for your website and can lead to better user journeys through the accuracy of information you’re supplying to search engines.


Image Credits

Featured Image: Paulo Bobita
Screenshot taken by author

Read more:

When Is Duplicate Content Acceptable For Local SEO? Google Explains via @sejournal, @MattGSouthern

Google’s John Mueller clarified that localized duplicate content across regional websites is acceptable. Unique content is still recommended for specific page types.

  • Google doesn’t penalize duplicate content on localized websites.
  • Translating or customizing core content for local markets is acceptable.
  • However, unique content is still needed for certain pages.
Google’s Response to Affiliate Link Heavy Content via @sejournal, @martinibuster

Google’s John Mueller responded to a question about whether affiliate links have a negative impact on rankings, touching on factors that affiliate sites should keep in mind.

Hypothesis: Google Targets Affiliate Sites

There is a decades-long hypothesis that Google targets affiliate sites. SEOs were talking about it as far back as Pubcon Orlando 2004 and for longer than that on SEO forums.

In hindsight it’s easy to see that that Google wasn’t targeting affiliate sites, Google was targeting the quality level of sites that followed certain tactics like keyword stuffing, organized link rings, scaled automated content and so on.

Image Representing A Low Quality Site

The idea that Google targets affiliate sites persists, probably because so many affiliate sites tend to lose rankings every update. But it’s also true that those same affiliate sites have shortcomings that the marketers are may or may not be aware of.

It’s those shortcomings that John Mueller’s answer implies that affiliates should focus on.

Do Many Affiliate Links Hurt Rankings?

This is the question:

“…do many affiliate links hurt the ranking of a page?”

Google’s John Mueller answered:

“We have a blog post from about 10 years ago about this, and it’s just as relevant now. The short version is that having affiliate links on a page does not automatically make your pages unhelpful or bad, and also, it doesn’t automatically make the pages helpful.

You need to make sure that your pages can stand on their own, that they’re really useful and helpful in the context of the web, and for your users.”

Pages That Can Stand On Their Own

The thing about some affiliate marketers that encounter ranking issues is that even though they “did everything perfect” a lot of their ideas of perfections come from reading blogs tha recommend outdated tactics.

Consider that today, in 2024, there are some SEOs who are still insisting that Google uses simple clickthrough rates as a ranking factor, as if AI hasn’t been a part of Google’s algorithm for the past 10+ years, insisting as if machine learning couldn’t use clicks to create classifiers that can be used to predict which content is most likely to satisfy users.

What Are Common Outdated Tactics?

These are in my opinion the kind of tactics that can lead to unhelpful content:

  • Targeting Keywords Not People
    Keywords, in my opinion, are the starting point for identifying topics that people are interested in. Google doesn’t rank keywords, they rank content that’s about the topics and concepts associated with those keywords. An affiliate, or anyone else, who begins and ends their content by targeting keywords is unintentionally creating content for search engines not people and lacks the elements of usefulness and helpfulness that Google’s signals are looking for.
  • Copying Competitors
    Another tactic that’s more harmful than helpful is the ones that advise site owners to copy what competitors who rank are doing and then do it ten times better. That’s basically just giving Google what they already have in the search results and is the kind of thing that Google will not find unique or original and risks getting discovered/not indexed at worst and ranking on page two or three at best.

The essence of outcompeting a competitor isn’t copying them, it’s doing something users appreciate that competitor’s aren’t doing.

Takeaways:

The following are my takeaways, my opinion on three ways to do better in search.

  • Don’t just target keywords.
    Focus on the people who are searching for those keywords and what their needs are.
  • Don’t research your competitors to copy what their doing.
    Research your competitors to identify what they’re not doing (or doing poorly) and make that your competitive strength.
  • Don’t just build links to promote your site to other sites.
    Promote your sites to actual people. Identify where your typical site visitor might be and identify ways of making your website known to them, there. Promotion does not begin and end with links.

What Does Google Say About Affiliate Sites?

Mueller mentioned that he wrote something ten years ago but he didn’t link to it. Good luck finding it.

But Google has published content about the topic and here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. Use the rel=sponsored link attribute. The following is from 2021:

“Affiliate links on pages such as product reviews or shopping guides are a common way for blogs and publishers to monetize their traffic. In general, using affiliate links to monetize a website is fine. We ask sites participating in affiliate programs to qualify these links with rel=”sponsored”, regardless of whether these links were created manually or dynamically.

As a part of our ongoing effort to improve ranking for product-related searches and better reward high-quality content, when we find sites failing to qualify affiliate links appropriately, we may issue manual actions to prevent these links from affecting Search, and our systems might also take algorithmic actions. Both manual and algorithmic actions may affect how we see a site in Search, so it’s good to avoid things that may cause actions, where possible.”

2. Google’s ten year old advice about affiliate programs and added value:

“If your site syndicates content that’s available elsewhere, a good question to ask is: “Does this site provide significant added benefits that would make a user want to visit this site in search results instead of the original source of the content?” If the answer is “No,” the site may frustrate searchers and violate our quality guidelines. As with any violation of our quality guidelines, we may take action, including removal from our index, in order to maintain the quality of our users’ search results. “

3. Site reputation abuse

“Affiliate content on a site previously used by a government agency”

Not site reputation abuse:

“Embedding third-party ad units throughout a page or using affiliate links throughout a page, with links treated appropriately”

4. Thin affiliate pages:

“Thin affiliate pages are pages with product affiliate links on which the product descriptions and reviews are copied directly from the original merchant without any original content or added value.”

5. Google has an entire webpage that documents how to write high quality reviews:

Write high quality reviews

Affiliate Sites Rank Highly All The Time

It’s a fact that affiliate sites routinely rank at the top of the search results. It’s also true that Google doesn’t target affiliate sites, Google generally targets spammy tactics and low quality content.

Yes there are false positives and Google’s algorithms have room for improvement. But in general, it’s best to keep an open mind about why a site might not be ranking.

Listen to the Office Hours podcast at the 4:55 minute mark:

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Dilen