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Google’s John Mueller on Good Links and How to Get Them

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In a Webmaster Hangout, Google’s John Mueller was asked to define what a good link is and how to get them. John Mueller also made reference to “other signals” that can power up your rankings.

Example of a Good Link

The question asked is a good one. Here is what the publisher asked:

“Could I get an example of… what a good link would be…?”

Google’s John Mueller answered:

“A good link… so I mean the traditional good link is someone who comes across your website and thinks it’s a fantastic website and recommends it to other people with a link.”

John Mueller probably understands that a good link doesn’t happen by itself. He said something interesting, he recommended promoting the website. There are many who feel that website promotion tied to link building is not necessary. But John Mueller acknowledged the obvious, that a ball isn’t going to roll until someone gives it a push.

Here’s what Google’s Mueller said:

“So basically on the one hand that involves some amount of self-promotion from your side like you have to get some people to come and visit your website somehow so that they can recognize that this is actually a good website.

And there are lots of ways that you can do that. And then that also involves one of those people or some of those people going well, this is a really fantastic website and I have another website that I can link, from where I can link to your website.

So it’s not the case that every visitor coming to your website will say it’s a fantastic website and I also have a website and let me link to your website from my website, but some of these people they can.”

The publisher responded that he doesn’t build links and like many, feels that it’s spammy.

He has a point. Many people approach link building like beggars asking for spare change. It’s a nuisance. Others approach it as a transaction and offer to pay for the links.

It seemed like the publisher didn’t like either options and was trying to find a way to build links that didn’t feel spammy to him.

Here is the follow up question:

“It seems like it would be a rarity. I’ve never really engaged in proactive link building but I honestly feel like we’ve kind of fallen behind because of that.

I think other websites maybe in the niche have a lot more inbound links and I’m not sure whether they’re actively reaching out to other webmasters, “Hey, can you link to us?”

I’m not sure… I should really do some more research on that but I think… there’s an importance there, right?”

Google’s John Mueller acknowledged the difficulty of links:

“I think it’s tricky because on the one hand it is sometimes useful to reach out to people and say like, “Hey, look at my website, it’s like you have a great website, I have a great website, take a look at my content, our content kind of aligns… maybe you’d be able to recommend my content if you like it as well.

I mean there are different ways of framing that, there are lots of really kind of more spammy ways of doing it, like you mentioned like people just saying, well look I have this web page that matches five keywords on your other web page. Can you link to it?” Like, that’s not really that useful.”

Other Signals Apart From Links

Here’s where it gets super interesting. I’ve long suspected that the role of links has been shrinking. Natural links seem like they don’t happen often anymore.

If Google is discounting non-natural links, then what else is Google using?

John Mueller seems to acknowledge there are other signals that Google uses:

“The other thing to keep in mind is we use a lot of different things for ranking and it’s not just links.

So especially if you’re active in an area where people tend not to link a lot, that’s something that the other competitors have to work with as well and where we do try to pick up other signals to see like this is actually a pretty good website.”

The “other signals” is an interesting reference. Something that needs an entire article to address. I sure hope someone asks him about that in a future hangout.

Links Are Still Important

John Mueller finished by affirming the importance of links. His answer wasn’t an end to end link strategy, but it’s good that he affirmed that promotion is important and that it doesn’t need to be spammy.

Here’s what he said:

“Links are really important for use to find content initially. So it’s like if nobody links to your website ever then we’re going to have a hard time recognizing that it even exists.”

Links Not Critical

One more insight that bears pointing out. Mueller said that if the content is good, that once it’s found, links aren’t critical.

“But once we found it and started crawling it and started indexing its content and seeing that it’s pretty good stuff then those links are generally not that critical anymore.”

That’s a lot to think about. To get you started, check out How to Super Power Your Link Building 

Watch the Google Webmaster Hangout here.



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Restaurant app Tobiko goes old school by shunning user reviews

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You can think of Tobiko as a kind of anti-Yelp. Launched in 2018 by Rich Skrenta, the restaurant app relies on data and expert reviews (rather than user reviews) to deliver a kind of curated, foodie-insider experience.

A new Rich Skrenta project. Skrenta is a search veteran with several startups behind him. He was one of the founders of DMOZ, a pioneering web directory that was widely used. Most recently Skrenta was the CEO of human-aided search engine Blekko, whose technology was sold to IBM Watson in roughly 2015.

At the highest level, both DMOZ and Blekko sought to combine human editors and search technology. Tobiko is similar; it uses machine learning, crawling and third-party editorial content to offer restaurant recommendations.

Tobiko screenshots

Betting on expert opinion. Tobiko is also seeking to build a community, and user input will likely factor into recommendations at some point. However, what’s interesting is that Skrenta has shunned user reviews in favor of “trusted expert reviews” (read: critics).

Those expert reviews are represented by a range of publisher logos on profile pages that, when clicked, take the user to reviews or articles about the particular restaurant on those sites. Where available, users can also book reservations. And the app can be personalized by engaging a menu of preferences. (Yelp recently launched broad, site-wide personalization itself.)

While Skrenta is taking something of a philosophical stand in avoiding user reviews, his approach also made the app easier to launch because expert content on third-party sites already existed. Community content takes much longer to reach critical mass. However, Tobiko also could have presented or “summarized” user reviews from third-party sites as Google does in knowledge panels, with TripAdvisor or Facebook for example.

Tobiko is free and currently appears to have no ads. The company also offers a subscription-based option that has additional features.

Why we should care. It’s too early to tell whether Tobiko will succeed, but it provocatively bucks conventional wisdom about the importance of user reviews in the restaurant vertical (although reading lots of expert reviews can be burdensome). As they have gained importance, reviews have become somewhat less reliable, with review fraud on the rise. Last month, Google disclosed an algorithm change that has resulted in a sharp decrease in rich review results showing in Search.

Putting aside gamesmanship and fraud, reviews have brought transparency to online shopping but can also make purchase decisions more time-consuming. It would be inaccurate to say there’s widespread “review fatigue,” but there’s anecdotal evidence supporting the simplicity of expert reviews in some cases. Influencer marketing can be seen as an interesting hybrid between user and expert reviews, though it’s also susceptible to manipulation.


About The Author

Greg Sterling is a Contributing Editor at Search Engine Land. He writes about the connections between digital and offline commerce. He previously held leadership roles at LSA, The Kelsey Group and TechTV. Follow him Twitter or find him on LinkedIn.



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3 Ways to Use XPaths with Large Site Audits

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When used creatively, XPaths can help improve the efficiency of auditing large websites. Consider this another tool in your SEO toolbelt.

There are endless types of information you can unlock with XPaths, which can be used in any category of online business.

Some popular ways to audit large sites with XPaths include:

In this guide, we’ll cover exactly how to perform these audits in detail.

What Are XPaths?

Simply put, XPath is a syntax that uses path expressions to navigate XML documents and identify specified elements.

This is used to find the exact location of any element on a page using the HTML DOM structure.

We can use XPaths to help extract bits of information such as H1 page titles, product descriptions on ecommerce sites, or really anything that’s available on a page.

While this may sound complex to many people, in practice, it’s actually quite easy!

How to Use XPaths in Screaming Frog

In this guide, we’ll be using Screaming Frog to scrape webpages.

Screaming Frog offers custom extraction methods, such as CSS selectors and XPaths.

It’s entirely possible to use other means to scrape webpages, such as Python. However, the Screaming Frog method requires far less coding knowledge.

(Note: I’m not in any way currently affiliated with Screaming Frog, but I highly recommend their software for web scraping.)

Step 1: Identify Your Data Point

Figure out what data point you want to extract.

For example, let’s pretend Search Engine Journal didn’t have author pages and you wanted to extract the author name for each article.

What you’ll do is:

  • Right-click on the author name.
  • Select Inspect.
  • In the dev tools elements panel, you will see your element already highlighted.
  • Right-click the highlighted HTML element and go to Copy and select Copy XPath.

2 copy xpath

At this point, your computer’s clipboard will have the desired XPath copied.

Step 2: Set up Custom Extraction

In this step, you will need to open Screaming Frog and set up the website you want to crawl. In this instance, I would enter the full Search Engine Journal URL.

  • Go to Configuration > Custom > Extraction

3 setup xpath extraction

  • This will bring up the Custom Extraction configuration window. There are a lot of options here, but if you’re looking to simply extract text, match your configuration to the screenshot below.

4 configure xpath extraction

Step 3: Run Crawl & Export

At this point, you should be all set to run your crawl. You’ll notice that your custom extraction is the second to last column on the right.

When analyzing crawls in bulk, it makes sense to export your crawl into an Excel format. This will allow you to apply a variety of filters, pivot tables, charts, and anything your heart desires.

3 Creative Ways XPaths Help Scale Your Audits

Now that we know how to run an XPath crawl, the possibilities are endless!

We have access to all of the answers, now we just need to find the right questions.

  • What are some aspects of your audit that could be automated?
  • Are there common elements in your content silos that can be extracted for auditing?
  • What are the most important elements on your pages?

The exact problems you’re trying to solve may vary by industry or site type. Below are some unique situations where XPaths can make your SEO life easier.

1. Using XPaths with Redirect Maps

Recently, I had to redesign a site that required a new URL structure. The former pages all had parameters as the URL slug instead of the page name.

This made creating a redirect map for hundreds of pages a complete nightmare!

So I thought to myself, “How can I easily identify each page at scale?”

After analyzing the various page templates, I came to the conclusion that the actual title of the page looked like an H1 but was actually just large paragraph text. This meant that I couldn’t just get the standard H1 data from Screaming Frog.

However, XPaths would allow me to copy the exact location for each page title and extract it in my web scraping report.

In this case I was able to extract the page title for all of the old URLs and match them with the new URLs through the VLOOKUP function in Excel. This automated most of the redirect map work for me.

With any automated work, you may have to perform some spot checking for accuracy.

2. Auditing Ecommerce Sites with XPaths

Auditing Ecommerce sites can be one of the more challenging types of SEO auditing. There are many more factors to consider, such as JavaScript rendering and other dynamic elements.

Sometimes, stakeholders will need product level audits on an ad hoc basis. Sometimes this covers just categories of products, but sometimes it may be the entire site.

Using the XPath extraction method we learned earlier in this article, we can extract all types of data including:

  • Product name
  • Product description
  • Price
  • Review data
  • Image URLs
  • Product Category
  • And much more

This can help identify products that may be lacking valuable information within your ecommerce site.

The cool thing about Screaming Frog is that you can extract multiple data points to stretch your audits even further.

3. Auditing Blogs with XPaths

This is a more common method for using XPaths. Screaming Frog allows you to set parameters to crawl specific subfolders of sites, such as blogs.

However, using XPaths, we can go beyond simple meta data and grab valuable insights to help identify content gap opportunities.

Categories & Tags

One of the most common ways SEO professionals use XPaths for blog auditing is scraping categories and tags.

This is important because it helps us group related blogs together, which can help us identify content cannibalization and gaps.

This is typically the first step in any blog audit.

Keywords

This step is a bit more Excel-focused and advanced. How this works, is you set up an XPath extraction to pull the body copy out of each blog.

Fair warning, this may drastically increase your crawl time.

Whenever you export this crawl into Excel, you will get all of the body text in one cell. I highly recommend that you disable text wrapping, or your spreadsheet will look terrifying.

Next, in the column to the right of your extracted body copy, enter the following formula:

=ISNUMBER(SEARCH("keyword",A1))

In this formula, A1 equals the cell of the body copy.

To scale your efforts, you can have your “keyword” equal the cell that contains your category or tag. However, you may consider adding multiple columns of keywords to get a more accurate and robust picture of your blogging performance.

This formula will present a TRUE/FALSE Boolean value. You can use this to quickly identify keyword opportunities and cannibalization in your blogs.

Author

We’ve already covered this example, but it’s worth noting that this is still an important element to pull from your articles.

When you blend your blog export data with performance data from Google Analytics and Search Console, you can start to determine which authors generate the best performance.

To do this, sort your blogs by author and start tracking average data sets including:

  • Impressions – Search Console
  • Clicks – Search Console
  • Sessions – Analytics
  • Bounce Rate – Analytics
  • Conversions – Analytics
  • Assisted Conversions – Analytics

Share Your Creative XPath Tips

Do you have some creative auditing methods that involve XPaths? Share this article on Twitter or tag me @seocounseling and let me know what I missed!

More Resources:


Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, October 2019



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When parsing ‘Googlespeak’ is a distraction

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Over the almost 16-years of covering search, specifically what Googlers have said in terms of SEO and ranking topics, I have seen my share of contradictory statements. Google’s ranking algorithms are complex, and the way one Googler explains something might sound contradictory to how another Googler talks about it. In reality, they are typically talking about different things or nuances.

Some of it is semantics, some of it is being literal in how one person might explain something while another person speaks figuratively. Some of it is being technically correct versus trying to dumb something down for general practitioners or even non-search marketers to understand. Some of it is that the algorithm can change over the years, so what was true then has evolved.

Does it matter if something is or is not a ranking factor? It can be easy to get wrapped up in details that end up being distractions. Ultimately, SEOs, webmasters, site owners, publishers and those that produce web pages need to care more about providing the best possible web site and web page for the topic. You do not want to chase algorithms and racing after what is or is not a ranking factor. Google’s stated aim is to rank the most relevant results to keep users happy and coming back to the search engine. How Google does that changes over time. It releases core updates, smaller algorithm updates, index updates and more all the time.

For SEOs, the goal is to make sure your pages offer the most authoritative and relevant content for the given query and can be accessed by search crawlers.

When it is and is not a ranking factor. An example of Googlers seeming to contradict themselves popped this week.

Gary Illyes from Google said at Pubcon Thursday that content accuracy is a ranking factor. That raised eyebrows because in past Google has seemed to say content accuracy is not a ranking factor. Last month Google’s Danny Sullivan said, “Machines can’t tell the ‘accuracy’ of content. Our systems rely instead on signals we find align with relevancy of topic and authority.” One could interpret that to mean that if Google cannot tell the accuracy of content, that it would be unable to use accuracy as a ranking factor.

Upon closer look at the context of Illyes comments this week, it’s clear he’s getting at the second part of Sullivan’s comment about using signals to understand “relevancy of topic and authority.” SEO Marie Haynes captured more of the context of Illyes’ comment.

Illyes was talking about YMYL (your money, your life) content. He added that Google goes through “great lengths to surface reputable and trustworthy sources.”

He didn’t outright say Google’s systems are able to tell if a piece of content is factually accurate or not. He implied Google uses multiple signals, like signals that determine reputations and trustworthiness, as a way to infer accuracy.

So is content accuracy a ranking factor? Yes and no. It depends if you are being technical, literal, figurative or explanatory. When I covered the different messaging around content accuracy on my personal site, Sullivan pointed out the difference, he said on Twitter “We don’t know if content is accurate” but “we do look for signals we believe align with that.”

It’s the same with whether there is an E-A-T score. Illyes said there is no E-A-T score. That is correct, technically. But Google has numerous algorithms and ranking signals it uses to figure out E-A-T as an overall theme. Sullivan said on Twitter, “Is E-A-T a ranking factor? Not if you mean there’s some technical thing like with speed that we can measure directly. We do use a variety of signals as a proxy to tell if content seems to match E-A-T as humans would assess it. In that regard, yeah, it’s a ranking factor.”

You can see the dual point Sullivan is making here.

The minutiae. When you have people like me, who for almost 16 years, analyze and scrutinize every word, tweet, blog post or video that Google produces, it can be hard for a Google representative to always convey the exact clear message at every point. Sometimes it is important to step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask yourself, Why is this Googler saying this or not saying that?

Why we should care. It is important to look at long term goals, and as I said above, not chase the algorithm or specific ranking factors but focus on the ultimate goals of your business (money). Produce content and web pages that Google would be proud to rank at the top of the results for a given query and other sites will want to source and link to. And above all, do whatever you can to make the best possible site for users — beyond what your competitors produce.


About The Author

Barry Schwartz is Search Engine Land’s News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on SEM topics.



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