General SEO

The Best of Ahrefs’ Digest: April 2024

Si Quan Ong
Content marketer @ Ahrefs. I've been in digital marketing for the past 6 years and have spoken at some of the industry’s largest conferences in Asia (TIECon and Digital Marketing Skill Share.) I also summarise books on my personal blog.
    Every week, we share hot SEO news, interesting reads, and new posts in our newsletter, Ahrefs’ Digest.

    If you’re not one of our 275,000 subscribers, you’ve missed out on some great reads!

    Here’s a quick summary of my personal favorites from the last month:

    Best of April 2024

    Detailed Q3: Analysing The SEO Playbook of Digital Goliaths In-Depth, Every Quarter

    Author: Glen Allsopp

    tl;dr

    Glen’s third report on what the biggest players in SEO are doing.

    My takeaway

    Seems like most of the major sites are doing one or both things:

    • Acquiring other websites to add to their portfolio or expand in other niches — for example, North Star Network acquired SportsMole for 7-figures, crypto exchange Bullish bought CoinDesk for $75 million, and Valnet acquired CarBuzz for an undisclosed amount.)
    • Diversifying their traffic sources to rely less on Google

    Publishers want to diversify from Google

    Why Ranch-Style SEO Is Your Future-Proof Content Strategy

    Author: Bernard Huang

    tl;dr

    Instead of writing a lengthy, Skyscraper post that covers all angles, split them up into granular, targeted pieces of content that map to the user’s search journey.

    Ranch-style SEO

    My takeaway

    I don’t want to rain on Bernard’s parade, and I could be just dumb, but ranch-style SEO does seem to call back to the old days of writing an article for every long-tail keyword. (Albeit with a strong focus on adding information gain, rather than gaming algorithms.)

    That said, from what I’ve observed, SERPs are getting more fragmented. Perhaps users are tired of having to scroll through Dostoyevsky-length novels and poor search results to get what they want, so they’re constantly refining their searches and therefore changing the intent of many queries.

    Marketing is really a cycle.

    You Are Your Moat

    Author: Amanda Natividad

    tl;dr

    Five ideas on how to rise above the forgettable content created by generative AI.

    My takeaway

    Amanda’s point is this: You—your experiences, observations, triggers, and knowledge—can’t be replaced by AI. So, if you want to make content that stands out, use yourself as the lighthouse.

    Morgan Housel calls this “selfish writing”. YCombinator founder, Paul Graham wrote the same in his post on useful writing: “Use yourself as a proxy for the reader”.

    What’s beyond targeting keywords, now that generative AI (and SGE) can handle most of them? This is what I’ve been thinking a lot about—and the answer seems to just be “write something interesting.” And you can do this by simply following your nose, especially since I write for people like me too. What I find interesting will likely be interesting to others.

    Information Gainz

    Author: Kevin Indig

    tl;dr

    We all agree we need to do better than copycat content. But most people are still creating content the exact same way. (Maybe even worse, now with generative AI.)

    My takeaway

    To make good content that’ll rank in the future, you need to treat content like a product:

    • Prioritize topics based on user interviews (not search volume).
    • Hire subject matter experts to answer questions that really matter.
    • Monitor quantitative metrics to validate qualitative research with metrics like scroll depth, heatmaps, session recordings, and time-on-site vs average read time.

    Best of March 2024

    How 16 Companies are Dominating the World’s Google Search Results

    Author: Glen Allsopp

    tl;dr

    Glen’s research reveals that just 16 companies representing 588 brands get 3.5 billion (yes, billion!) monthly clicks from Google.

    The 16 companies getting 3.5 billion monthly clicks from Google across 588 brands

    My takeaway

    Glen pointed out some really actionable ideas in this report, such as the fact that many of the brands dominating search are adding mini-author bios.

    Example of mini-author bios on The Verge

    This idea makes so much sense in terms of both UX and E-E-A-T. I’ve already pitched it to the team and we’re going to implement it on our blog.

    How Google is Killing Independent Sites Like Ours

    Authors: Gisele Navarro, Danny Ashton

    tl;dr

    Big publications have gotten into the affiliate game, publishing “best of” lists about everything under the sun. And despite often not testing products thoroughly, they’re dominating Google rankings. The result, Gisele and Danny argue, is that genuine review sites suffer and Google is fast losing content diversity.

    My takeaway

    I have a lot of sympathy for independent sites. Some of them are trying their best, but unfortunately, they’re lumped in with thousands of others who are more than happy to spam.

    Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele's site fell off a cliff after Google's March updates
    Estimated search traffic to Danny and Gisele’s site fell off a cliff after Google’s March updates 🙁

    I know it’s hard to hear, but the truth is Google benefits more from having big sites in the SERPs than from having diversity. That’s because results from big brands are likely what users actually want. By and large, people would rather shop at Walmart or ALDI than at a local store or farmer’s market.

    That said, I agree with most people that Forbes (with its dubious contributor model contributing to scams and poor journalism) should not be rewarded so handsomely.

    The Discussion Forums Dominating 10,000 Product Review Search Results

    Author: Glen Allsopp

    Tl;dr

    Glen analyzed 10,000 “product review” keywords and found that:

    • The ‘Discussions and forums’ SERP feature was present in 7,702 of them (77%).
    • Reddit was present in 97.5% of those.
    • 51% of Reddit’s top-ranking threads currently have spam as a top comment.

    My takeaway

    After Google’s heavy promotion of Reddit from last year’s Core Update, to no one’s surprise, unscrupulous SEOs and marketers have already started spamming Reddit. And as you may know, Reddit’s moderation is done by volunteers, and obviously, they can’t keep up.

    I’m not sure how this second-order effect completely escaped the smart minds at Google, but from the outside, it feels like Google has capitulated to some extent.

    John Mueller seemingly having too much faith in Reddit...

    I’m not one to make predictions and I have no idea what will happen next, but I agree with Glen: Google’s results are the worst I’ve seen them. We can only hope Google sorts itself out.

    Who Sends Traffic on the Web and How Much? New Research from Datos & SparkToro

    Author: Rand Fishkin

    tl;dr

    63.41% of all U.S. web traffic referrals from the top 170 sites are initiated on Google.com.

    Data from Sparktoro

    My takeaway

    Despite all of our complaints, Google is still the main platform to acquire traffic from. That’s why we all want Google to sort itself out and do well.

    But it would also be a mistake to look at this post and think Google is the only channel you should drive traffic from. As Rand’s later blog post clarifies, “be careful not to ascribe attribution or credit to Google when other investments drove the real value.”

    I think many affiliate marketers learned this lesson well from the past few Core Updates: Relying on one single channel to drive all of your traffic is not a good idea. You should be using other platforms to build brand awareness, interest, and demand.

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