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You can’t throw a stone in SEO without hitting a link builder.
Since Google’s earliest days, links are – and have always been – an integral part of search optimization.
But what about outbound links?
These are the links in your content (the source) that point to a different website (the target).
But are outbound links actually a ranking factor?The Claim: Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor
Google sees links from one site to another as a sort of endorsement.
When one site cites another via a link, there’s a fairly good possibility that they’re doing so because they believe the content they’re linking to is reputable, authoritative, and trustworthy.
Is that always the case? No.
As long as there have been search engines and links, marketers have been trying to find ways to manipulate Google’s perception of what a link actually means.
We know that when a site links to you, it can help improve your search rankings.
But what about when you link to another website – can that help your site rank higher, too?
The SEO industry has never entirely come to a consensus on whether outbound links are a direct ranking factor in Google’s algorithm.
Many believe outbound links aren’t a ranking factor at all and have no SEO benefit to the linking party (the source).
However, some believe that who you link to is a signal that can help your own rankings, as well as the page that earned your link.The Evidence For Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor
Google’s John Mueller addressed that very question in the inaugural Ask Google Webmasters video in July 2023. He said:
“Linking to other websites is a great way to provide value to your users. Oftentimes, links help users to find out more, to check out your sources, and to better understand how your content is relevant to the questions that they have.”
In the same video, Mueller cautions that the reasoning behind the link matters – and Google is pretty good at sniffing out bad links.
See Julie Joyce’s guide, When to Use Nofollow on Links & When Not To, for more on that.
In short, Google wants to see outbound links that indicate you think the page you’re linking to is a great match for users.
So, we know that user experience and the value provided to searchers/site visitors is Google’s top priority.
As Mueller said, outbound links are a great way to provide value to users.
Plus, we have a bunch of other SEO pros and blogs saying things like:
“…valuable outbound authority links are part of what Google likes to see as part of its recent Google Panda update.”
“By adhering to some of the following best practices when optimizing outbound links – you could be seeing an effect on your visibility and ranking.”
Some even quantify what you need to do for outbound links to “work” and recommend including at least two or three per piece of content.
(I’m not linking to those sources as I don’t want to lend them our credibility. See how that works? Suggesting in 2023 that a certain density of outbound links is SEO magic makes about as much sense as optimizing for a keyword density of 7%.)
Aside from the industry chatter, Shai Aharony at Reboot did a small experiment in 2023 in which his team created 10 brand new sites with articles “of comparable structures and text length” to test whether outbound links influenced ranking.
The study got a bit of attention following an endorsement from Rand Fishkin, who said,
“This study of outgoing links impacting rankings is as close to ‘proof’ as we get in the SEO world…”
Half the sites contained three links – one each to Oxford University, Cambridge University, and the Genome Research Institute. Two used the name of the institution as anchor text; the anchor text for the third was the completely made-up test subject word “phylandocic.”
Another made-up control word, “ancludixis,” was placed in the content unlinked so they could determine whether the anchor text was a factor in ranking. All domains were purchased at the same time, and none were optimized for “phylandocic.”
The study declares:
“The results are clear. Outgoing relevant links to authoritative sites are considered in the algorithms and do have a positive impact on rankings.”
The analysis goes on to say:
“The main thing to take away from this test is that although we don’t know and have not proved how powerful outgoing links are in the grand scheme of things, we have proved they do have a positive impact if used correctly.”
However, this evidence is not exactly convincing.
Here’s what we see in the results. The author notes that the graph shows the position of the sites in the ranking.
Blue line = site with an outgoing link.
Orange line = site without outgoing links.
As you can see, the sites with the outbound links ranked in the top five Google results and those without in the next five.
Without seeing the content itself, it’s impossible to know whether there are other factors at work.
But we do know that the made-up target keyword, “phylandocic” was used as anchor text once in at least each article. Did it increase rankings because it was anchor text, or simply because the word appeared on the page?
This test is simply too small. The fact that there’s no other content in Google’s index about this made-up word pretty much ensures you’re going to get the top 10 results with 10 articles.
All other things being equal – and it does seem they took steps to make all other things as equal as possible – this could just be a matter of the additional keyword mention making those articles more relevant to the query.
So does this actually prove anything about the value of outbound links as a direct ranking signal? No.The Evidence Against Outbound Links As A Ranking Factor
Outbound links can tell Google a lot of positive things about the site the link is pointing to – that it’s considered authoritative and trustworthy, for example.
Or that the person who created the content is an expert in the field.
That’s exactly what Google wants to see in the content it recommends as answers to searchers, and they tell us that throughout Google’s Search Quality Raters guidelines.
Get your free SEJ Guide to Google E-A-T & SEO to learn more about that.
But Google also has to consider that there are a lot of ways links can be manipulated. They’re a commodity that can be bought and sold.
People can exchange links for other links or for anything of value to the parties involved – for a free product or discount on services, for example.
Links can even be placed on a website without the owner/webmaster’s knowledge via code or URL injection.
There are a lot of different ways links can be gamed. Outbound links, in particular, are troublesome as a search signal.
Couldn’t I just link to a bunch of highly authoritative, popular sites in my niche and that tells Google I’m one of the cool kids, too?
At one point, you could. This PageRank sculpting blog post by Matt Cutts resurfaced in a 2023 Twitter conversation about the benefit of linking to authoritative content.
A user asked Mueller whether the conclusion made in a graphic that cited “multiple SEO experiments and studies” was true.
Despite the fine print making it clear that the studies found correlation and not causation, the piece made a bold statement. And Mueller was clear in his response:
— 🐄 John 🐄 (@JohnMu) December 29, 2023
Here’s where the aforementioned PageRank sculpting post comes in:
— Corey Northcutt (@corey_northcutt) December 30, 2023
But here’s the thing – that Cutts post is from 2009.
The issue came up in 2023 when Mueller responded to a Webmaster Central viewer question about any potential benefits of linking to one’s trade association websites:
And again in a 2023 video where Mueller was asked:
“External links from your pages to other sites – is that a ranking factor? What if they’re nofollow?”
“From our point of view, external links to other sites – so links from your site to other people’s sites – isn’t specifically a ranking factor.
But it can bring value to your content and, in turn, can be relevant for us in search. Whether or not they’re nofollow doesn’t really matter to us.”
I’d think of linking as just part of proper attribution. You’re a journalist. You write a story, you cite your sources. If those sources are online with more info for the reader, that cite should link to them. That’s just good journalism. It should be standard….
— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) October 16, 2023
And this is where outbound links really shine.
Used appropriately, outbound links can tell Google things like:
You’re aware of which people and websites in your industry are considered authoritative and trustworthy because you’re an active member of the community.
You’ve done your homework and invested time in truly understanding the topic.
You value multiple perspectives and are doing your best to present fair, balanced information to readers.
You care about accuracy and it’s important to you that the information you reshare has been fact-checked.
You value readers’ trust and want to ensure they can verify your statements if they choose.
These are all quality indicators that can help Google understand how accurate, relevant, and authoritative that piece of content is.
But are the links themselves a ranking signal?Outbound Links as a Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
Here’s what we know:
The presence of outbound links, or lack thereof, on its own is not a ranking factor.
The words in outbound link anchor text are used to help Google understand the source page’s content – just like every other word on the page. They are no more or less valuable.
Linking to high authority sites is not an indicator of the source page’s authority because it’s just too easy to game.
Your best strategy is to use outbound links in the way Google intends them to be used – to cite sources, to improve user experience, and as endorsements of high-quality content.
Trying to use them to whisper at Google about your authority or relevance could backfire.
Overusing outbound links looks spammy in the same way overusing any other optimization looks spammy, and it could lead Google to ignore the page entirely.
Outbound links may have been a ranking signal in the early 2000s. However, Google has so many more reliable, less noisy signals to consider today.
Featured Image: Paolo Bobita/Search Engine Journal
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The search results a person sees today may be influenced by things they looked up in Google weeks, months, or even years ago.
A user’s past is said to follow them around on Google, with the data being used by search algorithms to serve personalized results.
If that’s true, it means users are likely not seeing identical SERPs for the same query, as ranking positions for URLs could vary from one person’s search to another’s.
This chapter will investigate the claims around user search history as a ranking factor, and provide clarity around the extent to which it impacts results.The Claim: User Search History Is A Ranking Factor
When a user is logged into their Google account, search results are said to be personalized based on their search history.
Google collects the web and app activity of all logged-in users.
You can opt-out of data collection, but it’s turned on by default.
There are varying claims regarding the degree of search result personalization.
For the most part, user search history is thought to have a mild impact on results.
Google’s critics, however, suggest otherwise.
DuckDuckGo claims the personalization is so strong that it creates a “filter bubble,” limiting users’ exposure to new sources, ideas, and viewpoints.
DuckDuckGo has accused Google of employing extreme levels of personalization, saying two users could search for the same thing at the same time and get vastly different results.
Is user search history as great a ranking factor as Google’s critics claim?
Here’s what the evidence says.The Evidence for User Search History As A Ranking Factor
User search history has been a Google ranking factor from as far back as 2007 when the company confirmed the update in an announcement:
“We’re constantly trying to improve the quality of your search results. One of the ways we’re tackling this is by personalizing your search experience.
After all, you’re the only one who actually knows what you’re really looking for.”
Google continues to personalize search results to this day, though the company vehemently denies DuckDuckGo’s claims that the effect is so strong it creates a filter bubble.
In fact, search results aren’t always personalized.
And when they are, the impact is light and not drastically different from person to person, according to Danny Sullivan, Google’s Search Liaison.
“Personalization doesn’t happen often & generally doesn’t dramatically change search results from one person to another. It is usually so lightly applied that the results are very similar to what someone would see without personalization.”User Search History As A Ranking Factor: Our Verdict
Based on Google’s statements, we conclude that user search history is a ranking factor with light impact.
It’s easy to test how lightly personalization is applied.
Simply conduct a search in a fresh Incognito window and there will be no account-based activity used to serve the results.
Then compare those results to a SERP from a logged-in search.
Anyone who wants to opt-out of personalization using account-based activity can do so from the Web & App Activity settings in their Google account.
Featured Image: Robin Biong/Search Engine Journal
Google is removing safe browsing from the criteria sites need to meet to benefit from the page experience ranking factor.
As a result of this change, Google is updating Search Console’s page experience report with a simplified design that removes redundant data.
Specifically, the safe browsing and ad experience widgets are getting dropped from the report. Google provides the rationale behind this decision in a blog post.
In addition, several fixes are being implemented to improve the way missing data is handled.
Here’s more about all the changes rolling out today.Removing the Safe Browsing Widget
Google is removing the safe browsing widget from the page experience report because it is no longer a ranking signal.
The report was created to help SEOs understand how sites fare against signals that make up the page experience ranking factor.
Including safe browsing data in the report in the report isn’t necessary as it’s not used in rankings.
“Safe Browsing systems at Google are designed to keep users safe on the internet. Sometimes sites fall victim to third-party hijacking, which can cause Safe Browsing warnings to be surfaced.
We recognize that these issues aren’t always within the control of site owners, which is why we’re clarifying that Safe Browsing isn’t used as a ranking signal and won’t feature in the Page Experience report.”
Google Search Console will continue to report on safe browsing flags outside of the page experience report.Removing the Ad Experience Widget
Google is removing the ad experience widget from Search Console to avoid surfacing the same information in multiple reports.
A standalone version of the ad experience report will remain available in Search Console, which identifies ad experiences that violate the Better Ads Standards.
Similar to safe browsing, the ad experience report is not a factor for the page experience ranking signal.Additional Improvements
Google is updating the page experience report with several bug fixes and improvements, which include:
Added a “No recent data” banner to the Core Web Vitals report and Page Experience report.
Fixed a bug that caused the report to show “Failing HTTPS” when Core Web Vitals data was missing.
Rephrased the empty state text in the Page Experience report and Core Web Vitals report.
As a reminder, Google’s page experience algorithm update started rolling out on June 15, 2023 and the rollout will be completed by August 31, 2023.
Source: Google Search Central Blog
Getting a local business to rank is challenging for three reasons:
An uptick in mobile uses because more people are using their phones to find businesses near them.
A surge of businesses recognizing the value of local SEO are making results more competitive.
Google Local Pack, which was once the top seven, is now just the top three.
So, what does it take to appear at the top of these competitive local results, to get you in front of the people searching for products and services like yours?
Here, you’ll learn about 25 specific local ranking signals you need to understand and optimize for in order to perform as well as possible in local search.
First, let’s take a look at how these changes with Google’s Map Pack/Local Pack are a game-changer for businesses.Recent Map Pack Changes You Need To Know
Google’s Local Pack is where a searcher makes a query with local intent and Google’s three most relevant results show up above the organic listings.
The importance of the Local Pack tool is evident in that Google is constantly modifying the Local Pack to be more useful to searchers.
For example, Google recently announced that they are rolling out to the search interface on desktop that when people search for places or businesses nearby, such as [restaurants near me], they’ll easily see local results on the left and a map on the right.
Here’s an example of how that search would work:
Ranking locally for your business is vital and local SEO must be a critical component of your overall optimization strategy if you hope to increase your odds of getting ranked in Google’s Local Pack.
As with all things Google, there is no exact formula for getting to the top and the competition is fierce.
But, this article will outline important steps you can take to build your local online presence and increase your chances of ranking well as a local business.What Are The Top Local SEO Ranking Signals?
I have organized the list of critical SEO Ranking Signals into two broad categories:
The Basics: This covers the most foundational ranking signals. These are the low-hanging fruit and the fundamental factors that must be addressed to rank for SEO.The Basics 1. Google Business Profile
You may know Google Business Profile by its previous name, Google My Business.
It is easy and free to claim your Google Business Profile.
This is one of the simplest and most effective ways to improve your local SEO.
There are two methods:
With the first, you enter the name and address of the business and choose it from the search results.2. Google Business Profile Categories
Categories describe your business and help you connect to the customers who are looking for you.
Choose a primary category that describes your business as a whole and be specific.
For example, if you are a nail salon, select “nail salon” rather than just “salon.”3. Photos On Google Business Profile
You can add photos or videos to your Google My Business Page. These could include your location, products, staff, and even customers (with permission, of course).
Photos can add interest and credibility to your listing and also serve as a local ranking signal.4. Bing Places For Business
Google is the most commonly used search engine, but Bing still holds a small share (about 7% of the world market according to this source).
Cover all the bases by setting up your Bing Places for Business.5. Online Directories/Citations
Claim your business in other popular online directories, such as these:
Yahoo’s Localworks.6. Listings On Review Sites
A study by Harvard Business Review shows the power of listings on review sites.
To get reviews, start by getting listed on these sites:
It appears that reviews on Google carry the most weight, but listings on these other sites are still very valuable.7. Number Of Positive Reviews
Achieving positive reviews and interacting with your customers by responding to their reviews is important.
According to Google, high-quality reviews help the customer by improving your business’s visibility and increasing the likelihood that a customer will visit your location.
Don’t forget this important caveat to this recommendation on seeking positive reviews: It is against their policies to buy reviews by asking for reviews in exchange for something else.
Other sites, such as YELP, similarly have policies in place against manipulation with the goal to keep the reviews authentic and unbiased.8. Reviews With Keywords And Locations
Not all reviews are created equal.
When reviewers use the city or keywords, it sends signals to Google that you are a trusted local business.
If you have many products or services, it’s recommended to have your customers send them in individually and according to the specific product or service that they have.9. Reviews With Responses
Owner responses to Google show that the page is actively managed and that you are engaged with them.
Google has also indicated that your replies are important because reviews build trust.10. Percentage Of Negative Reviews Not Responded To
In a double whammy, the number of reviews with responses counts, but so does negative reviews with no responses.
You need to have a plan in place for responding to all reviews and particularly negative ones. Read here for more guidance on how to handle negative reviews.
Google has set up a system if you believe there has been an inappropriate or negative review on Google and want to get it removed.11. Create A Facebook Business Page
Many people are comfortable with Facebook and use it as a search engine, so it is on this list.
Make sure you at least create a business page and update it with your website, hours, and a description.
Social signals may have a limited impact but they do have an impact on social SEO.12. Social Listings
Whether you plan to be active on social listings or not, you should at minimum claim your business on all of the popular social sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Pin a tweet or post inviting users to call/visit your website/follow you on whatever social platform you are most active on.
In a survey of 3,200 customers, the average customer expectation of response time was four hours!
With an expectation of fast response from businesses on social, short turn-around replies, your business needs to reply lightning fast to meet this expectation.13. Consistent Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP)
Be consistent with your business name, address, and phone number through every medium to allow Google searches to provide accurate information.
Also, a consistent name, address, and phone number can make it easy for your customers to connect with your business.
Attention to detail here is important.
For example, if your business name is Jon’s Burger, LLC on one site and Jon’s BurgerS on another site, the slight difference in name and entity could cause confusion.14. Mobile Responsiveness
Google looks at your mobile site first, not your desktop site. This tool can help you get started on achieving mobile responsiveness.The Nitty Gritty Local SEO Ranking Signals 15. Structured Data Markup
There are several ways you can use structured data markups for local SEO, including for:
These are highly recommended by Google. You can add markups using Google’s guide or a tool like Schema.
It is also worth noting there is some lack of clarity on whether including GPS coordinates within structured data is helpful.
See ‘How to Use Schema for Local SEO: A Complete Guide’ for use cases and sample markup.
If you are succeeding at SEO in general, you will do well in local SEO. Makes sense, right?
Focus on making sure your meta titles and descriptions make sense so users find what they expect when they arrive at your site.17. Localized Content
Consistent publication of content is key here. Set a goal for ongoing content and measure your progress to ensure results.
Make sure you can organically include your key term and location.
For example, write about local events, share efforts to raise funds for a local charity, include information topics important in the local community, etc. Think about what makes sense for your brand.18. On-Page Location + Keyword Optimization
For example, don’t just optimize for “furnace repair.” Optimize for “furnace repair Sacramento.”19. Title + Meta Description
Include key terms and location in your title and meta descriptions when feasible.
This is in coordination with on-page location plus keyword optimization, but it is important enough to warrant mentioning separately.20. High-Quality Inbound Links
Links from sites Google trusts are good for SEO. The topic of inbound links is important and extensive and a deep discussion is beyond the scope of this article.
Learn more in this local link building guide.21. Diversity Of Inbound Links
You want a range of inbound links that are relevant, authoritative, and gained organically.
A good analogy in an investment portfolio. You would want diversification of different types of investments and different levels of risk.
Your link strategy should be similarly diversified.
You want as many links as possible from as many different websites as possible, with the note that you want all of the links to be high quality.22. Inbound Links From Local Relevant Sites
Links from local news sites, community blogs, and so forth prove that your site is trusted by your neighbors.
For some businesses, a press release to local news stations could help here. For others, engaging in discussion on local social media sites might be helpful.23. Inbound Using Local + Keyword In Anchor Text
Are you ready to set a hard goal?
An inbound link from a high authority site using both your city or neighborhood and the main key term is like the “holy grail” of links.24. Proximity To The Searcher
Your proximity to the searcher is what it is, and you can’t optimize this factor.
However, it is a strong ranking signal, which is why claiming your Google Business Profile and having a consistent name, address, and profile is important.25. Domain Authority To Your Website
Domain authority is a search ranking authority developed by Moz that predicts how likely a website is to rank.
Increasing your domain authority isn’t a quick or easy process, but it is likely to pay off handsomely.Conclusion
What do all these local SEO features mean for your local SEO strategies?
Here are the two major takeaways:
Your Google Business Profile is the first and most important place to start to optimize your local SEO ranking. Claim it. Make sure it’s complete and accurate. Choose the categories. Get reviews. Respond to reviews.
The second most important thing you can do for local SEO is to focus on a big-picture, holistic SEO strategy. Build a high-quality link profile, create useful well-researched content with both local and key terms, and make sure your meta descriptions are optimized.
Local SEO is a competitive field, but for most businesses, there is still room for growth and improvement.
This list will help you increase your chances of being included in Google’s Local Pack, but most importantly, it will help increase your ability to be found by and connect with local customers.
Featured Image: Paulo Bobita/Search Engine Journal
Installing and using Citable
Upon installing the extension, you will find a quotation mark icon on the top-right corner of the browser.
Repeat the same process for each webpage you want to cite as your source.
If you are researching a different topic, you can create another document so you can separate sources accordingly.
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Google has updated their Image Publishing Guidelines and it’s a vast improvement.
The new version offers actionable information that could make your images rank better, position them to appear in rich results, make them voice assistant friendly, and bring more traffic to your website.
This updated support page has a lot to offer.Image Search SEO Tips
Google has provided useful image search SEO tips. Here are the actionable takeaways:
Provide good context: Make sure images are contextually relevant because the text of the content is going to influence how Google interprets what the image is about.
Optimize Image Placement: This means to place images so that text that is relevant to the image is nearby. The surrounding text will be picked up by Google to help it understand what the image is about. Adding a caption is an additional good way to do this. Adding an important image close to the top of the page is another tip.
Create informative and High Quality Sites: Google considers the quality of the content as part of the image ranking process. The content is also used to generate a meaningful snippet for the content. So it helps for the page content to relate with the image content.
Create Device-Friendly Sites: Google revealed that users search for images on mobile more than they do on desktop. This means it’s important to be mobile friendly in order to rank better and capitalize on the traffic.
Create Good URL Structure for Your Images: This is an interesting SEO tip. Google revealed that they use the file path and the file name in order to better understand and rank images. This is an actual ranking factor Google is sharing. This is a very useful tip for ranking images. For example, if your images are of different kinds of products, instead of dumping them all into a generic “/assets/” or “/images/” folder, you could in theory create a more organized structure to organize the images into something more meaningful like, /mens/ and /womens/ in order to organize images of men’s and women’s clothing.Technical SEO Tips for Image Search Check Your Page Title & Description
While it was previously understood that title tags were important, it’s an interesting revelation that the meta description tag plays a role. Here is what the new Google Image Search Support page says:
“Google Images automatically generates a title and snippet to best explain each result and how it relates to the user query… We use a number of different sources for this information, including descriptive information in the title, and meta tags “Add Structured Data
This is a very interesting addition to the new support page. Structured data plays a role in rich results and although it’s not mentioned in this support page, we also know that structured data plays a role in voice assisted search, which is an important area of search. Google’s Voice Assistant is now embedded in over 5,000 devices including in automobiles.
Here is what Google’s support page states:
If you include structured data, Google Images can display your images as rich results, including a prominent badge, which gives users relevant information about your page and can drive better targeted traffic to your site.
From the Google Support Page about Badges:
“If you’re publishing recipes, add Recipe markup on your page, for products, add Product markup, and for videos, add Video markup.”More SEO Advice for Image Search
Google ends the support page by highlighting the following SEO tips for image search:
Optimize image size for speed
Optimize photos for sharpness
Use descriptive titles, captions, descriptive alt text, file names, and surrounding text.
Use an XML Image Site Map
Safe Search SEO: Segregate adult content into it’s own image folder
The Google support pages Danny Sullivan is credited with feature a similar usefulness as this support page. The previous Image Publishing Guidelines didn’t have as many actionable SEO tips.
I don’t know if Sullivan had a hand in crafting this new image publishing guideline, but it needs to be noted that this is an excellent and useful page. Read: Google’s new Image Publishing Guidelines.
Images by Shutterstock, Modified by Author
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