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WSJ report about Google search manipulation gets a lot wrong

The media narrative has turned against big tech, and this is an example.



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Microsoft Hires Attorney General Eric Holder To Audit AnyVision

NBC News is reporting that Microsoft has hired Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate AnyVision, an Israeli-based facial recognition firm the company invested in.

AnyVision creates facial recognition software in use by the Israeli military at border crossings. The software is used to log the faces of Palestinians entering Israel. However, according to NBC News, the software is also used to secretly surveil Palestinians throughout the West Bank.

According to NBC News sources, AnyVision’s tech is at the heart of a secret military project, with one of those sources referring to it by the codename “Google Ayosh.” “Ayosh” refers to the West Bank and “Google” is a nod to the kind of powerful search capabilities Google is known for—although the search giant is not involved in the project. Google Ayosh was evidently so successful that it led to AnyVision winning Israel’s top defense prize in 2018.

Microsoft invested $ 74 million Series A funding in AnyVision in June, through it’s venture capital arm, M12. In the wake of NBC News’ report, however, the company is concerned that AnyVision’s involvement in Google Ayosh may violate its ethical principles for the use of facial recognition: “fairness, transparency, accountability, nondiscrimination, notice and consent, and lawful surveillance.”

Compliance with Microsoft’s facial recognition principles was included as part of the terms of the deal when Microsoft invested, giving them a right to perform the audit.

When NBC News first reported on the surveillance allegations, a Microsoft spokesman said that, if true, “they would violate our facial recognition principles.”

“If we discover any violation of our principles, we will end our relationship.”

At the same time, AnyVision has denied the reports, stating: “All of our installations have been examined and confirmed against not only Microsoft’s ethical principles, but also our own internal rigorous approval process.”

Whatever the case, Holder and a team of former federal prosecutors—currently working at law firm Covington & Burling—will investigate the allegations.

The post Microsoft Hires Attorney General Eric Holder To Audit AnyVision appeared first on WebProNews.


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What Is BERT? – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by BritneyMuller

There’s a lot of hype and misinformation about the new Google algorithm update. What actually is BERT, how does it work, and why does it matter to our work as SEOs? Join our own machine learning and natural language processing expert Britney Muller as she breaks down exactly what BERT is and what it means for the search industry.

Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high-resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

Hey, Moz fans. Welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Today we are talking about all things BERT and I’m super excited to attempt to really break this down for everyone. I don’t claim to be a BERT expert but I’ve done lots and lots of research. –I’ve been able to interview some experts in the field and my goal is to try to be a catalyst for this information to be easier to understand. 

There is a ton of commotion going on right now in the industry around BERT and how you can’t optimize for it. While that is absolutely true, you cannot, you just need to be writing really good content for your users, I still think many of us got into this space because we are curious by nature. If you are curious to learn a little bit more about BERT and be able to explain it a little bit better to clients or have better conversations around the context of BERT, then I hope you enjoy this video. If not, and this isn’t for you, that’s fine too.

Word of caution: Don’t over-hype BERT!

I’m so excited to jump right in. The first thing I do want to mention is I was able to sit down with Allyson Ettinger, who is a Natural Language Processing researcher. She is a professor at the University of Chicago and one of the kindest people. So appreciative that she took the time to chat with me about BERT. 

My primary main takeaway from our lunch together was that it’s very, very important to not over-hype BERT. There is a lot of commotion going on right now, but it’s still far away from understanding language and context in the same way that we humans can understand it. So I think that’s important to keep in mind that we are not overemphasizing what this model can do, but it’s still really exciting and it’s a pretty monumental moment in NLP and machine learning. Without further ado, let’s jump right in.

Where did BERT come from?

I want to give everyone a wider context to where BERT came from and where it’s going. I think a lot of times these announcements are kind of bombs dropped on the SEO industry, essentially, a still frame in a series of a movie but without the full before and after movie bits. We just get this one still frame. So we get this BERT announcement, but let’s go back in time a little bit. 

Natural language processing

Traditionally computers have had an impossible time understanding language. They can store text, we can enter text, but the understanding of language has always been incredibly difficult for computers. So along comes natural language processing (NLP), the field in which researchers develop unique models to solve for specific types of language understanding. A couple of examples are; named entity recognition, classification, sentiment analysis, and question and answering. 

All of these have traditionally been solved by individual models fit to solve one specific language task and so it looks a little bit like your kitchen: 

Think of the individual NLP models like utensils that you have in your kitchen, they all have one very specific task that they do very well. 

Now consider a be-all-end-all kitchen utensil that is 11 of your most frequently used utensils in one. This is BERT, the one kitchen utensil that does eleven of the top natural language processing solutions really, really well after it’s fine-tuned. 

An exciting differentiation in the NLP space. That’s why people are really excited about it because they are no longer require all the individual models. –They can use BERT to solve for the majority of NLP tasks, which makes sense that Google would incorporate BERT into Google’s algorithm. 

Where is BERT going?

Where is this heading? Where is this going? Allyson had said, 

“I think we’ll be heading on the same trajectory for a while building bigger and better variants of BERT that are stronger in the ways that BERT is strong and probably with the same fundamental limitations.”

There are already tons of different versions of BERT out there and we are going to continue to see more and more of that. It will be interesting to see where this space is heading.

How did BERT get so smart?

How about we take a look at a very oversimplified view of how BERT got so smart? 

Google took Wikipedia text and a lot of money for computational power (TPUs in which they put together in a V3 pod) that can power these large models. They then used an unsupervised neural network to train from all of Wikipedia’s text to better understand language and context. 

What’s interesting about how it learns is that it takes any arbitrary length of text (which is good because language is quite arbitrary in the way that we speak) and it transcribes it into a vector.

A vector is a fixed string of numbers. This helps language become translatable to a machine. 

This happens in a really wild n-dimensional space that we can’t even imagine. Putting similar contextual language into the same areas. 

To get smarter and smarter BERT, similar to Word2vec, uses a tactic called masking

Masking occurs when a random word within a sentence is hidden. 

BERT being a bi-directional model looks to the words before and after the hidden word to help predict what the word is. 

It does this over and over and over again until it’s powerful in predicting masked words. It can then be further fine-tuned to do 11 of the most common natural language processing tasks. Really, really exciting and a fun time to be in this space.

What is BERT?

BERT is a pre-trained unsupervised natural language processing model. BERT can outperform 11 of the most common NLP tasks after fine-tuning, essentially becoming a rocket booster for Natural Language Processing and Understanding.

BERT is deeply bi-directional, meaning it looks at the words before and after entities and context pre-trained on Wikipedia to provide a richer understanding of language.

Check out this Whiteboard Friday for more context around what an unsupervised model is.

What are some things BERT cannot do? 

Allyson Ettinger wrote this really great research paper called What BERT Can’t Do. The most surprising takeaway from her research was this area of negation diagnostics, meaning that BERT isn’t very good at understanding negation or what things are not

For example, when inputted with a Robin is a… It predicted bird, which is right, that’s great. But when entered a Robin is not a… It also predicted bird. So in cases where BERT hasn’t seen negation examples or context, it will still have a hard time understanding that. There are a ton more really interesting takeaways in Allyson’s research, highly suggest you check it out.

How do you optimize for BERT? (You can’t!)

Finally, how do you optimize for BERT? Again, you can’t. The only way to improve your website with this update is to write really great content for your users and fulfill the intent that they are seeking. 

A great resource to help you understand and write better for NLP is Briggsby’s On-page SEO for NLP article.

Google’s growing capacity for Natural Question Understanding

One thing I just have to mention because I honestly cannot get this out of my head is this Keynote by Jeff Dean of Google. He’s speaking about BERT and then goes into natural questions and natural question understanding. The big takeaway for me was this example around, okay, let’s say someone asked the question, “can you make and receive calls in airplane mode?” 

Screenshot from Deep Learning for Solving Important Problems Keynote by Jeff Dean.

The block of text in which Google’s natural language translation layer is trying to understand all this text is very technical and hard to understand:

Airplane mode, aeroplane mode, flight mode, offline mode, or standalone mode is a setting available on many smartphones, portable computers, and other electronic devices that, when activated, suspends radio-frequency signal transmission by the device, thereby disabling Bluetooth, telephony, and Wi-Fi. GPS may or may not be disabled, because it does not involve transmitting radio waves.

With these layers, and leveraging things like BERT, they were able to just answer “No” out of all of this very complex, long, confusing language. It’s really, really powerful in our space. 

Consider things like featured snippets; consider things like SERP features. I mean, this can start to have a huge impact in our space. So I think it’s important to sort of have a pulse on where it’s all heading and what’s going on in this field. 

I really hope you enjoyed this version of Whiteboard Friday. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments down below and I look forward to seeing you all again next time. Thanks so much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com

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The Content Distribution Playbook – Whiteboard Friday

Posted by rosssimmonds

If you’re one of the many marketers that shares your content on Facebook, Twitter, and Linked before calling it good and moving on, this Whiteboard Friday is for you. In a super actionable follow-up to his MozCon 2019 presentation, Ross Simmonds reveals how to go beyond the mediocre when it comes to your content distribution plan, reaching new audiences in just the right place at the right time.


Click on the whiteboard image above to open a high resolution version in a new tab!

Video Transcription

What’s going on, Whiteboard Friday fans? My name is Ross Simmonds from Foundation Marketing, and today we’re going to be talking about how to develop a content distribution playbook that will drive meaningful and measurable results for your business. 

What is content distribution and why does it matter?

First and foremost, content distribution is the thing that you need to be thinking about if you want to combat the fact that it is becoming harder and harder than ever before to stand out as a content marketer, as a storyteller, and as a content creator in today’s landscape. It’s getting more and more difficult to rank for content. It’s getting more and more difficult to get organic reach through our social media channels, and that is why content distribution is so important.

You are facing a time when organic reach on social continues to drop more and more, where the ability to rank is becoming even more difficult because you’re competing against more ad space. You’re competing against more featured snippets. You’re competing against more companies. Because content marketers have screamed at the top of their lungs that content is king and the world has listened, it is becoming more and more difficult to stand out amongst the noise.

Most marketers have embraced this idea because for years we screamed, “Content is king, create more content,”and that is what the world has done. Most marketers start by just creating content, hoping that traffic will come, hoping that reach will come, and hoping that as a result of them creating content that profits will follow. In reality, the profits never come because they miss a significant piece of the puzzle, which is content distribution.

In today’s video, we’re going to be talking about how you can distribute your content more effectively across a few different channels, a few different strategies, and how you can take your content to the next level. 

There are two things that you can spend when it comes to content distribution: 

  1. You can spend time, 
  2. or you can spend money. 

In today’s video, we’re going to talk about exactly how you can distribute your content so when you write that blog post, you write that landing page, when you create that e-book, you create that infographic, whatever resource you’ve developed, you can ensure that that content is reaching the right people on the right channel at the right time.

◷: Owned channels

So how can you do it? We all have heard of owned channels. Owned channels are things that you own as a business, as a brand, as an organization. These are things that you can do without question probably today. 

Email marketing

For example, email marketing, it’s very likely that you have an email list of some sort. You can distribute your content to those people. 

In-app notifications

Let’s say you have a website that offers people a solution or a service directly inside of the site. Say it’s software as a service or something of that nature. If people are logging in on a regular basis to access your product, you can use in-app notifications to let those people know that you’ve launched a blog post. Or better yet, if you have a mobile app of any sort, you can do the same thing. You can use your app to let people know that you just launched a new piece of content.

Social channels

You have social media channels. Let’s say you have Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. Share that content to your heart’s desire on those channels as well. 

On-site banner

If you have a website, you can update an on-site banner, at the top or in the bottom right, that is letting people know who visit your site that you have a new piece of content. Let them know. They want to know that you’re creating new content. So why not advise them that you have done such?

Sales outreach

If you have a sales team of any sort, let’s say you’re in B2B and you have a sales team, one of the most effective ways is to empower your sales team, to communicate to your sales team that you have developed a new piece of content so they can follow up with leads, they can nurture those existing relationships and even existing customers to let them know that a new piece of content has gone live. That one-to-one connection can be huge. 

◷: Social media / other channels

So when you’ve done all of that, what else can you do? You can go into social media. You can go into other channels. Again, you can spend time distributing your content into these places where your audience is spending time as well. 

Social channels and groups

So if you have a Twitter account, you can send out tweets. If you have a Facebook page, of course you can put up status updates.

If you have a LinkedIn page, you can put up a status update as well. These three things are typically what most organizations do in that Phase 2, but that’s not where it ends. You can go deeper. You can do more. You can go into Facebook groups, whether as a page or as a human, and share your content into these communities as well. You can let them know that you’ve published a new piece of research and you would love for them to check it out.

Or you’re in these groups and you’re looking and waiting and looking for somebody to ask a question that your blog post, your research has answered, and then you respond to that question with the content that you’ve developed. Or you do the same exact thing in a LinkedIn group. LinkedIn groups are an awesome opportunity for you to go in and start seeding your content as well.

Medium

Or you go to Medium.com. You repurpose the content that you’ve developed. You launch it on Medium.com as well. There’s an import function on Medium where you can import your content, get a canonical link directly to your site, and you can share that on Medium as well. Medium.com is a great distribution channel, because you can seed that content to publications as well.

When your content is going to these publications, they already have existing subscribers, and those subscribers get notified that there’s a new piece being submitted by you. When they see it, that’s a new audience that you wouldn’t have reached before using any of those owned channels, because these are people who you wouldn’t have had access to before. So you want to take advantage of that as well.

Keep in mind you don’t always have to upload even the full article. You can upload a snippet and then have a CTA at the bottom, a call to action driving people to the article on your website. 

LinkedIn video

You can use LinkedIn video to do the same thing. Very similar concept. Imagine you have a LinkedIn video. You look into the camera and you say to your connections, “Hey, everyone, we just launched a new research piece that is breaking down X, Y, and Z, ABC. I would love for you to check it out. Check the link below.”

If you created that video and you shared it on your LinkedIn, your connections are going to see this video, and it’s going to break their pattern of what they typically see on LinkedIn. So when they see it, they’re going to engage, they’re going to watch that video, they’re going to click the link, and you’re going to get more reach for the content that you developed in the past. 

Slack communities

Slack communities are another great place to distribute your content. Slack isn’t just a great channel to build internal culture and communicate as an internal team.

There are actual communities, people who are passionate about photography, people who are passionate about e-commerce, people who are passionate about SEO. There are Slack communities today where these people are gathering to talk about their passions and their interests, and you can do the same thing that you would do in Facebook groups or LinkedIn groups in these various Slack communities. 

Instagram / Facebook stories

Instagram stories and Facebook stories, awesome, great channel for you to also distribute your content. You can add a link to these stories that you’re uploading, and you can simply say, “Swipe up if you want to get access to our latest research.” Or you can design a graphic that will say, “Swipe up to get our latest post.” People who are following you on these channels will swipe up. They’ll land on your article, they’ll land on your research, and they’ll consume that content as well. 

LinkedIn Pulse

LinkedIn Pulse, you have the opportunity now to upload an article directly to LinkedIn, press Publish, and again let it soar. You can use the same strategies that I talked about around Medium.com on LinkedIn, and you can drive results. 

Quora

Quora, it’s like a question-and-answer site, like Yahoo Answers back in the day, except with a way better design. You can go into Quora, and you can share just a native link and tag it with relevant content, relevant topics, and things of that nature. Or you can find a few questions that are related to the topic that you’ve covered in your post, in your research, whatever asset you developed, and you can add value to that person who asked that question, and within that value you make a reference to the link and the article that you developed in the past as well.

SlideShare

SlideShare, one of OGs of B2B marketing. You can go to SlideShare, upload a presentation version of the content that you’ve already developed. Let’s say you’ve written a long blog post. Why not take the assets within that blog post, turn them into a PDF, a SlideShare presentation, upload them there, and then distribute it through that network as well? Once you have those SlideShare presentations put together, what’s great about it is you can take those graphics and you can share them on Twitter, you can share them on Facebook, LinkedIn, you can put them into Medium.com, and distribute them further there as well.

Forums

You can go into forums. Let’s think about it. If your audience is spending time in a forum communicating about something, why not go into these communities and into these forums and connect with them on a one-to-one basis as well? There’s a huge opportunity in forums and communities that exist online, where you can build trust and you can seed your content into these communities where your audience is spending time.

A lot of people think forums are dead. They could never be more alive. If you type in your audience, your industry forums, I promise you you’ll probably come across something that will surprise you as an opportunity to seed your content. 

Reddit communities

Reddit communities, a lot of marketers get the heebie-jeebies when I talk about Reddit. They’re all like, “Marketers on Reddit? That doesn’t work. Reddit hates marketing.” I get it.

I understand what you’re thinking. But what they actually hate is the fact that marketers don’t get Reddit. Marketers don’t get the fact that Redditors just want value. If you can deliver value to people using Reddit, whether it’s through a post or in the comments, they will meet you with happiness and joy. They will be grateful of the fact that you’ve added value to their communities, to their subreddits, and they will reward you with upvotes, with traffic and clicks, and maybe even a few leads or a customer or two in the process.

Do not ignore Reddit as being the site that you can’t embrace. Whether you’re B2B or B2C, Redditors can like your content. Redditors will like your content if you go in with value first. 

Imgur

Sites like Imgur, another great distribution channel. Take some of those slides that you developed in the past, upload them to Imgur, and let them sing there as well.

There are way more distribution channels and distribution techniques that you can use that go beyond even what I’ve described here. But these just a few examples that show you that the power of distribution doesn’t exist just in a couple posts. It exists in actually spending the time, taking the time to distribute your stories and distribute your content across a wide variety of different channels.

$ : Paid marketing

That’s spending time. You can also spend money through paid marketing. Paid marketing is also an opportunity for any brand to distribute their stories. 

Remarketing

First and foremost, you can use remarketing. Let’s talk about that email list that you’ve already developed. If you take that email list and you run remarketing ads to those people on Facebook, on Twitter, on LinkedIn, you can reach those people and get them engaged with new content that you’ve developed.

Let’s say somebody is already visiting your page. People are visiting your website. They’re visiting your content. Why not run remarketing ads to those people who already demonstrate some type of interest to get them back on your site, back engaged with your content, and tell your story to them as well? Another great opportunity is if you’ve leveraged video in any way, you can do remarketing ads on Facebook to people who have watched 10 seconds, 30 seconds, 20 seconds, whatever it may be to your content as well.

Quora ads

Then one of the opportunities that is definitely underrated is the fact that Quora now offers advertising as well. You can run ads on Quora to people who are asking or looking at questions related to your industry, related to the content that you’ve developed, and get your content in front of them as well. 

Influencer marketing

Then influencers, you can do sponsored content. You can reach out to these influencers and have them talk about your stories, talk about your content, and have them share it as well on behalf of the fact that you’ve developed something new and something that is interesting.

Think differently & rise above mediocrity

When I talk about influencer marketing, I talk about Reddit, I talk about SlideShare, I talk about LinkedIn video, I talk about Slack communities, a lot of marketers will quickly say, “I don’t think this is for me. I think this is too much. I think that this is too much manual work. I think this is too many niche communities. I think this is a little bit too much for my brand.

I get that. I understand your mindset, but this is what you need to recognize. Most marketers are going through this process. If you think that by distributing your content into the communities that your audience is spending time is just a little bit off brand or it doesn’t really suit you, that’s what most marketers already think. Most marketers already think that Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn is all they need to do to share their stories, get their content out there, and call it a day.

If you want to be like most marketers, you’re going to get what most marketers receive as a result, which is mediocre results. So I push you to think differently. I push you to push yourself to not be like most marketers, not to go down the path of mediocrity, and instead start looking for ways that you can either invest time or money into channels, into opportunities, and into communities where you can spread your content with value first and ultimately generate results for your business at the end of all of it.

So I hope that you can use this to uncover for yourself a content distribution playbook that works for your brand. Whether you’re in B2C or you’re in B2B, it doesn’t matter. You have to understand where your audience is spending time, understand how you can seed your content into these different spaces and unlock the power of content distribution. My name is Ross Simmonds.

I really hope you enjoyed this video. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out on Twitter, at TheCoolestCool, or hit me up any other way. I’m on every other channel. Of course I am. I love social. I love digital. I’m everywhere that you could find me, so feel free to reach out.

I hope you enjoyed this video and you can use it to give your content more reach and ultimately drive meaningful and measurable results for your business. Thank you so much.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


If Ross’s Whiteboard Friday left you feeling energized and inspired to try new things with your content marketing, you’ll love his full MozCon 2019 talk — Keywords Aren’t Enough: How to Uncover Content Ideas Worth Chasing — available in our recently released video bundle. Learn how to use many of these same distribution channels as idea factories for your content, plus access 26 additional future-focused SEO topics from our top-notch speakers:

Grab the sessions now!

And don’t be shy — share the learnings with your whole team, preferably with snacks. It’s what video was made for!

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Brands vs Ads

About 7 years ago I wrote about how the search relevancy algorithms were placing heavy weighting on brand-related signals after Vince & Panda on the (half correct!) presumption that this would lead to excessive industry consolidation which in turn would force Google to turn the dials in the other direction.

My thesis was Google would need to increasingly promote some smaller niche sites to make general web search differentiated from other web channels & minimize the market power of vertical leading providers.

The reason my thesis was only half correct (and ultimately led to the absolutely wrong conclusion) is Google has the ability to provide the illusion of diversity while using sort of eye candy displacement efforts to shift an increasing share of searches from organic to paid results.

As long as any market has at least 2 competitors in it Google can create a “me too” offering that they hard code front & center and force the other 2 players (along with other players along the value chain) to bid for marketshare. If competitors are likely to complain about the thinness of the me too offering & it being built upon scraping other websites, Google can buy out a brand like Zagat or a data supplier like ITA Software to undermine criticism until the artificially promoted vertical service has enough usage that it is nearly on par with other players in the ecosystem.

Google need not win every market. They only need to ensure there are at least 2 competing bids left in the marketplace while dialing back SEO exposure. They can then run other services to redirect user flow and force the ad buy. They can insert their own bid as a sort of shill floor bid in their auction. If you bid below that amount they’ll collect the profit through serving the customer directly, if you bid above that they’ll let you buy the customer vs doing a direct booking.

Where this gets more than a bit tricky is if you are a supplier of third party goods & services where you buy in bulk to get preferential pricing for resale. If you buy 100 rooms a night from a particular hotel based on the presumption of prior market performance & certain channels effectively disappear you have to bid above market to sell some portion of the rooms because getting anything for them is better than leaving them unsold.

Dipping a bit back into history here, but after Groupon said no to Google’s acquisition offer Google promptly partnered with players 2 through n to ensure Groupon did not have a lasting competitive advantage. In the fullness of time most those companies died, LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon for nothing & Groupon is today worth less than the amount they raised in VC & IPO funding.

Most large markets will ultimately consolidate down to a couple players (e.g. Booking vs Expedia) while smaller players lack the scale needed to have the economic leverage to pay Google’s increasing rents.

This sort of consolidation was happening even when the search results were mostly organic & relevancy was driven primarily by links. As Google has folded in usage data & increased ad load on the search results it becomes harder for a generically descriptive domain name to build brand-related signals.

It is not only generically descriptive sorts of sites that have faded though. Many brand investments turned out to be money losers after the search result set was displaced by more ads (& many brand-related search result pages also carry ads above the organic results).

The ill informed might write something like this:

Since the Motorola debacle, it was Google’s largest acquisition after the $ 676 million purchase of ITA Software, which became Google Flights. (Uh, remember that? Does anyone use that instead of Travelocity or one of the many others? Neither do I.)

The reality is brands lose value as the organic result set is displaced. To make the margins work they might desperately outsource just about everything but marketing to a competitor / partner, which will then latter acquire them for a song.

Travelocity had roughly 3,000 people on the payroll globally as recently as a couple of years ago, but the Travelocity workforce has been whittled to around 50 employees in North America with many based in the Dallas area.

The best relevancy algorithm in the world is trumped by preferential placement of inferior results which bypasses the algorithm. If inferior results are hard coded in placements which violate net neutrality for an extended period of time, they can starve other players in the market from the vital user data & revenues needed to reinvest into growth and differentiation.

Value plays see their stocks crash as growth slows or goes in reverse. With the exception of startups frunded by Softbank, growth plays are locked out of receiving further investment rounds as their growth rate slides.

Startups like Hipmunk disappear. Even an Orbitz or Travelocity become bolt on acquisitions.

The viability of TripAdvisor as a stand alone business becomes questioned, leading them to partner with Ctrip.

TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps Amazon.com. But ranking #1 doesn’t count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold.

TripAdvisor shifted their business model to allow direct booking to better monetize mobile web users, but as Google has ate screen real estate and grew Google Travel into a $ 100 billion business other players have seen their stocks sag.

Google sits at the top of the funnel & all other parts of the value chain are compliments to be commoditized.

  • Buy premium domain names? Google’s SERPs test replacing domain names with words & make the domain name gray.
  • Improve conversion rates? Your competitor almost certainly did as well, now you both can bid more & hand over an increasing economic rent to Google.
  • Invest in brand awareness? Google shows ads for competitors on your brand terms, forcing you to buy to protect the brand equity you paid to build.

Search Metrics mentioned Hotels.com was one of the biggest losers during the recent algorithm updates: “I’m going to keep on this same theme there, and I’m not going to say overall numbers, the biggest loser, but for my loser I’m going to pick Hotels.com, because they were literally like neck and neck, like one and two with Booking, as far as how close together they were, and the last four weeks, they’ve really increased that separation.”

As Google ate the travel category the value of hotel-related domain names has fallen through the floor.

Most of the top selling hotel-related domain names were sold about a decade ago:

On August 8th HongKongHotels.com sold for $ 4,038. And the buyer may have overpaid for it!

Google consistently grows their ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%.

There are only about 6 ways they can do that

  • growth of web usage (though many of those who are getting online today have a far lower disposable income than those who got on a decade or two ago did)
  • gain marketshare (very hard in search given that they effectively are the market in most markets outside of China & Russia)
  • create new inventory (new ad types on Google Maps & YouTube)
  • charge more for clicks
  • improve at targeting by better surveillance of web users (getting harder after GDPR & similar efforts from some states in the next year or two)
  • shift click streams away from organic toward paid channels (through larger ads, more interactive ad units, less appealing organic result formatting, etc.)

Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: “Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses.”

Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.

Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

“Google’s old motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’, but you can’t be this big and profitable and not be evil. Evil and all-time highs pretty much go hand in hand.” – Howard Lindzon

Booking held up much better than TripAdvisor & Expedia as they have a bigger footprint in Europe (where antitrust is a thing) and they have a higher reliance on paid search versus organic.

The broader SEO industry is to some degree frozen by fear. Roughly half of SEOs claim to have not bought *ANY* links in a half-decade.

Long after most of the industry has stopped buying links some people still run the “paid links are a potential FTC violation guideline” line as though it is insightful and/or useful.

Ask the people carrying Google’s water what they think of the official FTC guidance on poor ad labeling in search results and you will hear the beautiful sound of crickets chirping.

Where is the ad labeling in this unit?

Does small gray text in the upper right corner stating “about these results” count as legitimate ad labeling?

And then when you scroll over that gray text and click on it you get “Some of these hotel search results may be personalized based on your browsing activity and recent searches on Google, as well as travel confirmations sent to your Gmail. Hotel prices come from Google’s partners.”

Zooming out a bit further on the above ad unit to look at the entire search result page, we can now see the following:

  • 4 text ad units above the map
  • huge map which segments demand by price tier, current sales, luxury, average review, geographic location
  • organic results below the above wall of ads, and the number of organic search results has been reduced from 10 to 7

How many scrolls does one need to do to get past the above wall of ads?

If one clicks on one of the hotel prices the follow up page is … more ads.

Check out how the ad label is visually overwhelmed by a bright blue pop over.

Worth noting Google Chrome has a built-in ad blocking feature which allows them to strip all ads from displaying on third party websites if they follow Google’s best practices layout used in the search results.

You won’t see ads on websites that have poor ad experiences, like:

  • Too many ads
  • Annoying ads with flashing graphics or autoplaying audio
  • Ad walls before you can see content

When these ads are blocked, you’ll see an “Intrusive ads blocked” message. Intrusive ads will be removed from the page.

The following 4 are all true:

And, as a bonus, to some paid links are a crime but Google can sponsor academic conferences for market regulators while requesting the payments not be disclosed.

Hotels have been at the forefront of SEO for many years. They drive massive revenues & were perhaps the only vertical ever referenced in the Google rater guidelines which stated all affiliate sites should be labeled as spam even if they are helpful to users.

Google has won most of the profits in the travel market & so they’ll need to eat other markets to continue their 20% annual growth.

Some people who market themselves as SEO experts not only recognize this trend but even encourage this sort of behavior:

Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market are all dominant players in the industry, and many of their house and apartment listings are duplicated across the different property portals. This represents a very real reason for Google to step in and create a more streamlined service that will help users make a more informed decision. … The launch of Google Jobs should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should its potential foray into real estate. Google will want to diversify its revenue channels as much as possible, and any market that allows it to do so will be in its sights. It is no longer a matter of if they succeed, but when.

The dominance Google has in core profitable vertical markets also exists in the news & general publishing categories. Some publishers get more traffic from Google Discover than from Google search.

Publishers which try to turn off Google’s programmatic ads find their display ad revenues fall off a cliff:

“Nexstar Media Group Inc., the largest local news company in the U.S., recently tested what would happen if it stopped using Google’s technology to place ads on its websites. Over several days, the company’s video ad sales plummeted. “That’s a huge revenue hit,” said Tony Katsur, senior vice president at Nexstar. After its brief test, Nexstar switched back to Google.” … “Regulators who approved that $ 3.1 billion deal warned they would step in if the company tied together its offerings in anticompetitive ways. In interviews, dozens of publishing and advertising executives said Google is doing just that with an array of interwoven products.”

News is operating like many other (broken) markets. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit organization.

Many local markets have been consolidated down to ownership by a couple private equity shop roll ups looking to further consolidate the market. Gatehouse Media is acquiring Gannett.

The Washington Post – owned by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos – is creating an ad tech stack which serves other publishers & brands, though they also believe a reliance on advertiser & subscription revenue is unsustainable: “We are too beholden to just advertiser and subscriber revenue, and we’re completely out of our minds if we think that’s what’s going to be what carries us through the next generation of publishing. That’s very clear.”

We are nearing many inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected from search will still end up being dominated by Google. Gmail, Android, Web Analytics, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, Waze … are all additional points of leverage beyond the core search & ads products.

Google is investing heavily in quantum computing. Google Fiber was a nothingburger to force competing ISPs into accelerating expensive network upgrades, but beaming in internet services from satellites will allow Google to bypass local politics, local regulations & heavy network infrastructure construction costs. A startup named Kepler recently provided high-bandwidth connectivity to the Arctic. When Google launches a free ISP there will be many knock on effects causing partners to long for the day where Google was only as predatory as they are today.

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Want to reduce your bounce rate, but what does that actually mean?

How many times have you quoted a metric plucked from Google Analytics without really knowing what it means? Fear not, you’re not alone.

For far too long now, marketers have had misconceptions over how to define one particular metric – bounce rate, either confusing it for exit rate or adding non-existent criteria. So, we’ve put together a quick-fire guide to help you become a bounce rate aficionado.

How is the bounce rate calculated in Google Analytics? 

The Google Analytics help guide is a good first stop when trying to get to the bottom of the topic. And with it, you only need to remember two key things:

1. A bounce in Google Analytics is a single-page session on a website

2. The bounce rate for a page is based only on sessions that start with that page

What does this mean in practice?

Here’s an example with three sessions:

Imagine there have been three user sessions on your website. During these sessions, the following pages were viewed in this order:

  • Session one: Page A > Page B > Page C > exit
  • Session two: Page B> Page A > Page C> exit
  • Session three: Page A> exit

Page A bounce rate = 50%
Page B bounce rate =0%
Page C bounce rate = 0%

Why? You might tend to think that Page A’s bounce rate is 33% because the page was viewed three times and the user only exited the website after viewing page A. It’s a typical misconception, but that logic is actually the definition of “exit rate”.

Similarly, you might be tempted to think that Page C’s bounce rate is 100%, as all the sessions that have included Page C as part of their journey have been immediately followed by an exit. However, only pages that start a session are included in these calculations.

Here’s an example with five sessions:

  • Page B > Page A > Page C> exit
  • Page B > exit
  • Page A > Page C> Page B > exit
  • Page C > exit
  • Page B > Page C > Page A > exit

Page C’s bounce rate is 100%. It has been visited four times, however, only one session started with it. It is, therefore, the only one counted by Google Analytics in its bounce rate calculations.

What is an exit in Google Analytics?

Simply put, an exit is when a user exits the website in one way or another.

This means that if one of the goals of your website is to get users to click through to a third-party retailer after visiting a product page, users will need to exit the website in order to be counted as a conversion.

In this particular case, you could theoretically have pages with both a 100% bounce rate and a 100% conversion rate at the same time. But is lowering the number of single-page sessions on your website really your objective?

If not, you might want to consider a different KPI for your business. For SEO marketers, it is often the “go-to” KPI when reporting on performance, but others – such as exit rate – might be a better fit depending on your website’s objectives.

How should we use bounce rate and exit rate for efficient reporting? 

1. Bounce rate at a website level

At a website level – the figure typically found on the Google Analytics dashboard – bounce rate only means the percentage of single-page sessions compared to overall sessions.

Due to its default settings, Google Analytics can be misleading as it will indicate a decreasing one with a green arrow, suggesting it is “good”, while any upturn is marked in red and perceived as “bad”. However, having a higher bounce rate can be a good thing – perhaps the user only needed to visit one page in order to find the information they needed. This entirely depends on the type of website you are reporting on and the content it serves (ecommerce, blogs, informational, and the others).

Changes in bounce rate at the website level should not be used to evaluate website performance, but rather to notify a change that requires further investigation.

2. Bounce rate at the page level

If it increases for a particular page, it is important to evaluate the type of page to understand if the change is positive or negative:

A non-exhaustive list of examples

  • Homepage: an increase in bounce rate is generally negative and means less users are willing to visit a website beyond its home page.
  • Content/article: an increase in bounce rate could mean that users have found the information they need. In this case, bounce rate alone cannot be used to determine a positive or negative change.
  • Product page: an increase in bounce rate on pages with ecommerce functionalities needs to be analyzed in conjunction with recent website template changes to ensure the user experience is not negatively impacting shopping experience.

3. Exit rate at the website level

At a website level, the exit rate does not provide very meaningful data because users will always have to exit a website from one of its pages at some point.

Google Analytics still provides this type of data under the behavior tab, but it is not recommended to use this information to report web performance.

Exit rate at the website level cannot be anything other than 100%. However, be aware that Google Analytics takes an average of the exit rates for all pages of the website to come up with a “website average”.

4. Exit rate at the page level (or set of pages)

This is where the exit rate really shines. If you have an ideal user journey for your website, the exit rate can help you identify changes in user behavior. From there, you can tweak web page templates to bring users from one point to the other – using multiple pages and monitoring where users exit – and therefore finish their journey.

Now that you’ve mastered the difference between bounce rate and exit rate and how to use them effectively in your reporting, it’s time to put your knowledge into practice. Log into Google Analytics and start to delve into what these stats really mean for the website.

The post Want to reduce your bounce rate, but what does that actually mean? appeared first on Search Engine Watch.

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11 Deadly SEO mistakes to avoid in 2020

SEO is extremely important for growing your brand in 2020. This is especially after social media’s importance in driving traffic reduced and Google became the major source of referral traffic in 2017 by driving 35% of site visits

By using SEO, you can improve your website’s ranking in Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) and reach the top rankings. You must do this because the first search result gets more clicks than other results.

While doing SEO of your website, there are a few things to be kept in mind and these are the SEO mistakes. If you commit any of these errors, you might end up harming your reputation. Here are some of the most deadly SEO mistakes that you must avoid in 2020. 

1. Unsatisfied search intent

While you may write helpful content, if it isn’t well-targeted, the people finding your website may not find it useful after all. You may have figured out your target audience as well but if you don’t take search intent into account, all your efforts may go into vain. 

Search intent is essentially the intent behind the search. Your website and content need to satisfy this intent by providing a solution. This is why it’s crucial to understand what the searcher is thinking when they search for something. Your website needs to provide the answer to this thought. 

For example, if a user searches “SEO” on Google, it means that the user wants to know what is SEO? But, if a user searches “SEO services” then that person is looking to hire an SEO expert or company. Both keywords (SEO & SEO Services) have a different intent. So, if you’re targeting the keyword “SEO Services” but asking “what is SEO?” you can’t succeed with that content because you are unable to satisfy the intent behind that search phrase. 

2. Traditional SEO techniques

Just the way the internet is changing, SEO is developing and changing too. To stay at the very top of the search results, you need to keep up with these changes and apply modern SEO techniques. 

If you keep applying the traditional SEO techniques, then you may end up getting penalized. Those days are gone when you can rank by using keyword stuffing, PBNs, and other traditional methods. 

Today, Google is smarter than before. Now, it can rank for those keywords that you have not mentioned in your content too. Recently, Google made an algorithmic update called Google BERT that helps Google to better understand the content and user-queries.

If you want to succeed with SEO, then you should adopt modern SEO techniques. Traditional SEO techniques can penalize your site but can’t outrank your competitors.

3. Not updating yourself

As mentioned above, SEO is a dynamically changing field and you need to keep yourself up-to-date with all the latest happenings. This is necessary because Google keeps bringing out new updates every now and then. If you miss out on a major update, your website might get affected and you may lose out on valuable traffic.  

You should keep yourself updated with the latest SEO changes and updates. Google released various updates this year including broad core updates like 3rd June Core Update, Google BERT, and many others. You must keep yourself updated about them. 

4. Ignoring structured data and search features

Structured data is essential to stand apart from the crowd, especially when you reach the first page of the search results. Through structured data, your search result may end up featuring even above the first search result. Additionally, the result would look bigger than all the other listings and may become the go-to choice for your searchers.

 

Similarly, you must concentrate on improving your website’s internal search functions as well. People who come to your website must find it easy to look for relevant information and the search feature can help with this. Try to incorporate search into your website and also try to optimize your listings such that your searchers find exactly what they were looking for. 

There are different types of structured data for different types of content that you can use on your site. Like as,

  • Product Review (for product review)
  • How to (for “how-to” content)
  • FAQ (for FAQ content)
  • Address (for company address)
  • Books (for books)
  • Events (for events)

5. Ignoring conversion optimization

The end goal of all businesses is to get customers and for that, you need to first generate leads and then convert them. However, many businesses end up ignoring conversion optimization and only concentrate on the top of the funnel. 

Instead, it’s necessary to provide everything that your leads need to become paying customers. Load them up with reviews, case studies, and show them why they must purchase from you. Make it easy for them to make the purchase as well. By ignoring conversion optimization, you may end up losing loads of customers and hence, revenue. 

It is the most important and no-cost strategy to increase your revenue that you shouldn’t ignore in 2020.

6. Not focusing on branded anchor text

Anchor texts are important for your SEO and make up a huge part of your link building strategy. While you may get loads of backlinks from reputed sources, the anchor texts of these links are extremely important.

You might use anchor texts that relate to your pages or blogs. However, by ignoring the branded anchor texts, you might not be able to improve your brand’s authority. Branded anchor texts can help in improving your brand recognition and through that, your brand may start ranking higher on search results too. 

Also, branded anchors look more natural than keyword-optimized anchor texts. I found that most of the sites that saw a boost in their rankings during the Google 3 June update had more branded anchor texts than others. That’s why you should focus on branded anchor texts. 

7. Only text is the content to focus

Probably you have heard that videos are the future.

It is true! Because videos are the easiest way to learn and people prefer to watch videos over any other content format. This is the biggest reason for the popularity of YouTube. 

But you must have noticed that videos appear on Google’s SERPs too. Google knows that videos are the future and people like to watch videos. That’s why Google shows them on the SERPs.

Videos also take less time to rank on Google than text content and are more engaging content format. 

Google has also started adding podcasts on Google SERPs. These two content formats are still growing and less competitive than text content. That’s why you should also focus on these rather than only writing blog posts.

8. Not focusing on branding and brand searches

“Brands are the solutions” and Google loves brands.

SEO is becoming more brand-centric day by day. Now, SEO is not just about getting traffic. You need to do it to build a brand too. If you want to win the SEO game and make your business a trustable and profitable brand then you need to focus on branding. 

You should increase brand searches for your business. When more people start searching for your business on Google, then it will automatically start to rank you on top. This is an evergreen strategy to grow your business and establish yourself as an authority.

9. Not ready for mobile

Nearly 50% of all traffic comes from mobiles. If your website isn’t ready for mobiles, Google will automatically consider it unfriendly for its searchers. Ensure that your website is responsive and build it for mobiles in the first place. By tapping into the mobile traffic, you’ll also be able to increase your website’s visibility. 

Mobile-friendliness and page speed are considered as ranking factors of Google search. So if you want to grow your business and get SEO success then you shouldn’t ignore the mobile.

10. Unclear SEO goals

It’s essential to have clear SEO goals before you set out doing SEO for your website. If you don’t know what you wish to achieve from doing your website’s SEO, you’ll probably never be able to grow it. The key is to identify what you want from your website and SEO and then plan out your SEO strategy. A haphazard strategy will get you nowhere. 

11. Prefer people over search engines

Last but not least, write your content and plan your SEO strategy for the real user not for the search engines. Because ultimately, you need real customers to generate sales and revenue to run your business. Search engines are nothing. Your business depends on customers and not on the search engines. 

Search engines like Google are just a medium to get new customers. No one knows when Google will penalize a site and drop its rankings. But if you prefer your customers more, then there are enough chances that your customers will promote you as well as Google will also love you and rank you higher. That’s why you need to keep your customers satisfied with your services and products. 

Conclusion

Now that you know all the deadly SEO mistakes, try to put conscious effort into avoiding them in 2020. If you don’t design your website for mobiles, have clear goals, focus on different forms of content, you may end up suffering. Try using modern SEO techniques and keep yourself updated with the latest ones to stay ahead of the competition

What are the other deadly SEO mistakes that you must avoid in 2020? Let us know in the comments.

Harpreet Munjal is an entrepreneur who is helping businesses to outrank their toughest competitors and grow their revenue online. He can be reached out on Twitter @munjalharpreet.

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Entries are now being accepted for the 2020 Search Engine Land Awards

Get the recognition your team deserves. Enter your best-performing campaign now.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


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A 7-Point Plan for More Shareable Content

Content marketing is a beautiful thing — a great way to build an audience and grow your business. That’s if…

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The silent killers of loading time and how to fix them

Imagine visiting a website that takes more than 10, no two seconds to load. We know that the mouse is going to hover to the top right corner because honestly, no one has the time to wait nowadays. 

A Forbes article mentioned that a mere one-second delay in page load time means a seven percent decline in sales, 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease in customer satisfaction, and a seven percent loss in conversions. 

Your website may be a work of art with awesome features. It can have lightning speed chat responses but with slow loading time, none of that matters. 

Attention spans are growing smaller and patience is thinner than ever. Other than that, slow loading sites impact your SEO because it affects how Google sees your page. Speed is a ranking factor Google uses to measure your page. Sure, content may be king, but speed can change how your content performs in search. 

We’ll dig deep and find the silent killers of loading time – both common and uncommon causes.

1. Uncompressed images and bizarre image dimensions

The quality and size of an image affects its loading time. Having a high-resolution image on every page means your site will load slower.

How you can fix this

A couple of ways we found included installing plugins. The first one is with a jQuery Lazy Load plugin. This plugin allows the images that are only appearing to load “above the fold” or on a part a visitor is currently viewing. 

The second option is by using image optimizers such as Yahoo!’s Smush.it or use the WP Smush.it plugin which compacts images without altering their quality. With the WP plugin, it can be done automatically when you add graphics to your site.

2. Unnecessary plugins

If you have a WordPress site you’ll know that there are tons of plugins wandering around and sometimes you might feel the need to download every one because they’re “helpful” to your site. 

Before you know it, you’ll have plugins running your site and you might even have a plugin for your plugin.

Plugin overload can be a problem because the more plugins your site has, the more work it has to do when it loads. Also, not all plugins are as awesome as they claim to be. Beware of outdated plugins that can slow down your site instead of improving its performance.

What you can do to solve this problem is by evaluating your current plugins to figure out which ones you actually need. You might have multiple plugins that have the same function or have some that you’re no longer using. 

When you’re deleting plugins check to see if

– The plugin is relevant and updated

– Whether it has another similar plugin with same functions

– Whether you’re still using it the respective plugin

You can also check the performance of your plugins using the P3 (Plugin Performance Profiler) which shows you the impact of each plugin has on your WordPress site load time.

3. An excessive homepage

Your homepage is the face of your brand. So, we get it if you want it to look the best. However, when you try to impress new visitors with a bunch of widgets, content, and state-of-the-art imagery, it’s going to compromise your loading time.

When you want to make an impressive site, keep in mind that a clean design can do wonders. We’re not telling you to ban widgets completely (save them for the end of your blog posts or site pages) but we’re just telling you to keep it simple.

Another thing you can do to speed up load times is by altering the WordPress options to show excerpts instead of full posts and limiting the posts per page by five to seven each.

4. Free third-party WordPress themes

Free WordPress themes may sound like the best thing since sliced bread but free things come with a price tag. When you’re looking for a theme on WordPress, you’re likely to click on those free ones made by a third-party. They’re free anyway, so what can go wrong? Right?

Apparently, a lot of things. Like how free music and movies can come with spyware or malware, free third-party WordPress themes may be one of the causes for your slow website.

How you can fix this

One of the best ways is to only use themes from the official WordPress theme repository. If you want something more personalized, consider allocating less than $ 100 in a premium theme you can customize to your heart’s desire.

5. Unreliable web hosting

Having a web hosting server that’s not properly configured can harm your loading times. When picking a web hosting server, more often than not, we’ll try to choose the most budget-friendly option. That may be good in the beginning when you’re just starting out. 

However, once the amount of traffic you’re receiving suddenly spikes, your host and server won’t be able to handle a huge amount of users at a single time. Sudden spikes can happen especially during times you launch a new online marketing campaign or a new product. 

Instead of looking for a free or cheap web hosting solution, it’s best to use a well-known host that usually runs between four to eight dollars a month, which isn’t so bad. 

Other than the price, you should also keep in mind how fast the server responds when it deals with problems. Sometimes your site can have emergencies and filling in forms just won’t cut it. Do your research thoroughly and read reviews about the company and its support. 

6. Invisible loading images or videos

When you’re scrolling through a page, there is some content you can’t see immediately. Some are still at the bottom of the page and are visible after a visitor arrives at the exact spot. 

So, how is this a problem? The more images you tell your server to fetch, the slower your site will load. The reality is, the server usually fetches all of these images and videos (even the ones you can’t see yet). This is a huge factor for mobile devices since they have limited speed and data.

This can be fixed with “lazy loading” which means fetching the file only if it’s needed and only when it’s on the screen. A couple of plugins you can use for your WordPress site are BJ Lazy Load and LazyLoad. 

7. Coding issue

Your website is made of code. The more elaborate your site is, the more coding is necessary. Just because you want your website to be ideal, that doesn’t mean the coding should be over the top. Irrelevant or unnecessary code will only slow down your site since the server has to work through more data in order to get to a page.

An example of a coding issue

Unnecessary redirects which happen when the code refers to two different forms of the website URL. Although this seems like something trivial, it makes a huge difference.

When a redirect takes place, a user has to wait for the page to load twice. Using too many redirects means you’re doubling the load time.

To fix this, you need to review your code in detail. Most of the time, the root cause of slow load times could be from a coding issue. This occurs when the code isn’t consistent and causes too many redirects.

8. Not using a content delivery network (CDN)

CDN is a network of independent servers deployed in different geographic locations that serves web content to visitors. Depending on the location of your website visitors, the content requested gets served by the node that’s at the nearest data center. 

The problem with not using a CDN is that many sites can be slow, especially if they have visitors from around the world. Although a CDN isn’t necessary, it can help serve your web content much faster and reduce the loading time.

Now that you’re aware of some of the most and least obvious loading time killers, it’s time to get cracking with fixing them for your website.

Got some more load time killers that you wish to add to this list? Share them in the comments.

Nat McNeely is Digital Marketing Manager of Breadnbeyond, an award-winning explainer video company. 

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