Aira's annual State of Link Building report, Bing's in-SERP voucher codes and Google's Evolution of Search

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What's in this episode?

On this week's episode, Jack Chambers-Ward is joined by Mark Williams-Cook to discuss:

  • Google's updated Product Rich Results documentation
  • Bing's in-SERP voucher codes
  • SISTRIX's new on-page feature
  • Aira's third annual State of Link Building report
  • Google's Evolution of Search

Show notes and links


Jack: Welcome to episode 24 of season two of the Search with Candour podcast, my name is Jack Chambers-Ward. And this week I am not joined by Cindy Krum as I promised last week, I'm afraid. Cindy's episode will actually be coming out next week. But I am, don't worry folks, joined by my co-host, Mr. Mark Williams-Cook. Welcome back, Mark.

Mark: I'm back.

Jack: Hey, Mark's back. So we will be talking about the latest in SEO and PPC news, including some updated Google documentation about product-rich results. The results of Aira's third state of link building reports. The new OnPage feature from SISTRIX, as well as an update on the ongoing Primark website saga. Bing testing insert voucher codes and a history of Google in a lovely little interactive infographic from Google themselves. Search with Candour is supported by SISTRIX, the SEO's toolbox. Go to if you want to check out some of their fantastic free tools such as their Instagram Hashtag Generator, Hreflang Validator, checking out your site's visibility index and the Google update tracker. We'll actually be diving into some of their new OnPage features later on in the show.

Mark: Well, to mark my triumphant return to the podcast, I thought I would start you with the incredibly interesting subject of updated documentation.

Jack: Ooh, that means Google documentation, that's at least relevant. Not just random documentation.

Mark: Yeah. So this is actually from SiteBulb. So Sitebulb actually has a little service that you can subscribe to that triggers email notifications when Google updates their structured data documentation, which probably sounds like a very incredibly boring sentence to people who don't work in SEO, but it is pretty relevant for those of us that do because obviously, there are some very objective right and wrongs when it comes to structured data. And it is fairly easy to muck it up or not do the best possible job. So I got this email alert on the 17th of June, so five days ago, just saying that Google had updated their docs for the product-rich results to clarify that product-rich results are only supported for pages that focus on a single product, including product variants where each product variant has a distinct URL.

Mark: So to unwrap that, as I said, a lot of very similar words in the same sentence, what this means is we know that, of course the product-rich result structured data is for single product pages. What maybe wasn't quite so clear is if you are selling for instance, a T-shirt, and that one T-shirt comes in four different colors, you may have, say a dropdown box where you can select the color, and in some instances, this will change the URL. So there's actually an image which will link to at for the show notes where it shows two T-shirts and one has the query string color equals green.

Mark: So there was, I think, some confusion there about people thinking, "Well, do I need separate product structured data for all of these different variations of the product, or is it just one?" So Google has clarified that there should only be the one product-rich result for that whole product, including all of its variations. So you're not meant to do it for all of the separate ones. And that makes sense, but I read that and I was like, "Okay, cool. That's nice, easy clarification." And it did then trigger some other possibilities, which is when SEO starts to get a little bit complicated and messy.

Jack: Yeah. The one they touched on here straight away with the blue and the green T-shirt comparison you mentioned, they say, "Whichever one is best, pick the best one." And then canonicalize that, you're like, "Okay, it's not as simple as that, Google, but sure." I was like, "Blue is the best, so pick blue." I guess if blue is the best selling, what if it's blue, red and green are selling, but the yellow one doesn't sell quite as well, do each that need like... Yeah, it's a weird thing.

Jack: Like you said, they have this particular wording in Google documentation that is often very wordy and very technically focused, and then sometimes just gets a bit vague where it's like, "Pick one and you'll be fine." I was like, "Well, that might matter greatly going outside of product-rich results and stuff, which one is featured could massively affect your click-through rate and things like that, depending on, 'oh, I'm just a whim. I'll pick the blue one,' and turns out you probably should have picked the green one all along." That could be a massive difference in terms of your business, and revenue and stuff like that. But they're just like, "Ah, don't worry about it." It seems fairly casually.

Mark: Exactly. So what I was thinking about hearing this example is, say you're selling an Elvis T-shirt, right, and you sell it in white, and yellow and green. Now, there might theoretically be searches for yellow Elvis T-shirt, and if you are canonicalizing these and you are only using the one set of structured data, the logic is, well, you are less likely to rank than if you had an individual URL with an optimized title, et cetera. So at least for me at the beginning level of what is best practice, it would suggest to me that, okay, assuming we take that face value that we should do as Google says for, I'm sure there are other things happening in the background outside the sphere of SEO that are relevant to this in terms of what Google is doing. But it would then say to me, "From an SEO eCom strategy point of view, okay, maybe we should look at grouping together what we can in terms of variance at a category level."

Mark: So if we have a certain set of T-shirts that are green, but we can't target those on a product level, but there's search volume, we should make a category that is indexable and searchable. And obviously, we're not using product-rich data on a category level, but it allows us at least to target the search terms that are going to be looking for those variants. And that makes sense, because it will be the accumulative volume search intent of all the products for that name of variation, whatever, if it's a certain cut, a certain size, a certain color.

Jack: Yeah. Because you can have variations of, not only do you have the T-shirt in blue and green, you have it in small, medium, large, extra, large, extra extra large, triple XL, quadruple XL, in a different fabric. You can have it in a hundred percent cotton, or a polyester cotton blend, or organic cotton versus synthetic. There's so many variations there, it seems bizarre that we're just... I mean, it makes sense. I've done this with eCom clients, before where you focus on one thing, you know that a multi-pack of a thing sells particularly well, or is ranking particularly well or whatever it is. Use some data there to pick your best option rather than doing it. There's a single option, a multi-pack option and then a mega, hundred pack option or something like that. canonicalizing the other two to one of them does make sense, like you said, you then can focus your SEO efforts there.

Jack: But also as you said, you potentially lose the opportunity for a lot of that long tail stuff, right? If people are looking for multi-packs and there's a slightly different intent, if you're looking for a single item that can come in a multi-pack, say there could be a B to C versus B to B difference there, multi-packs are bought by businesses, but a single item might be bought by an individual, you then run into issues of like, "Well, am I ranking a multi-pack for a thing? Does that match the user's intent?" There's so many complications that can come in here.

Mark: SEO is super easy, really. The other thing I'll mention is, yeah, if you're targeting the variations at category level, I tend, when I work with eCom clients, to think about what actually people are searching for in terms of affecting their purchase intent. So to give you an example, color is a reasonable one. People might well search for red running shoes or whatever it is, I think size in my experience, whether it's T-shirt, shoes, whatever is less relevant at the point of search because you assume they are going to sell your size unless of course, obviously you're looking for size 14 shoes or something, maybe you can be somewhat specific.

Jack: I'm a size 13, so I have that problem sometimes.

Mark: Yeah. But generally, people aren't going to be buying shoes because of the size, they're going to be buying them because of the color, the design. So they make more sense to have as indexable search for them.

Jack: Yeah. And you then use the OnPage filters or whatever it is to then source and find out, what's available in my size? What's available in green? All that kind of stuff, so yeah.

Mark: That's exactly what I do, I search for, say blue high tops, and then I go and then I filter to, "Okay, do you actually have any in my size?" Yeah.

Jack: Yeah, exactly.

Mark: Yeah. As I said, if you're not subscribed to it, I think it's really worth it. It doesn't cost anything. You've got the SiteBulb notifications for when structured data does change, and just these little bits like we've triggered this whole conversation off this one clarification does sometimes make you take a step back and think about the overall SEO strategy. We'll put a link to it in the SiteBulb notifications at the podcast notes, which are at We have another thing in our theme of Bing doing new things that Google isn't doing.

Jack: And tying in with eCom as well. We're sticking with the eCommerce side of things.

Mark: We are. Which is that Bing has been testing insert voucher codes. Now, I have tried to find more information about this. I saw this story on search engine round table, and Barry Schwartz who reported it, also apparently cannot find more information on this. So I'm just going to read the excerpt and again, we'll put the link to the original article we found on search engine round table from Barry's comment on this, which is: "If you search for some brands like Nike, Adidas, et cetera, you may see Microsoft Bing show a coupon element in the search results snippet. This seems to be an organic feature, at least is not an ad on the Bing search results. Frank Sandtmann, a German SEO consultant tips me off to this, and after much trial and error, I was able to replicate this and can confirm it was not a browser extension or plugin. And there's a really neat animated gif of a search for Adidas on Bing search results and there's a little box underneath the meta description, which says, 'four coupons available.' when you hover over it, it says, 'we found four coupons,' and then it essentially directly lists the coupon codes, what percentage you get off, and it's got a copy and go link." Interestingly, I did see in the article as well, it says that third party cookies are required for this 'feature,' which makes me think there is probably some affiliate money changing hands.

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: So this is why it interested me, because obviously, if I was a coupon affiliate, I would be throwing my laptop at the wall and rage at this for search engines beating you to the hop. And of course, there's been the browser extensions and stuff that will automatically detect the site you're on and just give you voucher codes for when you're in checkout.

Jack: The most famous one, if you've ever heard it is sponsored on a podcast, because they sponsored every podcast for a while is Honey, not the sponsor of the podcast I hastened to add, but they're probably the biggest example of that where they're like, "You're literally throwing money away. We'll find all the savings, and discounts, and coupon codes for you," and stuff. But yeah, I've never seen that happen in a search without, as Barry, as you just said, without an extension or a plugin adding that extra step. This is bizarre to me. It seems weird to me.

Mark: As a user, I'm okay with it because I've literally given up trying to use voucher sites because-

Jack: I think you told this story before. Yeah.

Mark: I can't remember one where I've actually got a code that worked, and the reason is basically, the affiliate doesn't really care if they work, all they want you to do is get that cookie so they get their commission and just be like, "Oh, sorry. Yeah, yeah, no, it didn't work." So if there any other systems where it is verified that they're live vouchers, even if it's directly from the retailer, I'm for that as a user. And actually from an SEO point of view, it's something I've recommended sometimes eCommerce clients do, which is to have a coupon voucher page on their site so that they appear when someone searches for their brand name of vouchers, so you can tell people if you have any live vouchers they can use. Because I've seen obviously, sometimes when there's no current discount running, people get to a checkout page and they're like, "Oh, there's a voucher code box, that means I could get some money off," and they go away and they try and find vouchers, and they can't find one, and they get frustrated, and they feel like they shouldn't be paying that much and then they just abandon the basket. Whereas if you can say, "We currently don't have any voucher codes live," or hide the voucher box. There's lots of ways where. It's an interesting user experience thing of letting someone know that other people are getting money off, but you can't have it because you haven't jumped through whatever who hoop it is.

Jack: Yeah, definitely.

Mark: But yeah, there's no more information I could dig up on that, so I'm very interested to see if that's going to stick around and I don't know. And it seems nobody knows at the moment where they're getting the voucher data from.

Jack: So as I mentioned at the top of the show, we've got a new OnPage feature from SISTRIX, they are now pre checking domains for you. So if you have the list of domains, you can see the winners and losers. If you go into the domain section, once you're logged into SISTRIX, you can scroll down, have a look around to see what's going up, what's going down, some of your favorites and some of your saved domains, if you saved your clients or your own sights in there. They're actually pre-checking domains so you can get a very quick glimpse at what you need to fix on your website. Essentially, it's a similar kind of breakdown into Aira's warnings, notices, kind of that prioritized list of issues on your site at the moment from an OnPage perspective. Kind of thing you would see on other tools, but this is instantaneous. This is not a, "Oh, now I need to crawl my site and go through the process." Things are pre-checked and everything is super duper fast when you're using the on-page part of SISTRIX, which is lovely to see.

We've also got an update on what has now become the co-pilot of the SISTRIX part of the show, is the Primark website. Steve has kicked us off. Steve, that is Steve Paine from SISTRIX, who we had on the show previously, who also talked about Primark while he was here in the studio. For those of you who don't know, they recently updated their site, migrated everything and changed everything to an essentially what looks like an eCommerce site for all intents and purposes, except you can't buy anything on it. And there was this big discussion about whether that serves user intent and would an informational site be able to rank for alongside other eCommerce terms like, if you're using a transactional intent keyword, will an informational site where you can't purchase anything actually end up ranking for that keyword?

Jack: Interestingly, they're now trialing a click and collect service. So maybe they've seen the error of their ways or this was the plan all along, I don't know. But yeah, they're trialing a very, very limited stuff with some, I believe it's children's clothing and stuff like that, they're planning to do is some click and collect stuff. I floated this out to my wife and a few other people here in the studio a couple of the days ago, and everybody was saying like, "Oh, that's interesting." And whether it's like it has to be in your local store, or you can order it from store to store or something like that, because with Primark warehouses, there's often quite a lot of difference in availability and even the products that are available as a whole from, what's available in London is not necessarily available here in Norwich. So, just from anecdotally, people seem interested, but it's an interesting move from Primark, I think.

Mark: Why do you think they've chosen that specific category?

Jack: I was wondering that, I'm not sure. Do you have any theories, any ideas?

Mark: Lauren from our team, I think it was put forward that maybe people are struggling to take young children into Primark because the few times I've been in there it's pretty busy and chaotic. And if you leave a child unattended for a second, they're going to disappear into the racks of clothes there. So I thought that was an interesting maybe from a shopping experience point of view maybe.

Jack: And even if, say you've got nursery and school pickup times, and you've got a full time job as well or whatever it is, you've got less time to wander around a massive shop and browse for stuff, right? If you can do that in the evenings and then just straight after the school run, go and pick it up, then yeah, it gives you the opportunity there.

Mark: Yeah. I don't know the answer to that, I'd be really interested if anyone else has any theories. But yeah, I thought Lauren's was interesting, which was, maybe these are the people that would benefit most from being able to browse in a different way.

Jack: The wording from Primark themselves is, "The range will be particularly attractive for our customers who do not regularly shop in our larger stores." So I think Lauren is very much onto something there in terms of trying to tempt people to purchase who maybe don't have the time to go into the doors directly.

Mark: So interestingly and unhelpfully, which is my specialty. I did actually notice Primark ranking for some commercial product terms while I was doing some research for a pitch we were going to do. So I was again, just searching for some products and I saw, oh wow, Primark is actually ranking for these product terms on their new site, that's the interesting part. The unhelpful part is for the life of me, I've been sitting here trying to remember what it was I googled and I can't remember. I search for a lot of different things every day, and I don't know whether it is that effect when you notice something and you are always on the lookout for it. So whether I would've noticed Primark before, and they've already been there, but because we've been having so many conversations about them, I'm like, "There they are."

Jack: Yeah. Yeah.

Mark: But, I seemed to remember it because I was like, "Oh, it's like a..." It wasn't a mega competitive term, but I was like, "This is definitely like a, 'I want a buy online' term." They were third or fourth. So I am now going to record if I see them and try and keep an eye on that. But we got some data, didn't we, from Steve about Primark in comparison to B&M and they're certainly not storming away yet, I think is right to say.

Jack: Yeah. Yeah. I've got a little note here from Steve comparing and analyzing them from a towels' perspective. So the reason he picked out towels is, both of those stores offer it, there are similar sizes in terms of categories and stuff, and they're both without the delivery service because B&M have recently pivoted to trial home delivery service on their website. So in a similar parallel move from B&M compared to Primark, Steve thought he'd dive into some data to have a look and compare the two from a visibility perspective. And interestingly, B&M is 10 times more visible. It is a massive difference between the two, even without offering the home delivery in the case of the towels category. So yeah, Primark had being left in the dust that if they're not consciously trying to do this from an SEO perspective, they're not really making that effort to push things through and compete with, we touched on House of Fraser, and Next, and all that stuff. Some of the big players who are doing really well in SEO compared to Primark seemingly dragging along behind.

Mark: I'm sure they're going to benefit from just the amount we speak about them.

Jack: Yeah, yeah. Maybe we should get a sponsorship from Primark as well. So you can check out all of Steve's analysis on the Primark website by going to And of course as I said, if you log into your SISTRIX account, you can check out the OnPage feature there with the new lovely pre-checked domains for you.

Mark: So I thought it would be nice to finish off the podcast, the last almost half I guess, talking about the Aira state of link building report, which I absolutely adore. It's the third one that they've published, and essentially for those that haven't seen it, it's thoughts and insights from 270 SEOs working across agencies, in-house roles, freelancers, so big, big agencies to one person bands, and asking them a bunch of questions... Oh sorry, no. Actually well, polling people and then getting their analysis on the results rather is the expert commentary there. And as usual, I found lots of things in there that have challenged my perceptions, shall we say? And I found very surprising.

Jack: To put it into perspective of the listeners, Mark is being very polite here. He nearly, nearly filled the entire show notes doc with just commentary on the feedback in the link belting report. But yeah, we're going to dive into it in some detail and discuss a few things, and see what we agree with, what we disagree with and see if there's any interesting data in there.

Mark: So Paddy Moogan did a nice forward for the study, I'll just read out his little overview. So Patty says, "One interesting insight is that despite fewer in-house SEOs saying that they outsource their link building compared to 2021, demand for link building is still remaining strong as our budgets." And I don't think that surprises me much at all, so it's essentially, I would read that as companies are again, another year taking SEO even more seriously and the really important stuff like link building that we know is really closely tied to site content quality is of course, being taken in-house when you've got the marketing team to do it. Whereas, when I was working in SEO 10 years ago, there was basically no one at most companies handling even online, let alone, search marketing is certainly not in an area that requires some specialist tools and knowledge to do it effectively link building.

Jack: Yeah. I think the explosion of outreach link building, digital PR, all the different branches of that wider sector of SEO and digital marketing have really, really blown up over the last few years. I see more and more of it, whether that's social media, people I know. I've seen people I went to school with who have had no idea were interested in digital marketing, and suddenly like, "I'm an outreach person or digital PR person at this company." I'm like, "Oh, that's interesting." I think it's almost like a different side of accessibility. You don't necessarily need to be technical, you can come at it from a journalistic background, you can come at it from a writing background, all this stuff. And yeah, I think it's fair to say link building is here to stay, we'll get into what the experts and various people think in the report. But yeah, it definitely seems to be still a big focus for many companies, individuals and agencies as well.

Mark: Yeah. I think that explosion you're talking about over the last few years has been, as we see reporting a lot around digital PR content stuff. Whereas people were sending probably more emails, I'd say, several years ago but it was mainly link exchange stuff, that was probably half of the emails people sent and you don't tend to see that really anymore. I think I saw it on there as a link building technique, but it was very, very low down with the, "Hey, why don't you link to me and I'll link to you, and we'll see how that goes." So I've just randomly picked out a few questions from here that I thought were interesting. So the first one, pretty obvious, how do you build links? So it's just people saying what techniques they use, and with the top answer at 68% being content marketing specifically to generate links, which I don't find particularly surprising.

Jack: Nope.

Mark: There's probably a little bit more to it than that in that to generate links basically means we need to make good content that people like as a whole.

Jack: Yeah. Make that shareable interesting stuff, rather than necessarily coming at it with an SEO focus or something like that, you're coming at it from a, this is something people are going to want to cover from journalists, and other publications and stuff like that.

Mark: Now, basically everything on from here did surprise me. So at number two, we have competitor analysis and targeting their links which is, 54%. Now, I feel just immediately a bit like, so half the people that are building links aren't looking at where their competitors got links from and trying to get them. I find that shocking, because it's just a really easy thing to do. If they're ranking above you, and part of that mix is very likely going to be links. Okay, well what kind of sites link to them? And it's telling you actually what sites do search engines like to link to them because it's obviously made them rank.

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: And I just found that immediately surprising that pretty much half of people don't do that.

Jack: I don't know if it's how the polling exactly work. I don't know if it's laid in terms of priority of like, I do three out of the 10 options or you only got to pick a one, I'm not sure. I assume it is a prioritized list, right, so you're then weighting everything by that. But yeah, you would think that would be fairly content gap analysis, backlink gap analysis, all that kind of stuff. Looking at competitors is fairly obvious, like you would think.

Mark: So my view on it strategically is, it's a finite thing because your data only have so many links and there's the argument that you should be focusing on additional value, things your competitors can't copy, all this kind of stuff. But-

Jack: It almost feels like catch up rather than overtaking them, right?

Mark: Yeah, absolutely. But if I'm going to race someone, I want to make sure I'm starting next to them as near as possible, rather than a hundred meters back.

Jack: Sure, sure.

Mark: At least for me. And again, the reason I was polite at the beginning of the podcast, as you put it about this section is because while some of these things are very different to how I do them, I obviously respect that people do have different ways and I may be missing something, and I think that's what's great about this report. I said to Paddy, I was like, "Well done with this report because some of the answers I think are wild. I want to talk about them because it's just so different to how I do things." And that's the point of getting 270 people to contribute to it, right?

Jack: Yeah. I think it's nice not to be in... Because I do feel like sometimes I often get this, not necessarily in SEO, but sometimes in SEO, you get in an echo chamber or a bubble of like, "Oh you're talking to all the people you work with and the other people you have worked with previously. So you all have similar backgrounds to stuff like this." Total credit to Aira here, there's a lot of people of color, there's a lot of women coming in here, a lot of people with different representatives and coming from different backgrounds, and I think that's really, really interesting to get a wider scope of that. And speaking here as two white dudes doing a podcast.

Mark: Yo.

Jack: I think it's really interesting getting a scope of the entire industry and again, how much that has grown and how diversified the industry is now in a good way. And yeah, I think it's interesting getting people's different perspectives. And like you said, the expert commentary there, they pulled out the list of actual experts who do the commentary there as well, is a fantastic list of people, some people coming from in-house stuff, coming through to agency work, and freelancers, and everything in between directors through to more juniors, to more technical people, all this kind of stuff. It's a really, really great group of people. And I think it helps me zoom out a little bit and get a better perspective because I often feel like I'm head down focusing on this one thing, I'll be like, "Oh yeah, that is the thing that other people think works. Does it work? Maybe I should talk to Mark, talk to my colleagues. Maybe I should see if there's an article, or an answer from John Mueller on it or something like that already." Yeah.

Mark: It's a really healthy way to look at it. Because again, on top of all that, there's probably like 20, 30 people in the SEO industry, at least online that are super visible, and are at most of the conferences, and pretty much say don't say the same thing, but they have their viewpoint on how things work.

Jack: Yeah. Yeah.

Mark: And then that's obviously then amplified by people that do follow them. So it is easy as you say to blinker yourself to other things. So yeah, great job on this report, I enjoyed reading it. Which brings me to the third thing on this list, which is guest posting.

Jack: Interesting.

Mark: 47%. And that did surprise me because I'm sure everyone who has an email address gets the, "Hi, I'm a guest poster of high DA sites to-"

Jack: You've ever been on LinkedIn and you have SEO or digital marketing in your job title, good Lord.

Mark: And guest posting is something specifically listed in the Google Webmaster guidelines as a thing not to do at scale.

Jack: Yep.

Mark: And if it's third on this list, it makes me think that obviously there are people doing this at scale, which is confirmed by the fact if we jump down a few more places, we've got 31% of people saying, yeah they're totally on board with paid links. Which now I'm obviously fully aware, not naive that lots of people still buy links.

Jack: And they still work.

Mark: And yeah. Absolutely, they still work. Absolutely, they do. Again, in terms of time scale, I don't think they're going to work long term, but they definitely work probably in the life cycle of most agency engagements.

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: But it was higher than I expected still.

Jack: Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Mark: So I didn't expect almost one in three respondents to be like, "Yeah, we're paying for links."

Jack: The one I was probably, not necessarily most surprised by, the one that jumped out to me and I think is something part of the product of that recent explosion of the digital PR things is, the reactive PR was only 46%. Because I feel like that is all I see covered on LinkedIn and Twitter. And again, that's probably part of who I follow, and my echo chamber and stuff like that. But I think it's interesting, I would've thought that would've been higher than guest posting at this point. That seems to be a fun phrase and to borrow from reactive PR, the hot topic, the topical thing to cover at the moment. So yeah, I was honestly expecting reactive PR to be higher than at least guest posting from my perspective.

Mark: I would hazard a guess that it's just because it's harder to do than something like guest posting. Because with respect to people, anyone that does it, it's not very hard to get guest posts published, there's people throwing themselves at you to allow you to do it. Whereas reactive PR obviously, you need to be fast, hence as it says on the 10, reactive. So if you're in-house, you need to have the flexibility to do that. And it's just hard to come up with those angles, put something together, have the resource, do it and get it across, so I'd imagine a lot of reactive PR stuff is probably skew towards agencies answering. They're doing that, my guess would be maybe less in-house.

Jack: Yeah. Yeah. I would guess so as well.

Mark: So another question I pulled out is, do you maintain a Google search console disavow file for the domains that you're responsible for? And we had yes at 51%, and no at 49%.

Jack: Close.

Mark: Yeah. I've got trauma for 51/49 split votes. Did you have any thoughts on this one?

Jack: Yeah. So it's a thing I've experienced in previous roles and things like that where disavowing links was a regular practice, like going through and just checking from filtering out the toxic links and all that stuff. And as I've grown in my SEO career, it really seems like a waste of time to me these days, and I know we've talked about the sophistication of Google in so many ways and them updating their spam report that we covered a few weeks ago as well and how they claim they're filtering out so much stuff in the search like, "99% of spam is all filtered out," and all this stuff. "And we're clearing out all these links and we know not to do this," and blah, blah, blah.

In fact, there was a tweet not so long ago from John Mueller again, I always mention John. And he said like, "What is a toxic link? How are you defining that?" And it's tools like Semrush or some of these other like multipurpose tools that do content, and technical, and link building and backlink profiling and all this stuff that you end up getting like, "Oh, you've got a 35% toxic backlink profile." What does that mean? How are you classifying this? And then you use another tool and it's like everything looks fine. Well then, there should be some, not necessarily objectivity, that's very difficult to have, but some parity across the industry, right? And I think the fact that there is that such close confusion there, some people still think disavowing things is important, some people don't. I, are on the side of, it's a big waste of time. Like I said, I've done it in the past as practice in the very early days when I was learning SEO and stuff. But yeah, these days I haven't addressed it with any of my clients in the last couple of years basically.

Mark: Yeah. I think it's an interesting topic, especially like you said about, yeah, objectivity is probably not possible, but a lot of these companies that have their own ways of measuring toxicity spam, they're like, "Yeah. Well, it's our proprietary way of calculating it." So they don't actually tell you that it then becomes harder to trust those metrics, especially when they don't agree with each other.

Jack: Yeah. I have an example of this on a previous client funny enough, we saw a massive spike in really spammy traffic coming through a link, and the client saw this in one of the reports and they were like, "Oh, can you keep an eye on that for us?" And I was like, "Yeah, no problem." Chances are in a week or two, maybe a month or so, by the time we next come around to this reporting call, it will have sorted itself out basically. And lo and behold, it did. I didn't need to touch the disavowed file, I didn't need to do any of that stuff, Google sorted itself out and worked out what was going on, found that crap site and then filtered the rubbish out. So yeah, I think a lot of people do it as a, again, not to talk proud of agencies that do this, but box checking exercise. It makes it look like you're doing something for a client.

Mark: That's a deliverable, isn't it? Yeah.

Jack: It's a deliverable, yeah. You say like, "Oh, we added 12 new URLs or domains to the disavowed file, you can go and check it on Google search console." "Yay!" But honestly, I think at this point, and again, obviously my opinion, all that stuff, but yeah, I think you can use your time better elsewhere to have a greater effect in terms of reviewing backlink profiles, even doing competitor analysis and stuff like that we were talking about earlier, seeing what good stuff and what bad stuff competitors are doing is far more where the use of time of reviewing back links than doing disavows files in my opinion.

Mark: Yeah. And that was my take from that with such a high proportion maintaining those. And obviously, I don't know precisely what maintaining means, but my thought would be there's probably better uses for your time. Now, I don't think I fully buy the Google line of, there's nothing to worry about.

Jack: Oh yeah. Yeah.

Mark: And speaking to some people who have very kindly shared data with me where they've showed me what they think is an impact of toxic links, it does seem to be various time delays with Google working out what is bad, and what they should discount, and what they shouldn't. And obviously, there is a need for disavowed files sometimes, like if you got a penalty, for instance and you can't remove the links, that's generally when you'd use it. But yeah, like you, I'm very skeptical about just ongoing use of it.

Jack: Yeah. The word maintained there, I think is interesting. So for example, for those of you who are new to a client or new to an in-house job or anything like that, it's something I will do as part of the onboarding process just to check they've not disavowed something that is quite nice.

Mark: Yeah. Yeah, right.

Jack: Like accidentally done a thing of like, "Oh, we meant to do it for this URL, but it ended up doing the whole domain or whatever it was," that's happened to me a couple of times. So I think it is still worth being aware of that, and knowing it's there, and having access to it. And like you said, unless something really drastic happens, I don't think regular maintenance of a disavowed file is necessarily required.

Mark: So onto our next question, which is, do you use any metrics to measure the authority and/or quality of a link? And then as we asked our respondents to select which metrics they used to measure the authority and/or quality of a link, and the most popular answer was 67% of the votes was Domain Rating by Ahrefs. This was followed by Domain Authority from Moz, which 42% of SEOs used to measure the authority or quality of a link. Now I just want to caveat this with, I thought when I read this question, I interpreted it as, how would you measure the quality maybe of a place that you could get a link? And in the comments from some of the experts, they were talking about using it to measure the links that they had got. And we clarified this on Twitter, I think it's meant to mean the question, the former. So before you get the link. Is this a worthy place to get a [inaudible 00:43:03]?

Jack: Yeah. And should I be targeting this publication?

Mark: Yeah.

Jack: Is it worth my time? And weighing up different options there, right?

Mark: Yeah. So obviously, we've got DR from Ahrefs Domain Authority from Moz, no surprises there, they're the big ones. I was a little bit crestfallen to see my beautiful Majestic coming forth with Trust Flow.

Jack: I know it sounds like I'm sucking up here, but I'm a Majestic boy as well. Even before I started working at Candour for the record, Majestic was my go-to backlink tool. I have been using Ahrefs more, I'm not going to lie, recently over the last couple of months, but yeah, Majestic has always been my go-to Trust Flow, Citation Flow, all that stuff from Majestic.

Mark: I'll be real with you, Majestic, the Ahrefs interface is nicer than yours, I'm afraid, and their marketing is better, I'm sorry to say. I still think your metrics are better and the data I get from Majestic is better. But a lot of, especially the newer people in SEO just haven't heard even of Majestic, it's all Ahrefs so much, yeah.

Jack: I think part of that the fact that both Semrush and Ahrefs are those multi-tool things, right? So if you're starting out small, if you are going off on your own thing and doing it on your own site, or you've just started becoming a freelancer by yourself, you want a one size fits all kind of, "I will cover myself with a bit of everything and I can offer everything to a client or everything to my site." Instead of having a subscription to Majestic, and a subscription to this, and a subscription to that, you can cover all your content, and all your backlinks, and all the different kinds, and the technical stuff with one of these multipurpose tools. So yeah, I think that's a big factor in this of a lot of people, because this survey is so widespread, I think that factor certainly comes in here seeing Moz, Ahrefs and Semrush, both there in the top five, having those big multipurpose tools makes sense.

Mark: That's a very good point. Yeah.

Jack: Let's talk about number three, shall we, Mark?

Mark: Yeah.

Jack: Because this is, and I don't think I would've guessed this answer would begin here because it would never occur to me in a million years, and I'm building up quite a lot here listeners. But Mark, can you reveal to the listens what the third highest with 24% is?

Mark: Yeah. It's internal proprietary metrics.

Jack: What the bloody hell does that mean?

Mark: Well, I'm hoping again from the... Again, I put this on Twitter being like, who are these agencies that are making up their own metrics for measuring the quality of links because that's-

Jack: Are agencies creating their own link indexes and then like... What?

Mark: It's an incredibly hard thing to do, yeah. I'm hoping,-

Jack: "I think this link was a nine out 10 says me. Congratulations client, you got a nine out of 10." Like how does that... What?

Mark: So I'm thinking obviously, proprietary might mean because my comment on this was, why has nobody said traffic? Because generally, if you are getting traffic from a link, I know this sounds really basic, obviously it's a relevant sign, you're getting traffic from it, it's probably a good link because people are visiting that page in enough volume for you to measure the traffic. And the link placement is obviously relevant because people are clicking on it. Hopefully, they're finding what they're looking for. And the link is in a prominent enough place segue into reasonable surfer territory there. But it's a reasonable place that obviously Google can see that. I'm hoping maybe, and again, some come to this that some people may have answered proprietary metrics when they meant traffic, I can't tell that because I guess proprietary in terms of nobody else is allowed to see that metric, but-

Jack: So again, we're coming around to that interpretation of this question, right? You can't measure traffic from a, like you said, if you're weighing up at different options of, "Oh, throughout this campaign, we're going to target 10 publications. Here's a list of a hundred, which 10 are you going to target?" Do you just go for the 10 with the most DR? You can't measure traffic that way unless you're literally getting the third party metrics of like, "Oh yeah, they get average monthly traffic of this much on Ahrefs, or Semrush, or something like that. Are you saying that should be a factor there where you're thinking about the traffic that the site is getting as a whole or the potential traffic you could get from that link where you can't measure that before the stage of placing that link, right?

Mark: Exactly. So when I looked at the expert commentary in this was when I thought we are talking about links after they've been placed, so how do we tell it's a good link. And obviously, my first go to is the basic, well, is that link getting us any traffic? And I was like, "Why isn't that on this list?" I think some people did interpret it as the other, is it a good place to get a link? And yeah, traffic wouldn't worry me as much then if we're looking at... Obviously, I'd like to know if that website, that domain gets any traffic, because obviously, if the domain gets no traffic, it's probably not going to be a great place to have a link. But the other third party compound metrics like DR and Domain Authority, whatever are okay Trust Flow ways to do this, but if lots of agencies or 24% of in-house, whatever people are making their own link quality metrics up, that's news to me because that's that requires a huge amount of data and highly trained expert people to make those correlations and keep them up to date. Because obviously, all the levers that Google are pulling are changing all the time.

Jack: Yeah. So there's a comment here from one of the experts, Ryan Jones here that I think is skirting along the line here. There is an option for none by the way, which I think is more closely related to Ryan's answer here, but to take a little excerpt here, he says:

"It still bugs me as an SEO to see that are a large numbers of people who use third party metrics like DR and DA to measure the quality of links they build. Sure, they're helpful metrics to give you a vague idea as to how authoritative a link is, but it is in no way the be all and end all." Totally agree with you there, Ryan, a hundred percent. They're all third party metrics, everything should be taken with a pinch salt, all that stuff. Here's where it gets interesting. "I personally don't use metrics like these at all in my link building. If I get a link from website that gets traffic..." There you go, Mark. "... is relevant to the content I'm producing and has a good chance of driving more traffic to my site, I'm a happy SEO."

I think that's a good way of doing it. And I wonder if Ryan would fall under that internal proprietary metrics category depending on how he answered this specifically. I would interpret his answer as none, but I could see how that could be classified as long as it is driving traffic, blah, blah, blah, could be seen as another further metric and maybe all those other answers are lumped into that one. I don't know. I wonder how many people would've actually answered, "Yes, I use internal proprietary metrics." And like you said, we know there's not the capacity. We would've heard about that in the industry if we knew there was capacity for that in the industry. You know a bunch of agency owners personally, you would know if people were doing it on scale.

Mark: If you're using them-

Jack: Yeah. We have a team of a hundred link builders who are keeping this index up to date. I don't know.

Mark: If you use them, tell me, I'd love to hear about it and how they work.

Jack: Yeah. I'm very interested.

Mark: Cool. Let's look at a couple more. What primary KPI do you use to measure the effects of your link building efforts? Interesting question.

Jack: Very interesting question.

Mark: And the top result we had with 53% is rankings, followed by search visibility, followed by volume of linking domains. I thought it was an interesting question because we track all of those things, and personally what we use as the primary KPI changes over time.

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: Because obviously everyone wants, and it's further down here, 13% said conversions, so.

Jack: That would be lovely.

Mark: Yeah. We hopefully will be seeing an impact on conversions, but it's not a KPI I would own as an SEO because there's too many for me, too many variables outside of our control generally, because we're not a CRO agency.

Jack: Yeah. We were talking about attribution the other day, weren't we, for one of our clients, talking about how long that process can be from people going, "Oh they come in through a link and then they'll go back. And then find you again through organic, and then come through a paid thing." It's incredibly difficult to really directly correlate. And like you said, especially in the short term, having this link on this publication led to a conversion is an incredibly difficult thing to measure. But yeah, I think rankings and search visibility make a lot of sense, again, they're the things you can... Again, once it's all vetted in and you give it enough time and all that stuff, that's the stuff you can actually measure. And I think the fact that it is the primary KPI is, it's a measurement here. This is a thing we are actively measuring. And things like rankings as SEOs, that's something we're keeping an eye on anyway, hopefully, for clients and things like that. So I think that's a thing you can easily pull out as that's the obvious thing that has been affected by this. And you can also then try and correlate that, "Oh, this URL has started ranking. That's the URL that got the link through the campaign." There's a much clearer path there in correlation at least in the short term drawing between things like visibility and rankings and getting links.

Mark: And it's what happens first as well because people obviously say like, "Oh, okay. Well no, we want sales. We're only interested in sales from organic or even traffic from organic," which is perfectly reasonable. But if you know you are doing SEO, and just say for argument sake we're monitoring for 10 rankings, whatever we want to improve. And we move from position 70, to 60, to 50th, to 30th, to 20th, to 15th over 12 weeks, that's amazing progress especially if you've tracked it as there hasn't been movement before that. But that's going to result in basically no extra traffic.

Jack: Yeah. Basically negligible changes.

Mark: And no extra sales. So you could say, "Oh well, the SEO has been a complete failure," and it's like, "No, we are making measurable improvements, but you don't see the traffic until you start crashing into the front page and taking other people's lunch off their table, and eating it in front of them and chucking the remains on the floor."

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: And that's actually why I quite like some of these. So rankings make sense to me, it's a really good, I think initial KPI to track. You certainly don't want to hit yourself to it for the long haul, you need to look at revenue or whatever it is, leads and traffic. Search visibility was an interesting one as well because with rankings, obviously you are only limited to whatever you've set up to rank track. Search visibility takes into account traffic volumes, it also takes into account normally things like number of keywords. So it gives you that broader scope for, you can generically say, "We are being found on more stuff than we used to." Not necessarily the five key phrases that the CEO is checking every two days on his laptop from home. And to be honest, the other ones make sense as well, which is volume of linking domains, volume of links. If you are measuring link building efforts, it makes sense to track how many links did we build.

Jack: Again yeah, the phrase KPI here, I think you got to measure something, right, otherwise say for example, you do a campaign for a client and they're like, "Oh yeah. So you spent that much of this month budget on it, how did it go?" And you're like, "I don't know." "How many links did it build?" "Don't know, didn't track it." "How much traffic has it brought?" "Don't know, didn't track it." "How have the ranking changed?" "Don't know, didn't track it." You need to measure something, and again, going back to Ryan's point here of like, take all this with a pinch of salt, external stuff, or third party data, all that stuff. But actually, getting the number of links you've gotten from this thing is a way to quantify that. And because SEOs, as we know, whether you're in-house, freelance, agency, you're going to be reporting to somebody. And if you want to know more about that, you can go and listen to my interview with Tom Critchlow from a few months ago, talk about reporting to different people, and different levels, and different seniority, and all that stuff. You need to know who you're talking to, and a way of quantifying that data and saying, "This has been a successful campaign." As you said, mark, "This is a way to show SEO success without saying you've made this much more money, we're making progress here," is to actually put numbers to it and say, "Yeah, this built 25 links. This one built six links. This one built 150 links." That's a way of quantifying it, that you need in the SEO reporting process, whether you like it or not.

Mark: Absolutely. Absolutely. And there's actually some stuff later in the report as well about whether people guarantee certain amounts of links or have metrics, which most people don't, but that's an interesting part of the report. We won't dive into it yet, but I found that quite interesting as well. Because obviously, unless you are paying for links, you can't really guarantee them because a lot of them are based on coverage and negotiation.

Jack: Yep.

Mark: Let's whittle through these last two. I found this one interesting because I haven't seen this question asked before, if you needed to put a time estimate on how long it takes you to secure a single link, how long would you say it takes? And the most popular answer was one to two hours per link, but there is spread here quite evenly between, less than an hour per link to 10 hours plus per link. And I think to be honest, it's a tricky question because it's going to bleed over all of the different types of link building that we saw again, there was a wide spread over. So like guest posting, you're not going to be spending 10 hours per link. But high quality, trying to get a journo to write something for you made it a long time.

Jack: Exactly. Or if you're going for reactive PR stuff, shout to Fery Kaszoni who does amazing work and covers it all on LinkedIn in how he does it. He always talks about like, "Oh yeah, I did this thing and it got 450 links." I'm like, "Oh my God." He's like, "Yeah, it's just a simple piece of data, I did it in 10 minutes." I'm like, "What is this calculation of..." Then you take the time estimate per link for the stuff that Fery is doing would be seconds or minutes even, so a complete opposite end of the scale there. And like you said, if you were going for something that's really in depth, you're building this big guide piece for a journalist to really delve into, that can take a really long time to get that really polished in exactly how you want it and exactly how the journalists want it as well. So yeah, you've really got two polar opposite ends pulling at the averages here, I think.

Mark: Absolutely. And the last question I pulled out in here was, in your experience, how has the demand for link building services changed over the last 12 months? And we had very, very much leaning in favor 59% that it's increased, which again, I think I would agree with. There's a small 9% saying it's decreased and yeah, everyone else is in the middle. But that yeah, goes along certainly I think with our agency, at least experience of the demands in general. I think for SEO, it has gone up and I think link building has just kept up with that. So I don't know if it's link building specifically, the demand has gone up, but more people are after it because more people are after SEO.

Jack: Yeah. Definitely, definitely.

Mark: So you can get the full report from Aira. Of course, we will link to it on the show notes, which-

Jack: And there's A LOT more data in there.

Mark: There is a lot more data in there.

Jack: We have scratched the surface. So yeah, we highly, highly recommend go and checking that out.

Mark: And you've got as well, the expert opinions on those results like how we've been given, but multiple people for each one, but they'll be at

Jack: We've done some heavy data stuff, we've dived around search features and a few other things. Just to spend a couple of minutes talking about lovely little visualization, shall we? Because Google have released the evolution of search and search throughout the years. Basically like an entire history of Google, and their technologies, and their systems, and algorithms, and all this stuff over the last 26 years, starting all the way back in 1996 with things like page rank and then registering as a domain, all the way through to the most recent stuff like multi-search, and MUM, and BERT, and all the really sophisticated machine learning and AI stuff we've seen.

I found it really, really interesting as a person who is relatively new, I've only been an SEO for four years, really at this point, something like that. So coming to that from me being like, "Oh, what was SEO like back in 2008? And what did Google change in 2006? What did they introduce?" Site maps weren't really a thing until much later on and it wasn't included in search console. Search console wasn't a thing straight away. I find it really, really interesting and it is presented beautifully. It's a really nice scrollable, really long timeline you can click through, you can scroll through. There's interactive little bits. It's visualized beautifully as we've come to expect from Google, at this point, they have a pretty fantastic data visualization team and team of designers over there. But yeah, I thought it was really, really interesting as someone who is relatively new to SEO.

Mark: So when you're like, "Oh, they made an interactive thing." I was a bit like, "All right, let's see." But first, It's really impressive to look at. And secondly, it shows how much I've forgotten just in terms of going back through it being like, "Oh yeah. Oh yeah." And then it is weird to think that some of the things we take for granted now weren't a thing.

Jack: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.

Mark: Even five years ago, six years ago. Someone could easily do a presentation just based on this timeline. It's a really fun, little thing. Might be nice for even onboarding people into junior SEO roles, just giving them the bird's eye view, it at least gives them a view of the trajectory Google is doing, what kinds of tools they're giving us, what kind of data they're taking away from us would be maybe some good footnotes to add on that as well.

Jack: Yeah.

Mark: But yeah, really nice timeline.

Jack: Again, I think it's that zooming out and getting the bigger perspective thing, right? Thinking about how many shoulders of giants we are standing on as SEOs now in 2022, or going all the way back to Larry Page and Sergey Brin founding the whole thing, and starting it all, and coming up with page rank, and rank brain and all this stuff. You hear these terms thrown around and often casually in SEO conversations. If you are newer, I think that's a great idea, Mark. If you're newer to the industry, or if you are onboarding new people there, somebody is learning SEO for the first time, go and read the Google docs from back in the day of how paid rank was established. That's a bit heavy, it's a lot of paperwork to go through, but this is a really brilliant snapshot of what has happened over the last 26 years. And obviously, it's Google focused and all that stuff. We know search isn't just Google, but realistically, kind of is.

Mark: At the moment.

Jack: Yeah, exactly. So yeah, I'll leave a link for that.

Mark: Except for when that Apple search engine comes out, that we spoke about that never appeared.

Jack: Yeah. We teased it and they were like, "And you can search on your browsers." It was like, "What? Cool. Okay. What does that mean?" Yeah, I will live a link for that in the show notes at and you can have a scroll around at your own leisure.

Jack: So that's all we have time for this week. As I said at the top of the show, I will be back next week with my interview with Cindy Krum. Mark will not be back, he gets another week off. But please do subscribe and check that out. Next week is a fantastic interview with Cindy, all about mobile SEO. And funnily enough, we talk about mobile SEO and the history of it, even predating smartphones, which blew my mind at the time. So if you want to learn about the history of mobile SEO and how it's evolved over the last 12, 13 years or so, I highly recommend next week's episode, my interview with Cindy Krum. Until then, have a lovely week. And thank you very much for listening.

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