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20 Years Later...what Skills Are Necessary To Be A Competent Technical Seo?


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#1 cre8pc

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Posted 21 August 2017 - 09:58 AM

I'm observing a trend towards educating today's SEO's and digital marketers.  There are more "back to basics" Facebook groups, blog posts, etc.

 

I can't imagine being an SEO and not knowing and understanding what's happening in the back end, from servers to code.  But that's me. 

 

Where are today's new SEO's coming from?  Any particular backgrounds?  What do they need to know and where do they learn how?

 

 



#2 Grumpus

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 06:50 AM

SEO seems to be confused. Then again, they've always seemed pretty confused to me.

 

The big thing I'm seeing nowadays is possibly the worst thing I've seen in the industry. The repercussions of it all have barely begun to be felt. SEO strategies aren't "optimizing a site" at all. Go to any SEO/SEM company site and they are all going to "Optimize X number of landing pages" and promise traffic and whatever else. The problem with this is that 80% of your work goes to waste. I've been doing some work with a company that does the "optimize X pages" strategy. They do great for the chosen keywords and drive lots of traffic, but ultimately... conversion rates are dismal and none of the other pages on their site rank for anything, and the "optimized" pages only rank for the keywords they are optimizing for.

 

Today's SEO (done properly) is optimizing for ideas and concepts. It's about consistency and structure. It's about organization and clear paths. It's about structure - both in on-page consistency and structured data markup and off page structure that provides context for everything on the site.

 

"We don't have the budget to organize and optimize the entire site, so we do a specific set of pages because it's manageable." This is what these companies tell me time and time again. And my response is, "If you keep doing it this way, you'll never have the budget to organize and optimize the entire site."

 

I don't know where they are coming from. Their backgrounds seem to be in marketing and NOT in information systems. What do they need to know? For me it's more about what they need to unknow before they can begin to know things.

NOTE: This is coming from the context of SEO/SEM for small businesses. I think most of the big companies with big web sites have people who understand all of this. The trick there is that usually means "a team of people". It's difficult, if not impossible, for one person or even a small handful of people to both understand what needs to be done, and then be able to properly execute all of it in balance and in the proper proportions.

 

G.



#3 glyn

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 08:32 AM

I will teach my kids to live with uncertainty, develop their ideas and let go of historic ideas about pensions and jobs for life. I will project to them what I think I have as my own life balance. Better to live on less with freedom and happiness, than for a company helping them achieve theirs. Own yourself. That took me 7 years, not five but I was always a slow starter.
Glyn.

#4 WPMuse

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 09:28 AM

What I notice is that not much has changed in two decades.   I collaborate with a pretty big name company that just can't get out of the "sales pitchy hypey take advantage of what your customers don't know to make a sale" analogy.  That approach is just as prevalent now as it was when i started back in the dark ages.  The SMBs that buy into that smoke and mirrors are ticked when they don't get results or top page rankings.

 

The biggie that is just as much a part of SEO that very few SMB's and their SEO providers concentrate on and work to hone is having a solid strong Brand.  Your landing pages can get "found" but if they don't reflect trust, confidence combined with an energetic relatable story -- you're nothing special.  Back button.



#5 cre8pc

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 05:41 PM

Is that SEO is still missing the point of optimization?

 

I see questions from newcomers in some Facebook groups that are answered by less experienced people and then the more experienced ones step in.  That makes me wonder where the teaching is being done, if so much bad advice is still out there.



#6 iamlost

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Posted 22 August 2017 - 08:35 PM

SEO lost it's way about the time that folks began leaving the webdev fora and striking out on their own in personal blogs. It has always had a weird and whacky fringe but once the conversation moved from discussion to differential marketing and I'm the guru with the most-est the koolaid was well and truly spiked.

 

Once the focus was Google and only Google and each of the SEO haute couture houses had their fashionistas hyping every little perceived change as major mind blowing game changing FUD... the bandwagon has been well and truly off the rails for a ecade or more.

 

I read well received articles by 'experts' of 3 or 5 or 10 years well known SEO company background who get the basics wrong. Who are still spreading wrong understandings/interpretations of what was cutting edge 5 or even 10 years ago. However, they are seasoned conference speakers and 'leaders' in the SEO field. Which tells a truly tragic tale.



#7 Grumpus

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Posted 23 August 2017 - 03:27 AM

I forget exactly how we used to manage it and what the "rule" was but back in the old days here, we had a ban on "OMGGID!" (Oh My God, Google is Dancing!) threads. Most of the other forums would light up like the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree with wild speculation and we'd patiently wait. After things would settle out and some tests were done to confirm some changes, someone would sometimes post some notes with data on the subject. (For a while, I think it was Rand "Mr. Test It" Fishkin who typically got the data first and put it out there - I'm sure there were others though).

 

We had other huge advantages here over many of the other SEO forums - primarily based upon the fact that Cre8asite was never truly an SEO forum. We had designers, developers, marketers, SEO people, do-it-yourself site owners, and everyone in between. We were as likely to be talking about fluid design in 2003 as were were about anything directly related to SEO.

 

Most forums seemed to be looking at SEO from the top-down approach - watch the results and try to figure out what was happening. The problem with that method is the risk of Egoogle Vision. Here at Cre8asite, we attacked it from that side and by using a bottom-up approach. Several of us - most notably Bill Slawski who has since made a career out of it - would sit around in virtual dark, smoke filled rooms and discuss Google patents, projects, and reports trying to understand what Google was trying to do from their perspective in order to try to understand what we were seeing from our perspective. It helped us a lot.

 

The funniest thing about SEO is that when it comes right down to it, almost nothing has changed. A great thread to go back to is one from almost 15 years ago. Dan Thies published a paper called "How to Prosper in the New Google". (You'll need to get about 1/3 of the way down the page on that thread when Ammon and Bill and the rest of the real experts start to jump in before it gets really interesting). In that thread (and in Dan's paper) you can see almost all the various things going on in today's SEO world as they are first being implemented. The only real difference now is that things have expanded and Google has gotten better at doing them. Some things have altered course slightly. Other things have changed in respects to the level of importance. In the end, though, it's all the same.

 

This isn't to say that no one else was doing this same bottom-up approach. All it says is that in most circles, that type of information was held close to the vest. I was probably one of the loudest when it came to giving away secrets of SEO (much to the chagrin of others) because I really had no skin in the game. I've never made a penny off of SEO. My interest has always been in understanding the mechanics of how it worked and where it was going so that when I developed a site or some functional feature for a site that it could be spidered and the SEO folks could then do their thing to it. For others, the great secrets of how it all works had value to them. It is sort of like military secrets, in a way. If they are talking about this recently revealed stealth plane in public, you can bet your life that they have already built a new stealth plane that is ten times more effective than the one we're talking about.

 

And so... the idea that the new batch of SEO people are less informed or coming from different sectors or whatever isn't really sound. The majority of the SEO people who are talking out loud aren't (and never were) ones who really practiced or understood everything that was going on in SEO. Most of the forums (even here in a lot of cases) would just talk about the "trick of the day" - the one or two things that you could do to get the most result for the least amount of investment. The so-called Black Hats loved this approach. The so-called White Hats often used the less controversial tricks because of the simple fact that they worked and you didn't have to try to understand all the million moving parts and see how they all worked together to make something happen.

 

What is different today, I suppose, is that there are just so many different things going on - and so many of these things are actually working pretty well instead of being in their infancy where it was easier to find an exploit. There simply aren't as many of those "That One Thing I Can Do For Big Results" type tricks that work, anymore. Sure, you can prioritize things and there are some of the "Without This, You Have Nothing" type things - but there simply aren't any real magic bullets in today's SEO.

 

Another thing that is different today is that we're getting older. A bunch of big names and even more not-so-big, but equally knowledgeable ones, have retired or otherwise re-positioned themselves this year. As such, these people have less skin in the SEO game. My big prediction for the future of SEO is that eventually (after the requisite rest and relaxation period) some of these people are going to start spilling the beans. By this time next year, we will likely have more information available to us than at any other time in the history of search engines. Granted, the SEO professionals will still need to figure out how to put all that information together, but it will almost certainly be more readily available. And, of course, by the time they start to open up about those things, the technologies will have advanced by a year and the SEO peeps will need to be able to extrapolate a vector of progress in order to see where it's all going to end up a year after that.

 

And then there are other folks who will simply smile and tell you that SEO is dead.

 

G.



#8 cre8pc

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Posted 23 August 2017 - 01:16 PM

An SEO wrote this on Facebook:
 

Just overheard at a cafe (a designer is pitching a potential client)... "If you want people to find your website you have to use the right words cause what Google is is little robots that match the words on your site with the words people search for... you need to use the right words in your meta tags so that you can use your magic on Google and then they'll pick you."

 
 
We've all experienced listening or reading out dated, incorrect and misleading SEO advice.  I had a client ask my advice on what to do when a SEO company insisted they could turn her situation around because they were partners with Google and therefore had an "in" with rank.  The fact that her website was designed poorly wasn't even a concern.  
 

By this time next year, we will likely have more information available to us than at any other time in the history of search engines. Granted, the SEO professionals will still need to figure out how to put all that information together, but it will almost certainly be more readily available.

 
 
I know that most digital marketers have no idea how many studies there are on humans and search. I pay for access to them and the research has been going on for years and years and continues.  The idea of predicting what we want is almost ridiculous in its scope because we are unique individuals.  An SEO who tries to sell magic word tricks is not qualified for the job.


Edited by cre8pc, 24 August 2017 - 03:09 AM.


#9 BillSlawski

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Posted 24 August 2017 - 06:29 PM

I'm thinking about the things I need to know now to provide SEO services.  I often am the first person from my agency to start working on a client's site, providing a deep dive into a site as part of an audit.

An audit covers many different aspects of a site, but often starts with a crawl of the site using Screaming Frog, pulling in GSC and GA API data into that crawled information.  Once I am able to satisfactory crawl a site, getting past spider traps and endless loops and sometimes an almost infinite amount of data parameters from faceted search, I export information from that crawl into an excel spreadsheet, and create a content inventory from it, where I am able to sort through what exists on the site, in terms of pages I want to see indexed, Images, organized by file size, PDFs, CSS files, Javascripts, URLs that 301 and 302, and 404 and 500, and pages that have noindex HTML elements.

I also create a sheet that compares page addresses, from the pages I want to index, and the canonical link elements on those, which I will compare using conditional formatting upon to show if they are duplicates. If they aren't, it will give me a sense of how well canonical link elements are set up upon the site. 

I look through the Pages sheet, to see how consistently URLs are formatted (looking at the protocols and the subdomains of URLs), whether or not there are duplicates because of default file names for directories appeariing in those URLs.  I look at titles, and meta descriptions and headings to see if they use keywords in prominent places on the pages of the site.  I also look for paginated pages to see if they have pagination markup on them, and check the HTML source to see if they are set up correctly.

But this content inventory, and crawl of the site, and scrutiny of the URL Structures, and use of keywords is just one aspect of an audit on a site.

I really like the Google Search Console, because it lets me learn about such things as how mobile friendly a site is, how thoroughly and well set-up structured data is on a site, how much of an XML sitemap or XML site-index has been crawled, whether or not I can fetch and render pages of the site, or if content such as java scripts or css are being blocked from being crawled by the robots.txt file.  There is a lot of useful information in GSC, and those are some of the things that I like to explore while I am there.

It's also worth taking a look at the links pointed to a site, and there are a number off third party tools that will give you an idea of how many links from how many different domains there may be, and whether most of those are dofollow or nofollow or text-based or use specific anchor text. Having a sense of those things can be important.

Since the days of 10 blue links in search results are over, I like to look at if there are sitelinks for a site in Google and Bing, as well as knowledge graphs (and what is contained in those.)  Is the site verified in Google MyBusiness, or does it have an entry in Wikipedia, and is the knowledge graph for it showing off information from those sources?  Is it showing social links because of sameas links in json-ld on the site?  Is there Schema markup on the site that cause a phone number to show up in an answer box of a search for the business name and the word "phone."  Is there a entry that appears on a search in Google's Knowledge Graph API for the business as an entity, and in the Bing Entity API as well?  Does the site have social sharing buttons, and markup (Facebook Open Graph, and Twitter Card) to provide nicely formatted and well written social shares? Are there links to social networking profiles, and is the use of those social networks done in a manner that benefits them?

Someone else from my team usually does keyword research on the site, but I get to answer questions about how we go through that during a call to go over the audit with the client.



We do provide keyword ranking information to clients as well.  Not like we used to do 15 years or so ago, showing results from 10-15 search engines. We do keep an eye on traffic to the site, and help clients understand how well that is working, or review conversion issues that might exist on the site.

I do sometimes get involved in writing content, such as blog posts or quizzes, and use social media to market and educate and attract potential clients.

SEO has changed, and evolved, and it is a lot of fun still doing it (but a little more complicated than it was.)



#10 iamlost

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 04:25 PM

In my experience most of what is done in the name of SEO isn't.

Accessibility, find-ability/navigability, usability are minimal visitor requirements; if it works well for people - guess what - it works well for SEs. Yes, sometimes browser capability, i.e. AJAX back in the day, can cause problems specific to SEs/SEO but such are increasingly rare (and frankly JS is more a human problem these days than a SE one).

Links shifted from qualified traffic generators to only important for SE rankings aka traffic from search (often meaning Google only) is the only traffic. This is perhaps the greatest disservice of SEO.

That 'SEOs' have become the go-to folks for poorly performing sites tells us two things:
1. SEO has done a great job marketing itself.
2. webdevs/site owners have largely lost their way.

This is not to disparage the expertise of a good many such as Bill; if I'd dug myself a hole on the web, I'd be thrilled to be in a position to call him up to transform hole into hill. :) However, 99%+ of what he or similar will do to extract a site from oblivion is not actually SEO, rather it is webdev 101; it is stuff that is needed for humans to find and enjoy and convert and what have you. The teensy tiny bits of tweaking that are not needed for real human visitors and economic success, those that are SEO specific and not broader webdev best practice... that is less than 1%. At the most.

 

That what is best for people is also often best for SEs is a simply delightful. That it is commonly approached in reverse, i.e. what is best (supposedly) for SEs is what people get, is, as Ripley's famous tag line: believe it or not!

Unless one is deliberately selling oneself to the company store...
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store
---Sixteen Tons by Merle Travis



#11 Doc Sheldon

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Posted 25 August 2017 - 04:26 PM

An answer to the question asked in this post's title would result in a lengthy list.

 

In the early days, you could focus strictly on links - or content marketing - or social media - or email marketing - and any one of them could move the needle, sometimes significantly. These days, the list has become longer. But between the evolution of search and the explosive growth of the Internet's population of sites, those approaches, in isolation, might not even make the needle twitch. Now it takes a working knowledge of many different facets to achieve meaningful results. 

 

I think one indispensable tool is to understand (as much as is possible) how search works. What is the search engine trying to accomplish, how is it doing so, what information does it use to do so, how does it measure and adjust for its failures and successes to satisfy users... this could be a long list, too. 

 

Knowing what information the SEs use and how they find that info leads us to understand site architecture, taxonomies and various languages. How they understand that information drives us to learn how to best present it, be that via schema, json, microformats, microdata, RDFa, etc. And don't forget things like hreflang

 

Knowing what signals the SEs like and dislike in terms of the quality of our content, links, compliance to certain standards and guidelines - these all help us run sites the SEs will like and rank well. 

And that's only thinking about the search engines ... the simpler side of the equation. The user side is even more complex.



#12 glyn

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 02:16 PM

It's a lot of luggage isn't it Bill! We go through a series of analytical steps to arrive at an overview that frankly the client couldn't care about. Yet we need to charge for that, it's like an administrative burden of SEO that has been lumbered on us because technology failed to live up to itself and learn. Rather than having these things captured by tech we are the lumberjacks that need to go through all this data - even if it is fun - to arrive at a conclusion and lay of the land.

 

And then what really does it do for you except inform a strategy that for the most part in search engines, is almost an impossible competitive space.

 

My job is to delimit companies busineses in such ways as to achieve great exposure because if they don't, there are lots of companies that will cream 16-24% in commision of their product base. That's where you product is a travel product with a margin. Go down into the depths of FMCG and even occasional FMCG and basically you might as well sell your stock and have a big one off party because it's the only celebration you will ever have, unless you do something truly unique, and then your best hopes are a quick spike in sales and then the trickle off. Wall Mart just got into bed with Google to try and get a piece of the Amazon pie, before Amazon own that market as much as Priceline does Travel.

 

It's not even that SEO strategy is scaleable. I've seen companies in the same niche running PPC campaigns with the same strategies, and have channel costs of 7% through to 16% and the only difference has been on the cost of the product. All CPC costs and ad-conversions rates are pretty much the same. So, the only companies that are still able to benefit from that are those selling luxury products with absurd margins.

 

By the tine I get to the fun stuff, clients can start to get a little bit nervous about what it is exactly you are doing. So I have to explain all of this up front.

 

It would be so much better if technology was just a little bit more intelligent, because if I were working just doing campaigns the clients would be making a lot more money, but unfortunately I have all these administrative hurdles in my way a lot of the time.

 

Glyn.



#13 EGOL

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Posted 26 August 2017 - 03:54 PM

20 years?

Damn, I'll probably have a harp by then... or maybe a coal shovel. :-)

#14 bobbb

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 09:43 AM

B:) Satirically speaking, in 20 years Google will answer all your queries from all the info it scraped from all the websites and they will sell everything having bought Amazon so there will be no reason to ever escape their site. Yes I know the title was: 20 Years Later (since 1997).

20 years ago even I was able to get things to the top 3-4.

EGOL: They are phasing out coal since it is bad for the environment. The heat will be nuclear.


Edited by bobbb, 27 August 2017 - 09:43 AM.


#15 EGOL

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 10:00 AM

 

EGOL: They are phasing out coal since it is bad for the environment. The heat will be nuclear.

 

OMG!  I am in big trouble.



#16 iamlost

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Posted 27 August 2017 - 07:36 PM

Off Topic offtopic

EGOL will have a cushy supervisor job: thorium in the left bins, uranium in the right... mind the radon offgassing... never ever more than 15kg to a bin or you get to explain the unregulated burp... and for !@#$% sake iamlost if I see you playing about with plutonium balls and mirrors again I'll, I'll...



#17 Doc Sheldon

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Posted 07 September 2017 - 02:45 PM

iamlost, I don't disagree with what you say about many SEOs addressing issues that aren't properly considered a part of SEO. The lines have blurred a lot between SEO and dev. work. I build custom WP sites, but my main focus is on technical "SEO" and site security, but I do SEO work, too, In fact, I was doing SEO before I started doing any site-building at all. 
The main reason I started doing so much tech SEO was because the devs rarely do it. I saw that every site I was trying to promote had to have a bucket of technical issues corrected before it had any chance of ranking for anything. Somebody has to do it, and if the devs aren't, then who better than us?


Edited by Doc Sheldon, 07 September 2017 - 03:02 PM.


#18 Grumpus

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Posted 08 September 2017 - 05:34 AM

I build custom WP sites, but my main focus is on technical "SEO" and site security, but I do SEO work, too, In fact, I was doing SEO before I started doing any site-building at all. 
The main reason I started doing so much tech SEO was because the devs rarely do it. I saw that every site I was trying to promote had to have a bucket of technical issues corrected before it had any chance of ranking for anything. Somebody has to do it, and if the devs aren't, then who better than us?

 

Your story sounds quite similar to mine. I first came here to Cre8asite in 2003 because I was making ASP based web sites from scratch - so I needed to learn how to get the foundation built in them so that the would not only rank, but to get crawled at all. My development practice site was a movie/soundtrack database. Google barely touched dynamic sites at that time - but over a few months here, I managed to get over 4,000 pages indexed and ranking properly.

 

I'm not sure the industry has changed all that much, though... it was always the developer's job to make sure the foundation was solid for SEO. And it's almost always the case that even modern CMS systems need a tweak or two in order to get them that way. Wordpress is great for that - a good standards compliant theme and a couple of standard plugins get you the basics, and then teaching the person(s) at the company who are going to be making the posts how to properly leverage it and you're good to go. Wordpress still sucks a bit in its flexibility for me to make my URL structure mirror my navigation structure (without a bunch of tweaks and tricks) but that is less of a real SEO issue and more of an issue with my OCD for information organization. lol

 

The biggest crime in WP development nowadays are the "This Theme Does It All And You Don't Need To Know Anything!" paid themes that are so popular (Divi, Avada, et. al... Yeah, I'm looking at you.). They come bundled with 100 different plugins installed into the theme directory - and all those plugins end up being a security patch behind since the update needs to be released, then the theme developers need to patch their code, and then finally you can get the update - that is, if you are working on a site where the theme was installed, edited, and parented properly to allow updates in the first place. These invariably convince you that you need Page Builder or an equivalent to go along with it. Ultimately, you end up with outdated theme code, a zillion external files and scripts being loaded (many of which you don't even use), over complicated page content HTML that never validates, and a situation where, if you wanted to switch to another theme, every single page on the site would need to be edited to clean up all the extra code.

 

The beauty of Wordpress, as I'm sure Doc already knows, is in how it is an ala carte, system. The trick is to start with a simple, standards compliant theme without a lot of whistles and bells. It needs to output valid HTML, follow Wordpress standards perfectly, and beyond that, it simply needs to scale properly across device sizes. Then, identify the site objectives, get a designer who understands that web design and print design barely resemble each other, and add plugins (or simply build some quick functions for some things) which are needed to reach that goal.

 

I've had a really good (and busy) work load this past year or so. With the mobile-first directive out of Google, it's given me the chance to get into a lot of sites and fix the issues that were overlooked. HINT to All: Mobile First isn't only about content fitting on a small screen - it's load orders, code and image optimization, and all sorts of other factors that most developers and many of the "popular" Wordpress themes don't account for. It's about coordinating with the developer, designer, the marketing lead, and the UX overseer to make sure everything is working together. While it's important for each of these four people to know a bit about the other three jobs (especially the developer since they have to be the packager who puts everything together), it's really quite impossible for any one person to adequately and fully understand everything from the other three jobs. You need all four to really get the best results - and it's not just because of it being hard to know more than one position, but you also need an advocate for each element of the design. For example, the designer and developer need to battle over function vs. beauty and find that sweet spot in the middle. Each other position has their own set of interests to protect, as well.

 

You folks may notice that in the team I've built above, there isn't any call for an "SEO" person. That's because everyone needs to be (and really always has needed to be) an SEO person. Design and Development have the "hidden" elements of SEO to contend with - the things that aren't visible on the page itself, and the various off page factors to think about. They create the frame for it all. The marketing lead (and their copywriters, etc) have the on-page factors to contend with. The UX person is there to make sure the site visitor's interests are maintained - something which is actually a big part of SEO today, as well.





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