A new study reaffirms the importance of links for ranking in Google’s search engine. According to the new findings, it is all but impossible to rank in the top 10 search results for commercial searches without a substantial number of backlinks. 

96% of the sites ranking in Google’s top 10 results had over 1,000 links from unique domains. 

In comparison, only 0.3% of the sites in the top 10 had fewer than 100 backlinks and none had fewer than 50 links. 

Links Still Matter

In recent years, Google has made a series of statements seeming to downplay the importance of links for SEO – including saying you need “very few links to rank pages”. 

This has led to considerable discussion about the importance of links, with some saying they shouldn’t be a primary concern for SEO.

This issue calls for more nuance than saying “focus on building links” or that “links don’t matter.”

Ideally, you will naturally receive links from the content you publish because people like to share and discuss good content. As this study suggests, however, it is important that you ARE receiving links. If this isn’t happening, however, you must assess what issues are preventing your content from creating links for your site and address these issues immediately. 

On the other hand, focusing specifically on creating links tends to lead to inauthentic content lacking value to real readers. 

More From The Study

Below, you can see a table of the primary study results:

Along with this data, the researchers noted a few other findings from their analysis of the sites and their backlinks, including:

  • Amazon ranked in the top 10 for over three-quarters of the keywords (164 out of 200). The next closest brand was Walmart, which ranked for 57 of the 200 keywords.
  • The “weakest” site included in the study had links from 54 domains and was ranked in the 6th search result position. 
  • Based on the data, sites required an average minimum of 164 unique backlink domains to be included in the top 10 for local search terms. 

Not All Links Are The Same

As the study is sure to note, it does not assess the quality of individual backlinks. The value of links can vary greatly depending on the authoritativeness and relevance of the site linking to your content. Simply having a specific number of links is not a guarantee of ranking well. 

For more, read the full study report here

As the holiday shopping season is at its peak, Google has given retailers new generative AI tools to help advertise their products online. 

The company recently announced it was adding three new features that will help improve product visibility and help shoppers make informed purchases. These features are:

New Shopping Subcategories For Gifts

Shoppers can more easily explore products and brainstorm what to get their loved ones for gifts using AI-generated curated subcategories for highly specific gift ideas.

The announcement gives an example: 

“Let’s say you’re looking for a present for the budding chef in your life and don’t know where to start. Search “great gifts for home cooks”, and you’ll now see a wide variety of subcategories to explore — like specialty tools, artisanal ingredients, culinary subscriptions and even experiences like cooking classes — with options from brands large and small. Just tap into a category to browse shoppable gift options and select a product to buy.”

AI-generated Shopping Images

Online shoppers often begin with a very specific image of what they are looking for in their mind, but it isn’t always easy to translate that into search terms. 

To help shoppers find exactly what they’re searching for, Google has introduced image generation technology that will create photorealistic images to match your search terms and allow you to search products based on these images. 

“Let’s say you want a new winter coat — a colorful, patterned puffer jacket — but you haven’t found quite what you’re looking for. With generative AI in Search, just look for that style and tap “Generate images” to see photorealistic images that match your vision. And if you want to make an adjustment, like if you’d prefer a colorful metallic jacket instead of a patterned one, just enter that refinement in the text box to see a new set of images. Once you’ve found one you like, scroll down to see similar shoppable products.”

Expanding Virtual Try-On To Men’s Tops

After seeing increased engagement and interactions with women’s tops after the launch of virtual try-on features for those products, Google has expanded the feature to product searches for men’s tops. 

The feature allows shoppers to visualize how clothes will look by showing the products on a variety of real models, including diverse skin tones, body shapes, heights, and sizes. 

These new features are available to all US users now. For more, you can read the full announcement here.

Ever wonder why some videos perform strongly on TikTok while others struggle to get any eyes or clicks? The social video app wants to help by releasing new four specific tips for increasing your ad performance on the platform.

4 Ways To Improve Your TikTok Ad Performance

Video Resolution of At Least 720P

Having clear, high-quality video is a major component of top-performing TikTok ads, with 83.19% of the app’s highest-performing ads using a resolution of 720P or better. Specifically, TikTok says meeting this resolution benchmark is tied to seeing at least a 5.39% boost to impressions. 

Vertical Aspect Ratio

It turns out, there is a “correct” aspect ratio if you want your video ads on TikTok to succeed. Of the top-performing videos on the platform, 82.13% are filmed in a vertical aspect ratio and saw a 40.08% increase in impressions compared to horizontal or square videos. 

Include Audio

Unlike some other social platforms, the use of sound is highly important on TikTok. As such, 93.02% of the top-performing videos on the app included audio or some type, leading to a 16.05% jump in impressions. 

Notably, this is audio of any type, whether it is a spoken script, music, or another kind of audio content. 

9:16 Aspect Ratio Is Best

Making your videos for TikTok’s native aspect ratio of 9:16 looks the most professional and leads to the most impressions. According to the company’s data, 98.63% of the highest-performing videos used this specific aspect ratio and received 60.45% more impressions. 

Extra Tips for eCommerce on TikTok

Along with the above tips aimed at all brands on TikTok, the company included a few guidelines specifically for aimed at eCommerce brands:

Include an Offer

Though a shockingly low number of TikTok’s best-performing videos (3.21%) included an offer, those that did include a basic promotion saw impressions jump by 67.4%.

Include Different Angles or Settings

Editing your videos to include a number of different angles or shots has a dramatic impact on TikTok video performance. Of the best-performing videos on the platform, 99.29% made use of a range of angles or settings and saw a 40.56% increase in impressions. 

Keep Videos Accessible With Closed Captions

Closed captions do more than make your videos more accessible to all users, they also lead to more views. TikTok says 73.22% of the top videos used this feature and increased impressions by 55.68%.

To find out more, explore TikTok’s best practice guidelines available in the company’s Creative Center.

As Google continues to promote its latest content format – Google Web Stories – the company is trying to help brands learn everything they can about the format, including how to use Web Stories to drive engagement and even revenue. 

To do this, the search engine has released a comprehensive Web Stories Playbook (totaling over 100 pages!) which does everything from explaining what Web Stores are, the technical process to create them, and strategic advice to get the most out of the format. 

What Are Web Stories?

Google Web Stories Playbook Showcase

Google Web Stories are a new, short-form “snackable” type of content similar to the Stories already popular on just about every social network. The big difference is that rather than being exclusive to a single, third-party service like Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, Google Web Stories can be posted directly to your site.

To make them more immersive and engaging, the clips (made with videos, graphics, audio, and text) can be expanded to a full-screen view with a click.

Notably, Google has also released plugins for popular platforms like WordPress, making it easy to get started creating and sharing Web Stories. 

Google Web Stories Playbook Site Embedding

Along with being placeable on your site, the short clips can also be found in Google Search, Google Images, and Google Discover, meaning there are tons of chances to increase your visibility using Web Stories. 

Even more, Google Ads integration means you can include call-to-actions, affiliate links, and even your existing campaigns in your Web Stories. 

By combining all these things, Web Stories aim to combine the quick, easily digestible allure of social Stories with traditional ads while simultaneously giving a chance to boost your SEO.

What’s In The Web Stories Playbook

As the book itself describes its purpose:

“This playbook will help you incorporate Web Stories into your website, so you can reach new audiences and help readers connect with content they’ll love.”

At over 100 pages, the Google Web Stories Playbook may sound intimidating, but don’t worry. The guide is made to be highly visual, with big graphics and short, bite-size paragraphs telling you all you need to know across three sections.

Google Web Stories Playbook Site Experience

Web Stories Playbook Sections

1) Overview – This section gives you the basics to understanding what Web Stories are and how they can be used to connect with new and old audiences in a more convenient and engaging way – even when on the go.

2) Entry Points – The Entry Points section explores the different ways Web Stories can be displayed and engaged with online. Specifically, it details five different  ways users might see your Web Stories, including:

  • Singletons (Single Web Story panel placement)
  • Carousels (Multiple Web Stories in a single panel)
  • Compact Display (An organized selection of Web Stories in a panel)
  • Author Highlights (Web Stories organized specifically by author)
  • Dedicated Page (An entire page showing browsable Web Stories)

Additionally, this section includes links to a Design Kit with files to help create different entry points on your site.

3) More Design Details – Here you’ll find more in-depth recommendations and best practices for Web Stories. These include implementation tricks for making Web Stories look the best on your site, tips for making your stories more browsable, and content creation best practices to get the most from your Web Stories. 

Lastly, the Google Web Stories Playbook links to even more resources and tools, including a dedicated guide to using Web Stories on your site, tools and plugins, technical documentation, and even a Web Stories Github for discussion with others using Web Stories. 

To explore the Google Web Stories Playbook for yourself, just head over to the official announcement or click this link for the direct PDF.

In a recent live stream, Google’s John Mueller told SEO experts that any amount of adult content on your site can get your site filtered from search results and may make you ineligible to appear in rich results. 

The topic popped up in a Google Search Central SEO office-hours stream on December 11.

Specifically, the question focused on whether any structured data markup is allowed on adult websites. However, this spun out into a wider conversation about how Google’s search engine algorithms handle adult content across a variety of types of sites.

Adult Sites Not Eligible For Rich Search Results

Unsurprisingly, Google does not serve rich results for adult websites. Not only would including these types of rich results potentially expose young or vulnerable individuals to inappropriate content, it would create significant moderation issues to ensure all content was vetted and legal across a huge range of laws addressing adult content worldwide. 

As Mueller explains:

“I think in our rich results guidelines we say none of [the rich result types] are useful for adult websites. But I haven’t checked recently.

I don’t know if anything has changed there but, at least as far as I know, the types of rich results that I’m aware of are explicitly not meant for adult content websites.”

He goes on to say that there are no penalties for using the rich snippet markup on your site, even if you have adult content:

“I don’t think there’s any kind of manual action or webspam action that takes place in something like that.

It’s more that our systems recognize: oh this is an adult website, and it wants to show these rich results types, but since it’s an adult website we just won’t show them. So it’s not like it will be demoted or anything.”

Of course, the line of what defines an “adult website” can sometimes be a little hard to determine. Some websites may be largely family friendly but have a specific section dedicated to adult topics. Others may have perfectly legitimate reasons to discuss adult topics or share content including adult themes or images without necessarily being an “adult website.”

How does Google handle these?

How Google Search Handles Sites With Adult Content

It makes perfect sense for Google to prevent explicitly adult websites from appearing in some search results or features like rich results. When things are less clear, Google ultimately defers to its SafeSearch filters.

As Mueller says, any content that doesn’t pass Google’s SafeSearch filters will be ineligible for rich snippets and face other limitations. If the majority of content on a site does not pass these filters, Google will then play it safe and block all content from that domain. 

“With a lot of the safe search filters we try to apply them to a broader URL pattern on a website. So if we see that a whole domain is adult content for the most part, and you have some small part that is not adult, then probably we would filter the whole domain. We want to stay on the safe side there.

If you have individual subdomains, where some are adult and some of them are not, that makes it a little bit easier. If you have separate domains then obviously that makes it a lot easier for us to understand that these are completely separate websites that should be treated differently.”

This also works inversely, with predominantly family friendly websites subject to being filtered for any adult content:

“It also happens the other way around where some sites might have classified sections which are for adults, and then if that section is embedded within the main website in a way that is hard to separate out, then we might say well we don’t know how much of this site should be filtered by safe search.

Maybe we’ll filter too much, maybe we won’t filter enough. On the other hand if you move that to a subdomain then it’s a lot easier to say oh this subdomain should be treated like this, and the other subdomain should be treated differently.”

Ultimately, the vast majority of business websites are safe from ever dealing with these limitations. However, if you have a section of your site dedicated to anything from alcohol to adult wellness, you may assess how this could be impacting your website – and your brand’s online presence – as a whole.

To hear Mueller’s full response, check out the video below:

A recent report from Microsoft predicts the future of online marketing throughout the next decade using a combination of data, surveys, and insights from some of the leading advertising experts at the company.

The report “2020 Vision: Trends to define the next decade” covers a wide range of issues, including the most important online marketing skills professionals will need in the 2020s, new approaches to search engine marketing and advertising, and increasing interactivity.

With how quickly online marketing changes, it can be hard to imagine where we will be in ten years, though Microsoft believes it may look a little like this:

Advertising Without Webpages

Online advertising has long been built on the structure where advertisers show ads on a site which lead to a specific landing page with more information when clicked. Gradually, that is changing as new platforms and apps are providing new opportunities for a more streamlined, interactive ad:

“Think of an interactive ad asking you to “Choose Your Own Adventure” then responding with additional interaction or next step based on your choice. In search, this type of interaction could begin to replace the practice of clicking through to a web page or content download.”

Streaming Brings Back TV Advertising With a Twist

The biggest flaw with traditional television advertising has been an inability to precisely target who the ad is being shown to, let alone exactly how many people will see the ad. The rise of digital streaming platforms will help solve this issue by delivering opportunities to deliver targeted ads to viewers:

“More relevant and targeted advertising will be possible on streaming TV because data on the backend will enable high-performing ads to be delivered to extremely targeted audiences. A mashup of search, audience-based buying and news content will fuel many of the evolving platforms to watch.”

Cameras Change How We Search

Visual search has existed in relatively primitive forms for a few years without ever truly catching on. This is largely because they have largely been unreliable for getting precise search results. Thanks to the power of machine-learning, Microsoft believes that will change in the 2020s:

“We’re addicted to screens and our eyeballs are looking for a new thrill factor — one that takes us beyond links and text, and is powered by images… How easy would it be if you take a picture of something you want rather than trying to search for it using words?“

SEO Remains an Essential Skill For Online Marketing

For the most part, the predictions in the report focus on large-scale shifts the company expects to see in the coming years. In one area, however, the experts see things remaining relatively consistent.

Based on a poll of more than 600 global senior marketer participants, SEO is going to remain the most important “hard skill” for marketers to have. The list is as follows:

Hard skills:

  • SEO
  • Data analysis
  • Copywriting
  • Behavioral analysis
  • Automation

Soft skills:

  • Creativity
  • Humility
  • Empathy
  • Adaptability
  • Transparency

The full report delves deeper into exactly why Microsoft’s experts expect to see the changes in the online marketing world in the coming decade. You can download it here.


Google is changing what business owners see when they view their own reviews in order to make it easier to encourage new reviews.

In the past, business owners or account managers would see a button which directed them to “write a review” from their business listing. Now, many are reporting seeing a new button which instead reads “get more reviews.”

"Get More Reviews" button

While the function has not changed, the new text makes it more clear exactly what Google is offering – a chance to share your review links across Facebook, Twitter, email, and more.

The meaning behind the text is also much more clear as leaving a review for your own business is strongly frowned upon and can get your listing penalized by the search engine.

When shared, the review link directs people to your Google Maps listing with a pop up to immediately write a review.

Bing has announced a new series of link penalties aimed at reducing the presence of spammy or manipulative sites across its search engine. Specifically, the latest link penalties target private blog networks (PBNs), as well as those using subdomain leasing or manipulative cross-site linking.

What Bing is Targeting

For the most part, Bing is looking to penalize sites who are misleading search engines by essentially bundling site level signals to increase the presence of unrelated subdomains. Lately, a number of larger sites have been leasing subdomains while promising high rankings through site-level signals.

Subdomains are regularly used for legitimate purposes to help separate areas of a site. For example, many sites may use a separate subdomain for areas of their site related to customer support, which would appear as support.example.com. In this case, it makes sense for the support areas of the site to still benefit from the site-level SEO signals present.

On the other-hand, you have leasing services such as WordPress which are used to host a wide-range of unrelated topics, brands, and philosophies. In this case, it would not make sense for each subdomain to receive the SEO boost from WordPress’s main domain.

While WordPress follows the best practices of search engines and properly insulates each subdomain, some bad actors have been misrepresenting their site structure to artificially inflate the presence of unrelated subdomains.

As the company explained in its announcement:

“…we heard concerns from the SEO community around the growing practice of hosting third-party content or letting a third party operate a designated subdomain or subfolder, generally in exchange for compensation.

…the practice equates to buying ranking signals, which is not much different from buying links.”

Private Blog Networks

In particular, Bing called out PBNs for misrepresenting their site structure to artificially inflate content:

“While not all link networks misrepresent website boundaries, there are many cases where a single website is artificially split across many different domains, all cross-linking to one another, for the obvious purpose of rank boosting. This is particularly true of PBNs (private blog networks).”

Cross-Site Linking

Another issue that Bing is putting in its crosshairs are sites that are essentially a single site but are broken into multiple interlinking sites to create false link signals.

The graphic below illustrates how this site structure may appear:

Notably, this practice has already been against Bing’s policies and subject to penalties, but the search engine says it will begin applying additional penalties.

The Takeaway

All of the types of activity being targeted by Bing’s latest link penalties are systematic misrepresentations of websites to artificially boost their presence in search engines. It is hard to imagine many cases where legitimate sites could be affected inadvertently – though it is always possible.

Customers who have left a review for your website on Google will now receive notifications via email when you respond, providing even greater incentives for businesses to promptly respond to any reviews they receive.

In the past, it was possible a reviewer may have never seen your response unless they deliberately checked on their post. This made it difficult to properly address complaints and provided little reason for businesses to respond to praise.

Now, the new email notifications will help ensure both happy and disgruntled customers will see when you’ve responded and help develop better customer interaction.

Google has always recommended replying to your reviews because it is simply good customer service and shows that you care, but the email notification system makes it more important than ever to keep an eye on your reviews and reply promptly.

In their announcement, Google also included a number of tips for responding to reviews, such as:

  1. Be nice and don’t get personal. This isn’t just a guideline—it’s also a good idea as a business owner. It’s difficult to win an argument with a frustrated customer, and you want to avoid burning bridges. Keep your responses useful, readable, and courteous. In addition, responses should comply with our local content policy.
  2. Keep it short and sweet. Users are looking for useful and genuine responses, but they can easily be overwhelmed by a long response.
  3. Thank your reviewers. Respond to happy reviewers when you have new or relevant information to share. You don’t need to thank every reviewer publicly, since each response reaches lots of customers.
  4. Be a friend, not a salesperson. Your reviewers are already customers, so there’s no need to offer incentives or advertisements. Tell reviewers something new about your business, or share something they might not have learned from their first visit.


Google recently made it even easier for businesses to maintain and edit their online listings by allowing businesses to directly edit their listing information shown in the knowledge graph without having to visit the Google My Business Dashboard. Google has confirmed a new Knowledge Panel interface allows users to directly edit local listings.


The new feature allows logged in users associated with a business to directly update business information without having to go through to Google My Business Dashboard, however the GMB Dashboard is still needed for updating menus or booking links.

The change was first rumored by Barry Schwartz at SEO Roundtable based on a comment by Gary Illyes at State of Search in mid-November. The first person to report seeing the feature put into action was Prya Chandra on G+.


While the feature is available in the Knowledge Panel and the Local Finder on both desktop and mobile, it is not available through Google Maps. It is likely the feature will eventually make its way into Google Maps in the near future, but there’s no word for now on when to expect that.

The biggest question in the wake of this change is what it means for the future of the Google My Business Dashboard. The dashboard still serves some purpose for business owners who need to update or correct menus and booking listings, but many are seeing this as a sign Google may be moving away from GMB.