Corey Patterson – Search Engine Land News On Search Engines, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Mon, 13 Sep 2021 17:02:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Messy SEO Part 2: The importance of canonicalization /messy-seo-part-2-the-importance-of-canonicalization-374351 Mon, 13 Sep 2021 13:00:00 +0000 /?p=374351 How we began cleaning up canonical tags after the MarTech site consolidation migration.

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Messy SEO is a column covering the nitty-gritty, unpolished tasks involved in the auditing, planning, and optimization of websites, using MarTech’s new domain as a case study.

This second installment for “Messy SEO” details my process of rectifying the canonicalization issues that arose following the MarTech website consolidation. In Part 1 we discussed fixes for duplicate content issues—redirects. Fixing these issues is expected to address our site’s issue with diluted rankings and a decreased crawl budget.

>> You can read Part 1 of our Messy SEO series here <<

During this process, we discovered some instances where another factor needed to be addressed—canonicalization. Virtually all of the articles on MarTech contained canonical tags pointing to now non-existent URLs.

Unlike redirection—which improves user experience while simultaneously sending ranking signals to search engines—canonicalization addresses the algorithm side of the equation. Specifying which version of a page we want to rank for helps dictate what shows up for your potential site visitors.

Proper page canonicalization ultimately serves the searcher in the long run. It makes it easier for them to find the content we’ve created that best meets their needs.

A crowd of canonicals

As mentioned in our introductory “Messy SEO” article, the new MarTech site was born from the consolidation of Marketing Land and MarTech Today. And between the hundreds of pages between each property, there was a large number of canonical URLs. What’s more, they were pointing to now non-existent pages.

At a first glance, marketers may not see the excess amount of erroneous canonical as a severe issue. After all, only bots can see these tags at a glance, and they don’t direct people to new pages like redirects. Google and other search engines rely on them to ensure the search results are up to date and meet searcher needs. And this is precisely why we in the SEO business must make sure these are set correctly (especially after site consolidations and migrations).


In our site’s situation, the pages that used to be housed on Marketing Land and MarTech Today more often than not contained canonical tags pointing to their previous iterations. So, when Google and other search engines crawl these pages they will receive a signal stating that the canonical version of the content lies on non-existent domains. This won’t add more non-existent URLs into the index, but it will make it take longer to remove the versions that are still listed in the SERPS (of which there are many).

This is why we decided to fix the canonical tag issues alongside the duplicate content consolidation efforts. Aligning our new consolidated URLs with the correct canonical versions will help search engines show the right URL in the results.

To do this, we analyzed the URLs set on each consolidated page via the Yoast SEO plugin. These would be replaced with the new URL version.



What happens to the old URLs?

So, we’ve decided what to do about the current canonical tags. We’re going to be replacing the MarTech Today and Marketing Land URLs with the newly consolidated MarTech URLs. This leaves many URLs out there, both in the SERPS and on the MarTech site itself. 

Fortunately, the Third Door Media team already put in redirects from these domains to the new MarTech site, sending a pretty strong signal to search engines. But with a domain as large as ours, it’s taken months for the index to cull the old URLs. We suspect part of this delay has to do with the many articles pointing to the old canonical pages.

Our ultimate goal is to remove the signals on our site pointing to the old URLs, and the canonical tags play a major role in this. But we want to be sure the other types of links on our site are consistent as well. This means we’ll be updating outdated internal links in articles, main pages, sitemaps, and other areas.

In short, we’re going to be getting even messier with our SEO tactics.

Wrapping up

That’s it for the second installment of “Messy SEO.” We’ll continue to go through the steps taken toward cleaning up the messiness of our post-site consolidation. 

Have you had canonical tag issues on your sites? Did find any major improvements after rectifying the issue? Email me at with the subject line Messy SEO Part 2 to let me know. 

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Messy SEO Part 1: Navigating a site consolidation migration /messy-seo-part-1-navigating-a-site-consolidation-migration-351439 Mon, 23 Aug 2021 16:01:11 +0000 /?p=351439 Search professionals have found themselves cleaning up issues following site consolidation migrations. This is the exact situation I walked into for the MarTech brand. 

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Messy SEO is a column covering the nitty-gritty, unpolished tasks involved in the auditing, planning, and optimization of websites, using MarTech’s new domain as a case study.

Walking into any new SEO project presents marketing strategists with unique challenges. Different website properties need solutions tailored to their specific issues. And with so many things to consider—branding, business goals, site setup, etc.—your project requires particular deliberation.

Search professionals have found themselves cleaning up issues following site consolidation migrations. This is the exact situation I walked into for the MarTech brand. 

It was nothing short of what I call an “SEO mess,” or a collection of issues affecting search visibility in need of intricate solutions.

I recently joined the Third Door Media team to help clean up these issues arising from the consolidation of Marketing Land and MarTech Today. The new site needed someone to jump into the thick of things and chart a path forward. Here’s how the process unfolded:

Issues arising from site consolidation

Many organizations find their sites in need of heavy-duty clean-up after consolidation. But, unfortunately, they don’t always have time to undergo continual optimization and maintenance. 

In MarTech’s case, the issues arose from a necessary business decision for the brand. 

Rather than continuing to split our audience between the brands Marketing Land and MarTech Today, we chose to lean into MarTech. Using our resources to help marketers find their place in the new marketing landscape made sense.

Yet, significant website changes often come with significant issues, no matter how necessary the work. And there’s no one magic strategy to fix the mess. Instead, this situation requires a multifaceted, nitty-gritty solution.

The messy side of SEO

Before the site consolidation, the team took the content published on one platform and repurposed it for the other. For example, MarTech Today produced content for professionals researching marketing technology and automation, while Marketing Land focused on a broader marketing audience. Each would tailor their content pieces to their market, making slight changes where applicable.

The expected duplicate content issues arose following the consolidation, and the required fixes were far from a one-time fix.

The new site now has at least two versions of over 1,000 articles. What’s more, their copy is close enough to target the same topic and keywords. To solve this issue, we put together redirects from the content on Marketing Land to its counterpart on MarTech Today. Most of these contained the “-2” in their URL that WordPress adds to duplicate slugs.

The redirects were a needed short-term solution to prevent user experience and duplicate content issues. But with the new site being as large as it is, not all the redirects were set up, leaving many near-identical pieces waiting to be indexed.

Many other problems were also affecting the site, including many relevant non-indexed pages, broken links, mixed content, and site speed problems. However, we decided to tackle the duplicate pages first because they related to our site’s primary offering; marketing strategy, news, and insights. Fixing the problems affecting content visibility and quality is thus the priority.

Considerations and solutions 

Working on these crucial issues after a site migration and consolidation isn’t glamorous by any means. However, when engaging with any messy optimization project, you need to ensure your expectations align with the likely outcomes. 

The fact is, you won’t see the results of your efforts for some time. And that’s OK.

Google and other search engines need time to analyze the site for these changes, and we want them to be thorough. Fortunately, setting up the redirects directs visitors to the correct pages immediately, preventing UX problems until the consolidated pages are indexed and ranked.

Redirecting our focus

Because the content on each duplicate page in question is targeted toward separate audiences, there are a few factors to consider to determine what will appear on the consolidated page. These include the following:

  1. How is the page performing?
  2. How are people interacting with the page?
  3. Which content is best suited for the target audience?

Using data available from Google Search Console and Analytics, I reviewed clicks, impressions, average page views and time spent on them, and a whole host of other valuable data. This data helped me answer considerations #1 and #2.

But, since the site has only been live since May, more data was required to determine which content aligned with MarTech’s audience interests.

Speaking with our talented writers and reviewing keyword data helped me determine which pieces of duplicated content were best suited for MarTech’s audience. It allowed me to begin the process of placing the best content on our new consolidated pages. And by redirecting the duplicated URLs, I’m able to point people and search engines to the most appropriate destination.

Wrapping up

That’s it for this first installment of “Messy SEO.” Next, we’ll continue to go through the steps taken toward cleaning up the mess post-site consolidation. 

Have you worked on a site consolidation project for your business or clients? What tactics and tools did you use? Email me at cpatterson@thirddoormedia with the subject line Messy SEO Part 1 to let me know.

>> You can read Part 2 of our Messy SEO series here <<

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How to gain value from broken backlinks /how-to-gain-value-from-broken-backlinks-348104 Fri, 23 Apr 2021 17:03:07 +0000 /?p=348104 A guide to reaping the benefits of broken backlinks — both yours and your competitors’.

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When many digital marketing professionals think of link building, their minds jump to the standard outreach process. One thinks of guides explaining how to craft the most optimal email subject lines when requesting inclusion in a publication, or perhaps they consider the best utilization of HARO. These methodologies can be quite effective, yet the return on investment is largely out of your control. Not everyone is going to respond favorably to emails and pitches, leaving marketers scrambling for new sources.

Fortunately, there are some highly effective link-building tactics that give marketers more control and serve both users and website owners. These strategies rely specifically on broken backlinks.

Much like broken internal links on sites that bring up 4xx client codes, broken backlinks occur when an external link from a site points to a non-existent page on another domain. This most commonly occurs when a page URL has changed or the linking site added an incorrect URL.

In fact, internet professionals have known about the tendency for links/pages to become non-existent for a long time. This phenomenon is often termed “link rot,” and many sites suffer from it. A study conducted by WooRank found that 12.2% of e-commerce site backlinks pointed users to a 404 page.

Image: WooRank.

Though the study only focused on e-commerce sites, there’s a high chance that similar trends would be found in other industries. In fact, we see this played out in the scholarly realm. A study conducted by Harvard Law Review in 2014 found that up to 20% of backlinks may be dead after just one year, and the percentage increases as time goes on.


If the rate of link rot shocks you, you’re not alone. The exponential rate at which backlinks break leaves a tremendous amount of link equity going to waste. 

Given the prevalence of such links, it may be surprising to see how infrequently these tactics are discussed among seasoned marketers. This may be due to a disproportionate focus on the largely misunderstood “freshness” factor, opting to focus solely on earning links from new content without reviewing the missed opportunities from “older” backlinks.

However, old backlinks can still be valuable. Marketers can find a treasure trove of value through link reclamation and outreach efforts. All it requires is close attention to the broken links pointing both to your site and your competitors’ sites.

There are two important differences between broken link reclamation and broken link building. Link reclamation seeks to literally reclaim the value of broken links pointing to your site. Broken link building, on the other hand, is the process by which you recreate content to replace your competitors’ broken backlinks.

The methods are slightly different, but both grant you more control than standard link-building outreach tasks. They also make a world of difference if properly implemented.

One particularly successful broken backlink project involved my client Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel. After initiating reclamation and outreach efforts, the levels of organic traffic and ranked keywords (the images below) increased over the next year at much higher rates than in recent years. 

Organic traffic for Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel. Source: Ahrefs.
Organic keywords ranked for Ultimate Whale Watch & Snorkel. Source: Ahrefs.

An important thing to note here is the client’s industry. Despite being in the tourism/travel sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, UWW saw a 171.2% increase in organic traffic and a 257.2% increase in organic keywords ranked year over year.

Coupled with the other link-building tools in your belt, broken link reclamation and building efforts can prove incredibly fruitful. Here are our recommended steps for both processes:

Step 1: Analyze your site’s backlinks. First, you’ll need to determine how many (if any) backlinks pointing to your site are broken. Ahrefs is a great tool that analyzes this data, it allows you to review which backlinks are pointing to dead links.

Open and log in to Ahrefs, then perform an analysis on your domain.

Step 2: Organize your broken backlinks. Navigate to the “Broken Links” icon under “Backlinks” in the left-hand menu and click it. You’ll then see a list of all the broken backlinks for the site.

It’s helpful to organize the broken backlinks in this list via the “DR” (domain rating) column. This will place the highest-valued links at the top of the list. You can then export these into a spreadsheet for further review.

Step 3: Choose the broken links to go after. This handy table of data will show where the backlink originates from, its anchor text and what URL it is pointing to. Analyze the external domains listed and decide if the backlink is worth pursuing. You may decide some of them are irrelevant, low authority or just pure spam. It’s best to look for backlinks originating from authoritative sites that employ relevant anchor text.

Step 4: Regain the broken link value. Once you’ve put together a list of broken backlinks you’d like to reclaim, review your own site and determine what link would be the most ideal replacement.

There are two main ways to proceed from here. 

  • Option A: Reach out to the site owner of said backlink and let them know that it is broken. Provide them with the relevant replacement link and ask them to update it. Ideally, the site manager will be happy you pointed out a broken link on their site and add in the live URL.
  • Option B: Sometimes the site owner doesn’t respond. In this instance, you can easily regain the lost link value through a redirect. Set up a 301 (permanent) redirect to a relevant page on your site. This way you’ll regain the lost link value and users will arrive on a live page.

Are 301 redirects effective with broken backlinks? Marketers have long debated the exact amount of link equity (or PageRank) that is passed along via 301 redirects. This is largely due to confusion over the way Google and other large search engines treat them. 

To clarify this issue, Google’s John Mueller explained how their search engine specifically uses 301 redirects as directives toward canonical URLs. So if the redirect link you set in place isn’t similar enough in topic to the original, Google will likely treat the broken link as a soft 404. But a highly relevant redirect will likely receive close to 100% of the ranking benefits.

This is why it’s so important to make sure the redirect is appropriate to the missing content. You want search engines to treat your redirected URL as canon. 

Step 1: Analyze your competitor’s backlinks. Choose a competitor and analyze them in Ahrefs in the same manner as described above.

Step 2: Find the relevant broken backlinks. Categorize the broken backlinks by relevance. Review your own site and determine if you have content similar to the topic of the link in question. This will be the broken link you’ll be seeking to replace on the third-party site.

Step 3: Provide the perfect replacement content. Now it’s time to get a piece of relevant replacement content together. If you’re starting from scratch, review the topic of the linking site — and the anchor text — and use it as a springboard for your new page. If the content already exists, then you’re ready to reach out!

Step 4: Reach out to the site owner. Once you have a replacement page ready, reach out to the site owner with the broken link and let them know about the issue. Offer your article as a replacement while doing your best to show how it fits with the content’s topic. You’ll be surprised at how many site owners take you up on this — no one wants to feature articles with errors.

The broken backlink issues that affect virtually all sites at some point or another offer marketers creative link-building opportunities. Paying attention to these potential links could make a huge difference in your campaigns.

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