We tried using OpenAI to generate marketing strategies — and it worked

Generative AI has rocked the tech world, and every company is now considering if there is a way for them to leverage this technology. Since the introduction of ChatGPT, the tech industry has been buzzing with its potential impact, especially in content-heavy industries like marketing and advertising.

We used OpenAI to improve our SEO ranking on Google, which had positive results across the board. In less than a year, our site’s organic traffic went from nothing to approximately 3,500 visitors a month, the domain rating increased by over 40%, and the backlinks increased by over 500%.

We increased our organic traffic

Our web site’s organic traffic saw a sharp increase after we started using OpenAI in March 2022.

Our site’s organic traffic saw a sharp increase after we started using OpenAI in March 2022. Image Credits: Cyber Switching

Our domain rating saw an increase of over 40%

Our domain rating saw over a 40 percent increase

Our domain rating saw an increase of over 40%. Image Credits: Cyber Switching

Given the SEO ranking improvement, our domain rating saw an increase of over 40%.

And we boosted backlinks by more than 500%

We used OpenAI to boost backlinks by more than 500%.

We used OpenAI to boost backlinks by more than 500%. Image Credits: Cyber Switching

All screenshots are from June 23, 2023.

Through keyword-optimized blog posts generated by ChatGPT, we were able to really hone in on target keywords that rank high for many of the target phrases, like “best 48 amp ev charger.” It also allowed us to join the conversation with many other blogs by increasing our keywords from 300 to over 7,000, which led our website clicks to jump from 100 per month to 4,000.

Here are a few ways any business can utilize generative AI technology to optimize their marketing strategy.

Train the AI system to find optimal keywords

Before asking ChatGPT to generate an entire strategy document from scratch, you need to begin with the basics. Start by identifying your goals and let that inform your process. Ask ChatGPT for the most common keywords related to your industry, then drill down farther from there by asking for alternate phrases and options.

We started with the question:

  • What are the most common SEO keywords related to the EV charging industry?

It provided a list of 20 phrases such as “electric vehicle charger,” “EV charging station,” “level 2 charger,” and “home EV chargers.” The AI is not perfect: ChatGPT recommended keywords associated with home EV chargers when our SEO needs to focus on commercial EV chargers.

Once you settle on the relevant keywords, ask ChatGPT to organize the list into commercial, transactional, and informational words. These categories will be crucial for the smart prompts used later on to create targeted content for various areas of your website.

You’ll also need to do the same keyword search in order to build OpenAI’s knowledge of your company. Give the AI tool additional information, like the boilerplate from your last press release, the “About” section on your website, your company’s social media profiles, or any other assets you already have.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel, so use content you’ve already worked on to help generate better keywords, recommendations, and ultimately, your marketing strategy.

As we fed the AI system more information, the results formulated improved and the recommendations got better. Remember that AI is about training the data, so as you progress, the answers shared will become more and more accurate. The more data you provide the AI tool, the better it will understand your company and industry.

Use targeted categories to create marketing content

After using AI to highlight target keywords within your website as well as your industry, you can develop an SEO strategy guaranteed to help you secure a top spot in search results.

One of ChatGPT’s best use cases is for content generation like blog ideas, titles, and website copywriting. Make sure to do this in the same ChatGPT thread you started with, as this is where you have trained the AI system. Here is a prompt you can use to get this going:

I tried to buy a post on TechCrunch.com

A few times per day, I get a message that asks something along the lines of: “How much do you charge for a guest article on TechCrunch?” People are trying to get inbound links from TechCrunch for SEO reasons. The theory is: A link from TechCrunch gives your site trustworthiness in the eyes of Google, and so it’s worth doing. But is that what’s really happening here?

I know I should ignore these, after a few hundred of them, but then I received a message from someone who had paid someone on Fiverr, a site for freelancers, for a link on TechCrunch. He had gotten scammed and came to me to ask when I was going to publish the article. I was confused; apparently, someone had used my name as a contact at TechCrunch. Needless to say, I informed him that I couldn’t help and to take it up with Fiverr.

So then I wondered what would happen if I tried to buy an article on TechCrunch.

I spent $800 or so trying to get an article published on TechCrunch. Joke’s on me: I’m the one getting paid to publish articles on TechCrunch. Image Credits: Screenshot from Fiverr

A search on Fiverr showed dozens of people offering articles on this site. I engaged with a handful of them and paid them. I did this using my full, real name, too, so there was no confusion about who was asking.

Fiverr cleans house

Scammers came out in full force. “I have submitted this to my contact. It will take 16 days to publish, but please release the payment now, and I guarantee it will be published,” one replied. Asking for the funds to be released before the end result is the scam.

“The funds remain under a ‘pending’ status for a 14-day clearing period,” Fiverr explains on its website. “This timeline is for financial processing and buyer satisfaction guarantee.” In other words, when the sellers tell you you have to wait for 16 days, they’re not waiting for their inside contact to hit “publish,” they are waiting for the funds to clear.

“These services should have never made it onto our platform. Thank you for bringing this to our attention, as we’ve been able to update our tools to ensure this doesn’t happen again. We take this very seriously, and the services you mentioned have been removed,” a spokesperson for Fiverr told me. “We do see some of these services make it through our toolset as bad actors are trying to outsmart the system, but the team is proactively tracking and adapting to the techniques used in every possible way. When found, they are immediately taken down, and the seller is blocked. We continue to update our algorithms and automated tools to actively catch, remove and block these services before they reach the marketplace.”

Fiverr did clean up its act; today, three weeks after I spoke with Fiverr’s team, a search for “TechCrunch” gives zero results. That doesn’t mean the problem is solved, however; the scammers just moved on to different targets and are no longer promising articles on TechCrunch.

TechCrunch is no longer the spammer honeypot, but there’s a suspicious number of people still offering these services for other publications. Image Credits: Screenshot from Fiverr

Doubling down

The scammers I spoke with were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to keep their scams alive. Some created fake websites, saying that they had delivered the work. When I pointed out that a link to a site that didn’t have techcrunch.com in the URL wasn’t an article live on TechCrunch, I received some spurious arguments in return. Some sent screenshots of the article “published” on TechCrunch. The Photoshop jobs weren’t good, and of course the article couldn’t be found anywhere on the site. When challenged on that, I was told I didn’t know how to use Google. They got cagy when I suggested they could send me a link.

One of the scammers congratulated me on a successful project, supplying a “screenshot” of the article on TechCrunch. He was not able to provide a link to the article live on the site, which isn’t surprising, because the article is not on the site. Image Credits: Screenshot of the Fiverr messaging tool

One of the Fiverr scammers said his contact was Jagmeet — one of my esteemed colleagues, who would never do anything as dumb as accept money for a link on TechCrunch. I checked with Jagmeet and was informed that, yeah, of course he hadn’t done that. Then I received a message from “Jagmeet” on Telegram:

Will the real Jagmeet please stand up? Image Credits: Screenshot of Telegram

Of course, that was a trick question; I haven’t actually met Jagmeet in person, but the real Jagmeet would know that. This Fiverr scammer (“Kurt Dylan,” if you are reading this – Hi!) was particularly incompetent.

I called “Jagmeet” out on his attempted scam, and then realized that he wasn’t very good at keeping his persona, either. I screenshot the conversation and requested a refund from Fiverr. Which I received, of course. Image Credits: Screenshot of Telegram

When Fiverr finally shut down the account, after Dylan had tried to submit his work half a dozen times, and after I sent the screenshots to Fiverr, I received a final message from my new friend.

Sorry, “Jagmeet.” Image Credits: Screenshot

So who is running these scams?

One of the scammers who was willing to talk to me told me he was a 23-year-old man living in Lagos, Nigeria. He didn’t have a job, and he explained that he and a number of his friends were trying to get people to pay money for these interactions. It became clear, however, that it was simpler than some lone wolf scammer trying to make a quick buck; it transpired that he didn’t actually know that it isn’t possible for someone to publish an article on TechCrunch like this.

He was told by another person what to say and how to run these scams, on a multitude of platforms. I never got a firm confirmation on what was going on, but I got a very distinct impression that this was a form of organized crime. Indeed, he made it clear that when he got paid, he had to pay two-thirds of his earnings to a third party.

This was a theme that recurred from several of the scammers. They told me that they had to pay money to someone, and that I needed to pay them quickly, so as not to get them in trouble. When asked, they were vague about who this “someone” was, but it isn’t unreasonable to assume that a number of these scammers were being run by the same people who were the brains behind the operation.

“We have a Trust and Safety Team who work around the clock to respond promptly to any reports of inappropriate content as well as implement manual searches on the site,” the Fiverr spokesperson said. “Building trust in our platform continues to be a priority for Fiverr.”

Scammers publish ads for hacking services on government websites

Scammers have published various advertisements for hacking services on the official websites of multiple U.S. state, county, and local governments, a federal agency, as well as numerous universities.

The advertisements were contained in PDF files uploaded to official .gov websites belonging to the state governments of California, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Ohio, Washington, and Wyoming; the counties of St. Louis in Minnesota, Franklin County in Ohio, Sussex County in Delaware; the town of Johns Creek in Georgia; and the federal Administration for Community Living.

Scammers also uploaded similar ads on the .edu websites of several universities: UC Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, UC San Diego, University of Virginia, UC San Francisco, University of Colorado Denver, Metropolitan Community College, University of Washington, University of Pennsylvania, University of Texas Southwestern, Jackson State University, Hillsdale College, United Nations University, Lehigh University, Community Colleges of Spokane, Empire State University, Smithsonian Institution, Oregon State University, University of Buckingham in the U.K., and Universidad Del Norte in Colombia.

Apart from .gov and .edu sites, other victims include Spain’s Red Cross; the defense contractor and aerospace manufacturer Rockwell Collins — part of Collins Aerospace and a subsidiary of the defense giant Raytheon; and an Ireland-based tourism company.

The PDFs link to several different websites, some of them advertising services that claim to be able to hack into Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat accounts; services to cheat in video games; and services to create fake followers.

“BEST way to Hack Insta 2021,” one PDF read. “If you are looking to hack Instagram account (either yours which you got locked out from or your friend), InstaHacker is the right place to look for. We, at InstaHacker, provides our users with easy Instagram hack solutions that are safe and completely free from any malicious intentions [sic throughout].”

Some of the documents have dates that suggest they may have been online for years.

These advertisements were found by John Scott-Railton, a senior researcher at the Citizen Lab. It’s unclear if the sites he found — and we have listed — are a complete list of the sites affected by this massive spam campaign. And given how many websites were displaying very similar advertisements, the same group or individual may be behind them all.

“SEO PDF uploads are like opportunistic infections that flourish when your immune system is suppressed. They show up when you have misconfigured services, unpatched CMS [content management system] bugs, and other security problems,” said Scott-Railton.

While this campaign seems to be complex, massive, and at the same time a seemingly harmless SEO play to promote scam services, malicious hackers could have exploited the same flaws to do much more damage, according to Scott-Railton.

“In this case the PDFs they uploaded just had text pointing to a scam service that might also be malicious as far as we know, but they could very well have uploaded PDFs with malicious contents,” he said. “Or malicious links.”

Zee Zaman, a spokesperson for U.S. cybersecurity agency, CISA said that the agency “is aware of apparent compromises to certain government and university websites to host search engine optimization (SEO) spam. We are coordinating with potentially impacted entities and offering assistance as needed.”

TechCrunch inspected some of the websites advertised in the PDFs, and they appear to be part of a convoluted scheme to generate money through click-fraud. The cybercriminals appear to be using open- source tools to create popups to verify that the visitor is a human, but are actually generating money in the background. A review of the websites’ source code suggests the hacking services as advertised are likely fake, despite at least one of the sites displaying the profile pictures and names of alleged victims.

Several victims told TechCrunch that these incidents are not necessarily signs of a breach, but rather the result of scammers exploiting a flaw in online forms or a content management system (CMS) software, which allowed them to upload the PDFs to their sites.

Representatives for three of the victims — the town of Johns Creek in Georgia, the University of Washington, and Community Colleges of Spokane — all said that the issue was with a content management system called Kentico CMS.

It’s not entirely clear how all of the sites were affected. But representatives of two different victims, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and University of Buckingham in the U.K., described techniques that appear to be the same, but without mentioning Kentico.

“It appears an external person took advantage of one of our reporting mechanisms to upload PDFs instead of pictures,” David Perez, a cybersecurity specialist at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife told TechCrunch.

The department has several pages where citizens can report sightings of poaching and injured animals, among other issues. The department’s deputy director of communications Jordan Traverso said that there was a misconfigured form in the page to report sick or dead bats, but the site “was not actually compromised” and the issue was resolved and the department removed the documents.

Roger Perkins, a spokesperson for the University of Buckingham, said that “these pages are not the result of hacking but are old ‘bad pages’ resulting from the use of a form — basically they’re spam and are now in the process of being removed […] there was a public-facing form (no longer in existence) that these people took advantage of.”

Tori Pettis, a spokesperson for the Washington Fire Commissioners Association, one of the affected agencies, told TechCrunch that the files have been removed. Pettis said she was not sure whether the issue was with Kentico, and that “the site hasn’t been hacked, however, there was a vulnerability which was previously allowing new members to upload files into their accounts before the profile was completed.”

Jennifer Chapman, senior communications manager at the town of Johns Creek, said that “we worked with our hosting company to remove the PDFs in question and resolve the issue.”

Ann Mosher, public affairs officer for the Administration for Community Living, said the pages “have been taken down.”

Leslie Sepuka, the associate director of university communications at the University of California San Diego, said that “unauthorized PDFs were uploaded to this site. The files have been removed and changes have been made to prevent further unauthorized access. All users with access to the website have also been asked to reset their passwords.”

Victor Balta, spokesperson for the University of Washington, said “the issue appears to have stemmed from an out-of-date and vulnerable plugin module on the website, which allowed for content to be uploaded into a public space.” The spokesperson added that, “there is no indication of any deeper impact or compromise of access or data within the relative system.”

Balta attributed the issue to Kentico.

Thomas Ingle, director of technology services at Community Colleges of Spokane, said that the problem was a Windows Server running Kentico, and that “we had documents uploaded (in this case the PDF you referenced) that other servers that were hijacked were pointing to.”

Janet Gilmore, a spokesperson for UC Berkeley, said:“There was a vulnerability found on this website,” referring to the site where the hacking ads were posted, and that the issue was rectified “to prevent this from happening again in the future.”

The rest of the named organizations did not respond to TechCrunch’s inquiries. Several calls and emails to Kentico Software went unreturned.

The ultimate damage of this spam campaign is and will end up being minimal, but having the ability to upload content to .gov websites would be concerning, not just for the .gov websites in question, but for the whole U.S. government.

It has already happened. In 2020, Iranian hackers broke into a U.S. city’s website with the apparent goal of altering the vote counts. And elections officials have expressed concern for hackers hacking into election-related websites.

Scammers publish ads for hacking services on government websites by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai originally published on TechCrunch

How to implement a video SEO strategy

We all know that content is king when it comes to SEO. However, winning SEO strategies today demand more than just good textual content.

Good content today also includes video. A video SEO strategy is no longer optional to driving growth — it’s absolutely necessary.

So what’s an SEO strategist to do? How do you nail down a comprehensive strategy that will impress your boss and get results beyond your client’s expectations?

Video drives traffic and leads

Let’s get down to the basics for a second. Digital consumption is growing at an ever faster clip. People have access to more information than they ever did before, which has led to an inundation of content. Because content is plentiful, people don’t take that long to decide whether your content is worthy of their time.

One of the fastest ways to get people to notice your content is through video. In fact, the human brain processes images tens of thousands of times faster than text, and viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it on video compared to 10% when reading it.

Users, and Google, expect more than just a keyword; they want an experience.

What’s more, studies have shown that video consumption is not just for entertainment and amusing pet videos — 84% of people say that they’ve been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video. Not only is it effective as a marketing tool, it also drives traffic and leads — 86% of video marketers say video has increased traffic to their website. The primary source of that additional traffic is, of course, Google search.

Getting a sustained jump in web traffic is every SEO strategist’s dream, and video is no-brainer way to do it. Take a look at what happened when we placed high-quality, relevant videos on a client’s website:

Image Credits: Nuvolum

Why is video good for SEO?

These days, SEO is so much more than matching search queries to keywords on a page. Google aims to deliver content that best satisfies the user’s needs and considers the entire user experience. Google’s search quality evaluator guidelines place importance on the following when determining the quality of a website:

  • The purpose of a page.
  • E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness and trustworthiness).
  • Main content.

Considering these points is essential to creating a good user experience with good content.

How to implement a video SEO strategy

The right video SEO strategy for you will largely be determined by the type of content you currently create for your user base. It’s worth taking the time to perform a content audit and determine the type of content you have. This can be the basis for your video content strategy.

This is also a great way to identify where you might have any gaps in your current strategy. Video can help fill that gap as well.

Watch out: A common mistake when implementing video SEO is creating a video that isn’t in line with your strategy at all. Instead, the video becomes something you do simply because you think you should. Whatever your growth goals, ensure the video(s) you create are a part of the greater strategy.

Different types of videos include:

How to implement a video SEO strategy by Ram Iyer originally published on TechCrunch

To boost early-stage growth, adopt a jobs-to-be-done approach to marketing

The jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approach provides a framework for defining, categorizing, capturing and organizing all your customers’ needs.

It teaches us to think about users’ needs and develop a product to meet those needs. The framework also lets us communicate with the user through the lens of the tasks they seek to do, and stay focused on developing features that align with what they need.

Here are three ways an early-stage startup can use the JTBD framework for marketing:

  • Get initial organic traffic for the website.
  • Increase conversion of information pages.
  • Increase product virality.

How to employ JTBD at an early-stage SAAS

The startup I’m building aims to develop an ecosystem of apps for sales and accounting automation, each of which can solve a specific problem. These apps are integrated under the hood to enable customers to use other apps for related tasks.

For example, when a customer uses our invoice maker app, we’ll automatically extract the income and account receivables information into our personal finance app, should they opt-in. And if in the user needs to track mileage in the future, they can just download our Mileage Tracker app, and all their information will already be in there.

We employ the same approach to our marketing.

Optimize your website with JTBD keywords for SEO

To get traffic with a small budget, you should first analyze what your prospective users need to do, discover how they search for ways to do these tasks, and use those keywords on your website.

For example, instead of fighting for the “best invoice maker” keyword on SEO for our invoice maker app, we could use more direct search terms like “printable blank invoice” or “medical records invoice template.”

Applying the JTBD framework for search queries, we hypothesized that many people want to find an invoice template for specific services, such as plumbing or medical records. These search terms are all very similar, but this is how people look for solutions.

So we created simple landing pages with templates of invoices for different industries and tasks. We have hundreds of these templates now, and they generate 80% of our new incoming traffic.

After doing this for six months, we saw:

  • 300,000 website views via search per month.
  • 25% conversion of inbound traffic into views of our templates.
  • Landing pages made with the JTBD framework converted more than 15% visitors to registration.

The traffic from search engines to our templates is growing much faster than from our blogs, since the template pages have excellent characteristics in terms of view time and interactions on page.

Scammers snatch up expired domains, vexing Google

The web is a living thing — ever-evolving, ever-changing. This goes beyond just the content on websites; whole domains can expire and be taken over, allowing corners of the internet to become a little like your hometown: Wait, wasn’t there a Dairy Queen here?

For example, if TechCrunch forgets to pay its domain registrar, TechCrunch.com would eventually expire (on June 10, to be exact). At that point, some enterprising human could snap up the domain and do nefarious things with it. Now, if TechCrunch.com was suddenly red instead of green and sold penis enhancement pills instead of dicking around with great news and awful puns in equal measure, you’d probably figure out that something is up. But black-hat SEO tricksters are subtler than that.

When they seize a domain, they’ll often point the web domain to a new IP address, resurrect the site, and restore it to as close as it can to the original, and leave it for a while. When the IP address changes, SEO experts claim that Google temporarily “punishes” the domain by dropping it in the rankings.

This is called “sandboxing,” or “the sandbox period,” and during this time, Google puts the domain on notice. Once Google determines — sometimes erroneously —  that the IP address change underneath the domain was just part of a move from one web host to another, the theory is that the domain will start climbing in the rankings again. That’s when the new owner of the domain can start their sneaky business: Updating links to send traffic to new places for example, or keeping the traffic as it is and adding affiliate links to make money off its visitors. At the far end of the scamming spectrum, they can use the good name and reputation of the original business to scam or trick users.

Since the invention of PageRank in 1996, Google has been relying in part on the transferability of trust to determine what makes a good website. A site that is linked to by a lot of high-trust websites can, generally, be trusted. Links from that page can, in turn, be used as a measure of trust as well. Massively simplified, it boils down to this: The more links from high-quality sites a page has, the more it is trusted, and the better it ranks in the search engines.

You don’t have to dig deep to find examples of domains that, at first glance, look legitimate, but that have been sneakily shifted to another purpose.

While bad actors can take advantage of this fact, it’s also just something that happens on the internet — sites move from one host to another all the time for perfectly legitimate reasons. As Google’s Search Liaison, Danny Sullivan, pointed out when I talked to him about expired domains last week, TechCrunch itself has had a few changes of owners over the years, from AOL, to Oath, to Verizon Media, to Yahoo, which itself was bought by Apollo Global Management last year. Every time that that happens, there’s a chance that the new corporate overlords want to move stuff to new servers or new technology, which means that the IP addresses will change.

“If you were to purchase a site — even TechCrunch; I think it was AOL who bought you guys — the domain registry would have changed, but the site itself didn’t change the nature of what it was doing, the content that it was presenting, or the way that it was operating. [Google] can understand if domain names change ownership,” Sullivan said, pointing out that it’s also possible for the content to change without the underlying architecture or network topography shifting. “The site could rebrand, but just because it rebranded itself doesn’t mean that the basic functions of what it was doing had changed.”

The buying and selling of expired domains

You don’t have to look far to find places to buy expired domains. Serp.Domains, Odys, Spamzilla, and Juice Market are some of the most active in the business. (As a side note, I stuck a rel="nofollow" on all three of those links in the HTML of this article. They ain’t getting TechCrunch’s sweet, sweet link juice on my watch; as Google notes in its developer documentation; “Use the nofollow value when … you’d rather Google not associate your site with … the linked page.”)

A screenshot from Serp Domains, which lists around a hundred sites for sale, noting that “aged expired domains are not affected by the sandbox effect.” The company lists prices from $350 to $5,500, with original registration years ranging from 1998 to 2018.

“Get expired domains that have naturally gained (almost impossible to get) authoritative backlinks since they were actual businesses,” Odys advertises on its site, adding that they “are aged and out of the sandbox period by a mile, [and] already have organic, referral & direct, type-in traffic.”

These domains are listed for sale for anything from a few hundred bucks to thousands of dollars. Seeing the sites disappear from the “for sale” list and then pop up on the internet shows that some of these domains end up ethically dubious at best and scams at worst.

It’s pretty easy to determine why so-called “black hat SEO” folks are willing to go through all the trouble: Building a domain from scratch, filling it with high-quality content, waiting for people to link to it, and doing everything by the book takes for-flippin’-ever. Finding a shortcut that shaves months, if not years, off the process and adds the ability to make a quick buck? There will always be people who are willing to go for that sort of thing.

“Google has named inbound links as one of their top three ranking factors,” explained Patrick Stox, a product adviser at Ahrefs. “Content is going to be the most important, but your relevant links will provide a strength metric for them.”

What the spammers are doing

The spammers buy a domain that was recently expired and use a search engine optimization (SEO) tool like Ahrefs to gauge how valuable the site is; it checks how many links are going to the site and how valuable those links are. A link from TechCrunch or the BBC or WhiteHouse.gov would be highly valuable, for example. A link from a random blog post on Medium.com is probably less so.

Once they’ve found and bought a domain, they’ll use something like the WayBack Machine to copy an old version of the site, stick it on a server somewhere, and — voila! — the site is back. Obviously, that’s both trademark and copyright infringement, but if you’re in the market of spamming or scamming, that’s probably the least of your crimes against human decency, never mind the letter of the law.

Over time — sometimes weeks, sometimes months — Google un-sandboxes the domain and is effectively tricked into accepting the domain as the original. Traffic will start picking up, and black-hat SEO wizards are ready for the next phase of their plan: selling stuff or tricking people. There are whole guides for what to do next in order to use these domains, including checking whether there are trademarks registered and redirecting either the full domain or specific pages on the domain using a so-called 301 redirect (“moved permanently”).

“When a site drops off the internet [Google is] just going to drop all the signals from the links. That typically happens anyway when a page expires. Where it’s more complicated is going to be whether any of those signals will come back for a new owner. I don’t think [Google has] ever really answered this in a very clear way,” Stox explained. “But if the same site with the same type of content — or very similar content — comes back, it is more than likely the links are going to start counting again. If you were a site about technology and now suddenly you’re a food blog, all of the previous stuff will likely be ignored.”

As with all things in SEO, however, not everything is cut and dried; it turns out that negative signals continue on expired domains, so it stands to reason that positive signals do, too.

“It’s interesting because sometimes penalties will still carry over, regardless of the content of the new site,” Stox said. “So certain things may still factor in. There’s a giant list of Google penalties — such as backlink spam, content spam, paid links, etc. They can carry on to the new site, and sometimes people will buy … an expired domain and put a new site up. Nothing is ranking, and on closer inspection, they’ll find a penalty set in inside Google Search Console.”

Sullivan reassured us that the search engine giant knows what’s going on and that it has a handle on things.

“It’s not just fair to say that all purchased sites are spam and that they, therefore, should be treated as spam,” said Sullivan, pointing out that the company’s robust spam filters are there to protect searchers. “When actual spam happens, we have a whole ton of spam-fighting systems we have in place. There are millions and millions, if not hundreds of millions of [pages and sites] that we’re constantly keeping out of the top search results. One metaphor I like to use for people to understand just how much work we do on spam is this: If you go into your email spam folder, you go, ‘Wow, I didn’t see all these emails.’ That is stuff that existed but didn’t show up because your system said, ‘No, this isn’t really relevant for you. This is spam.’ That’s what’s happening on search all the time. If we didn’t have robust spam filters in place, our search results would look like what you see in your spam folder. There’s so much spam and our systems are in place to catch it.”

There’s no doubt that Google does a lot to defend us from spam, and yet there’s a thriving industry for high-value expired domains that are available, whether for honest attempts at corner-cutting or more nefarious deeds.

A thriving industry

You don’t have to dig very deep to find examples of domains that, at first glance, look legitimate, but that have been sneakily shifted to another purpose. Here are a few I came across.

One example is the Paid Leave Project, which used to live on paidleaveproject.org, but moved its site to USpaidleave.org at some point. Unfortunately, someone at the org didn’t renew and/or redirect the old domain, and the site that used to work hard to ensure that workers in the U.S. can get paid family leave is now, well … helping families grow in different ways:

A screenshot of paidleaveproject.org, which now appears to be some sort of affiliate site for erectile dysfunction pills.

Another tragic story is Genome Mag, which ran from 2013 to 2016, expired, and then came back online as a different magazine that the original owner doesn’t have control over.

Experts Weekly: Recruiting recruiters, crypto marketing, earned media 101

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Growth marketing

(TechCrunch+) Create a social media punch list for cryptocurrency marketing: Facebook began allowing crypto companies to advertise on its platform last December, but marketers should be aware of the limitations. Reporter John Biggs walks readers through the basics and shares a social media punch list.

(TechCrunch+) Transform your startup investors into growth marketers without them noticing: Miles Jennings, founder and COO of Recruiter.com, share tips on how founders can subtly encourage investors to become more effective advocates. For example: if you’re trying to hire an important role, ask one of your backers if they can share your job posting with their network.

(TechCrunch+) How to grow your organic traffic with earned media: Amanda Milligan, head of marketing at Stacker Studio, dives into an analysis of the short-term impact of earned media, then shares tips for pitch timing, promoting content and incorporating internal linking.

Software consulting

How to grow your organic traffic with earned media

Earned media carries a ton of value, but not everyone understands how to measure its impact or grasp its full effect on your organic growth.

While it immediately provides increased brand awareness, earned media can also be an excellent vehicle for building brand authority as well as dramatically improving your off-page SEO.

Here at Stacker Studio, we’ve seen it work wonders with our brand partners, for whom we create newsworthy articles and syndicate them to our newswire.

To determine the short-term impact of earned media, we conducted an analysis of organic performance of 11 new brand partners across the first 90 days of their partnerships with us.

Here’s what we found:

Ahrefs metric: Average growth: Median growth:
Domain Rating +5 +2
Referring domains +4,099 +184
Pos. 1-3 ranking keywords +411 +77
Organic clicks per month +8,622 +600

Domain ratings rose by 5 points over 90 days

Domain ratings rose by 5 points over 90 days. Image Credits: Stacker Studio

Referring domains rose by over 4,000

Referring domains rose by over 4,000. Image Credits: Stacker Studio

Growth for ranking keywords rose to 400 keywords

Growth for ranking keywords rose to 400 keywords. Image Credits: Stacker Studio

Organic clicks rose by over 8,600 in 90 days

Organic clicks rose by over 8,600 in 90 days. Image Credits: Stacker Studio

I’m going to explain the entire process we used with examples so you can utilize similar strategies for your own content, SEO and digital PR efforts.

Tips for creating newsworthy content

Our goal is to create articles the publishers in our newswire want to run because they’re confident it’ll help them gain visits, clicks, subscriptions and more. We get a lot of feedback from our publisher partners that has informed our content strategy.


Here are a few of the insights we’ve gained after publishing more than 10,000 stories over the last four years.

Events and news pegs continue to drive high interest from our partners. For example, one of the largest local TV groups in the country has regularly published entertainment and lifestyles content tied to holidays, e.g. “Best Christmas movies of all time, according to critics,” and “50 cute baby names with holiday meanings.”

10 growth marketing experts share their 2022 predictions and New Year’s resolutions

This is a quiet period for marketing: End-of-year campaigns are already underway, teams are on holiday vacations and there’s little to do until after the new year.

Setting aside the holiday spirit, this has been a difficult year for growth professionals. Most are still adapting to pandemic-driven changes to consumer habits, but Apple’s new privacy options and the impending death of the browser cookie are making it more difficult to reach the right consumers. Growth marketers have a wide variety of tools available, but which ones do the pros use?

We reached out to 10 growth marketing experts to find how they were preparing for 2022 and to ask they had any New Year’s resolutions to share.

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The answers and advice we received were as varied as the people we polled, but nearly all of them indicated that learning — e.g. analytics training, getting started with AI tools, etc. — was high on their to-do list. “Google Analytics 4 is the new default in 2022 and beyond, so get ready to relearn how to configure your analytics reporting in a way that makes sense for your organization,” said Richard Meyer of Tuff.

Kate Adams, SVP of marketing at Validity, said it’s important to keep honing one’s skills, but growth marketers shouldn’t feel compelled to become experts at everything: “Overall, there’s more value in being able to articulate what your problems are and develop strategies to fix them than to be a technology savant gobbling up whatever solution you can get your hands on.”

Our questions also addressed the future of influencer marketing, which automation tools they’re working with and recommending to clients and whether they’re continuing to invest in short-form videos.

Here’s the full list of who we spoke to:

Jonathan Martinez, founder, JMStrategy

What are your 2022 growth marketing resolutions?

In 2022, the companies that come out on top will be those that unlock iOS 14 and leverage influencers. My goal is to continue testing everything on iOS 14, such as optimal account structures, bidding, flows and more. I’m really interested to see how channels/MMPs/etc. evolve and what types of measurement betas they all roll out.

Equally as important to me is to continue leveraging the power of influencers. I think we’re still less than 10% of the way there on how impactful influencers will be in the next decade. Utilizing TikTok’s creator marketplace, platforms such as Billo for UGC content, etc., are all tactics that I’ll be employing.

There was a lot of discussion about influencer marketing in 2021, but is it a fad or a requirement? If it is a must, what types of companies need to invest in this area?

While influencer marketing may have been discussed in magnitudes over the last year, I believe we’re still at the infancy of this tactic. We’ll see channels start to create influencer marketplaces (akin to TikTok’s creator marketplace), which will remove barriers to working with influencers. The pandemic has accelerated people watching even more content from influencers on various channels. These same people are becoming more responsive to ads from a personal voice and increasingly numb to typical brand ads.

Where does AI marketing fall on your list of priorities for 2022? Should marketing teams be leaning into this, or is it industry/customer-specific?

As growth marketers, we should always be on the hunt for tools that’ll either help solve monotonous tasks or increase our analysis throughput. The creative AI space is something I’m keeping a close eye on because I think this is where there’s huge room for advancement. As targeting and bidding become increasingly channel automated, creative is an area that I believe still needs the human touch. If AI platforms can help speed learnings and provide useful insights on creative launches, it’ll be immensely helpful.

Which marketing automation tools do you think are poised to take off in 2022? Should growth marketers plan to become more technical in the coming year?

Growth marketing has always been a nice blend of analytics + creativity, with distribution being dependent on the stage of the company. As data becomes less clear with industrywide privacy changes, growth marketers are being forced to be more analytical and technical than ever. Running incrementality tests, applying scalars to channels and validating data across tools will be paramount in 2022 to understanding growth efforts.

Kate Adams, SVP of marketing, Validity

What are your 2022 growth marketing resolutions?

In 2022 marketers can expect to see a resurgence of product-led growth models, which have historically centered on creating free products that are appealing, easy to use and accessible. For so long, we’ve held this notion that growth models have to incorporate a trial period to succeed with consumers. What if that wasn’t the case? With the convergence of product-led growth strategies and the elimination of friction, it doesn’t have to be.

This year, marketers should resolve to embrace this resurgence, but in a modern, differentiated way. Let’s rethink how we approach growth models; maybe we don’t have to include a trial or free version of our products — especially when not every company is able to sustain the investment and resources required for trial products.

Another resolution is to not let yourselves fall in the trap of believing that everything is back to normal — COVID is still disrupting in-person events as well as entire industries and will continue to do so. So as marketers we have to resolve to pivot early and often to ensure our larger campaigns and investments are able to succeed regardless of the status of the pandemic.

There was a lot of discussion about influencer marketing in 2021, but is it a fad or a requirement? If it is a must, what types of companies need to invest in this area?

Influencers have their time and place — we all saw the “Just Like That” Peloton ad and that was cool and will stay with us for a week, maybe a month. But the reality is that no matter how much you pay or what influencer your brand snags, these are passing moments in time.

As a B2B marketer, I’m much more interested in making customers part of a community and giving them a platform to share their success stories of which we play a part. Instead of going for one person with 10 million followers via a flashy influencer program, why not invite 1,000 people with 10,000 followers to talk about your product? Not every industry has a Kim Kardashian for the moment, and even if they do, it’s not a sustainable model. It’s much more impactful, especially in the B2B world, to have a steady, ongoing drumbeat of customers telling their stories about your brand than investing heavily in one mega influencer.

Have short-form videos (2:30 or less) peaked, or should marketers keep using this tool in 2022?

Video definitely hasn’t peaked — and I don’t believe it will any time soon. There is an entire generation of individuals who essentially grew up on YouTube and TikTok. They know how to get to what they want (information included) faster. These are all the same people that are joining the workforce and suddenly becoming B2B buyers and, if you want to be successful, you have to communicate with them in the way they’re most familiar with. Short-form video content is one big way to do that.

There’s so much more room for video. In our industry, webinars still reign supreme but stopping there is antiquated thinking. Marketing teams should be challenging themselves to come up with ways to address the webinar fatigue happening in really technical industries. For example, taking long-form content (like webinars) and cutting them up into smaller, more readily consumable snippets is a quick and easy way to ensure these learnings live on and reach a broader audience.

Where does AI marketing fall on your list of priorities for 2022? Should marketing teams be leaning into this, or is it industry/customer-specific?

AI is some of the most exciting technology I’ve seen in a really long time. The fact that AI can achieve any number of tasks — whether it’s improving user experience or actually having a conversation with somebody — is truly incredible. But, I think of these things as pendulums. Consumers may experience AI and think, “I just want to talk to a person.” While using AI to mitigate issues with user experience and have it dealt with automatically is an ideal solution, there are instances when you actually need to enable a human being and have a human conversation.

AI is like a house; without the appropriate technology and engineering infrastructure at the foundation, that house is going to crumble. AI is only as good as what you put into it. The minute you try to train your machine based on bad data, it will find faulty trends or just not work at all. Right now too many people are running toward AI as the solution for all their problems without solving for the data decay already taking place in their organization.

Similarly, is the personalization trend overhyped? Which specific tools and platforms do you recommend for non-technical marketers who want to get up to speed?

Too many marketers today are enacting tokenization and claiming that as personalization. They’ll put your name and your company name in their materials and think, “I put these tokens in, and therefore I delivered you a personalized experience.” That’s missing the forest for the trees. From a technology perspective, it’s about the website experiences. We need to deliver a personalized experience based on who you are, how many times you’ve been here and what we know about you.

In terms of tools, I think there’s a ton of folks out there doing really interesting stuff right now — for everything from content personalization to web personalization. The important piece here is the ability to test and understand the impact of your personalization efforts on customers. A lot of ESPs and companies like Adobe are doing an incredible job building out tools to enable marketers to really hone in on the customer journey and demonstrate what the next best action is for each customer. I’m incredibly biased but I also think our solutions Everest and Demandtools can go a long way in providing today’s marketers with the ability to take their campaigns to the next level in terms of personalization and accuracy.

Which marketing automation tools do you think are poised to take off in 2022? Should growth marketers plan to become more technical in the coming year?

Marketing is incredibly difficult; more so than ever before. And there are also more solutions (8,000+ in fact) that claim to be the silver bullet to fix any marketing woes. But those are just claims as often no one solution is the end-all-be-all. While you definitely have to be savvy in technology (and the implementation of that technology) to be a successful marketer, there are many considerations in a marketer’s skillset outside of this technical piece.

For instance, there’s a marketing technologist, a marketing strategist, the marketing execution piece — in today’s market, you have to be all three of those to be a really strong marketer. Mastering all of these skills is difficult for one person, especially because it’s using both sides of the brain. Understanding the analytical aspects of a marketing program, but also how to write the copy that captures people’s attention and portrays the message you want to say is tricky. Overall, there’s more value in being able to articulate what your problems are and develop strategies to fix them, than to be a technology savant gobbling up whatever solution you can get your hands on.

Richard Meyer, growth marketer, Tuff

What are your 2022 growth marketing resolutions?

In 2022, I want to commit to:

  • Taking additional training courses on the new Google Analytics tool, Google Analytics 4.
  • Developing additional attribution reporting cadences that rely on first-touch attribution, instead of Google Analytic’s default “last-click” attribution.
  • Developing additional demand-generating strategies (instead of demand-capturing strategies) for niche-product and service markets, such as fintech, B2B SaaS, etc.

There was a lot of discussion about influencer marketing in 2021, but is it a fad or a requirement? If it is a must, what types of companies need to invest in this area?

Demand Curve: How Ahrefs’ homepage educates prospects to purchase

If you want your homepage to convert, it’s crucial to ensure that there is minimal confusion and friction for the user.

Conversion can be thought of as a formula: Conversion = Desire – Labor – Confusion. Keep this formula in mind when building your website. Your goal is to increase desire while decreasing labor (friction) and confusion. People have short attention spans, so if your homepage is confusing, they’re going to leave.

This post is going to tear down the homepage of Ahrefs, an all-in-one search engine optimization platform that allows marketers to perform competitive analysis, audit their site’s search traffic and find keywords that will allow them to rank better on search engines.

This teardown covers all the key sections of a landing page so that you can apply their conversion tactics and copywriting strategies to your startup’s homepage.

Capture attention with an objection handler

The first section of your website that a visitor will see is your above-the-fold (ATF) section. This section is important, because this is your chance to make a good first impression on visitors when they visit your website. If your ATF section is confusing or uninteresting, you risk the visitors leaving and reading nothing else.

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Ahrefs’ ATF section has four pieces that we’ll dive into individually: the header, call to action, social proof and a subhead.

Ahrefs' above the fold section has four pieces: header, call-to-action, social proof and a sub-header.

Image Credits: Demand Curve

A header that tackles the most common objection

Your header must hook readers with your most compelling feature framed as a bold claim. When you handle your target audience’s biggest objection, it can serve as the bold claim that gets visitors to continue reading.

Ahrefs uses a common header template: Get [benefit] without [problem]. In this case, it’s flipped: With [product] you won’t have [problem] in order to get [benefit].

Ahrefs knows a lot of businesses need SEO but don’t have the time or resources to build expertise. So, Ahrefs tells their visitors you don’t have to be an SEO professional to use its product.

The underlying benefit here is that users will get more search traffic and rank higher on the web while not needing SEO expertise to do so.

Ahrefs tells their visitors you don't have to be an SEO pro to use their product.

Image Credits: Demand Curve

Make your call to action stand out

Calls to action (CTAs) are the only way to move visitors down the relationship funnel. It’s nearly impossible to get someone to sign up without encouraging them to do so. Visitors instinctively don’t want to sign up.