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This article was published as a part of the Data Science Blogathon.

Introduction on Autoencoders

An autoencoder is a neural network model that learns to encode data and regenerate the data back from the encodings. The input data usually has a lot of dimensions and there is a necessity to perform dimensionality reduction and retain only the necessary information. An autoencoder contains two parts – encoder and decoder. As the name suggests, the encoder performs encoding (dimensionality reduction) and the decoder tries to regenerate the original input data from the encodings. Dimensionality reduction, image compression, image denoising, image regeneration, and feature extraction are some of the tasks autoencoders can handle. An extension of autoencoder known as variational autoencoder can be used to generate potentially a new image dataset from an available set of images.

We will learn the architecture and working of an autoencoder by building and training a simple autoencoder using the classical MNIST dataset in this article. Let’s get started.

Overview of the Dataset

The classical MNIST dataset contains images of handwritten digits. It consists of 60,000 training and 10,000 testing images in the dataset. Each image in the dataset is square and has (28×28) 784 pixels in total. The MNIST dataset is so popular that it comes bundled directly with many python packages like TensorFlow and sklearn. We will be directly importing the dataset from TensorFlow in this project.

Importing Modules

We will be using TensorFlow and Keras for building and training the autoencoder.

import tensorflow as tf from keras import backend as K import keras import numpy as np from tensorflow.keras import layers from tensorflow.keras.models import Sequential import matplotlib.pyplot as plt Loading and Preprocessing the Dataset

The MNIST dataset can be directly accessed and loaded from TensorFlow. Essentially, the class labels for the images are not used for training the autoencoder and could be safely dropped but I will be using them to label the plots for better understanding. We will normalize the images to reduce the computational complexity of training the autoencoder. The 1 present in the output after reshaping refers to the number of channels present in the image. As we are dealing with grayscale images, the number of channels will be 1.

((60000, 28, 28, 1), (10000, 28, 28, 1)) Building the Autoencoder

As mentioned earlier, the autoencoder is made up of two parts – encoder and decoder. The architecture of the encoder and decoder are mirror images of one another. For example, the encoder has max-pooling layers to reduce the dimension of the features while the decoder has upsampling layers that increase the number of features. We will build and train the autoencoder and later extract the encoder and decoder from the layers of the trained autoencoder. We will be using the functional API for building the autoencoder. The functional API provides better control to the user for building the autoencoder. The encoder part of the autoencoder will have three Convolution – Rectified Linear Unit – MaxPooling layers. The input for the encoder will be the 28×28 grayscale image and the output will be the 4x4x8 (or 128) feature encoding. The encoder will reduce the number of features from 784 to 128. So, essentially each image consisting of 784 features will be represented efficiently using just 128 features. The encoder can be used separately as a dimensionality reducer replacing methods like PCA, BFE, and FFS to extract only the important features. As mentioned earlier, the decoder’s architecture will be the mirror image of the encoder’s architecture. So, the decoder part will have three Convolution – Rectified Linear Unit – Upsampling layers. As the pooling layers perform dimensionality reduction in the encoder, upsampling layers will increase the number of features and hence are used in the decoder. The upsampling layer does not interpolate new data but simply repeats the rows and columns thereby increasing the dimension for the regeneration process. You can learn more about upsampling layer used in this article here. The decoder will try to reproduce the input image from the 128-feature encoding. The input for the decoder will be the 4x4x8 (or 128) feature encodings produced by the encoder and the output of the decoder will be the 28×28 grayscale image. The difference between the regenerated image by the decoder and the original input image will be the loss which will be backpropagated to train the autoencoder.

This is the overall architecture of the autoencoder.

Architecture of the autoencoder

Training the Autoencoder

As mentioned earlier, both the input and the output will be the same for autoencoders. So, the images will be the input and output for training the autoencoder.

Epoch 1/100 469/469 [==============================] - 33s 67ms/step - loss: 0.1892 - val_loss: 0.1296 Epoch 2/100 469/469 [==============================] - 30s 65ms/step - loss: 0.1214 - val_loss: 0.1136 Epoch 3/100 469/469 [==============================] - 30s 63ms/step - loss: 0.1112 - val_loss: 0.1070 ... ... Epoch 99/100 469/469 [==============================] - 30s 64ms/step - loss: 0.0808 - val_loss: 0.0798 Epoch 100/100 469/469 [==============================] - 31s 65ms/step - loss: 0.0808 - val_loss: 0.0798 Extracting Encoder and Decoder

The first 7 layers represent the encoder while the remaining layers represent the decoder. We can extract the respective layers from the trained autoencoder and build the encoder and decoder.

encoder = Sequential() decoder = Sequential() for layer in autoencoder.layers[:8]: encoder.add(layer) for layer in autoencoder.layers[8:]: decoder.add(layer) Testing the Autoencoder

These are the first ten samples from the training set.

plt.figure(figsize=(10,5)) n = 10 for i in range(n): plt.subplot(2,5,i+1) plt.xticks([]) plt.yticks([]) plt.grid(False) plt.imshow(x_train[i], cmap='gray') plt.xlabel(y_train[i])

samples input images

To understand how the encoder and decoder work, we will use them separately to encode and then decode the samples. We will first encode the sample input images into 128-feature encodings using the encoder. Then, we will use the decoder to regenerate the input images from the 128-feature encodings created by the encoder.

encoded_sample = encoder.predict(x_train[0:10]) # encoding encoded_sample.shape (10, 4, 4, 8) decoded_sample = decoder.predict(encoded_sample) # decoding decoded_sample.shape (10, 28, 28, 1)

These are the generated images by the decoder using the 128-feature encodings from the encoder.

plt.figure(figsize=(10,5)) n = 10 for i in range(n): plt.subplot(2,5,i+1) plt.xticks([]) plt.yticks([]) plt.grid(False) plt.imshow(decoded_sample[i], cmap='gray') plt.xlabel(y_train[i])

decoder generated images

We can see that the autoencoder is able to regenerate images accurately. Now, let us try to generate a new set of images. Essentially, variational autoencoders need to be used for this purpose. Autoencoders can be used for generating new images but the drawback is that they might produce a lot of noise if the encodings are too different and non-overlapping.

For generating a new set of images, we need to interpolate new encodings and use them to generate new images using the decoder. We will use the first two pictures shown in the sample input images and see how the digit 5 can be changed to digit 0.

starting, ending = encoder.predict(x_train[0:2]) # interpolating new encodings values = np.linspace(starting, ending, 10) generated_images = decoder.predict(values) # generate new images plt.figure(figsize=(10,5)) n = 10 for i in range(n): plt.subplot(2,5,i+1) plt.xticks([]) plt.yticks([]) plt.grid(False) plt.imshow(generated_images[i], cmap='gray')

We can see how a new set of images are being generated by the encodings that we interpolated.


In this article, we discussed the following.


MNIST dataset

Building an autoencoder

Training an autoencoder

Extracting the encoder and decoder from a trained autoencoder

Encoding images using the encoder

Regenerating images from encodings using the decoder

Creating new images by interpolating new encodings

For generating new images by interpolating new encodings, we can use variational autoencoders. Variational autoencoders use the KL-divergence loss function which ensures that the encodings overlap and hence the process of generating new images is much smoother, noise-free, and of better quality. This is the reason why variational autoencoders perform better than vanilla autoencoders for generating new images. I will try to cover variational autoencoders in another article. That’s it for this article.

Thanks for reading and happy learning!

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Transform Link Building Into Brand Building For 2013

One question is on just about every SEO’s mind as we confront the New Year: “What strategy will protect me from updates in the future?” Finding the right balance between sustainability and immediate impact is hard work. How do we move forward?

It’s our opinion that we need to start shifting gears in this industry. Links are important, crucial even, but sustainability means brand comes first. Some will argue that branding is impossible for small businesses, and others will claim that we’re stepping outside the bounds of SEO.

That doesn’t concern us.

We’re concerned with results for our clients, and labels have never done much of anything when it comes to making that happen. Here’s our strategy for broadening link building into brand building in order to maximize results.

1. Put the Focus on Brand Recognition

When we build links, there’s one criteria we want to meet with every single one of them. We want to get people saying, “Oh yeah, I remember those guys.” And that means:

We focus on channels with traffic

We get our content on all the most popular channels in our niche

We use our brand name frequently enough that it sinks in

When possible, we choose a brand name that’s unique and easy to remember, rather than descriptive or keyword-centric

We send a consistent message with our content, our design, our logo, our bios, our material, and so on

We make enough of an impact that people will want to hear from us again

2. Use Press Releases for Exposure

As you may have already heard, Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s web spam team, recently said that links from press releases won’t help you get exposure in the search engines. Some are calling nonsense on this, while others are saying that press releases are now officially obsolete.

We’ve always felt that press releases had little or no value as a direct source of links, but we still feel that they can be very valuable when handled correctly. A press release can get your brand and certain pieces of content in front of a large audience.

3. Comment Marketing for Familiarity

4. Forum Marketing 5. Q&A Sites

The same goes for these. We’re especially big fans of Quora, since the questions never close up and it’s much more permissible to mention you or your client’s site. But don’t just seek out questions that your blog posts can answer directly. Get involved and offer answers as helpful as blog posts in and of themselves.

Of course you want to drop a link, but not for the search engines. Q&A sites only offer no-followed links, so there’s no direct search impact. Instead, use it to build exposure and get the name out. And, once again, be sure to use your brand name to build familiarity. Answers on Q&A sites often show up prominently in the search results, because of their domain authority. This makes them an excellent source of traffic which can lead to social sharing, occasional links, and eventually search engine benefits.

6. Guest Blogging for Traffic

There is a tendency to rely excessively on guest posts, which is one reason we recently shared 7 alternative link building methods here on Search Engine Journal, but when done properly, guest posts can still be incredible sources of traffic, brand awareness, and search engine authority.

The key is to focus on high-impact blogs, the real noise-makers in the industry that anybody who’s in the know has heard of. No, not every single guest post needs to go to a blog like this, but we recommend that a large portion of them do.

Don’t get upset about rejection. More than anything else, the key is to just keep trying and improving your content. Pour just as much into your guest posts as you would for a post on your own site, if not more.

7. Infographics as Proof of Authority

We all know infographics are a great way to build links, but they are a tremendous branding opportunity as well. A really solid infographic gets shared across the web and expands your reach. It helps you reach audiences that don’t read too often, and they are very friendly to social networks. They drive a great deal of traffic when executed properly. You can take our infographic about Google’s updates in 2012 as an example.

Perhaps most importantly, they give your brand an air of legitimacy and professionalism that makes you more noteworthy in the eyes of potential consumers, as well as online influencers like power tweeters and bloggers. Infographics prove that you have resources because not anybody put one together that looks right.

8. Content Marketing With a Unique Selling Proposition

But, as we mentioned over at ProBlogger, original content isn’t the same thing as “not plagiarized” content. We discussed a few “brain hacks” you can use to boost your creativity when it comes to post ideas, and we recommend you use them.

The key here is to treat each piece of content as though it were a product, and to seek out its “unique selling proposition,” so to speak. It’s not necessarily that your content can’t be a little redundant or copy other sources (ideally with citation). Instead, it’s that your content ought to meet a set of needs that isn’t met by any other prominent piece of content on the web.

9. The Rise of Co-Citation

Rand predicts that co-citation is replacing anchor text, and we have several internal reasons to believe he’s onto something. For those who haven’t heard yet, co-citation occurs when a brand tends to be mentioned on the same pages and in close proximity to keywords.

Google also has similar tools, like Google Correlate, which can spot statistical relationships between keywords, and of course Google also has access to search queries, which will often combine keywords with brands.

All of this is going to make branding especially important this year. If you can get people talking about your brand, it’s going to have a positive effect on your rankings, even in the absence of links.

10. Leveraging Past Success

This is one of the biggest reasons we’re recommending a shift toward brand building this year. When you focus on big, bold, branded marketing efforts, you can keep leveraging the results.

If a big expensive infographic flops, you can still point to it in your future outreach as an example of the quality of work you do. If a guest post at The New York Times doesn’t drive too much traffic or make as strong an impact on rankings as you expected, you can still say you were featured in The New York times and leverage this as social proof.

If your efforts aren’t branded, you can never leverage them for future success. You can’t brag to your customers that you spun thousands of artic les or use low quality guest posts as an example of the kind of work you can put together during future outreach.

In Conclusion

There’s no question that Google favors brands in the search results, sometimes to a fault, and that it generally has commercial incentives to keep things that way. We also believe that marketing efforts are typically unjustifiable if brand building isn’t a part of the effort. Marketing without branding is always short term, whether it’s spam or keyword-centric PPC.

How To Start Building A Base In Minecraft (With Pictures)

Don’t be limited. Not all bases are built the same, and will depend on the preference of the player. As long as it’s reasonably secure, you can make any kind of base you want, ranging from simple to completely wacky. These are some common types of base, aside from the usual houses and huts. Of course, you can make your own variation with your own preferences, but these are just to give you an idea where to start.

If you encounter some harder rock blocks, you’ll need to get a pickaxe. Pickaxes can be made on a crafting table with two Sticks and 3 blocks of Wood Planks, Cobblestone, Iron Ingots, Gold Ingots or Diamond.

When making a treehouse, don’t take away all the Wood in the tree! Make sure to leave some Wood sticking to your Leaf blocks. If you take out all the wood, it will cause the leaves to disappear, leaving you either standing on a bare tree, or falling off!

Do note that this means you have to bring with you all the renewable resources you can manage to bring and give up on mining. Spiders can still climb up to it, but placing “lips” under the pillar or destroying the block under the main body of the pillar prevents that.

Being 20–30 blocks away from the ground is preferable, since Skeletons can shoot you from that far away, and also to make sure that if you ever decide to descend, there won’t be monsters spawning.

Don’t use Sand or Gravel for this method unless you place it on layers of dirt or stone, since sand and gravel are affected by gravity. If a passing Enderman decides the tower looks nice and takes a piece, your tower would literally come crashing down.

Build a floating island. This is the more “surreal” cousin of the pillar tower base, simply because it’s just floating at least 10 blocks from the ground. It looks impressive, plus spiders are less likely to climb up on it since they can’t climb on anything! You can do this by “extending” the side of a cliff one row at a time while breaking the row of blocks behind you until you’re far away enough from the cliff that Skeletons can’t reach you anymore. Expand until you have enough space to place all your belongings and such. Much like the pillar tower, you’ll need a lot of materials to pull it off, and keeping it well lit is a must to make the effort worth it.

Build an actual island. This option will shelter you from mobs, keep you away from enemy players and just look cool. While this is an option only for more experienced or prepared players, or for those who chose the ocean as their living area, building an island for their own habitation is the only way to truly live in the ocean. Much like the tower and the floating island, it consumes a lot of resources but enables you to live and thrive in your self-made home.


#Sejthinktank Recap: Real Link Building In 2023: Scaling Human Effort

This week, the SEJ ThinkTank was joined by two of Page One Power’s project managers, Cody Cahill and Amy Merrill, for an informative presentation about how to help clients to build valuable links in 2023. This webinar was sponsored by Page One Power.

The 45-minute presentation of Cody and Amy included a lot of great information about Page One Power’s teamwork approach to manual link building, their collective process, and why transparency lives at the core of building solid links.

Why Link Building in 2023?

Cody and Amy say that link building is still the core of Google’s algorithm in 2023. Back in 2012, link building was just a tactic, but it has now evolved as a core marketing strategy. They also said that great content and social media shares aren’t enough, but great content needs link building for it to work. Link building is essential in 2023, but it is also equally essential that it is done right.

Building Relationships

Just like any marketing initiative, relationship also lives at the core of link building. Effective outreach is its most important aspect, and outreach is relationship building. These collaborations should be built on solid foundation, and should further be strengthened as the project progresses.

Relationship with Linking Partners

It is imperative to build strong relationships with linking partners such as publishers, journalists, niche influencers, and other commercial and government sites. This requires outreach expertise, and value added to all parties involved – the site linking, the site’s audience, and to the site being linked. It should have VALUE FOR ALL.

Relationship with Clients

As in any relationship, open communication is critical to make it work. How you value your ties with PR/Publicity teams, and content development teams are relevant to the success of your project. Transparency, managing expectations, and proper integration with the right channels are equally significant.

Relationship Amongst the Team

Link Building is a huge, creative endeavor, that requires collaboration within the team. Using effective tools to equip the team to carry out their tasks are also as important.

Tools Page One Power uses:


Google Docs


Watch the Full Presentation Recording

Want to learn more? We recorded the webinar so you can watch it from start to finish.

View Page One Power’s Slides

Q & A

You talked about internal link building as it related to pointing toward your product pages. Can you talk a little bit about the science behind this? I write content and I include internal links to other pages, but feel like I’m throwing paint on the wall without much strategy as it applies to the “why.” – Kyle Pucko

Cody: I think the why is twofold.  1) internal links are useful for the users of your site (if it isn’t potentially useful, it shouldn’t be there) and 2) internal links are a big (and often overlooked) factor in the Authority/Page Rank of the various pages on your site.  My recommendation would be to identify which pages are that have already earned external links and/or are receiving significant traffic from organic search (check in Google Analytics) and then ensure that those pages include natural, internal links to your important converting pages, again provided that they are relevant and make sense for visitors to your site.

How do you pitch for followed links and get the most out of the partnership to help rank better for certain keywords? – Catrinel Ciplea

Amy: We don’t specifically pitch for follow links. When we are examining a potential target site, we’ll use our Mozbar to determine what types of links are on the pages–if all pages have ‘no follow’ links we won’t want to build a link on that site unless the user engagement is fantastic. Otherwise, we’ll intentionally look to target sites that normally tend to make links ‘do follow’.

No follow links are part of a healthy link profile, and have value above and beyond the lack of “link juice” so I wouldn’t avoid earning those types of links.

We publish articles in the traditional print press. Should we approach these papers for links on their websites? – Nick Worrall

Amy: I’m going to assume they publish copy in print as well as on the web? If the article is talking about an online service or business it makes complete sense to include a hyperlink.

Cody: Yes, I think it is wise to be thinking about links when doing traditional PR placements.  Very few PR firms in our experience are considering Search when they do their thing, so incorporating that into your strategy now could keep you ahead of the game.  More commonly what we find is that we can follow in the wake of traditional PR teams and grab the links that they missed by reaching out to publishers and asking them to include a link, so there are ways you can leverage past PR campaigns as well.

What do you feel are the most effective linkbuilding tactics? – Brian Fields

Amy: It really depends on the website that is being built to. If you’re a brand with a lot of equity Mention Links are going to be a solid option, but if you don’t have that brand equity and no one is talking about you online mentions won’t be a viable approach. In that case I would recommend a mix of resource page and content link building, but again with a caveat. We believe the quality of links a site earns correlates directly with the quality of the site and their ‘linkable assets’ great linkable assets are top of the funnel content that is information based. A lack of linkable assets really will harpoon your ability to get any type of great link, so if you don’t have any that would be your logical starting place before link building.

Cody: If I had to go live on an island with only one link building tactic at my disposal, it would be off-site publishing links a.k.a. guest posts.  Contextual links to relevant, helpful content published on sites that have an active and engaged audience will always be valuable, and almost any site that has helpful content on-site can utilize this strategy.

Do social media channels have any impact on link building? How? – Agniva Banerjee

Amy: No. Social shares are fantastic but in terms of sheer SEO value there isn’t any at this time. However, social media has impacted the way we link build in that it’s another channel to reach out to people, build a relationship and can be a really great tool for outreach.

Cody: Many correlation studies have shown very little direct relationship between social shares and search engine performance, so like Amy said the primary use for social media in link building is as a relationship building tool.

If you continue to add links to your site using the same guest post site as a regular contributor, won’t it dilute your link juice? – Brian Field

Amy: Excellent question, I am glad you brought this up. When we talk about relationships it’s important to note our experience is at an agency level, meaning we aren’t building links for the same clients to the same sites, rather we have dozens upon dozen of clients that we are leveraging our relationships for. That being said, I would also add if the sites you’re publishing content on are high quality, relevant and authoritative sites and you have a couple links pointing back to various relevant pages on your website that is going to benefit you, not harm you. A top notch example: Your website has a really great resource that the New York Times or a top publication in your niche has cited in piece across their site, that’s fantastic, I wouldn’t say no to any number of those links.

Cody: The value of links from a single domain are somewhat diminished, but there is still plenty of value to be leveraged out of a publishing relationship via multiple links (ideally to different landing pages).  But you’ll want to become a contributor on more than just one site to get maximum value out of that strategy.

How important is it to get links shared on social media? -Taylor Conger

Amy: Ultimately the goal of link building is to drive organic search traffic, so in terms of overall link building campaign goals: not important. However, in terms of an overall website or company goal of ‘get people on our site, talking about our brand, buying our product’ sharing relevant information (links) via social media is never a bad idea–as long as you’re following social media best practices.

Cody: If you are producing guest posts for publishers, it’s a great sign if they get social traction thus driving traffic to the publisher’s site.  This proves that your content is valuable to sites and makes it easier to be republished there, and to get on other sites as well.

How do you scale linkbuilding and acquire valuable links for clients that aren’t implementing much or producing a whole lot of content? How can we leverage current content and media assets to build those valuable links for clients, without clients needing to do much on their end? – Andrew Binkley

Cody: I’d start by taking a full assessment of what content assets you do have, identifying whatever you already have at your disposal and then build your campaign around those assets.  We’ve achieved success in link building campaigns where we only had a small handful of “linkable assets” so you don’t necessarily have to have a mountain of content for link building to work.  Obviously, any site stands to benefit from some level of regular content production, but you can still get solid links with just a few assets.  Moreover, if you are able to produce links + traffic to the assets you do have, you can use that information to encourage your client to produce more content in the same vein.

I work as an in-house SEO and currently our blog is on a subdomain. We are trying to get our Web Devs to implement a blog on our actual ecommerce website, but it hasn’t happened yet. It will eventually happen, but I’m not sure how to go about link building for our ecommerce site if our blog is not on that site. How do you recommend going about link building? – Rebecca Terry

Cody: A couple options here.  1) do you have any potentially linkable assets that are on the main domain that isn’t the blog?  If even an asset or two match this description, I’d focus my efforts there.  The other option is to go ahead and start building links to the sub-domain blog even though it hasn’t been migrated yet.  You can acquire those links now, and then when the time comes to move it over to the main domain, if proper 301 redirects are put in place, most of that link equity will remain when you move it over.  In the meantime, building links to the subdomain blog content that includes internal links to your converting pages should still benefit the main site.  I do recommend migrating blogs from subdomains to the main domain, but it isn’t the end of the world if the blog exists on a subdomain.

What are the types of content that you will find successful for your linkbuilding projects? – Ron Medlin

Amy: Information based or educational information–and not that surface level stuff that’s a dime a dozen but a piece that actually has some ‘meat’ to it.

Cody: In general, longer form content seems to produce more links than shorter pieces (which might play better on social media).  If it is content that addresses questions/pain points that your prospective target audience might be asking, then all the better!  Visual aesthetics are also important, which doesn’t mean that every piece of content has to be graphically brilliant, but it needs to look a little better than mere “words on a page”.  Of course it varies wildly based on your niche, etc.  Identifying other content within your niche that has proven to be popular and has earned links is a great way to go guide your own content creation.

What do you think about incentivized communications? (e.g.offering review product, promo codes, etc in exchange for sharing information/providing links (with appropriate no follow tags of course) – Christian Collett

Amy: That is one route that could result in more brand visibility for you, I think it depends on your goal–are you trying to increase brand visibility or drive organic traffic?

Cody: I think quid-pro-quo link building has its place; it seems that only those sites that really scale that up too much are the ones that get in trouble.  Keep in mind that the link still needs to make sense and offer value to the users of the linking site.  If it does, I wouldn’t necessarily worry about mandating the no-follow tag (again, unless you are really doing that at scale, which I wouldn’t recommend)

Should link building be outsourced or should it be done in-house? If outsourced, how do you know if the person is doing white hat link building and not doing anything to get my website blacklisted? – Paul Jones

Amy: Either could be a good options depending on your budget, resources, training capabilities etc. If I were looking to invest in link building I would evaluate companies based on their philosophy and ask pointed questions about how they earn links for clients. Ask to see examples of the types of links you might be able to expect and get a solid understanding of their process. If they can’t speak to these things, or are unwilling to that’s a huge red flag. Other red flags will make themselves apparent in their philosophy, links or process as you discuss it. Finally, how are they planning to report their work to you? If they can’t or won’t show you their work, there’s probably a red flag reason.

Cody: The downside to doing it in-house is that link building is hard and takes a while to master.  So there’s going to be a ramp up period before your in-house team is producing at the same rate that a great agency partner would.  If you are outsourcing, you need to make sure you select an agency that is transparent and gives you access to all the details of your campaign.  If the agency is not in the habit of sharing links acquired, outreach approaches, sites being targeted, strategy, etc… then I’d run!

What is your take on guest posting and sponsored posts? – Ben Shemesh

Amy: High quality, relevant content written to benefit the web and readers will never go out of style. Content written for the sole reason of getting a link that serves no greater purpose is the bane of the internet.

Cody: I love guest posts when done correctly.  It’s an effective strategy and adds value to the web.  Sponsored posts, can be valuable from a branding perspective, but I’d only do those on super high authority, high traffic sites that are specific to your niche and may lead to direct conversions.  Sponsored posts probably aren’t going to give you a whole lot of SEO value because those links are almost always no-follow.

What is the best way to remove low scoring backlinks from Webmaster tools? – Nick Worrall

Amy: I guess I would ask, what do you mean as low scoring and how are you evaluating them? Obviously not all links pass the same amount of ‘juice’ but a link that passes a lesser amount isn’t a bad link. I would caution you to not remove links unless they are spammy and an actual detriment to your website. If they are just lower authority they are still helping you out, just to a lesser degree.

If you have actual spam links you’re going to want to use Google’s disavow tool in Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools).

Cody: Don’t make the mistake of thinking that low authority (low DA links) equals “toxic” links.  A healthy natural link profile is going to contain a wide mixture of linking root domains, from new low authority sites to the big white whale links we celebrate so much.

Like Amy said, if you have manipulative links in your profile, you might want to manually remove them and/or do a disavow.  Even disavowed links will still “show up” in Search Console though.

What would you say a good ratio is between outreach and links? – Kerry Sherin

Amy: We’ve found it typically depends on the link building tactic. With pure resource based link building we see a conversion ratio around 10%. With content we see a higher conversion rate around 20-30%.

Cody: I think 10% is good barometer.  If you are converting at a lower rate than that, you might consider tweaking your outreach approach and/or face the fact that your content isn’t as linkable as you may have thought.

Is there a certain number of outreach call or email that a person should aim for per piece of content? – Kerry Sherin

Cody: I don’t think there’s a magical number of sites you should target for a specific piece of content.  I think you want to find as many targets as you genuinely think would want to link/share the piece and outreach them all (over time).

How many links are appropriate in your content?  Can you have too many or too few? – Kacey Rask

Amy: Both Cody and I have a background in journalism and we subscribe to the belief that you should use links to cite sources, provide additional information and generally include a link if it’s going to be helpful to the reader. The too many or too few links can be an issue any time you are including links ONLY because they are a client or you ‘have to’. If the only link in a piece of content is to your client I recommend re-evaluating the content from the standpoint of your intended audience and as a reader–what links would the reader benefit from? The reverse is true too when you’re adding in numerous links, if they are helpful to the reader go for it.

Cody: We don’t subscribe to the theory that you want to manipulate Page Rank by only including your one link in a piece of content.  While it is technically true that one link in a popular article is going to pass more “Page Rank” than a piece with four or five links in it, but if you are writing guest posts that only contain one link, it’s going to stand out like a sore thumb, it isn’t taking the reader into consideration, and ultimately you’ll get fewer great links with that approach.  PLUS, the other links you include in a piece give you an opportunity to create a healthy “link neighborhood” which is something Google algorithm likely takes into consideration.

How do you recommend pulling in these departments when they are obviously operating independently, and are not part of the SEO conversations? For example, social already has a content calendar and is not willing to work with our campaign’s efforts and does not answer to the SEO contact. – Christian Collett

Amy: That’s a tough one, I think the answer varies based on each scenario. Not knowing too many specifics about your situation a good option is to start with the ‘why’. Communicate why you want to integrate, the value for the company and the pros and cons to the situation.

Cody: We hear this all the time.  It’s a big problem in organizations where SEO is still considered shady or something that the computer geeks in the back room dabble with, but not a “real marketing” endeavor.

I think your best bet is to try to educate your colleagues and be patient with it.  There’s a tremendous amount of content on the web about SEO and how it fits in with other marketing channels.  I’d start by sharing that type of content (Moz is a great place to start) with your other internal teams.

I think the other option is to convince upper management of the value being wasted by the failure to integrate your campaigns.  And if your SEO team is not communicating and working with your content teams, I can assure you that you are losing value by being so siloed.

What are your thoughts about crafting an effective subject title? – Brian Fields

Cody: Trial and error.  Test different things out and go with what works best.  Above all, be a genuine real person and let that be shown in your outreach, subject line and body included.

Which would you say are the top 3-5 linkbuilding tactics that are still working for 2023? – Catrinel Ciplea

Cody: Broken link building, the skyscrapper technique, guest posting, leveraging existing PR efforts for links.

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A Focused Practice For Relationship Building

To connect with all of his students, a teacher reflects intently on five of them each day and makes a point of engaging them.

While chugging homemade iced espresso during my morning commute about a year and a half ago, I became conscious that past conversations with students were crackling in and out of my thoughts like Pop Rocks. I experience these reflections randomly and often, and I believe they give me insight about students. But could these meandering reflections be improved?

My off-duty reflections are occupied disproportionately with outliers: the most defiant learners, and kids who revere me. Wouldn’t more students benefit if the approach were less haphazard and unconscious? I decided to experiment with being deliberate and intensive in thinking about my students.

As I waited in my car for a traffic light to change, I decided that for five minutes, I would think about everything significant that I had observed that semester about Conner, a kid in my afternoon class. This first attempt at deliberate reflection gave me considerable insight about a student—insight that led me to start a conversation with him later that day at school.

“I don’t hear you talking about skateboard competitions anymore,” I said. “Do you still ride that Cloud Nine, or are you marshaling all that raw, kinetic energy towards other challenges?” Conner’s eyes lit up as he explained that he’d transformed himself with a group of friends into a parkour maniac. As proof, he ran up my wall and backflipped onto his feet. I asked him to stop, but not before he caught my awed expression.

That encounter was so rich and fun that I decided to operationalize five-minute deliberations on five students every morning during my ride to the gym and then to campus. I now refer to this reflection practice as 5×5 assessment time.

How 5×5 Assessment Works

If you try this, don’t expect it to go perfectly at first. As with mindfulness, you’ll get better with consistent practice.

1. Choose five students to deliberate upon: Pick a time in the morning when you have 25 minutes to think without being too distracted. I keep a list of all 75 students from my four classes in the passenger seat of my sedan and randomly choose five names to think about. After the 5×5 deliberation is over, I cross off the names. The next day, I select five new kids to contemplate.

I still think about all of my students throughout the day, but checking off names ensures that each of my learners receives 300 seconds of dedicated think time at least once a month.

2. Think holistically about the five students: Next, I set my timer app for five minutes and try to answer the following questions for one of the five selected kids:

What have I noticed about the student recently?

What behavior patterns have I observed?

What outside affinities, struggles, values, and goals have been revealed?

What part of the student’s life am I most curious about? What question might spark an answer to help me satisfy that curiosity?

While answering those questions in my head, I try to reflect on potential warning signs. For instance, discolored teeth, eroded gums, and negative preoccupation with body appearance might indicate that a teenager struggles with bulimia.

I also monitor my emotions. Feeling neutral or negative about a student is a cue that I’m overwhelmed or irritated, or that I haven’t paid enough attention to the student to build a proper connection. Warmly anticipating how I will greet the kid when he or she enters my room indicates that my emotions are suitably primed.

I follow this process for each of the five students. If I can develop a theory about what each of the five kids’ needs are and a strategy to engage in a conversation with them, I consider the 5×5 assessment session a success.

3. Interact with the focus students the same day: Later at school, I start conversations with the focus students by identifying what I’ve noticed and asking a question I care about. This can happen in the hall, or in class while I’m passing out papers—whenever it seems natural to do it. For instance: “Mike, a couple days ago you were talking about your dad’s new job. How will that change things for you and your family?”

Many years ago, elementary school librarian Blanche Caffiere pulled Bill Gates out of his shell when she noticed that the sixth grader was reading a Tom Swift Jr. book and recognized that the future founder of Microsoft could handle more complex literature than that. According to Gates, Ms. Caffiere presented him with more challenging texts and took the time to discuss them: “‘Did you like it?’ she would ask. ‘Why? What did you learn?’ She genuinely listened to what I had to say. Through those book conversations in the library and in the classroom we became good friends.”

Avoid forcing a conversation when your attention is scattered or when kids don’t appear open to a personal chat with you. You can always talk later—just look for the right opportunity.

Reflecting on your insights about your students with the 5×5 assessment each morning will build your capacity to notice, understand, and connect with them—competencies exhibited by transformational teachers that fortunately improve with practice.

5 Quick Tips For Building Seo Content

While it’s great to have a web site optimized and performing well in the engines, you need to build out content on a consistent basis. Managing growth without upsetting your existing SEO efforts can often be a challenge. With these challenges in mind, here are my top ten tips for building site content while focusing on SEO opportunities.

Tip #1 — Identify New Keyword Markets

If you are pleased with how your existing content is performing, you need to tap popular databases and see what other markets exist. Using tools like WordTracker and Keyword Discovery, you can quickly locate new areas relative to your industry or niche that also have a search history associated with them.

Tip #2 — Exploring Analytics

SEO is as much about delivering targeted traffic as it is about rankings, right? If you’re with me on that, start checking your analytics. In particular, explore site paths and conversions relative to referring search phrases. Many times you will find that what you think are your money terms, are actually just pushing in unproductive traffic.

The information available in your analytics package can make or break everything for you. Building new content is always a great idea; When you go about it blindly, your efforts are often un-concentrated. If you take the time to identify visitor trends and habits on a keyword level though — you can then focus on building new content that puts more visitors to work for your business goals.

Tip #3 — Maintain Your Approach

Have you ever been browsing a company’s web site reading up on various services, when suddenly you’re slapped in the face by content that just doesn’t “fit”?

As more content is written, it becomes critical for the tone and approach of your writing to be consistent. Managing this in groups can be difficult at best, so if your content is scaled in this manner — consider having one consistent editor.

Tip #4 — Write for People, not Engines

And don’t be an idiot with over formatting your text either… 🙂

Tip #5 — Pace Content Creation

The most important tip I would offer up here is that you need to pace yourself when adding new content to your web site. I am often guilty of taking dozens of new pages at at a time, and placing them all online at once.

As a result, my returning visitors are overwhelmed, and I can’t effectively measure or improve any one page with consistency or care.

Better still, as you begin to pace the release of new content you will also find yourself developing new patterns of work. An article will go live, it will be submitted to social networks, you’ll develop links to it, etc. Understanding and improving that process is critical if you plan to get a lot done in minimal time.

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