SEO and ‘nofollow’ links

SEO links
Links and nofollow in SEO

I teach Digital Marketing at some Business Schools. In one of my recent classes, I was discussing SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation (the process by which you aim to have your site rank high on the Organic Search Results page of Search Engines).

SEO is a complex topic encompassing technical, on-page and off-page tactics. As I was explaining these concepts, it was interesting to find that the topic that generated the maximum number of questions was the role of ‘nofollow’ in links.

As I reflect on this now, a few days after the session, I can understand why this might be a difficult topic to grasp, especially for people who are new to this field. Here is an attempt to explain this further.

As many people know, links are a very important signal of a site or page’s popularity. And popularity, in addition to relevance, are important factors (out of hundreds) that influence a page’s ranking on Search Results Pages. The key thing to note is that not all links are equal. Links that come in from another page (or domain) that already ranks high and is considered as an authority on a topic carries greater value than a link from a relatively obscure site.

A simple way to think about this is that typically, your home page would be the highest ranking or most important page in your web site. And, therefore, any links from your home page would carry more value than links from a page buried deep within your site.

Let’s assume that you have a page on your website (not your homepage) that you would like to rank higher on Search. By linking to this page from your most important page – your home page – you are signalling to Google that this page is important enough to be linked from the home page. Let’s assume that your home page has a Page authority score of 100. If there are a total of 20 links to other pages on your site, then each of these 20 pages would get an authority score of 5 (100/20). Now, not all of those pages might be equally important to you from a SEO perspective. In fact, some of these links might also be pointing to pages on other domains that are not on your own. In such cases, you are passing on some of your valuable authority to those external domains as well.

This is where the role of ‘nofollow’ comes in. By including this tag in your html link, you are signalling to the Search Engine that the link is not important enough for you to be passing on your valuable authority to. This does not mean that the link will not be discovered or ranked by the Search Engine, just that the Search Engine would not assign any part of your domain or page authority to the linked page.

So, in the example above, if you mark 10 of the 20 links from your home page as ‘nofollow’, each of the remaining pages would get an authority score of 10 (100/(20-10)). This is twice the authority compared to the previous setting. And hence, each of those 10 pages would now have a better chance of ranking higher on the Organic Search Results page of Search Engines.

Interestingly, just a few days after my session, Google made a key change to how it considers ‘nofollow’ links. While previously, Google would not count any link with this attribute as a signal to use within their algorithms, they have recently announced that this would change from March 2020. Now, ‘nofollow’ will be considered as a ‘hint’ which they would use along with other signals to better understand how to analyse and use links within their algorithms.

I do not know yet how this change might affect the rankings of pages. This is something that SEO practitioners would have to watch out for.

I hope this helps understand the ‘nofollow’ attribute better. If you have any questions or comments, please do post below.

Chaos on Indian Roads

Image of Indian roads at night
Image of Indian roads at night

The Indian government has recently significantly increased the fines levied for driving offences. It’s still early to judge the effectiveness of this, but there is no doubt that it’s a step in the right direction, even if very delayed.

I have been fortunate to have lived abroad and, as much as I love my country, the one thing that almost always gets me angry and upset is the absolutely appalling attitude of drivers on Indian roads.

People say that the two things that unite our vast and diverse country are Bollywood and Cricket. I would add, to those two, our road sense, or lack of it. Even a casual observer of Indian driving would observe that the only rule of driving on Indian roads is to break all rules! Breaking a traffic signal, who doesn’t do it? Going down the wrong way on a one-way street, everyone does it. Parking at No Parking zones or blocking other traffic, sorry, what’s that? Wearing of seat belts, only when a policeman is ahead! The latest – driving a bike on a footpath and having the temerity to ask people to step aside!

What is it that makes us such poor and inconsiderate drivers? Manu Pillai in his recent article on Livemint suggests two possible reasons:

  1. The poor state of Indian roads means that we do not respect them
  2. Indians love chaos

The second is a very interesting observation and I am beginning to realise that it’s probably right. However, I disagree with him on the first point. I have seen, and I am sure that I am not the only one, people not heeding rules even on the best Indian roads. How many of us have not seen vehicles being driven down the opposite side of the road on the best of Indian highways? Or heavily overloaded trucks trundling on the fast lane? Overtaking on the left, that’s par for the course! Forget adhering to speed limits!

No, I do not believe that we will change our behaviour even if we have world class road infrastructure. There is just something in our nature that believe rules are meant to be bent, if not broken outright.

I am very positive, in general, of the future of our country and its citizens. However, the one aspect that I am afraid might take a long time to change, if ever, is our road sense. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong.

Shikumi

Shikumi

It’s been a few days that I have been pondering about what to write next. And then, just this morning, an article popped up in my LinkedIn feed with a term that I had never heard before. I was intrigued by this Japanese word – Shikumi.

I read the article and found myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the concept. I then decided to do some more research about the term and was surprised to find hardly any material about this concept in the vast expanse of the World Wide Web. In fact, in addition to the article on my LinkedIn feed, there was precisely one other article about this term.

So what does Shikumi mean? Reference material being limited to just these two articles, this is my understanding of the term.

Shikumi refers to the processes or frameworks that exist across an organisation that binds it together and keeps the organisation performing effectively. These frameworks provide operational guidelines to the team, helping them with decision making when facing problems.

Examples of Shikumi in action could be:

  • A weekly / monthly review process that is driven by KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
  • An organisation’s core set of values that define how business should be conducted

More importantly, I would think, is that these are not just management fads, but processes that are embraced holistically and completely by everyone in the organisation. Implemented correctly, this can prove to be extremely useful in driving effective communication and serve as the North Star that drives all action within the organisation.

I am a strong believer in the power of operating frameworks, having experienced first hand the role it can play in building powerful and lasting organisation culture. Every organisation, big or small, well established or just starting up, can benefit immensely from following the Shikumi principle.

What are your thoughts on this? Please comment below!

On e-book readers (Amazon Kindle)

e-readers
Reading on a mobile phone

People who know me well would know that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to digital media for personal consumption (I know, I am a digital marketer, right!). For a long time, I refused to use digital streaming services (I use them now, but still prefer my CDs for serious music listening). I still read physical newspapers (though spend more time on digital news sites). And for the very longest time, I refused to use a digital book reader, preferring the tactile pleasures of flipping through the pages of a physical book.

Until, that is, a few months back, when I succumbed and started using the Amazon Kindle App on my phone. From a slow start, I now find myself very comfortable using it, and I have started using it regularly. What do I like about it?

  1. Convenience – I like that, once I find a book, I can start reading it almost immediately. No having to search for the book at various book stores, or ordering it online and waiting for it to be delivered.
  2. Any-time consumption – Since it’s not another device and part of my phone (which I carry around almost everywhere), I can pick up from where I left off my reading anytime, anywhere.
  3. Ability to magnify – I am no longer very young, and I appreciate the fact that I can magnify the text and read in pleasure without having to strain my (weakening) eyes or use a magnifying glass.
  4. Minimalistic – I rarely read a book more than once. When I was living abroad, I was a regular member of public library systems where I could borrow books for reading. India does not really have such a system. And where libraries do exist, they typically would have very few books that would interest me. So reading e-books is a great boon for me these days, as I can avoid having to buy books (saving money, paper and lowering carbon footprint).

Having said that, I do miss the following:

  1. The sensory pleasures of reading a book – There still exists a great pleasure in opening a book and getting that unmistakable book smell as well as feeling the quality of the pages and flipping through them that e-book readers (still) cannot deliver.
  2. The joys of wandering through book shops – I used to love walking through book (and music) shops, looking at the titles, browsing a few, and then maybe picking one up to buy and read. I hardly do that any more, except at airports, and I miss the experience. In fact, I wonder if my kids would ever go to a book shop, forget a music shop!

So it looks like e-book readers are here to stay with me. I do wish, though, that they could come up with a much better system for ‘discovering’ or ‘browsing’ through titles. The current system of scrolling through pages and pages of downright useless titles in the hope of finding that one interesting book is getting quite painful. Does anyone have any suggestions on this?

The culture of Deep Discounts within Indian digital consumer businesses

Discounts
Discounts

Recently, food-tech apps that do home delivery have been in the news due to their restaurant partners taking issue with the culture of ‘deep discounting’ prevalent across the industry. An excellent article on the impact of this on restaurants was published recently on Telegraph India.

This issue of deep discounting is not restricted to food delivery companies alone. In fact, most of the leading online Business to Consumer (B2C) organisations in India regularly resort to this ‘strategy’. I find this concept very worrying for many reasons:

  • Lack of strong Value Proposition –¬†¬†Having ‘discounting’ as an always on tool leads to the question – do these businesses not have a strong value proposition for their customers? If customers indeed value the product or services these businesses are offering, then surely they would not need to discount daily? I can understand that discounts might be required when you are in a new market segment or have just recently launched and are looking for some early traction. But many of these businesses have now been operational for many years. Do they have a strategy on how they could continue to grow and become sustainable businesses in the near future?
  • Lack of brand loyalty – As the article I have linked to earlier mention, discounting has led to users using multiple competing brands offering the same product or service. The choice of which brand to use seems to be based on which one is offering the lowest price. This is nothing but a race to the bottom where the deepest pocket will win. Surely, building a brand and business has to be largely based on delivering a unique value proposition to the customer and continuously defending and enhancing that value proposition rather than just relying on brute (investor) financial power?
  • Low focus on customer delight – If the assumption is that customers will only shop with the brand offering the maximum discount, what incentive exists for brands to continuously innovate and provide new features / services to customers? Business slacking because customers are moving to competition? No problem, increase the discounts!
  • Marketplace distortions – In many cases, deep discounts can lead to distortions in the marketplace impacting the various other players in the ecosystem. The app-based personal transportation market provides a recent example of this. The significant ‘incentives’ provided to drivers led to many people taking out loans to purchase vehicles and run them as taxis on these app-based businesses. The discounted fares offered to consumers also led to high demand. Everything was rosy initially, but as the discounts and incentives reduced, many of these drivers found themselves with lower monthly incomes but still saddled with loan repayments. This problem might have been lessened if the dynamics of the marketplace had not been discounted by the artificially high incentives (and low fares).

So why do businesses indulge in this practice? I am no expert, but I strongly believe that pressures to justify investor valuations and demonstrate the type of growth required to provide meaningful exits to investors could be one of the key reasons driving this behaviour.

There is no doubt that the consumer is benefiting from this. One way to look at this is that it’s a form of modern redistribution of wealth with money flowing from the (rich) investors to the (not so rich) consumers. But what about the impact of this artificial distortion on the many other businesses that have not been fortunate to receive investor wealth? This and other questions arising from this practice have to be addressed if we are to see these businesses establish themselves in the long-term.