Here’s the secret why this blogger from India is ruling Google search results!


So, using PositionlySEMRush and couple of other SEO software listed here, I managed to dig deeper into the SEO secrets of Labnol and how it manages to rule Google SERPs. Hope you find it useful. If you have any questions, do ask in the comments.

Who is Labnol?

Labnol_SEO_Secrets

Labnol is one of the most popular websites on the Internet (among top 100 in technology blogs out of 130 million), interestingly run by a single person Amit Agarwal. He is the first professional blogger from India and is probably one among the few bloggers who make a living entirely from blogging. According to the blog, Amit left his job in the US to go full-time blogging and has been blogging ever since 2004.

Amit is the author of The Most Useful Websites, an ebook that discusses the lesser-known but incredibly useful sites on the web. Microsoft awarded him the Most Valuable Professional award for five years in a row (2007-2011). More details on his Wikipedia page.

Amit Agarwal, Owner - Labnol
Amit Agarwal, Owner – Labnol

Digital Inspiration averages more than 3+ million page views per month and has been quoted in most publications including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, Wired, Guardian, and more (see testimonials).

Here are some additional traffic & site stats.

Top 12 Technology blog on Technorati.

labnol_technorati

Alexa Rank – 3,027.

Labnol Alexa Traffic
Labnol Alexa Traffic

Labnol Compete Rank – 6,320.

Labnol Traffic Details Compete
Labnol Traffic Details Compete

Total Unique Visitors (Acc: to compete) – 360K as of June 2014.

SEO Statistics for Labnol.

Labnol_SEO1Labnol_SEO2

Domain Authority – 77 /100

Page Authority – 81 /100

Page Link Metrics  – 1,590 Root Domain Links, 46,686 Total Links

Page Social Metrics – Facebook – 682 Shares + 386 Likes,  Twitter – 2,706 Tweets, Google+ – 5,848

From the stats above, it’s evident that Labnol has excellent SEO value, domain authority and link authority. Domain authority of 77 is amazing and only something that is only available to super-popular websites. Social stats too are impressive for Labnol. 3 digit shares and likes for root domain shows how popular the website actually is. It’ll be interesting to see how Labnol utilizes these SEO metrics to leverage it’s content. More on that in the sections below.

Labnol Domain Statistics
Labnol Domain Statistics

Labnol’s overall domain statistics too are very impressive. It’s been around for 7+ years accruing a lot of Google juice via links and mentions.
The domain is Page Rank 6, even though there are no DMOZ listings or Yahoo Directory listings. (Most likely because Amit started off on Blogspot initially before moving to self hosted domain.)

Why SEO is important for Labnol?

Labnol recieves most of its traffic from organic search results. Since it is focused on How-To and Tutorial type articles, I’m assuming it has a lot of value to provide to people searching for solutions to problems. It has several high value tech tutorials and how-to pages that caters to the search engine audience.

Am I affiliated with Labnol?

Nope.

How is Labnol structured?

Number of total pages indexed on Google : 9,400 pages as of today (Sep 2014).

Labnol_Site_Index

Labnol Link Statistics

Like I mentioned earlier, Labnol has hell lot of links from high value websites. Most links are organic and press mentions to root domain or links to individual articles. High value links to the homepage are very useful for SEO, as one can use all that Google juice to pass on to more relevant pages on the site. Plus, it adds a lot of domain authority.

Labnol_Link_Statistics

 

Let’s dig more into Labnol’s backlink profile.

Labnol_Link_Statistics_ALabnol_Link_Statistics_B

Wow! These are amazing stats. Note that different tools report different number of backlinks (based on their way of crawling links and database), but despite differences, Labnol has a healthy backlink profile of over 632K backlinks out of which there are about 114K active backlinks out of which about 10K are unique active backlinks and about 36 K unique links to the homepage.

This is one of the most significant strong holds for Labnol’s amazing SEO organic performance.

If you look into the backlink profile deeper, you’ll notice that there are a few powerful links coming from few educational sites (.edu), government sites (.gov) and a few high value & PR sites.

Labnol_Backlink_ProfileLabnol_Backlink_Type

Getting .gov backlinks and .edu backlinks are tough. All those websites are authoritative websites that only link out to high value websites mostly. Labnol has a few such high value backlinks from .gov and .edu sites. Let’s check out what links they are.

Labnol High Value Backlinks
Labnol High Value Backlinks

As seen in the above screenshot, there are few backlinks from broadband.gov. Here is the actual page that links to Labnol.

Labnol_Link_Example

It’s an actual dofollow link with a lot of contextual topical relevance and high value Google juice. However, some of the other .gov backlinks found are search results pages (Example).

Here’s another example of a .gov backlink. This is a newsletter on which Labnol was featured.

Here’s another example of a .gov backlink. Again, a newsletter.

Labnol Referring Pages
Labnol Referring Pages

If you look at the referring pages over the last couple of years however, you’ll notice that the number of pages have gone down significantly. I suppose this is just a general industry trend, where ever since the advent of social media, mentions and referrals have gone social from newsletter or website links to Twitter and Facebook mentions..

How to get high value backlinks like Labnol?

Looking at the above numbers and statistics, it is evident that the “secret” to Labnol’s SEO value is it’s high value links and brand mentions. And almost every backlink was earned and never bought or solicited. And this is just a fine example of how amazing content can get you links without trying too hard.

These days, there are several link methods like guest blogging but many of those efforts can only get you low-medium quality links. To get high value links, your content has to be unique, and high value. Labnol’s exemplary content is the only reason why it has earned so many high quality backlinks. A lesson to learn for many of us.

Has Google Panda Affected Labnol?

Possibly.

From available public data, it looks like Labnol too, (like many other popular websites) have been affected by the Panda, Penguin updates.

Labnol_Panda

SearchMetrics data shows that around May 2014,  (Google Panda 4.0 hit around this time) Labnol too got penalized and a significant drop in search traffic is noted.

Labnol_Panda2Alexa data shows a similar graph. Traffic dropped around May 2014 but is seen to have bounced back around June, July 2014 and then going back down again.

Labnol_Traffic

SEM Rush too shows that traffic has dropped significantly after May 2014 and is at second major low after 2010.

Labnol_Organic_Traffic_Alltime

Labnol’s organic keyword performance also shows a similar graph that corresponds with the organic traffic pretty much. Drops and recovery for most of the keywords is based on organic traffic and appears to be at an all time low.

SEM Rush estimates that Labnol is getting close to 57K organic traffic per month currently. (This is most likely not accurate as it’s a third party estimated projection and is based on Google USA statistics alone.)

What are Labnol’s top organic keywords?

Let’s see what is happening on the organic traffic scene. Labnol most likely gets a major chunk of it’s traffic from Google and other search engines, because it has such valuable content that is optimized for the “information seeker” looking for information on how to get things done. Let us take at a slice of Labnol’s top keywords.

Labnol_Top_Organic_Keywords

So, if you notice, most of the top keywords are top level broad keywords. Keep in mind that these are heavily competitive keywords facing competition from folks like eHow.com, Lifehacker, How To Geek, About.com etc..

But with Labnol’s topical relevance and amazing backlink profile, it’s easy (if not hard) to get high relevancy for these keywords. And with high value, unique content, I think Labnol has a great chance of ranking for these keywords.

Download-Labnol

Download Labnol’s Top Performing 10,000 Keywords here (PDF).

Did Google Panda hit Labnol?

Here is a list of other popular websites that got hit by Google Panda 4.0

Let’s check the possibilities. (Assuming there was actually a Panda “problem”. We wouldn’t know until we get actual data from Amit. I’m writing to him as we speak to see if he is OK with sharing it. Should it not be available, we’ll go with the public data.)

Labnol is generally considered a high quality website with high value articles. But are there low value content too, somewhere in there? Or could it be the site design?

Let’s check out some possibilities.

What causes a Google Panda penalty?

A high % of duplicate content – This could be due to two reasons. One when you have copy-paste or low value duplicate content from other websites or internal pages. Two, due to technical glitches. We’ll analyse both in detail.

A low amount of original content on a page or site – This is a good possibility.

A high % (or number) of pages with a low amount of original content.

A high amount of advertisements on the page – If you have more ads and less content.

Page content (and page title tag) not matching the search queries a page does well for – Again, a little glitch that many ignores.

Over optimization – This happens with stuff like keyword stuffing and over doing of on page SEO factors like repeating the same keyword on all elements.

High bounce rate on page or site – Happens when the site content does not do justice to SERP meta data or when content quality is low.

Low visit times on page or site – An influential signal to search engines, when visitors spend a lot of time (above average) on your site, it increases the relevance of your webpage.

Low clickthrough % from Google’s results pages (for page or site) – Most of the times due to content not matching user intent or query.

High % of boilerplate content – Usually due to poor design and thin content.

Low or no quality inbound links to a page or site – I don’t think this might be the reason for Labnol, though.

Let’s check it one by one.

Duplicate Content

Like I mentioned, there could be two reasons for duplicate content. One – Duplicates of the same content appearing at different places on the website or Two -Technical issues. First, let us check technical issues.

a) Canonical Issues : Canonical issues can happen when there are two versions of the same content being indexed on search engines. For ex: a www version of the site and a non www version of the site.

You can tell Google, which version of your website to index via Google Web Master Tools settings.

Also, you can set mod rewrite rules in your .htaccess file to 301 redirect any version of the website to one specific version and then do the Google Webmaster’s Tool setting additionally (ensuring both are the same).

Google_Canonical_Settings

Looks like Labnol does not have any Canonical issues at all, as all pages on the website redirected to www version of the site.

Labnol_Canonical

b) Duplicate content

Labnol has some amount of duplicate content (though insignificant) in some of its pages. All these pages aren’t articles though, they are curated pages from the WordPress tags/categories. WordPress is really bad with creating duplicate content. It has many ways of showing up the same content tagged/categorized/archived which adds to a good amount of duplicate content. Unless you Meta Noindex these pages, they’ll affect your organic index strength.

In Labnol’s case, it is the tag pages. See examples.

Labnol - Duplicate Content Ratio
Labnol – Duplicate Content Ratio

33% might sound like a lot but considering that these are all tag pages (and some pagination), where multiple articles tagged with the same tag shows up archived, this is an easy problem to fix.

Labnol_Duplicate_Content_Tags

LAbnol_Meta_Duplication

How To Fix Duplicate Content?

There are many ways you can fixing duplicate content. It depends on how content is structured on your site. In Labnol’s case, the problem is caused by Tags and some Pagination.

This can be fixed by issuing Meta Noindex rules to these pages. If you check the HTML for these tag pages, you’ll notice that there are no Meta Noindex rules.

Here is the right way to introduce a Meta Noindex rule to the HTML. (Google’s Tutorial on Meta Noindex)

<meta name="googlebot" content="noindex" />

Either this can be manually added to the HTML (depends on whether your theme will allow it) or plugins like WP SEO can be set by going to Titles & Metas > Taxonomies

WP SEO Meta Noindex Settings
WP SEO Meta Noindex Settings

You might want to keep the same settings for Date based archives as well (some themes by default do this, so beware). Basically any instance where your articles are curated/regrouped should be nofollowed to the search engines, because this is more a usability feature giving people more ways to access content. Most of the time, these regroupings appear as duplicate content for search engines.

Low Value Content

This is a tricky one. Although Labnol has a lot of high quality content, there are quite a lot of low quality pages too. Mostly thin content under 500 words. I personally don’t think that this is a big deal, especially for a tech blog, but in Google’s eyes, these pages, unless with strong backlinks (either internal or external) will appear to be low value and might not appear on result pages.

Here are some examples.

Example 1, Example 2

There are several pages like these with very few content that in “Panda’s” eyes are low quality content/thin content. Though this is not a major issue, this may be one practice, Labnol should curb – of writing low value thin content just for utilizing the search keyword volume. (I could be wrong here w.r.t how effective these pages are, but I’m talking from a general perspective without any data to backup.)

Accessibility

Labnol has an amazing profile that scores very high on accessibility and usability.

– Responsive website : Labnol’s theme is very responsive and caters to almost every screen size possible.

Labnol_Responsive2

Page Load Time

Labnol’s page load time is not very impressive at this time of testing. It only scores 64/100 on Desktop via Google Page Speed Test Tool.

However, I’ve seen that it scores 80+ when tested some other times. May be it fluctuates and depends on location, cache status etc. Generally Labnol has done a good job at keeping it’s page elements minimized and facilitates fast loading.

According to Google, a website’s page load time influences it’s authority on search engine results and Google recommends that webmasters keep the page load time to a minimum. Here is what a blog on Moz  says..

Google uses a multitude of factors to determine how to rank search engine results. Typically, these factors are either related to the content of a webpage itself (the text, its URL, the titles and headers, etc.) or were measurements of the authenticity of the website itself (age of the domain name, number and quality of inbound links, etc.). However, in 2010, Google did something very different. Google announced website speed would begin having an impact on search ranking. Now, the speed at which someone could view the content from a search result would be a factor.

Unfortunately, the exact definition of “site speed” remained open to speculation. The mystery widened further in June, when Google’s Matt Cutts announced that slow-performing mobile sites would soon be penalized in search rankings as well. Clearly Google is increasingly acting upon what is intuitively obvious: A poor performing website results in a poor user experience, and sites with poor user experiences deserve less promotion in search results.

Labnol Page Speed Test
Labnol Page Speed Test

How to fix it?

Getting a fast page load speed is not easy but it’s possible. All you have to do is carefully implement what the Google tools suggests, and offload those time consuming scripts and media to a CDN. Not easy, but quite possible.

Labnol uses a Flipboard script to show a fancy flip board at the end of the page, this is probably what is taking up resources and bloating the page load time. Other than that, everything is well tweaked, the theme is minimalistic and is quite impressive.

Crawlability

Labnol has done a great job in ensuring that almost all of it’s pages are accessible to Google and is crawlable. There are a very few pages that redirects away, but that is a negligible factor.

Labnol_Crawlability

There is a pretty well maintained Sitemap XML Index that splits up into short sub sitemaps here.

Labnol Sitemap
Labnol Sitemap

Sitemaps are really crucial for websites to get their content indexed. Although these days Google crawlers are very smart and “finds” content from social referrals and other mentions, it is generally a good practice to keep it all under control on your sitemap. There are several plugins and stand alone softwares that will let you do it.

Additionally, it is a good idea to create a sitemap for media on your site, like Images and Videos. Amit has a WordPress plugin made available to everyone that does just this. Check it out here.

One problem that I’ve encountered with some of the auto generated XML sitemap pugins is that they eat up a lot of resources on your server and can slow down the website, especially when you have thousands of articles. In my opinion, a good way to fix this is not to use automatic sitemap generators (which are not scalable and probably is intended for small websites anyway) but use standalone software and manually upload to Google Webmasters Tool.

If you have a super large website with a large sitemap, it is a good idea to split it up into small subsets and map them all together on the index sitemap like Labnol has done. Good lesson to learn there.

Having said that there are couple of concerns on the site code.

Content Structure and Markup Errors

Labnol_ErorrsI know this is another tricky part when it comes to SEO. Now, the general thumb rule is to keep these errors to a minimum but even the best of the websites cannot get a 100% success here. Thanks to all the third party integrations and changing standards, there is always some errors in the markup.

Now, having said that some of these are avoidable. Like the long title tags.

There are many ways to ensure that your title tags do not exceed Google’s suggested format.

According to Moz,

Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag, or as many characters as will fit into a 512-pixel display. If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95% of your titles to display properly. Keep in mind that search engines may choose to display a different title than what you provide in your HTML. Titles in search results may be rewritten to match your brand, the user query, or other considerations.

Ideal_PageTitle_Limit

Similarly, there are couple more pages on Labnol that have lengthier page titles, missing meta desc and with duplicate page titles.

Labnol_Long_Page_Title_Example

Personally, I recommend the following rules for dealing with this kind of meta errors..

– Keep Page Title unique and under 55 characters (Use the bulk edit feature of WordPress SEO plugin or something similar..)

– Even though meta descriptions does not affect search engine ranks, it’s a good idea not to leave them blank but add relevant meta descriptions that support the content. (No keyword stuffing please.) Otherwise, all those pages you left blank for meta description will show up as “missing”. Not a big issues but still, just a hygiene issue.

– Keep URLs short and trim (Check out how Mashable.com keep their URLs short, it’s a good example). Never use super long URLs that is the same as page title. It is kinda shady.

– Use “canonical” tags whenever possible to curb duplicate content.

– Use “nofollow” tags to block link juice passing off to external links.

Google Page Rank Distribution

Like I mentioned before, Labnol has a home page, PR of 6. And it has been successful in using that Google juice to spread to it’s internal and most important pages. Let’s take a look at the internal linking patterns.

Labnol_PR_DistributionLabnol  has managed to spread the Google link juice to ~60% of it’s pages which are in the PR 4-3 range.

3 Pages have PR 6, and they are..

1. Homepage (Obviously, thanks to all those high profile backlinks.)
2. Feedly Tips Page (labnol.org/internet/feedly-tips/28078/) and
3. RSS Feeds Directory (labnol.org/internet/rss-feeds-directory/21242/)

Labnol have cleverly used the link authority on these pages to link to his pet projects (RSS Search Engine), which I think is a clever move.

31 Pages are with PR 5, and most of them are tag pages along with individual articles, which are all benefiting from the homepage link authority.

Overall, I think Labnol has done a great job designing the site structure by interlinking cleverly to the internal pages and external pet projects, utilizing the link authority really well.

To step up the game a little bit more, I would suggest even using the homepage to link to some of the PR 0, 1 and 2 pages with contextual links (not sidebar or sitewide link menu). But I guess, that is a personal preference.

Page Title v/s Content Relevance

Search engines use the page title sort of like as a summary of your page’s content. It is probably one of the most important factors in SEO as well, but using misleading titles just for SEO might not be a good idea. It so happens sometimes that webmasters use a keyword rich, optimized page title, but the page’s actual content may not be relevant or supporting the page title. This is one of the factors that can attract or support Google Panda penalty, not as a direct signal but because it will result in visitors hitting the back button and increasing the bounce rates.

I would suggest that Page Titles be most relevant all the time and should support/summarize the content on your pages. Even using one new keyword on the Page Title can make a lot of difference, as it might attract the wrong audience to your site.

In Labnol’s case, I found that some of the pages had a different Page Title (as compared to the page content) and inclined slightly towards irrelevancy. Keep in mind that this isn’t a grave mistake but if not considered or managed properly can result in many “bounces”.

Does bounce rate affect SEO?

Now, we do not have any evidence or official word from Google. but it is widely discussed in the SEO community and is considered one crucial factor in determining “quality content” by Google. The argument is, since Google has your analytics and user behavior data, it is highly possible that this is a significant signal for Google to figure out what relevant content is on your site.

Read Glenn Gabe’s insightful article on this.

Example: Check out this page on Google SERPS.

Labnol_Misleading_SERPS

While on the actual page, the content is slightly different. (One could argue that this is not the case, as the context is the same, but I’m pretty sure at least for some users this is considered misleading.)

Labnol_Misleading_SERPS_page

Pages like this might increase the chances of increasing bounce rates to your site.

All the pages with too long page titles

Pages with too long page titles.
Pages with too long page titles.

You’ll notice that a good percentage of them are paginated pages and tag pages. Rest of the individual articles can easily be fixed and is only a few compared to how much content Labnol has.

All the pages with too long URLs.

Labnol_Too_Long_URLs
Articles with too long URLs

Just a handful or URLs. Again, negligible factor but for hygiene issues, it’d be better to clean them up.

All the broken links.

Labnol_Broken_Links
Broken Links on Labnol

However, there are some broken links to be worried about. There are about 388 broken links to mostly external links both in 404 and 403 statuses.
A good percentage of them are to Amit’s own pet projects like zerodollarmovies and rest of them to external links to websites and social networking profiles etc. It would be a good idea to seal them off and thereby close the Google juice “leaks”. 388 may not be a large number to be worried about but it certainly is leaking some Google juice and I’m sure it raises some flags.

Overall, Labnol has done an amazing job at managing crawlability of the website and has been successful in using search engine authority between it’s internal pages. There are a few glitches here and there (few broken links, few too long URLs, few too long page titles, few empty meta descriptions), but those are negligible. Here is how the overall crawlability audit looks like.

Labnol_Crawlability_Health

What is to be noted is that there are proper SEO rules in place like Robots.txt, XML Sitemaps, Blocked pages from indexing, canonical issues, proper redirects etc.

Summary

So, here’s what you can learn from India’s most popular technology blog, highest AdSense earner (source) and one of the top 100 technology blogs on the internet.

– Focus on writing unique, high value, quality content that are helpful for people.

Most of Labnol’s articles are unique and high quality. Amit puts in his expertise and technical knowledge in writing extra ordinary articles that gives answers to common problems in a unique way. This USP is what gets him the links and references from other high value websites.

– Have a healthy, technically sound website that has good SEO metrics and basic code hygiene.

Although there are negligible glitches, Labnol has a sound SEO background and the framework ensures that most of the high level and tactical SEO metrics are taken care of and attended to. You can see several examples of attempts to keep SEO healthy and according to Google suggested standards.

– Forget about link building. If your content is really good, it will help itself and will not go unnoticed. You will get natural, high value links only with high quality content.

When many people buy or solicit links, Labnol’s secret sauce is in getting those high value links without trying. It’s amazing backlink profile powers most of the content to top results on Google and other search engines with high link authority and trust.

– Ensure that your website design devoid of clutter and easy to navigate and use and not pushing stuff you want users to read.

One striking feature you will notice with Labnol is that the design is so easy on the eyes and navigate. Finding content effortlessly seems to be the priority in design and unlike many other technology blogs, Labnol does not try to cram everything together into every available space. With lot of white spaces and reading/couch mode like toggles, there is a lot of emphasis on readability and usability. Just goes out to say that optimizing for users is always recommended that optimizing for search engines.

– Optimize for keywords with basic SEO Google suggests, like page load speed, right code etc.

Having said that, Labnol does not let SEO go without an attempt. Many old articles are well optimized for SEO with proper tags and rules set to avoid duplicate content, magnify the meat of content, there by helping search engines find out what the most important stuff on a page is, to index. To a large extent, this is a huge factor that helps Labnol scale it’s content value.

Labnol is an amazing example of how you can make a high value website with unique content without being a corporate or a “big player”. Solving common problems with easy solutions, in a way that every common man understands is the way to go. But for that, you need to have extra ordinary knowledge, insights and an urge to help people.

What I love most about Labnol is not the SEO edge it has, but the effortless way and simplified nature by which Amit solves problems and offers solutions.

Like one of his Facebook pictures say, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

digital_Inspiration

All images courtesy – Digital Inspiration. SEO Research done with SEM Rush.

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Mani Karthik

I can talk about Marketing and SEO all day long. Passionate about blogging, SEO & Online marketing. Perpetual learner.