What is SEO and How Does It Work in 2022
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an effective digital marketing practice that generates traffic to a website from search engines. The main objective of SEO is not to just get traffic, but high-quality traffic.
Did you know that websites that have invested in SEO get more than 50% of their traffic from search engines?
In simple terms, SEO is all about positioning your website high on search result pages for keywords or key phrases relevant to your products or services.
And to maximize your search presence, you need to focus on various tasks which include on-page SEO, Technical SEO, Link Building and content creation.
You just need to optimize your pages properly and fulfil your target audience’s search intent to allow Google to see them as a relevant page and position it on the SERPs.
In this blog post, we will walk you through and explain everything you need to know about SEO.
Following are the topics we’ll be covering in this post:
What Are Search Engines?
A search engine is an online tool that helps people find web pages on the Internet based on their search queries. Search engines stores millions of websites and shows up the most relevant ones depending on the keywords typed into the search bar.
Once the search query is entered, the search engine looks through its own database and makes a list of results for the users to see. SEO practitioners refer to the list as search engine results page (SERP).
Although there are different search engines, the basic function of these search engines remains the same. They provide answers to peoples’ search queries.
The history of search engines
We are quite amused that Google Search is 26 years now. SEO consultants have been curious about the ever-changing search algorithms that make Google search a better search engine geared towards offering the best experience for its users.
The history of search engines is something we should explore to understand how Google search engine actually works.
Let’s get started with the history of search engines.
- 1990 – The first search engine was launched and it was called Archie. It’s just a year after WWW was introduced to the world. Archie crawlers only crawled websites and indexed downloadable files. This is because there was a limitation in search result pages where only the listings were displayed.
- 1991 – A virtual library that allows users to find URLs of different websites was developed by Tim Bernes-Lee, the World Wide Web founder (WWW).
- 1993 – There was a new improvement made to search engine by JumpStation which displayed page’s title and header in the result pages. The web pages were ranked in the same order they were found.
- 1994 – Yahoo! Search was launched by David Filo and Jerry Yang. Yahoo was the first search engine with a collection of web pages that allowed businesses to add a description for each URL. On the other hand, people can add their informational sites for free, but business sites were subjected to $300/year. In the same year, Web Crawler was launched. Web Crawler was the first search engine to index an entire website.
- 1995 – Although Lycos search engine was launched in 1994, the search engine had completely indexed all the available documents close to 1.5 million in January 1995.
- 1996 – Backrub the predecessor to Google was created by Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The main objective was to rank websites on search result pages based on backlinks. Backlinks show authority when one site is connected to another site via hyperlinks. Don’t be surprised that even today majority of search engines rely on this backlink concept in ranking web pages. Other search engines like AskJeeves and Inktomi introduced paid advertising model with pay-per-click ads introduced this year.
- 1998 – The year Google was officially launched. Overture became the first organization to be successful with PPC model. Overture was the first one to introduce bidding against each other advertising to rank for popular keywords and terms.
- 1999 – Top investment companies started to invest in Google. AOL chose Google as their search partner.
- 2000 – The Teoma search engine was launched
- 2001 – Excite was unable to gain popularity and went bankrupt and was later purchased by AskJeeves in 2004. AskJeeves buys Teoma and replaced their direct search engine.
- 2002 – Yahoo! acquired search engines to offer organic search results for the customers. It was using services from third-party vendors initially.
- 2003 – AllTheWeb purchased Overture for $70 million while Yahoo bought Inktomi for $235 million. Later on, Yahoo bought Overture for $1.63 billion. Google officially announced their first-ever algorithm update which was called “Boston Update”.
- 2004 – Microsoft launched their first search engine, MSN
- 2005 – Ask – IAC acquired AskJeeves for $1.85 billion and changed their name to Ask.com and Teoma search platform was dropped. “No-follow” backlink attribution was introduced and used by major search engines to completely clean up spammy blogs and sites.
- 2007 – Google introduced “Universal Search”. Universal search is the added feature of Images, Videos, News and others.
- 2008 – Google launched “Google Autosuggestion”. An automated dropdown of suggested keywords, phrases and topics. DuckDuckGo developed by Gabriel Weinberg went live.
- 2009 – MSN was re-branded to Bing
- 2010 – Google’s indexing system was improved and focused on fresh search results for the users. This is an algorithm update which is called “Caffeine”.
- 2011 – Schema.org was created to provide structured search results on the main search engines that include Google, Bing and Yahoo. Google made a major algorithm update that improve search query results. This is where Google Panda algorithm update was rolled. It was focused on removing pages from content farms and spam sites. The change affected the revenue and traffic of HubPages the most with close to 62% reduced search traffic.
- 2012 – Google rolled out Penguin update or known as “Webspam Algorithm”. This algorithm update penalized websites that purchased backlinks or used a network of blogs for link building purposes.
- 2013 – Google made the biggest revolution within the search engine industry by rolling Hummingbird algorithm update. This algorithm focused on understanding the human’s search intent behind their search queries. Until this breakthrough, search engines were focused on only improving the language queries.
- 2014 – Mozilla Firefox in the US made Yahoo! their default search engine. Pigeon algorithm update was rolled out by Google to provide relevant local search results for its users. Google also emphasized that website security HTTPS is a ranking factor.
- 2015 – Google initiated the mega Mobilegeddon update and encouraged website owners to make their sites mobile-friendly. This was just to tell everyone that mobile searches started to increase. Moreover, Google also rolled out RankBrain update which was a machine learning algorithm that automates the ranking algorithm.
- 2016 – Google released Possum algorithm update to remove spammy site ranking for local search results. Google also reinforced Penguin update with their core ranking algorithm to destroy link farms.
- 2017 – Mobile experience became the main focus for the year. Google started to advocate the importance of mobile experience.
There were more updates and some new search engines started to gain popularity as well. Countries like Russia, China, and even South Korea have their very own search engines that have huge market share.
- China – Baidu, Bing, Sogou, Google, Haosou and Shenma
- Russia – Google, Yandex, Mail.ru, Bing, DuckDuckGo and Yahoo
- South Korea – Google, Naver, Bing, Daum, Yahoo and DuckDuckGo
So, you can see that apart from Google there are other localized search engines for the above mentioned countries.
Ahrefs, a renowned SEO tool launched their search engine Yep in June 2022. Let’s see how far they would go. On the other hand, Apple is also working on a search engine as well.
We will get to see whether the launch of Yep and the future launch of Apple’s search engine will disrupt the search engine market share of Google.
If you want to learn more about search engine history, you can check out the following articles:
- The History of Search Engines by Carlhendy.com
- The History of Search Engines by Liberty
Now we know that we know the history of search engines, let’s take a look at how search engines work.
How do search engines work?
Today’s search engines use their own web crawlers like Googlebot and Bingbot to crawl billions of pages. Search engine marketers often refer to them as search engine bots or spiders. The main function of a search engine is to crawl web pages and get them indexed on search engine results pages based on the ranking algorithms.
What do you need to know about indexing in search engines?
Once the web crawlers discover pages on a website, they go through the indexation process where the pages are added to a data structure. The indexation process considers a few important factors as the following:
- What topic does the page cover? What keywords or phrases the page is targeting?
- The type of content (determined by Schema Markups)
- The freshness of the page. Is it being updated consistently with new information?
- The user engagement of the page. How do people interact with the pages? (Mainly based on user experience)
What is the role of search engine algorithms?
Search engine algorithm works on showing the most relevant and high-quality web pages on search result pages that fulfil the search queries. It happens in a few seconds.
The algorithm collects all relevant information on how people are interacting with the pages and whether those pages are actually aligned with the user’s search intention. This information is used in algorithm updates that affect the search engine rankings of the pages.
What happens when you perform a search?
When a keyword or phrase is entered into the search bar, all the pages that are relevant to that specific query are identified. The algorithm positions the most relevant pages in the hierarchy to be shown on the search result pages.
However, the algorithms used to rank web pages are not the same for every search engine. A web page that ranks high for a search query on Google may not rank high for the same search query on Bing or DuckDuckGo.
Search engines don’t rely on search queries alone to show the best results, the also include the following factors:
- Search history – The search result pages show web pages based on the history of search. It means that the results that show up depend on the search query the user previously searched for.
- Geographic – There are search queries that heavily depend on geography or location. For example, “restaurants near me” or “dental clinics near me”. The search results will show web pages based on the user’s location.
- Language – If the user chooses to make searches using a specific language, search engines will return the results based on the languages if they are available.
- Device – Try to enter the same keyword or phrase on both your desktop and smartphone. The web pages that show up on both devices will differ.
Now that you know how search engines work, let’s take a look at how SEO works in improving the search ranking of websites.
How does SEO work?
SEO is the method used to rank sites on search engines. It’s basically the product of search engines. Search engine companies like Google have developed ranking factors to determine the most relevant web pages or content for search. The work of SEO is to make sure the web pages are following the set of rules initiated by the search engines.
To keep it simple, the role of SEO is to get your website to rank high on search result pages for the targeted keywords and phrases.
What is Optimization?
Optimization is the process of finding the optimal solution to a problem. In SEO, optimization refers to the process of implementing the right strategies to get websites to rank higher on search result pages. We’re talking about being smart with the process of optimization when it comes to SEO.
Organic Search vs. Paid Search
The main difference between organic search and paid search is that organic search offers long-term results whereas paid search offers short-term results. On the other hand, organic search is a free source of traffic once you’ve implemented SEO strategies that rank your site higher on search result pages whereas paid search only works when you continuously pay for each click.
When you enter a keyword or phrase in the search bar, the search result page will display two sections of results. One with “Ad” attached to their title and description and the other section with the normal listing. You don’t have to pay anything when someone clicks on your organic listing. This is the long-term search marketing strategy you want to focus on.
Paid search is still valuable and gets you results when you do it right. But when we are talking about smart investment, SEO should your choice. Studies show that organic search has a higher return on investment (ROI) compared to paid search.
And that’s why it is important to have a basic knowledge of search marketing. It will help you improve your site’s traffic while getting you the right prospects compared to other digital marketing channels.
What are search queries?
Many assume that keywords and search queries are the same thing. Maybe a synonym.
A search query is a combination of a keyword or a phrase that users enter in the search box of search engines.
So, what’s the difference between keywords and search queries?
A keyword is a group of words that are associated with a topic or title. For example, “digital marketing Malaysia” is a keyword.
However, search queries are the actual thing that humans like us enter in the search box. Not everyone is searching for “digital marketing for Malaysia”. Most the people will type in something like the following:
- Digital marketing Malaysia salary
- Digital marketing Malaysia course
- Digital marketing Malaysia price
Nowadays people are searching with different intentions. This is where the importance of search intention comes into play. There are three types of search intentions which are:
- Informational – Looking for answers to their search queries. For example, “how to optimize WordPress websites”.
- Navigational – Looking for a particular brand or product. For example, “ Zoho CRM for Real Estate”.
- Transactional – Looking to take an action (commonly purchases). For example, “buy baby organic skin care product”.
Why does SEO Need High-Quality Content?
You can never think about ranking your website without content marketing. Although many marketers consider SEO and content marketing to be separate digital marketing strategies, they are well connected and complement each other in driving growth and traffic for a website.
We are not talking about generic content here. If you’re serious about generating organic search traffic and converting your visitors, you need high-quality content that is relevant and solves the visitor’s problem. It’s not about the number of word counts. It’s all about the context.
For example, this blog post talks about “What is SEO”. We could have just answered that with a few sentences.
Why this blog post has many sub-sections that talk about search engines, search engine algorithms, etc.?
We want to provide value for our readers. They need to get their fundamentals right about SEO.
That’s what you should focus on when it comes to content.
Apart from this, these are some of the top benefits of high-quality content for SEO:
- Outstanding user experience: Having high-quality content published with the right structure will help your website offer a good user experience for visitors. It allows your visitors to easily navigate through your content and stay longer on your website.
- Generate Higher CTR (Click-Thru Rate): Many SEO experts mentioned that CTR is one of the important ranking factors. Google has mentioned that they do not use CTR for ranking web pages. Despite this fact, many studies show that there is a correlation between CTR and organic search ranking. Whether it is a ranking factor or not, having a higher CTR will help your site generate more targeted traffic. Quality content tends to improve your CTR, but you need to make sure your title and meta description is good enough to encourage people to click on your web page on the search result page.
- Earn quality backlinks: Creating quality content tends to get your content referred by other blogs and websites. They may include the link to your content as a citation. This allows you to earn quality links that show authority and credibility. Google still uses backlinks as one of its ranking factors. Earning more quality backlinks will help your site to rank higher on the search result pages (SERPs).
People tend to have a misconception about on-page SEO where they think there’s nothing more than adding keywords to their web pages.
That’s not true!
We agree that keyword placement is important. But there are other on-page SEO elements far more important than adding keywords.
On-page optimization has evolved over the years. However, it’s still the easiest part of search engine optimization (SEO). It’s also one of the things you have full control of if you choose to learn and implement to your site.
Let’s have a quick overview of on-page SEO
What is on-page SEO?
On-page SEO is an optimization process of your web elements to rank higher on search result pages and drive organic search traffic. It’s more than publishing high-quality content to your site.
Following are the definition of on-page SEO from other authoritative sources:
Moz: On-Page SEO is the practice of optimizing individual pages in order to rank higher and earn more relevant traffic in search engines.
SEJ: On-page SEO (also known as on-site SEO) refers to the practice of optimizing web pages to improve a website’s search engine rankings and earn organic traffic.
Backlinko: On-page SEO (also known as “on-site SEO”) is the practice of optimizing web page content for search engines and users.
The Importance of On-page SEO
You want to make sure the content on your website are relevant to the search queries you’re targeting. Search engine bots crawl your pages to identify the important keywords to understand your content.
Google wants to show the most relevant result to its users. If your page is about bicycles and you don’t include different types of bicycles, Google will look for content that covers everything about bicycles and rank them higher.
So, on-page SEO is pretty much related to the relevancy of search queries. The probability of ranking high on search results increases if the content is relevant and optimized for both search engines and humans.
On-Page SEO Techniques
Now you know what on-page SEO is and why it’s important for your website. Let’s explore some of the top on-page SEO techniques for beginners.
Add your primary keyword in your URL
The URL of your web page helps search engines understand what your page is about. Moreover, URLs with a primary keyword tend to improve organic search CTR.
For example, your target keyword is “accounting services cost in Malaysia”. Your URL should be:
Add your primary keyword to your title tag
Adding a keyword to your title tag is not something new. But where you place your keyword in your title matters. Try to put your primary keyword in the front of your title tag if it’s possible.
For example, the primary keyword for this blog post is “Google Ads Malaysia”
As you can see the title tag of our post starts with that keyword.
- Use modifiers to your title tag
Modifiers are words or phrases added to your title tag. It allows your page to rank for multiple long-tail keywords that are relevant.
These are some of the modifiers you can add to your title tag:
- Current year 
Include your primary keyword once in the first 200 words
Search engines focus on the first 200 words to understand the content better. So, it’s important to include your primary keyword once within the first paragraph.
For example, for our B2B SEO post, we’ve included “B2B SEO” within the first 200 words.
Add your keyword in header tags (H1, H2, H3)
We understand sometimes you are unable to add your primary keyword to your headers. But try your best to add them strategically.
When you look at this blog post, you can see that we’ve added the term “SEO” and “search engine”. Once Google index this page, we will have a high chance to rank for the targeted keywords.
You can do it for every content. And this technique would not make huge changes to your rankings. If you can add them without making a dent in the content, just do it.
Optimize your images
Visual elements tend to tell more about your content. Despite having countless algorithm updates, Google is unable to see images like humans. So, we need to help search engines like Google understand images by optimizing image alt tags and image names.
When you do it right, your images get ranked on Google Image search.
Here’s how you can do it:
- When you save your image file, use a name that describes your image. Don’t include your keyword in the image.
- Once you upload the image and add it to your content, make sure to add an alternative tag for your image.
Use External Links
You can’t create content without any external links. Make sure to link out to at least 5-6 authority sites depending on the context and length of your content.
For example, in this blog post, we’ve linked to external sites like Moz and SEJ. These are some authority sites in the SEO industry.
This technique indicates that your content is credible and trustworthy in the eyes of search engines, especially Google.
Use internal links
This is straightforward.
When you publish new content, make sure to link 3-6 other content on your site. If you’re producing long-form content, you can link more content. Just don’t overdo it.
Don’t simply use “click here” or “here” as your anchor text when you link to other pages on your site. Use keyword-rich anchor text.
For example, take a look at how we used the anchor text “Google Ads”, on this page:
When search engine spiders crawl the page, it knows that we are linking to a page that talks about Google Ads.
These are some of the basic on-page SEO techniques you can implement right away on your website.
Basic Technical SEO Techniques
Technical SEO is one of the most crucial parts of SEO. You may have created the best content in your industry, but if your sites have technical SEO issues, you’ll have a problem ranking high on search result pages.
What is Technical SEO?
Technical SEO is the optimization of technical aspects of your website to allow search engine bots to find and index your pages. It is also to make sure your site is secured, has a responsive design and fast loading speed.
Finding and fixing technical SEO errors on your website should be your number one task when it comes to SEO audits. You need to get your site perfectly free from technical errors before implementing any SEO strategies.
Why Technical SEO is Important?
Once your site has SSL, responsive design, fast loading speed and is free from any technical errors, search engines like Google know that you have a valuable website that can be shown on search result pages. If Google starts to rank sites with a lot of technical issues, they’ll start losing people who search using Google.
Creating a strong technical foundation for your site will help in satisfying both search engines and visitors.
Technical SEO Techniques
You don’t need to be a technical expert to resolve the issues. Just follow some of these basic technical SEO techniques.
Make sure your website is responsive mobile-friendly
A mobile-friendly website is a must today. If you’re having a non-responsive website, you’re losing potential organic search traffic from mobile devices. Make a complete revamp of your website to be responsive on all devices.
You can check whether your site is mobile-friendly using the following tools:
Create XML Sitemap
Sitemaps will help search engines to find and index your web pages.
It’s easy to create a sitemap. If you’re using WordPress, install Yoast or Google XML Sitemaps plugin. Submit your sitemap to Google Search Console.
Just log in to your Google Search Console account and click on Sitemap. Then click on Add Sitemap.
Improve your site speed
The site speed of your website is important because it affects the user experience. Google doesn’t want to rank pages higher on SERPS if they are slow. It means that your content will still rank lower on the search results even if it is the best one in your niche.
Check the elements that slow down your website using these free tools:
These are some of the steps you can follow to improve your site’s loading speed:
- Reduce server response time: You need to keep your server response time under 200ms according to Google. Usually changing to a more reliable and fast hosting will resolve this matter. Check out this guide on reducing server response time: 7 Ways to Reduce Server Response Time
- Compress image files: Use JPG format for images in your content. Use tools like Optimizilla or TinyPNG to compress image file size.
- Enable HTML & CSS Compression: Compression your site’s HTML and CSS codes can speed up your site by 60-70%.
- Integrate Content Delivery Network (CDN): Use reliable CDN like Cloudflare or KeyCDN to improve your site speed.
Find and Fix Broken Links
Broken links will affect the user experience when people visit your website. You don’t want your visitors to end up visiting a page with a 404 error. The first impression is the best. Avoid giving a bad impression of your brand with broken links.
You can easily fix this issue. If you’re using WordPress, just download Broken Link Checker plugin. For other platforms, you can download Broken Link Checker chrome extension to find broken links on your sites.
Check and Fix Crawl Errors
Have a routine check for crawl errors on Google Search Console. Fix them promptly because you don’t want to mess up with crawlers as it will heavily impact the performance of your website.
Go to Google Search Console and click on coverage to identify any crawl errors.
Install SSL certificate for your site
Google announced that HTTPS (SSL certificate) is a ranking signal.
Whether you’re starting a new site or already have a website, make sure to have the SSL certificate installed and configure HTTPS.
Introduction to Link Building
Link building is the practice of getting links from other authoritative and relevant websites to pages on your website. It is also referred to as an off-page SEO technique used in boosting the credibility and trustworthiness of your pages in the eyes of Google. The main aim of link building is to improve web page rankings in the SERPs and bring more organic search traffic.
Link building is important because links are one of the major ranking factors for Google. If you want your website’s pages to rank higher for targeted keywords or phrases, you need links. In most scenarios, link building is essential for competitive niches.
You don’t need to do link building to rank #1 on search engines. Some search queries do not require the weightage of links to be ranked high on search results. You still need to focus on other ranking factors rather than completely relying on link building strategies.
If you want to learn how to build backlinks, check out the following guides:
- Link Building for SEO: The Definitive Guide (2022)
- Ultimate Guide to Link Building – Ways to Build Backlinks
- What is Link Building? A Beginner’s Guide (2022)
Finally, we have covered all the important aspects of SEO; On-page SEO, Technical SEO and Link Building.
For the next and final part, we will explore how to measure the effectiveness of SEO.
How do we measure the effectiveness of SEO?
Knowing your numbers is the first-ever step to evaluating the effectiveness of your SEO campaign.
There are hundreds of metrics you can track that relate to SEO performance. As a beginner, you want to focus on the most important SEO metrics that will help you continuously improve your SEO performance.
** Keyword ranking is just an indicator of how your website is performing on search results. We do not use it as a performance metric.
Let’s get started.
Organic search traffic
Organic traffic should be your #1 SEO metric.
Why do you actually invest in SEO?
To get more traffic from search engines right. So, it is logical to measure organic search traffic. Make sure you’ve integrated your site with Google Search Console and Google Analytics before starting your SEO campaign.
This is how you check organic search traffic on Google Analytics
Log in to your Google Analytics
Click on “Audience” and choose “Overview”
Click on “Add Segment”. Choose “Organic traffic” and click “Apply”
Choose the last 90 days in the date range
Tick “Compare To” and Choose “Previous Year”. Click “Apply”.
Now you can see the year-on-year improvement of your organic traffic. This metric determines the effectiveness of your SEO campaign. If you’re not getting the expected results, then you should revise your SEO strategy. Identify the gap in your strategy and try to be consistent with your SEO efforts.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
CTR is one of the top SEO metrics that you need to track. Although it is often used as a performance indicator for Google Ads campaigns, it matters to SEO as well.
CTR = Clicks/Impressions x 100%
The number of clicks divided by impressions gives you the click-through rate. For example, if you’re getting 300 clicks for 3,000 impressions, then the CTR will be 10%.
According to research conducted by Backlinko, the page that ranks #1 on SERPs gets at least 31.7% CTR. If you’ve integrated your website with Google Search Console, you can check the CTR by keywords and pages.
You can check the CTR by following these steps:
- Log in to your Google Search Console Dashboard
- Click on Performance and choose Total Clicks, Total Impressions, CTR and Average Position
- Check the CTR by search queries as well as pages. When you look at pages, it may show lower CTR as the page may be ranking for multiple keywords. So, it shows the average CTR of all the keywords.
Bounce rate is defined as the percentage of people who visit only one page on your website. You don’t have to worry a lot about this metric because it’s not a ranking signal. However, it is an indicator of user experience.
It is normal for some pages to have a high bounce rate. For example, if someone visits your about or contact page may gather the information they need and leave the site. On the other hand, if your blog posts are having high bounce rate then you need to make some changes to reduce the bounce rate.
You need to provide the best user experience for your visitors with your content. If they are taking an action on your post like subscribing to your email list or downloading a checklist, then you don’t have to worry much about the bounce rate because your goal is achieved.
Having a bounce rate of more than 90% requires attention. There are a few ways to reduce bounce rate:
- Align content with visitors’ search intent.
- Make above the fold of your page engaging and get straight to the point.
- Create evergreen content that makes the visitors explore your site more.
- Make your content easy to consume with the right formatting.
- Avoid unwanted pop-ups or ads that affect user experience
- Add relevant and compelling CTAs (Call to Action)
- Improve your site loading speed
Average Time on Page
Another metric that indicates the effectiveness of your SEO campaign. When the average time on a page is high, it shows that the content is relevant and appealing to your target audience. However, an abnormal average time on the page shows that the page has issues with conversion. There are high chances for people to be confused with the content and CTAs.
Our goal is to keep our visitors engaged with our content for a longer time. If your average time on a page is extremely low, you can improve it by:
- Adding internal links to the right anchor texts
- Adding visuals to your content
- Making your site responsive to all devices
We’ve covered everything from what are search engines to how to measure the effectiveness of SEO.
Running a successful SEO campaign requires consistency in implementing the right SEO strategies. With the growing competition in the online space, it is important to make smart digital marketing investments. SEO is one of the best investments you can make today for long-term results.
If you don’t have the time to do SEO, you can always hire someone in-house or outsource it completely to an experienced freelancer or agency.
Always remember that SEO is not about ranking for keywords alone. It’s all about providing valuable information or solution to your potential customer’s problems and continuously nurturing them to become paid customers.
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