Search Engine Optimization for WordPress

WordPress is THE tool of choice by top bloggers. WordPress is a free, open source content management solution that is easy to install and use. But, WordPress needs a few tweaks and adjustments to make it attractive to the search engines. So, let’s jump right into how you can modify WordPress to achieve top rankings in the search engines.

On-Page Search Engine Optimization 

In this section, you’ll discover the essential tips and tricks to make all search engines fall in love with your WordPress blog. When they love your blog, they will pay you a visit more and more each day, and proudly display your content on their search engine results page (SERP) for the whole world to see. 

Before you continue, you should make sure you can at least find your way around your WordPress Dashboard and are comfortable when creating new posts and pages. 

There are two types of search engine optimization you need to pay attention to, namely On-Page Optimization and Off-Page Optimization. 

On-Page Optimization means optimizing all the elements within your WordPress website; something over which you have direct control. For the purpose of improving your ranking on the search engines, you need to: 

Create a search-engine-friendly Permalinks

Create a search-engine-friendly Title Tag 

Create keyword-focused Post Slugs 

It all starts with your blog name and description. Although you can name your blog anything you want, remember that it will show up in your blog title and many other places as well. Under the Options > General tab you’ll see this: 

 

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Here’s the strategy I use: 

Weblog Title: Your Primary Keyword 

Tagline: Your Secondary Keyword(s)

Naming your blog this way has several advantages: 

Firstly, it lets you automatically insert your primary keyword at the end of each post. 

Secondly, it lets you use both your primary and secondary keywords on your index page (default page of your WordPress blog) instead of just one keyword. 

Permanent Link Structures 

The first important SEO strategy is changing your Permalinks.

Permalinks or permanent links are how your individual pages appear to the search engines. Let’s say you create your first post and call it “Welcome to My Blog”, then by default your permalink will look something like this: 

http://www.yourdomain.com/?p=123 

Although this is ok, in terms of search engine optimization it’s not the ideal thing to do because by looking at it I can’t tell what your post is about. The search engines can’t either! 

So the first thing we want to do in terms of search engine optimization is to make sure our permalinks are “search engine friendly”, which means that they are in a format preferred by search engines like Google and Yahoo. 

To do this, you’ll need your FTP application again. Connect to your host, and in the directory where you installed WordPress, look for a file called .htaccess – this file controls permissions to your entire WordPress account. 

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Set the permissions to be 766 as the image below: 

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NOTE: Creating access permissions for your htaccess file is done automatically in WordPress version 2.3 and above, but you can do it anyway so you know how it’s done.

WordPress gives you the option of modifying the permalinks into more search-engine friendly formats. There are 2 options you can use: 

Option 1: Basic SEO – Good for Any Blog

4.jpgThis type of structure is ideal for almost any type of site you want to create. The screenshot on the left shows how to edit your Permalinks. You need to click on the tabs Options > Permalinks and you’ll see this, and this is the code you enter under Custom Structure: 

/%postname%/  

Then, click on “Update Permalink Structure” to change all previous and future posts into this new format. 

Option 2: Advanced SEO

If you have already used WordPress before, use this structure: 

/%category%/%postname%/ 

Each post or page you create in WordPress will be assigned to a “Category” which is a numeric value (a number). This will change your post into: 

www.YourDomain.com/mycategory/welcome-to-my-blog/ 

Please note that if you use this type of permalink, you should only assign one category to each post. You should also NEVER change your categories once you’ve created them, since this is equivalent to deleting a post. As far as search engines are concerned, your page will no longer exist if your category is deleted or changed. Then, your new page will have to go through the entire process of getting re-indexed and ranked. 

This structure is better because you can use your primary keyword in your category name, and secondary keywords in your post name. However, if you’re doing this for the first time, you’re bound to make mistakes with naming categories and you may want to change them later. 

That’s why I recommend that you go for Option 1 if you’re a beginner, and only use this type of permalink on your second WordPress blog. 

If you’re getting an error message when you try to update your permalink structure, it means that you need to modify the access permissions for your .htaccess files. 

Bottom Line: Once you have chosen a permalink structure, NEVER EVER change it again especially if your website is already indexed in Google or other search engines. Doing so will only cause your existing pages to be considered invalid and you’ll have to go through the process of indexing your pages all over again. 

Title Tags, Descriptions, and No-Index

The second most important SEO strategy is modifying your Title Tags. Most search engines still read your title tags first to find out what your content is about, and how to rank it when someone does a search related to what you’ve written. 

By default, here’s how WordPress displays the title of your post: 

Your Site Name >> Your Post Name 

All you have to do is to reverse that order and put your page name first, followed by the category name and finally your blog’s name, like this: 

Your Post Name | Category Name | Blog Name

This gives you the advantage of putting your post title (with your keywords in them) first, increasing your chances of getting ranked higher. Now your title tag is much more meaningful to both humans and search engines. 

Confused? Most people never notice the title tag of a website, but search engines always do. When someone does a search in Google, the first thing they see is your title tags.

To start editing your title tags and other tags, we’ll use a WordPress plugin called “All-In-One SEO”. 

You’ll need to upload this plugin into the correct folder. Login to your WordPress again, and click on Plugins. There you will see a column for the “All-In-One SEO Pack” – activate this plugin. 

 

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Then click on Options > All In One SEO and you can enter some important configuration to your WordPress blog. Let’s dissect the settings by 3 parts so you’ll understand better what you’re going. 

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The first part controls your home page (main page of your WordPress blog). Here are the options you’ll see: 

Home Title – Referring to your keyword list, create a title for your blog using your primary and secondary keywords. Try to make it a complete sentence instead of just stuffing it with keywords. 

Home Description – Give your blog a description, and remember to use all your important keywords in there. Again, write this as if someone else is going to read it. 

Home Keywords – Enter your primary and secondary keywords. 

The second part controls the optimization for individual posts on your blog, categories and other pages. You can leave almost all the settings as it is, as these are pretty much the best optimization to use on your blog. I like to add the tags %/category_title%/ to the Post Title Format and you can add this manually if you want. 

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The final part of the settings has to do with duplicate content and the no-index tags. You should choose to have a no-index applied to Categories, Archives, and Tag Archives. 

 

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This is because when you publish an article or a post on your blog, it appears not only on your home page but in all those pages as well. 

Therefore, you’ll keep multiple copies of the same article on your blog, and this causes a problem called duplicate content, which is frowned upon by the search engines. 

You see, search engines like Google need a lot of hardware to store information from the Internet, and to use this server space properly they only want to keep one copy of everything. If they come across many copies of the same article, they will only keep one and ignore everything else. 

Since you cannot change the way WordPress archives and stores your content, what you CAN do is to tell the search engines to ignore duplicate versions of your content by using what’s called a no-index tag. All you need to know is that by checking the options exactly like you see in the screenshot above, you’ll be all set to optimize your WordPress blog as the search engines like it. 

Optimizing Individual Posts

The final On-Page Optimization trick you need to learn is how to create compact, keyword focused Post Slugs

What are post slugs? In laymen’s terms, it’s the name of your post

Let’s say you created a post called “I Finally Finished Creating My First WordPress Site Yesterday”. If you publish this post, you will get a permalink that looks like this: 

www.MyDomain.com/12/i-finally-finished-creating-my-first-wordpress-site-yesterday/ 

Now, not only is that permalink painful to my eyes, it also takes some time for people to figure out what your page is all about. 

Whenever you’re writing a new post, before you publish it make sure that you’re creating a compact, keyword-focused Post Slug which will be more meaningful to humans and search engines alike. 

Assuming that the keyword you’re targeting is ‘Wordpress site’, you should modify your slug to be something like this: 

www.MyDomain.com/12/my-first-Wordpress-site/ 

9.gifThe general rule of thumb is to make sure at first glance the gist of your post is visible on your permalink. To modify your post slug, you’ll need to type it in the Post Slug section when writing a post – YES it’s a manual process 

By doing this, you can write a more meaningful title, which is separate from your actual post slug, where you can just use your main keywords. 

 

 

 

 

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While writing individual posts, you will also see the All-In-One SEO pack’s additional features, which allows you to add descriptions, keywords and more to your post. 

Although adding all these keywords and descriptions on each post you write can be quite tedious, if you do this consistently enough you’ll soon start to see better traffic from search engines. 

 

 

 Creating a Google Sitemap 

A sitemap is a special file that consists of links to your entire site’s post and pages. The function of a sitemap is to give search engines a complete “map” of your website without having to go through the individual pages to find other pages. 

By using a sitemap on your WordPress blog, you’ll make it easier for search engines to find your content, index your pages in their database, and in time give your pages a search engine ranking. 

A WordPress plugin called XML Sitemap Generator will do this automatically for you. Activate this plugin in your WordPress dashboard, and click on “Build Sitemap”. The plugin will then automatically generate a sitemap for you, and inform important sites about your new sitemap. 

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Every time you post, the sitemap plugin will automatically notify search engines, and they will come over to grab your new pages. This will mean that it will take a shorter time for you to get indexed and ranked, and using sitemaps is an integral part of SEO. 

 

Off-Site Search Engine Optimization

While on page optimization is all about how your WordPress blog is set-up internally, off-page SEO refers to how it is set-up externally. It basically depends on: 

How many other sites link to your sites – the more the better!

How popular or established those sites are – some “authority sites” are worth more than low-traffic, new websites.

What keywords they use in the link – the keyword in the link must match the content.

Most search engines like Google place a lot of emphasis on links between sites, and they use this to determine if your site is worth getting a first page ranking or not. Therefore, it’s very important to have a linking strategy if you want to get a lot of traffic to your WordPress site. 

To do this, you must come up with at least 5 link texts for your website, with each link containing your targeted keywords or a variation of your targeted keywords. For example: 

  • Link Text 1: WordPress Blog Tips
  • Link Text 2: WordPress Blogging Tips
  • Link Text 3: Blogging with WordPress
  • Link Text 4: Easy WordPress Blog Tips
  • Link Text 5: Tips on WordPress Blogging

In the example above, the keyword I am targeting for my blog is “Wordpress Blog” and “Wordpress Tips”. 

If I were to just use the words “Wordpress blog” in all links pointing to my blog, most search engines will see this as keyword spamming and they may even remove your site from their database. To avoid this, you must vary the keywords you use. 

Understanding Pagerank and Alexa

PageRank is a term invented by Google, and it is often used to measure how popular or important a website really is. You can think of is as a formula that tells Google which sites to like, and which ones to dislike. 

According to Wikipedia: 

PageRank was developed at Stanford University by Larry Page (hence the name Page-Rank) and later Sergey Brin as part of a research project about a new kind of search engine. The project started in 1995 and led to a functional prototype, named Google, in 1998. Shortly after, Page and Brin founded Google Inc., the company behind the Google search engine. While just one of many factors that determine the ranking of Google search results, PageRank continues to provide the basis for all of Google’s web search tools.

The easiest way to get to know PageRank on a closer level is to install the Google Toolbar: http://toolbar.google.com 

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After you have installed the toolbar, visit some of your favourite sites and see how much the little green bar changes. This tells you that all sites have different PageRank, which also means that they all have different search engine rankings. 

If you want to make money online, PageRank is a term that you will come across many times, perhaps even more than you want to. It’s an integral part of Internet marketing, but here’s the funny part: no one really knows how it works! 

Unless you’re a Google employee with the proper authorization, you cannot be sure how this secret formula works. Here’s what the smart marketers have guessed so far:

  • It is a constantly changing formula 
  • The minimum is 0, the maximum is 10
  • More is better, so a PR7 is better than a PR3 
  • All sites start out at 0, and only a handful of sites have PR10
  • Google updates the PR of all sites periodically 
  • Having more links to your site can give you a higher page rank 
  • Having links from an established, “authority” site will definitely increase your PR
  • PR itself does not related to the amount of actual traffic

Another important thing to understand is Alexa rankings. This is done by www.Alexa.com, a subsidiary of Amazon. This company publishes statistics and ranks websites according to the amount of traffic that website gets. 

To check your blog’s Alexa rankings, go to www.Alexa.com and click on “Traffic Rankings”. Enter your domain name, and you’ll get a graph of your traffic.

Generally speaking: 

All sites start out with an Alexa ranking in the millions, for example 4.5 million. 

The smaller your ranking, the better. 

Sites that rank below 1,000 are usually huge sites like Amazon, CNN, Google, Yahoo and YouTube.

You rankings will fluctuate with the amount of traffic you get. 

So what’s up with PR and Alexa? Does having more mean you’re making more money? Absolutely not! 

PR and Alexa are measuring tools used by almost all site owners to gauge the popularity and worthiness of a site. When a seasoned Internet marketer visits your site, those are the first things he’ll look at to determine: 

  • If he should bookmark your site 
  • If he should read your site more often 
  • If he should advertise on your site 
  • If he should worship you as a “guru” 

In other words, PR and Alexa will influence how other website owners perceive your blog, so you cannot ignore these vital statistics. You’ll need to check quite often to see if your rankings are improving, but generally what you really need to focus on is getting more traffic. 

And the best way to get more traffic, a higher PR, and a lower Alexa is to build links to your blog. 

Links Building Tactics

Now that you’ve developed a list of anchor text you can use to link to YOUR site from other sites, it’s time to embark on a link-building campaign. Remember, link-building is a gradual process and you cannot expect to get this done in one day. Instead, you’ll need to do this continuously for several months at least to see results. 

If you have 0 links pointing to your site today and suddenly that increases to 1,000 links tomorrow, it’s surely going to raise some red flags in search engines like Google. 

So here are a few basic link-building tactics that you need to implement gradually. 

  • Create a small “blogroll link exchange” 
  • Submit your blog to web directories 
  • Submit your RSS feed to RSS directories 
  • Create a 3-way link exchange
  • Submit related articles to directories 
  • Submit your blog and tags to Technorati 
  • Submit your posts to social bookmarking sites

Create Your Blogroll Link Exchange

13.gifNow that we’ve established that having other people link to your blog is a good thing, the question is “where do I start”? 

The easiest way to start is by linking to other blogs within your WordPress account itself, and then asking them to link back to you. To do this, identify other blogs in your niche market, and add their links to your blogroll, under the Blogroll > Add Link tab. 

Once you’ve added a few sites, email the owners to notify them that you have placed a link, and ask them politely if they are willing to link back to your blog. 

 


This isn’t a fool-proof process – sometimes you get no reply, sometimes other blogs don’t want to link to you until you can match their own PR and Alexa. However, it IS the easiest way to get started.

“Blogrolling” is a long-term strategic move. As you build your blog you’ll find more and more potential partners to hook up with and sometimes just one blogroll link on any of these sites can bring a lot of traffic. 

Submit Comments on Other Blogs 

This is perhaps one of the more manual link-building processes around, but it works just as good today as it did years ago. Doing this is easy: 

Search for related blogs in your niche market. 

Subscribe or bookmark those blogs and read them regularly – you can use Google Reader for this (www.google.com/reader/). 

Find a post you want to comment on, and write a response to the post at the comments section, usually right at the bottom of the post. 

There should be a field to insert your web address, name and email address – put your link here. 

Your comments will be reviewed by the blog owner, and if appropriate it will be published on the post itself. 

Others may be attracted to your comment, and click on your link to visit your blog. 

Avoid posting shallow comments or putting your links in the comments themselves – a lot of blog owners don’t like people posting rubbish on their blogs and they will either disapprove your comment or just delete it altogether. Put your website only in the “Website” column to be on the safe side.

Submitting a comment is really more of an art than a science. Here’s how you can get better results: 

If the blog you’re reading has an article called “5 Reasons Why A Mercedes is Better Than a BMW”, then on your blog you can post an article that says “5 Reasons Why A BMW is Better Than a Mercedes”. This creates sort of a debate between your blog and the blog you’re reading. 

Comment on the blog, and invite the readers to check out “the other side of the coin” – tell them you don’t agree with the post, and you’ve written a rebuttal on your blog. Invite them to click through to your blog to read the full article. 

When someone reading the article comes across your response, they will be more inclined to check out your blog and leave a comment on your blog. 

Commenting is not an event; it’s a natural part of blogging. Therefore, do not aim to submit 1000 comments on blogs in a short time, and expect to do nothing after that. Instead, commenting should be a form of communicating with other bloggers for the long term, and you’ll need to do this all the time while you’re researching and writing for your own blog. 

Using Trackback to Get Links 

Your trackback will appear in the comments section of the other person’s blog as a related topic, and users from his/her blog will be able to click through to your blog. It sort of creates a conversation on the topic, and it can be quite interesting to read what different people have to say about the same event, idea or fact. 

  • You might not always find a “trackback link” on other people’s blogs. The reason may be:
  • They’re using some other blogging software, not WordPress. 
  • They have disabled trackbacks permanently. 
  • They’re using a custom template that doesn’t display trackbacks. 

If you do find a trackback link, copy and paste that link into the trackback section of your post and click “save”. 

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If you don’t find it, you can also just paste the URL of the post in here, it should do the job. 

NOTE: Trackbacks only work if you put in the URL before you click on “Publish”. In other words it will only work on new posts, not existing ones. This is because when you click on “Publish” your WordPress blog will ping the other blogger’s system, and establish the relationship between the two posts. 

Your post will appear as a link on the other’s person’s blog, in the comments section. Most bloggers choose to manually approve comments and trackbacks, so make sure that your post is related to theirs. 

On some blogs, trackbacks can occur automatically even if you do not enter the URL in the trackback column you see above. It all depends on the settings on that blog, the type of theme being used, and a couple of other factors. To be on the safe side, you can just do it manually. 

Submit Your Blog To DMOZ

Another SEO strategy you can implement is to submit your blog to web directories. There are 2 types of directories: 

The big one 

Everyone else 

The big one is called DMOZ, which is an open-directory project. This is perhaps one of the last directories on earth still managed and operated by human beings, and they do this voluntarily without getting paid! 

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Getting yourself listed in this directory is a cat-and-mouse game. You need to be sure of your blog’s quality before submitting, or it will get rejected. Re-submitting is even more difficult. You also need to wait a long time before some human being somewhere in the world actually approves your site. However, if you do get listed in this directory, which is one of the oldest in the world, it will increase your blog’s SEO powers tremendously. 

WARNING: Do not submit to this directory unless you have about 20-30 pages of content. If you don’t have that, you may submit to the other directories first. 

Here’s how to submit to this directory: 

  • Go to www.dmoz.org and type in your primary keyword 
  • See what categories and subcategories are offered 
  • Click-through to the most relevant category
  • Click on the “Suggest URL” link on the exact category 
  • Fill up your website details, after reading their recommendations if any 
  • Submit your blog

 

Generally, it can take anywhere between 6 months to 2 years for your links to show up in DMOZ. There’s no two ways about this – you’ll just have to wait for it. 

Do not re-submit your blog to DMOZ during the first 6-10 months after your first submissions. The editors are human beings and they work slow. After the time period do a search for your blog in DMOZ to see if it’s there. If it’s still not there, then re-submit. 

Sometimes, one editor may reject your site, but when re-submitting it might end up with another editor who may see fit to approve it. Either way, just get your submission done with, and move on the rest of the directories. 

Create a 3-Way Link Exchange 

In the past webmasters preferred reciprocal link exchange, which basically means if you link to me, I’ll link back to you. Most of these links will then be stored on a single page with hundreds of other reciprocal links, or in a link directory separate from the site itself. 

But later, Google started discounting reciprocal link exchange as it started to get abused, especially with low quality websites that started invading the Internet soon after Google Adsense was introduced.

Most experts now agree that a single one-way link to your site is worth more than a dozen reciprocal links. But that doesn’t mean that exchanging links is dead; it’s just been altered and automated. 

So yes, you can submit to directories and get a reciprocal thing going on, but that cannot be your ONLY linking building strategy. You need to get more one way links – links to your blog without a link back to the originating site. 

But asking someone to link to your site without promising a link back in return is a really hard deal to pull off. Everyone wants something in return for giving you a valuable link on their site. So how do you solve this sticky situation? 

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Enter 3-way link exchange. It’s simple, Site A links to Site B, and Site C then links to Site A.

This way, the sites are not seen as trying to game the search engine for higher rankings. When Google visits Site A, it does not find a link to Site C, and yet site C itself links to Site A. Done properly, this type of link exchange can help improve the search engine rankings of all 3 sites.

However, the search engines got smart, and they can also detect 3-way link exchanges if it’s not done properly. 

To create a successful 3-way link exchange you need to fulfill the following:

Quality sites only – all sites must be of reasonable quality, with real content and not blacklisted.

Varied anchor text – the text you use to link to your site should not be the same on every site. You should have at least 2-4 variations.

Varied IP addresses – the more the IP address varies the better. 10 sites on the same IP address could all belong to the same person or company and hence the linking is probably artificial.

Natural expansion – the amount of links to and from your site should increase gradually, as it would in the natural linking environment.

No ‘footprint’ – most software or program will leave a link “Powered by…” and this is no good because as more people use the same software it may appear to be mass-generated.

Submit Articles to Article Directories 

Another textbook method of getting one-way links to your blog is by writing and submitting articles to the major article directories. 

The trick to writing articles is to write them constantly, which really sounds easier than it is. If you’re not outsourcing the articles, you need to write and publish at least one new article every two weeks. 

One of the easiest ways to do this is to look back at some of the posts you’ve written, and turn these into full-fledged articles. Generally, this would mean anywhere between 400 – 500 words. Anything shorter and you’re likely to be rejected by most article directories. Anything longer is still ok, but would mean your readers get bored. 

But writing the article is really just one part of the traffic building campaign. You still need to publish your article to as many sites as possible.

Unlike submitting to web directories, article directories or repositories will not ask you for a link back to their site because you are already giving them something – VALUABLE CONTENT for their sites! 

It’s a give and take situation. Since you’re putting content on their website, they will allow you to create a signature file for each article you write, in which you can put a short blurb about yourself or your business, and put a live link back to your blog. Sometimes you can put more than one link, but for the majority of sites one link is all you’re getting. 

Here’s what you can expect from this activity:  

Don’t expect much traffic – Just because you submitted an article yesterday don’t expect to get rich today. Unless your article is picked up by a major website or published in a book, the traffic can be anything from 10-50 visitors a month from a single article. 

Expect links back to your site – What you should really look forward to is getting links from each article, back to your blog. 

Results take a few months to show – An article you submit today may not look like it can change your business. But these articles tend to float around the Internet for a long time, and in the long run (3-6 months), you’ll starts to see both direct and indirect results from article submission. 

There are article submission sites that work based on credits. When you sign-up, you purchase a number of credits, and use up each credit for a new article you wish to submit. Your credits will usually last forever in the system, and this method is better than the subscription if you only submit one or two articles a month. 

Here are two such credit-based article submission programs: 

www.MyArticleMarketer.com 

www.iSnare.com 

If you don’t want to submit articles to get links back to your blog to so many sites, the least you can do is submit your articles to just one site, which is www.EzineArticles.com 

Ezine Articles is probably the highest ranking article directory out there, and a link here to your site is equivalent to links from dozens of other less established article site. 

Submitting To RSS Feed Directories 

This method of getting backlinks does not work as well as it used to, simply because there are many more blogs and RSS feeds today compared to three years ago. However, since it’s free you can still spend some time submitting your feed to several directories. 

Unlike normal web directories, these only accept submission of your RSS feed. 

The benefit of submitting your RSS feeds is that other blog publishers may pick up your feeds and use them as additional content on their website or blog. Since they will link back to you, you automatically get backlinks to your site, as well as some genuine traffic. 

Conclusion

WordPress is the perfect blogging software – its free, there are lots of available plugins and support, and it allows you to fully customize your blog or website. With a few changes you can turn an ordinary blog into rich spider food, keeping the search engines coming back for more.

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