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Subdomains vs. Subfolders, Rel Canonical vs. 301, and How to Structure Links for SEO - Whiteboard Friday


Posted by randfish

There are some basic questions about SEO that come up really frequently, and it's often easy to assume an answer that isn't exactly right. In today's Whiteboard Friday, Rand tackles three of them:

  1. Should I put subsections of my site on subdomains or in subfolders?
  2. Should I use a rel canonical or a 301 redirect to move content on a separate site over to my main domain?
  3. If I have multiple websites all linking back to my main site, does that help or hurt my SEO?

For reference, here's a still of this week's whiteboard!

Subdomain vs Subfolders

Video transcription

Howdy, Moz fans, and welcome to another edition of Whiteboard Friday. This week we're going to chat about structuring content, placing content, and placing links, specifically with regards to some things that have come up over and over again in the SEO world, but still seem to be a challenge for many of us who play in the field.

One of the questions that I'm going to start with is around subdomains and subfolders, because this just comes up again and again and again. I think one of the reasons it's emerged in the last few years is, unfortunately, some statements by Googlers themselves -- a statement a few years ago from Matt Cutts, and one, I think last year or two years ago, from John Mueller basically saying, "Hey, Google has gotten much better at identifying and associating content that's on a subdomain with the main domain, and you don't need to worry about placing content on two separate subdomains anymore."

I am sure that Google has actually made strides in this area, but this question still has the same answer that it did years ago. I'll show you some examples.

You're asking, "Should I put my content on a subdomain, or should I put it in a subfolder?" Subdomains can be kind of interesting sometimes because there's a lot less technical hurdles a lot of the time. You don't need to get your engineering staff or development staff involved in putting those on there. From a technical operations perspective, some things might be easier, but from an SEO perspective this can be very dangerous. I'll show you what I mean.

So let's say you've got blog.yoursite.com or you've got www.yoursite.com/blog. Now engines may indeed consider content that's on this separate subdomain to be the same as the content that's on here, and so all of the links, all of the user and usage data signals, all of the ranking signals as an entirety that point here may benefit this site as well as benefiting this subdomain. The keyword there is "may."

I can't tell you how many times we've seen and we've actually tested ourselves by first putting content on a subdomain and then moving it back over to the main domain with Moz. We've done that three times over that past two years. Each time we've seen a considerable boost in rankings and in search traffic, both long tail and head of the demand curve to these, and we're not alone. Many others have seen it, particularly in the startup world, where it's very popular to put blog.yourwebsite.com, and then eventually people move it over to a subfolder, and they see ranking benefits.

But even more telling was a recent example from just a few months ago on the iwantmyname blog. Timo Reitnauer wrote on the iwantmyname blog a piece about how he had moved their content actually from the main domain to a subdomain, which is not usually the way we see things going. But, man, when that happened, ugly, super, super ugly. You can see his traffic graph. He graphed his Google search traffic and showed, from his Google Analytics, a nice snapshot of when they made the move, what happened to their search traffic, how long it took to recover. It actually still hasn't recovered. It's been five or six months now. So very, very frustrating for them, and they're going to move it back over. I think maybe they already have moved it back over.

But this was great in that this piece went to the front of Hacker News. Lots of folks from around the startup and technology worlds commented on it, shared their experiences and opinions as well.

Bottom line is it's really dangerous to put content on a subdomain still. I believe John and I believe Matt when they say that Google has made strides in this direction. The problem is they're not good enough or perfect enough to rely on that factor, and so I'd really urge everyone to keep your content on one single sub and root domain, preferably in subfolders. That's how you're going to maximize your potential SEO benefit. This is one of those technical SEO things that just hasn't changed for many years now.

Next up, a question around rel=canonical, and 301s, especially cross-domain rel=canonical, meaning people are pretty comfortable with the rel=canonical that sits on your own website on your pages and maybe says, "Hey, the print version of this page should actually be considered the same as the web version of this page. Or the mobile version of this page should be considered the same as the regular version." That's fine.

But folks have more questions when it comes to cross-domain rel=canonicals and content that perhaps they own because they own multiple websites, or they have licensing agreements across those, or they have business development or partnerships, those kind of things. So they're wondering, "Hey, I've got content on multiple websites, and I want to move some of that content, or I want engines to interpret it all as coming from my site. Should I put it on the other website and use a 301 to redirect it, or should I use a cross-domain rel=canonical to say the old page is now the new page?"

Well, actually this is one where, from a technical perspective, the engines are doing a pretty darn solid job. Google is doing a very good job. We've seen Bing make strides here with cross-domain rel=canonical. They seem to be doing a pretty good job as well. I haven't tested them as intensely though recently.

Basic story is with the 301, other site.com/a can redirect to your site.com/a, and both visitors and engines, anyone requesting the old page, get the new page. The only difference with the rel=canonical is that when a visitor requests the old page, they're still going to get it. They're still going to get that othersite.com/b. Search engines, however, are going to get the new version of the page, or they're essentially going to consider these to be one and the same.

What we've seen is that, in both of these cases, the ranking signals seem to be passed very similarly, if not perfectly similarly, very similarly. It's hard to detect any difference there. But the rel=canonical can give you an option whereby you say, "Hey, I want to maintain the branding or some unique aspect of something that happens around othersite.com, and so I wish that I could have visitors be able to still go to that page, but have search engines know, hey this is actually just a copied version of this one, and if you're going to rank one of these two, I'd prefer you to rank this one."

That's a great use for the cross-domain rel=canonical. But this is much more a user experience and a branding experience issue than it is a technical SEO one, because both of these work pretty darn well.

Then the last issue I'll cover today are around some of this content and link optimization stuff is: What if you've got multiple websites all linking back to your main site, and you're wondering does that or would that help my SEO? I can't tell you how many folks, surprisingly even folks who are very savvy, who have done lots of other stuff in the technical and web development worlds, are thinking about this from a SEO perspective.

I can understand where it comes from. Basically, you have this understanding that more links is a good thing and that more link diversity is a good thing. So you think to yourself, "Hey, maybe I can capture more links and more link diversity by having more slightly different websites. I want to keep my main site all about one particular topic or one particular niche of that topic, and I want to have these other niche sites that maybe I have some great domain names in my portfolio or some really brandable ones. Maybe I've picked up some old domain names that I've bought, or I've bought entire properties outright. So what I'm going to do is I'm just going to add a site-wide link or many links from these pages all back over to my main site."

What you're hoping is that this will amplify your ranking signals and amplify your opportunity. The opposite is true. In fact, what's happening is you're creating a barrier for the full link equity for brand, user and usage data signals, and any potential social signals. You're creating a barrier that's stopping some of those things from passing fully here.

Let's just imagine that you've got four links over here, and they are all pointing to mysubsite1.com, which you're then thinking, "That's great. That's exactly what I wanted to have happen, and now mysubsite1 is pointing to my main site." You're actually losing most of the link equity, the value, the ranking power that would be passed if only two or three of these links had linked directly over to your main site.

As we talked about with the subdomain/subfolder issue, by collecting all of the ranking signals on one sub and root domain, you create the best possible benefit. This concept of domain authority -- I don't necessarily mean the number in Moz's Mozscape Index -- the concept of domain authority is that basically as a domain becomes more popular, as it inherits all of these ranking signals, could come from links, from visibility, from branding, user and usage data, all the kinds of signals that a domain inherits, it passes those on to all of its different pages. But it doesn't pass them on to other sites.

That's true for each of these as well. They're inheriting signals that they're not fully passing on here. I'd recommend that you 301 redirect all of these and have one main site. It simplifies a bunch of your work and streamlines it. It lets you focus on building this one brand. Branding is so powerful today and online visibility as a whole, not to mention SEO, that this is really a best practice.

I would get rid of those subsites as best you can. There are still reasons sometimes to have a microsite or a different website for branding purposes, or if you're going to sell that site separately, or if it's a completely different team working on it. But from an SEO perspective, everything on one sub and root is really ideal.

All right everyone, look forward to the comments, and we will see you again next week for another edition of Whiteboard Friday. Take care.

Video transcription by Speechpad.com


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Enhanced Reporting Now Available in Moz Local


Posted by David-Mihm

As we approach Moz Local's first birthday—just over six weeks away—I'm excited to share with you our second major feature release since launch!

For those of you who are already managing your local search listings through Moz Local, this feature is available as of today for all accounts. For those of you who aren't yet customers, we hope this release provides a few more reasons to sign up (if you're curious to see what it looks like, you can check your local listing for free).

Read on for more detailed information about what we're releasing and why we're so excited about these new features.

local listing reach over time

New Dashboard Metrics

Listing Reach

Obviously local search is an incredibly complex discipline, and one of the hardest things for non-experts to understand (most of your clients and bosses, I'm guessing?) is the dramatic impact that the primary aggregators can have on the health and visibility of your listings. We hope that this metric helps explain the value of the data aggregators via Moz Local.

Listing Reach is our indirect representation of how far the data aggregators have spread your listings across the local ecosystem, based on the number of results returned for exact-match searches of your NAP. For more information about this metric, head on over to our Help Hub.

Percentage accuracy on each site in the Moz Local network

local listing accuracy by partner

While these metrics have always been available at the individual location level (and will continue to be), you can now view them right from your dashboard, and <spoiler alert> across multiple locations at a time.

New Reporting Features

Metrics across multiple listings

local listing accuracy

Percentage accuracy is not the only metric that's available across multiple listings; average score and aggregate listing reach are also enabled by default for whatever locations are in view on your dashboard.

Labeling of listings

If you're managing multiple clients, or work at a large brand with multiple locations, though, you probably want to pick and choose the ones whose metrics you want to roll-up. You can now add labels to each listing that you manage, for easy slicing and dicing.

sorting and labeling local listings

Our labels work similarly to Gmail, which we hope will make them intuitive to use. Once you add one or more labels, they'll start to appear as presets within your sidebar. Naming conventions are totally flexible, so you can segment your locations however you'd like.

You're just one click away from a roll-up report for all locations with a given label.

Enhanced search operators

To make the job of labeling locations easier for you, we've also added some additional search operators to make your lives easier. The full list of supported operators is below:

  • label
  • store
  • name
  • phone
  • street
  • unit
  • state
  • zip
  • url

You can use these operators to pull up instantly any location you're managing (and of course, view metrics for that specific listing).

Metrics over time

Two metrics are also now visible over time: average score and aggregate listing reach. One of the primary requests we've heard from agency owners and practitioners over the last several months is the need to demonstrate the value of your efforts to your clients, and we hope that graphs like the one below will help you do just that.

average listing score for local

In September 2014, you may notice a stairstep in the shaded area at the bottom of the report, and a corresponding dip in the line graph above.

The shaded area represents total locations under management in a given month. Our goal in showing your metrics over time in the context of the number of managed locations is to explain anomalies in the graph like the dip above. In my specific case, I added a mortgage broker friend's location in September who was just getting started with his Local SEO campaign—meaning his Listing Score was literally 0 prior to starting with Moz Local.

Those of you who phase in clients over time will likely see similar anomalies in your line graphs, so we hope that this representation helps prevent unnecessary panicking :).

Upcoming Enhancements

We're definitely not stopping here.

Later this spring, we'll be rolling out the ability to export metrics from your dashboard for use in your own Excel reports, a PDF report generation feature, and a more streamlined Foursquare validation process, among other improvements. We're growing our engineering team rapidly and will release these as soon as we can!

Check It Out for Yourself

As I said in the intro, this feature is available for all existing customers today, so just head on over to your dashboard. And if you're not yet a customer, we hope you soon will be.

Along with yours truly, fellow Mozzers from our product, engineering and account teams will be available for demos throughout the day on Saturday at #LocalUp, so don't be a stranger. We're looking forward to speaking with many of you in Seattle!


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Maximize ROI via Content Distribution Networks


Posted by andrewmeyer


This post was co-written by: @AndrewMeyer8 & @AudreyBloemer at Seer Interactive.

Back in 2013, Seer began testing the use of content distribution networks to help promote assets and valuable content across the web. Our goal was to test a variety of distribution networks to determine the best ways to pay for promotion on client content and assets. Overall, we wanted to test the impact paid content promotion had on assets that we had previously launched and to measure the impact of this traffic on the high-level goals of each client.

For those of you unfamiliar with this form of content marketing, content distribution networks are quickly becoming powerful tools for engaging new audiences and expanding the reach of creative content. This method for online advertising provides content within the context of a user's experience, making the native advertising feel less intrusive and more like part of a discovery process, all while increasing the odds that users will click-through.

The native ads appear at the bottom of well-known content sources like Time, CNN, USA Today, ESPN & the Huffington Post, and are served to users based on a variety of algorithms. This reduces the feeling of actually seeing an ad, as users are captured when they finish digesting other content and feel they have discovered the promoted content naturally.

content distribution network

What started out as a $10k intern-led test for Seer has expanded into a full-blown service offering for current clients that we're working hard to improve every day. Wil Reynolds also presented on this during SearchLove London. With a growing amount of data across multiple networks, we'd like to:

  • Compare overall stats for a few content distribution platforms
  • Share the results from some of our most recent campaigns
  • Offer tips to help you maximize the ROI on your campaigns
  • Provide feedback on some of the content platforms we've used, researched or tested
  • Share a few tests we'll be running in 2015!

Content distribution networks to test

Below are the metrics we have across multiple clients and niches for networks with significant data to report on. This includes a mix of mobile, tablet and desktop advertising, but we've also broken it out individually. Since conversions vary across all our clients, we'll report on specific conversion metrics in a later section. Across almost 1 billion impressions, here are the metrics we've seen.

Overall metrics by network

taboola outbrain analysis

* Seer used nRelate throughout 2014 to promote content that was niche-specific to tech, computers/gaming, and gadgets. In December 2014, nRelate announced they would be shutting down after five years in the industry.

While we did use separate platforms for different verticals, clients and niches, visitors coming from Outbrain tended to be more engaged. Typically these visitors from Outbrain were also more familiar with those brands and were not new visitors. We typically used Taboola to promote newer clients with less marketing reach and therefore the higher new visitor percentage and bounce rates are to be expected.

Comparing mobile vs. desktop

mobile v desktop analysis taboola outbrain

We've seen higher engagement rates for lower costs on mobile devices across both networks. When a client has a responsive, mobile-friendly site and a positive user experience on mobile we always recommend testing mobile campaigns.

We usually start by separating the audiences into two campaigns, one targeting mobile/tablet users and one targeting desktop users so we can monitor performance, CPCs and spend on an individual level. This allows us to get the best bang for our buck.


Tracking conversions & ROI on goal-specific campaigns

Building a holistic campaign for conversions

Goal Set: Promote one landing page for a large client in the B2B product industry targeted at small business owners using a holistic campaign across native advertising, Google Display Network (GDN), Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and outreach. The goal was to help generate 10 total conversions, with a goal CPA of $1,200 or less.

Results & ROI: Below is a breakdown of our results from this campaign, outlined by source, total percent of our spend, the sessions this spend drove and the percent of conversions for our campaign. Overall, we were able to reduce our CPA to $64.22 from the paid promotion efforts.

We spent the most with Taboola and it also drove the highest number of sessions. While Twitter spend was lower than three of the other channels, we were able to achieve a 10.53% conversion rate for the users we were able to drive to the site.

Despite Taboola having the lowest conversion rate, it was able to generate the largest percentage of conversions because of its ability to drive large quantities of traffic.

comparing conversion rate paid promotion

Improvements for Next Time: Next time, we'd like to better optimize our titles from paid distribution to target the demographics of our audience. We were looking for brand awareness and exposure, but could have altered our titles sooner to better target the niche market we were targeting which was small business owners.

Brand awareness & link building

Goal Set: Use Taboola to promote six content blogs from a recognized food brand to generate 5,000 visits for brand awareness & get 10 sites to link back to our content.

Results & ROI:

Taboola ROI

We ended up spending about $2,000 including setup time & spend, and drove over 11,000 clicks at a CTR of 0.055% to these posts. Over 6 posts, we saw an additional 1,000+ social shares and 82 new referring domains, or about $24.39/link. We also saw 31% higher pages/visit and a 28% lower bounce rate than our average campaign metrics.

Since the blog posts were all new and no outreach had begun, we were able to attribute the linking domains to paid distribution. Combined with the social shares, blog post comments and other goal completions throughout the site, we were very happy with the ROI for this campaign.

Important Note: Directly correlating links to content distribution networks can be difficult, so we recommend testing this with brand new blog posts, prior to any outreach, and using tracked URLs to differentiate traffic/conversions from the distribution networks. This also works best when you're promoting relevant and sharable assets in the right industries.

Improvements for Next Time: If we had redone this campaign, we would have made the embed links and social sharing buttons on the landing page more accessible and easier to use. The content we were promoting was timely, so the pickup was much better than if had we promoted during a down time.

Goal completions and lead completions

Goal Set: Promote asset from a prominent B2B company to increase lead generation.

Results & ROI:

CDN conversion rate

Through Taboola, we were able to promote the content on high quality sites like Entrepreneur and CNN Money. In less than one month, we drove 8,348 new visits at an average CPC of $0.32 and saw a 2.31% conversion rate, leading to 205 overall goal completions.

Improvements for Next Time: In the future, we'd recommend tracking additional assisted conversion goals to more accurately report ROI to the client. The page we promoted only had one clear CTA, so we also recommended including more prominent secondary CTAs such as social shares and PDF downloads to further increase the ROI and get visitors to complete additional actions on the page.


10 steps to better maximize your ROI

  1. Use Custom Tracking URLs & Parameters - Setting up parameters for your landing page URLs can help you track ROI all the way down to specific images or titles. Platforms typically offer the ability to include parameters on campaigns, but we'd recommend testing down to the image & title level as this can also help you determine which titles brought in more qualified traffic. By placing custom tracking on your embed links, you can also better track the link building results of your content promotion.
  2. Set Goals Prior to Launching a Campaign - Setting goals is a great way to both measure the success of your promotion and make improvements for the following campaigns. This will also help you to manage expectations for yourself and your clients.
  3. Include Micro Conversions on Landing Pages - Micro conversions help to track additional ROI from your content distribution. Maybe email signups or following your brand on social are valuable micro conversions for your business. These can also lead to additional reporting values once the campaign closes.
  4. Use Event Tracking on Landing Pages - Event tracking is by far the most useful method we have for tracking micro conversions. These can be assigned a variety of fields for a more granular analysis. We expand further on this process here.
  5. A/B TEST! - We can't mention this enough, but regardless of the goals behind your campaign, always set up some sort of A/B test. At a minimum test a few different titles and images on each piece of content you decided to promote. You can also test landing pages performance and optimize your pages for conversions! Setting a daily cap on your campaigns allows you to decipher the data and make changes before spending your entire budget in a day!
  6. Set a Daily Cap & Don't Be Afraid to Cut It Off - Setting a daily cap on your campaigns allows you to decipher the data and make changes before spending your entire budget in less than a day. Also, don't be afraid to cut off a campaign if the results are underwhelming. Usually two or three days of data is enough to tell if it's worth your time and investment. Cut it off and regroup with better titles, images or new content all together.
  7. Add a Static Content Widget Below Your Own Content - When we tested paid promotion vs. PPC, we found that on average, content distribution networks had an 8% higher bounce rate. In order to combat high bounce rates, perhaps include a custom widget at the bottom of your posts to keep users on your site. How did people end up finding your articles? Through the "read more" or "you may like" sections below content pieces! You can either hardcode additional blog posts at the bottom or rotate your most popular articles to help keep users on your site and engaged with your brand's content.
  8. Use Your Data to Inform Future Decisions - Once you A/B test titles, images and landing pages, measure the success of each campaign and use that data to inform future content and marketing decisions. If certain titles or images resonated well with your audience, update the posts you promoted and use this knowledge to help make future decisions. You can even use the data to inform your PPC decisions as well!
  9. Write Titles to Better Target Demographics - With most content distribution networks, you can't target by demographic or interest. One way to better utilize your spend is to speak directly to your audience with your campaign titles and images. In one campaign, we were looking to target 35-45 year old mothers for a contest and used CTAs in our titles that were focused directly at moms.
  10. Implement Social Sharing Numbers and Prep for the Residual - We've found that making your social sharing buttons more prominent and including social sharing counters led to an exponential increase in shares. Also, prepare for residual traffic after you pause a promotion. Looking at the cumulative traffic to five landing pages of a recent campaign, we saw an additional 15,540 visits to these pages over six weeks, from social and new backlink referrals, after the promotion ended. If you've found the right audiences that share via social, the reach for the campaign continues to grow even after the promotion ends.

paid promotion timeline


Features for each distribution network

Seer POV: Overall, we've found that this platform is highly scalable as you can send a higher quantity of traffic more quickly than others at a lower cost. In terms of quality of traffic, bounce rates compared to Outbrain are slightly higher and on average users spend less time on site than Outbrain visitors. However, depending on niche, Taboola can outperform Outbrain.

Pros: Generally less-expensive CPCs than other platforms, easier to upload content, images and titles, well-respected news and content publishers.

Cons: Can't edit multiple campaigns or multiple titles/images at once, somewhat outdated admin/backend platform, and inability to pull native ad examples appearing in the wild.

taboola pros cons

Seer POV: Along with Taboola, this is one of Seer's favorite distribution networks. One intriguing development for Outbrain is they recently became the sole provider of content distribution for Time.com, which makes their platform more appealing to advertisers like ourselves in 2015.

In terms of quality of traffic, Outbrain generally sends fewer visitors to the site for the same cost as Taboola, but users are more engaged and tend to have a higher conversion rate.

Pros: Better post-click results in our tested campaigns and easy uploading system.

Cons: The self-service admin is also a little difficult to use. Can't pull large data sets from the admin, so when comparing to a Twitter or Pinterest Analytics dashboard, there is definitely room for improvement!

outbrain pros cons

Seer POV: Gravity once had a substantial monthly minimum, which caused us to initially forgo testing in 2014. Now that the threshold has been lowered, we've started planning initial campaigns for Q1 of 2015. Some of their larger network sites include Wordpress, AOL, Forbes & exclusivity with the Huffington Post. Gravity also has some niche specific sites that might work well for auto, beauty and sports content. We'll follow up once we have statistics to share.

Seer POV: ZergNet operates differently than the other distribution networks, as it is not yet monetized. It's free to work with ZergNet, but you're required to have a widget placed on your site to promote your article (along with others), that sends traffic to the ZergNet homepage. The problem with this model is that it's a 1:1 relationship and you must push traffic from your site to Zergnet in order to capitalize. If you are looking for a CPC mode,l you will not find it here. While a CPC model is not yet available, there are plans to potentially expand to this in 2015.

Seer POV: Initially, there were high monthly minimums for spend, however if you upload funds via a credit card, then there are no monthly minimums. The biggest advantages we see is here is the ability to target based on interests (other content networks use an algorithm that advertisers can't control) and implement retargeting for ads. Publishers include Forbes, VentureBeat, Parade, Bloomberg, Answers.com and more.

Seer POV: Zemanta has moved away from their old platform to promote content at scale across multiple content networks. They'll aggregate your content into multiple ad formats, then use platforms like Outbrain, Adblade, Gravity, and Disqus to promote them at scale. We prefer to work directly with each platform for more transparency and control over campaign optimizations.

Others we've reviewed, but not yet tested:


What's next? What we're testing in 2015

2015 is going to be another big year for content marketing, especially as digital continues to grow into a more holistic marketing channel. As we shown above, we've spent a lot of time testing out various networks and strategies in 2014 and are excited to continue the push in 2015, specifically on paid social promotion combined with content distribution.

Content promotion is more than just building links; it's about doing #RCS and running integrated campaigns to drive engagement and interest in your business. During the course of the year we worked closely with one of our largest ecommerce clients to support several marketing campaigns.

The goal was to drive engagement with the assets created and ultimately to drive users to complete the desired conversion action, which was a combination of signups and downloads. The results of this campaign led us to put more emphasis on this holistic approach.

paid promotion comparison chart

While not all social networks have the scale of the content distribution networks, their targeting abilities more than make up for it. You can see that overall conversion rates are much higher with relatively comparable CPCs. While, setting up multiple, A/B tested social campaigns is a more tedious process and slightly more costly compared to content networks, the results we've seen when compared 1:1 to content distribution are promising.

Lastly, since Pinterest just opened up their ad platform to businesses in January, we'd like to start combining content distribution with concurrent Pinterest promotion to determine how Pinterest ads stack up against the variety of other distribution platforms. We're already seeing quite a significant ROI in our initial test, with CPCs ranging from $0.20 - 0.25 and CTRs around 0.15% - 0.20%.

Do you have any data to share on other content distribution networks? Are there any other networks we should be testing in 2015? We'd love to hear your comments below or feel free to reach out via Twitter - @AndrewMeyer8 & @AudreyBloemer!


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