SEO Reports Can Be Misleading
The SEO industry has missed the mark. We’ve been hyper-focused on keyword ranking — measuring where a client shows up on a Search Engine Result Page. While this can be interesting data, there are other more important areas to measure, in my opinion. I’ll explain what keyword ranking (in it’s traditional form) does and doesn’t do… and offer a more powerful alternative.
What is Ranking, Anyway?
Keyword ranking refers to measuring placement of specific keywords on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). There have been numerous studies about the value of placing in the top three spots. Chitika Insights published a study in June 2013 based upon Google search traffic within the U.S. and Canada. They reported these stats about the top five SERP spots:
- #1 – 32.5%
- #2 – 17.6%
- #3 – 11.4%
- #4 – 8.1%
- #5 – 6.1%
As you can see, clicks drop off significantly the further down the SERP page. That’s why every business is clamoring to be in the top 3. That’s why SEO agencies have emphasized keyword ranking reports so ardently.
The Missing Piece in a Keyword Ranking Report
Imagine getting a keyword ranking report showing that you achieved #1 for a keyword. Wow! That means you’re getting the lion’s share of clicks . Woohoo!… you should be getting tons visitors to your website. Wrong. In reality, upon further digging… the keyword is searched less than 10 times a month globally. Hmmm… looks like the keyword ranking report isn’t giving you the full picture.
An Alternative Measurement
In the good ‘ol days (ok, circa 2011), Google Analytics told you what search phrases brought visitors to your site. Now it’s all “not provided.” The reasoning? Searchers’ privacy. Cynical folks like me think it’s to sell more AdWords. You can get this coveted information when you pay for search activity via your Google AdWords account. But I digress.
Ok, what’s the alternative measurement I propose? Well, several months ago Google made a change to Webmaster Tools. It now gives you some powerful data that provides insight regarding keyword ranking. In the section called “Search Traffic” it shows your top web pages/blog posts that had the greatest impressions. It provides average SERP position (aka keyword ranking) and click-through-rate. Why is this so important?
- Google is telling you what’s bringing traffic to your website now. By the way, they only provide 90 days of data… meaning you need to download the information into a spreadsheet regularly in order to track your keyword ranking over time.
- The big G is also telling you how many pages have been indexed (content that’s eligible to be shown in a SERP) as well as what keywords they’ve identified in your content. That’s a huge insight!
- If your web pages/blog posts are getting indexed for the stuff you don’t want to show up for… it’s time to re-optimize. Tweak the content so the bots better recognize what your website is about. Use the data in order to attract more qualified visitors.
The SEO industry is still clutching tightly to keyword ranking reports. It’s data SEOs are most comfortable using. Yet it only provides a piece of the puzzle. It’s important to understand how many searchers are actually done each month. If you’re a local business, you’ll need to pay particular attention to the search volume in your geographic region. A search term may seem hot, but further digging may indicate low volumes in your region.
My suggestion is to make sure your Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools are set up properly. Collect and download the data for comparative analysis. If you use an White Hat SEO tool like Moz, continue measure keyword rankings against your main competitors. But acknowledge that it’s not providing the entire (and most important) picture.
I’m formulating a new methodology and reporting structure (using data from GA and Webmaster Tools) to use with our clients. What are your thoughts about this alternative approach to keyword ranking reports?
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