10 May 2016

5 Ways That Tracking Search Engine Rankings Is Still Valid

The methodology used by leading search engines to rank web pages have become increasingly complicated in recent years – so complicated in fact, that many people now question the value of their efforts to increase their rankings.

Although people in the industry dance around the topic of “search engines,” in truth Google has a 64 percent market share. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on Google.


The Value of Keywords on Google

Google has gone to great lengths to take the focus off of keywords. The introduction of localization and semantic search with the Hummingbird algorithm makes it more likely than ever that a webpage might be returned in the SERPs for a wider array of semantically-related queries.

Also, Google’s change to encrypted search back in November 2011 made it virtually impossible to track visits for each keyword in all analytics platforms. Several SEO management platforms have developed custom algorithms in effort to provide some insight, but search marketers no longer have the ability to see the exact number of visits driven to the website from a specific keyword phrase. This was a strategic move on the part of Google to deter marketers from hyper-focusing on keywords, and instead encourage them to focus on creating genuinely valuable content.

Honestly, Google did us a favor. We should focus on building content that provides value to visitors, and not hyper-focus on keywords. In fact, tracking website traffic via specific keywords was never an accurate method of measuring success. We know that a webpage can be returned in the search results for hundreds of combinations of words that are found in the HTML titles, meta descriptions, and on page content.

We should focus on building #content that provides value to visitors, and not hyper-focus on keywords. Click To Tweet

Why Website Rankings Still Matter

I find it somewhat ironic that Google’s entire platform and business model is built upon keywords, yet the company consistently tries to dissuade website owners from focusing solely on keywords.

Based on my 16 years in the search engine optimization industry, these are my 5 specific ways to find value in the exercise of measuring search engine rankings.

  1. Shows the potential for traffic – Using your preferred ranking software or platform solution, select a keyword phrase (or phrases) that represent the main theme of your site. Set them to check the ranking on a regular basis, usually daily or weekly. If your site appears on the first page, it confirms that your current SEO strategy is working and your webpage is positioned to drive traffic to your site.
  1. Troubleshooting issues – If you are measuring ranking on a regular basis, you can easily identify pages that have encountered significant drops in performance. There are several things that may affect this, but is more likely a technical issue with your website that is the culprit. Two examples that we have seen often are: website releases where new technology was introduced that resulted in content being hidden from search engines, or something as simple as meta tags being overwritten. Without monitoring rankings, these problems can go on for long periods without being noticed, resulting in significant declines in organic traffic.
  1. Prioritizing SEO efforts – With a website of hundreds, or even thousands of pages, it is difficult to know where to make adjustments. Use your ranking report to identify the pages that appear on page 2, or “striking distance” opportunities. These are low hanging fruit, often requiring only minor adjustments to enhance optimization in order to bump a site to page one, where 90 percent of click through occurs. 
  1. Measurement – Don’t look to measure the number of visits for each specific keyword phrase – it’s not possible. Even if it was, it is not valuable. Measure the total organic visits and conversions to each page. If you have selected a handful of keyword phrases representing the main theme of each page of content, they still only represent the hundreds of possible queries that will drive traffic. Don’t get hung up on winning the “money phrases.” Instead focus improving the value of the content.
  1. Competitive Analysis – One of the valuable features of most search engine ranking tools is the ability to compare the gaps of where your competitors are ranking and where your site is not. This is a quick and easy way to ideate for topics to build additional content and expand your keyword portfolio.

What Industry Experts Say About Rankings

I asked two influential SEO industry experts their opinion on the value of search engine rankings.

Mitul Gandhi, Founder of SEO Clarity – www.seoclarity.com

Mitul Gandhi“The ones [companies] that are truly successful, see rankings as just one piece of the overall search experience they’ve built. The first stage in the Search Discovery process, not the end goal by itself. And they pay close attention to metrics that affect rankings (such as usability, indexability) but also equally to content coverage and content engagement metrics.”

Companies that are truly successful, see #rankings as just one piece of the overall search experience. - @mgandhi Click To Tweet

Seth Besmertnik, CEO and Founder of Conductor – www.conductor.com

Seth Besmertinik“Rankings represent a sampling of what a consumer experiences when they are going through their purchase process on search… Rankings ARE NOT a success metric – like traffic & revenue. However, THEY ARE a very critical key performance indicator to the progress of improving your overall digital presence.”

#Rankings ARE NOT a success metric...However, THEY ARE a very critical KPI of your digital presence. @Besmertnik Click To Tweet

As you can see, these two industry leaders agree. There are still key reasons for measuring search engine rankings. It doesn’t mean—as in SEO days gone by—that you should build a religion around chasing keywords that you think your site should be found, but there is still value in the exercise. It requires adopting a strategic plan, being diligent about reviewing the data on a regular basis, and fostering a willingness to take actions that will strengthen the effectiveness of your website on the search engines and overtake your competitors.

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