The (Ir)Relevance of Keyword Ranking Today

Does it just bother me, or is everyone else bothered by the fact that many SEO agencies and their clients are still caught up with keyword rankings and how well they are performing for that all important keyword or key phrases on Google?

In a world of universal search results, personalisation and mobile internet access one might reasonably think that the role of keyword ranking reports must eventually diminish in the search engine optimisation process……or so you would think!

It is predicted that by 2014 there will be a greater number of mobile users accessing the internet than desktop PC users; what will SEOs report on then?

Will we default to reporting on keyword rankings from mobile devices and assume PC users follow suit; or will we have to report separately on both; or will we have forgotten about the (ir)relevance of keyword ranking reports and found something else of greater utility to focus on?

If, like me, you’d rather focus on something more concrete and almost irrefutably measurable like say Organic ROI, Organic Visits, Organic Conversions or Organic Breadth & Depth (tracking the growth of the number of keywords that are generating natural search engine visits and the number of pages that are generating natural search engine visits) then hopefully you’ll be pleased to see that we are going to great lengths to help SEOs report to clients about the things that matter most.

For most clients this means answering the question as to how much ROI they are getting from their investment in SEO.

For users of Analytics SEO you’ll be pleased to hear that the new version of the software launching on December 3rd includes an array of new ROI reports. You can simply enter the monthly spend on SEO and the system will generate all the ROI calculations you need and even compare the cost/click or cost/conversion between your SEO and PPC campaigns……automatically.

For those of you who cannot wait for the new version, here’s a preview link to the new interface in the ‘Dashboard’ area of the tool:

Preview site

Log in details:

username: demo

password: demo

You’ll have access to one website, Once logged in, if you have any feedback for us, please do send us your comments via the Feedback button on the right-hand side of the Analytics SEO screen.

Please note that we won’t be running any automated data processing on this preview site and all the data will be reset every hour. Feel free to play around with the software and get used to it before the ever-anticipated launch this coming Friday, 3rd December!

There’ll also be a comprehensive blog post alongside the launch on December 3rd.

(Update: It’s all live now – so feel free to sign-up and give it a try!)

Anyway, back to keyword ranking. I’m not saying it still has no role to play. It’s wise to keep tabs on how the keywords you’re targeting are performing; but please do recognise that there are loads of reasons why keyword ranking is unreliable as a measure of SEO success and why you should be looking at other measures to show what a great job you are doing of optimising your website.

With personal search, local search and mobile internet access, keyword ranking is harder to report on accurately and it’s not as important as it used to be. Google shows all kinds of information from a huge variety of different database and depending upon the nature of the query it may return multiple links from one (or more) sites including site breadcrumbs and sitelinks as well as web listings, Google Places (local listings), news, videos, images, shopping, social, blogs, and so forth.

For me the game is now more about increasing your opportunities to be seen and going for multiple placements on the SERPS for relevant keywords. So think news, video, local, social, images and so on.

I hope I’m not labouring the point, but we’re often asked to confirm or double check the accuracy of ranking reports (which we are always happy to do) and we go to great lengths to report accurately for the territory you are targeting and to minimise as much as humanly possible the impact of personalisation; but please bear in mind that any combination of the following factors could influence what results are returned and explain why for many SEO agencies and their clients seeing different ranking results is commonplace.

  • The user’s location
  • Whether or not they are signed into Google
  • The device they are using – you’ll get different results from mobile devices
  • Whether the key phrase searched for implicitly implies a local search, e.g. “dry cleaners”.
  • Whether they have turned Google Instant on or off
  • Whether they have set their preferences to more than 10 results
  • Whether their preferences have turned off adult sites
  • Plurals and word order make a difference
  • As does including words in "" for an exact match
  • Whether they are using the Google Toolbar
  • Whether you select All the Web or UK Results only (or the relevant Country/Language results for your country)
  • Whether they search on Google or one of its partner sites e.g. Ask or AOL.

(Hey readers – add a comment below if I have missed anything?)

As you can see from the example below a UK search for “dry cleaners” on Google and AOL (powered by Google) return different results. The Google results include their local listings from businesses listed on Google Places.

Google search engine results page


AOL search engine results page

We’d love a world without keyword rankings where people can concentrate on more important things, like creating great content and tools, a superb user experience, stuff people want to talk about and pass on. But we also appreciate that the clients who pay our bills want proof their money spent on website development, content development and SEO is generating an ROI, they use rankings as a simple measure of competitive position.

In Analytics SEO there are lots of ways to track keyword positions over time, to group keywords, see average keyword rankings, best positions, benchmark growth and so on. But I’d encourage everyone to try and educate their customers about its relevance today and get them to focus on more satisfying and illuminating competitive comparators such as:

  • Produce a competitive SEO scorecard – try and score yourself against your key competitors and then track movements in this over time.

Competitive site audit table

  • This begs the question as to who your real competitors are – doing this analysis periodically is illuminating! Take all the keywords bringing you organic traffic from your website analytics software and then check Google to see who ranks on Page 1 for this keyword and their relative position to you. Based on your traffic for each keyword and your relative ranking estimate their traffic. Add all the data up and get an estimate of all the sites (normally over 100) that compete for the organic keywords you rank for today. This will show you; who your real competitors are; how much more organic traffic is out there (Google already recognises you as relevant you just need to improve your trust and authority) and if you run this regularly it may highlight some up and coming new competitors or potential link partners. See Competitive League table example below:

Competitive league table

  • Organic breadth and depth – tracking the growth of the number of keywords that are generating natural search engine visits and the number of pages that are generating natural search engine visits shows that your content development and online link development efforts are paying off. (Coming soon to Analytics SEO!)
  • Benchmarking Data – Pull some KPIs from your website analytics software and produce an ROI report at the start of your SEO campaign and check this periodically during the course of your SEO work.

Benchmarking table

  • Benchmarking Data – Pull some KPIs from your website analytics software and produce an ROI report at the start of your SEO campaign and check this periodically during the course of your SEO work.
  • ROI Report – Keep track of organic visits, revenue and conversions and plot these results against the amount you are spending each month on SEO. You should be able to see a clear picture of whether your SEO is paying for itself and then some! Here are some examples of new ROI reports that are in Analytics SEO V3.0.

Monthly PPC Vs Organic Performance table

Monthly Ecommerce Performance table

What else should SEOs be reporting on? What do you use? What should clients be focusing on? Do you like the new SEO ROI reports? What else is on your mind…..we’d love to hear non-spammy comments and suggestions below.

By: Laurie OToole

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