11 Jul The death of keyword rankings
In the world of SEO, it is better to be totally ignorant than to know a little.
I don’t exaggerate when I say that the most dangerous thing you can do in the world of SEO is to implement a little bit of knowledge you have on the subject. Maybe your friend gave you some tips a few years back, and he’s an expert. We often get approached by clients who try and tell us what their SEO strategy should be. Most of the time this is based on old truths and half truths; perhaps with a sprinkling of up to date knowledge. Occasionally, some of it is downright silly.
But by far and away the most difficult challenge we face every month is attempting to move clients away from good old-fashioned keyword rankings. In a way, I can understand the reluctance. On paper, they’re easy to understand. They show at a glance whether things are improving or getting worse. It can be comforting to know that you’re number one on Google for one of your targeted search terms.
Or at least, it used to be.
Now, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.
This isn’t – as we have been asked – an attempt to move away from keyword rankings because we’re trying to avoid delivering results, or trying to avoid criticism. Keyword rankings are worthless. Why? For two main reasons:
- Locational searchWe recently conducted a test in which we used the same app to scrape Google for keyword rankings.* We targeted the same website URL, used the same keywords, and used the same app. The difference? One iPad was in Darlington, the other was in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The result? Completely different ranking positions. Some were the same, it’s true, but others were out by anywhere between 1 and 25 places from each other. It is no longer possible to create a report of ‘where you are on Google’ and have it be accurate anywhere other than the machine it was printed on. In this sense, it’s not possible give you an accurate reading of your rankings. All keywords may have declined in our region where we produce the report, but risen in your region (and that could be where you’re targeting improvements).
- Keyword targeting is no longer a viable techniqueBack in the day (10+ years ago), it was possible to target keywords and key phrases (also known as hero phrases) by jamming webpages full of that phrase or word. Google now recognises this as a deliberate attempt to inflate ranking positions, and so it penalises sites that do it. Therefore, your content must be unique and of high quality (well-written) to ensure that your website is seen by Google as a valuable resource. It’s no longer possible to trick Google into giving you a ranking for something for which you offer no content. For instance, our website is geared towards web design as it is our primary service. We also offer SEO packages. However, if we didn’t have a page on SEO, and ensure that we deal with it in our overall content, we wouldn’t rank for it, no matter how many times we crammed the keyword into the footer. If you offer a service, and you offer it with quality, you’ll rank, but the idea of ‘targeting’ particular keywords by dropping them throughout your copy is out-dated and of very little use.
Given how Google now constructs it’s algorithm, based on a complex mix of the overall authority of your domain name, your website as a whole and of the individual page in question, it’s far more helpful to view your entire website as a complete entity rather than collection of pages to target individually.
As such, keyword ranking is archaic and unhelpful for both agency and customer. Instead, overall keyword reach is a far more helpful metric. In short, pick a core service or proposition, and target that. Then, by measuring how many times your site appears in search results in the Top 5 across variations of this keyword, and overall rises and falls in actual traffic coming through to your site from Google organically. Not only does this actually quantify the actual results you’re getting for your SEO, which keyword ranking doesn’t in terms of actual traffic, it also allows you to perform additional metrics. Additionally, it helps weed out over-analysis of rises and falls in keyword rankings, which can happen for a myriad of reasons. These are not important, what is important is the overall trend, and keyword reach helps you see these trends rather than momentary fluctuations.
It’s hard to explain to a customer that their ranking may not actually have fallen, even if the monthly report shows a declined arrow. It simply means the position has dropped at one particular moment in time, and at one specific geographic location. With the natural cynicism that appears to accompany SEO these days, it sounds like making an excuse. It’s not, it’s the truth. But it’s also the truth that the ranking you’re receiving isn’t of much use for you, and given the questions that accompany them, it’s not much use for the digital agency either.
At Geonet, we’re hoping to introduce all new clients over to a new system of analysis in the coming months, and offer it to existing customers. It focuses on quantities of links, domain and page authority, and your keyword reach rather than ranking. Those who have embraced the new style have a better understanding of SEO as a result. They have created content on the back of the results which has helped improve results further, and seen a healthy increase in their traffic and sales. Overall, it’s been a very useful transformation of their SEO practices, bringing them bang up to date.
Why not join the fun?
* Nowadays, most Google rankings provided are ‘average positions’. Google provides you with the average position of your site, across all the users who find it on Google. This is because Google themselves have moved away from absolute keyword positions. Scraping Google is the act of not using these average positions from Google, but conducting a live search of Google to find exactly where you are at a particular point.