Until recently, you spoke of marketing and SEO and the first thing to be discussed was keyword rankings – the important performance metric.
Rewind 5 or 6 years and there was so much more information most searched keywords. This information was readily and transparently available in Google Analytics. The Google Keyword Tool provided quite accurate search volume estimates.
Then things started changing….
First came the encrypted search and the dreaded ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics, making it tougher to measure the impact from organic search.
Next up was Google’s move to show estimates in broad ranges. So now, you only know that a keyword was being searched between 1k-10k times per month rather than 1,400 times each month.
Not quite helpful, is it?
As a result, marketers were forced to shift their search strategy from a focus on individual keywords to focusing on topic-centric content.
Why Keyword Rankings are Inaccurate?
There are three primary reasons why keyword ranking data is largely inaccurate.
Personalized Search Results
Google shows a user results that are personalized that user’s search history. So, if I have been looking at the Tesla website for some time and I query ‘electric cars’, there is a high likelihood of Tesla featuring near the top. But this wouldn’t be true for everyone searching for ‘electric cars’. This means there is no website that actually ranks #1!
Device and Location
Google also moved from generic results to results specific to the user’s device and location.
For example, when you look up ‘Austin restaurants’, Google can see which device you’ve searched from and where you’re searching from.
Now you know why strong keyword rankings may not necessarily bring increased organic traffic or revenue.
If keyword rankings are your North Star, you may be traveling in the completely wrong direction.
If you are only obsessed with tracking each page against a ranking goal, you are missing a lot value that your content is bringing otherwise. For example, if you’ve posted a research report to drive backlinks or social traffic, it may not rank for much itself. Thus, using keyword rankings as the success of your content could be completely inaccurate.
To take care of such issues, we have to modify our approach to measuring content. Rather than analyzing the performance of content, page-by-page, it makes more sense to look at the performance of content at the topic level.
If your primary goals are organic search traffic and conversions, you can group your content into clusters to gain visibility for any searches related to a given topic. And you look at the collective performance of these groups of webpages instead of simply the performance of individual pages. This can also help you understand which topics tend to drive more traffic growth and which topics tend to convert traffic at a higher rate.
This can provide clearer insights on what you should focus on, without obsessing over individual keyword rankings.
Are Keyword Rankings Obsolete?
This is not to say that keyword rankings are completely obsolete or dead!
Keyword data can prove useful for identifying any SEO problems that happen to your site, and also to look into the intent behind certain types of searches.
The bottom line is, as a marketer you should be aware that the data related to keywords is not 100% accurate. While it can be ‘a’ metric, it should never be ‘the primary’ performance metric.
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