SEO (search engine optimization) professionals spend a lot of time looking at keyword ranking reports. These reports measure how high (or low) your website ranks for chosen “keywords”. By checking keyword rankings over time, you can understand how your site is performing in the SERPs (search engine results pages). In the past, agencies and SEO contractors were usually required to deliver weekly or monthly keyword ranking reports to clients as a form of ‘proof’ to show the progress of a campaign. Today, the industry is moving in a different direction and, thanks in part to recent Google algorithm updates, keyword ranking data is no longer pertinent to a successful SEO campaign.
What Keyword Reports Don’t Tell You
When we track keywords, we must first determine what those words or phrases are. For example, if we have a website selling face cream, one desirable keyword may be “almond face cream”. We can track the keyword and see how our website places on Google, Yahoo and other search engines, but what does this data actually tell us about the success of our site?
Critically, keyword reports don’t tell us if keywords are sending us traffic.
Secure search data and long tail keywords
With the rise of secure search data (i.e. searches carried out using https://), we no longer know what our site visitors searched for when they find our website. Google now uses secure search as standard, and Bing recently added an optional secure search function. SEO specialists using Google Analytics and other analytics tools cannot see keyword data for the majority of user searchers (over 80%). Ranking reports also obscure the traffic we receive from long tail keywords (for example “best almond face cream for dry skin”).
Google Hummingbird search terms
With the Google Hummingbird algorithm update (an update focusing on conversational search terms, first implemented in September 2013), search results are now given for multiple keyword variations. For example, a search for “cheap tvs” may highlight the following keywords : “cheap”, “discount”, “bargain”, “tv”, “tvs”, “televisions”, etc. This emphasis on ‘conversational search’ means that keyword reports for rigid phrases and terms no longer give us valuable information about how visitors find us through search engines.
Google’s search results page has changed a lot over the years; additional features such as sidebar adverts, sponsored content, author images (via Google+ Authorship) and local results (from Google Places) mean that getting position 1 or 2 for a search does not necessarily guarantee a high CTR (click-through rate) to your website.
From these recent changes, we can see that keyword ranking reports only paint a partial picture of SEO success; here are the ways that we can better use keyword data for SEO reporting, and alternative metrics to focus on.
1. Keyword Index
Rather than looking at fixed keyword phrases, you can create a group of 100 to 200 related keywords that correspond to a primary keyword area. Most professional rank-tracking tools such as Moz will let you add and track keyword index or rank index data. By looking at an aggregated rank score from many related terms, you learn more about your site’s overall search engine visibility and capture data on more long tail keywords and conversational search terms.
The reach of your website extends beyond just organic keyword searches. In addition to reporting keyword data, track and report the amount of referral traffic (clicks from other websites that link to you) and social traffic (clicks from social networking sites like Facebook). Total traffic volume data is more valuable than keyword ranking reports because it tells you how many people use your site, and how they found it.
Endorsements are mentions of your website (by company name or link) on other sites. Tracking the volume and placement of endorsements gives you another valuable SEO metric. Local SEO campaigns benefit greatly from citation tracking (company mentions), and social authority is achieved when sites get frequent links and mentions on social networks. Fresh links and mentions can be tracked using tools like Fresh Web Explorer or SERPS.com.
4. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Instead of focusing on keyword ranking position, it is more beneficial for your overall business objectives to report on your KPIs. For example, a useful website KPI is “20% more website traffic”, or “500 conversions/sales a month”. KPIs give you actionable goals that translate into business success. Overemphasis on keyword ranking results could lead to a loss of focus on overarching business objectives.
For more information on the death of keyword ranking reports and beneficial SEO metrics, take a look at Cyrus Shepard’s full Whiteboard Friday video from moz.com: http://moz.com/blog/death-of-keyword-ranking-reports-whiteboard-friday