The Importance of Keyword Rankings for SEO

PushON | December 12th 2012

This week it’s been announced that Raven will be dropping keyword rankings from their software, as they are removing ‘unauthorised Google data’ from the platform. They have given January 2nd as the date when this will happen, and from that point onwards, anyone wanting to monitor keyword rankings will have to find an alternative solution.

How does this impact?

Typically, keyword rankings are used as a reporting metric to understand SEO performance. By monitoring a set of keywords within the search engines (i.e. Google), any changes (positive or negative) can be seen, which allows for a better understanding of how SEO activities are impacting search visibility.

Raven has become one of the more wider-used pieces of SEO software, and many people (such as ourselves) have used it for the keyword rankings and reporting functionality. This has now led us to exploring alternatives to use in order to meet our requirements.

The importance of keyword rankings for SEO

So how important are keyword rankings? Still pretty damn important.

There’s been the odd person that I’ve seen that’s tried to downplay rankings (i.e. “you shouldn’t report on keyword rankings, they aren’t accurate, etc”).

In truth, the actual positions of keywords within the search engines have become less important, as there are many other factors that influence whether a searcher will visit your website that ranks. It used to be that you could get a number one ranking and comfortably get the majority of traffic for those searching on that term, but there are many other influences these days, including:

  • An increase in PPC visibility – The traditional ‘block’ of paid listings has grown significantly over recent times. There are more significant ad extensions, and Google has been adding more features such as credit card comparison and newsletter signup into the mix, amongst other things. The more going on in the paid listings, the less visibility the organic listings ultimately get.
  • Rich snippets and authorship – As Google continues to rollout support for semantic data within the search results, the traditionally plain organic listings are becoming much more eye-catching. Author images, star ratings and many other features are finding their way into the search results, which have been proven to impact click-through rate.
  • Universal search and localisation – Universal search results such as local listings, images and video are finding their way into the search results more than ever. These blocks of results can sometimes even appear in pairs, and can shift traditional organic results further down the page. Again, this can have a significant impact on click-through rate.
  • Personalisation– Perhaps the most significant factor is personalised results. Google has ramped up their promotion of Google+ throughout 2012, and they have also began rolling out new features such as Search Plus Your World, which can essentially change the search results completely for signed-in users based on the activity of friends/connections. Of couse you don’t actually have to be signed into Google for the results to be personalised either. Search results can often change based on the browsing habits of people, and you might not necessarily see the same results on two separate times that you search. This personalisation can make it very difficult for an SEO to exactly understand what the end user is seeing in the SERPs.

As shown above, there are a significant number of factors that can impact traditional organic listings, which therefore supports the argument that keyword rankings aren’t very accurate. While that may be the case for a lot of the time, they are still important for SEO.

Monitoring keyword rankings can tell you a lot about a website’s performance within the search results, and provide an indication that your online marketing activities are positively (or negatively) improving visibility. In my personal opinion, monitoring keyword rankings is extremely important to understand how a website is performing, as without them you have you are only getting half of the picture (in terms of statistics within analytics packages, and so on).

Reporting the keyword positions to a client should still be done, but it should be done with the benefit of supporting data. There should be less focus on “we’ve got you to number one on Google”; it should be more “keyword positions have risen, here is how it has impacted site performance, and here is the impact on conversion”. There are a large amount of metrics that can be monitored in terms of website performance, so it’s important to combine the metrics and don’t use a single one (such as rankings) in isolation. The focus should always be on how these changes are impacting actual website visits/conversion.

While the keyword positions might play a less significant role in understanding the likelihood of gaining traffic (i.e. forecasting), they are still important in understanding overall site performance within the search engines, and therefore (in my opinion), still have a big role to play.