SEO campaigns focused on keyword rankings for many years. It was a simple metric that was used to determine how good a website’s SEO was and thus, how high their search engine ranking would be. If you look back at the history of SEO and how important keywords were, then you’ll see piles and piles of information available on Google Analytics that detailed just how important it was to rely on keywords for search engine rankings.
However, as time moved on, Google decided to lock this data behind encrypted searches, and it was no longer possible to view this data. More recently, Google decided that they would move search volume estimates in their keyword planning tool to show estimates in broader ranges. As opposed to being told somewhat specific numbers such as 2,500 or 6,400, we get larger ranges such as “between 1,000 and 10,000”.This isn’t particularly helpful for SEO, which forced marketers to change how they approached SEO. Nowadays, marketers are focusing on topic-centric strategies, thus giving keywords less of an impact.
One of the biggest concerns with keyword rankings is that the data is mostly inaccurate. There are too many biases that skewer it, hence why keyword ranking data isn’t a reliable source of information. Whether it’s the device used, the location or further personalization and other data, keyword rankings cannot be used reliably.
Search results are personalized based on your browsing behaviour
When Google+ launched, SEO circles were excited about personalization in searches. Even when Google+ crumbled, marketers still gave personalization a lot of consideration. In short, Google will always give search results that are specific to the user based on their search history. For example, if you’re known to search for cars, then the term “Beetle” will likely return results of the Volkswagen Beetle car and not the insect. The terms you search will give results that are based on your prior history, meaning that the #1 ranked website will be different for everyone.
User locations and devices make a big difference in search results
Personalization plays a huge role in keyword rankings. It skewers results and makes the sets of data ambiguous and hard to analyze. However, an even bigger factor is device location and device data. These are known as implicit queries.
A major advancement in how Google searches are performed is that they now take into account factors that aren’t explicitly stated in the search query. For example, if you looked up “shopping mall” a decade ago, then you’d get several different websites that talk about shopping malls and locations for malls that are miles away from you. You would need to explicitly state “shopping malls in London” if you wanted to find London-based ones.
Nowadays, Google automatically takes your location and device data into consideration, hence why searching “shopping mall” now will systematically locate nearby shopping malls and return them as search results. Even time data is taken into consideration. For instance, if you searched “pizza” at 02:00 am while walking around London, you’ll be directed to the nearest places to get pizza late at night in London. The full query would look something like this to Google:
“Where’s the nearest place to get Pizza in London, UK at 02:00 am from my current location that is currently still open?”
Google incorporates this information without you even having to explicitly state it. Your searches are completely customized and tailored to your needs, making it incredibly personalized no matter how or where you search from.
Keyword rankings can still point you in the right direction
Instead of looking at keyword rankings as the end-all of metrics to determine your SEO success, there are other ways to make use of keyword rankings. For instance, while high volumes of traffic don’t necessarily come from keyword rankings, it does indicate some level of relevancy that is important to your marketing strategy.
While you shouldn’t become obsessed with keyword rankings, you can still make use of it. As long as you’re not focusing on keyword ranking as the only metric to judge your website’s success, you can use it in conjunction with other statistics to help you generate a much better understanding of your search engine rank.
So, do keyword rankings still matter?
Keyword rankings might not be completely useless, but it’s important to create the right balance and utilize different sets of data in order to get a bigger picture of how your website is getting along. No matter what you do as a marketer, you need to realize that keyword data will never be 100% accurate and it should never be your primary metric for judging performance. If you’re still curious about how you can use different sets of analytical data to help your website’s SEO performance, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation.