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SEO Self-Assessment Series: Historical Keyword Rankings

Video 8: Historical Keyword Rankings

This video reviews the importance of keyword rankings as part of our SEO self-assessment video series. You can watch the eight videos in any order you want and go at your own pace. We do recommend watching them all to learn which tools and resources we use at Workshop Digital.

Today we're talking about monitoring your search engine rankings and interpreting that information to help you analyze and assess your own website's performance. It's part of our eight-part SEO self-assessment video series. We've been publishing the videos on a regular basis, but you can watch them in any order and go at your own pace.

A lot of people are still under the assumption that where you rank in a search engine is the end all be all metric, and it's the biggest indicator of success in your SEO strategies. We at Workshop Digital argue that it's just a leading indicator. It's just one data point. And it's not the ultimate answer to all of our search engine optimization strategies. Rankings matter, rankings help. But ultimately, we're more focused on the traffic and conversions that result from those organic rankings to make sure we're pulling in the right types of visitors, bringing in quality traffic, and understanding what they're doing on our site. And then how we can use that information to go out and get more.

That said, rankings do matter—and they are in some cases a vanity metric—and in other cases, they're really helpful data points to help us understand where our keyword coverage is hitting and where there might be some gaps and some opportunities to start ranking more and different types of content. So, let's look at a couple of examples in organic search rankings.

We're all familiar with a Google search results page. In this case, I picked something generic. It's almost lunchtime, I'm getting hungry, so I want some food delivery options near me—especially because we're not going out much these days. You can start to see there's already a wide variety of search results types. When we talk about organic search rankings, we also have to be cognizant of the fact that it's relative to our context. I'm on a desktop computer. I am searching with a city and state-specific name. And I'm also not specifying the type of food, or the cuisine, or any other options. So, Google's taking a very broad pass at this. You’re going to see a lot of familiar companies show up—Doordash, Grubhub, Postmates, UberEats—these are all good options. As far as Google knows, these are answering their search query. We can also start to see some Google Maps results here at the top is what we call the local pack.

However, I live on the west side of town, so I'm going to be looking more for food delivery options near me. Now this is where Google is going to start to personalize the search results. And this is where they're going to start to customize and tailor the search results page to me as a user. And I bring this point up because a lot of people are assuming, still, that search rankings are static and consistent across users. But really, everybody is seeing a different, more personalized version of a search results page. A lot of it is dependent on your geographic location, your browser type, your browsing history, and the type of information that Google knows about you as a user. Google can infer that I'm interested in certain types of foods, perhaps, or certain types of services—and they're going to tailor the search results based on what they think is going to ultimately provide the most relevant user experience for me. And of course, sprinkle in some ads and some local results as well.

So, you can see a different set of results when I type into Google, “Food delivery options near me.” The point here is, everybody's going to have a different experience on a Google search results page. Your website visitors are all coming in through different doors, different windows, different side entrances to your website. So, when you're analyzing your own performance, you're going to want to rely on a couple of tools—and here's your two of the main ones that we use for digital when we're assessing websites.

The first is Google Search Console. We've referenced this in a lot of our other videos in this series, but it's an incredibly powerful tool to help you see what Google sees on your site. In the Search Results Performance Report, you have a lot of different options to filter and add different data points, so you can see over different time periods how much traffic you're getting and how many impressions you’re getting in Google search results. An impression is when your website or webpage shows up in a Google organic search results. And the click-through-rate and the average position for all the keywords and all the pages and content that are ranking. It's typically going to be lower than what you'd expect to see because it's taking into account all the content that's ranking anywhere in the top 100 search results—so, the top 10 or so pages and search results.

This is going to give you a lot more detailed information than you're going to get from Google Analytics or from any other analytics platform about exactly what Google sees. But I'll caution you that it's very directional. When Google is telling us that the average position for our own company name is 2.1, that's assuming that there are other types of ads or other types of content that are showing up above our result. So, we have to look at this directionally and as a trend over time, rather than a single, fixed data point or a small sample size. You can start to experiment and look at different pages on your site, different devices, and see how your rankings change—and they change over time—and use those trends again to analyze where those gaps might be in your keyword coverage. And where you might have some opportunities to promote some content that is going to stand out in front of the right types of visitors for you.

The other tool that we like to use is another enterprise-level tool called STAT. STAT is an incredibly powerful keyword rank tracking tool. It's the best-in-class as far as we're concerned, because it solves a lot of the personalization issues that we're facing. If we're just to sit here and type in search after search after search on our own browsers, our results are going to be personalized for us. Whereas STAT is able to crawl and assess Google search results—and Bing and Yahoo as well—from a variety of different IP addresses in different locations, and from a different set of device types. So, all of these results are going to appear, more or less, as they would to a user in that market, on that device type. So, we can start to see trends. This is a very data centric tool. It's not the prettiest visualization. However, for us, it provides us a wealth of information, so we can start to see how we're how we're ranking or how our clients are ranking for specific keywords and who our top competitors are.

And really, the data point that we're after when we're assessing websites for performance are coverage. So, are we ranking? Is there enough content ranking for keywords that matter—that are pulling in qualified traffic? We can compare that analytics data and Search Console data. And then, are there gaps in the strategies and are there competitors that are filling those gaps that we want to go challenge them and take over some of those rankings that they've dominated the search results for? So, we can start to see share of voice or share of search, which tells us which sites are achieving those top rankings for a lot of the keywords that we're interested in—as well as our own site's rankings over a longer period of time.

We can see trends. We can look for periods where we might be ranking well and go back and look and see what worked in those periods and compare them to periods where we were not ranking so well and what might have changed. Perhaps we made changes to our website. Perhaps we started focusing on a different type of content strategy. We can see those [changes] reflected in the search rankings and then the corresponding traffic through analytics. This is a very powerful tool. It gives us a lot of detailed competitive information. It allows us to see which different types of search results page features—or, SERP features—we're getting, whether it's organic search results, normal web search results, carousels, or rich snippets, or FAQ, or news results. You're going to start to see this profile vary by site and by domain.

Again, as you're analyzing your own website's performance, you're going to want to dig into all the data you can get your hands on to figure out where your strategies are hitting, and where they're missing—and find those opportunities to create and promote better content and improve your search rankings and traffic.

I hope you've enjoyed this part of our SEO self-assessment video series, follow along and we're looking forward to seeing you in the next video.

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4. Desktop Site Speed

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5. Mobile User Experience

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6. Website Analytics

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Learn why visitor and conversion data is essential to understanding how well your site is performing and identifying areas to improve.

7. Local Search Visibility

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Search engines place more value on pages and sites with high quality inbound links. Learn more about your link profile.

8. Historical Keyword Rankings

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Monitoring your digital footprint is essential for prioritizing opportunities and identifying competitors. This video reviews the importance of keyword rankings.