Visibility, Not Rankings
Keyword rankings are at the core of SEO, and have been the long time measure of a successful SEO campaign. While it is still important to track and monitor specific keywords and their rankings, we encourage our clients (and ourselves) to take a broader view of organic visibility to measure success of a campaign. Traditionally in SEO, the client would explain which keywords they think their website should rank for and the SEO team would optimize the site to rank for those keywords or variants of those keywords with high volume potential. This granular approach of looking at single keywords is not as effective now as it used to be, as the ranking factors continue to become more complex, and the one-pronged anchor text approach at ranking a specific keyword is no longer viable (see Google Penguin.)
Example SEM Rush report of organic visibility over period of 1 year
We must then look at a broader view of success for each client’s website, as success looks different from account to account. An e-commerce client’s idea of a successful month will look very different from a service based site, which is why success metrics include a range of things like total traffic, new visitors, overall organic visibility, total lead counts, and even phone calls driven by organic search.
Map Pack, Not Just Page 1
We have a saying for localized searches that: “Map pack is the new page 1.” As mobile devices continue to increase in its total share of usage (many studies show there to be more mobile web users now than desktop), Google’s algorithm will continue to shift towards favoring localized results in the form of map pack and carousel results.
Take for example this search I just did for “best chiropractor in Milwaukee.” While not a super high volume keyword, this is the type of search that a client might want to rank #1 for organically. But, looking at the screen shot we can see that the first true organic listing for a chiropractic office is far below the fold. To make things even more complicated, organic positions 1-3 go to Yelp, Angie’s List, and Health Grades, respectively.
In this example, a company called Wellness Way holds the 1st true organic spot (after the review sites) — but what is the real value in having that “#1” spot so far below the fold? In terms of potential click through traffic I would argue that the real winners in this example are the PPC advertisers for having the top 3 positions, and listings A, B, and C in the map pack that have yellow review stars.
So, now we can see how important it is to not only focus on organic SEO, but also on local SEO in attempts to rank well in the map pack. Local SEO can be tricky since it operates under a separate ranking algorithm than the rest of the Google search results, but there are tried and true methods of increasing local visibility including: a properly optimized google business page, local citations (NAP), local link building, rel=“publisher” integration, and driving positive reviews.
‘Who, What, Where, Why’ Links are built, not How Many
We often get misguided questions from clients akin to “how many links are you building to my website?” While this may have been a valuable question and metric 4 or 5 years ago, today we need to focus more on the “who, what, where, and why,” rather than “how many?”
Link building in the post penguin era of SEO should always begin by answering:
- Who should I be reaching out to and building relationships with? (influencers in my vertical, bloggers, web masters)
- What added value does this link provide my site (in addition to link equity, does this link bring organic traffic, brand visibility, trust, etc?)
- Where are my competitors getting links from?
- Why should this website link to me? (what value do i give to the link giver?)
In some cases, having too many (spammy) links can be harmful to a SEO campaign, so SEO’s must be familiar with the tools and methods to build and curate good links, but also clean up bad link profiles. There have been situations where new clients have come to us with tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of links, wondering why their competitors with 40 links are beating them in the rankings. In many of these cases, removing bad links and disavowing those that can’t be removed can improve rankings. For a client that has been taught that more links = better, this idea can be confusing. Link un-building can be just as powerful as link building.
Why These Metrics Matter
In being a transparent SEO company, we have a responsibility to each client to provide the best data that we possibly can for reporting purposes. Honest and accurate data not only gives the client a better picture of their campaign, but internally gives our marketing teams an idea of where we are getting the best results and what can be improved upon.