The value of keyword rankings

Time to tackle another trend in SEO that may not necessarily be accurate: There’s an increasingly negative attitude towards keyword rankings as viable metrics of SEO success. I’m going to argue that keyword rankings are still valuable and should be an integral part of your SEO reports.

Over the years there have been many changes to the SERPs that, according to some, heralded the end of keyword rankings. From Local Search to Universal Search, every new tweak and addition to the results pages was seen as another apocalyptic event that now, Once And For All, made for keyword rankings truly useless.

The most recent Google features that have once again reopened the assault on keyword rankings are Personalized Search and Social Search. These would really make any monitoring of keyword rankings utterly and totally obsolete, some claimed.

That’s, of course, not quite the case.

Yes, all of those changes (‘improvements’ as Google would say) have impacted how we approach keyword rankings. But it hasn’t made them useless. It has just made them harder.

Instead of simply relying on a keyword ranking tool, now a good SEO has to go out and actually use Google. It’s necessary to put those keywords into the search box and see what comes up. It’s become vital to analyse the search engine results to fully understand where your SEO efforts should be focused.

So no, we can’t rely solely on those handy keyword ranking tools any more. We can’t just press a button, wait for a few minutes, and present a shiny report to our clients. We can’t be lazy any more. We have to put some actual work in.

And that, I fear, may be the real reason why so many SEOs are proclaiming the death of keyword rankings. Why put the extra work in when you can convince your clients it’s not that important anyway?

But it is important.

Personalized Search has not had the dramatic impact some predicted. It only applies to repeat searches where a user clicks on a particular result a lot, and it has no effect at all on any new queries (which is what most search queries are for any given user).

Social Search too has had limited effects. I don’t know about you, but I have yet to see any truly SERP-invasive social search result on Google.

Admittedly keyword rankings have become complicated. We can’t lazily rely on a ranking number any longer, but rankings should be placed in their proper context. We as SEOs now have to dig through the SERPs to see if we’re competing against local businesses, videos, images, twitter updates, or news stories. We have to go to the SERPs ourselves and determine if we’re better off optimising for ‘regular’ organic search, or if a change in content strategy is a better option.

But where our sites rank on those SERPs, especially as part of a long term trend, is absolutely a vital aspect of what we do. I’ll concede keyword rankings have lost their status as the king of SEO metrics, but it’s still metric royalty. It’s still up there in the throne room, and it should get the attention it deserves.

Keyword rankings are not dead. Not even close. Ignore them at your peril.

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About Barry Adams

Barry Adams is one of the chief editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant delivering specialised technical SEO services to clients worldwide.