Search engine optimization is a complicated and ever-changing environment. For many years clients have come to us with hopes of ranking No. 1 in Google’s search results for a particular keyword. We’d build a targeted strategy to optimize their website for that and similar keywords, make the updates and then wait for the optimizations to yield our desired keyword rankings. Today, keyword rankings are still critical to measuring SEO success, but it has become difficult to guarantee a No. 1 ranking for any keyword.
Google’s search algorithm is sophisticated. Instead of relying on a sole search query to match a searcher with a web page, Google now considers every piece of search context that is available. This includes the searcher’s location, past searches, information from their various Google accounts and online activity. Today, a friend and I can sit next to each other and run a Google search for the same keyword yet receive different No. 1 results.
This shift can lead to a difficult conversation about the true value of SEO and how it’s measured. I’ve outlined a few tips on how to both understand this new approach to SEO and how to explain it to others.
Remember Google’s main objective
Google’s job is to deliver the best and most relevant search results to the searcher. This is something we can never forget. You cannot gain Google’s No. 1 search ranking without providing a web page that is relevant and worthy of that ranking. You can’t even buy it in AdWords unless your ad and landing page aligns with the keywords you’re bidding for. The moral of the story is you can no longer trick Google, and that’s okay. Google’s main objective also gives you the highest-quality visitors; so really, it’s a win for everyone if you optimize your site with this goal in mind.
Modern SEO is not about how many times you can use specific keywords on the page. It’s about building a well-organized, technically sound website with optimized content that the customer will find helpful. This is where buyer personas and truly understanding the wants, needs and habits of your customers will come in handy. Consider the intent of your website visitors and create content that gives them the information they need and a website that makes it easy to find.
Shift your focus
Ranking No. 1 for a high number of keywords or for a specific keyword is no longer the ultimate goal. As we’ve learned by analyzing data and web analytics, website traffic that lands on your site and doesn’t find what they are looking for can be detrimental. Misaligned organic traffic can increase your bounce rate and cause drops in your time on site and pages per session. It can also impact your domain authority and cause dips in your organic rankings. Your biggest SEO goal should be to attract the highest-quality traffic—traffic that is perfectly aligned with what your website offers and the content that is found on your site. Lucky for us, this goal lines up nicely with Google’s main objective from above.
Like many marketing metrics, organic traffic is about quality, not quantity. The number of ranked keywords is still critical, but it’s also important to widen your scope. Search engine optimization reports should now focus on organic traffic coming to the site, the keywords that organic traffic is converting on and what that traffic is doing after they land on the site. Are organic leads clicking further into the site than the homepage, are they spending time on content or transactional pages, and most importantly, are they converting? These metrics are key to proving the value in modern SEO. Arm yourself with these metrics and the knowledge of how SEO can impact your website’s performance, and you’ll make a case for implementing a program for your company.