The days of judging SEO success purely based on rank are long gone.
Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird, the Knowledge Graph, Google Carousel, and most recently secure search mean that there is no longer a linear path to achieving rank, nor is there only one rank metric.
Rank is a fluid, multi-dimensional metric, and it still has everything to do with your business.
In one fell swoop last fall, Google changed everything with the removal of keyword data, and the other search engines followed suit earlier this year. Two former metrics of SEO success are difficult to measure: traffic from keyword data and accurate rank. This calls for a new approach to SEO, outlined in the Secure Search Manifesto.
In order to find out what’s on the mind of search marketers as they looked ahead to 2014, at the beginning of the year my company sent a survey to 20,000 SEO professionals across 8,400 brands.
Focus on the Page/Content Based Approach to SEO
The page/content based approach to SEO is important for 100 percent of SEO professionals – and 85 percent said it would be more or much more important for them in 2014 compared to 2013.
But what specifically about the page-based approach to SEO is going to be important for marketers in 2014?
- 84 percent said that understanding the business impact of the page or content in terms of actual traffic, conversions and revenue would be more important. SEO success goes far beyond traffic – it affects the bottom line.
- 78 percent said that they would place more or much more important on understanding content performance at the individual page level as well as the page group level. Smart marketers know that they must align their page/content groupings with how their business is structured in order to get a real measure of business impact.
- 67 percent said that understanding content performance across search engines geographies, and devices would be more important for them in 2014.
- The fact that a minority (49 percent) of marketers surveyed said that assessing the impact of keywords by attributing revenue, conversions, and traffic suggests that SEO professionals are increasingly adopting the page-based approach and moving away from the focus on the keyword.
The Basics of SEO and Rank
With an increasing number of ranking variables, what’s on the minds of marketers when they think about rank?
- 71 percent said understanding the correlations between social sharing and rank will be more or much more important in 2014. This is where the cross-functional role of the SEO comes into play: SEO professionals must increasingly bridge the gap between departments to drive business success.
- 57 percent said measuring rank on Universal Search results such as video, image, site links will be more or much important in 2014. As Google expands its results options and issues continual updates to the Knowledge Graph, SEO professionals need to be ever-more vigilant as to how these changes affect their business.
- The majority of SEO professionals are satisfied with their efforts at accessing accurate rank data and identifying anomalies and explaining the root cause of those anomalies. There is only so much time in the day, and not every measurement metrics can be "more important" for everyone!
- 44 percent of respondents stated that Google Carousel results were displayed on keywords in their industry. Of those with Carousel Results, 72 percent said that measuring rank on those results would be more important for them in 2014. Carousel, while great for the user experience, adds more complexity to optimization and measurement.
Rank Is More Complex
We all know that rank is no longer a list of 10 blue links, page after page. Rank differs across devices, locations. One result can have multiple links, links can be served in a pack, or they can appear as images on the above-mentioned Carousel.
Which ranking variables are brands most concerned about as they head into 2014?
- 85 percent said measuring rank across mobile devices such as tablets as smartphones would be more or much more important in 2014. This is not surprising, as traffic from mobile devices approaches one-third of all Web traffic.
- 53 percent of brands said that measuring rank across local markets would be more important for them in 2014. This number likely varies as the business impact of location-based search varies by business type.
- The majority of brands said measuring rank across global markets and multiple search engines would be as important in 2014 as 2013, suggesting that they have a good handle on how to measure those ranking variables based on their business.
Rank and Its Business Impact
Rank is solely a vanity metric unless it can be translates to business results. That’s why measuring success at the page/content level is so important.
But marketers must also factor in how rank is affecting page performance, and always conduct their work with an eye toward improving rank, no matter what the geography, device, or SERP looks like.
Click curves can help provide a better understanding of how rank affects performance, and data from Google Webmaster Tools can also help gauge the effect of rank. Fragmentation on the user end means also means fragmentation of data sources, and it’s important to work with vendors who can integrate data from multiple sources for actionable metrics.
Rank is about the user experience: Are your results delivering users what they want, and is your content successful at converting them? An unrelenting focus on rank metrics can blind us to other obvious signals beyond rank.
Do the keywords, tags, and rich snippets accurately represent the content? Does the content fulfill its stated purpose?
If rank is the doorway to success in SEO, conversion is the ultimate success. The more we can use rank metrics to inform our conversion efforts, the more successful we will be.