Search Engine Visibility vs. Ranking: Why BOTH Still Matter One would think it’s easy to determine if you have achieved SEO success. Many think that if they type in their company’s keyword on Google and they are found on page 1 they have mastered the art of search engine optimization. But what if the person searching had used a slightly different phrase or accessed local results while traveling to a new city? Would your website still have the same first page ranking? As the search engines diversify their ranking criteria adding in universal, social and local results, SEO is becoming less about traditional position ranking and more about overall visibility. Earlier this year we saw how the search world was affected by the Google Farmer / Panda updates. Mainly aimed at “content farms,” nearly 12% of all searches were affected. This update from Google came on the heels of the buzz around a story in the New York Times about JC Penny and their consistent top ranking across thousands of searches. Google made some changes to its search algorithms to try and stem the ever-increasing presence of farmed content on the search engines results pages (SERPs). While analyzing the outcome of the update, both in the U.S. and internationally, we found evidence that ranking and visibility were dramatically affected in some cases. Once a week, Searchmetrics monitors a selected and representative set of keywords for Google and other leading search engines (in multiple countries) and we analyze the search results pages for these keywords. From this, we are able to calculate our Organic
Performance Index (OPI). This index is basically a culmination of figures collated from search volume (how often people are searching for a keyword or phrase), how often and on which position on a Google results page a domain/web site appears and an analysis of how traffic is distributed across search pages. When Searchmetrics analyzes the traffic distribution, various items are considered. Does a position one result get the highest share of all clicks on a page or does image or video result positioned fifth get more clicks than a pure text result? Searchmetrics then uses the results to formulate the performance index – an estimate for how visible a site is on Google in a specific country. While millions of keywords are currently being monitored, it’s obviously impossible to be able to track every single keyword that is searched. Our database and keyword sets are large and fresh and doesn’t just cover the short-tail keywords, but a sample of short-tail, long tail and words in the middle with the main goal of being viewed as providing a good indication of the underlying trends. However, as was recently noted, these indexing results for a website will be affected when a website has low visibility - even if the same website was ranking high for a small number of keywords. This finding poses the question, is it better to rank higher for a few keywords or rank lower, but still in good positions, over a variety of keywords? How about both? When we talk about ranking and visibility, one must remember that we are talking about organic search, and it’s important to note that websites affected by the update can still see traffic via PPC, social media, email and other channels. As Google has pointed out, recovery from Panda is not quick and takes time and this is very much evident in the Searchmetrics Quick Analysis data to date. Companies are having to go back to square one and are taking a hard look at the quality and content of their sites. In the case of
large sites, that cannot be rewritten quickly, webmasters have hidden low-quality pages so that that they are not crawled by search engine spiders until they can improve the content and work on the incoming links. Good content and quality are by no means new ideas. Many would even argue that creating a lot of fresh content was promoted heavily by the search engines. Google has simply drawn the line that quality not quantity is what counts. While the idea may seem like a simple solution - good content, good rankings, good visibility - it brings up a new debate. What is considered good content and bad content? On May 6, Google’s Amit Singhal wrote an interesting post on the Google Webmaster Central Blog called, “More Guidance on Building High Quality Sites.” Stating that Panda is only one of “roughly 500 search improvements we plan to roll out this year,” Singhal maintains that the best tactics may be for companies to focus on offering high-quality content and the best possible user experience. Singhal also offers a list of questions such as “Would you trust the information in this article?” and “Does this article have an excessive amount of ads that distract from or interfere with the main content?” While Google ascertains that the changes are aimed at helping people find "high-quality" sites by reducing the rankings of low-quality content, they also note that low-quality content on some parts of a website can impact the whole site’s rankings. Therefore, removing (or hiding) low quality pages, could help the rankings of your higher-quality content. Since there are no clear and obvious “answers” on how to work around the Google system, one thing that is becoming clear is that it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the changes that the search engines are making. 2011 has so far shaped up to be a very active year with Panda, but there are also so many other changes happening in the areas of social media, universal results, local search, that are having an effect on SEO. It’s also clear that it’s
becoming very difficult to keep homegrown tools up to date with such a rapidly changing environment, so many agencies and service providers are relying on SEO tools so that they can continue to provide the best service to clients. Additionally, in this rapidly changing market, data is king as it also serves as somewhat of an â€œearly warning systemâ€? for major changes. In the end, ranking and visibility go hand in hand. You need to rank high for good visibility, but ranking high organically is not the end of the story. Position ranking will always be important as long as search engines are around, but they are quickly evolving to offer users a media-rich experience and companies more ways to achieve visibility. We still use the radios, fax machines and telephones. Search engines still rely on rankings. The exciting part is what new ranking influencers and new channels (think social) will come and how companies will use them to achieve visibility online.