Travel back in time just a few years, and you’ll find yourself in the era of the keyword. If you had even a shred of interest in SEO, you’d have been familiar with the importance of using search terms and keywords to climb the search engine rankings. Now, in 2018, the SEO landscape looks very different. Marketing experts have shifted their focus.  So… what has happened, and why doesn’t your Google ranking matter anymore?

The changing role of keywords

For many, keywords played an influential role in monitoring the progress of online marketing campaigns. The information related to keyword searches on Google was available to access through Google Analytics, and marketers were able to build a fairly accurate picture of what consumers were looking for via the keyword tool. One of the most significant moves over the last few years is Google’s switch to encrypted search and the introduction of Google Keyword (“not provided”). This shift meant that keywords we were used to seeing on an analytics platform were no longer visible, essentially making some of the Google tools less effective and a less accurate measure of search activity.

The next step Google took was to alter the estimated search volume tool in the Keyword Planner. Instead of learning that a word had been used 1,342 times per month, for example, users were provided with an estimated range of 1,000-10,000 searches. The breadth of the spectrum is much less useful to campaign managers, who probably don’t want to base a strategy on such vague information. To combat the changes, marketers have moved to a subject-focused strategy, focusing on the category or topic, rather than the individual keywords or search terms.

How accurate are keyword rankings?

One of the most widespread criticisms of keyword ranking is a lack of accuracy. There are three main reasons why the accuracy and precision of rankings are called into question. These include:

  1. Personalization: when Google+ launched, personalization was the word on everyone’s lips. Today, even though Google+ is no longer relevant, Google still provides personalized search results. If you’re browsing a website and you then conduct a search, your results will reflect your browsing history. If you’re looking for a car, for example, and you’ve been checking out the Toyota website, it’s highly likely that Toyota will appear at the top of the search results when you look for new cars on Google. This means that your results will be ordered differently to another user even when you use exactly the same search term. The variation between users makes it very difficult for marketers to determine the top ranking websites.
  2. Device: Google now takes the device you use into consideration when preparing your search results. If you’re using a smartphone, for example, you may end up with different results to a search conducted using a laptop or a desktop computer.
  3. Location: location plays a major role in the way search engines function today. When you type words into the search box, Google will present you with results, which correspond to your location and also to the device you’re using. If you’re in Raleigh, for example, and you’re trying to find a cafe for breakfast, your search results will reflect cafes that are open for breakfast within walking distance of your current location in downtown Raleigh. Although the information may be more useful for Google users, this approach makes it even more difficult to pinpoint top ranking websites.

In summary, it’s tougher than ever to ascertain accurate information about keyword rankings, and they should be used as a guide, rather than a blueprint. A high ranking doesn’t necessarily reflect organic traffic or increased revenue, and Google’s changes have made it incredibly difficult to monitor the success of individual keywords. Modifications to the search results page add another layer of mist. If you’re focused on ranking targets, you’re not only playing a risky game due to a lack of accuracy. You may also be missing subplots, which could actually be much more beneficial for your campaign, for example, targeted clicks back to your website through Google Adwords, or increased traffic on social media, which isn’t aimed at improving your ranking.

Better ways to measure efficacy

In light of adjustments, which have called the efficacy of keyword ranking into question, marketers have started to look for alternative ways of measuring and monitoring performance. One path, which may be appealing, is shifting the focus of analysis from single pages to clusters of content focused on the same subject or topic. By doing this, you can gauge levels of interest in specific topics and determine which subjects drive traffic and convert leads.

For many years, keywords were the focal point of marketing campaigns, but times have changed. Although there are issues related to keyword ranking and research, keywords are not defunct. They can be useful for identifying and solving SEO issues, and they give you an idea of the kind of searches consumers carry out. The message is that keyword ranking can direct you, but there’s no guarantee that it’ll take you up the right path.

For more information about how Sprout Media Lab can help you grown your digital footprint, contact us here or call (800) 617-6975 for a Free Consultation with one of our Web Gurus!