What are SEO keyword rankings?
SEO rankings are the bread and butter of Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). Simply put, rankings are the position that your website sits on the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) when searching for any search queries.
Whenever you type in a search query into your search engine of choice (whether it’s Google, Bing or Duck Duck Go) you are presented with a list of websites, which are ranked in the order which the search engine has deemed most relevant to your query. So, when you are ranking in position one, you are the first website listed on the SERP, while ranking in position two would put you just below that, and so on.
Rankings and clicks
Typically, the higher up these rankings you are, the more likely a user is to click on your website versus a competitor website. Traditionally, the sweet spot for SEO was to rank within the top three links on the SERP. However, there have been many changes to search engines in this time and the introduction of additional SERP features (such as Maps, Videos and Knowledge Panels) which sit alongside the traditional ten blue links have made the picture more complex.
There are lots of figures thrown around about the average number of people who will click through to your website for each ranking position, but ultimately, the actual Click Through Rate (CTR) you can expect will depend on various factors.
Keyword research for SEO rankings
Keyword research is a great place to start when identifying the SEO rankings you want to improve, and there are a few key factors to take into consideration.
For example, we need to consider the search query itself. Is the intent behind the query broad or specific? Different users entering a search for ‘pizza’ into a search engine may have different intentions. One may be looking for specific pizza restaurants (navigational intent), while another is looking for takeaway pizza (transactional), another is looking for photos of pizza and another needs pizza recipes (informational). As a result, while your pizza restaurant may be ranking in position one for the term ‘pizza’, a user looking for pizza recipes, won’t be interested in your site despite your high position.
Therefore, targeting the broad terms which have very high numbers of people searching for them every day may not be the best tactic. Instead, it may make more sense to target keywords that have smaller search volumes but more targeted search intent.
Useful tools for SEO rankings
This is where the process of keyword research comes into play. To better understand which search queries, you want to rank for, you need to do research into what people are searching for and how they are searching. There are various keyword research tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMRush and Ahrefs which will give you an indication of:
the number of people searching for the keyword (search volume)
how difficult the keyword is to rank for (i.e. how competitive the query is)
the intent behind the keyword (transactional, informational, commercial, or transactional)
Alternatively, once you set up Google Search Console, Google will provide you with details on which queries users searched for when your site appeared on the SERPs, even if they didn’t click. This can be a great starting point for finding keywords you are already ranking for.
Ideally, you want to group any keywords you find into categories so that you can track them as a group, such as ‘pizza recipes’ versus ‘pizza toppings’, and it also helps identify the pages which you ideally want to rank for certain keywords, also known as keyword mapping, and is a key step towards having a more holistic SEO approach.
Keyword research can take a lot of time and is a process which – in one sense - is never fully complete, as new search trends rise or you expand into different areas of interest. However, it is remains one of the most vital SEO tasks and is a core focus of Phase 1 of Yard’s discovery process for any new client. Keyword research sets a solid foundation on which all other SEO strategies sit. If you need additional help with keyword research, then feel free to get in touch with our technical SEO and content marketing specialists.
SEO rank tracking and reports
Once you have collated all the keywords that you currently want to rank for, it’s time to find out where your site currently ranks. Depending on the number of keywords, you may initially want to do this manually by typing in each search query into your search engine of choice, however, this is rarely the best solution.
Rankings are subject to change and as a result the same search for a query can result in different rankings based on various factors such as:
Search engine – e.g. Bing, Google, Duck Duck Go or Yandex.
Location – e.g. which country you search from or even more geo-specific, such as city or town.
Device – e.g. Mobile, tablet and desktop searches may show different results.
Date – e.g. some rankings change weekly or even daily.
Events – e.g. searches for ‘Euros’, may show results for football or currency depending on time of the year.
Users - some search engines tailor search results based on previous searches a user has made.
SEO rank tracking
So, the best way to track rankings is to choose a tool to which will automatically pull and report rankings for you. Google Search Console can be a good starting point for rankings and will give you an indication of where you are already ranking, but is unable to track keywords that you are not yet ranking for.
In this case, tools such as SEMRush, Ahrefs or Advanced Web Rankings (AWR) all give you the option to upload your entire keyword set and choose which search engine, location, and device you want to track keywords from. The options which are optimal for your needs will vary depending on target audience, so it may be beneficial to set up tracking across multiple locations, devices, or search engines.
Another consideration is how frequently to report on keyword rankings. Usually, tracking keywords at least once a week will allow you to see wider trends and variations of rankings without getting bogged down in the day-to-day fluctuations of SEO rankings or missing any major updates. That said, there may be a small subset of ‘core’ keywords which are vital to your website that are worth tracking on a more regular basis.
SEO ranking reports
These tools will then provide an SEO ranking report on a regular basis, which will include all your keywords and their positions on the SERP for your chosen settings. If you have hundreds (or even thousands) of keywords then it can be difficult to see the woods from the trees, and as a result these tools often provide overall scores of total visibility, marketshare or share of search. This means you don’t have to check the ranking of each keyword and instead have a single metric to measure the success of your SEO efforts.
How we track SEO rankings
At Yard, we choose to provide our own calculation of visibility and marketshare, so we can be much more transparent about how our work is impacting on rankings. We assign a visibility score for each keyword based on its search volume, ranking and the expected CTR from ranking in that position. Then we combine the visibility for each keyword and provide a total visibility score for the site.
This gives an effective metric to gauge our organic results; as rankings move up, visibility will increase and vice versa. As the score is weighted based on search volume, rankings for large search volume terms will have greater impact on search visibility than low search volume keywords. From this visibility score, we can calculate the percentage of the total search marketplace which is controlled by a single website across all your target keywords, thus giving us your marketshare score.
At this stage, as we group the keywords at the keyword research stage, we can provide detailed ranking reports into each of the keyword groups and categories, which allow us to help you identify in which areas a website is doing particularly well and your SEO efforts are being rewarded. It will also highlight where additional work is needed to see a similar improvement in rankings.
At Yard, as part of Phase 2 of our discovery process, all this keyword ranking data is fed into our opportunity sizing report – which can also form part of our Master Content Planner - which then allows us to plan a highly targeted SEO strategy for boosting your rankings.
How to improve search engine rankings
Now that you have a baseline for how your site is performing within the SERP, how do you go about actually improving your SEO rankings?
All search engines rely on a basic system of crawling, indexing, and ranking. Crawling means that a bot will visit your website and look over the content on the page, follow links on the page and discover new pages. If after the content has been successfully crawled, it’s deemed worthy by search engines, it’s then stored on the search engine’s index, which is like an address book of all the pages they recommend. Finally, a search engine will apply its ranking algorithm to the index to decide where content should show on the SERPs.
Google's famous "algorithm" isn't just one thing, it's a complex web of AI-powered systems. The algorithm is constantly evolving and there have been several major named updates to Google’s algorithm over the years, such as Panda or Penguin, which have aimed to improve search results.
Google regularly release guidelines around what their algorithm is looking for, however, the actual ranking factors are not 100% known or confirmed by Google. To add to the mystery, Google differentiates between their ranking systems, which are the overall mechanisms for sorting and presenting data, and ranking signals, which are the individual factors or criteria that the ranking systems uses to evaluate and rank websites.
On-page vs off-page SEO
Given the complexity of search engine algorithms and the ambiguity surrounding ranking factors, all SEO tactics to improve search rankings are grouped under the umbrella terms of on-page SEO or off-page SEO. On-page SEO refers to edits to your own site which will impact rankings. This can vary from adding or improving content on the site, to technical SEO improvements to the technical health of a site. Off-page SEO involves tactics which promote your website or brand, such as building backlinks via digital PR, or engaging with social media.
Which specific SEO tactics move the needle the most when it comes to search rankings will depend on each individual site. If your site is lacking in good quality content, this would become the number one focus.
Improving content can be as simple as tweaking title tags on a page or including additional targeted keywords from your keyword research on the page. At times, large changes are needed, such as revising whole sections on a page, or completing a competitor review or gap analysis to analyse where new sections or pages are needed.
Another indicator of high-quality content is how well it adheres to E-E-A-T signals. These are Google’s search rater guidelines that suggest good content should demonstrate: Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T). Google now rewards content that demonstrates these principles. Feel free to reach out to our content specialists who will guide you through the discovery process to help identify the opportunities to improve your content.
If your site has existing technical issues prevent it from being properly crawled or indexed by search engines, then you may need to conduct a technical SEO audit. This can help identify areas where there are issues with the technical health of the site, preventing you from ranking.
Backlinks and digital PR
Your site may also lack the authority to rank compared to your competitors. In 1998, Google became the dominant search engine because its algorithm relied on the links between different websites to rank websites. Generally, the more links pointing to a website from other websites (also known as backlinks), the more popular and trustworthy the site was seen to be, and Google ranked it higher.
Lots of backlinks from other trustworthy sites suggests the content being linked has value. If those backlinks were all from sites within the same niche, it suggested that the website was an authority in this area. For example, the site may gain backlinks from other websites recommending the site, supporting claims, providing context, or guiding users to the site.
As this initially led to people building lots of spammy links to their websites, Google and other search engines have refined their algorithms to better define the quality of links and discount spammy links. This means there’s greater focus on building high quality backlinks to a site to help improve search rankings.
Quality content alone can bring in some backlinks, but additional work is normally needed to bring in the right quantity and quality of links. Using tools like SEMRush and Ahrefs, you can see the number and quality of backlinks a site already has, and which pages are being linked to. You can also see how many backlinks your competitors have and identify gaps between your site and theirs. Once you have this baseline, you can identify the areas of a site you need to build additional backlinks to.
There are various ways to go about building high-quality backlinks, but at Yard we specialise in digital PR. Digital PR is a powerful tool to help build brand awareness online by being featured across the web in relevant publications, such as news sites and blogs. As part of Yard’s discovery process, we’ll use the insights gleaned from the opportunity sizing report to identify potential campaigns or reactive work that will help bring wider awareness to your brand, which in turn help improve keyword rankings. For more information, visit our digital PR service page or check out our digital PR case studies.
In essence, boosting your rankings on Google or any other search engine requires understanding various aspects of the search landscape. Keyword research helps you understand how customers are searching.
Tracking rankings allows you to see where your site sits in this landscape and where there are opportunities for growth. Then you need to identify which tactics are best suited to improving your rankings based on the state of your content, technical health, and backlink profile.
By focusing on these areas, you can begin to improve your rankings and in turn drive more organic traffic to your site. If you’re struggling with the process of improving your SEO rankings, inquire about our discovery process which will help guide you through each of the steps outlined above and several others assisting you in growing your organic visibility and traffic.