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Do Keyword Rankings Still Matter?

06/07/2016
A 7 minute read

Some SEOs and brands think that rankings are a very important metric to track for SEO success, but is this true?

Ranking well for high-volume keywords might not be beneficial if the keywords don’t meet user intent and the user leaves the site having been unable to find what they are looking for – this makes for a poor user experience.

Sometimes brands have specific keywords they want to rank for as they thin those keywords are valuable. However, these keywords might not be good targets if they have low search volume or the content doesn’t meet the intent. A page might reach the top three positions in Google, but the client may still not get any traffic from the keywords optimised for, because ranking high for keywords doesn’t automatically lead to success.

Should you track all keywords?

In short, no. A large site with thousands of pages will have a lot of keywords, and it will be too costly to track them.

It is only really worth reporting on non-branded keywords that rank in striking distance, as well as all branded keywords that delivered conversions over the last few months and keywords that have performed well from a paid-search perspective.

Once keywords move into striking distance because they delivered visits, you should track them. Do this using regular manual checks and research with third-party tools.

Do you still need keywords on the page to rank?

It depends on the domain – a high authority site with quality inbound links and useful, relevant content may rank for keywords that haven’t been specifically included on the page. Query expansion also allows pages to rank when they don’t have the exact keywords, for example, a page about cycling might rank for biking.

Query chains

Query chains are an important signal which Google can use to determine the intent behind a keyword or phrase, since a search engine can look at contextual data. The term “apple” could be either about fruit or about a computer. If a searcher previously looked for electronics the results will take them to the apple site.

Overall, search engine rankings can be informative but high rankings only matter if the keywords deliver traffic and conversions. Though rankings can contribute to overall success, they are not a reliable predictor of success. Increasing traffic and revenue should be the main focus, along with other conversion metrics.

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