A few weeks ago, Eric Enge wrote this great article over at Search Engine Watch about ranking (which both he and I feel is not a good SEO metric), and how hard it is to really understand the “ranking gap” between site #4 and site #5. He explains why moving up in the SERPs, especially up a spot or two on page one, can be much harder and take far more time than a site owner may have realized.
Now there is no denying that ranking higher in the SERPs leads to more traffic and (hopefully) more business. But when a site owner is focused solely on ranking well for a short list of priority keywords they start to lose the forest for the trees.
As Eric mentions, "The potential for a big gap between you and the next website goes up as your rankings go up. If your site is back on the third or fourth page (or lower) of the rankings, chances are that the gap between you and improved rankings is small … But, as you get higher and higher in the rankings, the gaps have greater potential to be large."
When your website is ranked a little deeper in the SERPs, chances are you are on roughly even footing with the sites around you. Perhaps you have similar link profiles, similarly sized websites, have invested in SEO and content marketing for the same amount of time, and so forth. The differences between you and your competitors is fairly small, so surpassing one site isn’t nearly as hard as it is to actually crack page one, where the differences between sites is much more noticeable. See for yourself—do a quick search for a broad phrase like “maid services.” Compare the companies listed on page one to the companies listed on page four (ignoring any local listings). Chances are the companies on page one are big name brands you’re familiar with, and listings on page four are smaller, more local businesses. It’s not impossible for one of those smaller companies to work their way up the SERPs for a keyword as broad as “maid services,” especially from page four to page three to two, but the closer they get to page one the harder it is to edge out a competitor.
As frustrating as it may be for site owners, we do not know 100% how Google calculates which websites fall where in the SERPs. We do know the algorithm uses over 200 different factors, some of which we can control and some of which we cannot. But no one can say for sure, “Oh yes, just 17 more links and we’ll be ranked #7.” If it were really that simple then the search results wouldn’t mean anything, as it would all just become a math equation. If you could simply build your way to the top, and not really earn it, Google would deliver a terrible product to its user base! Remember, at the end of the day, Google is a business just like yours and they want to deliver the best product/service possible. They just happen to be in the business of serving up information. If your website proves it has the best/most valuable information to offer searchers, then it will move up in the SERPs over time.
As Eric says in his article, there is no way to know for sure what you need to do exactly in order to rank better in the SERPs for a particular keyword. It depends on a lot of things, including the competitiveness of the field, what your top competitors are doing, how trusted your website is, your online presence overall, and much more. What site owners should be doing instead of focusing on one or two “money” keywords is look at the amount of non-branded keywords driving traffic overall. While five-to-10 visitors per non-branded keyword may not seem like a lot, five visitors times 100 new non-branded keywords adds up to 500 extra organic visitors over a given time frame. Those 500 visitors could bring some great profit potential to your company.
Also, don’t forget that just because a keyword is ranking higher doesn’t automatically mean it is more profitable. You could be ranking #2 for a keyword that ends up being worth $1,000 in revenue to your company, while another keyword ranked #8 ends up being worth $2,500. Which metric would you rather applaud then? Rank or revenue?
There are many reasons that Eric and I, and many other SEO professionals, don’t like to track ranking as an SEO metric. In my opinion, you are much better off looking at organic traffic overall to your site and evaluating ALL the non-branded keywords that drove traffic, as opposed to only worrying about a short list of priority keywords. You don’t want to silo your SEO results and undervalue the traffic and revenue your SEO program is delivering simply because XYZ keyword is hanging out at #7 as opposed to #3.
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Boston SEO agency Brick Marketing. With over 13 years of industry experience, Nick shares his SEO knowledge by writing in the Brick Marketing Blog and publishing the Brick Marketing SEO Newsletter, read by over 120,000 opt-in subscribers. Contact Nick Stamoulis at 781-999-1222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His last article for SEMrush was "Social Shares or Traditional Links—What Does the Future of SEO Hold?"