Ranking, despite being a very common topic in the Digital Marketing sphere, is an often misunderstood topic. In this mildly tongue-in-cheek tutorial, we hope to elaborate on the different types of rank as well as the complexities associated with ranking. One very important fact to keep in mind is that rankings are not directly related to KPIs or website performance. This may come as a shock to some digital marketers out there, but it’s a tried and true fact.
Before we can dive into such data though, everyone needs a firm understanding of precisely how rank works. Therefore, I invite you to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes.
You would think this is the first question, wouldn’t you? What if I told you that this isn’t the first place to start? The actual starting point is something called “the algorithm.” The algorithm is what decides everything that was and will be in Google search. What if I told you, the true question is: “How does the algorithm work?”
The algorithm is a many-faced beast. At its core, however, we know that there are separate algorithms for the respective “channels” of search. Those channels are right in front of our eyes:
Perform any search and you’ll see these options at the top of your results. “All” refers to organic search results for both Mobile and Desktop (depending on what device you’re using). Maps, news, Images, Videos, “All”, are all separate search engines boxed into one interface. That means to understand rank you have to first understand which search engine you are working with.
Primarily, we work under the “All” and “Maps” categories. We also work with “Images” to a lesser degree, as it can benefit shopping feeds and searches. “News” does not apply to us as our clients are not news organizations.
That means that we work with four individual search engines.
“But wait! You said we work with “All”, “Maps”, and “Images” that’s just three search engines! How’d we get to four!?”
“All” represents organic search results, which are further divided into Desktop rankings, and Mobile rankings. To a lesser extent, there are some Tablet driven results, however, tablets are best optimized for Mobile. So for the sake of our sanity, we treat them as one.
TL;DR: We work with Desktop, Mobile (& Tablet), Maps, and Images.
Now we can actually dive into this question, starting from the top. We now know that we’re working with Google Desktop, Google Mobile (and Tablet), and Google Maps primarily. Ranking is then further sub-divided under EACH of those search engines. The two types of ranking we are presented with are “Query Rank” and “Page Rank.”
Query Rank is your respective ranking for a specific query. A single page can have hundreds or even thousands of queries associated with it. There can be up to 1000 queries stored by Google Search Console, as it tracks MOST queries made to a site and presents the highest volume queries to us. This is a very interesting place to study the health of a website in organic search, since you can quite literally see what people are typing in when they find your client website (typos and all).
Page Rank is your respective website’s individual pages and how they rank, averaged out based on the Query Rank (how many queries your page ranks for divided by those respective average Query Ranks). Page Rank as a result is a very complex topic. When you take into account that not every query has high volume, Page Rank can be very misleading. A page that ranks in the top 10 on average may only be ranking for low volume/low competition results. As a result, that rank isn’t necessarily a “win”. Meanwhile, a low-ranking Page Rank page may have hundreds of thousands of impressions and hundreds of clicks.
❗ Page Rank is what Google Search Console uses to generate your website's Aggregate/Average Ranking. The formula is: All Pages / Pages Averaged Ranks = Aggregate Site Ranking.
“Oh, ok. That’s pretty simple then! So we worry about getting as good of a ranking as possible, on both of them?”
Not quite. You see, we’ve only just begun to dive into how ranking works. Now we need to discuss the most simple, yet most complex topic: Personalized search.
Personalized search is what makes Google so unique, it’s what allowed it to gain power in our world, it’s what makes “Google” synonymous with “go search it”.
Personalized search refers to web search results that are tailored specifically to an individual's interests. This happens by incorporating information about the individual beyond the specific query provided. There are two general approaches to personalizing search results, involving modifying the user's query and re-ranking search results. -Wikipedia The Oracle, basically
How Does Google Use Personalized Search?
This is an important topic to get correctly, so we have opted for Wikipedia The Oracle to explain it concisely, with references.
*There are a host of Google applications, all of which can be personalized and integrated with the help of a Google account. Personalizing a search does not require an account. However, one is almost deprived of a choice, since so many useful Google products are only accessible if one has a Google account.
The Google Dashboard, introduced in 2009, covers more than 20 products and services, including Gmail, Calendar, Docs, YouTube, etc. that keeps track of all the information directly under one's name. The free Google Custom Search is available for individuals and big companies alike, providing the Search facility for individual websites and powering corporate sites such as that of the New York Times. The high level of personalization that was available with Google played a significant part in helping remain the world's most favorite search engine.*
One example of Google's ability to personalize searches is in its use of Google News. Google has geared its news to show everyone a few similar articles that can be deemed interesting, but as soon as the user scrolls down, it can be seen that the news articles begin to differ.
Google takes into account past searches as well as the location of the user to make sure that local news gets to them first. This can lead to a much easier search and less time going through all of the news to find the information one wants. The concern, however, is that the very important information can be held back because it does not match the criteria that the program sets for the particular user. This can create the "filter bubble" as described earlier.
An interesting point about personalization that often gets overlooked is the privacy vs personalization battle. While the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, it is often the case that as one becomes more prominent, it compromises the other. Google provides a host of services to people, and many of these services do not require information to be collected about a person to be customizable. Since there is no threat of privacy invasion with these services, the balance has been tipped to favor personalization over privacy, even when it comes to search. As people reap the rewards of convenience from customizing their other Google services, they desire better search results, even if it comes at the expense of private information.
Where to draw the line between the information versus search results tradeoff is new territory and Google gets to make that decision. Until people get the power to control the information that is being collected about them, Google is not truly protecting privacy. Google's popularity as a search engine and Internet browser has allowed it to gain a lot of power. Their popularity has created millions of usernames, which have been used to collect vast amounts of information about individuals. Google can use multiple methods of personalization such as traditional, social, geographic, IP address, browser, cookies, time of day, year, behavioral, query history, bookmarks, and more. Although having Google personalize search results based on what users searched previously may have its benefits, some negatives come with it. With the power from this information, Google has chosen to enter other sectors it owned, such as videos, document sharing, shopping, maps, and many more. Google has done this by steering searchers to their services offered as opposed to others such as MapQuest.
Using search personalization, Google has doubled its video market share to about eighty percent. The legal definition of a monopoly is when a firm gains control of seventy to eighty percent of the market. Google has reinforced this monopoly by creating significant barriers of entry such as manipulating search results to show their services. This can be clearly seen with Google Maps being the first thing displayed in most searches.
The analytical firm Experian Hitwise stated that since 2007, MapQuest has had its traffic cut in half because of this. Other statistics from around the same time include Phototicket going from twenty percent of market share to only three percent, Myspace going from twelve percent market share to less than one percent, and ESPN from eight percent to four percent market share. In terms of images, Phototicket went from 31% in 2007 to 10% in 2010 and Yahoo Images has gone from 12% to 7%. It becomes apparent that the decline of these companies has come because of Google's increase in market share from 43% in 2007 to about 55% in 2009.
It can be said that Google is more dominant because they provide better services. However, Experian Hitwise has also created graphs to show the market share of about fifteen different companies at once. This has been done for every category for the market share of pictures, videos, product search, and more. The graph for product search is evidenced enough for Google's influence because their numbers went from 1.3 million unique visitors to 11.9 unique visitors in one month. That kind of growth can only come with the change of a process.
In the end, there are two common themes with all of these graphs. The first is that Google's market share has a direct inverse relationship to the market share of the leading competitors. The second is that this directly inverse relationship began around 2007, which is around the time that Google began to use its "Universal Search" method.
🐰 TL;DR: Every single one of us “searchers” sees entirely unique results based on our preferences in how we as INDIVIDUALS use Google’s products and services. That means there is no true “number 1” rank anymore, as we all see different results.
This is why ranking is viewed as “averages” instead of firm numbers. Google Search Console often provides ranking information in the format of incomplete integers, IE: “/contact-us/ rank = 14.3”, meaning on average that page would be on the second page of Google. In practice, for some it was in the top 3, for others it was the second page, and for others still, it was the third page or deeper.
We use Google Search Console, SEMRush, and AHREFS. Rankings can be considered website health metrics. They are not to be considered primary KPI due to the numerous issues with trying to only target rank. Instead, rankings can be used as a tool to guide strategy. If you see a high volume query our Rankings tool says we don’t rank for (at all, or perhaps we just don’t rank strongly), we can then build out more content to add to the page. Once this addition is made, you can see the difference in rank on those pages as Google indexes, tests, and presents this new page to users in search over the course of several months.
Since there is no such thing as a true “number 1” search result, we can only reasonably track the averages. The true metric to hunt for is high-volume search phrases. We can target them, see if we are making a dent in the current rankings, and most importantly we can see how many impressions and clicks we get as a result of our current efforts.
Rank tracking should be treated as an interesting diagnostic tool for strategy decisions, it is NOT a primary KPI, nor should it be treated as anything special or amazing. Ranking is just like any other health metric (time on page, bounce rate, pages per session) — we can optimize for it but we are aiming to improve its overall average. The truest ROIs an SEO campaign can track are sales, leads, and other defined “conversions” that are important to your business. These directly equate to your ROI and therefore income.
In the same way that a client should be concerned about their website's time on page, bounce rate, and pages per session stats, yes. We should ideally fall with a certain overall aggregate ranking range. That range is broken down as follows:
Aggregate/Average Ranking 1-10
This website wants for nothing, it’s high performing, and generates leads and organic traffic as easily as it loads. Usually, a meticulously maintained website that has been around for a long time.
Aggregate/Average Ranking 11-20
A strong competitor in search of all its terms. Usually, this is a well-maintained site that has been around for a long time.
Aggregate/Average Ranking 21-30
This website performs better than most, it has some pages in the top 10 and some pages in the bottom ranks. It generates organic traffic and leads that out-compete the YoY mark, regardless.
Aggregate/Average Ranking 31-40
This website could use some love. Usually, poor optimization, site structure, and errors lead to rankings here. High competition niches are also a likely culprit.
This website needs lots of love. There could be pages with aged SEO strategies, errors, lack of content, or some kind of fundamental site structure error preventing this site from really shining in search.
As with all data, there can be false positives. Data never lies, but our interpretations can be left wanting. A very common scenario is a website that ranks perfectly for its own branding, but nothing else. A website that operates this way will look like it’s doing great as it will often be in the top 10 for its aggregate/average ranking metrics. That being said, there is little SEO value in such terms. Users searching for a brand already have made a decision or are in their final phases of engaging with the practice. SEO’s goal is to introduce brand new users to the website by answering the user's questions and providing valuable information.
This further emphasizes rank is to be treated as a health metric and NOT a final ROI calculation.
Now that you have a firm understanding of the complexities of ranking, personalized search, and some insight on potential issues that come from emphasizing rank as ROI metric, you are prepared to stop bullets with your mind to redirect your focus away from treating ranking as a true measure of your SEO campaign’s performance.
Here are Baotris KPI’s for SEO Campaigns:
Here are Baotris Health Indicators for SEO Campaigns:
Search engine algorithms are complex systems that use a variety of factors to determine the relevance and authority of web pages, and to rank them accordingly in search engine results pages (SERPs). Although the exact algorithms used by search engines like Google are kept confidential, we do know some general information about how they work.
Firstly, search engines crawl the web to discover new content and index it in their databases. Crawlers (also called spiders or bots) use links from one page to another to navigate the web, and they collect information about each page they visit. This information includes the page's content, meta tags, headers, and other elements that may be relevant for ranking purposes.
Once a page is indexed, search engines analyze its content and consider many different factors to determine its relevance and authority. Some of the most important ranking factors include:
It's worth noting that search engine algorithms are constantly evolving, and what works for SEO today may not work tomorrow. As such, it's important for website owners and marketers to stay up-to-date with the latest best practices and algorithm updates, and to focus on creating high-quality, user-friendly content that meets the needs of their target audience.
SEO ranking refers to the position or ranking of a webpage in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a particular keyword or set of keywords. It is the process of optimizing a website's content, structure, and other factors to increase its visibility and ranking in search engine results pages. The higher a webpage ranks in the search engine results pages for a particular keyword, the more likely it is to receive organic traffic from search engine users. SEO ranking is an important metric that digital marketers use to measure the effectiveness of their SEO strategies and campaigns.
Keyword rankings refer to the position of a webpage or website in the search engine results pages (SERPs) for a particular keyword or search query. In other words, it is the ranking or position of a webpage or website when a user types in a specific keyword or phrase into a search engine. The higher a webpage or website ranks for a particular keyword, the more likely it is to receive organic traffic from search engines. Keyword rankings are an important metric in SEO, as they can directly impact the visibility and traffic of a website.
To optimize for these factors, you can:
By optimizing for these factors, you can significantly improve your website's keyword rankings and drive more organic traffic to your website.