In 2011, Google removed keyword-level data from Google Analytics for any user logged into a Google service. The update aimed to provide more privacy and security for Google account users by transmitting their searches through a secure socket layer (SSL). This move encrypted searches so that site owners would only see “(not provided)” in their Google Analytics accounts. In 2013, Google moved to transmit all searches through SSL, signaling the end of precise keyword analytics. No longer could a site owner easily attribute traffic, user behavior, or site goals to a specific keyword. The best they could provide was landing page-level data. So why then, a decade after Google’s initial encryption of 1-to-1 search data for site owners, is the SEO industry still obsessed with SERP monitoring, with many believing it to be a holistic SEO strategy?
It’s common knowledge to the SEO industry that ranking on the first page of search results is invaluable, with that coveted first position being paramount. A 2019 study of more than 5 million web searches revealed that the first search position on Google saw a 32% CTR. Users were ten times more likely to click on the first result than the first page’s last result.
To put it in perspective, if you rank first for a search term that sees 50,000 average searches a month, that one SERP alone could drive 192,000 visitors to your site annually. If your website converts 5% of those visitors, that’s nearly 10,000 conversions a year – all from a single SERP on a single keyword!
Since the “(not provided)” saga of the early 2010s, SEOs have become reliant on the data they receive from Google Search Console (GSC) and Google Keyword Tool (GKT). The former tool lets you know what keywords you appeared for, your average position for those keywords, and which content pages rank in those positions. This information is invaluable in deciding which keywords provide clicks and which specific pages to optimize to rank higher for individual keywords or keyword groups. GSC provides content creators and SEOs alike with a roadmap of achieving that pivotal search position in the SERPs.
GKT, on the other hand, leverages data from Google’s paid advertising system to provide two data points: average monthly search volume for a given keyword and semantically similar terms. These two points, when combined with GSC data, create prioritization for SEOs. After all, if GKT tells you a keyword you rank 3rd for gets an average of 100,000 searches a month, you’re going to work diligently to increase your position for that term. You can also increase your rank for that single keyword by looking at other related, relevant keywords and optimizing for those as well.
Using these two tools in tandem, many marketers develop an SEO strategy that boils down to the following: find the highest-ranking keywords, find keywords related to those keywords, and create content for those keywords. Knowing what the core keywords are for your business and creating rich, unique content to inform and delight your visitors is an essential element of SEO. It just isn’t the only element of a complete SEO strategy and, in 2021, it likely isn’t going to help you achieve the first position or drive the traffic you would have a decade ago.
The visual aesthetics of your standard search results page has changed significantly since 2011. Knowledge panels and featured snippets powered by rich schema markup now appear on many search results before that coveted first position listing. As a result, Google-generated featured snippets are called the “position zero” result. An Ahrefs study indicates many users don’t even click a search listing when a featured snippet appears.
An example of a search result where a Quick Answer result and People Ask Ask result appear before the “number 1” search result
This trend has increased in recent years as the answer to many queries appears on the Google search results page instead of requiring users to click to find the information they need. Featured Snippet boxes also power Voice Search results, where the user is not even navigating on Google to see your SERP or anyone else’s.
A holistic SEO strategy considers technical SEO and keyword best practices and pairs them together in the correct order. A full-funnel SEO strategy starts with technical SEO to ensure your site can be crawled, rendered, and indexed. The key to these three stages of the SEO funnel is discoverability.
In order to rank in Google or any other search engine, your content needs to be crawlable and indexable. However, as much as 50% of content on a large enterprise website isn’t even visible to search engines. That means that no amount of on-page content changes or keyword research in GKT will help you get those 10,000 conversions a year that we talked about earlier.
Your content is significantly less likely to be seen by your audience as they need to do the work to find it themselves on your website, or you need to do the work to drive them there through another channel like paid media. Imagine if some of your top product pages, highest-converting downloads, or other business-critical content was among the list of content search engines can’t see? The impact on your bottom line can be catastrophic.
Content that search engines can’t discover is generally plagued with some sort of technical issue such as:
Technical SEO should play a significant role in your organic search strategy. After all, if the spiders can’t see your content, your human users can’t either.
Brands that prioritize SEO are much more likely to find that investment profitable (91%). The top benefits included increased sales (65%) resulting from greater conversions (62%), according to Forrester Consulting research commissioned by Botify.
In 2021, if you want to succeed in organic search, you need to move beyond thinking about just the keyword and instead focus on the user. Increased sales from greater conversions mean taking advantage of wide-scale technical SEO opportunities and keyword-rich content together. Your ultimate goal for organic search should be making it as simple as possible for the right audience to find the right content on your site at the right time in their user journey. That goes much further than the knowledge that they can see your page if they search for a specific term.
A practical, full-funnel SEO strategy includes partnering technical SEO with the best practices of on-page optimization (like keyword monitoring and research) to ensure that we are doing everything we can to increase traffic and conversions from organic search incrementally. After all, what SEO wouldn’t like an additional 10,000 conversions a year?