Why Google Keyword Rank No Longer Matters

man using tablet to search for "keyword"

Google keyword rankings used to be a standard for any SEO strategy. In many cases, your keyword rankings were a primary metric used to judge the performance of your site. Today, your Google keyword ranking is only part of why your traffic fluctuates.

Marketers used to have access to a lot more information on the keywords people were searching to reach content. Google Analytics provided this information with a sense of transparency, and you could get more or less what could be called accurate search volume estimates from Google’s Keyword Tool.

The first major update that changed this was Google’s move to encrypted search and the appearance of “not provided” in Google Analytics. These changes mean you can no longer see which keywords are bringing organic traffic to your site.

Then came the decision to move search volume estimates within the Keyword Planner to only show estimates in broad ranges. Instead of seeing that a keyword has been searched for 1,400 times in a month, you can see only that it’s been searched between 1k-10k times per month.

These changes have forced marketers to adapt their search strategy to focus more on a topic-centric content strategy, instead of on individual keywords.

One major criticism of keyword ranking data is that it is very inaccurate. Industry leaders and providers of rank tracking data software have even admitted that this is the case.

Reasons for the inaccuracies can be identified, and mostly fit into these broad categories:

Personalization, Location, and Device.

Personalization basically means that Google delivers search results that are personalized based on a user’s search history. This means that if you were to query “smartphones”  and were previously browsing the Samsung website, Google might tailor the search results to show Samsung at or near the top. This wouldn’t necessarily happen to someone that hasn’t previously gone to the Samsung website, which makes it difficult to determine which site actually ranks at the top.

Location and device take into account the major advancements in search that Google has made in the last few years, including the ability to take into account aspects of a search query that aren’t explicitly typed. Take, for example, a query like, “Minneapolis restaurants”.

A search for “Minneapolis restaurants” a few years ago would generate a list of websites that either talk about restaurants in Minneapolis or maybe include an actual restaurant. Today, a search for will provide Google with more information than ever before. Google sees which device you’re searching on and where you are during the search, even if you’re moving.

So, a search for “Minneapolis restaurants” at noon on a Tuesday would actually look like this to the search algorithms: “Which restaurants are currently open for lunch within walking distance of my current location in Minneapolis, MN?” This means that every search is completely personalized, without the user having to do anything differently, which further complicates matters for marketers.

Keywords with strong rankings don’t always mean to high organic traffic, let alone increases in revenue. Losing a lot of the visibility of search volume metrics makes difficult to estimate the traffic you can gain from one keyword. Factor in the evolving appearance of the search engine results page (SERPs) and this becomes an even more intense challenge.

To combat these changes and to try to get a handle on your metrics, you may want to consider changing how you analyze the performance of your content. Topic clusters are a way to do this that can give marketers clearer insights on the types of content that should be focused on, rather than individual keywords.

Despite everything stated above, keyword rankings aren’t totally dead. Keyword data can be useful for diagnosing SEO problems with your site, and also can give you insight into the intent behind certain types of searches. Mostly it is important to be aware of this information and to use it to your benefit. As a marketer, you need to be aware that the data around your keywords is not going to be 100% accurate. Which means that using keywords as your primary performance metric may not be providing you with the right information that you need for your site’s success.


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