How to Stop the Vanity of Your Search Metrics

How to Stop the Vanity of Your Search Metrics

Keyword search volume The keyword search volume metric refers to the number of searches performed for a keyword within a time frame – how many times people search “Formula 1” on Google in a month? Keyword volume is generally used to understand how popular a keyword is and to predict how much organic traffic a page would get if it ranked for that keyword. Thus, even if your page is in the No. In short: Targeting keywords based on high search volume sounds tempting but you should dig deeper into context to get a more accurate (and valuable) gauge of their traffic potential. It’s clear that even though “submit site to search engines” has a lower search volume, it is likely to earn more traffic than the higher search volume phrase, “SEO tips.” More keywords ranked equals more traffic, right? The page could rank in position 99 for all 100 keywords and not receive organic traffic from any of them. But, it’s better for your organic search traffic for the keyword to be higher up on the search results. The data reveals that, of the 6.7 million ranking keywords, only 153,534 show up in the top three results on their corresponding search pages. Work to expand the number of sites with backlinks to your site.

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Imagine you publish two blog posts. In one week, one page shows up in 1,500 searches. The other page appears in 850 searches.

It’s clear which one is on the right track.

Or is it?

Metrics can be misleading. If you don’t go below the surface, they’re done in vain. So, which metrics give you deeper insights to improve your SEO strategies, and which don’t?

Let’s get into it. (I’ve pulled traffic and ranking data using tools from Ahrefs, the company I work for, to illustrate my points. You also can use Keywords Everywhere, a free Chrome extension, for search volume and costs per click. Majestic is a popular alternative for backlink research.)

1. Keyword search volume

The keyword search volume metric refers to the number of searches performed for a keyword within a time frame – how many times people search “Formula 1” on Google in a month?

Keyword volume is generally used to understand how popular a keyword is and to predict how much organic traffic a page would get if it ranked for that keyword.

Many marketers are taught to use this metric to decide which keywords they want to target when optimizing their pages for search. They follow the logic that goes like this: high search volume equals high traffic equals more clicks. Consequently, low search volume equals low traffic equals fewer clicks, right?

Not quite.

Wrong assumption

Search volume does not equal clicks. Or, in layman’s terms, people don’t always click on a Google result to get the information they need. Thus, even if your page is in the No. 1 spot in the search results, your page isn’t necessarily getting a click.

Here’s an example for the keyword phrase, “how much is the Nintendo Switch,” which has an estimated monthly search volume of 5,500 in the United States. Only 38% of searches result in clicks.

Why doesn’t the top link always get a click? Google’s featured snippets (also fondly referred to as “answer boxes”) tackle a searcher’s question right away and publish the answer at the top of the results:

Wrong assumption

Two words: paid ads. For any sort of commercial term, advertisers are buying tons of your keyword search traffic through Google AdWords.

Let’s imagine I work for a company that is an amazing resource on the best types of cycling shorts. I check Keywords Explorer for “cycling shorts” and discover out of the 4,200 clicks received on the search engine page, a whopping 38% goes to a paid result (i.e., not the page I created).

In short: Targeting keywords based on high search volume sounds tempting but you should dig deeper into context to get a more accurate (and valuable) gauge of their traffic potential.

Do this instead

Look at traffic potential (i.e., clicks from the searches). Aim for high-traffic keywords instead of highly searched keywords. You can gauge this by referring to the SERP overview in Keywords Explorer.

Let’s explore a scenario with two possible keyword phrases.

Plug “submit site to search engines” into Keywords Explorer. It returns a search volume of 700 with traffic numbers in the 6,000-to-9,000 range for top ranking results.

Now, let’s try “SEO tips.” It has a higher search volume (3,600), but it sees significantly lower traffic numbers for top ranking results (300-to-1,250 range).

It’s clear that even though “submit site to search engines” has a lower search…

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