In the search engine optimisation (SEO) world, obtaining high keyword rankings is the ultimate goal for small and large businesses alike as they strive towards being listed first in the organic search results. This comes as no surprise considering that this position is positively correlated to increased website traffic and leads.
However, the way search engine results pages (SERPs) have evolved over the years, with the growth of universal search and paid advertising, for example, has caused us to witness the rapid decline of the opportunities affiliated with organic keyword rankings. In light of this and considering the time and resources it costs to obtain high organic rankings, it is now time for the experts working in today's search environment to evaluate whether SEO is still a worthy investment.
The keywords premise and user behaviour
There are two main kind of keywords which serve different purposes:
- Commercial Keywords
- Informative Keywords
Commercial keywords are the queries that clearly illustrate a user's buying intention; these can include modifiers such as "buy" "rent" "hire" etc. Furthermore, commercial keywords have always been covered by AdWords campaigns.
Informative keywords on the other hand are the queries users make to "learn more", meaning they are looking for useful information as opposed to a product / service to purchase. For example, a user who searches for a keyword with "best" as a modifier falls under this category.
Businesses invest in creating content which is SEO optimised in order to target one or both of these keyword categories to improve their brand awareness and organic ranking.
Mobile users' behaviour
Though research tells us that internet consumption on mobile is increasing exponentially, the average user performs searches on multiple screens and devices before making a final purchase.
If you carefully consider your own experiences as a user of mobile search, you will discover that searches are often performed to locate nearby shops. Generally, mobile search results triggered by commercial keywords which target local businesses fall within Google's "local pack", with business listings displayed in an embedded Google Maps within the SERP.
Factors influencing the potential decline of SEO's value
Some of the factors that have influenced the decline of organic keyword rankings' importance and associated benefits include; the existence of alternative methods to connect with customers online, businesses' ability to focus more on conversions rather than traffic and Google's position as a business.
Alternative methods to connect with customers online
Gone are the days when obtaining the premier position on SERPs was the only means by which businesses could attract the attention of online customers and drive website traffic. Nowadays, many alternative channels are available for businesses to invest in, such as paid advertising and social media.
Compared to ten years ago when businesses were just getting familiar with / exploring the marketing power of social media and publishing blogs with unique content, there is now a plethora of social media sites and millions of blogs worldwide.
Brands and businesses also have access to free channels such as online directories. Listing a business on platforms, such as FreeIndex, which have significant online credibility allows it to rank well despite having less impressive online authority.
Conversions versus traffic
Today's online environment gives brands and businesses the opportunity to focus on high quality conversions as opposed to spending a considerable amount of time and resources to cram hundreds of links and keywords on a website in hopes that the obtained traffic will lead to a conversion.
Take online platforms such as Houzz and Homify, which cater to the interior design industry, for example. Niche online communities such as these serve as environments where businesses can connect to users with specific interests relevant to their products / services and place targeted content in front of them to ensure they keep coming back to consume more. Building a strong following on social channels and participating in engagement activities can also positively impact everything from brand awareness to traffic and conversions.
Thus, communities such as this which allow businesses to focus more on conversions have considerably more power than keyword rankings which fail to connect brands with the same time of qualified traffic.
Google's position as a business
We often forget that Google is not simply a portal for conveniently finding information and buying products / services; it is also a business.
Thus, as a business, Google's aim is to provide its users with a satisfactory experience that meets their search needs and makes them return to the search engine. They achieve this by constantly evolving to become an all-inclusive destination.
MA Acting, ALRA. Google SERP snippet
For example, above you can find information on the course leader, location, length and level.
We previously highlighted Google's focus on displaying local-based results for users (the "local pack"), an occurrence which has drastically reduced the influence of premier organic rankings as they get buried underneath these local results. However, even if the very first results are not website articles or product pages, it is still necessary to execute local SEO to push your local result further up in the results.
Google's update which allows paid ads to blend with organic results buries them even further, significantly diminishing the click-through rate (CTR) each organic result obtains.
Furthermore, Google's aim to optimise their users' has also been manifested in the form of featured snippets and definitions which help solve users' demands without the need to enter websites. These also contributed in pushing organic rankings further down the SERP, an effect mostly observed in the rankings for informative keyword searches.
Even so, this may well be Google's method of pushing marketers to produce more unique content which anticipates trends and users' needs, rather than publishing recycled pieces.
SEO and organic keyword rankings still matter
Brands and businesses should not feel discouraged from investing in SEO, as there is still purpose in actively pursuing ranks in the premier position of SERPs, such as the rise of displayed local results.
Even with the incidence of lower CTRs and less visibility caused by the evolution of search, experts can still make the most of traffic and conversion opportunities derived from organic search results by producing high quality content which stands out and takes a unique perspective, whilst also being based on the concepts target audiences are interested in and / or search for.
In addition, as previously mentioned, investing local SEO is still crucial if businesses hope to take advantage of the rise in local-based results. Pursuing a high local listing for your business is a great way to connect with and stay in front of your customers.
Furthermore, if brands and businesses focus on executing the type of consumer and market research which guides their content production efforts, their ability to target the topics that matter to their specific audience will be enhanced. Rather than spending their time and resources than trying to fit in generic industry keywords and phrases which may not relevant to them, this is a more efficient way to spend time and resources and will ultimately lead to more qualified conversions and increased site traffic.
That being said, it is ill-advised to focus all efforts solely on SEO. Remember that success in the digital marketing world is achieved by focusing on a combination of SEO, social media, email marketing and other digital channels relevant to a particular brand or business. Doing so will ultimately make it easier to avoid the adverse effects of SEO's potential devaluation.
If you would like to find out more or require assistance with your SEO and overall digital marketing strategy, please get in touch with our expert team.