What is “Keyword Ranking” in SEO?
Search engine optimization is a fairly complicated concept – but you can boil it down to one main thing. Keyword rankings.
For most sites, getting better rankings is the number one goal for any SEO campaign, since that is what’s needed for better traffic. But what is keyword ranking in SEO?
For businesses that are concerned about using SEO to improve their traffic, the main keyword ranking definition refers to what position their page has in search results for specific keywords.
For any particular target keyword, pages will generally have a specific position that they appear at in the search engine results page (or the SERP). Search engines use algorithms to measure and scrutinize website elements like content, meta-data, internal links, navigation, link structure, and more. This is what keyword ranking in SEO means: being able to design, set-up, and optimize a site in order to rise the rankings in search engines. After all, websites that are higher quality will have better keyword positions, and websites that are lower quality will have lower keyword positions.
Page’s with better keyword rankings will rank for more keywords, will rank for higher traffic keywords, will rank closer to page 1 in search engines, and will rank higher-up on page 1 as well! That’s why understanding what keyword position is, is crucial to gaining traffic through Google, Bing, Yahoo, and more.
What is a keyword ranking?
Keyword rankings in SEO refer to your page’s specific spot on the search results pages for a particular search query. When people enter search terms into Google that relate to your page’s subject matter, whichever spot your URL is shown in is your keyword ranking.
Search engines usually show about 10 results per page, and higher keyword rankings mean being closer to the top of the page (toward spot #1), lower keyword rankings mean being closer to the bottom (spot #10). This keyword ranking definition also refers to which page in the SERP a URL is shown on, with more relevant results shown on page 1, and less relevant results appearing on page 2 or beyond.
There’s no way to tell search engines like Google or Bing which keywords you want a page to rank for directly, they will process the content on the page and decide for themselves. There is also no minimum or maximum number of keyword rankings a page can have.
Google defines keywords as “key terms used in the written content of the website pages.” This suggests that a keyword ranking definition is for key phrases and words that exist on the web page as found by Google. This idea represents the link between keywords used on a site for SEO and the keywords that are used by web searchers.
Understand the parts of the SERP
To better understand this “keyword ranking” definition and to understand what keyword ranking in SEO means, it helps to know the key parts of a search engine results page.
Search engines like Google and Bing often show a small selection of paid ads at the top (that look very similar to “organic” results) and then a listing of real, organic results below – usually 10. These appear just below the search bar.
The search results page can sometimes also include rich snippets, shopping results, “knowledge graphs” and more.
However, when people talk about “keyword position” they are almost always referring to where a particular page ranks in the main “organic” listings of 10 results per page. These are the main links in the middle of the page and are what most people are familiar with.
Here’s how they break down:
- Spots #1-10 are on the first page
- Spots #11-20 are on the second page
- Spots #21-30 are on the third page
- And so on…
For SEO marketing the 10 organic spots on each page are what is most important. These 10 spots only include organic results – not paid ads or results for other Google channels like image results or Shopping results (which are tracked separately). The better the rank, the more traffic.
These ten spots are counted down from the top of the page so first result on the page is spot #1, and the last one is spot #10. Having a higher keyword position means more traffic, and is therefore a lot more desirable for SEO.
The #1 result here has an average click-through-rate of 31.7% – making it 10x more likely to get a click then lower results. This is why having an SEO strategy built on good keyword research is important, since it can help sites to target their most valuable existing keyword rankings – and to gain new ones.
Keyword Ranking Definitions vs “Search Queries”
Let’s also talk about another common term in SEO which is “search queries.” Most of the time these terms are used interchangeably – but they’re not necessarily exactly the same.
Search “queries” represent the terms and phrases that are typed into search engines by the users.
So, what is keyword ranking in SEO compared to search queries used by searchers? The difference is mostly context and what’s being referred to. Search queries represent what’s actually typed into a search engine by people who are beginning their search, whereas marketers usually think of “keywords” as the queries that they are targeting for their SEO and PPC campaigns. Plus the Google indexing algorithm is designed to look for keywords in the content of pages, which means that Google has its own keyword ranking definition used for the algorithm.
When it finds keywords, it can deduce what the page is about.
But because there are often many inconsequential variances between search queries (spelling, punctuation, grammar, synonyms) a “keyword” might encapsulate any number of “keywords.”
For example “men’s back country backpacks” and “backcountry backpacks for men” may be different queries but the results shown for these searches will most likely have the same keyword position, meaning that search engines see these terms as the same.
Marketers might think of these as the same keyword and search algorithms often do as well – that’s why searching for both keywords will most likely give people almost identical results.
How to know your keyword ranking position
There are some ways to know what keywords your site is ranking for.
Search Console is provided by Google to help webmasters monitor the health of their website in the index – this tool also gives businesses and sites a way to see how people come to their site through search. It gives marketers a way to see which queries people are using to get to their site, find new keywords that are best for their site, and measure traffic from Google search. All of which are important for SEO.
Search Console offers all websites a “Performance” report where they can see search traffic for their site’s pages broken down by URLs and numbers. Specifically, marketers can see what are the keyword positions for their top URLs with info on clicks, impressions, click-through-rate, and average position.
So what is keyword ranking in Search Console exactly? Let’s look at a couple of the metrics used in this report.
In the Coverage report marketers can see:
- Impressions: Or how many links to your site a user saw on Google search results (even if the result was not scrolled into view). Though this isn’t a good way of tracking or monitoring keyword ranking positions, it’s a good way of understanding the value of keywords and how they can help your site appear to more people.
- Clicks: This metric reflects the number of clicks from Google search that results in users visiting your website.
- CTR: Or “click-through-rate” is the measure of how many clicks the site has received, divided by the number of impressions it gets.
- Average Position: This means the average position of the topmost result from your site for a given keyword. Average is given here because the position fluctuates often, give or take a few spots.
In the Coverage report the keyword ranking positions are shown in the “Queries” tab as a column on the left side.
Google’s keyword ranking definition for “average positions” hinges on the fact that URLs rarely stay in one spot permanently. There’s a lot of variables at play, but links in the search results page can fluctuate up and down over time – day to day or even from search to search.
This is a big part of why the queries/keywork ranking position shown in Search Console is usually a decimal number. A keyword position of “2.5” for example could represent a keyword that moves around between spot #2 and spot #3 on the SERP.
Since Google searches can sometimes be customized for searchers based on their previous searches, the device they are using, and their geographic location – not everyone gets the exact same results. And as the search engine indexes other pages and crawls new content, it reshuffles which links deserve to appear where, based on Google’s complex ranking algorithm.
Google describes Search Console’s keyword ranking definition like this:
“…key terms used in the written content of the website pages. These terms are the most significant keywords and their variants that Google found when crawling your site. When reviewed along with the Search queries report and your site’s listing in actual search results for your targeted keywords, it provides insight into how Google is interpreting the content of your site.”
Keep in mind that these “keywords” are what it’s ranking algorithm determines as the most important core words from the page’s content or design, as well as from context passed to the pages via links. But marketers may not be able to see or know exactly what these keywords are – instead they might have to determine keywords from the listed “queries” shown in Search Console.
Here’s how Google defines queries shown in the Coverage report in Search Console: “The actual query a user entered in Google search.” Simple as that!
This data can be used to help optimize SEO campaigns and optimize on-page content for better traffic and better business. Afterall, what is keyword ranking in SEO used for exactly? The keywords shown here, plus how they perform can help to make adjustments on the site in order to improve SEO.
Monitoring “Average Position” can help businesses determine how Google understands their content – plus metrics like Clicks and CTR can be used to feedback into campaigns and improve traffic for high-value keywords.
- If a page has a higher average keyword/query position in Search Console, but a low CTR, it could mean that the meta data is not appealing to searchers or comes across as dishonest, spammy, or inaccurate.
- Keywords with a higher average position, but few impressions represent keywords or topics that simply just do not get very much traffic. However, if CTR is higher, and the page is leading to conversions, this may not be a bad thing.
- Pages with average keyword ranking positions that are higher than 10.0 may have fewer clicks because it means these pages are mostly showing up on page 2 of Google search results, where people are far less likely to click on them. For example a page with an “average position” of “10.4” might bounce around periodically between the 10th spot on page 1 or the 1st spot on page 2.
Being able to understand this data is important to being able to know your sites keyword rankings and to improve your search performance. Knowing what keyword ranking in SEO means will help businesses perform keyword research and to curate the content on their site to better perform for high-value keywords that bring them more site traffic, and more revenue.
What is keyword ranking in SEO? How can your keyword rankings help your business? Contact the Radd team to learn more about our strategic SEO services or to get a consultation on your site.
Our expert search optimization strategies help businesses grow their traffic across search engines and gain them more conversions. Read through our client testimonials to see how we do it.