Search rankings are irrelevant!
At least if you don't pay attention to whether they do you any good.
Of course rankings are important - and probably becoming more so as voice search returns single answers instead of lists.
But almost everyone assumes that rankings equal traffic. And generally if you're doing the right B2B marketing things to increase organic search rankings, you're also going to increase traffic.
But this correlation overlooks a critical fact.
Appearing in searches is a lot different than getting clicked.
What do you track?
Think about your B2B marketing reports. They're likely focused on your organic search rankings. How many total, top 10, top 3. Probably tracking how you rank vs. various competitors - tracking absolute and relative position over time.
Presumably you have a selection of search terms on which you're focused - for strategic, competitive and tactical reasons.
You're probably investing substantial resources in improving and maintaining those rankings.
It's a big deal - and that's why you track your ranking assiduously.
In fact, I help clients create mobile dashboards and alerts that incorporate Google Analytics and SEMRush data into continuously updated snapshots of organic search conditions. It's important enough to monitor all the time! (BTW - if you don't have quick insight into your search metrics or other elements of your revenue growth - from leads, through sales pipeline to closed revenue, let's talk. Because you should - help clients build those using Databox.)
What don't you track
If you're like most companies you don't go much beyond that - and you don't track whether you actually get any clicks resulting from your B2B marketing efforts.
Of course it used to be easy until Google started to hide the organic keyword several years ago. And while you can't any longer easily discern which word brought which visitor, you can easily tell whether your ranked terms are getting reasonable clicks.
Formerly known as Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console lays it all out for you. Under the Search Analytics section of the Search Traffic header you can easily view and export a report which shows search terms, your ranking, impressions and the click through rate (CTR) for the last 7, 28 and 90 days.
When did you last run that report?
That's what I figured.....
What are you likely missing
The fact that rankings and traffic tend to improve in tandem masks some critical insights which the Search Console data will highlight.
I typically find that industrial manufacturing clients that have been in business for some time and built some website, with some rudimentary SEO relatively early in the internet days, rank for brand and product terms.
What's interesting is that there's often a sharp contrast in performance between the two.
They may have CTRs of up to 50% for branded terms.
However, CTRs for non branded terms are often in low single digits.
In other words, the investment in improving and maintaining rankings for organic terms around products particularly (often they're working to achieve the same performance with problem and application type terms) doesn't translate into traffic.
Rankings ≠ clicks / visits!
Why could that be
Why might someone search a term, view a listing ranked at 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 and not click it? We can surmise that the listing isn't compelling. That means that the listing elements - Title, URL & meta description fail to provide enough substance to justify the selection.
For many traditional industrial websites, titles and meta descriptions are vague, missing or simply the same across multiple pages - often they're dreadful corporate speak.
But often someone's undertaken to try to improve on-page content, and there's often some domain authority associated with early ranking dominance. Because CMSs are often clumsy, changing some key elements is cumbersome.
Early websites often had a limited number of pages, and many manufacturing companies that had early B2B marketing websites also often rank for a large number of terms on just a few pages. That means that even if pages had unique meta descriptions, when the results display the details of the page for which the term ranks, it's often quite generic.
So rankings improve, impressions climb...and clicks don't.
How to fix it
- Don't break anything. The impressive rankings are important to preserve.
- Start by understanding which page ranks for which terms. (An easy way to do that is to export the Search Console results and analyze them with a pivot table.)
- When you're clear which pages rank for which terms you can judiciously begin to adjust titles and meta descriptions - keep in mind though that optimizing for one term may drift further for the others
- Most importantly, though, create new content (pages if appropriate, blogs, landing pages, press releases, etc.) that are optimized around those key terms for which you rank well but aren't seeing clicks. Make sure that those new pages are really well optimized in Title, URL and meta description with a very strong focus on the searchers experience - will they want to click when they see it?
- If it's possible to add legitimately helpful and natural language to the ranking pages (that will honestly improve the UX), then drop it in and include legitimate anchor text links to the new pages
- Make sure the new pages are crawled and indexed
- Track your performance
This new content (assuming it's solid) will help to further strengthen your ranking, and as those new pages start to rank and appear in search results, your improved titles and meta descriptions should improve the organic CTR.
Practical vs. theoretical
There are so many B2B sales and marketing experts out there...why haven't you heard about this frequently?
Fair question - and one that I can't readily answer.
My best guess is that it's not easily accessed through most B2B marketing tool suites, and the increase in traffic which often corresponds with increased rankings lulls people into assuming everything's working.
But it's fundamentally the difference between practical (I've run industrial businesses and spent my own money on marketing) vs. theoretical.