SEO agencies have to work with hard, complex metrics to determine a benchmark for success when it comes to their keyword groups’ performance.
Analysing a single keyword’s performance is quite straightforward as the ranking is enough — you usually see it next to some quality attributes (search volumes, SERP features, user intent) and know its status. But, once you start looking at hundreds or thousands of keywords, things start to change.
The problem with measuring the performance of a keyword group (and why it’s so hard to tackle it!) is that it has to take into consideration not only the rankings, but also the quality attributes of those keywords.
There is this thing called the Tesler’s law of the conservation of complexity which states that “the total complexity of a system is constant. If you make a user’s interaction with a system simpler, the complexity behind the scenes increases.”
If we apply Tesler’s law to SEO performance measurements, then the Visibility metric is a seemingly simple solution to understanding how your keyword groups perform, ergo how the site stands and how likely users are to see it and interact with it. Yet, the complexity is preserved in the calculation.
What follows is a short history of how the search visibility came to be and why we think it’s a core metric to have, as it helps agencies connect their actions with their clients’ business results.
In this journey, we’ll take a closer look at the different kinds of visibilities with their quirks and relevance problems, while explaining how we’ve managed to apply Tesler’s law and solved those shortcomings:
One way the SEO industry decided to solve the problem of monitoring keywords and connecting them with changing ranks is the average position. Defined in Google Search Console as the sum of positions divided by the total number of keywords you are ranking for, this metric partially solves the problem of accuracy with dynamic variables.
Google also calculates the topmost position of a website for a specific keyword averaged across all keywords where it appeared.
Although it may seem like a good performance indicator to start with and try to optimize for growth, it doesn’t paint the whole picture.
It gets misleading when a new keyword starts ranking, for instance. So if keyword X is in position 1 and keyword Y is in position 3, your average position will be 2. But if keyword Z enters in position 10, then the average position actually drops although your performance is improving. You’ll get a 4.6 average. That drives your attention to another part of your campaign than necessary.
Mix in SERP features in the formula and things can be even more confusing, due to Google’s counting method of positions from top to bottom, making an AMP carousel a position 2, but a Knowledge Graph card a position 6. And let’s not forget that it depends on device and location.
Also, the average position doesn’t include search volumes for the ranking keywords, so you may have a good ranking keyword with a few searches, which won’t really drive traffic to the client’s site.
Another stop in the SEO industry’s quest of performance metrics refers to the keyword stacks, grouping them by the number of keywords in positions 1-3, 4-10, 11-20 etc. Calculated as such, it is meant to showcase how a website is faring in visibility based on the number of keywords in each “stack” — is it more on the top 1-3 side or on the 4-10 side?
So you will know the amount of keywords generating a certain visibility number or percentage.
But there’s a catch.
Let’s say you have 50 keywords in top 3 and 150 keywords in 4-10. That can mean anything if the search volumes for each keyword are not taken into consideration, because there can be huge differences in how they truly impact your traffic.
Maybe out of the 50 keywords only 10 are relevant in terms of high search volumes for your chosen timeframe. How do you know which ones to improve then?
Also, there can be significant differences between the keywords in position 1, 2, and 3 from those 50, so how do you know whether they’ve reached their best performance yet?
From average positions to keyword stacks, average CTRs determined by all targeted keywords or based on rankings, the visibility metric is now a constant in the industry.
Yet, although they may go under the same generic name of “visibility”, these metrics differ quite a lot and have many flaws, as you’ll see below — being either iterations of the old metrics without necessarily solving their limitations or even the same old metrics disguised as a new visibility.
And as an agency you still need to be able to explain to your client your key performance indicators and how you influenced said performance. So you need a metric that is stable and reliable: for you to understand and properly explain. And that tells you the truth: for you to evaluate performance in a correct manner, comparing the same types of changes.
Let’s take a few existing visibility metrics under more careful scrutiny and see how they fare:
To conclude, all of them suffer from historical volatility and are unreliable, as they change not just based on performance, but based on your keywords list (adding/deleting keywords).
It’s clear that the need to identify a visibility metric that includes keywords and rankings and makes the connection with potential business outcomes is as strong as ever.
We believe that one formula of calculation helps determine the benchmark for success, without introducing too much complexity — an impression share in the organic results that takes into account the rankings and monthly search volumes for every keyword in your list.
Expressed as a percentage, SEOmonitor’s Visibility is an impression share weighted against search volumes, making it a more accurate representation of how well the client’s website ranks in Google at a particular time for a list of keywords.
Plus, being an impression share, you have a clear, objective scale that doesn’t fluctuate in itself — from 0% to 100% (all targeted keywords in position 1), you know the reality of the website’s status and potential (no estimation-based guesses).
If you need a metric that tells you the truth about your keyword groups fast, look no further! SEOmonitor’s visibility is for groups what the rank is for the individual keyword, making it a good “compass” that shows you where you are and where you can go from here.
This connection with search trends can be tricky sometimes and, in order to understand changes in the Visibility, you need to look at year-over-year search data and see how search volumes changed.
SERP features are also a prickly matter — as they take their share from the total search volume of a keyword, a calibration is required to paint the whole picture regarding the Visibility metric. This is actually something we’re currently developing at SEOmonitor for this quarter — so you’ll know the percentage from the total searches that actually end up clicking on your targeted site.
(A solution that works in being accurate and straightforward, unlike the pixel-based tracking by the way! — we’ve explained it all in a comprehensive article here).
The main idea behind How visible your website/business actually is can be “translated” as follows:
That’s the first critical way for agencies to use our Visibility. Used as a “market share” indicator when applied to competitors, the Visibility metric points at opportunities or as Erald Krasniqi (SEO specialist and SEOmonitor’s Business Development Manager) puts it: “You measure potential first. The question SEOs are challenged to answer is — How much space does client X have to grow? That’s how you identify opportunities.”
Being expressed as an impression share (percentage), SEOmonitor’s Visibility will set the benchmark for the SEO strategy and the further performance to achieve.
Let’s take an example for clarity!
Say you’re in a highly competitive niche like the gaming or betting industries. If your main competitor has a Visibility of 75%, based on your prior keyword research and targeting, then you have a good opportunity to grow there and even surpass that business. That means that improving the rankings for a top 3 keywords group, for instance, would have a dramatic impact in business results, for the better, of course.
Using the initial Visibility as a performance metric, you can then go and:
As we’ve just mentioned, the initial Visibility is a good performance metric to start from. There are multiple ways an agency uses it to measure their SEO efforts and impact — with insights from Maria Cernatescu, Customer Service Manager at SEOmonitor:
These are just some examples of how relevant this metric can be and how many purposes it can serve.
What’s important to acknowledge here is that when reporting, agencies can trust SEOmonitor’s Visibility metric values, as they’re not changing historically when some of the keywords are deleted.
And one more thing: Visibility is an actionable metric especially for now (the present moment it encapsulates), but it can be useful in larger audits when agencies want to compare performance throughout 6 months or a year and dive deeper into the market shifts.
SEO agencies need to check daily statuses of multiple SEO campaigns, which means thousands of keywords and their performance — a problem that had different solutions as search metrics evolved:
As a reliable performance metric, SEOmonitor’s Visibility helps agencies: