search marketing

Search Visibility: Then vs Now

In the modern world of marketing, metrics are more important than ever. You’ve no doubt heard the old saying, “If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.”

That said, marketing can be an especially difficult field in which to measure your efforts with any sort of reliability. With so many moving parts and qualitative factors, how do you find a measure that is useful—and consistently so?

Nowhere is this problem more apparent than in search engine optimization, or SEO. How can SEO experts set a benchmark for success for their keyword groups’ performance?

The solution marketers have come up with is search visibility. Learn more about what that is, how it came to be, and why we at Stream Companies see it as an indispensable metric for your SEO efforts!

What is search visibility?

First, a definition. Search visibility (also known as search engine visibility or SEO visibility) refers to the share of traffic a website earns from its rankings in the organic search results. It’s a percentage of how visible your website is on Google.

For instance, imagine you rank first in the search results for a particular keyword. According to a study published in 2020, 28.5% of users click the first organic result in Google Search.

If that were the percentage of clicks your page received, your site’s search engine visibility for that keyword would be 28.5%.

With SEO software and tools, you can calculate your site’s search visibility as a whole. You’ll get a visibility score based on every keyword you rank for.

The calculation behind search visibility

For many reasons, visibility has had high appeal to those interested in measuring SEO performance. Why? It’s easy to use and understand, but it builds complexity into the equation.

It’s easy to analyze the performance of one keyword. All you need to know is the ranking in relation to metrics like search volume, user intent, and search engine results page (SERP) features. But what happens when you consider a group of keywords—maybe hundreds or even thousands at once?

Well, things change. Suddenly, measurement becomes more difficult because you have two items to account for: (1) the rankings and (2) the quality attributes of the keywords in your group.

Tesler’s Law applied to visibility

Search visibility is a solution to the above problem that perfectly illustrates Tesler’s Law—the law of conservation of complexity.

The law states that every system has an inherent amount of complexity that cannot be removed or hidden. Rather, it must be dealt with. If you simplify a user’s interaction with the system, the complexity behind the scenes increases.

Confused? Here’s an example.

Tesler’s Law can be seen at work in many phenomena—like the login process. In many cases, it has been simplified for users by replacing the need for a username and password with biometric login options. Just tap your thumb or show your face to log in!

However, this is only possible because the complexity of the calculation within the system has increased. Verifying a fingerprint or face ID is more complex for a computer than matching a password. Thus, the total complexity of the system has been preserved.

Visibility arose as an answer to the question of measuring SEO performance precisely because it preserves the complexity of the system. It’s an easy way for analysts to understand how keyword groups perform—how likely users are to see the website and interact with it. But its calculation is more complex to compensate, and that makes it reliable.  

The history of search visibility

So, how did search visibility come to be? Here, we’ll explore the different kinds of visibilities that sprung up over time as well as their advantages and limitations.

1) Average search position

The average position metric is defined as the sum of positions divided by the number of keywords you’re ranking for. The scale works like this: If your average position is between 1 and 4, your ad will be on the first page of Google. Congratulations!

This measurement partially solves the problem of accuracy when you’re dealing with the dynamic variables involved in SEO. It does have its limitations, however. You won’t get the full picture purely from this metric.

The limitations of average position

So, in what ways can average position lead you astray? The metric can be highly misleading when a new keyword begins ranking.

For instance, you may have had the keyword “Kia Sportage interior” in position 1 and “Kia Sportage reviews” in position 3, for an average position of 2. But let’s say you introduce a new keyword—“Kia Sportage safety”—and it enters in position 9. Your average position will drop to 4.3.

You can see how this would be misleading. The change in average position makes your SEO performance look worse, even though it’s improving. All that’s changed is that you’ve added a new keyword, which is a good thing!

There are other limitations, too. The average position doesn’t factor in search volume, which is a pretty big piece of the puzzle. You may have a keyword that ranks really well—even #1—but has low search volumes, so it won’t drive much traffic to your website.

Positions in the Google search results also depend on the device used and the location of the user/device. These dynamic factors make it difficult to use the average position metric to judge the success of your SEO strategy. 

2) Keyword stacks

Average position is just one metric. The next solution was to look at keywords in “groups” rather than individually or all at once. Keyword stacks group your keywords in positions 1–3, 4–10, 11–20, and so forth.

This calculation is good for understanding how a website fares in search visibility based on the number of keywords in each “stack”. In other words, do you have more keywords on the top (position 1–3) or the bottom (11–20)?

Once again, though, this metric doesn’t reveal the entire picture. Maybe you have 100 keywords in the top 3 positions and 50 keywords in positions 4–10. They may sound good, but that metric has one crucial blind spot: search volumes.

When you don’t consider the search volumes of each keyword, you won’t know if the keywords you have in the top positions are really driving significant traffic to your website. Maybe only 10 or 20 of your 100 “top 3” keywords actually have high search volumes—in which case, the reality doesn’t quite match the numbers.

Keep in mind, too, that there can be significant differences within keyword groups. Put simply, whether your keywords slot into position 1, 2, or 3 may be important to know as you strategize how to improve your positions. Keyword stacks alone cannot give you this crucial insight.

The value of search visibility metrics

So, where does that leave us with search visibility metrics? Clearly, these metrics can provide valuable information that businesses and their agencies use to improve visibility. But to do so, you need to be aware of each metric’s blind spots.

There are many different methodologies out there for calculating search metrics. Because each tool calculates organic search visibility in a unique way, it won’t be helpful to track visibility for one site across several tools.

Choose one tool, one method—and be aware of its weak spots. Use that tool to measure your visibility figures, and you’ll be in a better position to evaluate success over time.

What are the popular visibility tools?

We’ve looked at where organic search visibility came from, but where is it today? What metrics and algorithms are most popular, and what are the tools that use them?

Here are the SEO visibility tools you should know:

  • SEMrush’s Position Tracking Tool, which calculates changes in visibility and estimated traffic based on daily shifts in search results positions.
  • Moz Pro’s Search Visibility Score, which applies an estimated CTR for each keyword based on where you rank, giving higher CTR keywords more weight.
  • SEOmonitor uses current rankings to estimate the percentage of people searching for a particular keyword who saw your page in the search results. They multiply that figure by the monthly search volume for that keyword to estimate your share of impressions.

You’re always looking for a holistic measure. You should also collect the data that addresses any blind spots an algorithm may have, so you preserve the complexity of search visibility, à la Tesler’s Law.

What is a good search visibility score?

There’s no easy answer to this question. The variety of methodologies available create a scenario where different scores mean different things under different systems. However, a couple measures will be constant across all systems:

  • A 0% score means you’re not ranking high enough for any of your keywords to generate organic traffic.
  • A 100% score means you rank at the top of page one for all your target keywords.

In other words, the best- and worst-case scenarios look the same across search visibility metrics. In every other case, the devil is in the details of the methodology.

Our best rule of thumb? A score in the 40%-to-50% range is typically a solid score. Even though different tools use different algorithms, the most popular ones make it challenging to score above the mid-40s for non-branded keywords. 

10 SEO tips to improve your search engine visibility

Knowing your search visibility metric is half the battle. The other half is acting on the information you have to strategically improve your website’s search visibility over time. If you don’t do anything with the data you collect, how useful is it?

1) Target long-tail keywords

It makes sense to choose keywords that get a lot of searches, right? Actually, the answer isn’t that clear cut. These keywords are more competitive, and that means they’re harder to rank for (as measured by keyword difficulty scores).

You may need backlinks from hundreds of websites just to rank in the top 10 for these highly competitive keywords. In other words, your chances of seeing results are almost zero! We recommend you focus on long-tail keywords instead.

Long-tail keywords may be searched less often, but they usually have low levels of competition. (Ideally, you’re looking for high search volume and low competition, but that tends to be a unicorn in the search visibility game.)

For example, a Ford dealership should probably stay away from trying to rank for something as general and highly searched as “Ford Escape”. All of these are long tail keywords that might serve the dealer better: 

  • 2021 Ford Escape interior dimensions
  • Ford Escape for sale near (city, state)
  • How much can the Ford Escape tow?

Sure, fewer people are typing or speaking these keyword phrases into Google. But when people do, the dealer’s website has a much better chance of ranking in the top three positions—and in a far shorter timeframe.

2) Optimize for a mobile-first world

Did you know that mobile searches now account for a majority or near majority of online searches in all major industries? It’s true. And Google is challenging those who want to succeed in a mobile-first world to make their sites mobile friendly. 

In fact, Google now downranks websites that aren’t optimized for mobile. So, how do you know if your website is mobile friendly? You won’t have to guess because Google offers a Mobile-Friendly Test tool. Just enter your website URL, and Google will tell you whether your site is up to their standards for mobile.

If Google determines that your website is not mobile friendly, the tool will show you what elements you need to adjust to improve. We recommend you implement these changes so your site performs well on mobile devices:

  • Optimize your website’s loading times
  • Redesign your pop-ups for mobile
  • Compress your images

3) Improve your title tags and meta descriptions

Your search visibility on Google depends on a higher organic click-through rate, or CTR. The higher your CTR, the higher your site will rank in the search results.

The tricky thing is, this relies on you having already gotten your website in front of eyes on Google—otherwise, you’re not getting any clicks. So, you probably already have solid search visibility if you have a high CTR.

If you’re already positioned well in the search results, there’s one more step you can take to improve your CTR, and it’s easy. Write title tags and meta descriptions that compel people to click.

To do that, aim for title tags that grab attention without being clickbait (which will turn users away) and meta descriptions that sell your content in just a few short, sweet words. If you can do both of these things, you’re in business!

4) Create content that keeps people on your site

Google wants to rank websites that people can’t tear their eyes away from! They love sites that people love, and they measure this with a metric known as dwell time. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

The more time someone stays (or dwells) on your website, the more it signals to Google that your website offers value to users. If Google sees that most people are bouncing off your site after just a few seconds, it knows the value isn’t there.

The most effective way to keep website visitors around? Use your content to provide real value and answer the questions related to the keywords you’re optimizing for. Make sure you have a clear and compelling title and attractive above-the-fold visuals and graphics.

5) Run a PPC campaign

You probably already know that PPC and SEO go hand in hand. While it takes time to build an organic presence (SEO), paid search (pay per click, or PPC) will ensure your business shows up on the SERP via a paid ad from the very beginning.

As you experiment to grow your SEO visibility, PPC can act as a kind of safeguard that gets your website shown for every relevant search, thus boosting your overall search visibility.

6) Build a social media presence

Social media doesn’t have a direct effect on your search visibility. In other words, Google won’t boost your position in the rankings simply because it sees you have a popular and frequently used social media account. (Or accounts!)

But social media can boost your website’s visibility in other, more indirect ways. The likes, shares, and comments you receive can drive engagement and more clicks. They help more people organically find your website.

7) Build backlinks from sites in your industry

Backlinks, also known as inbound links or one-way links, are links from one website to a page on another website. If you can get backlinks to your site from other websites in your industry, Google sees you as an expert in your field.

The in your industry part of that is important. You need sites within your natural niche to link to your content for best results. While you may see a slight boost in rankings based on backlinks from unrelated industries, it won’t be as effective.

A note: Link trading (a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” practice whereby websites knowingly link to each other’s content to boost search engine visibility) is a no-no for Google. They can recognize when this is happening, and they may penalize your website for it in the rankings. Backlinks have to happen organically.

8) Build internal links between pages

Backlinks are the links that other websites reward you with—but internal links are entirely in your control. It’s an easy SEO technique with outsized potential impact on your search visibility.

All you need to do is link from one page on your site to other relevant pages on your site—but strategically. By doing this, you help Google understand the relevance and value of pages and the relationship between pages.

You can’t just create links haphazardly. There should be an architecture behind the internal links you create. Here are some strategies for doing so:

  • Link hierarchical pages
  • Create contextual links
  • Link to your most important content
  • Add a “related post” section

9) Improve pages ranking on page 2

Those pages that are ranking at position 11–20 and beyond? The hard truth is that most people will never see that content. Close to 100% of searchers stick to page one of Google search results. If your content is on page two, they won’t know you exist.

To improve your search engine visibility, you need to move from page two (and beyond) to page one. It’s the single most important move you can make to be seen by more users! Luckily, there are steps you can take to make it happen.

Improve your low-ranking page’s SEO using strategies like these:

  • Add more content (words, images, charts, and videos) to the page
  • Improve content search intent so it’s a 1:1 match for the keyword
  • Remember, the optimal blog post length for SEO is over 1,000 words

10) Run a technical SEO audit

Some factors in SEO cannot be manually checked for problems and areas for improvement. We’re talking about technical SEO—the HTML, for example.

You can use an SEO audit tool that will identify issues in the code. Make the changes it recommends to allow Google to more easily crawl and index your site. If Google can’t do that, it won’t be able to rank your pages.

For search visibility, measure to improve with Stream

At Stream Companies, we’re always fine-tuning our methods for measuring search visibility. We use meaningful metrics—ones that map to your business goals and help you achieve success in the organic search results.

Visibility is the indispensable measure of whether you’re achieving your SEO goals. If you’re ready for a new SEO strategy that can drive more retail traffic, we’re ready to have that conversation.

Reach out to our team to learn more about search engine visibility and receive your complimentary website audit today!