Search engine optimization and ranking for certain search terms is a tricky business, and it always has been. However, new data from SEOmoz shows that it’s even trickier than we all originally thought. In a recent blog article, a 30-day experiment showed that 80% of search engine results pages (SERPs) changed every day. While the majority of these changes probably aren’t drastic (for example, two results might switch places), it is still noteworthy that most SERPs fluctuate in some manner on a daily basis. There are two questions to be answered here: Why are results changing so much, and how do you take this into account when optimizing pages?
The reason for results changes, according to the blog, is twofold. First of all, the Internet is a constantly-growing force, and new content for most keywords is added every day. When the content is better and fresher than previously created content, it will rank higher, causing a SERP change. You can search pretty much any term on Google and find multiple dated links. Many of these links are probably pretty recent, signifying that their viewpoint is fresh and new. Soon enough, someone else will add a page to their website about that keyword, ranking higher than the old content and pushing it down. This all ties back to the old adage that dynamic content is king, and constantly adding updated content to your site is the smartest way to ensure you consistently rank high.
The second reason stems from data centers, which are out of the control of marketers. A data center is a location that runs the computer systems connecting you to the Internet. Each data center has a different IP address, enabling SEOmoz to test two different centers easily. SEOmoz’s tests tracked the same keyword for one day at two different data centers, and the SERPs were different 97% of the time. Simply put, ranking well at one data center doesn’t mean you’ll rank well at others. Different data centers just receive content and rank it differently, which is something marketers cannot affect. The data center problem is troubling, but marketers should not focus on it, since it is out of their hands. The best thing a marketer can do to minimize the effects of data center differences is to stick with one tracking method and one tracking company consistently. With the differences in data centers, as well as differences in location, browsing history and other factors, using different methods to track keywords will discombobulate your results negatively. Utilizing the same method and software for tracking your keywords will give a valid picture of how your keywords are doing, as this is the only way to ensure that all factors aside from your content are equal.
So, how does all this knowledge affect the way we track and monitor keywords? Essentially, it proves that keyword ranking cannot be a “set it and forget it” project. Once you optimize a page for a keyword, you have to follow that page’s performance in SERPs for an extended period of time before making any changes. Since the SERPs might be different from day to day, it’s impossible to know exactly how well a page is doing until a fair amount of data has been collected. Watch your pages for 2-4 weeks to truly see how an optimization campaign is doing. There might be some small changes from day to day, but after a couple of weeks, you’ll have a full picture of the campaign’s success and what changes need to be made. Search engine optimization and keyword ranking is an extended process, and enough time should be allocated to make sure you’re doing it right.
Does this new data have a massive effect on the way keyword rank tracking is done? Well, that depends. If you already monitor your keywords over the course of weeks and months, and make updates to your content only after collecting a reasonable amount of data, you’re doing okay. If you make changes every time you slip one spot in rankings, it’s time to take a step back and let your content run its course for a couple of weeks. If you’ve never checked out your keyword rankings, it might be time to start. To get started, check out SEMrush. You can search your own website and see what keywords you rank for, as well as how they’ve moved since the past week. Track your keywords for a few weeks, then make some changes if you’re seeing downward trends, and give your results a helpful boost.