Ranking high on the search engine results page (SERP) is tough – it takes heavy keyword research, content building, competitive analysis, targeted link building, and a lot of commitment.
This is even harder if you’re competing with major brands for the same spots.
Getting your links on the first page is the goal of search engine optimization (SEO), but many factors influence your success.
SERP volatility, for example, creates a moving target that can make it difficult to understand what you need to do to rank in those top spots. If SERP volatility is new to you, don’t feel bad – many business owners and marketers ignore SERP volatility because it’s time-consuming to monitor.
Overlooking SERP volatility can cripple your SEO efforts, however, so you can afford to neglect it.
Let’s take a look at what SERP volatility is, how it can impact your SEO efforts, and what you can do about it.
SERPs contain a mixture of organic and paid search results. Paid ads usually appear at the top, while the organic results are curated according to the relevance of the site to the search term used.
These become more than a simple directory of website results for a keyword. SERPs also consider structured data to enhance the search experience, as well as meta descriptions, site links, production information, and star ratings.
Optimizing a website for a high SERP ranking is the ultimate goal of SEO. Most users rely on the first few rankings on the SERP, and few look past that first page. If you don’t appear high on the first page, your chances of attracting organic traffic are low.
Keyword Research for High Ranking
The foundation of SEO is understanding which keywords current rank and which ones you should rank for. When you create a list of target keywords, you should be looking for the ones performing well, and then focus on getting them to perform even better.
Many businesses work on improving the rankings for keywords that generate results on page two or three. As we mentioned, many users don’t look past the first page of the search results, so the better focus is on the keywords that rank on page one.
Of course, that’s where SERP volatility can impact your efforts.
What is SERP Volatility?
SERP volatility is the measure of how frequently a website’s ranking changes on the search engine results pages, based on the keywords used for the search.
What does this mean in the real world? Two websites can have identical content, but if one has optimal keyword placement, it can end up higher on the list. This is all due to the phrase that was used for the search.
Millions of users type millions of variations of a general keyword for a search, making it difficult to rank at the same spot consistently. Several factors influence this, such as location, age, and the intent behind the search query.
SERPs are constantly in flux because of the unpredictability of user searches. In addition, the results can be different for the same keyword on Google, Yahoo, or other search engines.
If you’re a marketer trying to drive traffic to your website, these changes can have a significant impact on your efforts. You could handle all your SEO correctly, but if you’re not tracking the changes, they can impact your SERP ranking.
How to Address SERP Volatility
Keyword research and SEO optimization have a profound impact on website traffic, especially for small business owners with small budgets relying on organic search traffic. Monitoring the changes in search intent and watching the SERPs is a lot of work, but it can help ensure that your SEO efforts matter.
High-quality keywords come from:
Search volume: This metric tracks how often a user types a keyword or phrase into a search.
Relevance: This tracks whether a website’s content matches the user’s queries.
Keyword difficulty: This measures how difficult a keyword is to rank for and relates to how much competition it has.
While the first two are simple, the third one is more challenging. The higher the number, the more competitive a keyword is and the less likely it will be in the top organic SERP.
So, if you have a keyword that’s not considered difficult, but SERP volatility changes suddenly, then that keyword may become difficult at times. Because of this, you need to have a clear understanding of what it takes to get on the first page.
When you consider the top-ranking sites for SEO, you may ask questions like:
How is the SEO optimization?
What does the backlinking portfolio look like?
Is there a related content library on the website?
If the competition varies over time, then the research becomes useless. You’ll have to ask those questions again and again, but for a new list of competitors. If the intent and relevance are always changing, then you could be the top link one day and the lowest another day. Ranking is about more than monitoring your competitor’s SEO metrics.
The takeaway? SERPs always need to be considered as part of keyword research.
How to Measure SERP Volatility
SERP volatility doesn’t have a quick solution. You can perform manual checks of volatility, and you should, to see how the search results change in real time.
But that’s not the most efficient solution.
Plenty of tools are available to help you monitor the volatility, such as the Position History Graph tool from Ahrefs. This tool maps the top five positions of a keyword over three months, six months, or all time and provides detailed graphs.
Unfortunately, this tool only gives you volatility of the first five results. If the results always change, the tool’s results are also volatile and only offer part of the picture. This data is still useful to your strategy, however, and provides more consistent data than manual checks.
Because of this, both tools and manual checks should be part of your strategy. You can perform manual checks to see the unique context for different keywords, then compare them to the comprehensive data from a Position History Graph or similar tool to validate your assumptions.
SERP volatility may not be your primary focus, especially with how time-consuming and uncertain it can be. This vital factor in your ranking shouldn’t be overlooked, however, since it plays such a big role in the keyword research process.
If you’re like many business owners and marketers, consider rankings on a specific time and date, then use that to inform their competitive analysis and keyword research. If SERP volatility changes that, however, you could be working with stale data and wasting your efforts.
Google and other search engines are always changing, updating, and refining the way that search results are curated, which is a crucial factor in your SEO. You must take these changes into account when developing your own strategy.
Data, keywords, results, and targets aren’t stagnant, so if you base your SEO strategy on outdated information, you may find that your site is stagnant as well. SERP volatility adds work and effort to your strategy, but it’s a crucial part of creating a successful, efficient, and effective SEO strategy.
About the Author
Jason Khoo started freelancing in SEO back in college, sold his first agency, and now is founder of Zupo, which is an Orange County based SEO consulting agency helping construct powerful long term SEO strategies for our clients. Jason also enjoys multiple cups of tea a day, hiding away on weekends, catching up on reading, and rewatching The Simpsons for the 20th time.