What is search visibility?
Search visibility – the per cent of an available pool of clicks your outlet receives – can tell us a lot about our performance in SERPs. Here's what to know
Hello, and welcome back. Jessie here, basking in some A/C after a classic Toronto summer weekend enjoying the outdoors: three park visits, two softball games played (one minor injury), and one newly thrifted chair for the balcony.
This week: Search visibility and what it can tell us about our performance in SERPs.
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Let’s get it.
In this issue:
What is search visibility?
Why does the metric matter?
How to improve visibility
What is search visibility?
Search visibility is the estimated percentage of traffic a website is expected to get from ranking for one or more keywords. It is a metric that helps you understand the total traffic a page could get by ranking in SERPs, relative to your competitors.
As Ahrefs says, it’s the “percent of the available pool of clicks you’re getting.” Search visibility can be measured two ways: by keyword or keyword group, or by all of your website’s content.
In news SEO, search visibility plays an important part in understanding how your publication performs in relation to your competitors. When assessing the performance of our stories, we often look at two metrics:
The search volume for a keyword;
Clicks to a piece of content from search.
Search volume tells us the number of times – on average – users query a term in search each month, while clicks tell us how many readers actually engaged with our content.
Both are useful – but incomplete. Neither provides a clear sense of how often our publication showed up or ranked in SERPs or the share of the total audience that we were able to capture.
Search visibility can help you gauge how often your journalism shows up on SERPs, and how visible you are to your audience.
For example: You pitched an explainer based on search interest and informed by keyword research. You know the main keyword was a breakout in Google Trends or has high a monthly search volume, meaning an average of over 1,000 monthly queries. After it was published, your internal analytics showed the piece performed really well – and most readers arrived from search. A success, right?
On one hand, yes. But the traffic on that explainer from search tells an incomplete story. What if another site garnered twice as much traffic? What’s missing is how you performed in comparison to your competitors.
This is where search visibility comes in. Search visibility answers the question: How successful are we relative to our competitors in SERPs, overall?
This is a more holistic way of measuring success. Your visibility might remain consistent, even as the absolute or total number of clicks changes.
Calculating search visibility
Calculating search visibility can become very technical. An easy way to calculate a rough estimate of what the search visibility is for a piece of content is by taking the amount of clicks or page views on your content for a given keyword(s) and dividing it by the estimated monthly search volume for that keyword(s).
For example: If a keyword has an average search volume of 1,000 per month, and your publication receives 200 clicks, the search visibility is 20 per cent.
External tools such as Afhrefs, Moz or news-specific tools like Trisolute or Newzdash can provide a more accurate, precise measure of your visibility. Each tool calculates visibility differently, so don’t sweat it if there are variations between tools. Consult the documentation to understand how your tool measures search visibility.
News Flashboard, a free tool from Trisolute, shows your most visible articles on SERPs for the previous 12 hours and stories from competitors that are highly visible. Below is an example from The Washington Post and its competitors.
Why does visibility matter?
Beyond understanding your content’s success relative to competitors, there are many other reasons to consider visibility.
First, since it’s a more holistic metric than a raw number (such as number of clicks), it provides a look at your overall performance and can help you maximize your competitiveness.
For example, your visibility might decrease if your competitors are producing more quality content in your niche or beating you by creating their own 10x content version of stories you’ve written.
If this happens, you need to figure out why.
Compare and contrast your content with theirs. Is there a gap in your coverage? You might find a competitor covering a topic more consistently with better staff files, or by addressing more angles of the story.
Search visibility can also help you determine if there are problems on your site. Your visibility can drop for a number of reasons:
A Google algorithm update;
Tooling-specific issues like changing the keywords you’re tracking;
Technical issues such as a poorly executed site redesign, a change to your URL structure, migrating domains or changing from HTTP to HTTPS.
If available in the SEO tools you use, look at turning on notifications for lost rankings or a change in visibility. Monitor SERPs and update your content as it makes sense to you.
So, what’s a “good” search visibility score?
It’s impossible to have 100 per cent visibility, because even if you rank for all your targeted keywords, you will never secure 100 per cent of the traffic from the audience. Ranking in position 10 (the last link on the first page on desktop), is a visibility of 2 per cent. A score of 0 per cent means you have no pieces ranking in the first page of SERPs.
Here’s what Moz says about the visibility score you’re after: “You’re looking to get around 35 per cent to 45 per cent, as this is generally the average click through rate of a URL in the top position in the search results.” However, this isn’t specific to news (and we know how unique news SEO is to the overall search landscape).
Instead of focusing on just the score: look at the trend over time. Is your visibility improving or declining for keywords associated with a priority news event? Is your overall site visibility declining or staying as you make improvements to your site structure?
My point is: A single metric is always going to be incomplete. Slot visibility into your reports among other measurements of success (engaged time, next link clicked, subscriptions, etc.). Meaningful analytics and reporting will be unique to every newsroom, and each team’s individual goals.
Progress over perfection. If you can increase your search visibility metric from 0 to 2 per cent, that’s a success. Moving your journalism from the second page of SERPs (a place very few readers visit) to anywhere on page one – even if it’s not in Top Stories – will improve your search visibility.
THE HOW TO
How to improve your visibility in search
Improving your visibility in search is the result of consistently executing best practices. No magic bullet here. Instead, focus on creating solid E.A.T content, optimizing for search intent, building internal links, finding quality backlinks, developing 10x content and making targeted changes to stories that are in ‘striking distance’.
Search intent is the why behind a query. What is it readers are looking for? If your content doesn’t answer that intent, it’s much less likely to be visible at all.
Intent also shapes the kind of results Google returns to a reader in search engine results pages. If a reader asks, “What is the best schedule for intermittent fasting?” and your guide doesn’t compare methods, you’re unlikely to show up for those keywords.
Create 10x content
You know what kinds of content readers are looking for. The next step is determining how you will unseat competitions in SERPs.
That’s where 10x content, the concept from Rand Fishkin, comes in. The aim is to create really well written content that is interesting and considerably different from other pieces serving the same audience.
Build better internal links – and look at your backlink profile
Internal links are an SEO superpower (or a sprinkle of SEO dust – comment below to tell us which is the better metaphor 🙃). As we (and Barry Adams) have outlined, links are low-effort, high-reward tactics. Any story posted without good internal links is a missed opportunity.
For every news event you cover, compile and distribute a set of curated links (3-5 links, a mix of topic pages, related reporting, explainers and evergreen content). Make the work of internal linking easy for your edit desk.
Backlinks (links from sites that are not your own) can be a bit tricker for news SEO. But, we can all practice good linking and hyperlink out to our competitors when they have a scoop or exclusive (and hope, in turn, they’ll do the same for us).
When Politico had the scoop on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Roe (reporting on a leaked draft), most outlets linked back to that reporting. The massive number of backlinks helped establish the site as an authority on the overturning Roe v. Wade. In SERPs that day, Google added the “Highly Cited” label in Top Stories.
Track your backlinks and reach out to publications mentioning – but not linking – your reporting. A polite email to the author or desk is perfectly fine!
Target “striking distance” or page two content
When was the last time you clicked on a story on the second page of Google? And was it before or after the dodo went extinct?
Only 1 per cent of users ever click on page two of results, according to Backlinko. As a result, stories on the second page of results have very limited visibility.
So, when you encounter low visibility on a key set of keywords or as an overall metric, updating striking distance content – content in positions 11-30 in SERPs – is a good place to start. As stated earlier, progress over perfection. Getting more content that’s currently on page two further up in the rankings will improve your visibility (and likely increase traffic).
Use Google Search Console or another tool to identify keywords with page two results. Optimize those pages following on-page SEO best practices, re-promote it on social media, and (if possible) put it back on your homepage. Review our on-page SEO checklist – and the above concepts – for each striking distance pieces.
The bottom line: Search visibility can help bridge the gap in performance analysis. It’s a metric that provides a more holistic understanding of how you did in search compared to other outlets.
Heads up: There was an indexing issue on Friday that has since been solved.
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