A few months ago I was looking at our Twitter mentions and I saw a Tweet by Christopher Hoffman.
Christopher made three bold points:
- Rank tracking tools should be tracking pixels and not just rank
- Rank trackers should also be tracking SERP features
- As digital marketers, we should adapt our SERP strategy based on what’s ranking on the SERPs
The points he brings up are all crucial for SEO as it stands.
In other words, not understanding this could mean you’re missing out on some obvious opportunities, or worse being left behind by focusing on outdated metrics.
To help you out…
In this post, I’ll explain why you must implement pixel tracking and target SERP features in your SEO strategy. I’ll also show you some case studies using Rank Ranger’s pixel tracking secret weapon.
What on earth is pixel tracking?
So glad you asked.
Okay, So What’s Pixel Tracking?
Pixel tracking is a method of tracking your URLs in search engine results pages by measuring the number of pixels between your organic results and the top of the browser.
This means when a tool measures an organic result in pixels, it’s literally measuring the distance between the top of the browser and the URL.
This isn’t a small change in how to relate to your rankings.
It’s a 180-degree paradigm shift.
In fact, calling them rankings really highlights exactly how dramatic a change pixel tracking is in our thinking.
Traditionally, SEOs have been concerned with rankings. Even to the point of obsession.
And this is no surprise.
The URLs that ranked at the top (and when I say top, I mean position #1) got the majority of the traffic. But, as I’ve covered many times in my blog posts, the times they are a-changin’.
In today’s exciting world of SEO, a position one ranking could literally be below the fold or even on page two. Neither position gets much traffic.
For instance, in the screenshot above, there are no traditional blue links above the fold. Instead, we are seeing:
- A Featured Snippet
- A People Also Ask box
- A video carousel
It’s highly likely that the user will find what they are looking for without the need to scroll. If the user doesn’t scroll they’ll never even see the traditional blue links.
And this brings me to the concept of visibility.
Visibility – Your Rankings Reimagined
Since we are in the process of reimagining the traditional rankings metric, let me show how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Why do we talk about rankings at all?
The answer is this…
Rankings are a measure of how ‘clickable’ our URLs are in search results. I mean, who cares if you are at the top of Google if your site isn’t getting any visitors? Without visitors, you aren’t going to do much business, are you?
So when there was nothing other than ten blue links, focusing on rankings made perfect sense. All things being equal, the searcher would start out by clicking on the first URL. That meant being in position one meant being the most ‘clickable’ property.
But, our current SERPs simply don’t look like that anymore.
Position one could potentially be out of visual reach.
This means rankings don’t represent ‘clickability’ anymore. How visible your URL is to the searcher has, to a large degree, replaced rank. The more visible your URL is, the more ‘clickable’ it is.
Now, traditional visibility metrics were an attempt at giving you an understanding of your URL’s visibility. But, traditional visibility only takes search volumes and rank position into account.
And that’s where pixel tracking comes in.
Pixel Tracking, a New Way to Understand Visibility
By tracking how far your URL is from the top of the browser a rank tracker could give you a much better understanding of how visual your URL is. You could quickly see if it’s above the fold or below it.
This literally means the difference between initially being out of sight or within visual range. And no one is going to click a URL that they can’t see.
In fact, in 2020, we created a study to analyze the difference in CTR between rankings above and below the fold.
We found that above-the-fold rankings get approximately a 30% higher CTR.
That’s a substantial difference in clicks.
But, if all you’re measuring is above-the-fold or below-the-fold rankings, you’re still missing a big piece of the visibility pie. SERP features often include visual elements that potentially draw attention away from the traditional URLs.
This means they potentially draw clicks away too. SERP features appearing in search results might cause you to adjust your strategy.
Before I show you how SERP features could dramatically alter your SERP strategy, let me first introduce you to Absolute Visibility.
The Absolute Visibility Metric, Everything You Need to Know About Visibility (And Were Afraid to Ask)
Let’s circle back to Chris’s tweet…
According to Chris, ranking tools should be tracking pixels and not just rank. They should also be tracking SERP features.
To show you what he means, take a look at the Rank Ranger Absolute Visibility graph in the Rank Insights report.
This graph is showing you a visibility metric that includes all of the metrics I mentioned above. It’s showing you above-the-fold results as well as a list of SERP features.
In the screenshot above, the tool is showing:
- Top Stories
- Local Pack
- Related Questions
- Shopping Ads
- Product Carousels
What’s more, this tool puts all of this information into a single visibility metric called Absolute Visibility. Each URL is assigned a score. The score is represented by the red line on the graph.
You can also see the Absolute Visibility score in table form too.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the Absolute Visibility metric is showing up for each URL.
The score, measured out of ten, represents the URL’s position on the page (measured in pixels) relative to the SERP features found on the page based on the SERP features placement.
Now that you are familiar with pixel tracking, I want to show you how SERP features can dramatically change your overall SEO and marketing strategy for any given SERP and how you can identify the best strategy that gets results.
A Visibility SERP Feature Strategy
To help you understand the best strategy for any given SERP, let’s take a look at some examples.
What you’ll notice is within each example, there might be more than one strategy to winning on the SERP. The reason for this is, each SERP feature presents its own challenges.
So let’s start with butternut squash.
How to Cut Butternut Squash
Looking at the top of the Absolute Visibility table for the site allrecipes.com, you’ll see a URL for the keyword ‘how to cut butternut squash’.
The visibility score is 10.
To understand this, take a look at the SERP features.
You’ll notice that the URL is featured in a Featured Snippet.
Let’s see what that looks like on Google.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the SERP has a nice big Featured Snippet right at the top. If you look down, all you see is a video carousel.
The reason the Absolute Visibility score is ten is allrecipes.com owns the Featured Snippet. It’s the first thing you see, it’s big and it includes an eye-catching image.
Now, we understand the visibility score. However, if you were trying to own this SERP what strategy would you take?
From my point of view, there are two approaches.
You’ll notice that the traditional approach to climbing up to position one through link building and on-page optimization will only get your URL to appear below the fold.
Instead, target the Featured Snippet or publish a video on a completely different search engine, like YouTube.
Which approach should you take?
From my perspective, if possible, it always makes sense to hedge your bets and take both approaches.
Now let’s look at another example.
Buy Books – A Tale of Two Intents
Okay, so you’re trying to sell books.
Let’s look at the Absolute Visibility graph showing the keyword ‘buy books’.
Now if you look at the Absolute Visibility table, you’ll see that the URL we are tracking is getting a low score of 1.97.
In all likelihood, it’s because our site features none of the SERP features.
However, let’s see how the URL performed over a period of 30 days. By doing this you can spot trends in your visibility.
As you can see in the screenshot above, the SERP has a combination of product ads and search ads. On top of that, we see a Local Pack. When the Local Pack appears, the visibility drops. When it disappears, the visibility increases.
Now, it’s important to understand that a Local Pack is an SEO strategy game-changer.
What’s more, ads appear on the SERP almost every day.
Ads are another game-changer.
Before explaining this, let’s take a look at the SERP.
As you can see on the screenshot above the blue links are nowhere to be seen as a result of the ads and Local Pack.
What we are seeing on this SERP are two different approaches.
Let me explain.
Firstly, we have the Local Pack. A Local Pack always changes your strategy. The reason is, Local Packs take up a large amount of SERP real estate.
Also, we are seeing ads. Ads will almost always change your strategy because as an SEO, you can’t control ads or outperform them.
However, from a strategic point of view, there is more to think about here.
The SERP is serving two separate user intents.
Two User Intents
Think about this.
The keyword is ‘buy books’.
Let’s imagine who the user is. I could imagine two completely different users for this term.
One set is looking for local book shops. These people are likely to look at the Local Pack.
There is also a completely different set of users. The ones who want to buy books online. These people are being served by the ads.
This means from a strategic point of view there is no question, if you are a local business you must try to get into the Local Pack.
If, on the other hand, you are selling books online you have two options.
Either try to get onto a different SERP, something like ‘buy books online’ where the user intent is clear, or you’ll have to spend some money on advertising.
Visibility and Your SERP Strategy
As I’m sure you’ve seen from this post, tracking your visibility can give you a huge advantage. What’s more, yes, you should always eyeball the SERP, but having a tool that gives you SERP feature data can really save you time as well as show you visibility trends.
There is no question that keeping your eye on SERP features doesn’t just help you optimize your SEO.
It can radically change the course of your marketing strategy.
When should you optimize your content to win a SERP feature? When should you pay for ads?
I’ll leave the answer to you and your unique business.
I’m just bringing the question to your attention.