SEO benchmarking helps you know what’s working and what isn’t so you can get better results.

SEO is crucial in content creation. Still, it’s also made up of many moving parts that make it difficult to know where your efforts stand at any given moment.

To top all the complexity, Google continues to change its algorithm and content standards, and it may tempt you to chase after every new trend to try to beat your competition.

Rather than being reactive with your optimization efforts, why not prioritize SEO benchmarking in your content marketing strategy? It not only gives you tangible data you can work with over time, but it also helps you to see what’s effective – even with a limited budget.

What is SEO benchmarking?

What is SEO benchmarking?

A benchmark is a standard used to measure performance, typically in business. Benchmarking can be defined in a number of ways, but for the purposes of SEO, it’s the practice of measuring and comparing SEO metrics so that you can improve upon them over time.

It also involves looking at the processes behind each metric to know what’s working and what’s not. It’s part of a roadmap to increasing your SEO authority.

What benchmarking is not

Since SEO benchmarking requires some knowledge of SEO, it may be easy to mistake metrics for fads. We know that Google can change how it values content at the drop of a hat, which could temporarily throw your short-term SEO plans into a tailspin.

Benchmarking is not chasing every algorithm change. This is not possible since Google keeps much of what goes into its algorithms under wraps.

It’s also impractical because you can spend a lot of time chasing small details and lose sight of the larger, more universally important SEO strategies that benchmarks are designed to measure and compare.

If your benchmarks change drastically with each Google update, it’s not true benchmarking at all.

Why competition in SEO benchmarking matters

Why competition in SEO benchmarking matters

Let’s face it. Google ranking is a battle of sorts. Every time you go up a ranking, you’re knocking someone else out of the running. When you lose ground and go from page one to page two, one of your competitors has just taken your place.

This is one area of marketing where it can hurt to stay in your own lane and not keep your eyes on what competitors are going.

Fortunately, keyword benchmarking isn’t as complicated as you think, but it does require some planning, measurement, and tracking.

Metrics used to benchmark keywords

Metrics used to benchmark keywords

You should never give up on your quest to create quality content that readers find useful because this is truly the best way to use content marketing to turn your visitors into clients. You want to be seen as an authority, and creating anything less than the best won’t get you there.

The following metrics should be used to ensure you are moving the needle in the right direction on ranking for keywords relevant to your industry and most likely to be used by your future clients.

1. Number of keywords in the top 20

How many keywords do you currently rank for? Has that number increased in the last 30, 60, or 90 days? Track the total number of keywords you already have a handle on, since it’s a good metric of your overall influence. If you increase your keywords, you are doing something right.

2. Number of keywords driving traffic

You should already be tracking traffic. As your keywords in the top 20 go up, so should your traffic. If it’s not, it may be a sign that something is wrong with your keyword strategy or content quality. It’s simply not enough to rank.

You also need to get people over to your site from Google results. It’s also important to look at the keywords on the first page and monitor those pages.

3. Number of indexed pages

You may not rank for all terms on Google, but all of your pages should be seen by Google’s search robots. You can find out how many are seen by the search engine by typing “site:” and the URL of your website in the search box. The top number (results) will show how many pages turn up.

If the number is much lower than your actual pages on your site, some aren’t getting indexed. Also, if you create more content pages over time, but this number doesn’t change to reflect that, you aren’t capturing Google’s attention and may need to index them manually.

These SEO benchmarks aren’t just useful for content creation. As businesses look more to artificial intelligence (AI) technology for customer service and sales, tools like keyword spotting can identify keywords used in chat and customer calls to determine automated actions that resolve their issues.

A keyword spotting benchmark is one example of new benchmarks specific to this newer technology that may soon become a standard for companies of all types.

Two types of keywords are used in benchmarking

Two types of keywords are used in benchmarking

Finally, not all keywords serve the same purpose. There are two categories of keywords: short-tail and long-tail, and each will propel you forward in unique ways.

Short tail keywords

Short-tail keywords are one or two-word search terms that are very hard to rank for. Examples include “cruises” or “baby food.” If you’re able to rank for these terms, you’ll enjoy some of the highest search volumes.

Optimizing your content to compete for short-tail keywords will capture a wide variety of visitors from a wide range of demographics.

The downside of ranking for these terms is that it is very competitive and hard to get there without PPC (pay-per-click) ad campaigns or very long, authoritative pillar pages that outshine the competition in almost every way. It takes work to stay on top.

Also, because so much traffic can come from short-tail terms, it is often less targeted. You’ll have much lower conversion rates than with more specific search terms.

Long-tail keywords

Long-tail keywords are phrases of four or more words that more closely match what humans type into their search engine. Phrases like “how to boil eggs” or “what to take for a fever” are good examples.

The benefit of ranking for long tail terms is that the traffic, while lower, will be more targeted to what you are writing about.

It is a bit easier to compete for even the most popular terms, but there are some unique and obscure terms you can rank for more easily.

How to evaluate keywords

How to evaluate keywords

In any SEO benchmarking strategy, you should not only regularly review your metrics but carefully assess your keywords, as well. Words change meaning regularly, and the terms that matched your intent or purpose a few years ago may now be sending you irrelevant traffic.

Look at all of the search terms you’re actively pursuing and ask if they still bring you the visitors you want, in good enough numbers to make it worthwhile.

If you see that keywords no longer serve your purpose, you no longer have to try to rank for them. Likewise, if there is a more specific search term you could rank for, you may decide to turn a short-tail into a long-tail keyword strategy.

Changing benchmark keywords in Semrush or your choice of keyword tool is relatively easy.

Not sure where to start with SEO benchmarking?

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