Monday, December 05, 2005

Search Engine Visibility

What is search engine visibility?

I frequently see the terms “saturation” and “visibility” used interchangeably. However, I feel there is a significant difference. Visibility is a measure of how visible your _______ (fill in the blank) is in the search results. In its simplest form, the higher you rank in the search results, the more visible you are. Taking a defintion of internet visibility to a higher level, internet visibility has to do with where people first look when a page of search results are displayed. This is measured using eye tracking studies and is typically found to be the upper left of the page—which is where the top ranked search results are usually located.

I intentionally left a "fill in the blank" space in the above paragraph. When visibility is measured, it is important we be aware of what we are measuring and what we need to be measuring. In a moment we’ll take a look at some of the possibilities we can use to fill in that blank, but first, how do we measure visibility?

Traditionally visibility measurements are based on the first three pages of search results. I base my visibility metrics on the first two pages (top 20) search results. Although it gives a lower visibility rating, I feel this is more realistic as few people go beyond the second page of search results.

To calculate a visibility score, assign points to each position in the search results. If you are looking at the top 20 search results, the #1 result is worth 20 points. The #2 position is worth 19 points. The third ranked result is 18 points… and so on.

Conduct a search, in each search engine you are monitoring, for the same key word or phrase. The visibility metric is based on just one web page. Find your highest ranked web page in the search results, and record the number of points based on the position of that page. If it is in the #21 position or higher, it gets no points. Here’s an example:

Let’s say the search phrase is "wall clocks" and these are the search results:

Search EngineTop Ranked PagePoints
TOTAL Points
Visibility Ranking

The visibility ranking (the percentage) is calculated by dividing the total points by the total number of possible points, which is 80 (4 times 20) in this case.

This gives the visibility for a specific key word or phrase. You can then check a number of key words and phrases, and average them to get an overall visibility score.

There are a variety of ways to measure visibility.

Web Site Visibility: This is visibility in it’s simplest form. The objective is to measure the visibility of a specific web site. When you check the search results you only give points to the top ranked page from the specific web site that is being evaluated. This type of visibility can be measured manually or using automated tools.

Web Visibility: If you have more than one web site (see previous post discussing mini-sites) you may want to measure your web visibility based on all of your web sites. In this measurement you give points to your highest ranked page from any of your web sites for each key word/phrase. This type of visibility can be measured manually or using custom automated tools.

Organization Visibility: This measure of visibility looks at how well your organization shows up in search results. It takes into account any page that benefits your organization. This includes pages from your web site(s), as well as press releases, blog posts, articles, pages from dealer web sites, trade show pages and any other web pages you judge are of significant benefit to you. For pages that are not on your web site(s), these should be pages that are exclusively about your organization and that lead visitors directly to your web site. In other words, they must directly contribute to achieving your internet objectives, not just be pages that mention your company name. This type of visibility can only be measured by manually by having someone look at search results.

Product Visibility: This measure of visibility looks for pages that are about a specific product or service. The top ranked page that is about the targeted product or service, and which provides significant benefit, is the page that is counted. This could be a page from the company web site(s), a press release, an advertisement, blog post or a dealer’s page.

Internet visibility is a valuable metric. You should be measuring, and tracking historical data for search engine visibility for various types of visibility, depending on your internet marketing goals. The purpose of these metrics is to ensure that you have pages in the locations in search results that where the greatest number of people will see the links. Use these metrics to ensure you have good internet visibility based on your targeted internet marketing goals, and to spot visibility problems as early as possible.


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