What is the difference between a fluctuation and a trend in SEO?

What is the difference between a fluctuation and a trend in SEO?

View profile for Jamie Stevens
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When reporting on the performance of a campaign in SEO, marketers will often talk about fluctuations in rankings. We often get questions from clients asking to explain why this keyword or that keyword has decreased in ranking or suddenly jumped up by several places before falling back down again. To understand this, it is first important to understand what we are looking at when reporting on your rankings.

What do we mean by rankings?

Back in the old days of Google, your ranking was simply where your page ranked on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) for a given keyword from #1 - #10, on the first page, or on page two and beyond. The rankings on page one generally did not change too often and were exactly the same for every single user in your country. This is still how most people think of rankings in Google, but the reality is that it is a lot more complicated than that. Aside from the metrics that Google uses to determine a site's relevance and worth, Google also uses other information such as:

- A user's location (not just country)

- A user's search history and the websites that they have visited

- Trends, such as big news stories, which can drastically change search results

- Trying to understand user intent through machine learning

Aside from this, Google will even temporarily swap rankings for websites to see which generates the lowest rate of users returning to the SERPs, meaning that the page satisfies the user's intent.

All of the above means that rankings tend to be in a constant state of flux and that it is no longer possible to state that, for example, you rank at #3 for “divorce solicitors”, just that you were ranking at #3 at this time and date from this location using this computer. The software that we use removes personalisation from the results, making what we report on as accurate as possible, but there will always be slightly different results for each user. Despite this, if you see your rankings increase, they will broadly be increasing for users as a whole.

How do we track rankings?

There are three main types of rankings that we track:

National Rankings

These are tracked using the tool Authority Labs, which takes a snapshot of the search results from different locations every day. We use this tool to track keywords and campaigns where searchers tend of have more of a national intent, however, in some cases, local results can be shown mixed in.

Local Organic Rankings

We track these using BrightLocal for local campaigns. A search is carried out where the tool tells Google it is in the same town or city as the target location. These are done once a month or on an ad-hoc basis.

Local Map Pack Rankings

These are the three results that normally show up in a "pack" at the top of searches that have a strong local intent. These are tracked in a similar way to the Local Organic Rankings, using the same tool.

What do we mean by fluctuations?

Fluctuations are essentially short-term changes in rankings, in either direction. These normally have nothing to do with work that has been done on your website or any work that your competitors have done. Often these changes will reverse in the coming days or weeks.

Fluctuations in each type of results

National Rankings

These tend to be fairly stable results but can still change based on things such as the user's search history and whether Google has decided to switch around search results as a test. Generally, the higher you rank the more stable your rankings will be, and you will see fewer fluctuations. The top 3 positions are often quite stable, however, if you are ranking on page two or below (below position 10), you will see a lot more fluctuations in ranking. If your ranking for a particular keyword is already very low, you can sometimes see fluctuations of 20 - 30 positions or even more throughout a month.

Local Organic Rankings

These are similar to the national rankings but generally a bit more stable, due to there being less competition in most cases.

Local Map Pack Rankings

These are the least stable and consistent of the types of results. Unlike other kinds of search results, your proximity to where the user is searching from can have a huge effect on the ranking - Google will prioritise results that are closer to where it thinks the user is located.

What do we mean by trends?

Trends are longer-term changes in rankings for a keyword, traffic to a page, or traffic to the site as a whole. In SEO, we tend to consider something a trend if it goes on for more than three months. This is to make sure that the change which we are seeing isn't just down to short-term fluctuations, or the temporary effect of a Google algorithm change (algorithm updates can have "aftershocks" of a month or more where rankings are unstable).

What can trends be caused by?

Trends, whether positive or negative, can have a wide variety of causes, including:

- SEO work done on your website

- SEO work that your competitors have done on their website

- Large changes to your website that may have nothing to do with SEO

- Google algorithm updates

- Results of PR work

Normally for trends, unlike fluctuations, it is possible to determine the cause of a trend using the various tools at our disposal.

If you'd like some support with your law firm's SEO, get in touch on 0117 325 0200 or sales@conscious.co.uk.