I recently spoke with MarketMuse Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer Jeff Coyle about the flaws of using search volume to predict traffic potential and how to estimate it more effectively. While many marketers bet their SEO success on keyword search volume, there are limits to its utility.
Jeff argues that using search volume for just one word is not a good SEO strategy. It’s problematic and can lead to errors. A major issue is that the approach fails to consider the other terms a page may rank for and the low-volume terms for which keyword research tools may lack data.
As he puts it, “all the platforms are either taking Google data and supplementing with clickstream data or supplementing with a proprietary math problem, usually done by pixel analysis of the search result.” But no matter how you do it there’s always going to be that pool of keywords that’s unaccounted for.
Introducing the concept of the term pool multiplier, Jeff explains how these are words that the page might get connected to a page, but cannot be predicted. He states that the more authoritative the page is, the more access it has to the term pool multiplier.
Using Search Volume and Keyword Difficulty
Jeff runs through an example showing the limitations of using search volume and keyword difficulty metrics in predicting traffic and ranking success. The issue is that these metrics are not accurate — they are generalized and do not take into account individual differences and biases. As a result, it introduces a great deal of error into the process of predicting SEO performance.
Topical authority is a critical important factor in determining ranking success, and that without understanding topical authority, there will be errors and assumptions made. Jeff shows how MarketMuse calculates topical authority, stating that the most important take away is that the absence of topical authority results in bias and error in predictions.
Averaging Statistically Unreliable Results Doesn’t Help
When faced with wildly diverging value, you may think that averaging them can help smooth the results and provide something more realistic. Unfortunately that’s not the case. Jeff runs through an example where he shows how averaging value that are statistically unreliable doesn’t improve their dependability.
Jeff discusses a couple of methodologies for getting a quick estimate of website traffic. But he warns against relying on predictions from your typical keyword research tools as they can be unreliable due to various factors such as the term pool multiplier. Jeff also gave a quick trick of de-duping the terms and looking at overlap with pages that have a similar intent, but he cautions that this is a manual process that can still be unreliable.
Effectively Forecasting and Predicting SEO Traffic Potential Using MarketMuse
We close out the discussion with a look at the benefits of using MarketMuse. Jeff explains how MarketMuse provides an advantage in understanding how hard it will be to rank for a specific keyword, how to improve existing rankings, and create new pages. He uses MarketMuse to get an idea of a site’s topical authority, coverage of concepts, competition, and gaps in the market. Jeff reminds us that focusing on the topics not covered by competitors can give your team an advantage in organic search.
What you should do now
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