Search Engine Visibility
as a Metric

by on 23rd August 2010

There’s always been a ton of debate surrounding the value of search engine rankings. While I don’t always value single ranking metrics for certain SEO activities, I value ranking data highly for keyword and competitor research. Aggregate ranking data can also provide a view of the health of your website – something I take quite seriously!

What is search engine visibility?

“Search engine visibility” is a term I associate with a metric, largely because of the ranking checker (Advanced Web Ranking) we use, but also because of a KPI in my last “in-house” role. Before you write off this metric as useless, let’s look at how it may be calculated, why that calculation can be valuable and where it can let us down.

Search Engine Visibility

As I mentioned previously we monitor the rankings for SEOgadget’s top 200 industry and traffic driving search terms on a daily basis. The chart above shows the search engine rankings expressed as a percentage, which works a little like this (assuming one keyword):

– Position 1 = 30/30 (100% Visibility)
– Position 2 = 29/30 (96.6% Visibility)

Calculated visibility metrics – strengths

Albeit a rather simplistic calculation, there’s definitely a beauty in the visibility principle. Imagine you’ve collected daily rankings for the same keywords for a few years. With a visibility metric, you’re able to compare year on year rankings and, with a strong sense of certainty, report on an overall improvement in rankings. You could attribute incremental improvements to various SEO activity if you wish, and it wouldn’t be out of the question to demonstrate an increase in traffic for your monitored terms as visibility improves. From this perspective, a visibility score could be considered a proxy metric to traffic performance.

Even if your keyword list changed, provided you had a consistent keyword selection methodology (eg: “seasonal” terms in travel, top 200 according to Hitwise, etc) you’d still have a comparable set of figures from one year to the next.

Calculated visibility metrics – weaknesses

Visibility is an overly simplistic calculation. In my example above, there’s no weighting to favour higher positions (a position 1 ranking is “worth” more than a position 12 ranking). If you were measuring rankings in Bing and Google, how would you account for the likely difference in traffic and ranking value because of search engine market share? There are obvious problems with the approach, none of which I’ll deal with here, suffice it to say I am aware of them and I choose to accept them for now.

Visibility in competitive analysis

Very recently we carried out an investigative piece of research on a new market niche for a client. Part of the work was to identify the top traffic driving keywords in that sector, and identify who ranked best for those terms. In order to assess overall search engine visibility, we calculated visibility metrics for each domain. This gave us an extremely strong sense of who was leading the pack in the rankings, and who (potentially) we should consider investigating in more detail (anonymised data):

SEO Competitor visibility

I think competitive analysis is where visibility scores really add value – remember, this is a like for like comparison of the same keywords in the same search engine, all of which have been identified as traffic generating terms.

The perfect visibility score

My perfect visibility score might take the following factors into account:

  • Type of search results included in the page (image, video, local) and prominence in each section
  • Weighting for positioning based on estimated CTR for that position
  • Weighting for search engine based on market share or traffic for multiple engine rankings

I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for months – and I’d love to hear thoughts and opinion (for / against) for search engine visibility as a means to aggregate individual rankings data. Do you use this metric in your KPI’s or SEO health checks and if so, how would you like to see it improve?


  1. I don’t express it like that but I monitor the percentage of terms in what position within a keyword portfolio. Assigning a number to it makes it easier for a HiPPO to understand which I think is great.

    Similarly, measuring total number of phrases that drive traffic to your site is another interesting meausure. It of course doesn’t take into account the commercial value of a given term, however it is another great indication of the quality of your content and findability.

    • I find your comments on visibility interesting, I have been interested in how search engines calculate for link position. I have heard that there are many, many, variables that each public engine uses to calculate the position that links will appear and on what page they appear on. How does the source of the document influence link position short of the source paying for its position? Also how does the engine profit from the clicks to the links in its top 3 unpaid positions on the first page of most major public search engines (i.e. Google, Bing, Yahoo, ect…). Any and all feed back is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

    • Hi Jordan

      I think the search engine ranking factors article will be a great starting point for you:

      All the best!


  2. Howdy Richard,

    What a fantastic idea! How long did you say you’ve been keeping this to yourself? I think you and Rand should consider adding this to the SEOmoz Web App.

    I’ll start tracking this manually for now, thanks!

  3. Nice post richard

    I’ve always believed the “rankings aren’t as important as they used to be” argument is a bit of a cop out so I definitely still use this data for my own sites and clients.

    One of the best uses for this type of data is proving who the real players are in an industry. When working with clients the MD or whoever will tend to have their own ideas of what the most important keyword is in their industry and will then see the sites ranking top for that keyword as the people to beat. The big problem with this is invariably they’ll be sites ranking for that keyword based on stuff like keywords in their domain and actually when you look at their aggregate ranking performance its pretty poor.

    The biggest problem for me, as you alluded to, is that it becomes complicated when you try to tie keyword value to visibility so if keyword 1 has 100,000 searches a month it should be worth 10 times what keyword 2, which gets 10,000 searches a month is worth. If you try to work conversion rates and roi into the mix it gets harder still!

    • Hi John,

      Couldn’t agree more. I had started working on a ranking score based on an incremental scale. At the end of the day you can build the idea quite easily in Excel using a separate table and a VLOOKUP to pull through the appropriate scoring in to a master table. I’ll be honest though, I ran out of time before the end of the post. It’s worth a revisit as soon as I have the thing nailed.

  4. A good one Richard,

    This is very useful when assessing the market you or your client is in. Been doing the same stuff using GA and I think your process is worth adding to it.

    thanks for the great post.

  5. I really liked this article. Right after reading it I sat down and started working on an Excel Spreadsheet to help you calculate your SEO Visibility and that of your competitors as well. Check out my post here: SEO Visibility Score Sheet

  6. Very nicely done, Mr. Baxter.

    I’ve been harping about the fact that keyword ranking reports, on their own, are largely useless. Analyzing the true value of a particular ranking isn’t easy.

    I took the spreadsheet that Eli Stevens made and started adapting it. The first thing being giving weight to different positions based off SERP CTR data Aaron Wall published (from AOL). This gave some VERY different and fascinating results.

    Another important thing this sort of metric doesn’t take into account (at least done this simply), is multiple listings in the search results.

    The next weighting factor to account for should be search volume.

    Always fun to test some new ideas like this.


  7. I agree visibility is much more important than ranking. Too much attention is paid to ranking without an analysis of how much it actually helps.

  8. hi bro i am new in web master field i want to check my affiliated blog search engine visibility anyone can tell me where the trusted visibility checker software

Comments are closed.

We're hiring – check out our careers page Careers

Get insights straight to your inbox

Stay one step ahead of the competition with our monthly Inner Circle email full of resources, industry developments and opinions from around the web.