If there is one thing search engine optimization (SEO) professionals can agree on, it is that nothing remains the same for long. Techniques and strategies for optimizing webpages change constantly; what worked in the past may no longer be sufficient to produce results going forward. Search ranking also changes constantly, with some sites experiencing wild swings in position from week to week and even from day to day. This is referred to as “search volatility”. While there are no concrete answers as to why certain sites experience volatility over time, there is a tool now available to monitor this phenomenon. The tool is SEMrush’s Sensor. In this guide, we’ll explore Sensor, including how it works and what it can help SEO teams accomplish as they roll out new optimization campaigns.
In simple terms, search volatility is the natural fluctuation of rankings for domains and keywords. This fluctuation is monitored by many SEO professionals as a means of determining whether or not the major search engines like Google have updated or changed their core algorithms.
When Google rolls out a major update to the search algorithm, it is only natural to expect shifts in rankings for a given website. The search engine company typically makes one or more major algorithm updates each year. Less understood are the smaller, incremental updates, which may take place at any time or even without an announcement by Google. Just like the major updates, these small revisions to the algorithm can influence search rankings. Search volatility, then, is the rise and fall of rankings for a given keyword over time.
Developed by SEMrush, one of the leading providers of cutting-edge tools for the SEO industry, Sensor is a proprietary online platform that allows one to investigate search volatility across categories. The platform uses a fixed set of keywords to measure shifts in volatility. Users may see the “score” of a given category shift throughout the day.
Sensor offers numerous tools and datasets for SEO professionals to evaluate volatility scores. Some of the primary datasets include:
Sensor users can specify a particular date to look at Sensor scores, and can compare desktop and mobile scores. Inputting one’s own domain in the Sensor search tool can reveal volatility scores and deviations. In all, major fluctuations in scores can indicate that there has been an algorithm change, or that there may be issues with a given site’s SEO.
Whenever Google rolls out an algorithm update, such as the highly-publicized Penguin and Panda updates, certain website categories tend to be more affected than others. Rankings in so-called “Your Money or Your Life” categories may fluctuate wildly just after an update, then tend to stabilize over time.
What is “Your Money or Your Life”? Typically abbreviated as “YMYL” by SEO professionals, this broad category includes websites that focus on niches like health, finances, personal safety, and wellness. Topics may include:
It is within YMYL that some of the biggest volatility occurs; Google takes websites focusing on these topics very seriously, as inaccurate details can negatively impact one’s health, financial stability, or safety. When evaluating YMYL resources, Google’s algorithm uses a three-part page quality metric known as E-A-T, or Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness. Failure to meet Google’s understandably high E-A-T standards, especially during or just after an algorithmic change, can influence page rankings, causing significant volatility across the YMYL category.
No matter how powerful the SEMrush Sensor platform is and what data it shares with SEO professionals, it does not and cannot reveal the underlying causes of volatility in search categories. SEO teams must employ best practices – coupled with a bit of patience – to make the most of their efforts if volatility is experienced. SEO strategies should focus on:
Volatility is a phenomenon that can be hard to prepare for, or even understand. By adhering to known SEO practices, teams can help to ensure great performance and solid rankings, even as rankings shift from day to day or week to week.
Hayden Koch is the Director of Search Engine Marketing at Internetzone I, Inc., specializing in SEO and ORM strategy.