By Paul Schmidt
Being one of HubSpot’s largest agency partners, we stay close to the pulse of the ever-changing platform. A few weeks back, they announced the keywords tool is being sunsetted at the end of May 2018. There was and still is a lot of backlash against this move because customers use the HubSpot Keywords tool for tracking their overall level of SEO success.
Keyword rank tracking has long been a metric that marketers follow, and they will continue to do so. However, although HubSpot has continued to invest, grow, and update sales, marketing, and analytics tools within the platform, their keywords tool hasn’t been updated since Google started encrypting keyword search data prior to 2013. Can you imagine if you didn’t tune-up your car for five years? The tool became a little rusty compared to the rest of HubSpot.
Google has been playing hardball with every software provider who uses their search data. Google refuses to share keyword search volume and AdWords cost-related data (long used by Search Engine Optimizers) if your platform uses scraped Google rank data, which is a violation of Google's terms of service. I can understand HubSpot's perspective of not wanting to invest more in a tool when they are focused on building out AdWords functionality, as well as much stickier marketing tools (like CRO, automation, and other immediate value-add functions). Search is also much more personalized and local now than it was five years ago. To create a new keywords tool would have required a significant investment in local, mobile, and international search rank tracking.
Instead, over the last year, HubSpot has invested in their new content strategy tool which is more in line with measuring traffic, leads, and customers generated from groups of topically-aligned pages or clusters. They’ve also launched AdWords functionality, which makes tracking your spend and properly tagging your ads a breeze. Launching this functionality would have been difficult or impossible, from a Google Terms of Service perspective, if HubSpot was still using scraped rank data.
Over the last three to four years, we’ve seen the writing on the wall and adapted our SEO reporting to help clients understand SEO performance across individual sections of their website, as well as across their entire website. We've adapted our rank tracking, analytics reporting, and execution to be in line with how modern-day search algorithms rank content. This change in HubSpot isn’t going to affect our clients' strategies because we’ve already adapted our methodologies around driving actual business growth.
"How so?" you may ask. Here is how we do it: When measuring the success of organic channels, organizations need to think about dozens of factors that impact their ability to rank well within search. Here are several KPIs that are more actionable than exact-match keyword rank (which is what HubSpot’s keyword tool provides):
- Organic clicks and impressions at the keyword level: Google will show you what keywords you are showing up for within the Google Search Console.
- Organic leads, customers, and revenue: This is one of the most important SEO metrics to report on. How many dollars are you generating through search engines?
- Featured snippets: Long gone are the days when Google just showed 10 blue links. Google now has dozens of SERP (search engine result page) features that you can show up for that can drive a ton of traffic. Your organization should understand what types exist and how to take advantage of these SERP features.
- Topical rank: This includes grouping several related phrases and measuring their overall rank performance as a category over time. For example, if you want to rank for “SaaS Marketing Agency”, then you should measure rank for other phrases similar to that over a period of time to understand if you are getting more of your keyword rankings onto the first page of Google. These other phrases could be "SaaS marketing consulting", "SaaS marketing", "SaaS advertising solutions", "advertising company for software business”, and so on. In many ways, this is in line with the topically aligned approach that HubSpot is incorporating into its content strategy tool.
- Inbound links: These are one of the most powerful indicators of your ability to rank well within your industry. Are you generating more authority through relevant, high-quality links to your site?
- SEO share of voice: Based on a group of 100 keywords, how much of that "marketshare" do you have from a first-page, Google-rank perspective? SEO share of voice helps you understand your direct and indirect competitors in search.
- Niche/industry-specific metrics: If you are a local business, how many calls are you driving from Google My Business? If you are a travel company, how many clicks are you getting from image search?
None of these metrics can be pulled out of the keywords tool. It’s time for you to move forward with other tools that will help you track more impactful KPIs. HubSpot’s analytics/reporting tools can be helpful for some of these. For others, you’ll have to go elsewhere.
If you’re still bummed about the keywords tool going away, here are six more reasons why you should move on and find another:
- HubSpot’s keyword tool pulls in rank data at the national level. Assuming your business can only reach a specific city, state, or region, this data isn’t helpful. You need a tool that can pull rank at the zip code or city level.
- HubSpot’s tool doesn’t refresh automatically, so if you want to pull out data, you have to go into the tool every week. Find a tool that will automatically pull that data on a weekly basis.
- HubSpot’s keyword tool only measures exact-match keywords. If you’re still measuring your SEO success based on one or two exact-match keywords, then you’re five to 10 years behind.
- HubSpot’s keyword tool only measures keyword performance for .com domains. We work with many global clients where this isn’t adequate.
- Search volume data within HubSpot isn’t actionable for niche industries. The typical search volume for mid- to long-tail keywords in niche industries is often reported as “low”. “Low” isn’t actionable and businesses may equate “low” with “not important”, which shouldn’t be the case. Niche industry organizations can pull in truckloads of cash from very specific keywords, whose volumes aren’t reported within HubSpot.
- HubSpot’s keyword reporting isn’t very flexible in understanding segments of your keyword list (assuming that you group keywords by topic/category). If you want to understand improvements at the topic/category level, you’re stuck pulling that data into spreadsheets.
What are some of your favorite tools or reports outside of HubSpot that you use to measure SEO success?