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Understand SERP Volatility Before Picking SEO Keywords

When it comes to SEO everyone knows the importance of keywords. However, one of the largest factors overlooked is SERP volatility. (A search engine results page, or SERP, is the page you see after entering a query into Google, Yahoo, or any other search engine.) SERP volatility can create moving targets that can be hard to pin down.

With high amounts of SERP volatility, it can be difficult to understand what is even required for a webpage to acquire a coveted first-page ranking. To help illuminate this problem, let’s go over what SERP volatility is, why it is so important, and how to monitor it to get a better handle on how your SEO efforts are going.

What is SERP Volatility

Volatility when it comes to the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) is a fairly straightforward concept. It is a measure of how much these rankings change over time. This metric puts a number on how often these ranks move around and how stable they are. 

For this article, we are only interested in the first page of results because that is what matters when we talk about SEO. Over 88.7% of all clicks go to the search listings on the first page. However, some drastic results also apply to ranking. Within the first page 57.1% of the clicks go to the top three sites, while the tenth web site is down at 2.3%.

This is where keyword research and strategy come into play. To start SEO campaigns, keywords and search results are evaluated to see what ranks on the 1st page for a keywords. When that is identified, a website will often start creating their own versions of those pages to rank. However, this becomes much more complex when we look at SERP volatility. 

There are many different types of SERP volatility. One of the most common ones is where the search intent and the relevance of search results will swing wildly over time. Here is an example of a result that varies wildly in its search results.

Understand SERP Volatility Before Picking SEO Keywords-1

Related: How SEO Can Benefit Your Brand in 2021

How SERP Volatility Affects Your Google Rankings 

SERP volatility spells trouble for SEO because not only are the results changing, but Google is telling us that they aren’t sure what users are looking for when they search for this term. The search engine doesn’t know which information to prioritize correctly. So, the carefully created content that you work so hard to produce may rank one day and be totally irrelevant the next.

The factors that help rank for this keyword are changing too rapidly to predict the best route. Accounting for this adds another layer of research for SEO to tell what content is likely to rank well for a keyword and how difficult it will be to rank for that specific term.

So What Does This Mean for your Google Rankings? 

  • Let’s Start With your Pages That are Already on the 1st Page. 

For those pages that rank on the 1st page for a keyword, if the SERP volatility looks stable with no change over a long period of time, then you can be confident that your 1st page rankings will be stable. If the volatility is high, then you will be on alert and need to be ready to make changes and link build if there is SERP volatility. 

  • For Keywords That you Don’t Have a Rank for Yet

For the keywords that you don’t have a rank for yet or words that are simply just researching, SERP volatility is a great tool to evaluate the overall opportunity. Keywords that have high SERP volatility can be poor targets because the figurative goal post keeps moving. In other words, what Google deems should be on the 1st page constantly changes and therefore you can create a page and link build, just to figure out that Google changed the 1st page results to different results. 

Evaluating SERP Volatility During Keyword Research

Keyword research is the first step in any SEO campaign. This research allows companies to identify keywords that will be the easiest to rank for while generating the most relevant traffic. 

Commonly accepted metrics that are looked at include keyword relevance, search volume, and keyword difficulty. However, we’ve seen from first-hand experience that these aren’t enough to get a clear picture of how difficult a keyword will be to rank for. SERP volatility is also a crucial component of good research. The problem is compounded when the search intent is constantly changing. Now it is crucial to evaluate, not just competing sites, but the entire keyword and what content is relevant to rank for it.

Related: Expert SEO Tips for Your Website and Higher Ranking on Google

How to Measure SERP Volatility

Measuring volatility is something that you can check manually, and it can be beneficial to perform a spot check every now and then. Seeing live instances allows you to verify what the data is telling you, but it isn’t an efficient solution to a problem like this.

To bridge this gap, you can use a tool that Ahrefs provides called the “Position History Graph”. This tool maps out the top 5 positions for a keyword over time. It’s useful because we can see how these positions have changed over all time or narrow it down to the last 3 or 6 months.

The tool isn’t perfect because it only tracks the first five results, not top ten results. If the top five are constantly changing, then you will know there is tremendous volatility in that keyword, but it could still be volatile enough to cause issues if the top ten are also changing often.

Using a combination of the tool and manual checks allows you to get a better idea of how this particular keyword is performing and what to expect in terms of stability. By adding this human touch, you are able to give each keyword its own due diligence and put the search into its unique context.


It can be easy to overlook SERP volatility when conducting keyword research because standard research only relies on a snapshot of those results at that moment. As time goes on, if a keyword is constantly shifting what it rewards in the results, then it will be tricky to rank for that term. By taking into account the long-term stability of a keyword, we are able to get a better idea of how successful a campaign will be. Adding this metric to our arsenal allows us to develop strategies that don’t stagnate.

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