The yahoo rank position, Highly Inflated Impressions and Phantom Traffic.

Websites that are dependent on search engine traffic rely heavily on detailed keyword research to reach their target audience. Whether the resulting information is used for PPC, SEO or featured ads is beside the point. Simply put, if you want to exploit search traffic, you need accurate data on the number of searches carried out for each particular keyword.

Some companies will sub contract the keyword research to a specialist company and others will tackle it in-house. Regardless of who performs the research, a large number of people will primarily use the information provided by the Overture Keyword Assistant as the foundation of the project. I’ve been of the view for some time that the data Overture provides is often inflated, especially primary keywords. Recently I have been conducting tests to ascertain the accuracy of yahoo rank position in an effort to prove my suspicions and to see how big the problem is. The results so far are way beyond what I expected.

The website was built to rank highly on yahoo rank position for the search phrase “Phone System” and a number of other keyword phrases.

According to Overture the phrase “phone system” has 350,066 searches performed each month in the UK alone. The website is currently on the first page of results in and in the top three positions for Yahoo’s UK only search.

With the keyword tool reporting this amount of searches and the websites position, you would expect the site to be receiving a large volume of traffic. But to put it simply, it does not. For example, over the last two months the site has only received three visits from people searching for “phone system”.

This test is not concrete because the majority of searches for phone system could be performed on another engine that Overture pulls its results from like MSN. But you would have to agree that it’s not very likely. Especially when you consider the site ranks in the top three positions for the search phrase “phone system” on MSN.

Yahoo rank position tool pulls its results from a number of sources, Yahoo and MSN being the largest in terms of traffic. The site has a large number of top three listings on apparently high traffic yielding phrases e.g. IP Phone, Business Phone System, Office Phone System etc. yet only receives a very small number of visitors.

So what’s causing the highly inflated number of impressions the tool returns? I can’t say for sure but can certainly name a few things that could be significantly contributing to the effect. I’m also going to try and coin a phrase here and call the phenomena “Phantom Traffic”, which simply means non-genuine traffic or searches conducted for other reasons than an actual genuine interest of finding a site relating to a keywords particular theme. I strongly believe both of the examples below are affecting Overtures data and are contributors of phantom traffic.

More people manually checking their positions causes the number of impressions to be inflated (phantom traffic). This is self perpetuating; the more people checking results inflate the number of impressions, causing even more people to target the phrase and manually check their positions etc. etc. etc.

I’m certain this is impacting the Overture Keyword Suggestion tool significantly enough to cause many sites to chase phantom traffic. I also believe this to be the biggest contributing source of phantom traffic. Many webmasters manually check their rankings every day and some even more.