Search engine rankings were quite the rage some 10 odd years ago but SEO matured as a profession, as did the learnings and the KPIs (not to mention search engine technology). I have seen countless #1 rankings for highly competitive search spaces that didn’t make any money. I’ve also seen plenty that did. It isn’t the ranking alone that produced a negative or positive result, but rather a whole hoard of other variables that come into play from usability to design to the products/services on offer and their prices.
A recent conversation on the topic covers a lot of the main points in this argument. It was triggered by Pete Young’s post on the topic “Are rankings a reliable metric for SEO success?“. I urge you to read both to get a more in-depth idea of why so many of us saying this. Some of the main reasons that come up are:
- Personalised search
- It’s a false target
- It doesn’t guarantee success (revenue)
I think that Nick Wilsdon does a great job of explaining it by saying:
“To take a real-world example, an education system might set itself the target of passing X% of students in their exams. To meet this target, schools ensure they teach students past exam papers and technique 24/7. This results in the children become good at exams but receiving a less rounded & in-depth education. Their knowledge is limited strictly to the questions set by the exam board, which they learn to answer parrot-fashion.”
Having said all that, I do believe that taking a snapshot of how the search engines are receiving your site using a cross section of search terms is good. If your site is down at page 30 for a given keyword phrase, then something is definitely wrong one way or another. It’s time to audit that site and the search space and make some changes both technical and tactical. Appearing on page 1 of search engine results will guarantee you some nice visibility so it is desirable, just it is no longer the only thing to focus on. You can achieve visibility in quite a lot of different places now and also in a lot of different ways, for example:
- Social networks
- Data propagation (Linked Data)
- Mobile apps
- Social bookmarking sites (and the like)
- Maps and directories
- and quite a few more places
The trick is figure out where your demographic is and to be there. Search engines are used by most people so it makes sense to target those and to want to be visible there, however John, Joe and Jenny aren’t going to be seeing the same results all the time due to personalised search engine results. Recommendation systems are powerful and I foresee a lot more of those appearing in interesting places in the future. I don’t think that it’s about getting a site to #1 alone but also making sure that the people who get to that site find value there and love it enough to bookmark it and more importantly to share it.
In order to get be really good at this, you need (amongst other things):
- Digital landscape knowledge
- Information about the people you’re trying to attract (where they go, what they do, what they like…)
- Something worthwhile to offer
- Lots of technical know-how on various platforms
- The willingness to innovate
- Excellent online communication skills (text, images, conversation…)
- An ear to the ground (this is a dynamic beast)
- Many ears and eyes on your visitors/users (observe them and listen to them)
You should be measuring (amongst other things):
- Ratings (on 3rd party sites)
- Brand advocates
- ROI (be careful how you define this, it’s not always money)
- Links (be careful with this, not all links are equal)
- Have you achieve the goal you set out to achieve in the 1st place?
The rankings story is the same as the Twitter followers story really:
Having hundreds of followers is not necessarily going to make a difference to your business and neither is a #1 ranking in Google. In addition to this rankings fluctuate so it’s even harder to assess your success based just on that one metric.
I hear from some SEO’s who offer ranking reports alone that their clients request it so they have to provide it. I’m all for that, just there’s a whole lot more to provide and overlay with that. In addition it’s hard imho to use rankings as a measure of success alone when they keep shifting.
The field is pretty divided on whether they matter or not. Speaking for myself, I’m more interested in building really successful sites that fulfil my client’s goals and meet users’ needs than getting a #1 ranking. It is sometimes a meaningless trophy (not always). Providing value to users and interest for my client’s products/services comes first.
“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business” (Henry Ford)