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Rankings: The Least Important SEO Metric
If you’re like many business owners, you probably rely heavily on your organic search rankings to gauge and measure your SEO performance. When you see your website listed on the first page for a relevant keyword, you’re happy. If you see your website at or near the top of the first page, you’re ecstatic! When you lose an organic ranking, you’re upset and when you fall off the first page, you’re downright pissed off. Sound about right?
Organic rankings are important. After all, more first page rankings equal more website traffic, leads and sales. However, if you want to outperform your less sophisticated competitors, you should recognize that organic rankings are the least important measure of SEO success (i.e. pay no attention to those “we’ll get you #1 on Google” emails you receive from purported “SEO experts). Let me explain.
The Problem with Relying on Organic Rankings
Personalized Search Results
The first problem with relying on organic rankings to gauge your SEO performance is personalized search. Did you know that Google, Yahoo and Bing are constantly collecting information about you (your interests, location, etc.) and using it to personalize your web surfing experience? That’s right – Google, Yahoo and Bing are watching your every move! The search results you see on Google are not the same as those seen by your prospective customers.
If you watch the search results carefully – particularly as you move from one computer to another – you’ll probably notice the differences. Sometimes they’re subtle and sometimes they are dramatic. Spend a day searching for something in another part of the country and suddenly even generic searches result in geo-targeted results… but for the previous location!
The takeaway here is that the search results you see on your office computer and what Susie Homeowner sees are often two very different things. Your website might rank number one organically at your office, but not even on the first page for one of your target customers. In this scenario, if you rely on the organic search results you see to measure your SEO success, you’re going to end up with long term results that are far less than optimal.
Great Organic Rankings – Wrong Keywords
The second problem with relying on organic search rankings to measure SEO success comes down to keyword selection. A top organic ranking for the wrong keyword phrase might generate no traffic at all or it might generate traffic, but no business! One of the fundamental SEO challenges faced by local businesses is the fact that many consumers continue to use (fairly) generic keywords to find what they need online. For example, someone living in Baltimore searching for a “plumber” instead of a “Baltimore plumber”.
It’s virtually impossible for a plumbing company in Baltimore to rank for generic terms like “plumber” or “plumbers” – yet that’s how many people search. On the flip side, there just aren’t that many people searching for “plumbers in downtown Baltimore”, a term that might be relatively easy for which to rank (with an active SEO campaign). If organic rankings are your measure of success, you’ll be happy to see rankings for niche keyword phrases, but you might be waiting YEARS to get a single booked job from one of these searches.
Organic rankings for the wrong keywords are worthless and ranking well for (relatively) low-traffic keywords must be taken in context.
Rankings with No Conversions
The final problem with using organic rankings and visibility to measure the success of your SEO efforts and campaigns is that rankings and traffic are a means to an end. When you invest in SEO, what you really want are leads (inquiries, web forms submitted, phone calls, etc.) and sales (booked jobs, appointments, etc.). You fail when you rank well organically and/or attract organic visits to your website, but fail to convert visitors into leads and sales.
Here’s a classic example. The other day I was searching for “metal business cards” (don’t ask). Like most people, I clicked on the top organic search result first. The website that followed was awful. It was outdated, difficult to navigate and when I finally persisted and clicked on their contact form, I was redirected to their “parent company” (with an equally awful website). The best part is that when I finally found the contact form on their parent company’s site and completed it, I got an error message! #FAIL
Think about this scenario for a second.
Here’s a company that ranks number one organically for a (presumably) high-value keyword (do you know how much metal business cards cost!?), but because of a poorly conceived website, probably misses the majority of their sales opportunities. Again, if a company like this is using their organic results as a measure of SEO success, they’re missing the forest for the trees.
The whole reason most business owners invest in SEO is to get leads and business. Yes, you need organic visibility (rankings) to get traffic, but rankings and traffic can’t be your ultimate measure of success because it’s all a waste if your website doesn’t convert visitors into leads and sales.
The Right Way to Measure SEO Success
The pyramid of metrics used to measure the success of an SEO campaign is as follows (in this order):
- Return On Investment (revenue and profit from sales from non-branded organic search visits less the cost of SEO)
- Leads and sales from non-branded, organic search traffic
- Increased non-branded organic search traffic
- More organic visibility (rankings)
If you want to super-charge your SEO campaign performance in 2012, focus on leads and sales from organic search – NOT your organic rankings. We once had a client ask us to focus all of our SEO efforts on one particular target keyword – a keyword near and dear to our client. We tried to explain that, over the course of a two year period, that keyword had only generated a single lead (despite the client ranking #1 and #2 for it during that entire time period). He persisted and, as a result, lost a tremendous amount of prospective leads and sales. Don’t make the same mistake with your SEO campaigns.
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
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