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A Lesson on Why High SEO Rankings Shouldn’t Be Your Final Measure of SEO Success

Rankings! Rankings! Rankings! For many business owners (and search marketers, regrettably), that’s the mantra for attaining search engine optimization success. “If I can just get my keywords to #1, then all of my problems will go away!” If only it was that easy. Perhaps in the early days of SEO it was acceptable to judge the performance of your campaign by tracking keyword rankings-but the time has come for you to realize that there are more efficient ways to track your SEO success.

Search Engine Rankings Can Be Misleading

Before you learn what SEO metrics you should track, it’s important to understand why rankings alone are misleading. First you must understand what a keyword’s ranking actually means to you and your business. You can rank #1 for a keyword that generates ZERO traffic-so, claiming you rank #1 is utterly worthless. Additionally, you can find yourself with high page-one rankings for keywords that are completely irrelevant to your business. Maybe those SEO rankings generate traffic, but if they don’t convert, is that ranking really worth it?

Another reason that rankings can be misleading is that the search engines have begun diversifying the SERPs. Google, Yahoo!, and even MSN have adopted alternative search results to better serve their users. This includes personalized search, Google’s SearchWiki tool, local search, and vertical search results such as video, news, and images. With these extra factors at play, the results of your keyword ranking report could be rather skewed. To make matters worse, the SERPs are constantly in motion. It is perfectly “normal” to check your SEO ranking in the morning, and return later that same day to find that your keyword has moved up or down in position.

With these extra factors at play, the results of your keyword ranking report could be rather skewed.

What Is the Right SEO Success Metric?

So what should your search engine optimization campaigns be focused on if not keyword rankings? The answer to that question lies in the business goals for your company. Whether you manage SEO in-house or for an agency, you need to sit down with the decision makers and discuss what marketing goals and SEO stats are most important to the company. The results of that discussion will guide you on your way to SEO success.

Is branding, credibility, and/or competitive advantage the goal? Then you need to look at a combination of keyword rankings for your company in comparison to your competitors, and graph the growth of rankings over time. Take more of a reputation-management approach to your SEO by tracking what content is being ranked in the SERPs. If traffic is your goal, you need to utilize your analytics at hand and report on traffic growth from all the major search engines. Do conversions matter most for your campaign? Then look away from the ranking reports and start reviewing keyword conversion rates, evaluate your website’s conversion path, and plan tasks that will ultimately grow conversions over time. The key to all of these is demonstrating improvement over time.

Ranking reports are a great way for discovering areas of improvement and revealing lost opportunities.

Does this mean that ranking reports are worthless? Absolutely not. Instead of focusing on keyword ranking reports as your core SEO statistics, they should instead become another tool in your management arsenal. Use ranking reports as a barometer for measuring the effectiveness of the changes you make in your SEO campaign. Ranking reports are a great way to discover areas of improvement and reveal lost opportunities. Use the data found in your ranking reports to guide your decision making from a high level, in order to improve all of your business goals for SEO success.

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