Home | Search Engine Optimization | Forget about Global Rankings Already. Seriously.

Forget about Global Rankings Already. Seriously.

John Doherty —  July 19, 2011
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Why do some SEOs spend so much time checking and worrying about global rankings? I read and hear constantly from different SEOs where their current pet terms are ranking, their badges of honor if you will. We go through insane efforts to depersonalize search results to check rankings and SERP displays. But why?

Here’s a bold statement: Our job is not to watch rankings! Our job is to build businesses by ethical and organic means!

So why do we care?

Unfortunately clients (or bosses for the in-house folk) will often ask for keyword rankings as a main KPI (key performance indicator) to justify the expense of our work.

This is a failure on our part. Part of our job should be to educate clients and bosses what the ultimate goal of our work is: to build businesses.

Here is what SEO/inbound marketing talk usually translates to in the vast majority of the articles I see shared online:

But what about all of this? (this is Rand’s slide that I think is phenomenal):

Image Source: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/inbound-marketing-is-taking-off

These are what we need to be moving our clients and/or bosses towards!

Moving Forward

So what do we do? What if our boss and/or client wants global rankings to be reported on? Let’s explore a few tools you can use, and then some strategies for educating clients and bosses.

A few tools

Some very good tools exist that you can use to get rankings at the beginning of a project:

Checking rankings and creating benchmarks is absolutely necessary at the beginning of a project. After this, though, we need a different approach.

Tools for weekly tracking

Now we turn to the easy part. We get to automate and forget about rankings until our next report.

A few tools exist that do this well. They include:

  • SEOmoz’s campaigns (available through a Pro account for $99/month);
  • Advanced Web Rankings (costs anywhere from $99 for a web-hosted solution to $599 for a self-hosted web version); and
  • Authority Labs ($24/month-$450/month)

Take your pick, but I use the SEOmoz Pro campaigns because you also get access to all the Pro tools, including integration with Analytics.

SEOmoz will also email you a weekly report with rankings changes across the search engines that you specify. You will also see the traffic that the keyword drove to your site.

This is all you need for rankings reports, I think. I have heard of some people using Google Docs Excel sheets to automatically check ranks and email you with key changes. This would work well if you need it, but I bet most of us don’t need this sophistication.

Changing Minds, Affecting Change

Now that we’ve got a working method for automatically tracking rankings, let’s look at changing expectations.

How do we change built-in ideas of what should be reported to bosses and/or clients? Approaches might differ a bit, but some similarities exist.

1) Show the metrics that you know matter. What metrics are these? The metrics I like to report on include overall traffic and referring sites. If an ecommerce or lead generation site, report on transaction amounts and/or leads. Sometimes I will report rankings+traffic+conversion rates for stellar keywords. In short, reports for different types of sites require different reports.

2) Use data to prove your point. Say your boss has some pet keywords that he/she wants to rank for. You get the rankings high (say, 3). They think that by getting the word to #1, you are going to triple website traffic and thus are going to drive a lot more business. You know this is not true. So why not show them some CTR studies + traffic volume (from the Adwords Keyword Tool) and show them exactly what will happen? Then you can explain competitiveness of the keyword (using SEOmoz’s Keyword Difficulty Tool) and ask them (nicely) if they think it would be a good use of your time to focus on this keyword.

3) Use Analytics to show the amount of time on site for visitors and the number of pages they visited, if this is a KPI. You can also now track +1 social engagement through Analytics, and services such as Topsy can show tweets. Or you can use Google Docs and the Moz API to gather this info.

A few book resources about influencing change

Good articles and books to read include

John Doherty

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I'm the Senior Marketing Manager of HotPads.com, based in San Francisco. Previous to Hotpads I worked at Distilled for 2 years as an online marketing consultant. In my spare time I shoot lifestyle photography, ski, rock climb, and update my Twitter and Google+ accounts.

6 responses to Forget about Global Rankings Already. Seriously.

  1. Great post, John. With the increased focus Google and the others engines are putting on personalised results I think you make a very important point.

    However, the problem is that those who aren’t immersed in SEO are not going to realise this for sometime unless we teach them. Managing client expectations is important from the outset of any project, and persuading them to abandon this as the key KPI may become more and more important.

    If you are managing to get social mentions for the site amongst their key demographics, resulting in increased SERP exposure and traffic then a generic rank checking mechanism isn’t going to see this.

    Whilst we are not there yet (the correlation between non-personalised search and personalised search is still very strong, and non-personalised results are a better indicator of what a random potential visitor will see), I think educating clients now is a good idea.

    Looking at the amount of converting traffic (i.e the right traffic) or the actual online revenue are maybe better KPIs, but it is hard for SEOs to prove they were responsible for this change, so they can remain a tough sell.

    In the meantime, I think a well present combination of the important aspects, as you suggest, is the best thing we can do.

    • Hey Tom –
      Great points and thank you for the comment! I honestly had not thought of the correlation between the non-personalized and the personalized results being so close. I think that is a great point that I overlooked in my thinking about this topic.

      In regards to the converting traffic or online revenue, why do you think this is harder for SEOs to prove responsibility for? I’m not quite sure I agree with this, but I might depending on what you mean.

      Cheers!

  2. Thanks for the post, I couldn’t agree more. This also should begin from the outset so you are singing the same tune throughout.

    I find showing clients results of overall traffic increases from a group of similar keywords works quite nicely. Even if you are targeting one specific keyword, naturally it will have an effect on long tail similar keywords. This helps them to understand other keywords exist.

    • Hannah –
      Welcome to the site and thanks for your comments! I think you’re exactly right, that managing expectations from the outset is a necessity. At Distilled we try to get the KPIs out on the table at the very beginning so that there is a common understanding of what we will be working towards.

      Your point about longtail traffic (and the need for education for clients to understand this) is also spot on. Thanks.

  3. Fantastic post, as usual John!

    I also believe that conversions is more important to measure these days, as it’s the end goal of every business – to convert visitors to revenue. Personally, I also watch out for natural/voluntary brand mentions (especially the positive ones), since this is a strong indication of brand visibility over the web, which simply means that your link building campaign is really working.

    • Jason –
      Great comment as usual. Thanks for the point about looking at natural or voluntary brand mentions which can show the public’s view of your brand/company. If you’re getting “Is (brand) a scam?” as a lot of your searches, you might have more issues other than keyword rankings to worry about first…

      Cheers!