4 Signs You’re Chasing The Wrong Goals In SEO

Does it bother you as much as it bothers me? Surely you’ve seen it. Perhaps you know someone who’s done it in the past (or good grief, is still doing it!). I can’t imagine anyone who reads Search Engine Land on a regular basis would do it, but then again, many things in life surprise me.

I’m talking about losing track of what’s truly important in an SEO campaign. Getting lost in the woods, and not seeing the forest for the trees.

There are those who have learned a tiny modicum of knowledge about SEO; perhaps they picked it up years ago and decided they had figured it all out. But now they focus all of their time and energy chasing after the wrong things.

Most of us have had clients or worked for IT managers who only care about certain “aspects” or key performance indicators (KPIs) within an SEO campaign. They ask us as SEOs to give them regular updates on how the campaign is performing in pursuit of certain (read misguided) goals that they feel are most important for SEO.

Heck, sometimes even a few SEOs can lose sight of important priorities and fall prey to the easy temptation of obsessing over what’s not important. They lose sight of the real goals of SEO by chasing meaningless indicators or pointless statistics. Allow me to provide just a few examples:

1.  Klout Scores

Is there any serious SEO out there who thinks this matters one hoot? Yes, I too have heard the tales of ad agencies asking prospective employee candidates about their Klout scores, using their knowledge of it (or worse yet, the actual score) as an evaluation criteria for hiring.If only the score had any legitimate value.

For example, I know a very good SEO who’s learned how to significantly boost his Klout score via Facebook and Twitter activity.

The specific Facebook activity that has earned him so much “klout” is his participation in a Facebook game, where he interacts with other online players, who “Like” his gameplay and his collection of meaningless, digital doo-dads.

The vast majority of the Likes associated with his Facebook account come from this gameplay, and he’s definitely noticed a positive correlation between his accumulation of these game-based Facebook Likes and his growing Klout score. Talk about gaming the system!

This same SEO also is a big user of HootSuite. He has set up HootSuite to automatically tweet any update received from a dozen different feeds, all related to SEO. He actually rarely goes into HootSuite anymore, and even more rarely manually retweets any particular message he receives. It’s all automatically managed now, and since setting this up, his Klout score has gotten another significant shot in the arm.

So does any of this activity increase his genuine expertise in SEO? The Klout algorithm seems to think so, which is just another reason why I think Klout is more of a meaningless game than anything else. Make no mistake, I respect the hell out of this person’s mad Web design and deep SEO skills. But Klout’s measurement of this kind of industry activity is fundamentally flawed, which makes all Klout scores a joke.

2.  Google Toolbar PageRank Score

Does anyone still care about Google Toolbar PR scores? Hell yes they do! Some folks obsess about them.

When was the last time you heard an SEO not brag about being involved with a site whose PR score is 7 or better? Perhaps it was about their own site or a long-term client site – it doesn’t matter to them. No one cares about or bothers to mention PR when their site score is between a 0-3, but when the score goes past 5, all of a sudden they become true believers – and braggers!

“Hey look at me! My site is now a PR 7!” Yeah, well my dad can bowl better than your dad. And I drive a BMW. So nyah.

Even Google’s Matt Cutts has suggested we all worry too much about a generic PageRank score and should focus our concerns and efforts elsewhere (such as content). A PageRank score from the Google Toolbar really only has relative value, not specific value. It’s pretty safe to assume a PR2 site will not outrank a PR7 site within the same industry niche for the same keyword query.

But start taking away some of those qualifying caveats, and the whole ballgame changes. Then add to the mix that we all get personalized SERPs these days, in addition to the SERP enhancements associated with Google Authorship Markup, and a top SERP placement is no longer actually all that meaningful – except for bragging rights.

3.  Google SERP Rank

Speaking of bragging rights, this is a good follow-on to the previous bullet item. Some folks absolutely cling to the belief that the whole damn enterprise hangs on whether or not their SEO can get them a Number 1 SERP rank. Right. Nothing is more important than that. And Superman was based on a true life story.

As I just said, personalized SERPs mean that what’s Number 1 for you may not be Number 1 for me, nor Number 1 for folks in other geographic areas or demographic groups. And even if you get that Number 1 rank, was it for the keyword you really wanted, or just any old keyword, a funky long-tail special that gets little to no traffic, or is so tangentially related to what you have to sell that it doesn’t convert at all?

Furthermore, as mentioned above, if you are Number 1 but your SERP listing is basic, and the next two SERP links beneath yours employ microformats for an enhanced SERP page, or they use authorship markup to show the author’s photo and his or her name linked to their other related published content, are you sure that coveted Number 1 link is really going to produce for you?

To make matters even worse, there are also local search results, branded results with sitelinks, blended SERP results for videos and images, and much more that can distract, if not ruin the desired effect of your long-sought Number 1 rank.

4.  Link Exchanges & Paid Links

Can you actually believe in these days of Penguin that people still seek out reciprocal links or, worse yet, still want to buy paid links via junk directories or fake blog networks? Yeah, and while you’re at it, you might want to try stuffing that <meta> keyword tag, too. I hear that also really works well. I recently got the following email (names have been changed to protect the foolish):

“Dear Sir / Madam

“I am currently in the process of building links for <Company URL>. As you probably know the link exchange between two websites helps both your site and mine to rank highly in search engines such as Google, Yahoo and MSN.

“If you are interested in the link exchange please choose any category you like: <URL on his site> and let me know. I will add your link within a jiffy.

“If you are not interested in reciprocal links I can also offer 3 way links…”

The email goes on with markup code samples. I especially love how it ended:

“ps. If you are not the person dealing with link exchange please pass on this email to your link manager or webmaster”

Yeah, I’ll get right on that – with my webmaster (me).

So What Should We Do Instead?

Dogmatically pursuing any and all of the above is largely a waste of time and energy, especially when the obsession blinds you to what should be the primary efforts of your activity as an SEO.

So what should we as SEOs be chasing instead? Hmmm. Let’s think about this for a moment. What’s more important than the pursuit of illegitimate or irrelevant scores, meaningless KPIs, or boneheaded, self-destructive SEO strategies? I propose the following for starters:

  • Conversions
  • Revenue
  • Customer contacts
  • Improved business reputation

So much of SEO has become an obsession with winning the game, but with so much new minutiae to learn and master on a daily basis, we often lose sight of why we play this game in the first place.

We shouldn’t really care about moving the needle on scores. Instead, we want to move the needle on business revenues. We should strive to earn higher conversions, optimize conversion funnels, and generate more Web-originated revenues.

We want better customer engagement – but not simply for the sake of chatting with customers. We want to actively build customer and brand loyalty, improve (or defend) business, brand and product reputations, define creative new thinking regarding our products and services, and of course, expand our markets to new people and opportunities.

These are all truly meaningful business goals related to search engine marketing. Don’t get lost in the woods. Chase what matters. Find your customers, help them understand your products, facilitate their purchase process, and ensure they are happy. There’s a thousand and one things you can do to make this come together, but obsessing on meaningless activities will not help you meet your real business goals.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: All Things SEO Column | Channel: SEO


About The Author: is an in-house SEO at MSN.com, and was previously part of Microsoft’s Live Search and Bing Webmaster Center teams, serving as the primary contributor to the Bing Webmaster Center blog and then later as an in-house SEO for the Bing content properties. He also randomly adds to his own blog, The SEO Ace.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Brian Alpert

    With regards to point 4, I’m a little confused as to how far that goes. I understand how farmed, mass produced reciprocal (or otherwise) links between unrelated websites does nothing more than muck up search results and give a bad name to (what people tend to think of as) SEO. But are links between sites in and related to a particular industry equally poisonous? For instance, a wedding photographer with links to/from other wedding photographers, tuxedo rental places, and florists that specialize in wedding arrangements, or bathroom remodelers linking with appliance retailers, be discounted entirely?

    I recognize the potential for/history of abuse of these kinds of systems and networks, and I’d personally go as far as saying “if you feel you have to ask if something is allowable, it’s probably not something you should be doing in the first place.” But I don’t have enough experience in the industry yet to tell if linking between like companies is an acceptable practice or a “gray-hat at best” trick that SE’s are trying to purge from the net wholesale.

    Do you (or anyone else in the commenting community) have any thoughts that might help me with this? Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/MyIdeaGirl Teajai Kimsey

    Good job pointing these things out. I am always telling people that it doesn’t matter if they are #1 if they aren’t getting sales. The fundamental measure of any program is dollars. If what you’re doing doesn’t contribute to that goal in a tangible, measurable way, it’s a waste of time and money. Yet I still get people telling me that XYZ agency is promising to put them on page 1 for some unnamed search term. You said it all very well!

  • http://twitter.com/newmediamike Mike Allan

    I worked as an in house SEO at a major energy company and my director wanted every page on the site to be PR 6 or higher.

  • Sergey Lucktinov

    I would also add #5 – Alexa Rank. Somehow my boss thinks that this is very relevant to SEO and every time I have to explain to him that it is not.

  • http://twitter.com/rickdejarnette Rick DeJarnette

    The four items I listed are just the start. The list goes on and on. Thanks for writing!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Chris-Rempel/725440457 Chris Rempel

    Paid links work like a charm. You just have to assess the risk level for a particular domain/project. Obviously not something you do with authority sites or clients. But for your own aff sites, etc – there is still no easier way to rank. Regardless of what the pundits and parrots would like to have you believe…

  • http://twitter.com/SEOBetty Beth Ann Earle

    Teajai — are you working in the cube next to mine? We regularly have the same experiences.

    Point 3 (” Google SERP Rank”) particularly hit home with me, especially the part about keywords — it’s an interesting “opportunity” to educate clients that the search terms that will bring in new business aren’t necessarily the jargon they use or the vanity terms their competitors rank for.

    We’ve actually asked people before, “If the term isn’t going to gain you a single new client, why do you want to pay us a chunk of money to optimize for it?”

  • http://blogpond.wordpress.com Corri

    Thank goodness there’s someone out there that recognises what SEO is actually for. Who cares how many followers you have, likes, “klout” or social presence. If this doesn’t impact the bottom line then you’ll go out the door backwards … but well liked.

  • http://twitter.com/justincutroni Justin Cutroni

    The transition to _real_ metrics continues! No more CTR, RPC!

    I think one of the most important metrics we have at our disposal is Assisted Revenue or Assisted Conversions. With the complex technology and content landscape we, as marketers, need to understand that consumers will interact with different channels in different ways.

    Even if a channel, or a campaign within a channel, does not drive direct conversions, it can assist on a _substantial_ number of conversions.

  • kartik kads

    It’s Great article but so many person believe on Google Tool Bar. then after all we are submission in Google & also new updates or more.

    thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/iamsangeetakumar Sangeeta Kumar

    I love this article and I am going to share it with my team and management that insists on clinging to old concepts. Thank you for publishing it.

  • cory josue

    I totally agree with you that most SEO clients often loose track of the real goals of why they are doing SEO. Often times, the only thing that matters to them is their ranking–which is not. Thinking outside of the box, if I am a SEO client, what I would from my online strategy is more revenue for my business. I don’t care about my rankings but as long as I have people inquiring about my business, I will be happy with it. This is one of the misconceptions of most SEO clients and we try mighty hard to erase this from the thinking of our clients. As a SEO practitioner, we want our client’s site to bring business for them and that should also be the number performance indicator of how well the SEO company is doing, don’t you agree?

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I’ve worked with several clients who only cared about driving traffic from their priority keyword list and didn’t care about the rest. Let’s say they had 2,000 visitors in a month and 800 came from those priority keywords and 500 came from branded. To them their SEO campaign was failing because their priority keywords were only sending 800 visitors. No matter what I sad I couldn’t get them to see that meant that 700 other visitors were coming from long tails and variations which were a direct result of our SEO campaign!

  • http://twitter.com/Amazon_cz Amazon Cz

    Im not an expert for the SEO but Ive read couple books about that topic. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Codex-Meridian/100002285341528 Codex Meridian

    Agreed, but a link to your company site using SEO company as the anchor text directly in your comments seems not very helpful. Putting links in comments is another sign that you are chasing the wrong goals in SEO.

  • http://twitter.com/_ltyler Robert Koenig

    Definitely people get lost in all the ever-changing details instead of focusing on the content. I don’t think bigger always necessarily means better. Strong, succinct content paired with making true relationships with new customers and contacts should be what matters. I guess those are the proverbial trees in the forest?

  • http://www.webstatsart.com/ Webstats Art

    Some people chasing the wrong goals need to do that for a while because they get experience which is actually trial and error.

  • http://twitter.com/CoffyGroup Coffy Group

    Valuable information you’ve shared with us, Rick. It reminds me that with our goal to regularly experiment and see what strategies and approach works, there is this huge possibility that our focus will be on to the wrong things without realizing it. While our goals are flexible, we should be able to teach ourselves the best practice so our time and efforts will not go to waste.

  • Peter Gore

    #3 – How do you expect to get any conversions if you not aiming towards a decent ranking website, I’m not talking about chasing number 1 all the time but at least a good page one listing. Personally I think too many SEO’s have lost sight of the basics of a good SEO campaign and are too caught up in blinding clients with untold amounts of useless data.

  • Brian Lockwood

    the problem is that some of your goals aren’t measurable or attributable

    Conversions are but I can drive conversions. How about cost per conversion?
    Revenue – can you attribute that back to your marketing? If not, it could be a new product, competitor dies etc
    Customer contacts? like leads? How is that different from your conversions?
    Improved business reputation – hmmmmm – you could basically add anything if you did this.

    ConversionsRevenueCustomer contactsImproved business reputationI stopped reading after Klout because I thought that section was a straw man article. Ok, you have found some guy who has abused the platform. Does that invalidate Klout as a metric for measuring reach and engagement? I think a more objective analysis would be good

    So the article is catchy, but it seems you offer straw man arguments to pick on some undoubtedly easy targets, but don’t offer any true, objective replacements.

    I love a follow up where you discuss your 4 metrics and how you convert them into goals and measure progress, *directly* attributable to your marketing efforts

  • http://www.newmediasources.ca/ P.T

    Thank you very much for reiterating what I’ve been preaching for 2 years since I got in the game. I can’t stress how mad I get when clients only care about SERP or PR…. UGH!!!!

  • http://twitter.com/BoostRankSEO Boost Rank

    I completely agree. The only thing that matters to the client is their ROI. That’s the only important number. While SERPs should be tracked and monitored, at the end of the day it’s about how much you helped their bottom line.


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide