1. Rankings are constantly fluctuating. You might check rankings one minute, then check again a few minutes later and see different results.
2. Search results are sometimes geotargeted. The search engines know where you’re located by your IP address, and if they want they can (and I believe they do) sometimes point you to pages that are closer to where you are searching from, as they assume those results might be more beneficial to you.
3. Personalized search. If you’re logged into your Google or Yahoo account, you may very well be getting search results that are specifically targeted to your own preferences. It’s called personalized search, and it is a reality these days. As people use Gmail, Google Analtyics, Google AdWords, or any other free Google toy, Google learns more about you and may make specific recommendations based on this knowledge. Think about how Amazon is always making personalized recommendations for you. It wouldn’t surprise me if Google and Yahoo become more Amazon-like with their recommendations in the near future. The end result is that no two people will see the same rankings, making them an even more worthless measurement than they already are.
4. Rankings don’t equal targeted traffic. Heck, rankings don’t always even equal un-targeted traffic! If you or your SEO company optimizes your pages for keyword phrases that nobody’s searching for, your optimization efforts will all be wasted. And if you’re measuring success by how you rank for those useless keywords, you may be thinking you’re successful when you’re really not. This is actually one of the oldest tricks in the book for unscrupulous (or incompetent) SEO companies to use. They fulfill their end of the bargain—get you rankings—and you’re left scratching your head wondering why your website is still a ghost town.
5. Rankings don’t equal conversions or sales. Along the same lines of #4, all the high rankings in the world won’t matter if they don’t increase your bottom line somehow. If you receive lots of untargeted traffic, or no traffic at all, your sales will remain static.
What should you be measuring instead?
The things that matter, of course—the targeted traffic, but even more important than that—the conversions and sales. Yeah, it was nice in the old days when we could say we did our job by running ranking reports each month and pointing out all the increases to our clients. But that’s simply not going to fly these days. Today, you have to be able to show your clients a positive return on their SEO investment, or you’re just not doing your job properly.
Get with the program and start measuring the things that matter.
Educate your clients or your CEO as much as possible. It can certainly be a difficult concept for some of them to grasp, as rankings are often a vanity thing for them. But once you convince them of the lack of merit in measuring rankings, you’ll be free to throw your rank checking software out the window once and for all and be on your way to true search engine success!
Jill Whalen, CEO and founder of High Rankings, a search marketing firm outside of Boston, and co-founder of SEMNE, a New England search marketing networking organization, has been performing SEO since 1995. Jill is the host of the High Rankings Advisor search engine marketing newsletter. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.