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You Need To Steer To Survive In A SERP-Happy World
I was ready to write a completely different column today. Then, I saw the announcement that Raven is doing away with ranking reports and any other SEO data that might ruffle Google’s feathers.
I quickly went through denial/anger/bargaining/acceptance:
- I’m sure they’ll find another way to get this data; this won’t affect anyone else
- What the
- Oh please, let SEOMOZ keep their ranking data, please please
- Well, crap
Then I revisited my old, familiar place:
I hate the SERPs.
Yep, it’s bizarre: I’m an SEO who hates the fact that we have to track rankings. I hate that I can triple someone’s revenue from organic search and still get a thumbs-down because they don’t rank #1 for [horse flies]. I resent the sheer brain-thumping hypocrisy of the SERP screen shots I put in my own proposals while saying, “Woo hoo! Look at the rankings we got for our other clients! because I know that’s what folks want to see.
I could just triple my meds and stumble along, but I decided to give all this a more practical look.
Don’t Stop; Steer…
For 15 years, we’ve been hurtling down the road at 125mph, chasing rankings. Deny if you like, but it’s the truth — as much as I hate rankings, I rarely tell a client to ignore them. Especially if they worked in my favor.
Stopping now would be like slamming on the brakes while still going that 125mph. You might survive (somehow), but you’ll definitely end up with an airbag in your face.
You can’t stop people from looking at rankings. Like I said, SERPs are totally addictive. And, they’re always there.
You can gently steer folks towards other metrics. Do it a little bit at a time, and you can change rankings from 95% of the discussion to 50% or less. Which is a nice start, if nothing else.
I’ve made this work more often than not with three talking points. I hit these points again and again, like a candidate at a debate (without the flag pin).
Talking Point 1: SERPs Are A Symptom, Not A KPI
I tell clients to watch the SERPs as one input in a larger picture: the SERPs on their own aren’t a performance indicator. But a sudden change in the SERPs can be a symptom of good or bad stuff happening in their larger marketing campaign.
In our weekly or monthly reports, instead of saying, you rank #2 for ‘rhubarb helper, I’ll say, we haven’t seen any changes in the rankings, or “your rankings are stable. If pressed, I’ll present the actual ranking data, but only if pressed.
The key to success here: you have to focus on changes and symptoms and avoid pointing out specific rankings, even when the news is good. It’s hard to resist crowing about all the new #1 positions you just grabbed, but you have to. Instead, point out the overall rise in traffic and conversions from organic search, and explain that a sharp rise in rankings explains some of it. Then, move on.
Again, clients will press you. And again, I say, steer, don’t stop. When a client presses you to present individual keyword rankings, go ahead, but stick to your talking points. Here’s the next one.
Talking Point 2: There’s More Data Than This
Never, ever present rankings on their own. Nor do I present detailed, keyword-by-keyword ranking data in the first two layers of a report.
Instead, I present aggregate ranking changes in subjective terms, like, you’ve seen a net improvement in your rankings in the last month. Then, the client can drill down to keyword groups and average rankings in those groups, and then to the detailed phrase-by-phrase data.
I’m not doing this to hide the data. Instead, I’m doing it to emphasize the more important information shown alongside the aggregate rankings information:
- Number of unique key phrases driving traffic
- Conversions from organic traffic
- Organic vs. other channels for time on site, conversions, etc.
- Site index health
- Spend versus value
This approach has helped me emphasize the true KPIs while still making the rankings data available.
Talking Point 3: Remember Your Real Goals
I’m always pointing out that you didn’t go into business to rank #1 for ‘turnip slicer.’ Obvious? Yes. Corny? A little.
Worth repeating several thousand times? Absolutely.
I’ll also put the true goal of the campaign — increase sales X%, build share-of-voice Y%, etc. — front-and-center in all reports and correspondence.
I’m steering, a little bit at a time, away from SERPs and toward the goals that matter.
SERP Addiction Isn’t Going Away
We’ve all had the rankings aren’t a good metric conversation before; but the truth is, as long as there are rankings, our bosses and clients will care about our position in them.
At first glance, SERPs are pretty simple. They’re impossible to ignore. And, they bait the C-level ego like a choice parking spot or a corner office. They are 100% instantly addictive. I know whereof I speak.
So, try as we might to discuss visitor retention, conversion rates and sales, we won’t have happy clients until we grab that top spot. I don’t like it. You probably don’t, either. But after years of talking about rankings, we can’t just slam on the brakes.
Instead, start making little changes, and steer folks towards more meaningful metrics. You’re less likely to need airbags that way.
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