Stop Worrying About Rankings

Do you search Google for your trophy keyword every morning to see if you’re still on the first page? Do you check more than once a day? If so, you are a rankings junkie and it’s time to shake the habit. Things have changed with the search engines to the point where rankings are no longer the best indicator of SEO success. Honestly, rankings have never been the best indicator of success, but this is becoming more and more important for marketers to understand. You should be focusing on how much traffic is coming from search, which keywords are driving that traffic, and most importantly, which keywords are driving sales.

The most recent twist in the search universe was Google’s announcement this week of the launch of SearchWiki. SearchWiki gives registered Google users the opportunity to mess with the position of sites in the SERPs. Basically, it gives me as a searcher the opportunity to pick which site shows up in the top spot and get rid of all the crap that isn’t relevant for any given search. Sound incredible? Don’t get too excited, any changes I make will only be visible to me when I’m logged into my Google account. However, position adjustments and comments people make in SearchWiki can be viewed by other searchers if they click on the “See all notes for this SearchWiki” link at the bottom of the page. If this catches on, and isn’t ruined by spammers, I expect SearchWiki to gradually gain more importance in what people see when they search. The first step will be to allow the option to let people’s search results be influenced by friends’ wiki changes, and then Google could start including aggregate wiki data as part of their search algorithm for the general public.

At the recent PubCon conference, representatives from all three major search engines spoke about how each is trying to offer more than “ten blue text links.” What they mean by this is that rather than the traditional 10 text links to web pages when you search, they are starting to serve up other types of content that is relevant to your search query. We’ve been hearing about this trend for the past couple years, and it has gradually become more prominent in the search results–known as a Universal or Blended search. Any given search could yield results for images, video, shopping, blogs, local maps or news. Rather than just links to these other types of media, they are often embedded right in the search page. With this shift away from the standard “10 blue text links,” it changes the paradigm of search engine optimization. While optimizing web pages is still important, if you aren’t creating and optimizing a wide array of digital assets, you are missing out on a huge opportunity to get your brand in front of searchers.

Another major shift in the search engines that will continue to have a huge impact on search marketers is personalization of the search results. The search engines are starting to customize the search results for each individual searcher based on their search history, geographic location, or other demographic factors. This change makes it futile to focus on search engine rankings, because the ranking will vary depending on who’s searching.

Mobile search is another important area to consider. The newest smart phones like the G1 and iPhone make mobile search look a lot like regular web search, but it is still a different experience searching the web from a mobile device. It’s a much smaller screen, and people aren’t usually searching for the same reasons they would search at the office or at home. Mobile search centers more around local search–it’s about finding restaurant reviews, phone numbers, directions, stuff they need to know when they’re on the go. Often, the default Google search from a mobile phone serves up search results that are localized to the searchers location. Search tools like Google’s recently launched voice search application for the iPhone, and ChaCha, which has been around for a while, give people the option to speak their search queries, or even send them via SMS text messages.

What does all this mean? It means we need to rethink how we look at search engine optimization. We need to do all the little things to make our sites relevant for our keywords. We also need to think beyond our own websites and provide unique, valuable content in as many different formats as possible. Focus on being relevant to whatever and however people might search, and your traffic and sales numbers will tell you if you are hitting your target.

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  1. Manoj says

    It’s a nice post. And I fully agree with you that “Things have changed with the search engines to the point where rankings are no longer the best indicator of SEO success. Keywords are important for driving traffic and hence sales.”

  2. Devasish Gupta says

    Now it’s the turn of web users to decide what they want to see instead of offering what they should see.

    Google is utilizing the power of user generated choices to serve the users. It’s like self-service for the end user.

  3. Stephanie says

    And you hit on the most important phrase…. “and isn’t ruined by spammers” Is there anything that doesn’t get ruined by spammers?? As soon as spammers and black hatters find a way to exploit this, it will be irrelevant and useless.

  4. Dan Schulz says

    Hi Dave,

    I have one minor issue with something you said in today’s post. That is “Things have changed with the search engines to the point where rankings are no longer the best indicator of SEO success.”

    I’ve always felt that rankings have never been the best indicator of SEO success because having a site listed at the top of the search engines won’t mean squat if the site cannot convert that traffic into new customers (and thus higher sales), feed subscriptions, member registrations, requests for services, or whatever other goal the site was set out to accomplish when it was designed in the first place.

    Search rankings also fail when the top listings are for the wrong non-competitive (as in long-tail) keywords that don’t bring in as much traffic (or any for that matter) to begin with. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not bagging on long tail searches; instead I’m saying that many people may be choosing the wrong “long-tail” keywords to target, or even relying on long tail search terms to begin with while ignoring the primary and even secondary keywords and phrases they need to be targeting anyway.

    In fact, you hit the nail right on the head when you said (and again, I quote) “You should be focusing on how much traffic is coming from search, which keywords are driving that traffic, and most importantly, which keywords are driving sales.”

    That is what I’ve been telling people for the past year. One of my friends even went so far as to say that if search is comprising the vast majority of your traffic, chances are very good the Web site is not even being marketed properly (I countered his statement by saying that one exception to his “rule” would be if the site was new). Search engine optimization and marketing should be seen as a means of complementing (instead of replacing) traditional marketing and promotion strategies (especially where branding and word of mouth are concerned).

    I guess I’m just saying that search marketing should be viewed as part of a balanced marketing strategy and that (as you said), people should not be so obsessive over where they’re at in the rankings to the point that they start “putting on the blinders” or ignoring everything else they’ve been doing.

    But then again, I just build Web sites, what do I know about SEO? 😉

  5. says

    Great points, Dan. Search is a means to the end of getting new customers and growing your business. It should be looked at as part of a complete marketing mix–not your entire marketing plan. It would be a huge mistake to risk the success or failure of a business on the unpredictability of the search engines.

  6. Matt Mernagh says

    this is potentially great for people who create exciting original content who find they can only hit a niche market. more interaction on with a search engine will benefit those who have rabid followings who want to promote their favorite creator. fascinating reading. M

  7. The Koi Man says

    Currently, I don’t think the searchwiki will affect the organic search results much. It would make a big difference if everybody had a Google account but that isn’t the case. I don’t know the reason behind the concept of searchwiki but it might have something to do with minimizing spammers and blackhat seo. On the other hand, searchwiki may backfire on Google. In order for people to categorize what they want to see when logging into Google account, they first must type in whatever keywords they are looking for. The end result would still be the same because in order for people to searchwiki rank your site, your site still has to show up on the first 2-3 pages of Google search results for a particular keyword. So, straight to the point, this gives the more reasons for spammers to spam the search engines because the only way to get bookmarked by these individuals is to get listed on the top pages. I could be wrong but I think this is an invitation for spammers to do more harm to current major search engines.

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