Rankings. They’re the sole reason SEO ever came into existence, yet it has gotten to the point that businesses are so obsessed with rankings that they have a tendency to ignore greater opportunities. In my years in internet marketing I have dealt with a number of different clients who have varying degrees of obsession with rankings. From the “All I want from you is to rank me for these five keywords” to the “I know traffic and conversions are up, but why am I not rankings for this keyword?” As an internet marketer its frustrating. Yes, rankings can be a useful metric, but they can’t be your only metric. In fact, if they’re the only metric you’re paying attention to, you may be setting your business up to fail.
Not All Rankings Are Created Equal
Personalization; its everywhere. Regardless of whether you use Google or Bing your search results are being personalized. Using things like search history, you social connections, and your location, your search results are being influenced. The biggest issue with focusing on rankings is that no matter what an SEO tool says your position in the search results is, chances are what someone else is seeing is very different. In a study I did for Plastic Surgery Studios following the release of Google’s Search Plus Your World, we found four different sets of search results for a query, all on the exact same office network, in the exact same location and using the exact same browser. Now think of the variation you might see across cities, states, personas. Rankings are a nice metric to have in the background, but you have no way of knowing if what you are seeing is the same thing your potential customers are seeing.
Don’t Lose the Forest for the Trees
Oftentimes the obsession with having a site show up somewhere within those first ten links in a search engine consumes all SEO efforts. Businesses obsessed with top rankings will oftentimes put so much effort into earning and sustaining rankings for a particular core set of terms that they never look at the big picture. It gets to the point where they tell their internet marketing experts just to focus on those core terms and not to bother with anything else.
Unfortunately efforts like this are very short sighted. First, as I mentioned before, even if you’re seeing your business in the top ten for your priority keywords, chances are the rest of the world might not be. Second, it offers no room for growth. Once you’ve established rankings for those core terms you are only going to reap whatever rewards those terms bring in. If you refuse to generate new opportunities your organic search traffic will most likely flatline and your website will see little growth outside of what you’re earning by sustaining those efforts. Rank for “exterminator?” Great, now lets explore “pest control,” “termite control,” and the like. If you’re ignoring these other opportunities your online efforts are only going to be as good as the keywords you’re targeting.
Google Is Not Your Friend
What business owners often forget is that Google does not exist to help their businesses. In fact, its the exact opposite. Yes, Google gives you a number of tools such as Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Google+, and Google+ Local to help establish your business on their search engine, but at the end of the day the data you provide through those outlets is actually fueling Google’s business. Google is in the business of information and ultimately they choose whether your information is worth enough to their audience. If it is, you just so happen to reap the benefits. But if its not, or if you try and game the system and make it look like your information is important to their audience when it might not be, Google can choose to stop delivering your website to visitors for your keywords and nobody at Google will be losing any sleep over it.
A single algorithm update can be enough to bump a site out of the search results for a particular set of keywords. If you are only focused on a select few keywords and those terms get hit, how will potential customers find you?
The rankings obsession has a number of motivational drivers behind it; ego, traffic, ignorance. Regardless of what drives the behavior it’s important to realize that your priority keyword list is only going to drive so much traffic. There are other metrics you can measure besides rankings that can help you better understand how SEO is helping your business and your website. After all, at the end of the day your business won’t need SEO if its not making any money.