Search engine optimization (SEO) is often focused on achieving high rankings in search results pages. But columnist Ryan Shelley explains why this mindset may steer us wrong.
Keyword ranking is one of the most overrated and misused metrics in SEO. Yes, tracking your positions is important, but placing too much emphasis on this metric is problematic. When it comes to SEO, what you measure gets managed. That means that focusing on the right metrics will help you generate results that have a business impact, rather than an ego boost.
So, let’s talk about the problem with obsessing over rank — and what metrics you’d be better off focusing on.
The problem with rank tracking
Measuring keyword ranking is easy to get sucked into because it’s so visible. When you type in the all-powerful keyword and see your listing there at the top, it feels good. The problem with putting too much emphasis on this metric is that the search results aren’t always consistent. Google’s results will vary based on a number of different criteria. Let’s look at the two most common.
- Location. Your search results are tailored to the location from which you are searching. This plays a big role in local search, of course, but it impacts organic rankings as well. Let’s say you are in a new city, and you are looking for a coffee shop; if you search for “coffee shops,” it will display results near you. If you were to do the same search in your hometown, the results would be very different.
- Personalization. Google and the other search engines are constantly collecting information on how you personally search. They use this information to serve you with more relevant results. If you have a Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search-connected account, they will look at your browser history and navigational behaviors and alter the SERPs to best match your preferences.
As you can see, these two simple variables can drastically impact rankings. In order to get a 100 percent accurate idea of your aggregated rank, you would have to check, monitor and scan all of these inconsistencies across the web. While not an impossible task, it’s certainly difficult and time-consuming — and probably not an efficient use of your time.
In addition to being hard to accurately track, rankings are also not the best measure of success. In “The Art of SEO,” the authors write that “obsessing over rankings (rather than traffic) can result in poor strategic decisions.” So many people spend so much time obsessing over their search engine rankings that the other more important areas suffer. Just imagine the results if that time were spent creating an engaging piece of content that drove traffic and conversions.
The other issue is that a majority of searches are long-tail keywords and phrases. It’s estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the demand curve is made up of long-tail keywords. These terms are not only easier to rank for, but they also tend to drive very targeted traffic. Here are a few other great stats from a recent report done by Ahrefs:
- One-word keywords account for only 2.8 percent of all the keywords people search for (in the United States).
- 96.54 percent of all search queries in the US have fewer than 50 searches per month.
So instead of obsessing about where you rank for the more competitive terms, focus on creating a strategy that encompasses a variety of powerful long-tail terms. This will lead to more targeted traffic from users who actually want to engage with you.
So, what should you focus on?
The goal of any SEO or marketing strategy should be to impact the bottom line. Targeted traffic is the key here, and it starts with keyword research. As I shared above, there is huge potential in targeting long-tail opportunities. These terms tend to be more specific and focused. Using these terms as your foundation, you can create and execute a strategy to drive more targeted visitors to your site. More targeted visitors usually translates into more conversions or transactions.
Today’s analytics tools can reveal powerful data on our users and how our sites are performing in search. Understanding where and how people find you online, as well as your traffic trend (up or down), is much more important than knowing where you rank. Google Analytics is free, so there is no excuse not to monitor your traffic. I recommend doing this at least weekly so you have a good understanding of where you stand and whether or not your efforts are working.
Sadly, not everyone takes advantage of these tools. While tracking traffic may not be as sexy as tracking rank, I can promise it’s much more lucrative in the long run. Many site owners and marketers would rather focus on the flashy metrics instead of the right ones, and I’ve got stats to back that up.
- Only 22 percent of marketers say they have data-driven marketing initiatives that are achieving significant results.
- 84 percent of marketers cannot measure and report on the contribution of their programs to the business.
- Only 21 percent of marketers are employing analytics to measure marketing ROI for all marketing engagement.
So instead of obsessing over metrics that have little significance, give yourself an edge by tracking what actually has an impact on your business. Spend time setting up conversion goals, and pay attention to what is driving traffic to your site. If you obsess over driving targeted traffic, you will always beat those who obsess over rank.