One piece of data that helps our team get a good picture of your online visibility is keeping track of how the site ranks for target keywords. The target keywords have been determined through a variety of research - what people may type in to find the website, how competitive the terms are, how often users are actually searching for those keywords, how relative the keywords are to the business, and what the searcher’s intent is behind entering those keywords into a search engine. It should also be noted that keyword rankings are in constant fluctuation.
Additionally, we try to remind people that any one report is just PART of the overall story. A client obsessed with keyword rank is not understanding the full picture of their online performance. So now that has all been said... I have a confession to make...
While I genuinely do enjoy most aspects of what I have chosen as my professional career, there is one part of it that I just can simply no longer stand. And that thing is "search engine ranking reports". I'm certainly not the first person to vent on this topic, in fact you can see a variety of industry pros discussing this exact topic as far back as 2009, 2011, or 2012. For more recent discussions, you can also find plenty of info from 2014, or a number of options from 2016 as well.
Here's the thing with these "reports" that anyone that uses them as a barometer of success should know. They completely miss the point that they are intended to address. For the sake of this post, let's just put a few items out on the table that start to build the case about why search engine ranking reports should no longer be used to gauge the effectiveness (or lack of effectiveness) of a web marketing campaign. Each of these was detailed in the articles referenced above, but I will reiterate them here:
Google's search algorithm has become much more sophisticated in recent years. To illustrate this point, consider that each of the following things all impact the actual search results that you see when you do a Google search (Credit Megan Mars @ wordstream.com.)
- Search History: A user’s search results page can vary depending on what websites they’ve visited in the past.
- Geography/Local Results: Google will show different SERPs depending on the current location of an individual and where they live.
- Social Media: If a user’s friends have +1ed a page, Google gives preference to the endorsement of friends.
- Device: SERPs can vary depending on the device you are using to search.
On top of these factors above, let's consider for a moment, that when a rank tracker does it's thing, it is checking the rank of your website at a singular moment in time (let's call it last Monday at 3:24PM EST.) The fact that this is simply a snapshot in time of a much larger overall picture reveals one of ranking reports' biggest flaws. The SERPs have always been notoriously dynamic, and that was even before all of the other other factors listed above even came into play in the last few years. That was a thing back when getting ranked was EASY! Oh the heady days of 2010, how I miss thee... (not really.)
OK so what can we do?
There are a few things to do to prevent yourself from using a faulty barometer of success and failure when it comes to your digital marketing campaign.
1. Start using a CRM tool. Seriously... if you are in business and your still aren't using one of these... you are falling behind your competition. These tools can be inexpensive (or FREE) and are easy to use to learn.
2. Look at your "rankings" in a much more holistic fashion. Rather than obsess about how you rank for the one keyword that you consider to be "absolutely critical to your business" (news flash, it's probably not nearly as important as you think it is)... take a step back and look at the overall picture... how is your bottom line? Have you received legitimate new business opportunities since you started working with your inbound marketing firm?
3. If you must include ranking reports in your reporting for your boss, or for your own sense of satisfaction... then at the very least use a rank index tool rather than a straight up ranking report to get a sense of the overall performance of a "keyword bucket" on the larger campaign.