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Keyword Rankings are Irrelevant — Learn to Measure SEO Success

Originally published
Originally published: 3/1/2019

If you’re like a lot of business owners, you’re obsessed with where your website appears when you Google the keywords you believe most people use to find your services. When you’re not No. 1, or maybe not even on Page 1, you interpret the results to mean your SEO campaign isn’t working. So you’re frustrated.

On the ambiguous, mysterious, competitive Internet, keyword ranking feels like a tangible measuring stick for your organic visibility. Besides, entrepreneurs are competitive by nature, so you equate ranking first as winning.

But it’s time to shift your attention elsewhere — because keyword rankings are irrelevant. Let’s explore the reasons and learn what measurements truly gauge your online success.

Keyword Rankings

It’s true that effective SEO campaigns are built on a foundation of strategically chosen long-tail keyword phrases. This set of keywords, selected based on research about search volumes in the target market, is used to optimize copywriting, metadata and link-building strategies. They’re one of the essential building blocks of an SEO campaign.

Well-chosen and properly implemented keywords ensure the right pages on your website appear in relevant searches for the right people who are in the right places. Where you rank for each exact search phrase does not matter, however, in part because there is no single ranking.

Google personalizes search results based on the searcher’s history, location, device and other data. The search engine uses artificial intelligence known as “machine learning” to provide better answers for each user’s query. It’s moving away from using rule-based algorithms that automatically respond and instead is customizing search results. There is less predictability and control over what Google shows.

The top 10 results you see can be completely different than what your friend who is 5 miles away sees for the same query. Now take into account the likelihood that both of you will search the same exact words: It’s low. Visitors phrase their queries in myriad ways, depending on their exact needs and preferences, whether they’re using voice search — and whether they’re good spellers.

Google Search Console proves this point: Your campaign might target the phrase “air conditioning san diego,” for example, but people find your website in first position for various other phrases, such as:

  • a/c repair near me
  • central air service
  • a/c repair companies
  • residential air conditioner service
  • ac company
  • best ac company near me
  • air conditioner service near me
  • home air conditioning

This shows that people searching for the services you provide often don’t even use a town name in their query, yet if your SEO campaign is strong, they still see your website in first-position placement.

The takeaway is that it’s unreasonable to judge organic success on the average ranking of one exact four-word phrase, when numerous other word combinations that people are actually using are showing your site in the top spot.

An effective SEO strategy builds your website’s relevancy in your desired geographic area for known terms related to the services you provide. This approach ensures the site will be visible for a variety of search phrases, not just a handful of specific keywords. By focusing on relevancy, your campaign casts a wider net to increase the number of opportunities to be seen among results.

Meaningful Metrics

So, if you should ignore keyword rankings, how do you assess the health of your SEO efforts? There are several metrics that track whether your relevancy and visibility are growing.

Monitor the number of new users arriving to your website via organic search, month to month and year over year. These folks find your site by doing a search for a service or product you offer and clicking on a result outside the paid advertising links. Organic traffic does not capture people who arrived at your website via these other common traffic channels:

  • Direct (people who knew your brand or your URL)
  • Social (from networks such as Facebook or Instagram)
  • Referral (followed a link from another website)
  • Paid (pay-per-click advertising campaign, such as Google AdWords or Google Home Services)

If your SEO campaign is effective, the number of visits and new visitors from within your target market should be growing. This means looking not only at the total visits, but where users who visit your site are located. Traffic from people who find and visit your website from other towns where you don’t do business is irrelevant. SEO campaigns that over-optimize blog posts so that they get national attention are not helping you grow your business because page views from out-of-town users won’t translate into revenue.

If your website is optimized well, people in your target market need not include local modifiers (town names) in their search terms, and they’ll still find you.

The ultimate measurement of success for a digital marketing campaign is conversions. When analyzing SEO efforts specifically, you should focus on whether website visitors who arrived via organic search initiated a conversation with your company. After all, a visible website that generates no leads still isn’t doing its job.

Once someone finds your site, its design, content and user experience should make it easy to facilitate a relationship with your company by calling or submitting a form. Measure this by tracking the number of unique phone calls to a website call-tracking number and counting the number of forms submitted via organic traffic.

Good SEO Gets Results

Business owners who are obsessed with keyword rankings often admit they’re ego-driven. It gets under their skin when they search their “go-to” keyword and a smaller competitor appears higher in the results. Don’t waste your energy. It’s important to remember that your personal search experience does not represent the effectiveness of others’ SEO campaigns or the ability of their websites to convert customers.

Savvy business owners focus on building an SEO campaign that uses a proven process and branded content, and they monitor metrics that matter. The ultimate goal is to get your phones ringing, flood your email inbox with contact forms and fill your schedule.


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