I love you. I really do! But please, for the love of all that is good and holy, will you stop obsessing over search engine rankings?
I get it, you hired me to perform Search Engine Optimization on your website. Why do we optimize for search engines? For rankings, right? Well, no, not anymore. It's been almost a decade since the SEO industry began it's turn toward a fuller website marking experience, looking beyond search engine rankings as a metric of success, and instead looking at business growth, conversion rates, and return on investment.
Rankings are a traffic delivery mechanism. Traffic can be hit or miss. Not all traffic is targeted. We see it all the time, clients like you are looking for rankings for your industry terms. But, quite often the time and effort needed to rank these favorite phrases holds no value compared to the conversions it delivers. That means, the ROI just isn't there.
Instead of focusing on these "pet" terms, and potentially wasting thousands of dollars in the process, I could be focused on building exposure through some other relevant terms that have a better conversion rate and give you a much higher return on investment.
I understand where you're coming from: You need rankings to get traffic, and you need traffic to get conversions. But, would you be happy if I could help you get more traffic and conversions, even if your favorite keywords were not ranking? Would you trust me if I told you that not all the keywords you care about are valuable?
I hope you hear what I'm saying. I totally understand that you need exposure on the search engines to get the traffic and the conversions you need. But, rankings for certain high-traffic, low value keywords isn't going to give you both. Oh, you'll get traffic, but you'll see your conversion rates plummet.
My question to you is, who will you blame when you see conversion rates go down? Is it the design team, the usability team, the marketing team, the SEO team? It may not be anybody's fault, except that you're ranking well for very poor converting keywords.
In an ideal world, EVERY industry related keyword would bring you quality, converting traffic. But, a few minutes looking at the keyword research data will tell you otherwise. Every industry has thousands of terms that are not relevant for any particular site within that very industry. It's true for your competitors, just as it's true for you.
Good optimization is all about finding the right keywords. Not just industry terms, but terms which match the searcher's intent for the product, service, or information you offer. Sometimes the searcher's intent is clear in the search phrase. Many times, it's not. If the intent isn't clear, you can do two things: Guess or test.
Guessing at the intent means you either assume it is a valuable keyword or it isn't. In SEO, this can be a huge gamble. Guess wrong, either way, and you are either potentially wasting a ton of time, or you're losing out on a lot of potential conversions.
The better option is to test. The best way to do that is via PPC. Throw up some ads using your testing keywords, and see what happens. If the keyword converts at a rate comparable to other keywords, then you have yourself a winner. If not, you just saved yourself from wasting a bunch of resources on optimizing a loser.
If you know all your keywords are winners, you still have to be careful about measuring rankings over results. There is a lot more to a good conversion than ranking for your best terms.
Did you know that in some circumstances you can actually get more traffic by ranking lower in the results? It happens all the time. Why? Because your title and description tag are written to drive the click and conversion more so than to get rankings.
You can tweak your title to improve clicks and conversions, and that may cost yourself some ranking positions. But, if you tweak it for rankings, you may lose both clicks and conversions. It's not always win/lose, sometimes you can win-win, but the better win is the conversion.
Searcher expectations play a significant role in the ability of your site to convert visitors to customers. Quite frequently, you, dear client, have rejected our usability recommendations. I know, you just want rankings, what do we know about usability? Well, quite a bit, actually.
Remember earlier when I said SEO has moved into online marketing rather than just rankings? Well, this is what we mean. We understand that, for what you're paying us, if you have a bunch of top rankings and no business, we'd lose you as a client. You can't sustain a business that doesn't grow. So it's in our best interest to help you grow your business.
That means, we have to look beyond search engine rankings. Our goal is to help you deliver the most qualified traffic, and make sure that it isn't wasted. If you have a qualified lead, your ability to convert that lead is only as good as how good your sales person (or website) is. Well, we don't just bring people to your door, we want to help you sell them as well.
That means we have to know a thing or two about website usability. This goes hand-in-hand with SEO. We can optimize a page for certain keywords, and we can get that page to rank, but we also have to make sure that the page delivers the message required for that visitor. Put simply, we have to make sure the optimization meets the visitor's expectations!
Did you know that the search engines know when someone spends time on your site or quickly exits and goes back to the search pages? You can bet that this data is important to them. If too many people are "bouncing" off your site and choosing another in the search results, this is an indicator that the site did not meet their expectations. This means, no matter how well optimized and ranked, the page is a dud and will be very difficult to rank.
Not only did the visitor not find what they wanted on that page, but they weren't even interested in looking further on your site. That's bad news.
It all comes down to this: Why pay us to drive 10,000 visitors to your site if you are only able to convert .05%? Wouldn't it be more lucrative to drive only 5,000 visitors while improving your conversion rate to 3%?
The goal is to increase conversion rates AND traffic. But, more often than not, improving your conversion rates will produce the better ROI. That doesn't mean you ignore search engine rankings, but it does mean that you make sure that you're not just looking at rankings as the end game result.
Rankings are a great way to generate traffic, and they should not be ignored. But, they also should not be obsessed over. It's time to start looking at the bigger picture. Look beyond which keyword is ranking where and dive into your analytics to find out where your conversions are coming from and what you can do to improve those.
That may mean focusing on some new keywords. That may mean increasing rankings for others. That also may mean ignoring the very keywords that you're obsessing over.
Search engine rankings are, and always will be, important. Though, with social, local, and personalized results being mixed in, the value of a ranking has been greatly diminished. Just because you see a keyword ranking great, doesn't mean your audience is.
Which is just yet another reason why you should stop obsessing over rankings and start obsessing with us over your business' online success!
Stoney deGeyter is the President of Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. Stoney is a frequent speaker at website marketing conferences and has published hundreds of helpful SEO, SEM and small business articles.
If you'd like Stoney deGeyter to speak at your conference, seminar, workshop or provide in-house training to your team, contact him via his site or by phone at 866-685-3374.
Stoney pioneered the concept of Destination Search Engine Marketing which is the driving philosophy of how Pole Position Marketing helps clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Stoney is Associate Editor at Search Engine Guide and has written several SEO and SEM e-books including E-Marketing Performance; The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!; Keyword Research and Selection, Destination Search Engine Marketing, and more.
Stoney has five wonderful children and spends his free time reviewing restaurants and other things to do in Canton, Ohio.
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