What makes a good SEO? Is it just about having knowledge of search engine algorithms, being able to tweak code for the biggest ranking impact, or inserting keywords into a page to give it a better keyword focus? Is SEO all about search engine rankings or is there more to this than meets the eye?

Several years ago I wrote, "Gone are they days when SEO focused exclusively on top search engine rankings." I wish I was right about that, but unfortunately, we still see a lot of SEOs doing just that today. Not the good ones, mind you, but still, far too many.

Today's top-tier SEOs are getting out of the search engine ranking business entirely. Well, maybe not entirely, but they understand that there is so much more to online success than a top position for your keywords. Many clients still need convincing.

Rankings still matter to SEOs. At least they should matter. While local, personalized and historically based results are dramatically changing search results, there is still a base set of search results that all other results stem from. But SEOs that talk only in terms of getting you top rankings on the search engines should be avoided at all costs. #notjoking

SEO is one piece. It's a big puzzle.

Achieving search engine rankings is only a small piece in to the total puzzle of online marketing. In fact, if top rankings are the only focus of the SEO, there is a significant chance that the work performed on your site will actually make things worse. Top rankings only mean so much if your visitors are fleeing your site in droves because of usability or conversion issues.

Most people don't care if they get 100 sales from 10,000 visitors or 5,000 visitors. It's the same 100 sales right?

Well, no, not really. The difference is that the 5,000 visitors provides a better conversion rate than the 10,000. What's important about this is that if you are getting 100 sales out of 10,000 visitors, to then get 200 sales you must bring in an additional 10,000 visitors to your site, for a total of 20,000.

Or, you can improve your conversion rate.

Improving your conversion rate means you get more sales out of the traffic you're already bringing in. If you improve your conversion rate to bring in 100 sales out of every 8,000 visitors, you're now getting 125 sales from the same 10,000 visitors you were getting before! Improve it more, you might be able to get 100 sales from 5,000 visitors which equals 200 sales from the same 10,000 customers.

You see where this is going? A better conversion rate means more business. If every sale earned you just $15 in profit, you just added an additional $1500 in profit to your bottom line. Now if you were to double your traffic on top of that, your profits leap from $1,500 (from our starting numbers) to $6,000, instead of the $3,000 you would have gotten from improving traffic alone.

Top rankings add traffic. Improved usability and conversions multiply it!

Without usability, SEO Kung-Fu is SEO F-U!

SEOs must maintain a very interesting balancing act between the creative and technical. Most SEOs start on the more technical side of things. They learn code, algorithms, architecture and what makes good rankings; then they figure out how to apply these into websites. As SEOs got more and more technically advanced, the search engines did, too, in order to prevent manipulation.

Good SEOs began to realize that the battle for rankings is only a part of the struggle for business growth. While SEOs still fight for top search engine rankings, those that have invested into the marketing side of website improvement find they bring their clients far greater success.

The technical side is still hugely important, but the knowledge gained from the technical research must be implemented in an almost purely creative way. Once rankings are achieved, the site must still be able to sell to its audience.

Ranking success alone is an SEO failure

Sites that struggle only to get top rankings will ultimately fail. Maybe not in the bankruptcy sense, but in the sense that they are not maximizing their return on investment. They are spending more to get less!

The analogy I use most for this is its like trying to fill a bucket full of holes with water. You'll be able to get water in the bucket and may even be able to get it in faster than it leaks out, but you're consuming vast amounts of resources in order to fill it up. It's far easier--and smarter--to patch the holes first and then start filling the bucket.

You may not be able to patch every hole right away, but patching some while working on others (all while increasing traffic) can allow you to bring in and convert more and more every day. The more traffic you bring in and the more usability issues fixed, the greater the impact your SEO campaign has.

There is so much more to SEO than just SEO. And if your SEO doesn't know that they, IMHO, they don't know what they are doing. Is it worth paying for top rankings if your visitors are leaving in absurdly huge numbers? Or would you be better off working with someone who can help you improve your site and get you top rankings that bring in more profits? It's your call.

Any SEO that fails to improve usability is not really doing you any favors. At best, the usability and site conversions stay the same. At worst, they plummet due to a ranking-at-all-costs approach. There is nothing like an SEO flipping you the bird and saying it means "You're #1!"

Follow at @StoneyD, and @PolePositionMkg.

November 2, 2011

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.


"Today's top-tier SEOs are getting out of the search engine ranking business entirely" is such a great quote and so true. There's really no such thing as rankings any more, if you think about it. I had a client the other day say it doesn't matter if we can show conversions and traffic and sales- they just want their keywords to rank on the front page which from a business perspective baffles me. Makes me shake my head a little- thanks for articulating so well what I've been thinking for months now!

"if top rankings are the only focus of the SEO, there is a significant chance that the work performed on your site will actually make things worse."

Amen! I find myself constantly repeating a similar mantra to consulting clients. If all you care about is ranking well you are going to start dipping into the black hat bag of tricks to get there. It's not worth it in the long run!

I love the analogy "like trying to fill a bucket full of holes with water." I agree with you 100%. Thanks again.

Loved the post. As an SEO I've always refused to promise X amount of inbound links or hit a month. That is weak SEO. Good SEO focuses on building a exposure, ranking, traffic, conversions, and most importantly revenue. You can get an intern to build you links, but you need a professional SEO consultant to build a campaign designed around results.

Excellent article. I've always understood why people people want to land on page one -- and I still don't think that's a bad goal -- but as I know from personal experience, it certainly is not the end in itself. Maybe SEOs should change the name of what they do to Internet Business Consultants or something similar.

I will totally agree with you. Ranking is not a factor in a SEO campaign. When we provide our SEO services to clients we usually study clients traffic and conversion rates of it since it's often when trafficable keywords are not converting at all.

Hi Stoney,

I think it all comes down to conversion rates. Ranking No.1 for hundreds of keywords means nothing if it isn't converting to sales.

I'm another SEO agent that does not sell "X amount of backlinks" packages to my customers - again, it doesn't matter if the clicks aren't converting to sales.

I'm still waiting for the main search engine players to come up with an accurate algorithm that can calculate actual CTR to ROR in real terms. That will be something that will SELL companies on SEO and internet marketing.

Great read - thank you for taking the time to post !

Great post, and I agree with Mark, at the end of the day if a client isn’t getting the conversions, being at the top of a SERP is going to mean very little. I think you hit the nail on the head when you mention the importance of balance between SEO and the technological advancements that can help push conversions through.

In the legal profession we have a well known thing called ' the leaky bucket syndrome'.
Many law firms spend a ton on marketing but then fumble many of the enquiries they receive by bad customer service, etc.
This is the same for law firm websites.
You are correct in saying that top rankings are only one element of a successful strategy.

It's often a catch 22 where results may take some time to make a noticable difference while clients are often trying to take something tangible from the whole exercise.

Offering them a "X number of links" is often an easy way to seal a deal. Sadly this is what many see and while there are those that still offer this along with the guaranteed number of visits.

Bottom line is that any decent SEO (or more accurately an Internet Marketing Consultant) should be able to promise a better return. The means of getting there be they links, rankings...etc are (while important to the end result) meaningless on their own.

Being top of serps and getting no conversions just means that the wrong keyword has been optimised. You need buyer keywords...not browser keywords.

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