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The Ridiculous Myth of Search Engine Rankings

Ranking Myths - Tom Kitten
If you work with an SEO company, chances are you get reports on your keyword rankings. Have you ever looked at your ranking report and asked, “Who cares?” If not, you probably should.

Here’s why. Suppose you run a shop in Boise, ID that makes beautiful, hand-painted china dishes with pictures of mischievous cats in various outfits from Victorian England. You may ask your SEO company, “How well am I doing for ‘kitty dish’ this month?” and the answer may be that you’re not doing very well at all.

I did an actual Google search for “kitty dish” – the results are all over the place, and all incredibly competitive.

But what if you’re doing really well for “china plate with cat” or “kitty cat dish boise id” or something even longer and more specific? If you’re doing well for keywords that are similar, and if those rankings mean you’re getting better traffic, then why should it matter if you’re not doing well for the broad phrase?

The point is this: you’re a business owner, not a supermodel. It’s not about being famous, it’s about making sales.

What matters more than rankings?

In SEO, rankings are not the target, nor are they the end goal. For most small and medium businesses, these things are better goals:

  • Traffic to the site – Get visitors. The more the better, as long as your traffic is made of people looking for your products or services.
  • Bounce rate – This will tell you if you’re duping people into visiting your site, or if your SEO efforts are properly targeted.
  • Time on site – This will tell you how long people are hanging around. The longer they stay, the more interested they become.
  • Conversions – Leads, downloads, whatever actions taken on your site that turn into money in the end.
  • Social shares – Why? Social media shares are akin to direct referrals. Customers and potential customers are spreading the word of your brand, your products, your services, and so on.
  • Reviews – Read our blog post on reviews for more on this topic.

Rankings are nice, but high rankings can still produce less traffic, poorly targeted traffic, even low-quality traffic. Focusing on rankings can get you and your SEO company to employ the wrong strategies.

It’s about helping your customers find what they’re looking for.

Search engines are more sophisticated than they used to be.

When a user types in “ballpoint pen,” for example, Google has the capacity to include search results that, depending on the user’s history, could conceivably mean to inquire where to get ballpoint pens, or how ballpoint pens really work (which is truly amazing technology, really), or which brands of ballpoint pens are better than others, and so on.

When users make a “search” on Google, they are doing exactly that: searching. Actively. Usually with a specific answer in mind.

Increase Traffic and Sales Online

Late at night, some people will still treat a Google search like a coin toss and let the random chance of the Internet guide their lives. But most people are looking for something, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time digging around for their answer.

Don’t try to “rank well” for certain phrases. Instead, try to be the best answer for a particular question. Be on the right end of the customer journey.

“Search engine optimization” means more than it used to.

When you pick a set number of keywords, you’re not just getting those keywords. Your site will also benefit from rankings for derivative keywords and phrases.

Local SEO makes a big difference – your site will perform better, quicker, for local customers.

Here’s a great example: we have a client in Boston, MA who deals with real estate closings. This site may never rank well for “title services,” because that’s a nationally competitive phrase with absurd amounts of competition, and they are a local business with just one office. But after only 10 weeks of working on this campaign, the site broke onto page one of Google search results for “boston title services.”

Most small and medium businesses benefit more from local customers than a national audience. And longer-tail (more specific) searches typically indicate a customer is lower in the sales funnel. If you’re ranking for long-tail, specific searches, you’re probably doing better than if you ranked for high-level, broad, short-tail phrases.

Rankings Are a Vanity Metric
Don’t Be This Guy.

Rankings don’t *NOT* matter.

Of course, rankings shouldn’t be ignored, and at a high level, they give an SEO company a direction in which to proceed.

But rankings are, at best, a general barometer of top-level SEO success – and, at worst, a vanity metric.

If you want to see your name at the very top of Google right away, invest in PPC. If you want to be the best answer for interested customers’ search queries, invest in SEO…

Just try not to focus on rankings.

Need a website audit? We can do that for you, free of charge. Contact us today.

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Author: Bil Gaines
Bil Gaines is head of the Custom Creatives online marketing team, specializing in SEO, PPC, content marketing and more. He also writes screenplays and designs trucker hats.

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