Rankings Are Deader Than Disco

What do rankings have in common with Disco? They’re both dead! Sorry, that’s in bad taste, but at least I got your attention!  If you still pimp getting page 1 rankings as your only skill, and that’s the only reporting you provide to clients on SEO campaigns, your day in the sun is past. The advent of personalized rankings means that rankings are only useful as a barometer of your site’s health- just like PageRank, they aren’t something to be completely ignored but they aren’t something you should be focusing on either. I don’t even know if there is such a thing as “rankings” any more- they are different for every User, on every machine, in every geographical location, dependent on history and browser- using rankings to track an SEO campaign’s success is a poor man’s measure. Incidentally, salespeople, if the only way you have to sell SEO is “we’ll get you front page rankings” you need to educate yourself. That type of SEO is so 10 years ago!

Unless you’ve got a good reason to want to be page 1 for a vanity keyword, there’s no reason to focus on just one keyword or keyword phrase for your site, in fact, you’ll be leaving a ton of mid and long-tail money on the table if you do. I had a client tell me, “We don’t care if we are making two or three times as much money being on page 2 for (insert keyword here). We want to page 1, for bragging rights, so that our salespeople can say we’re on page 1 for (insert keyword here).” That makes zero sense to me; why would you want to be page 1 for 1 word or phrase when you could take that same budget and go after mid tail keywords to show much, much higher ROI? In addition, you might suffer an over optimization penalty. If I didn’t work at an agency, and this was a personal client, now would be the time for a serious re-education- and if they still insisted on slavishly working on one keyword, I’d be looking to fire them as clients.

Let’s be reasonable about this- let’s say you sell a small selection of groceries on your site and the site is named “healthygroceries.com”. Well, you sell more pears than any other industry leader- how come you aren’t ranking first for the word “pears”? It’s because the other sites, the Ralph’s and Albertson’s and Farmer Jack’s and Krogers and Piggly Wigglys of the world have a larger contextual footprint, and because your URL doesn’t speak to your big seller. It’s because they have hundreds of thousands of backlinks that you will never catch up to. If you wanted to rank for “pears” because you have a high margin on pears or sell more pears than everyone else or whatever, you should have chosen “pears.com” or a more relevant keyword for your primary domain- you’re going to rank well for mid and long tail “healthy groceries” keywords in general, and trying to put all the link juice and focus on “pears” is a bad idea because that ain’t what your site is about. SEO is not there to fix your bad decisions (well we sort of are); we are there to tell you what the best possible case is for solving your problems so that you can decide where to spend your budget. Some decisions have to be lived with-  maybe you chose your URL to reflect your brand name and it’s a terrible keyword match- you have to decide to fix it, or not- your SEO is there to tell you how to do it right and what it should cost. They are not there to string you along, promising rankings- because here’s the dirty secret about SEO- there are no guarantees. People in the industry talk a big game and have a lot of swagger, but it’s all ultimately up to Google.

There are so much more important things to focus on- is the site getting more traffic? Is that traffic converting better? Which keywords lead to high conversions? What type of demographic spends the most on your site, and how can we keep them there longer? Are branded keywords working better than non-branded keywords? How can we increase time on site and decrease bounce rate, to signal the robots that our site is engaging and Users are finding what they need? How can we make pages load faster? How can we engage customers socially? Can we run a contest on Twitter or Facebook to drum up interest before the busy season? Is it worth the money to run a Klout perk?

See? There’s so much more than rankings to worry about!

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