SEO Truths Revealed: Rankings Mean Nothing

Blog Categories:  SEO  

What you will learn: Why rankings have little or no significance.

Who should read this article: Company and marketing leadership.

An Absolute Truth: Rankings Are Relative

One way to spot an unethical SEO company is if it promises “higher rankings.” While rankings used to matter a lot, today they don’t matter at all.

In days gone by, a Web page had a definite position on a single search engine results page (SERP) that was consistently visible to all search engine users everywhere. A page’s ranking position was nearly absolute.

Today, a page’s ranking position is relative, changing based on a number of variables. The demise of rankings has occurred primarily because of three developments at Google: universal, personalized and encrypted search.

Universal Search

In the past, Google showed 10 organic search results per page – one type of page, one set of results for every user. But with the introduction of universal search, results are now segmented. Users now see results for news, video, image and local results as well as standard organic links.

In fact, local search results sometimes crowd out standard organic results, as illustrated in these two screen shots.

1. In this search for "chicago dentist", ads and local search results dominate the page:

2. In this search for "chicago pizza", the image-heavy local results are irresistible:

In the new world of SEO, the operative word is visibility, not rankings. It’s important for almost every company to be visible for standard results – but also, depending on the business, an SEO service provider must optimize for other types of search. This is especially important for local businesses.

Personalized Search

Today’s search engine users are served up results that are customized to the user. Where your Web page appears on a SERP (search engine results page) literally changes from user to user, based on the user’s search history, geographic location, IP address, browser, cookies, time of day or year, device type, language and other factors. Over and above this, SERPs vary depending on which Google data center serves them up.

Thus, your Web page may show up #1 for User A, #5 for User B and #12 for User C. If your SEO company is giving you monthly reports on your rankings, the two questions you should be asking them are:

  1. Where did you get this data?
  2. What is its significance?

Encrypted Search

Starting in 2013, Google began encrypting organic search for all users. This means that the keywords people used in organic search to find a Web page are hidden from the public and do not appear in a site’s Google Analytics.

In other words, you no longer have the ability to tell which keywords drove organic search users to your website pages.

Thus, assuming you appear to rank first or second or somewhere in the top 10 for a particular search term across a broad spectrum of users – how can you tell if the that search term actually drove any traffic to your site?

You can’t.

Through encryption, Google has built a wall that makes it impossible to connect keywords to organic website traffic. Rankings, even if roughly calculable, cannot be used to evaluate how well an SEO campaign is succeeding.

If Rankings Aren’t Important, What Is?

The success of an SEO program is measured by how effectively it generates sales leads or e-commerce revenue. This has always been true, but only now, since the demise of rankings, are companies finally beginning to see how very true it is.

Rankings have never been more than an indicator, although in the past they were at least a meaningful indicator. Today, new indicators have taken the place of rankings – and the good news is, SEO is just as fruitful as it ever was, even though rankings and keyword information have become relative, vague and/or nonexistent.

Find out how to start measuring your SEO performance the right way!

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