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Why Keyword Rankings Still Matter

6 November 2013 BY

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My name is Barry, and I’m a rankaholic. Over at least the past five years the SEO community has increasingly distanced themselves from search engine rankings as a KPI. Many SEOs publicly profess that they don’t report on a site’s rank in Google for a given keyword, and consider being a post-rank SEO a badge of honour.

And I disagree with that. In fact, over the years I’ve come to realise that rankings matter, and that they should be reported on regularly in your client performance reviews. 

When a SEO blogger derides rankings as a valid metric, they usually erect a straw man argument. “Rankings are not the key SEO metric”, they say. “It should be all about engagement and conversions!” is the mantra of many a self-styled ‘inbound marketer’.

And they’re right, to an extent. Rankings should not be the be-all end-all of your SEO reporting. At the end of the day, conversions are what matters most to the client, but they too are not the only metric to report on. Context matters for conversions too, because there are many factors that can have a profound impact on conversions.

There is no single key SEO metric – instead we need to look at the bigger picture, and report on a whole range of KPIs that indicate progress. To dismiss rankings outright because they’re not the single key metric to measure SEO success by is patently ridiculous.

I sincerely believe rankings should be one of SEO’s core KPIs, because rankings matter. Rankings are accountable, rankings give you a strong indication of where you stand in relation to your competitors, and rankings over time are a powerful indicator of success or failure.

rank-report

Yes, rankings should always be reported in their proper context and as part of a wider analysis of the query space the client site is operating in. On its own rankings tell only a small part of the story, as the SERPs for these keywords could be dominated by universal elements such as local results, images, videos, and news.

And yes, there are issues with reliable rank tracking, as the increasingly potent effects of highly localised and personalised search results make a discrete individual rank in a single geographical location on any given day a statistically insignificant data point. But the same goes for the amount and demographical make-up of the visits a website gets on any given day. Instead when we report on web analytics, we always look at trends over a longer period of time.

The same should apply to rankings. When reported in their proper context – as trends over time to compare yourself against your competitors and measure your overall visibility in search across a range of relevant keywords – rankings are immensely valuable and a potent metric in your KPI reporting mix.

Especially now in this [not provided] world when we have lost so much visibility of the keywords that drive organic traffic to our sites (and anyone pointing to Google Webmaster Tools ‘SEO reports’ as a reliable alternative data source will be mocked and ridiculed), rankings are now one of the few genuine data sources we have to measure SEO progress against.

The fact that Google doesn’t like rank trackers (because, in an example of hypocrisy of truly cosmic proportions, Google doesn’t allow an automated robot to scrape its content) is all the more reason to embrace them wholeheartedly. Google is the enemy of SEO transparency and accountability, because it realises its own AdWords platform pales into insignificance in terms of ROI when compared on a level footing with SEO.

If you’ve stopped reporting on rankings in your client reports, ask yourself why. Did you really think they no longer mattered as a metric, or did you just jump on the hype-driven inbound marketing bandwagon?

SEO is about adding value to your clients by driving relevant organic traffic to their website. In this context, rankings are a great indicator of progress. If you’re not reporting on keyword rankings for your client sites, you’re doing them and yourself a disservice.

AUTHORED BY:
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Barry Adams is one of the editors of State of Digital and is an award-winning SEO consultant based in Belfast, delivering specialised SEO services to clients across Europe.
  • Gordon Campbell

    Finally, a voice of reason on the subject!

    Funnily enough, I actually wrote a blog post yesterday that touched on this subject and included your name(but not related to keywords) that is due to be published next week. :)

  • http://www.inspyder.com/blog Monty Richards

    Hi Barry – nice article on why rankings still matter, I’m in full agreement with you. I’m curious to hear how you track rankings for yourself and your clients?

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      AuthorityLabs is my automated rank tracker of choice. Nothing beats manual checks though – use an anonymous browsing session and play around with the locational element of the results.

  • http://www.perfectlyplausible.com/ Iain Bartholomew

    I think there are clearly still valid reasons to report on rankings trends and particularly significant movements across multiple terms. I’m not convinced that such a thing as a single ranking for a specific term actually exists though and the awful data that Webmaster Tools provides is absolutely a hindrance.

  • Nathan Grimm

    Reporting on rankings is like reporting on traffic, social media followers (or retweets, likes, comments, etc.), and bounce rates. They don’t determine conversions but they are useful upstream indicators of conversions and can be used to explain why conversions are or are not happening.

  • http://jtree.net/ Josh

    Well put, couldn’t agree more!

  • Krystian

    I’m signing below your thought with my both hands. Rankings play a vital role and since Google Safe Search and not provided issue – they will matter even more. I published a post in regard to rankings as a reporting metric some time ago as well: http://blog.positionly.com/seo/search-engine-rankings-and-seo-a-complete-guide

  • http://www.digitaldiscovery.com.pt/ Pedro Menezes Pereira

    Great article! In my point of view Ranking keywords is still an asset to any SEO project. Its a metric of your work :)

  • Matt O’Toole

    Quite agree, Barry. Did you read the piece Wil Reynolds did on his CEO swap with Rand (post on Moz)? There’s plenty of comments on there from SEOs about rankings and it’s frustrating for us as tool providers (and part of our platform obviously covers ranking data) to see comments from SEOs completely dismissing their significance. Sure, personalisation, universal search results, rich snippets, knowledge graph, Google decision trees, etc. all have a role to play in what a user actually sees at any point in time, but I’m yet to see a study to show that the effects of personalisation are such that a site ranking #1 for you, will be ranking #20 for User B and #30 for User C. There’s therefore still a lot of value in assessing a “vanilla” result and to take a monthly average (as you showed on your s/shot) in order to try and work out what’s going on with a site, taking into account all the other metrics. Furthermore, how else can you work out “Share of Search” without assessing ranking performance across 1000s of keywords?

    • http://www.barryadams.co.uk/ Barry Adams

      I read Wil’s post but I tend not to read Moz’s comment threads. I have to protect my own sanity, after all. ;)

  • Jon Hogg

    Nice try, STAT salesman.

  • Jon Hogg

    Do you use a number for locations in your reports, or just the broad setting of ‘UK’ (for example)?

    • Roman M

      I don’t think you can generalise here – depending on the keyword and/or audience you intend to reach, location changes and even language settings can be part of a report.

  • Spook SEO

    Hi Barry,

    I really like your intro! Rankaholic! Lol Anyway, you have a massive point here. Google rankings cannot be made insignificant because whatever metrics you use, Google will still be the final system to tell you that you are either failing or progressing in your SEO efforts. You should not just please your client but to report to him the real progress of your work without any technicalities.

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