Why Reporting on Rankings is Futile and What You Should Focus Your Efforts on Instead
Search Engine Optimisation

Why Reporting on Rankings is Futile and What You Should Focus Your Efforts on Instead

1st July 2013

For those in SEO, reporting on rankings and basing KPI’s on the performance of these, can be a challenging task and one with a great potential for failure.  Previously it was possible to advise clients that their rankings could be changed through amending title tags, the content on the page and engaging in link building.

This involved submitting the site to a few directories and submitting articles to article sites. Nowadays however, ranking for keyword position at number 1 should no longer be considered as a KPI.  This post explains why companies should not focus on rankings and what KPI’s and other factors they should be concentrating on instead.

1) Rankings fluctuate continually

It is impossible to have major control over the rankings.  They fluctuate continually and with the over 200+ updates from Google, with only a handful announced (Panda and Penguin), it is difficult to predict what elements will impact the site and which will not.  SEO’s can try and influence the rankings, but Search has changed since Google first launched and now there is also personalized results and time based results, which affect rankings.  What one person may see as ranking at a certain position, will be different in another person’s browser.  Results are based on the searcher’s history as well as their location.  Rankings may be affected by time, which means that a new piece of content that is in keeping with the news may rank higher to begin with as it is most relevant. However, even that is not guaranteed to stay at this position.

2) Quality SEO Traffic

It is very important to measure and record the amount of natural search traffic to a client’s site.  Before any SEO work begins on the client site, it is important to record the amount of SEO traffic to the site as a benchmark.  As the SEO project gets underway and the client implements the work suggested, the traffic should increase. SEO is different to that of PPC and involves the client implementing the on site changes to see results. Therefore if the client does not implement the recommendations, it can have a negative impact on the traffic KPI. When the traffic to the site does increase, the rankings for the site also increases.  Therefore by focusing on increasing traffic, rankings will naturally improve.

3) Conversions

Cash is king and clients will be looking to see if their “SEO” efforts are bringing in more sales.  PPC has an immediate ROI – the more that is spent on PPC, the greater the impact of traffic and leads can be seen.  It is vital to work with the client to track conversions from an SEO point of view.  It is important to track conversions weekly against their most important keywords and if possible, track conversions on a keyword level.  This may highlight some key terms that may not have been previously seen as a priority but should be going forwards.


4) Focus on the best traffic driving terms

Google Analytics or the other SEO tracking software your client is using is fundamental. It is important to be aware of the top traffic driving terms in terms of SEO.  Many clients will want to rank for a certain keyword as their business KPIs may be set against these terms.  Some keywords may be ranking well but not actually driving traffic which you can see in the Google analytics. Therefore it is important to highlight in reports the keywords that are driving conversions and traffic and key terms which is they were on the first page of Google, could also contribute to leads.

5) Create great content

By focusing on creating great content, links will naturally follow. Matt Cutts recommends to not focus on link building but on compelling content and marketing.  As soon as people think about building links, it can reference the buying of links which of course is black hat. Google has a rankings article within Google Webmaster Tools and this has been changed from:

“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by increasing the number of high-quality sites that link to their pages.”


“In general, webmasters can improve the rank of their sites by creating high-quality sites that users will want to use and share.”

This was highlighted in bold by Search Engine Land who wrote about the change last month. At SES NY earlier this year, I spoke about “Screw Link building, it is called Relationship building” and the point was link building is part of a client’s online marketing plan and takes time.  It cannot just be turned on and off like a display/Facebook campaign.

6) Integrate Efforts

While working with a client, it is important to ensure they are sharing the work that is being written and seeded out.  It will have double the amount of impact if the online marketing team are on board with the social media and content marketing strategy and can help promote the work and Facebook posts written by the SEO team.  Access to the client’s social media channels, interacting with other company Facebook pages and sharing their posts where relevant all helps in building up relationships with other online channels which may in turn lead to more traffic to the client’s site.

Design your own KPIs


Focusing on rankings alone is futile.  The rankings cannot be controlled and therefore by working on this solely will develop the need to amend tactics every time there is an update in Google.  It is better to focus on the key elements that matter to the business such as traffic and leads.  The next thing is to look at the keywords driving the most traffic and make sure more people are clicking through on these terms by creating and sharing great content.


Written By
Jo Juliana Turnbull is the organiser of Search London and the founder of SEO Jo Blogs, which provides practical advice and tips for those in SEO.
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