Have you ever dealt with this SEO problem before? Today, one of our clients ranks #4 for its most important keyword on Google. Yesterday, they weren't in the Top 100. The day before, they were #14. Two months ago, they were consistently ranking #6.
This erratic behavior doesn't happen across the board for all of our clients. In this particular vertical, though, things are pretty nutty. I’m accustomed to the Google Dance, algorithm changes, index updates, and other naturally occurring events. This is different. And I don’t seem to be the only one recognizing this phenomenon.
I understand Google is making strides to display more fresh content in its SERPS. Google wants to rank fresh news and events. Matt Cutts has even discussed this on his blog.
The End of Ranking as We Know It?
As someone who runs a search engine optimization company, I’m wondering if this means the end of running Google ranking reports for our clients.
I'd mentioned in a previous article that companies should measure the success of search engine optimization campaigns by metrics such as the growth in targeted organic search traffic and the increased number of leads or sales. Many clients and prospects, however, tend to gravitate to the ranking report to see how their presence has increased or decreased against a given set of keywords that are being monitored.
Measuring the success of search engine optimization campaigns based upon ranking reports is flawed for a number of reasons.
Don't Bank on Ranking Reports
Ever since the advent of the “Big Daddy” update by Google, rankings for keywords will vary greatly depending on the datacenter you happen to be running your ranking report on. Certainly, you can specify a number of Google datacenters to check, but that doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a good enough representation of what is “really” going on.
Rankings do not mean “growth in business.” I firmly believe that you engage in a search engine optimization campaign to grow your business, not to increase your rankings. Now, that’s not always the case, as with interactive PR campaigns and branding campaigns, but by and large, business growth wins the day.
“Today’s Google.” That is to say, Google’s rankings may be, and recently are, in a constant state of flux. This situation could be caused by some other factors. For example, the site has recently been fully indexed. A previous version was hardly “search engine friendly,” if you know what I mean. Or, the search engine rankings for the client’s industry are highly competitive. That being said, I've been waiting for several weeks, if not months, for the results to settle down a little so I could get a firm idea of how things might look when the dust settles.
I am almost to the conclusion that Google dust may never “settle.” From a user perspective, that may not be a bad thing. However, if my client’s site is relevant enough to Google to be #4 today, I would think it would be relevant enough to “stick” a little better than I’ve witnessed recently.
Other client Web sites seem to be almost unaffected by this “update.” (Is that what you call it when it lasts for weeks on end?) In fact, I think most of our clients are benefiting from this update.
This leads me to believe this phenomenon may only be happening in highly competitive areas and only to Web sites that are relatively new to Google’s index for these particular search phrases.
Ranking Report Critics: Use Web Site Analytics
If this is the case, I wonder if search engine optimization firms should discontinue the practice of providing ranking reports for clients (at least for now with Google). No ranking reports would be hard for clients to swallow. A better solution? Web analytics.
Web analytics reports should prove whether search engine optimization efforts are delivering results. For now, we (search engine optimization firms) must ensure our clients are aware of the nature of Google’s results so ranking reports are taken as they should be: an indication of how things are progressing, and not the only way success is measured.
One way to accomplish this is by putting more focus on analytics than rankings. Analytics track all manner of real results, regardless of rankings. Ranking reports are appealing because they're the simplest method of measuring success. But no matter how appealing simplicity is, there's no substitute for accuracy. Analytics measure success accurately. With the help of a search marketing professional to help you accurately measure the success of your optimization campaigns, you can track what matters most: traffic and conversions.
So, while I share this with all of you, I'm also reaching out to you for your thoughts on the recent changes. Have you had a similar experience? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Perhaps there will be enough fodder for a future column about Google's state of everflux.