Every SEO professional reading this who's had more than one client has undoubtedly been faced with the following statement, "I know you got my rankings up, but when do you expect to see my PageRank increase?"
There are many replies that quickly race through the head from the slightly cheeky, "Let's worry about that when it matters," to the more obvious "Oh God, what forums have you been reading?" But you're a business-person and so instead you launch into your now well-rehearsed discussion about what does and doesn't matter when it comes to promoting a site online.
This issue got me thinking, rather than repeating the same discussion over and over, why not write an article outlining all the commonly misunderstood metrics thrown around?
Before we get into all that however, let me invite you to comment below on additional metrics and questions we're all asked about that are less than relevant. We all may be able to share replies but if not, at least you'll feel better knowing that others feel your pain. Misery does love company.
Who's To Blame For Misinformation?
Any frustration shouldn't be aimed at the client. The client isn't an SEO and further, their information is gathered from somewhere. That somewhere may be a blog post from 2006, but they have no way of knowing what is or isn't relevant any more than I know how to perform the surgeries that some of my doctor clients do regularly.
The problem is amplified by the fact that incorrect information is useful as a sales tool to specific segments of the SEO community and so even newer pitches include references to "building one zillion links per month" or "building links from PageRank 8 domains" and so it persists (you can read about that segment of the community in Kristine Schachinger's article from last week, "Meet the White Hats, Gray Hats, Black Hats & Asshats"
Fortunately, there are resources like SEW that provide up-to-date information we can send our client's to for clarification (especially in those instances when it's helpful to have a trusted third party reinforce what we're telling them).
The Best Explanation
Without getting into specifics, it's often easiest to simply note that the signals used by Google are numerous and fluid. With over 200 signals used to rank a website, it's about balance. Chase one signal (like that little green bar) and you'll never have a balanced SEO strategy that will withstand the test of time.
Let's Talk Metrics
So let's talk about the metrics that don't matter and clear up any confusion. The four most common areas I get questions about in this category are:
Let's be clear, when I'm talking about PageRank here I'm referring to the green bar, not Google's internal PageRank calculations and that's an important distinction. Mike Grehan's "How Search Engines Work" provides an in-depth explanation of Google's PageRank algorithm.
Now, the number Google displays in the toolbar may or may not be an accurate reflection of a sites true strength. There's the fundamental problem number one.
Another core issue with regarding PageRank as a measure of a site's ability to rank is that it assumes all is equal. The fact of the matter is, chasing PageRank is quite easy if that's your focus.
Personally, I prefer to chase page rank (i.e., How does my page rank in the SERPs?). If you want to chase the little green bar, secure links (images are fine) from high PageRank sites. Don't worry about relevancy, anchors or any of the pesky real-world considerations of value... focus on getting links from high PageRank sites.
And hey, since it's clear that stable rankings aren't actually important – go ahead and buy them. Just be sure the PageRank is passing to other sites the page links to.
Note: just to be clear, this is tongue-in-cheek. Do not buy links and focus your energies on strategies that matter.
IBL (In-Bound Links)
Alright, let's be very, very clear that I'm not saying that a solid link strategy isn't important, but I can't count the number of emails I get talking about building hundreds and even thousands of links per month for ridiculously low rates. I've also done competitive research that would be frightening if all I looked at was numbers.
Yes, links are important. No, you can't simply look at link numbers and assume that matching those will yield a victory in the results.
How Google (and Bing - let's not forget them) value links is an ever-changing and highly complex function that changes almost daily. Solid SEO professionals will know that it's possible to craft very solid rankings with significantly fewer links, provided the quality of the links is high and the link structure (anchors, placement, source, etc.) is solid and varied.
Showing your clients the links you've built or are being requested to build is certainly fair and useful; building hundreds of crappy links per month is not.
"Likes" and "Follows" and "+1's"
How we measure ourselves and the value of our content is easy in the world of social media. The more "Likes" my company has or the more "+1's" a post I write gets the more popular and valuable I am, right? Only if you're not focused on the benefits.
Like inbound links, it's easy to get Likes and Follows (heck, you can buy them for pennies-a-piece). Unfortunately it can be a little too easy and I've started off campaigns having to spend days cleaning up social media profiles of "#teamfollowback" and other useless crap.
Social media is about social interaction. To know this is to understand how it will be measured once the engines get the subtleties figured out.
Let's take a look at a real-world scenario. Am I more valuable as a marketer shouting across a crowded and noisy night club, or sitting over a beer discussing business with a handful interested potential or present clients?
It's not the numbers, it's the value. Ask not how many. Ask how engaged.
Everything is relative. Knowing that your visits are up or down is relevant only if you understand what visitors they are.
For example, if I compare my visitors this month vs last and see a drop should I panic? Perhaps, but what if last month I engaged in a large-scale but unproductive email marketing campaign? What if that campaign brought me tens of thousands of visitors but no conversions and so I didn't repeat it. My traffic is down but is that a bad thing?
For your visitor metrics to be relevant they need to be put in context. So often metrics are passed along that are geared to make the sender look good. I
t's easy to drive visits if you aren't concerned about the quality. Now if you tie visits to search engines or better, to keywords, and show improvements – now the data is relevant.
So What Does Matter?
What matters varies from campaign to campaign, but there is one global truth: the one constant in metrics is ROI. How that is defined depends on the purpose of the site (easiest on an ecommerce site, harder on an information site that's focus is education). Without understanding the value of a visitor (and a value by type of visitor) it's impossible to report properly on metrics that matter.
Marketers and website owners need to not just educate themselves on how metrics work but pause, think about how the various data points connect, how a proper campaign is structured, and make clear what is to be reported and why.
We need to inform people as to which metrics are still relevant (I'm looking at you, green bar). We also need to understand that at times this may include referencing third parties (even competitors you respect) to reinforce what you're saying; remembering it's better to have one educated client than two who aren't.