I came across this great article on Search Engine Land a few weeks ago that explains why search rankings and SEO ranking reports no longer matter—something I have thought for a very long time. It’s nice to hear other SEO professionals agree that search rankings are too inconsistent and inconclusive to be used as a SEO success metric.
Here are a few reasons why website owners shouldn’t be so focused on where they rank:
1. The search engines personalize the search results.
I don’t know about you, but I am constantly logged into my Gmail account. That means that whenever I search for something online, Google is able to see and remember my search activities and preferences. Google also has the luxury of being able to see your computer’s IP address, and is therefore able to tailor the search results to your location. You’re more likely to see local businesses and news in the search results that way. As time passes, the search giant starts to personalize the SERP I see based on what it knows about me. My search results for a certain keyword might be completely different than the results you would get for the same search simply because Google is trying to offer the best individual results for each user.
2. Social signals impact the search results.
If you were to search for “SEO” in Google, chances are you would see a “People and Pages on Google+” box on the right hand side of the search results. By including Google+ pages in the search results, Google is placing a lot of importance on social signals. Other social signals in Google include the +1 button, which lets you know which pages have been given the “thumbs up” by people in your social circle. Bing and Facebook joined forces back in May 2011 to create the “Friend Effect,” which would essentially rewrite the search results if you were logged into your Facebook account to reflect the pages/websites that your Facebook friends had liked or share. All of these (and other social signals) factors mean that search rank is subjective based on the preferences of your friends and how the search engines use that data.
3. Websites aren’t the only things listed in the search results.
Go ahead and do a Google search for “Chinese food.” What kind of results do you see in the SERP? For me, everything above the fold is local business listings for Chinese restaurants in my area. I have to actively scroll down to see any websites about Chinese food, and even then the results are broken up by pictures and videos and even a few news results. So even if your website is ranked #1 for a certain keywords, it may actually be placed halfway down the results page. There are a lot more things for searchers to click on than just the top 10 websites, and rank is no guarantee of a click-through.
In my opinion, rank is not the most important SEO metric; visitor growth is. The search results are going to change day-by-day, maybe even minute-by-minute, because of a combination of 200 ranking factors used by search engines. Some of these factors are completely beyond your control! It’s more important to focus on visitor growth because this is a much better indication of how well your SEO is working.