Why Rankings Are A Poor Measure Of SEO Success

Sounds ironic doesn’t it? I’m an “SEO” guy and I’m telling you that your obsession with rankings just isn’t healthy anymore.  The fact is that checking Google every five minutes to see what has changed is something that has to stop.


A typical conversation that I always have starts something like:

..I want to rank for X numbers of keywords, how much will it cost?“.

But the better question would be something like:

..My website converts at 1%, an average of 10 enquiries per month, how can I make it convert at 5%?

Most business owners have become obsessed with rankings when what they actually need is a greater number of leads. Rankings don’t equal sales, they’re simply vanity metrics you use to boost your ego and waste more time.

Let’s use an example:

Client A receives 50 visitors a day and converts traffic at 1%. Client receives 1 lead for every 2 days worth of traffic.

The average customer value is identified as $800. If they convert all leads they’ll have a total of  $12000 income for the month before an SEO campaign begins.

Client A identifies that in order for the SEO campaign to break even they’ll need to gain 2 customers more per month.

Client A identifies that in order for the campaign to be successful they would like to have at least 1 lead per day and for the website to convert at 2%.

Should the campaign be a success the average monthly income will be $24,000 – SEO costs which would likely be upwards of $10,000 per month increase.

Pretty good returns huh? Now of course this is the best case scenario and I know you’re not all naive enough to think that you a) want every lead you receive or b) will get every lead you receive.

It’s true the world of online marketing is fairly immature but the world of business is not. It’s your businesses responsibility to clearly define your goals in order to evaluate the success of your SEO campaign. Be realistic, a #1 rank in Google is a means not an end.

What SEO Should Be

SEO is the process of identifying relevant search terms that can be targeted with content to attract your ideal customer and then converted at the highest rate.

When a client tells us that they want to rank for “affordable accommodation” or “nike shoes online” this is merely a starting point. In a dream world we’d all love to rank #1 for keywords we target but the reality is that competition is fierce and your budget may be limited. Big businesses have big wallets and it doesn’t make any sense to compete if you can’t match their output.

It’s not to say that you can’t but you’ll likely need to play smarter and work harder.

Some might say that conversions aren’t part of SEO, conversions are part of conversion rate optimisation (CRO) aren’t they? We disagree.

As part of every SEO campaign you should be:

  • Improving the design of your website to encourage more conversions.
  • Improving the relevance of your content to rank for a wider range of keywords.
  • Creating new content to increase traffic and attract more of your ideal customer.
  • Building links that boost your authority and make your website perform for more competitive keywords.

It’s about continuously optimising what you have while searching and testing new opportunities.

Here’s a great example:

In four months, traffic has decreased by an average of 40 visitors a day.


But if we were only going by traffic, we would be missing everything that matters.


The above example is a difference of 35 conversions in July to 106 in October. I can assure you that any client in this scenario couldn’t give a hoot about where their site is ranking. They’re too busy counting their income and expanding their business.

Why Rankings SUCK at measuring Success

I thought I’d finish off by putting a final nail in the rankings coffin and put an end to this rankings obsession.

Search engines are becoming more personalised

If you’re logged into your Google account then chances are high that you’re receiving search results that are specifically targeted to your own preferences. This is what’s called personalised search because if you’re not personalised in today’s world you’re not in the game. Everybody that is successful in the online game is watching, learning and personalising their services to provide you with the most value, Google is no different.

This means that no two people will see the same rankings. While your website might show for you, because you’ve clicked it so many times, it might not be showing to the majority.

Search results are geotargeted

Search engines know two things

a) They know your ip address and the country, city and even your suburb that you’re searching from.

b) They know the location of local businesses operating in Google using Google My Business

It makes sense that in order to provide the most valuable results they need to take into consideration your location and the businesses that operate in your proximity.

Take a look at this example. All I did was search for “plumbers” but I set my location of one search to Melbourne and the other to Sydney


People search in different ways

People search in a variety of different ways and no tool will ever be able to provide you with every combination. There are literally thousands or more variations of searches that someone might use to find something in Google. You aim is to create relevant content so that your content shows on the widest array of searches and phrases.

It’s well-known that competitive searches, also called the Fat Head and Chunky Middle, make up for less than 30% of searches online and are typically the beginning of the buying life-cycle. The remaining 70% of searches are made up of long tail searches and typically result in traffic that’s closer to the bottom of the sales funnel. i.e. they have their wallets out.

(Not Provided) and the Google keyword debacle.

Google no longer shows the majority of keywords and searches that bring traffic to your website. This means that apart from the page that a visitor lands on you really have no idea which keyword or search sent you the visitor unless that visitor turns into a lead and you have the opportunity to ask. Of course, we can track the conversions that we’re receiving through Google and we can also review the pages they land upon but that’s still not clear evidence as to the precise keyword or phrase that’s generating your business income (or not).

What this means is that you could be spending large amounts of money competing for a keyword that a) sends you leads you don’t want or b) doesn’t send any leads at all. You need to eliminate assumptions by having the data and a mindset focused on actually overperforming.

A Better Way To SEO

Look, I’m not a super hero and I can’t save the world, but I can give some advice to businesses.

  • Ranking #1 in Google is not a Goal. Understand exactly what you’re trying to achieve for your SEO campaign to be a success.  Be realistic and clearly define your goals.
  • Understand the metrics that matter. Sales, enquiries, phone calls or sign ups etc. Search Google every 5 minutes to see what has changed is of no benefit to your business.
  • Know that change comes from action. If you want to perform online then make sure you’re doing all that you can to do so. Create high value content. Sell your results.
  • One of the best things you can do is not depend 100% on Google. You MUST get traffic from other sources. The great thing about that marketing is that it’s always been about content. If you master content you’ll be able to spread your message across many platforms and diversify your traffic.

Oh wait, before you go weren’t you just about to say something?

“..but I just want to rank…”

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