in SEO, Web

No Such Thing As Ranking Reports

People like to see their name in lights. And on the internet, “your name in lights” means appearing as a little blue link in Google’s search engine results. And so, people become hyper-focused on seeing and monitoring what search queries their web pages appear for in search results.

And since, like everyone else, our clients expect to see their rankings, we deliver monthly ranking reports that reflect their positions in search engines for queries that are relevant to their practice. However, as search engines continue to evolve and become better at delivering results that are personalized to their users, ranking reports don’t have the same meaning as they once did. And, in fact, they are becoming increasingly unreliable. Here’s Vanessa Fox on the subject:

What search engine results you see depend on a great number of factors. And many of these factors are specific to you as a user. Therefore, what you see you on a results page for a particular query may be vastly different from what your target audience members are seeing.

Even the best rank tracking software simply can’t accurately emulate personalized search results. And most don’t even account for the basics like geographic location. This means that you may be being grossly misled by your ranking reports.

If Not Ranking Reports, Then What?

When it comes to internet marketing, there are a lot of important metrics that you can measure. But if you’re going to start with just one, I’d begin with traffic. If you’re not getting targeted traffic (with a couple of exceptions), you’re not going to have success growing your business online. If you want to get that success, you have to think about Online reputation Management.

But don’t just focus on search engine traffic. Diversify your traffic profile. Think of other places where your targeted audience is looking for information online. Participate at those locations.

With regard to search engine traffic, chances are that you are ranking well for the queries that searchers are using to arrive at your site. Further, it’s likely that you will see organic search visitors from keywords that you didn’t even know you were ranking for. You’re also likely to get visitor traffic for search terms that you think you’re ranking very poorly for (like second or third page). Do you think that users are really digging deep into search engine results? Perhaps. But it’s much more likely that you appeared much higher in the visitor’s results than you appear in your ranking software’s report.

  • Great post! I have been trying to change the discussion from ranking reports to conversions and so forth. This is a helpful list. Do you have any other recommendations for dealing with a lawyer who obsesses on rankings? Doing them manually, because of Places, takes up most of one day (we have close to 10 sites). More often than not the change in rankings is because of the Places showing their results in a different blended format each week. There are some current instances when we’ve seen things disappear but then come back in 2 weeks. To be honest it causes un-needed stress. Any ideas?

    • Hey Nathan,

      Thanks for the comment. Switching to conversion-thinking tends to be especially difficult in the legal services arena. In my experience, setting up website goals is very helpful. I think the best way to reduce focus on rankings is to demonstrate how unreliable they are. Remember, even if you’re doing them by hand, and using un-personalized browser settings, you’re not getting an accurate picture of what your target audience is actually seeing in terms of rankings.

      Switch the focus to targeted visitor traffic, goals like form fills and downloads, funnel visualizations, subscribes, etc. Prove that you’re getting engagement through the site.

      Further, demonstrate that aggregate power of long-tail traffic vs. the very limited volume for head terms. In my experience, in the overwhelming majority of cases, law firms that are developing new business relationships from the web are doing it through these higher volume research-based long tail terms.

      Hope this helps.