Historically, SEO has predominantly been about performing well in the Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs). When I say ‘historically’, this generally means several years ago, when Yahoo directory and Best of The Web were just a few of many go-to places for acquiring links and getting listed. Being a moderator of DMOZ was also a holy grail for many SEOs, not to mention keyword stuffing, site-wide footer or sidebar links, article directories, article syndication and press releases.

Those were the days eh? A large percentage of the effort and time spent on SEO was mainly about or focused largely on acquiring as many backlinks as possible. Tweak the website to improve the on-page elements and off you go, get those backlinks. The ultimate goal? Organic rankings.

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Whilst I don’t know the exact number or the percentage, I can guarantee that there are still many online marketers, SEOs, digital marketers or whatever you want to call it, that still focus solely on organic rankings and backlinks. Now, I am not saying that this is an incorrect approach these days.

That said, when everything around you, and perhaps most importantly the search engine itself, updates at a speed which is difficult to keep up with, it is important to remember that the online marketing industry itself as a relatively young industry is still evolving, so much of what works today may or may not be working effectively anymore next year. Maybe it is time to change our mindset and perception about SEO? Start shifting our approaches away from rankings and backlinks, it’s so 2009!

Ranking Chasing, Is It Still Pertinent?

In the world where the [not provided] keyword percentage on your Google Analytics keeps increasing and reportedly will hit 100% around 2018, focusing mainly on rankings and select target keywords means that you undervalue your SEO efforts. Sure, there is still a fraction of relevancy in doing so, but rankings can invariably change each day depending on your devices, the complexity of other factors such as localisation, search history, and personalisation, just to name a few.

Let’s face it, no one except SEOs is using incognito mode and setting the location to ‘UK’ when looking at the result pages. Adding a place or local element to the search terms alters the result pages, logging into your Google accounts whilst searching modifies the result pages too, so where in the world does a website exactly rank for its target keyword? Who knows! So is focusing on rankings still relevant? It’s an inane effort if you ask me. Should we now ditch keyword rank reporting completely? That’s not what this post is suggesting either. AJ Kohn wrote an interesting post about Rank Indexes a while ago, which could be a great alternative to the current rank reporting format. Alternatively, Google Webmaster Tools offer a more relevant way of tracking your website’s ranks with their Average Position metric:

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SEO management tools such as Raven SEO have also implemented Average Position from GWT within their Keyword Manager section:

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The fact of the matter is, a large portion of your actual organic search traffic is likely to be a combination of derivatives of your target keywords, target keyword variances, brand keywords and long tail keywords. In a nutshell, the main contributor of organic traffic of your website isn’t that head terms high search volume keywords; it’s mainly the branded and long-tail keywords.

A Shift of Paradigm is Needed

Rather than focusing on a futile activity like chasing and reporting rankings for obscure keywords, there is plenty of actionable data that can be reported both at the homepage and landing page level, such as query data, engagement and conversion data, etc. Concentrating on metrics that impact the business as a whole makes more sense. Organic traffic, conversions – whatever the goal of your website/page is (sales, customer sign ups, lead generation, download, etc.), as well as referrals from links and keyword diversity are some important metrics to look at when focusing on your SEO efforts. If you are an e-commerce or lead generation website with blog functionality, then reporting on visitors’ engagement levels on your blog is equally crucial. Time spent, bounce rate and which article/post has the most views are also important to report.

Ultimately, if there is a metric that should matter most, then it should be profit. If all that investment in SEO isn’t improving your company’s profit, then to put it frankly, it’s just not worth it. Ask this question: “did my business’ profit increase after spending x amount of money each month for an SEO/content marketing campaign?” if the answer is yes, then your investment in SEO is worth every penny spent, and even better, you should be looking to spend more and move onto bigger and better things. If the answer is no, then you should reassess it and perhaps look at investing in other areas such as website redesign, A/B testing or Conversion Rate Optimisation.

In my opinion, SEO isn’t dead as many people in the industry will tell you; it is evolving and moving onto bigger and better things. If SEO is constantly changing and continuing to evolve, then our mindset and approaches need to change and adapt to the advancement. Most importantly, as a colleague of mine used to say to me all the time: “ranking is vanity, conversion is reality”. So SEOs, move away from links and rankings and start producing real shizz for the business (read: money).