Google has made a lot of changes over the years. And despite the fact that some of these changes have been labelled as furry cuddly animals (Pandas and Penguins), the changes have been anything but cute. For many, many companies, these changes have been disastrous.
A big reason the impact of these changes has been so massive is that many companies have been measuring their SEO performance using the wrong key performance indicators (KPIs), inevitably causing this situation.
How could this be you ask? Well, consider the 9 reasons below, why rankings should not be the main KPI for measuring SEO performance.
Why Not To Use Ranking As The KPI
1. Rankings are just a snapshot in time, and not a permanent or stable state. Google continues to evolve their algorithm (thousands per year, according to Google's John Mueller), and your site's rankings will fluctuate along with those changes.
I've said it before and I'll say it again ... "companies cannot control Google rankings, only affect them!". How can any person or company be measured on elements they can't control?
2. Google needs revenue growth! And the vast majority of its revenues come from paid search. So, the easiest way to increase revenues is to increase the revenues of its flagship revenue producing product. But how you ask?
Simple. Companies need predictability. Predictability of revenues. Predictability of profits. This is what companies are built upon. Google recognizes the power of its organic search engine in terms of generating revenues. This is both a problem and an opportunity for them.
It's a problem because it's so powerful for companies ranking well, that they may not utilize Google Adwords as much. It's an opportunity though, because it understands that inconsistency and unpredictability (where there was predictability in the past) drive paid search revenues and stock prices higher (Google is accountable first and foremost to its shareholders).
And lets face it, Google has a virtual monopoly on search, so declines in their search quality aren't of the highest concern for them.
3. Too much risk ... would you invest all your personal wealth in just one stock? That's what many do with Google when they focus their efforts on rankings ... because focus on rankings necessarily means "focus on just a few head terms" (similar to just a few stocks, all in the same industry).
Instead, wouldn't it be safer to diversify (much as we do with mutual funds)? Sure there are those that will assume the risk of investing a significant part of their wealth in one stock, but the risk is exceptionally high, and more often than not leads to utter failure.
Let the power of diversification work for you, and give you the predictability companies are built upon.
4. Personalization of search results has changed how web sites are found and ranked. It takes into account your search history (typically when you search for dolphins, are you searching for the mammal or the football team?), and other variables such as geography.
For most generic and broad search terms, Google displays local companies highest in the search results, bumping out companies that actually would have had a higher total score for the keyword.
5. It can lead to penalties, because the goal becomes ranking, and not what really matters: traffic and the resulting business.
Accordingly companies and in-house SEOs are forced to utilize increasingly risky tactics (when rankings are not as responsive to changes as companies would prefer) to satisfy the demands of their clients/companies to keep them on the books or remain employed for a while longer.
6. It distracts from easier wins! A strict focus on rankings often directs companies away from performing efforts that will secure easier wins because their client does not acknowledge the value of such efforts, and focuses only on rankings.
Accordingly, an SEO company that sees a opportunity to improve conversions through conversion optimization may not suggest it knowing that the client only evaluates them on rankings!
7. It's a short term approach vs a long term approach. If you're focused on rankings, you may be doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons. Companies intent on rankings often focus their energies on link building. This means those companies likely are not adding enough attractive content to their site on a regular basis, a strategy Google recommends. Besides, content is a cumulative strategy, that builds upon itself, and keeps producing dividends months and even years later (unlike any other media).
8. There are many rankings scams. There are a large number of unethical SEO's that sell companies based on their ability to rank them for a large number of terms. Unfortunately, many of these terms have no search volume, so they are of no value to the company. Since there is no search volume, it also makes the terms easy to rank for since no other companies are targeting those terms.
9. Its worth saying again, "SEO's (no matter how good, or how convincing they may be) cannot control rankings, only affect them"!
Because of the above 9 reasons ... rankings are NOT a good means of evaluating an in-house SEO or SEO company. That said, it would be irresponsible of me not to suggest other KPI's that could be used to evaluate your SEO company or in-house teams? Here are a few more productive ways to measure their performance:
How To Evaluate The Performance On An Seo In The Future
1. Sales/leads from organic search (ideally, searches not including your brand name) ... though be prepared, as this will often require phone call tracking! This is the ideal solution. Failing your willingness to permit phone tracking, and track either leads or sales, the next best option is a combination of #2 and #3 below.
2. Organic search traffic (again, ideally non branded). Is it increasing? This is not ideal though as the search terms may not be driving leads and sales, but its still a better KPI than rankings for a few key terms.
3. Number of organic keywords driving traffic. This would be used in conjunction with organic traffic numbers, and is a good indication if your content strategy is working.
If you measure your SEO company or in-house SEO using different KPIs, please leave a comment below to let me know. There are many of us who would love to hear about it, and get a sense for what you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the KPIs you're using.
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* Adapted lead image: Public Domain, pixabay.com via getstencil.com