SEO: Why a Focus on Rankings Is So 00’s

By: Guest | July 24, 2012 | 

This week our guest posts focus on the latest trends in SEO.

Today: Bringing your SEO efforts up to date by Brad Shorr

If your firm is fixated on its search ranking positions, you are dangerously out of date with your approach to SEO.

I stress “dangerously” because, while rankings have been a poor barometer of SEO effectiveness for a while, they have now devolved nearly to the point of being worthless.

Monitoring rankings will no longer get you closer to more traffic.

Why Rankings Don’t Cut It

There was a time when search rankings were a healthy obsession; when getting to page one really meant something.

Long ago in a world far away, everybody saw the same thing: Google SERPs (search engine results pages) displayed a universally consistent set of results for a given search term. Moving from page 10 oblivion to the page one spotlight could make the difference between zero organic traffic and thousands of hits per day.

Today, several factors have obliterated this model.

  • Localization. Usually, Google knows where you are and serves results based on your geographic location.
  • Personalization. If you are logged into Google, your SERPs take into account your browsing history and social network connections.
  • Segmentation. Users have the ability to search for specific types of content, such as video, news stories, social media content, and images.
  • Semantic search. Google is getting smarter about understanding the intent of the searcher. Today, multiple variations of a specific keyword page can be matched up to a query, meaning that the SEO value of a specific phrase is less important than its context.

Put all of this together, and what do you have?  An environment where your ranking for a particular keyword phrase tells you very little about your search visibility.

  • Local variation. The results I see in Chicago on a search for “good Italian restaurants” will be drastically different than what you see in San Francisco. (If it weren’t, neither of us would be using Google for long!)
  • Personalized variation. If you log into Google and do a personalized search, you’ll see different results than when your personalization is turned off, and what other personalized searchers see.
  • Segment variation. If I’m looking for a particular style of wallet, I might jump right to image search, bypassing your keyword-optimized text page altogether.
  • Semantic variation. Someone searching for “buy trifold wallet” might be served up results from e-commerce web pages optimized for a variety of phrases, because Google knows I’m shopping.

Where to Put the SEO Focus

The rallying cry, “We’re number one!” still works for football, but SEO marketers need a new one. My suggestion: “We have awesome search placement!” relating SEO activities back to the four areas I’ve been talking about.

  • For localization, using local optimization best practices is essential for any business that is local or regional in nature. You want to make sure your content is well placed – and not just on standard Google search, but on Google+ local and credible local search directories.
  • For personalization, build and engage with relevant social media connections to build influence and visibility. Use rel=author links to achieve broader placement through the Google authorship initiative.
  • For segmentation, create and optimize a variety of content forms, most importantly images, infographics, video, news items, and original social media content.
  • For semantic variation, put the focus where it belongs, on creating content that is useful, relevant, and authoritative. Content that delivers value to searchers will be better placed than content that only attempts to manipulate Google’s algorithm.

Over to You

Today, anybody focused on rankings is a rank amateur. How are you approaching SEO these days – and how is it working for you?

Brad Shorr is director of content and social media for Straight North, and writes frequently on industry-leading blogs about content marketing and SEO strategy. Follow Brad on Twitter at bradshorr.

  • Yes, yes, and yes again. I get so tired of telling businesses this. So many SEO firms are still selling by ranking, and I have to talk my clients down sometimes. The localization and personalization on their own have changed the game significantly, and people need to understand that what I’m seeing in my search results might not be what you are seeing. 
    All comes back to why I stress blogging and good content so much.

    • magriebler

       @KenMueller And bad habits die hard, don’t they? Too many people STILL recall the bad old days, when Google couldn’t tell good content from total crap and loading pages up with keywords was considered best practice. Google’s ever increasing sophistication, from both the user and business perspective, gives us remarkable tools for segmentation and customer service.
      Thanks for a great post, Brad!

      •  @magriebler  @KenMueller You are welcome! You both have summed up my thoughts more eloquently that I was able to in this post. 

  • The rel=author tag is a BIG one, for sure. 

  • Google does whatever it wants to whenever it wants to.  I would venture a guess that 90% of SEO tactics used 5 years ago are obsolete if not all of it.  As long as they keep improving their service and keeping SEO experts busy then there’s no problems here.

    •  @JoshPGreenberg An SEO service that continues to have very high value is onsite optimization, at least for us. We run into many, many situations where sites need a ton of work simply in order to communicate clearly with Google. This seems to be one type of SEO activity that Google encourages, which makes sense, since they need to be able to understand site content in order to rank it appropriately.

  • MtAdamsADesign

    Yes, I believe in you! Well, “content” is always the king to success in SEO.. If you have poor content or thin content in your website, I assure you that you will not get good ranking results or rank higher on Google. Actually, Google pushed out Panda Update 3.9 last night.. 1% of search results change enough to notice.

  • StraightNorth

    @skirtap Thanks for the mention! Hope you enjoyed the post!

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  • FPMarcil

    First off, I agree with you, selling rankings to clients is a thing of the past. We should sell revenue or audience. However, there is a double message in a blog post like this one that I strongly disagree with: tracking ranking is useless. It is not, in my opinion. (Far from it.)
    Here’s why: 
    – (Not provided): Tracking rankings is far from perfect, but it helps you figure out some of your missing data hidden under the not provided label. With this lost in referrer data, I would in fact be expecting a lot of press around the necessity for ranking data. (Seed the keyword list from Adwords, where the data is still available.)
    – R&D : Ranking data is data, you can analyze it for trends, compute it with others metrics to discover correlations and opportunities. Every data point has a value, as long as you understand what the data really is and as long as you have the skills to interpret it. 
    – Track search engines changes: On a large volume of data it’s easy to get an insight on what is going on by looking at the rankings. You won’t always be affected for sure, but sometimes you will see changes in your ranking patterns  (Panda, Penguin) that might affect your overall strategy.
    Monitoring rankings still gets you closer to more traffic. 

    •  @FPMarcil I wasn’t trying to imply that rankings are worthless, only that obsessing about them is worthless, but in any case I agree that any data has value. With regard to (not provided) — as (not provided) data continues to grow, it will become harder to interpret keyword data, wouldn’t you think?

      • FPMarcil

         @BradShorr  1) Obsessing about rankings: fair enough.
        2) (not provided) It will, agreed, that’s why I think we should all be very conservative with any data we can get right now. Monitoring rankings might be the only way in the future to connect traffic with conversions for a given search string. (Albeit not perfectly…)

  • SEOExpertise1

    @tzabaoth @bradshorr SEO just in $4/hour

  • FPMarcil

    @crestodina Thanks, one of these “I have to say something” moments. 🙂

  • sholmboe

    @thomasbigum God læsning. Den klassiske SEO har ændret karakter, men SEO virker også de næste mange år er jeg sikker på.

    • thomasbigum

      @sholmboe måske ok bare fortsat at fokusere på rankings, fordi høje rankings i neutrale søgninger fortæller man ligger relativt godt

  • jensenjan

    @thomasbigum Artiklen villle nok have 1 anden vinkel hvis den ikke var skrevet af en social media person 😉 Sandheden er nok midt i mellem!

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  • Juliwilson789

    That was
    a truly worthwhile read. Please keep updating your blog with more such
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