Get the important information...

Get the important information…

Do you use ranking reports? Do you place a lot of value on the data in those reports?

If so, here is something to consider….

While ranking reports can be a good tool to supplement other data, they are not the most important data to give a true idea of what is really going on with your site and the engines.  Your web stats definitely give you the most valuable information and allow you to truly see how any marketing campaign is really performing for you.

There is a lot of industry talk about the value of ranking reports and this quote really sums it up nicely, I think.

Looking at rankings doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how well your site is performing on Google. Look at the overall traffic that Google has sent you.” – from Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land

Things are constantly evolving in the SEO industry and it just makes sense that the tools we use to track campaigns would need to evolve as well.

These days there is really no such thing as “a ranking” – let me explain.  One person may perform a search and see you in position 5 and someone else may perform the same search and see you in position 10 and someone else may perform that exact same query and see you in position 2.  So which one is “your ranking”?  The best you can do with that is calculate the average to get a feel for where your page is coming up.

So why are people seeing different results?

Looking Glass...

Looking Glass…

Universal Search

For any one search query,  you may get videos, Blogs, shopping sites, local results, news and more all mixed into one results page.  Once you factor in how many other verticals show for a search (Blogs, news, video, shopping etc), it’s hard to tell where on the page your results actually are.  You may show as a 4 in a ranking report but you may be buried amid other results and that 4 is misleading because you aren’t really in the top half of the page like a position 4 ranking would have you believe.

Local Results

Google knows where you are!  Google has the ability to determine your location and will try to deliver search results it thinks are most relevant to you based on where you are.

Personalization of Search Results

Users see different results based on whether they are logged into a Google account or not and also if they have personalization features turned on or off.

Social Media

Social media and the searchers circle of friends also influence results.

Rankings Fluctuation

Ranking Fluctuation

Ranking Fluctuation

While there are tons of options available for ranking report software, none of them are perfect and they all may get different results based on what database they tap into.  But more importantly, rankings fluctuate and what you see in a report you may not see tomorrow.  Getting hung up on a specific word in a specific position is a waste of time.  You are far better to focus on data from web stats that shows what is and isn’t working overall (at a big picture level) and look for an increase in organic traffic (which is ultimately what it’s all about).

So as you can see, it’s hard for one position to truly “belong” to one person (that doesn’t defeat the purpose of SEO, it in fact makes it more important because you have to work hard to come up as relevant for as many people as possible as searchers and algorithms continue to get more sophisticated).  But it does make it hard to report a specific ranking that you “own”

It’s also important to remember that ranking reports may give you a false sense of “security” about the actual exposure your site is getting.  Looking at actual traffic and bounce rate and time on the site and conversions is the best way to determine if your marketing efforts are paying off.

What do you think?