Google has made a lot of changes in the last couple of years, and despite the fact that some of these changes have been labeled as furry, cuddly animals (pandas and penguins), they have been anything but cute. For many companies, these changes have been disastrous.
A big reason that the impact of these changes has been so massive is that many companies have been measuring their SEO (and in-house SEOs') performance using the wrong key performance indicators (KPIs), inevitably causing this situation.
How could this be, you ask? Well, consider the eight reasons below as to why rankings should not be the main KPI for measuring SEO performance at your organization.
1) Algorithm Changes and Updates
Rankings are just a snapshot in time, not a permanent or stable state. Google will continue to evolve its algorithm (550 times per year, in recent years), and your site's rankings will fluctuate along with those changes. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Companies can't control Google rankings, only affect them. How can any person or company be measured on elements they can't control?
2) Too Much Risk
Would you invest all of your personal wealth in just one stock? Then why do so many businesses solely focus on rankings to measure their success online?
When businesses concentrate on rankings, they generally focus on a few "head terms" to attract prospective customers, which can be a high-risk, high-return strategy. However, by diversifying your online marketing tactics and investing in others -- like long-tail search terms, content, public relations, social media, and even paid search -- you are building your online presence and safeguarding against future ranking fluctuations.
Let the power of diversification work for you, and increase your predictability.
Personalization of search results is changing how websites are found and ranked. It takes into account users' history, preferences, and location to tailor their search experience. For most generic/broad search terms, Google displays local listings/companies highest in the search results, bumping out results that would normally have a higher ranking.
Focusing on rankings also raises the chances of being hit by a Google penalty. The end goal of being number one on the SERP is usually accompanied by an attitude of "by any means necessary." The rankings addiction sometimes forces companies and in-house SEOs to utilize increasingly risky tactics to satisfy the demands of their superiors and clients.
5) Distractions From Easier, Bigger Wins
A strict emphasis on rankings also often distracts companies from seeing value in other tactics, like website optimization. This oversight is a big miss for companies because such tactics could result in returns much larger than increases in rankings might provide.
6) Short Term vs. Long Term
When companies consistently measure their success with rankings, they generally focus their energy on link building (short term) vs. content creation (long term). What we have seen over the last couple of years is companies become shortsighted and not considering the long-term effects of their efforts.
By focusing on creating and adding valuable content to your site, you can attract the right visitors and take advantage of the cumulative benefit of content. You will see higher traffic results over a longer period of time with valuable content vs. link building.
7) Rankings Scams
There are a large number of unethical SEOs that sell companies based on their ability to rank them for numerous terms. Unfortunately, many of these terms have no search volume, meaning they are of no value to a company. Since there is no search volume, it also makes the terms easy to rank for.
It is worth saying again: SEO companies -- no matter how good or convincing they may be -- can't control rankings, only affect them.
How to Evaluate the Performance on SEO in the Future
For the above reasons, rankings are not a good means of evaluating an in-house SEO or SEO company. With that said, it would be irresponsible of me not to suggest other KPIs that could be used to evaluate your SEO company or in-house teams. Here are a few more productive ways to measure their performance.
Organic search traffic volume is one option. This is not ideal, though, as the search terms may not be driving leads and sales -- and with Google's latest encryption update, you won't be able to drill down into indivisual search terms.
Leads and sales from organic search are also very good KPIs. Be prepared, though, as this will often require phone call tracking. Or, if you have closed-loop marketing software, you can get insight into how many leads and sales were generated from organic search. This metric really is the ideal solution to measure the success of your SEO -- because it shows the impact of your SEO efforts on your company's bottom line.
Do you measure your SEO company or in-house SEOs using different KPIs? What do you feel are the strengths and weaknesses of the KPIs you are using? Let us know in the comment section below!
Jeff Quipp is the founder and CEO of Search Engine People Inc. (SEP). He is very passionate about content, content strategy, SEO, PPC, social media, and the entire inbound marketing process. From humble beginnings in 2001, Jeff has built SEP to become the most reputable digital agency in Canada, with more than 100 full-time experts on staff. Jeff has a BA in Economics and an MBA.