Lee Odden

Are Search Engine Rankings Dead?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, SEO

The phrases “search engine optimizaton” and “rankings” have gone hand in hand since the start of the search marketing industry. Agencies have gone so far as to use “rankings” as part of their name such as Jill Whalen’s High Rankings, David Wallace’s “Search Rank” and of course, our company “TopRank”.

With the advent of personalization and impending changes with the interface of search results, the notion of ranking seems to be on it’s way out. In the past 3-4 years, most SEO consulting firms have been focusing on traffic and especially the past 2-3 years on conversions. Standard search engine rankings as a proxy to sales will become irrelevant, especially as other channels of search have emerged in popularity.

If you consider all the traffic opportunities from news search, blog search, social media as well as stand alone image, video and audio search, there’s a lot of accountability left on the table when not considering all the possible sources of web site visitors. “Ranking Reports” only document web page positions on standard search engines. This logically leads to the need for better metrics and reporting overall, but that will have to wait for another post.

Even reputable, leading search marketing agencies continue to perpetuate the myth of rankings. At a recent conference I attended, a speaker from a very large search engine optimization company reported that one of the primary reporting tools they use for SEO was WebPositionGold. I was really surprised to hear that and even more surprised to hear him say it to a room full of marketers.

We don’t use WPG in our SEO firm, but used to from 1998 – 2003. The only thing WPG is good for, as far as I’m concerned, is standard search engine ranking reports. However, it doesn’t report visibility in other online channels. Besides a ranking reporting tool, it offers other features such as web page analysis for “automatic SEO” and ties into WordTracker for keyword research. Good luck with that if you have more than a 10 page mom and pop web site. If WPG is the main or only SEO reporting tool used, then that large company is under serving their clients.

Do ranking reports with standard search engines provide any insight? For now, they do offer some value, but marketers would do well to further focus on visitor engagement and corresponding metrics. When the day comes that Google uses personalized search results across the board, everyone using Google will likely see something different when searching on the same phrase. What good would a ranking report do then?

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.

Comments

  1. Lee, I completely agree with you. Personalized search definitely changes the game, but I still think that even then your “classic” ranking will still reflect your “reach” on that keyword, be it personalized or not.

    Great thoughts you bring up, as usual. Thanks for maintaining a fantastic blog!

  2. Good points Lee and good thoughts to bring up. Been thinking about this myself over the last year or two.

    Blog response: http://www.searchengineguide.com/searchbrief/senews/009992.html

    But here’s my main point…

    Maybe we’re no longer search engine marketers or search engine optimizers. Maybe now we’re WVO’s…website visibility optimizers?

  3. Adam Audette says:

    @Jennifer – how about Internet marketers.

    Great points you bring up, Lee. I agree there’s lots left out of the picture with ranking reports – including all the examples you list. Google just takes such a massive piece of the overall pie that (usually) these other channels don’t make a considerable difference to the overall traffic picture.

    (btw you have a typo in your title)

  4. i think that,s great.

  5. I’m pretty much in agreement when you’re talking to an educated audience. But many audiences youhave to deal just don’t get it. They want to see rankings. They want to get that Google ranking despite best efforts to focus them on ROI.

    If you move beyong Mom and Pop for Ranking reports, what’s the industry standard?

  6. Very good points, Lee. My company has been in the process for the last few years of trying to steer clients away from the old static rankings reports and into much more robust web analytic reporting. We prefer ClickTracks as a standard solution.

    However it is amazing to me how many clients are still interested in “rankings.” Despite all the personalization, not to mention all the additional traffic sources that are available, many still want to know “where they are ranked in Google.” Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of advanced clients who want to measure traffic and growth as opposed to some static position in a search engine. However there are still plenty that have yet to evolve into that thinking.

  7. Randy Duermyer says:

    Good points, Lee, although I must say the whole concept bothers me. Just when I think I found the way to get more traffic out of Google – poof! All gone. In many ways, disheartening to say the least, but we’ll all learn and – hopefully – continue to grow and prosper from these developments. Especially disheartening since I recently bit the bullet and agreed to buy WPG as a new client was used to it with their last SEO and more or less insisted it was their way or the highway. Just another SEO challenge for us to face, I guess.

  8. Sure, social media is high. But it doesn’t mean that good ole long-term search-engine traffic should be neglected. They are a good bonus to social marketing, too.

    Of course, ranking reports are not that needed any more.

  9. Good points Lee. I’m looking forward to whats up after all the social bookmarking or actually seeing how far that will go. We are close to being globally connected to one another, just like that justin.tv kid..

  10. I think you’re right. Traffic and especially conversion is far more important. If you’re ranked number 1 in every search engine, but the number 2 is more relevant, people won’t go. And if what you are selling is trash or poorly described/displayed, you won’t get conversions. Personally, I am interested in traffic, not rankings for my site…

  11. Keyword research, ranking, targeted traffic, and conversions all go together. But a majority of mediocre SEO companies will move away from ranking because it is one thing they cannot consistently deliver. Many SEOs also focus on online marketing as a whole and see search traffic as just one piece of the puzzle.

  12. Daniel R says:

    Rankings will persist for some time, its easy to understand. One thing agencies need to do, is to roll out Marketing Analytics as a standard component, replacing ranking reports. We (agencies) need to be aggressive on this.

    As for: “Do ranking reports with standard search engines provide any insight? For now, they do offer some value, but marketers would do well to further focus on visitor engagement and corresponding metrics.”

    Yes. They are the only one of few ways, we can do competitive reporting, until we have more affordable Hitwise-like reporting.

    Its good to do ranking reports for clients and their competitors to get a rough (and I cant stress ‘rough’ enough) visibility comparison.

    But remember, search Engine Rankings are not the only thing that is dead. So is typical SEO Dead. Why?

    1. Because SEO must now include optimizing for Yelp, Del.icio.us, YouTube, Google Local etc
    http://www.emergence-media.com/2007/05/seo-is-dead-where-is-your-audience-searching/

    2. Because SEO encompassing too many things that have little to do with search: PR, Usability, Branding, etc
    http://www.emergence-media.com/2007/02/seo-as-website-positioning-strategy/

  13. I was in the same room when said person dropped the Web Position Gold quote. I actually had to think how long it had been since I heard that term. Wow, it took me back to the days of AltaVista and easy rankings.

  14. Hey Dan, that was interesting wasn’t it? I think he was a sales guy, not someone involved with production, but still, how embarrassing.

  15. Ranking reports will continue to be around for awhile. Clients want to see where they are and where you put them. It helps to justify the cost.

    A good seo will explain all of the other marketing possibilities and push for inclusion. This helps both bottom lines and provides an opportunity to educate. Most clients know very little about seo and literally nothing about social media. A little education will go a long way, especially if you are able to deliver some results the client was not anticipating.

    As to personalization, there will always be the “mega sites” that are trusted and well aged for specific searches. I search for things I know little or nothing about so there is no history there to personalize. There are quite a few elements that will need to be in place before personalized search is as accepted as current search. I see personalized search having the greatest affects on localized searches as opposed to broad searches.

    Personally, I see personalized search as a means to additional markets not currently being sought. The era of local seo is about to blossom.

  16. SER is not dead, but new opportunities await. Del.icio.us, Technorati, Wikipedia.

  17. What will be interesting is that if the search engines implement personalized search then will developers implement the same thing for the actual websites…..if so, how on earth will that marry up, and would that trigger spam problems with the search engines because in theory one thing is presented to the engines, another to a user (standard violation)
    Consider a site that sells partywear. Googlebot is ‘depersonalized’ and sees a plain generic homepage with nav to all areas from posh frocks to gangsta gear. If Jane Doe arrives who’s id’d as female, wealthy, aged 60+ and the site is dynamically built for her profile (posh party wear, posh wording, contemporary graphics) that is different than if John Doe visits whos 16 and profile brings up a ‘street’ type site… That would be great for the site to make sales but a mare for engines to rank methinks.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Lee Odden’s recent post in toprankblog is about this very topic. The post is titled “Are Search Engine Rankings Are Dead?” I’m guessing the original title was “Search Engine Rankings Are Dead” and then he decided maybe it wasn’t so clear cut so he changed it to a question . […]

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  4. […] Lee Odden wrote a post about how he thought search engine rankings are turning into a myth and that there’s much more involved than just monitoring search engine rankings. He also mentions monitoring visibility in blog, video and audio searches and that his firm stopped using Web Position Gold in 2003. […]

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  6. […] Lee Odden posted on personalization of search results, and how customized search results spelled the end of conventional ranking reports. He then proceeded to blast an unnamed SEO company for mentioning that they use WebPosition to provide ranking reports for their clients: At a recent conference I attended, a speaker from a very large search engine optimization company reported that one of the primary reporting tools they use for SEO was WebPositionGold. I was really surprised to hear that and even more surprised to hear him say it to a room full of marketers… We don’t use {WebPosition} in our SEO firm, but used to from 1998 – 2003. […]

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