Ah, the roller coaster ride that is keyword rankings. I remember fondly the first time I got a personal website to rank #1 in Google for my pet keyword – what a thrill!

But the thrill was short-lived – not because I lost those rankings (I did some months later, but that’s another story) – but because years of SEO experience proved to me that rankings don’t matter that much, if at all.

Ah, keyword rankings…a vanity metric a peacock could love.

Here are 5 reasons you should forget about keyword rankings…and I’ll also let you know what are far-better performance metrics you should be paying attention to instead.

Reason #1: Ranking Does Not Equal Banking

Can you get a business loan from a bank by showing the loan officer a ranking report? You’d get laughed out of their office!

I’ve been doing SEO as a profession since January 2010, and 2 years before that as a hobby. As a hobbyist, I ranked some websites #1 for high-volume keywords, but often found that traffic was not as qualified as I’d hoped, and the income generated was minimal, especially for how much time and work it took to get there.

As a professional, I’ve seen clients’ rankings drop while traffic and conversions increase – and I’ve seen the opposite where ranking is improving but traffic and conversion are dropping. I’ve seen this too many times for it to be mere coincidence, or outliers.

Remember this: “you can’t take rank to the bank.”

Reason #2: Keyword Ranking Is Not a True Business KPI

The health of a business is measured by KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. You could rank well for your favorite keywords and still go out of business. Click the link in the previous sentence – do you see “keyword rankings” anywhere there?

KPIs are what’s important to the organization, and what should be important is what keeps the business in business, which is more about your target market than how Google ranks your site for this or that keyword.

Also, what if Google were shut down tomorrow? What do your precious keyword rankings do for your business then? Sure, that’s an extreme view, but you get the point. You need far more than rankings to stay in business; if you’re depending on rankings to stay in business, you have a very fragile business model.

Reason #3: Rankings Don’t Necessarily Correlate to Traffic or Conversions

I’ve performed several correlation analyses with various large data sets and have never found a correlation between ranking and traffic, nor have I found a correlation between ranking and conversions. But what I have found is a correlation between traffic and conversions.

Reason #4: Chasing Keyword Rankings is a Bad Investment of Resources

Focusing on “how can we rank for (or rank higher for, or outrank our competitor’s for) X, Y, or Z keywords” means you’re probably going to be chasing SEO tactics of the past. It means you’ll probably resort to keyword stuffing or other outdated tactics.

It means you’re taking time away from focusing on understanding and satisfying your target market’s needs, wants, and desires.

It means you’re taking time away from focusing on improving your website’s user experience (UX).

It means you’re taking time away from focusing on how to improve your conversions or conversion rate.

It means you’re taking time away from focusing on what really differentiates you from your competitors.

You’d be far better off focusing on those things than how well you rank for keyword X, Y, or Z. Focusing on keyword rankings often send you off in the wrong direction, wasting your precious time and resources as a result.

Reason #5: Rankings Fluctuate Constantly and Vary by Personalization & Geography

Checking your rankings by typing a keyword into Google means Google knows your IP address and browser settings, and your search history. Sure, you can use Chrome incognito mode, but your target market is likely not doing that. Their search history and browser settings will show different rankings than what you see.

Also, Google is constantly trying to improve searcher satisfaction by testing different SERP (Search Engine Results Page) layouts. Remember when there were only 3 AdWords ads on top of the organic listings? Now there are 4.

Google will constantly be evolving. Personally, I’m speculating that Google is working toward a world where ranking (ordered search results on a page) is “no longer a thing”, and screen-less devices such as Google Home and Amazon’s Echo may be a portent of things to come.

I’m Sold: What Should I Focus on Instead?

From the SEO perspective, I recommend reviewing the following performance metrics year over year to rule out seasonality:

  • Overall organic traffic
  • Organic traffic by device category (mobile, desktop, tablet)
  • Organic new users
  • Leads from organic traffic
  • Sales from organic traffic

In short, you should be focusing on serving and satisfying your target market, but don’t use keywords as a success metric; focus on traffic and conversions instead.

You can (and should) also focus on: improving your site’s user experience, making your site pages load much faster, implementing structured data, better understanding your target market, differentiating yourself from your competitors, improving your content quality, discovering new content opportunities, performing data-driven web page optimizations, deciding if you should implement Accelerated Mobile Pages or not – and much more. These are just some examples of the kinds of things we work on with our SEO clients here at 3Q Digital.

Conclusion

I could give you a lot more than 5 reasons why chasing keyword rankings is a fool’s errand.

For example, the fact that most of your traffic is probably coming from keywords you don’t track or even know about, and that the future of even being able to track keywords may be in jeopardy because Google can shut down the ability for rank tracking in a New York minute if and when they decide to do so.

Yes, ranking can be an overall indicator of site visibility in Search Engine Result Pages, but it’s just not worth focusing your time and precious resources chasing or worrying about keyword rankings.

Ultimately, keyword rankings are nothing more than a vanity metric – it can feel good to rank higher than your competitors for your favorite keywords, but that’s not necessarily going to translate into qualified traffic and increased conversions and is not a good use of your resources. Instead, focus on your true business KPIs, and especially focus on serving your target market.

Oh – and be sure to let me know what happens when you take a ranking report into a loan officer and ask for a business loan based on your high keyword rankings!

If nothing else, remember this: “you can’t take rank to the bank!”

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David Portney
I’m David Portney, a Senior SEO Manager and Analytics Geek at 3Q Digital. Yes, I’m very into SEO & Analytics but let’s call it a passion and not an obsession, okay? Find me on Twitter @dportney. I enjoy public speaking very much so feel free to contact me if you’d like me to speak at your event.