Why Keyword Ranking Should Not Be Used To Measure Success

On many occasions I am asked by prospect clients on what I can do to help their websites rank for a set of keywords. I flatly tell them that I don’t make guarantees on keyword rankings. I am hoping that through this blog post, I can explain further why I don’t associate my services with keyword ranking guarantees. Surely, other companies making guarantees on search engine placement look attractive to those who aim for exactly the same goal, but I insist on not taking that route.

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Keyword ranking promises may be one of the reasons SEO practice appears like a snake oil, fly-by-night business. And for quite obvious reason: SEO’s don’t control search engines and similar promises are so easy to do but hard to accomplish. When an SEO vendor makes the promise and the client agrees, such relationship could eventually end up in a messy divorce if there is no sign the promise will be fulfilled.

Here are some solid reasons why keyword rankings should not be used to measure success.

Reason No. 1: Search Engines Explicitly Warns Against Them
I guess this is one reason enough for websites to think again what they really want to accomplish. Although this guideline is somehow not so easy to find, Google states that no one can guarantee #1 ranking.

Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or by submitting a Sitemap and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.

If your provider offers such guarantees (sometimes first page, not #1 ranking), I won’t conclude this company is bogus, but maybe just biased towards past successes. But it doesn’t mean if it worked with others, it would work for you especially if you belong to a more competitive industry. So let’s be wary as we have been warned no less than the search engine giant.

Reason No. 2: SEO and Rankings Have Pretty Bad Reputation
There is a strong reason why SEO’s are accused of manipulating gullible website owners who don’t know the nuances of search engine marketing. Using the perception of “guaranteed rankings”, scammers have made money out of people who can’t distinguish what’s relevant and what’s not, without achieving the aforementioned guarantees. Some of them use Some of them use terminologies and questionable messaging that blur a layman’s understanding of search engine marketing.

* Our tested and tried methods of SEO Services guarantees top 10 ranking to a website in the major search engines like Google, MSN and Yahoo
* Our SEO software comes with updated web optimization tools that help you achieve guaranteed ranking.
* HK$800 submission to fast listing in DMOZ, Google, Lycos and thousands other directories. (see Stone Age Marketing)

We don’t need to pay to get listed. Google already tells us how to submit our URL or XML sitemap without the assistance of SEO companies. Yet those uninformed will end up paying for services that mean nothing in the past decade.

Reason No. 3: Keyword Rankings Vary at Any Given Time
I used to do SEO work for a banking giant’s credit card portal. One day I got an email from the client she is so happy that she finally found that what I did worked; the keywords she was targeting appeared on the first page. I did a check myself, only to find out that the same listing is only visible from the third page. Anticipating she might freak out when she’ll notice the ranking is not there when she tries out the same search on her home computer, I had to explain the nature of Google’s personalized search that displays results based on a specific visitor’s web history.

A specific keyword ranking can vary not only for different search engine users who have varying degrees of online behavior and preferences, but also for different locations as search engines try to deliver more relevant results. Fluctuations in rankings may also be influenced by different data centers that may contain varying amounts of information. Therefore, to those who stick on search rankings as basis of success or failure, it becomes even more difficult to track.

Reason No. 4: Rankings Don’t Automatically Translate to Traffic or Conversions
While I kept on preaching that ranking varies, of course it’s not impossible to rank for desired keywords as promised. But then again, what now? Ranking does not always mean traffic, let alone conversions. Why not try to move a little further in the marketing funnel and consider traffic or conversions as a measurement of success?

I am wondering whether keyword ranking guarantees are made only to fool people, or to avoid a more challenging task ahead of achieving goals that matter more to a client? Unless we are dealing with a PR nightmare and keyword ranking is an utmost requirement, I see little value of presenting guaranteed keyword rankings to prospect clients. To SEO vendors who wish to screen clients, prospects clinging to dear keywords for top ranking is a sign that they’re not the best choice as business partners. Clients with strong business models don’t use keyword ranking as part of success metrics as they are likely to consider more intermediate metrics. There is no question top ranking brings lots of traffic, but such lofty position may also be too irresistible to resist that all other campaigns are compromised because of this obsession.

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