Are you #1 in Google? It Doesn’t Matter

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That’s right folks, you heard it right. Gone is the day where all that mattered was if you’re web page listing was on the first page in position one of the search engine result pages (SERPS). The era of being number one in Google has left.

The age of Conversion rates, qualified traffic, and site wide analytics has descended upon you. It is now time for you to make a very important choice, will you embrace this new way of life or will you fall deep into darkness, left in the past with all things that are no longer relevant.

When personalized search was announced it meant big things. Trying to make the user experience as useful and relevant has always and should continue to be the search engines focus and with Google’s announcement to Introduce personalized search was their next step in doing so. There was an article written by Sep Kamvar, Engineering Lead for Personalization, and Marissa Mayer, VP Search & User Experience back in February of 2007 entitled Personally Speaking, which discusses how personalized search is going to aid in providing relevant results to the end user.

Without going into too much detail on the mechanics of how this new change works I can tell you it utilizes the fact that you’re signed into your Google account as the way it tracks the types of searches your conducting. Once it has a decent idea of what you have been search for it can then find results that it feels would be relevant to your current search. For example,

If I conduct a search for Mustangs it would go fetch results that are relevant for that search term. Once I conducted related searches in would understand I am interested in ford mustangs. Then let’s say I conducted a search on cobras. One could assume that information related to king cobras would appear but also results pertaining to Ford Mustang Cobra’s would showcase above snakes due to the fact that I was just searching for Ford Mustangs.

The point of this is very simple. Since personalized search has been active end users are not seeing the same ten results on the SERPS. They are viewing personalize results which are unique to them. Some would argue that not a high percentage of users are using personalized search but ask yourself this question, Have you at one time or another conduct a search via Google and then realized you were still signed in to your Google account? If you answered no I would ask that you take a step back and rethink that answer.

So the question remains, if I can no longer track the success of search engine optimization campaign but the positions I obtain, then how do I measure success? A great way to start to tackle that question is being able to answer the following:

What type of traffic is coming to your website?

Being able to identify and track where your traffic sources are is a crucial way of measuring the success of your search marketing campaign. Don’t be fooled though, just because you may see an increased amount of traffic to your website doesn’t mean your campaign is successful. In the end it’s all about conversions. If the traffic you’re receiving isn’t converting you might conclude that you’re spending time in areas where you should show less focus.

What goals do you have for your website?

If you don’t have a clear understanding of the goals and objectives your website has, no marketing strategy you would deploy could be successful. For example,

Let’s say you’re running a blog, you may have goals which you could track on a month to month basis, such as:

  • How many new subscribers do I have from March to February?
  • How many new visitors do I have versus recurring?
  • Is the average visitor’s time on site increasing or decreasing?

Understanding these goals will allow you to start asking the right questions as it pertains to ways of measuring success. Without defining these goals you’re left in the dark.

Do I have any conversion tracking in place?

Having analytic tracking on your website will give you a great deal of data which can be handy when trying to find answers to the goals and objectives you have set. Some of the types of data you find valuable include but are not limited to:

  • Amount of traffic
  • Viewing traffic sources
  • Visitor behavior and bounce rates
  • Conversion rates

What do my conversion rates look like?

This is a question most business owners will want to know in order to measure the campaigns successfulness. For example,

  • If I as a business owner make the decision to allocate a budget to a search engine optimization marketing strategy I want to understand and see real return on my investment, not just a report which shows me how many number one positions I currently have in the engines.

There are many ideal ways to measure the success of a search engine optimization marketing campaign. You are no longer bound to quantifying your success based on the number of first positions the pages on your website currently has. Identify your goals and gather the information needed to showcase success for those goals.

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  • I think saying that being number 1 in google doesn’t matter is a bit much, it still matters. I think that the long tail and specific keywords are more important than ranking first for general broad search terms. Otherwise good point, and nice in-depth post.

  • Hey Samirb, thanks for the comment. The point i am making is just that there are better ways to measure the success of an SEO campaign other than rankings. In the end its not about placement, its about conversions!

  • Rani

    I tend to agree with Samirb, but the title sure made me quickly (…panicky) read the entire article. Nice one.

  • Darrell,

    I completely understand where you’re coming from!
    The looming economic crisis (or the talk of one) is going to really drive home the fact that rankings aren’t everything. Making the most of already invested marketing dollars means taking better advantage of traffic you’re already receiving. I see a trend coming wherein the focus will shift from traffic to post-click marketing and conversions.

    Someday I hope to have a client call us and say, “I don’t care about rankings – what are your average conversion rates?”

    Great article

  • One thing to think about for those of you saying that #1 in Goolge is still important …

    As Darrell pointed out, Personal Search has the potential to provide different #1 results for different searchers. This combined with some IP based weighting tied into local preferences means that the #1 ranking may not be a reliable metric any more.

    I have already found myself explaining to clients why what they are seeing in the results might be different than what their “Mother” sees 5 states away.

    Search rankings in general are becoming a unreliable metric for the masses. They just don’t know it yet. Which is becoming a problem for us all.

  • Based here in Bogota, though promoting to the Americas, I often see different results in my Google searches than what I get when I do search via proxy. So if your business is international, don`t forget to use the proxy services to check your SERPs in each country where you do business – but as Darrell says, the shift will definitely be towards one thing: RESULTS!
    (ie conversions)

  • Yeah… I agree with the post. The age of conversions is here. You got my attention. I would however, re-phrase from “Are you #1 in Google? It Doesn’t Matter” to “Are you #1 in Google for a generic, one work keyword? That PROBABLY doesn’t matter”.

    In today’s market, many business owners still want to rank for their top keywords, when sometimes they’re nearly irrelevant when compared to a higher converting, longer tail term. For example, a guy who sells carpets online, in LA, may find his goldmine in a keyword such as “Persian carpets Los Angeles”, or “New Persian carpets Los Angeles”, rather than “carpets”. But for him to HAVE this goldmine, he’ll more than likely need that first spot in Google for that long tail keyword.. Don’t you think?

  • Interesting point, but sometimes placement (ranking) and conversions go hand in hand.

  • Mery

    Nice presentation! I agree with you that a successful campaign could be formulated only with conversions not by just the traffic we revice from the SERP pages, But at the same time, only when you rank higher you get traffic, only when you get get more traffic(Quality Traffic), you have more chance of getting conversions. So Being No #1 in Google also does matter.

  • Agree with most of the comments, but I don’t think this is anything new, you can still get great conversion at lower positions by leveraging your brand strength, the relevance of your offer and good customer experience. #1 keeps the CEO happy 🙂 but the true value is what actually converts.

  • Yes… and no!
    We get better conversion rates fro sites at #1 than we do for the same sites when they’re #3.
    Many people equate companies at the top of Google being the best in that area of business.
    Many people may be wrong in this assumption but the results are measurable.

  • News to me! Time to get a real job. 😉

  • I think you guys are missing the point I am trying to make here. Yes organic rankings are important, higher placement in search engines will give you an increase in traffic. The point I am making is trying to use organic placement “How many number one positions do I have in Google?” as a way to measure the success of your Search Engine Optimization campaign is an outdated way of thinking, not to mention flawed. If searchers are seeing different results in the SERPS then how can you confidently say you have X number of first page first position listings?

    Let’s try to move away from showcasing positions to our clients and provide them with data with reflects true success.

  • It is amazing how much more traffic you get when number one rather than 2-10.

  • Semantics. ROI always has and always will, be the only real measurement that matters.

    Nothing new here.

  • I also have a similar thought about this whole PR thing..^^..I personally found sites that doesn’t even made it to the top page of Google but mind you they are the most informative and interesting sites..even more that the ones on the top page..^^ for me what really matters is not being on the top bu having a quality content on your site.

  • Thank you. Your post has had me thinking for about a day. At the risk of dropping a link in such a fine thread as this, I wrote "Measuring SEO Success: Solve Personalized Search Misperceptions" to continue the dialog you started with our clients.

    I wanted to send it to you the link in private but for the life of me could not figure out how to get you an email by way of this site 🙂 .

  • Darrell — I’ve referenced your post in a Youtube video about the nature of top rankings. Thanks very much for providing all of us with a fantastic resource.

  • @ Marty Thanks for picking up what i started here, glad that i could be of some help 🙂

    @ Paul Burani Thanks for referencing me in your recent video on top rankings.

  • Yes, it’s easy to focus on the metric we can easily see (SERPS), rather than the harder stuff to manage. Conversion rates and quantity and quality of traffic is where it’s at rather than just straight position.

  • Google is the best

  • I HAVE BEEN #1 in google for a few different keywords, and you’re right – it didn’t matter. No sales, no conversions. The ONL thing that woud drive sales is if I was doing a show. Then, for a few weeks after the show, I would get downloads or cd sales, but only from that city, and only as a result of the show. So, I’m not really sure how to get the people that I know want what I’m offering to come to my site. Too bad you don’t have any suggestions. Or suggestions that are viable, and affordable.

    • @ Fred: have you tried using pay-per-click techniques? For as little as $0.50 you could post a a link to your website on other sites to generate the kind of traffic you need. You have success at your shows because the people who come there are already fans. To get fans to come to your website, figure out the psychographics of your typical fan (if s/he exist) and try to add PPC’s on the same websites your fans frequently visit. After that, observe which of your PPC’s is getting the most action and advetise more on that site! Don’t forget to continue finding more sites and monitoring what PPC links are helping you most. Hope you have had some better luck over the past year!

  • I hve been number 1 in google for a few different keywords too :d

  • If you don’t get traffic, you don’t get the chance of conversions. Being #1 is very important in the success of many businesses. For other it’s not so important to be #1 as long as they get visitors to convert into sales/registrations etc. I’ve had hundreds of #1 spots on Google.