Dear Small Business Owners: Put Down Your Ranking Reports

Filed in SEO by Matt McGee on October 3, 2007 13 Comments

An open letter to small business owners

Dear Small Business Owners,

On behalf of search marketers everywhere, I urge you: Put down your rankings reports. They’re not providing you nearly the value you think they are. Rather than focusing on how Google and Yahoo rank your site, focus on how your human visitors rank your site. Do they:

  • Find the content they’re looking for? (that could be a product, a service description, your phone number, an article, or anything)
  • Take the action you want them to take? (buying, calling you, signing up for a newsletter, etc.)
  • Tell their friends about your site?
  • Repeat these steps time and time again?

Here’s why I’m writing: I had the pleasure today of speaking to a group of about 50 Seattle-area business people who were very eager to understand search marketing better. This was the Business Wire-hosted event that I mentioned last week. Chris Boggs and Rand Fishkin spoke on the panel, as well. It was a terrific event, you should’ve been there.

One thing that’s sticking in my mind now, some 12 hours later, is a question one of the attendees asked, which went something like this: We have thousands of keywords we want to track. What’s the best way to monitor how we rank in the search engines for each of those keywords? What tools do you guys use with your clients? There’s nothing inherently wrong with the question; I’ve heard it a lot, and understand why it gets asked.

Chris, Rand, and I all replied that we have internal tools that we use for this. Rand mentioned that SEOmoz has/had one client with about 50,000 keywords who wanted daily (!) rankings reports. In addition to answering the question, I took it as an opportunity to talk politely about why I don’t like rankings reports:

Too many business owners and webmasters look at rankings as an end, as the goal. Rankings are nothing more than a means to an end. You don’t automatically get rich when you land on the first page of Google. All you get is traffic. And then the really hard part happens — you have to turn that traffic into customers. You get rich when you have a great web site that lets visitors do the steps I listed above.

Yes, we do have an internal tool that provides ranking reports to clients. I can’t imagine having to do that every day; I shudder when a client wants even weekly reports. In my perfect world of SEO Nirvana, this is a service we wouldn’t even offer. Maybe someday….

Small business owners, please — put down your ranking reports. Cut the amount of time you spend looking at them in half. Take that new free time you have and spend it on developing great content, seeking new links, getting involved in social media, starting a blog, or polishing your local search efforts.

These are all better ways to spend your time than looking at a chart of ranking reports.

I hope this letter finds you well.

Kind regards,
Matt McGee

Comments (13)

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  1. I totally agree with what you are saying, Matt. However I find that even with the most sophisticated of web analytics and tracking, business owners still want to be # 1 in the organic search results for key phrases that are important to them.

    While ranking reports do not paint a good picture of the entire effectiveness of a marketing campaign, a # 1, 2, 3 or even first page above the fold position provides an ego boost due to our competitive human nature.

  2. Miriam says:

    That’s a good letter, Matt. It seems like I hear this wish from so many colleagues.

    Unfortunately, I think this is one of those cases where industry insiders have moved on from the once-ultimate goal of rankings to new goals, while the general public has just got it firmly in mind that they need search engine rankings so that they show up for searches. It seems to me like, with the rate of learning and study that goes on in the SEO/marketing world, we absorb and outstrip ourselves while our small business clients are just getting their feet wet.

    There is always the opportunity to educate them, once they ‘belong to us’, but, oh my gosh, how effective is that going to be with a client who insists on a 500 kw ranking report every day??? Yikes!

    Miriam

  3. Miriam says:

    Oh, wow! I have 4 stars now!!!

    …just had to say that :)
    Miriam

  4. BenPotter says:

    We have been using the ‘means to an end’ pitch for a long time now but still clients insist on measuring success (partly) by where they are ranking.

    I agree with the point above about educating clients right from the offset. At pitch stage we stress to clients the important of measuring ROI not rankings, partly because traffic can be driven to a site from many sources as a result of our consultancy, not just the search engines themselves.

    One issue that is not mentioned here is the increasing unreliability of ranking reports due to locational and personalisation factors. We have seen instances where two people in the same office type in the same term into Google and see two slightly different sets of results. With this in mind, ranking reports can never be 100% accurate anyway.

  5. davidmihm says:

    Miriam (and Matt), excellent point. I see Keyword Ranking Reports as the next “Meta Tag Phase” among SBO’s who have heard a *little* about SEO but really don’t understand it. We should just prepare ourselves for it & come up with a solid argument as to why it’s a waste of their time (the increasing personalization of the SERPs might actually HELP with this one!).

  6. Matt McGee says:

    Ben – you raise a great point about the great variances in SERPs from one computer to the next, one minute to the next. I hope I was smart enough to mention that during the seminar last week, but I’m afraid I probably didn’t. :-)

    Thanks for all the excellent comments on this one, gang.

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