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Keyword Rankings Are Meaningless: Learn How to Grade Your SEO Measure organic success with relevant metrics.

By Dan Antonelli

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Like many business owners and managers, you probably test the effectiveness of your SEO campaign by Googling the keywords you think are most important to see if you show up on the first page. And when you receive reports about your website traffic, you focus on the chart that shows average rankings for your targeted keywords.

When you're spending good money on SEO, it's common to obsess over your keyword rankings. You're competitive and, to you, winning online means claiming the top spot in Google results. The problem is keyword rankings are an irrelevant metric to gauge online success. To truly understand whether your SEO campaign is working, you need to learn which measurements deserve your attention.

Related: 10 Fundamentals to Understanding SEO

Relevancy gets results.

Long-tail keyword phrases are among the building blocks of an SEO strategy. They are used to optimize copywriting, metadata and link-building strategies. They serve to boost your website's relevancy so the right web pages appear among search results for the right people in the right places.

But it doesn't matter how your website ranks for each exact search phrase because there is wide variety in how people search -- especially with the growth of voice searches -- and the results Google shows each individual based on his or her history, location, device and other data.

There is no universal "page 1." Google is customizing search results using RankBrain, artificial intelligence that analyzes search queries to provide better answers -- making results less predictable and giving websites less control over when and where they appear. This means your page 1 could be completely different than what your friend sees five miles away.

Google Search Console provides proof. This tool shows the actual terms people searched when your website was among results. You'll see your site's average rank for those searches too. Using this data, it's clear that you should not judge your SEO success on how one particular phrase ranks when several other similar search terms -- the phrases people actually used -- are showing your site in the top positions.

Related: The 7 Top Skills You Need to Be Good at SEO

An SEO strategy that builds your website's relevancy and authority in the desired geographic area will ensure the site will be visible for a variety of search phrases. This increases the number of opportunities for your website to be seen among results.

High-quality content on and off your website and using strategic link-building tactics (internal links and backlinks) is a critical component to achieving relevancy. This strategy protects the website's viability against the frequent changes in Google's rules and priorities.

Measure organic growth.

Now that you know to ignore keyword rankings, how do you assess whether your organic search relevancy and visibility are growing?

  • Ensure the number of new site visitors arriving via organic search is growing, month to month and year over year.
  • Ensure the number of visits and new visitors from within your target market is increasing.
  • Expect increased conversions, particularly those from visitors who arrived via organic search. Track the volume of unique phone calls to a website call-tracking number and the number of contact forms submitted.

Related: SEO Tutorial: 12 Immutable Laws for Dominating Google's Search

Conversions count.

Don't let ego fuel your obsession with keyword rankings. And remember that your personal search experience is not necessarily what your prospective customers see. Nor does it represent the effectiveness of other companies' SEO campaigns or whether their websites successfully convert customers.

Focus on the outcome. Your goal is for the phone to ring and your inbox to be inundated with contact forms so your schedule is full. To get there, trust an expert who will build a campaign that uses a proven process, creates original branded content and monitors relevant metrics.

Dan Antonelli

President and Chief Creative Officer, KickCharge® Creative.

Dan Antonelli is the president and chief creative officer of New Jersey advertising agency KickCharge Creative and author of Building a Big Small Business Brand.  

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