In ancient Internet times (you know, back in 2001), those of us in the know believed that where your site ranked in Google, Yahoo and MSN (now BING) for a particular keyword was important. And it was important. It was important because it was virtually the only barometer we had as Search Engine Optimization specialists to measure success. Web Analytics hadn’t really evolved to the point where we SEO geeks could measure or understand that which was really important. We didn’t know about things like Visitor Intent; Engagement; or Long-tail. All we really knew, or rather wanted to know, was: “where did our keywords rank?” And so began the game of the Google Dance and rank chasing!
The Google Dance was a monthly ritualistic phenomena where Google would do a mass shake up of their database index. This usually meant Google had changed some of the mathematical formulas they used to rank websites in order to create better relevancy between what their users searched for and the websites which would be displayed. Invariably, a lot of websites which once ranked high for particular search terms no longer ranked as high, which left Webmasters and SEO’s to retool their websites and scheme up new ways to get back to the top of the listings. This game went on for a great deal of time and it kept a lot of commodity Search Engine Optimization companies in business because they and their clients were focused on chasing rankings.
The business of Search Engine Optimization has evolved since those ancient times and a lot of the reason has to do with web analytic tools becoming better at measuring more than just hits, visits and pageviews. As an SEO and Online Marketing specialist I can use web analytics to look at things like visitor intent and visitor engagement. I can see if the keywords driving traffic to pages on a site are relevant to the content of those pages. I can measure whether traffic from the organic search segment is increasing or decreasing. I can measure traffic increases against bounce rates and engagement to understand whether the traffic is quality/qualified traffic or not. I can etc, etc, etc… The world of Search Engine Optimization is no longer about where website pages rank in Search Engines for a particular keyword. Instead you should be asking; Did I get more traffic and were they more engaged with my content? Or did I get less traffic but they bought more and the average order value increased? Quality is the name of the game these days – not where your website ranks in a search engine for your target keywords.
To illustrate another reason why rankings matter less than they used to, I’ve included 2 screen shots of searches conducted on Google using the exact same search term BUT done so using different computers at different locations (one at my office and the other at my home – both in downtown Ottawa, Ontario).
As you can see many of the results listed are different.
Why are they different? In all honesty I do not know. Different data centres could be pulling the results based on the IP from my ISP or there could be some personalization testing going on from Google. One thing I know for certain is I’ve seen this many times before and will probably continue to see it more and more in the future. Search engines like Google will continue to tweak and test their systems to make them more intelligent in the quest for relevancy in the age of search and era of intent.
I want organizations to challenge themselves to build better websites; better content; and better information architecture and usability. Think beyond rankings. Think about quality and relevancy. Do this and I promise fruits for your labour.
Aaron Wolski is the Manager of SEO/SEM & Optimization at PublicInsite. He has over 11 years experience in the online marketing field working in both client and agency side capacities.