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July 22, 2013

The New World of Page Ranking

Google, and search engines in general, used to act as a one-size-fits-all format. If person A and person B both searched for “best chocolate in the world,” it used to be both individuals would see the same list of rankings. Now we live in a world of customization, where Google’s results reflect not just the search terms and keywords used, but the complex personalization derived from a given user’s full interaction with the suite of Google products. Since Google, and search engines in general, are truly trying to give searchers exactly what they want, the process has seen a genesis of customization. One-size-fits-all no longer applies.

If your sole focus as a company investing in SEO is to see a high Google page rank, stop the obsession – now. High rankings don’t equate to a stellar business profile; revenues do. And now that page rankings are becoming varied, it’s much less reliable to equate a high ranking to full-scale success. So putting all your eggs in one proverbial basket is not only risky, it’s now completely illogical.

What should you focus on? Quality traffic, quality content, and a quality user experience. Yes, rankings factor in here, there’s no doubt about it, but it isn’t a means to an end. Quality is. That’s what will keep users returning, again and again. And since not all of your visitors are likely sent via a search engine, it’s time to consider the whole enchilada, and stop worrying about what Google might think.

The Role of Customized Search Results

Let’s say I’m an employee at a place called Company SEO. It’s safe to say I’m probably visiting that company’s web site often, and using related search terms on a frequent basis. If I do so while logged in to my Gmail account, or any other Google tool, this correlation begins to become apparent. It’s therefore more likely that if I search for a keyword or term targeted by Company SEO, I will see its results rank higher, as Google has correctly determined I am interested in what that company/author has to say.

Google’s results cannot be quantified in any meaningful manner. We’re seeing fewer and fewer ranking reports as a result. The rankings you see in any given search are not just based on the keywords — Google also incorporates your location, service provider, previous search history, and various other personal factors. Since we can’t predict a given user’s customization, it’s crazy these days to fully focus on a high SEO ranking.

Anyone who has traveled recently can attest to this shift. Search for “best chocolate in the world” in San Francisco and you’ll see a different set of results than if you’re traveling in Sweden. The point is, you can’t control rankings in the way we’d all like to anymore, so it’s time to shift focus.

Make Traffic and Conversions Your Top Priorities

This is not a call for all to give up the SEO game. It’s just a matter of adjusting how you approach the goals. By moving your emphasis to quality and consistency, you’ll still be aiming for the highest rankings, but in a manner that will yield better results.

Traffic and conversion rates are your best SEO friends, because they make the most of whatever ranking you are currently achieving. The more you capitalize on your traffic, the more retention and loyalty you’ll achieve, and customers will keep coming back. For instance, a site with high page rankings won’t maintain that status for long if they develop a high bounce rate. You can send 10,000 visitors to your site per day via Google, but if you can’t convert those into revenue generating visits, the eyeballs are costing you cash, not the other way around.

Generate Quality Traffic

As with everything in this world, quality trumps quantity. What you’re after are targeted links and referrals full of visitors that are truly after what you offer. Your marketing strategy no doubt contains a myriad of efforts to generate these quality visits. To really be a player in SEO these days, these campaigns should involve the following:

Organic search
Paid search
External links, from articles, bloggers, news sites, etc.
Press releases and other PR efforts
Social signals from Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, etc.
Local map listings
Online advertising
Direct traffic via offline strategies

Yes, organic search still sits at the top of the list above, but if it’s your sole focus, you’ll definitely waste your efforts. Failure to consider the other factors means you’ll experience just a smidgen of your potential success.

Pay attention to your analytics so you can understand where your site is succeeding and failing with regards to visits and conversions. Ascertain where the bulk of your traffic truly comes from (here’s a clue: it’s not always from Google) and adjust the list above accordingly. It may be that local listings or even offline strategies trump search in terms of what works best for your specific needs.

The point is simple: in the last few years, page rankings have become the Holy Grail, and it’s time to stop obsessing over a top page ranking. You can’t begin to control rankings from a personalization perspective, so stop losing sleep over your own ranking ebbs and flows. Instead, focus on the data you can control – namely traffic and conversions. If you’re aces at converting high percentages of your site’s visitors, you’re on a winning streak. It’s not a matter of being #1 for a search term, but in making your customers and visitors happy.

How has the customization of search results affected your SEO strategies? If you have any advice to share with people making the shift in focus, please share!

Digital producer, game designer, Internet marketer and staff writer for SiteProNews, one of the Web’s foremost webmaster and tech news blogs, Tina Courtney-Brown has been shaping online businesses since 1996. She’s produced and marketed innovative content for major players like Disney, as well as boutique startups galore, with fortes including social media, SEO, massively multiplayer games, social networks and project management. Tina is also a certified Reiki practitioner, herbalist, nonprofit director and true cooking diva. Learn more at her personal website, or find her on Facebook and Google+.