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Are Search Engine Rankings Dead?

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The phrases “search engine optimizaton” and “rankings” have gone hand in hand since the start of the search marketing industry. Agencies have gone so far as to use “rankings” as part of their name such as Jill Whalen’s High Rankings, David Wallace’s “Search Rank” and of course, our company “TopRank”.

With the advent of personalization and impending changes with the interface of search results, the notion of ranking seems to be on it’s way out. In the past 3-4 years, most SEO consulting firms have been focusing on traffic and especially the past 2-3 years on conversions. Standard search engine rankings as a proxy to sales will become irrelevant, especially as other channels of search have emerged in popularity.

If you consider all the traffic opportunities from news search, blog search, social media as well as stand alone image, video and audio search, there’s a lot of accountability left on the table when not considering all the possible sources of web site visitors. “Ranking Reports” only document web page positions on standard search engines. This logically leads to the need for better metrics and reporting overall, but that will have to wait for another post.

Even reputable, leading search marketing agencies continue to perpetuate the myth of rankings. At a recent conference I attended, a speaker from a very large search engine optimization company reported that one of the primary reporting tools they use for SEO was WebPositionGold. I was really surprised to hear that and even more surprised to hear him say it to a room full of marketers.

We don’t use WPG in our SEO firm, but used to from 1998 – 2003. The only thing WPG is good for, as far as I’m concerned, is standard search engine ranking reports. However, it doesn’t report visibility in other online channels. Besides a ranking reporting tool, it offers other features such as web page analysis for “automatic SEO” and ties into WordTracker for keyword research. Good luck with that if you have more than a 10 page mom and pop web site. If WPG is the main or only SEO reporting tool used, then that large company is under serving their clients.

Do ranking reports with standard search engines provide any insight? For now, they do offer some value, but marketers would do well to further focus on visitor engagement and corresponding metrics. When the day comes that Google uses personalized search results across the board, everyone using Google will likely see something different when searching on the same phrase. What good would a ranking report do then?

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Are Search Engine Rankings Dead?
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About Lee Odden
Lee Odden is CEO of TopRank Online Marketing, a digital marketing and public relations firm in Minnesota that specializes in search, social and online PR consulting and training for companies worldwide. Odden has been cited for his internet marketing expertise over the past 10 years by the Economist, Forbes and U.S. News and contributed a chapter to the book, "Online Marketing Heroes" published by Wiley. For the past 5 years he has also been the editor of TopRank's Online Marketing Blog, a Technorati 100 favorite blog and one of the top marketing blogs according to Advertising Age. WebProNews Writer
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