Measuring SEO success – do SERPS still have a place?

Following up on the second part of my last post there is increasing online debate about what SEOs should be reporting to their clients. Specifically the arguments surround search ranking position reports (or SERPS).

Some SEOs regard search position reports as pointless, pointing to the increasingly variable results depending on where you are searching from, whether you are logged into an account and thus getting personalised results, or even what you searched for earlier (whether logged in or not). They also point to the fact that search engine positions are not the end result, merely a step on the way to higher traffic, leading hopefully to higher conversions and sales.

On the other hand there are those who regard them as essential tools, and some whose clients insist on such reports, whether they understand the wider picture or not.

While in an ideal market it would be nice to have clients who are all educated in the fuller understanding of web marketing, I’m afraid that for the moment I have to side with the SEOs who provide ranking reports. What I always caution against however, is becoming fixated on them – obsessing about every little fall or rise.

Ranking reports are useful to me when I take on a new site, particularly one which is doing poorly. In conjunction with other assessments they allow me to draw inferences about the site and how it is being seen within its market. The changes in results that occur after I’ve made adjustments to the site can show me the response of the search engines to those adjustments and suggest further refinements. SERPS reports are also useful as a means of building a relationship with a client. For a new client who may be either entirely new to SEO or may have been burned by a previous company’s poor work, the ranking report provides reassurance that I know what I’m doing, that I’m prepared to demonstrate and explain results to them, and that progress is being made.

Now the market in the USA may well be different from that in the UK. Perhaps the corporate climate for internet marketing has matured sufficiently there that such reports are seen as unimportant compared to the improvements in traffic and sales. However over here, and certainly in the sector that I work in, there are still many people with only the faintest idea of what search engine optimisation is and how it can help them. They want to see tangible results that mean something to them. Even those with a better idea of the process may have very fixed ideas of what they expect – one of the problems I constantly come up against is clients who are happy to take my advice on “pure SEO” but don’t seem to recognise that my thoughts on layout, useability, and conversion optimisation are part of the whole web design/SEO/internet marketing mix. (Indeed there are some companies that specialise in only the areas of what might be termed “conversion optimisation”.) For these clients the process of sales conversion is not seen as being directly connected to SEO, so for them it would be pointless for me to try to use sales figures as an indication of SEO success because they have compartmentalised the processes. To them my job is to get them rankings, so rankings are the measure of success.

Naturally, as one who sees the processes more holistically, I try to educate clients to see every aspect of the business of running a website – design, coding, programming, SEO, marketing, conversion, etc. – as being inextricably connected. But sometimes we have to accept that online selling is a young industry and that many businesses have only recently become involved in it, and either have limited understanding or fixed ideas carried over from a bricks-and-mortar world. Given that I suggest rankings reports are here to stay for a little while longer yet.

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