Tradi­tional SEO reports have focused heavily on rank­ings. However, with the wide­spread use of person­al­ized search as well as instant search, ranking report data has become increas­ingly inac­cu­rate, and there has been move­ment in the SEO commu­nity away from the reports. Though ranking reports do provide some helpful infor­ma­tion, more focus must be placed on more accu­rate and insight­ful tools such as web analyt­ics in order to prop­erly assess SEO perfor­mance.

Ranking ReportWhether users are aware or not, most search engine results are affected by person­al­ized search. Users signed in to Google will see results customized by their own settings, past searches, and social circle infor­ma­tion. In fact, even if a user is not signed in to a Google account, the engine stores up to 180 days of signed-out search activ­ity linked to a cookie that includes past search queries and most visited links. Searches are geo-targeted based on IP address and cookies. For example, if you type “gym” into the search box, your results will be gyms in your local area. All these customized searches render inac­cu­rate tradi­tional ranking reports, which run queries in the search engines to provides infor­ma­tion on where your listing would be ranked if a user searched for a given keyword. Instant search further compli­cates the issue by showing the user customized poten­tial queries.

Many SEOs agree that the value of the ranking report is dimin­ish­ing, although still provides some value. The ranking report tradi­tion­ally provided action­able infor­ma­tion about the engines. Ranking reports can help in demon­strat­ing trend­ing over longer periods of time, but in the short term, fluc­tu­at­ing results will gener­ally not provide good infor­ma­tion and will frus­trate those who hang their hat on search engine rank­ings. The ranking report can also help with compet­i­tive research, demon­strat­ing competi­tors’ approx­i­mate rank so you can learn from higher ranking sites, and main­tain your compet­i­tive advan­tage over lower ranking sites. For example, if you see in a ranking report that a close competi­tor consis­tently ranks higher than your site for a given keyword, it is worth looking into their site content and struc­ture to see how they are able to attain a higher ranking.

It is impor­tant to keep in mind that although rank­ings can be useful, the ulti­mate goal of SEO is to increase site traffic and revenue. And to track the effects of SEO on traffic and revenue there is no better tool than web analyt­ics. Analyt­ics provides action­able SEO data. For example, analyt­ics shows what keywords produced traffic. Knowing this is more valu­able than simply knowing where some­thing may rank because it ties SEO directly to site perfor­mance. Analyt­ics also contains traffic numbers from each search engine, which can help webmas­ters deter­mine which engines need the most atten­tion. Analyt­ics provides in-depth behav­ioral insight about how people using keywords from organic and paid search expe­ri­ence your site. You can easily see whether the keywords that you opti­mized are at the top of the list of traffic drivers. If you’re not seeing what you hoped for, then it’s time to opti­mize further or choose new terms. It is worth compar­ing this list to rank­ings to see whether the terms you rank well for are bring­ing in traffic or vice versa. Some­times keywords for which a site has a lower ranking will bring in the most qual­i­fied traffic. If you have goals or e-commerce set up in your analyt­ics, you will be able to get even more insight into the most prof­itable and highest convert­ing keywords.

Though web analyt­ics have the poten­tial to be very power­ful, there are a few reasons that prevent people from using analyt­ics in their SEO reports. First, many people don’t know how to use analyt­ics prop­erly, and are unaware of all its report­ing capa­bil­i­ties. The biggest problem however, lies in many sites’ failure to prop­erly imple­ment their analyt­ics tool. Analyt­ics requires someone with both knowl­edge of the tool and busi­ness in order to be set up in a way that makes sense for the website. Poorly imple­mented analyt­ics can lead to inac­cu­rate infor­ma­tion in the traffic sources report, which is bad for SEO report­ing.

Another tool that many SEOs use for infor­ma­tion is Google Webmas­ter Tools. The product already helps to diag­nose many SEO issues like dupli­cate page titles, dead links, and trust and author­ity site issues. The tool also provides approx­i­mate infor­ma­tion on the amount of impres­sions your list­ings garnered for any search query. It includes the amount of times your listing was clicked as well as the average posi­tion of the listing. Aver­aged infor­ma­tion can be helpful to guide the SEO process, but is not very action­able as an SEO report­ing tool. We look forward to Google’s future improve­ments to the tool that may help to provide SEOs with more accu­rate data on search results and make report­ing a more scien­tific process.

Search Discovery uses a combi­na­tion of tools in order to provide the best possi­ble infor­ma­tion to our clients. Using ranking reports, analyt­ics, Webmas­ter tools and other research tools, we can begin to see a fuller picture of how sites rank, how those rank­ings gener­ate value, and how competi­tors stack up. The key to rank­ings is focus­ing less on the defin­i­tive ranking number, and more on the trend­ing and rela­tive posi­tion of the site in the context of real-world, revenue-gener­at­ing perfor­mance. Good SEO isn’t about the day trade of search engine result rank­ings; it’s about constantly improv­ing your site over the long term in order to improve your busi­ness. In order to prop­erly track SEO, compa­nies must focus more on their analyt­ics imple­men­ta­tion so they can get infor­ma­tion about what keywords send both volume and qual­i­fied traffic to their site. That insight should drive SEO efforts.

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