In Defense of Keyword Ranking Reports

There’s something of a trend in the SEO community to disparage keyword ranking reports, either as something that’s reported to client, or as something you track at all.

This notion of not creating keyword ranking reports is so fundamentally absurd that it’s had me baffled.

I mean, think of it for a moment: these are SEO professionals. Their job is to increase their clients’ relevant organic traffic from search engines. Certainly in the SEO world we often also work on referral traffic, conversions, customer retention leading more direct traffic — but at the heart what we’re doing is, after all, search engine optimization.

And to be blunt, the way you increase relevant search engine traffic is to increase your rankings and visibility for relevant keywords. How on earth do you justify not tracking that?

Working Blindly?

Let us imagine for a moment a SEO professional who does not track keyword rankings. She’s working on a site that sells snowflakes. Literal snowflakes. We’ll pretend there’s a market for it. They sell American snowflakes, German snowflakes, and even custom snowflakes. Our SEO professional has done her research and knows that snowflakes is a competitive market and knows what keywords to go after (I assume — or do people that ignore ranking reports also ignore keywords entirely?).

Our SEO pro does some work on the site to make it rank better — since that’s her job — and she also works on trying to develop some links from snowflake-related sites, as well as adjusting some meta descriptions in hopes of attracting more clicks.

Our SEO professional comes from this new school of thought that you shouldn’t worry about keyword rankings — or at the very least shouldn’t report them to clients. She wants to focus on results. She focuses on traffic to the site and total sales.

So she sees that for her work traffic to the site increased slightly, and sales were up 5%. She reports this to the client as evidence of her good work.

But did her work have really anything to do with the traffic or sales? Where did the traffic come from? Was it just an increase in referral or direct traffic? Was the increase just a seasonal increase, since as we get into warmer months snowflakes are in higher demand? If she’s not tracking keyword rankings, she doesn’t know. And if she’s not reporting them to the client, the client sure as heck doesn’t know (and maybe that’s the point).

It’s entirely possible that she spend a bunch of time doing things that did not help at all. All the rankings could be unchanged — or she could have even hurt things and lost ground. But she has no idea what the direct effect of her actions are. Or if she tracks rankings but doesn’t report them, then the client has no idea what the direct effect of her actions are.

Fundamental SEO Premise

The fundamental premise of SEO is that we use our expertise to do something that results in better rankings or better click throughs, which in turn results in more relevant traffic, which results in more sales. To understand our impact on the process we need to track every step of this process!

If we increase our rankings meaningfully but don’t see an increase in traffic then perhaps we’re focusing on keywords that don’t have a high enough search volume. If we increase rankings and traffic but not sales, then perhaps we’re focusing on keywords that aren’t that relevant. Or at any stage we could just be seeing the typical ups and downs, or seasonal fluctuations.

But if we’re not tracking those keyword rankings (or not reporting them) we are leaving a vital link in the chain blank, and we lose the ability to understand a lot of the information that is driving our success (or are hiding that information from clients).

Those ranking reports are what enable us to understand which keywords drive traffic better and which convert into sales better. This in turn lets us identify areas for improvement on the site itself, where we need more information, new landing page, or better copy. Without those reports we’re ignoring the fundamental basic aspect of our job.

Keyword Rankings Emphasis

Now some SEO professionals aren’t hopping entirely onto the bandwagon and saying that we shouldn’t do keyword rankings, but instead they just complain about putting too much emphasis on them — and here I can agree…. sort of.

A part of our jobs as SEO professionals is educating our clients enough so that they understand the overview of the process and the implications of the data we’re presenting to them. I have certainly had clients that obsessed over a certain keyword phrase, and even though that phrase didn’t drive much traffic or any conversions they were insistent on their need to rank well for that phrase. As a SEO professional, this is frustrating, certainly.

But this is a failure of education (or comprehension) rather than a failure of the reporting.

Where I agree with ranking reports being over-emphasized is when they’re looked at in a vacuum without information about the rest of the chain: who cares how you rank if it drives no traffic? Who cares how you rank if it brings you no sales? But you sure as heck do care how you rank for keywords that do drive traffic and conversions!

But if you don’t track how you rank, how can you possibly claim credit for increases in traffic or sales?

Really, the notion is baffling.

Comments 2

  • Oh man I can so relate to that. These dumwits dont realise that its just one keyphrase that a prospective client will search for and its not gonna be their company name. I mean if the company name is already that popular, then you dont need much SEO now do you?

    P.S. Thanx for the link. Hope its not a NoFollow 😉

  • Ah it is a NoFollow isn’t it? Got mixed emotions about that one 😛

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