If there is one thing that I wish I could change when it comes to SEO, it’s the obsession with search engine rankings. Perhaps the more savvy marketers understand that rankings are not the be-all, end-all of an internet marketing campaign but time and again I’ve tried to educate many clients that SEO doesn’t live and die with rankings.

“But I want to be #1 for ‘accounting software’ when people type it into Google!”


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard statements just like this. I try to explain as clearly and as nicely as I can why that’s not a good idea.  Most business owners and company marketing reps didn’t listen to me, but maybe you will:

1. No two searches are the same. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve heard of personalization.  Google wants to deliver the most relevant results for YOU. As an individual. It’s no longer a one-SERPs-fit-all type of situation. If you’re signed into your Google account while you’re searching, you are getting results based on your previous search history. Even if you’re not signed in, your results are at least biased by the location of the IP address you’re using. I’ve done a search for a keyword phrase with one browser and then did the same search on a different browser on the same computer and got a different set of results.  Heck, do a search and then do the same search 3 hours later and you might not see the same results.  Did I mention that Google said in 2009 that they changed their algorithm at least once per day? There isn’t going to be a whole lot of consistency in search results, especially if you’re in a very competitive area. Why cling on to something so dearly that can be so fleeting? Obviously it’s good to have a healthy portion of your traffic coming in from organic search for keyphrases that are relevant to your business, but if you’re not #1 for your most coveted keyword, it’s not a complete failure.  Most of the time that precious keyword that you want to rank so well for isn’t a good fit for you – which brings me to reason #2.

2. The keywords you think you should rank for may not necessarily be right for you. We’ve all been guilty of this at some point. I once dealt with a client who wanted his website to rank #1 for the word blue because it’s his favorite color.  But it had nothing to do with his business. Wanting to rank well for one- and two-word terms just doesn’t make sense in most cases. If your site is promoting your used car dealership, please don’t tell me that you want to rank #1 for “used cars.” Your dealership is in Peoria, Illinois but you want to be the #1 result when someone in the UK types in the query “used cars?” Yeah, ok, but no. Just no. It’s way too broad. My advice for the dealership would be to focus on longtail keywords, such as “used cars for sale in Illinois” and “used cars Peoria IL” which I uncovered using a keyword tool.  What are the chances that someone who types in “used cars” are in fact looking for used cars in Peoria? Slim to none. By narrowing down the terms, we can focus on searches that show intent. Someone typing in “used cars for sale in Illinois” is most likely looking for one.

The same goes for my industry. The credit card processing industry is a mighty competitive one and coming up well for the term “credit card processing” would be a monumental undertaking.  But at the end of the day, does that even make a lot of sense? It’s awfully general. What if someone typed it in looking for the definition of that term? It’s hard to determine intent on something so generic. By focusing on more specific targets, like “accept credit cards merchant services“, it’s safer to say that someone using that query is likely shopping around for a merchant account provider.

3. Rankings can only get you halfway. In a perfect world, we would all be #1 for our precious keywords.  Wouldn’t that be great? Traffic would be flowing to our site like lava and we would be doing so much business, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves.  Right? Well, no, not exactly. If your site couldn’t convert a nun in church, there is a big problem that all the traffic in the world can’t fix. Your website needs to be on point with content that tells potential customers how you can solve their problems. Your products and services should tout all the benefits of doing business with you. Calls-to-action should be attractive and enticing. There should be no doubt in the visitor’s mind what they should do on your website (hint: it’s whatever action you want them to take). Unfortunately, I see a lot of business websites that fail to achieve this. They stick to the brochure mindset and just showcase themselves, basically saying it’s all about them. Unfortunately, no one cares about a company. They want that company to fix a problem they’re having. They could care less that your company was ranked #1 on some survey. If I want someone to become a , my website better tell them how working with me will make their business better and I better tell them the next step they need to take in the process. If you aren’t converting your traffic in some way, you’re pretty much wasting your time with SEO.

If I had to pick one thing to obsess about, it would absolutely be conversion optimization. Get those visitors to become customers!

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