The job of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is to make your site Google friendly and build site authority on topics relevant to your brand, audience, services and products. Before you begin your SEO work, however, it’s important to know how you’ll determine success.

It may seem like looking at the search results would be the obvious way to prove success. Are you on the first page of Google for a particular search term? But being on the first page of search results is not a metric of success, but rather an indicator of good SEO work, which brings us to the next in our SEO No-No series:

SEO No-No #2: Measuring SEO Success by Rankings


What are Search Engine Rankings

Rankings refer to where a website is located on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). A ranking of 5 means that a website is the 5th listing (after ads) in Google search results. In the past, SEO work was often described as the process for getting a website on the first page of search results for keywords and phrases relevant to that website. Ranking on the first page of Google is important because over 70% of searchers never move beyond the first page, meaning it’s unlikely that a site will be clicked on if it does not show up in the first page of search results.

Why Rankings Aren’t a Good Success Metric

Ranking data is often incorporated into SEO results reports, but too often ranking numbers are overvalued as a metric for the success of a campaign. Here are some of the reasons why ranking data is obsolete:

There is no singular ranking position – The truth is that every individual’s search results page differs based on a host of factors including location, search history, and behavioral tendencies. Search results will continue to become more customized as Google’s ranking algorithm and results pages evolve.

Ranking data can be easily skewed – By using rankings as a metric, it’s possible to show amazing results by doing things like targeting keywords that have no search volume (it’s really easy to get a website to show up on the first page of Google for keyword phrases that no one is searching). And if no one is searching for a phrase it means no actual traffic to your site.

Ranking metrics

You’re at risk of missing the forest for the trees by focusing too much on technical SEO tactics such as altering meta data and inserting more keywords instead of creating a plan to create useful content that real people want to read and share.

seo success metrics

It all boils down to why we try to improve rankings in the first place: to get more traffic to the website. So if the goal of SEO is to build traffic, specifically qualified traffic, then the best metric to measure success is organic site traffic – NOT RANKINGS.


Ok. So after telling you all the reasons why ranking data is not a good metric for SEO success….I must confess I still use them. Why? Because explaining SEO is tricky business, and sometimes the easiest way is to say “Google this!” and the results of your labor are demonstrated right there in the search results.

Rankings data by itself, however, is an overly simplified look at the impact of SEO work.

Better Ways to Use Ranking Data

As a guide to anticipate potential site traffic – By keeping track of changing rankings on keywords we learn more about the potential site traffic to anticipate. The earlier in the search rankings your site appears for a given keyword phrase, the more of that average monthly search volume you can expect.

As a canary – If rankings are not improving in spite of organic SEO work it may point to a larger site problem that needs to be addressed. Also, if the site is negatively hit by a Google update the rankings will make it clear.

To keeping up with the industry – Because Google is not going to tell us what their ranking factors are, keeping up with rankings overtime can help us glean insight into industry shifts.

Ranking is important, but it’s not everything. You can build lots of traffic to your website without ever showing up on the first page of Google even for your top keywords. At the end of the day it’s qualified traffic that is more likely to convert to sales or leads that matters, and that is the metric for measuring SEO success. Read through the rest of my SEO No-Nos series for more tips on SEO dos and don’ts. If you want help applying SEO strategies to your business, contact us!