Wow. I was just sitting down to write this blog post, and did my customary research to see who’s talking about the topic at hand on the Web.
At first, it looked like I might have something unique to say. Then I did a Google blog search and found that Stoney deGeyter published “my” post 35 minutes ago. Stoney’s post, titled An End To Ranking Reports Is An End to Analysis, is a great read!
I was writing my take on the issue of personalized/customized search results affecting how we report data to clients because we have had so much discussion about the topic internally here at KoMarketing. Last week we discovered that when we were running our monthly keyword rankings reports via Web Position, we were unable to get data from Google about keyword rankings (also see this webmasterworld forum thread on the topic).
Unfortunately, providing clients with keyword rankings each month has been a necessary evil. We don’t believe that keyword rankings are a very good measure of search marketing success, but our clients do, and it has been pointless to try and convince clients of this.
When Web Position encountered this difficulty last week, we started talking amongst ourselves about how this might complicate reporting to clients. To be fair (to ourselves), we always provide the “real” data – “how have we affected conversions over the past month?” But, it is difficult to come to the realization that something so profound is happening in our industry that it changes the entire reporting conversation with clients.
Here’s the deal:
Google has long delivered some form of personalized search results (Jun 2005 & Feb 2007, as examples). However, the largest impact has traditionally been that search results have been affected by whether or not someone is signed into their Google account. We felt fairly comfortable telling clients that they should simply log out of their Google accounts and re-do their search to get a handle on their keyword rankings (when they are checking the results on their own, or when we are having a discussion about a particular keyword ranking).
With Google adding more transparency to customized search, we can see that Google is not simply using your search history when you are logged into your Google account, they are also using data based on IP addresses and recent search activity.
So, it is entirely possible that ALL search engine results in Google will be skewed to the user! In this case, how can keyword rankings possibly matter?
There are two problems that I see cropping up:
1) Will clients be OK not knowing how they rank? After all, I would speculate that many of the inquiries we receive for services are driven by some executive at a company asking the Marketing staff – “why don’t we rank for [my favorite keyword]”? It has been refreshing to see many more conversations starting with lead generation and conversions over the past 6 months or so. It just may be difficult to get past this very simple metric that has defined our industry for so long.
2) When we are analyzing program success, and looking for strategies & tactics to improve performance, we will need to focus even deeper on the user’s experience on the website. This will be a good thing in the end. But, it is sometimes difficult to pull away from “we know we have conversions for X keyword in PPC, we don’t rank high enough organically, how do we improve rankings?”
That’s fine by us. We focus on results within the website – overall traffic sources, keyword referral trends, bounce rates, navigational paths, and tying this all together with tracking conversions. Isn’t that why SEO is of value in the first place?
Note: I can’t emphasize enough how much Stoney’s opinion on the issue mirrors my own – please read his post!