Ranking reports are evil! Well, maybe not evil, but they are extremely distracting if you are putting all of your focus on increasing rankings and nothing else. If anything, rankings, like those displayed below, should be a leading indicator of what is to come and with any online marketing campaign, you should be focused on the outcomes (leads, sales, revenue, ROI).
In addition to focusing on outcomes, over the last few years, Google has been hard at work at “ensuring the search engine results pages deliver the right results based on the search query”. To aid them in this process, they introduced universal search, personalization, and most recently, localization. Each of these tweaks has kind of destroyed the “success is in the rankings” model that all SEOs have relied on over the years. Because of this, we will discuss each of them (universal search, personalization, and localization) below and how they affect where and how your website ranks.
First, universal search. Universal search was introduced a few years back and threw the SEO world for a major loop. Up until that point, all that was found in the SERPs was web pages… nothing else. When universal search dropped, you started seeing image results, video results, press results, social results, and shopping results (as you can see in screen shots here) based on the intent of the search query. This meant that if optimized properly, you could have your website show up, an image and video from your site show up, and your products show up all on the same page. This was a massive competitive advantage for many businesses. Fortunately, there are a few rank reporting tools, like ours, that will show you where you rank regardless of if it is your website, an image, a video, etc.
Second, personalization was introduced a bit later and is currently based on two factors. First, websites you have already visited when searching Google, or second (thanks Google+) when someone you are connected to on Google+ has visited a website similar to the search query that you are typing into Google. In both cases, Google will serve up different results because you’ve shown interest in some sites vs others and because your friends have shown interest in some sites vs others. Unfortunately, there is not a good solution out there to track your rankings when influenced by personalization.
Lastly, localization was introduced within the last year or so and has completely turned the SEO world on its head. What localization does is change the order of the search results based on where you live. This means if I search for the keyword “seo” in Google, the results will often times be different for me in Utah vs my cousin who lives in Washington DC. What we are seeing is that local companies are getting bonus points and ranking a bit higher based on where the individual is searching from. I am seeing a lot of Utah based SEO companies show up, whereas he is seeing east coast (not necessarily DC based companies) showing up. Freaky right? As with personalization, there is not a good solution out there to track your rankings when influenced by localization.
As you can clearly see, rankings are a sticky thing these days and I see them being completely phased out in the next year or so. Again, to determine the success of an SEO campaign, you will want to focus on outcomes rather than rankings. If you do this, you will come to love SEO and the results it will drive for your business.