Why “Good Rankings” is a Terrible Goal

I hear all the time from webmasters and site owners who want to know how to improve their site to get better rankings. While I applaud their desire to improve their site, “getting better rankings” should never be a goal. It is, at best, a means to an end. The goal should be to have a more successful website.

What that means depends on how you define success — what the purpose is of the site.

For instance, if you want to promote a cause, you could measure success by how many people sign your petition, or how many show up at your rally or vote for your ballot initiative. If you simply want attention, you might be concerned with page views, time on site, or the number of people who subscribe to your RSS feed. If you want to make money, success could be measured by how many people buy your product or submit your lead generation form. This is what we’re talking about when we talk about “conversion rate” — what proportion of your visitors actually do the thing you most want them to do when they visit your site.

The way to maximize conversions is to make your site the best it can be for your human visitors. Make sure you give them all the information they need to make a decision without a lot of worthless crappy “fluff.” Make your navigation easy and intuitive. Layout the pages and the site architecture so people can quickly find the stuff they’re looking for. I’ve been preaching that sermon for years now.

Turns out, most of the stuff you do to make your site better for human visitors is also good for the search engine spiders. (I know, I know… who would have thought? 😉 ) And it makes your site the kind the search engines want to reward through their algorithm. So, a side effect of making your site better for people may be that you get better rankings… which in turn can lead to more traffic, which (because your site is so good to start with) will lead to even more conversions.

And as you continue to work to improve your site, even more, you’ll find the better you make your site, the better this whole “cycle of virtue” works.

Beyond that, smart webmasters work to get traffic from all sorts of other sources (links from other authority sites, word of mouth, paid advertising, direct marketing, branding, etc.) so they don’t need to rely on the search engines and their rankings for their traffic. As it should be, search engine traffic becomes a nice bonus, not the cornerstone of their business model. (Because they understand an algorithm change or a crazy glitch can take away that search engine traffic at any time, without warning and without recourse.)

Until people can pay their rent or buy food with ranking reports, focusing on “better rankings” as the goal of site optimization is like mining for fool’s gold. It’s shiny and cool-looking but isn’t worth much when it comes time to pay the bills. 🙂

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