A Christmas rant about rankings and keywords

Posted on December 20, 2018


Over the years I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are experts in online marketing. At least, that’s what they tell people. In truth, they’re charlatans who have read a blog, or a book, or a forum post and now they go around spouting the same nonsense they’ve read as though they’re some sort of guru on the subject.

I’ve watched the entire series of Saving Hope, a Canadian hospital drama, but I’m not about to start giving advice on complicated medical procedures, or about out of body experiences involving Michael Shanks. No, I’ll leave that to the doctors and the science fiction writers.

Yet people with no real understanding of online marketing still, to this day, harp on about keywords and rankings as though they’re the single most important thing for a business in the digital world. I hear people at networking events, see them on social media and watch them on TV talking about ‘ranking on the first page of search engines’ or about ‘optimising your website for keywords’ as though that’s the be all and end all of everything.

It isn’t.

I’ve seen too many businesses paying for online marketing on the basis of increased rankings and getting no real benefit from it. When I say ‘real’ benefit I mean money, dosh, wonga, dough. Ranking on a search engine for a keyword doesn’t mean a jot if people aren’t actually searching for that keyword.

That should be obvious, but often it isn’t.

Additionally, ranking on the first page of a search engine for a keyword people ARE searching for doesn’t mean a lot if they’re not clicking on your website. Perhaps your website looks spammy in the results, with a keyword-stuffed title tag and description. Perhaps there’s no call to action. Perhaps there’s no USP (unique selling point).

What if they ARE searching for the keyword and they ARE clicking on your website, but they’re not enquiring with you or buying from you? Maybe your website isn’t easy to use. Perhaps it’s not clear how to enquire or to purchase. Perhaps your website is very slow, or the design or content lets it down. There could be any number of reasons why your website isn’t converting – and that’s all part of online marketing.

Then again, what if people ARE searching for the keyword, they ARE clicking through to your website and they ARE enquiring with you or buying from you but – and this is an important one – the enquiries or sales are not in the areas you really want?

They could be buying low-margin products, or products you have to order in from somewhere else. The enquiries may be of low value, or the sort of enquiries that take a lot of time to deal with and don’t tend to convert.

This is where the real value of online marketing comes in. Don’t focus on ‘ranking for x keyword in x search engine’. Instead, look at the sort of business your client wants. What are the enquiries, leads or sales they want to achieve with their website? Why do they want them? How can they do them better than their competitors?

Start with this information and work backwards, rather than starting with a keyword and then hoping for the best from there. The website owner will be a lot happier about it when the business starts coming in, rather than looking at a ranking report and wondering why they’re bothering in the first place.

Technical Director at Engage Web
Darren is Technical Director at Engage Web, as well as being a co-founder of the company. He takes a hands-on approach to SEO and web design, helped by more than 20 years’ experience in these fields.

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