Three Reasons Keyword Rankings Aren’t the Magic Bullet

There are many marketers who believe that SEO means “keyword rankings.” While rankings are important, other factors matter more so.


Every month, small business owners open email attachments from their SEO consultants to find that their businesses are ranking very high for several keywords or phrases. Most of the time, they’re happy with this, and they send off their next payment with a smile. But the question these business owners aren’t asking is whether those keywords even matter.

There are many marketers who believe that SEO means “keyword rankings.” While rankings are important, other factors, like link-building by SEO linkbuilding services, matter more so. Keyword selection, conversions and ROI are all metrics that mean more than a keyword ranking.

Keyword Selection

Although keyword selection is a significant factor in whether an SEO campaign will be successful, ranking high for a keyword that doesn’t connect to your website content is worthless. It doesn’t matter if you rank high for “Beyonce weave” if users are searching for Beyonce’s hairstyle, and you’re serving up content about baskets handwoven by an artisan named BeYo Nce. There’s a disconnect between that keyword and your content that means that those sought-after rankings won’t matter at all.

Keyword selection should occur at the beginning of optimization. It’s a detailed process that starts with understanding what keywords are already leading to your site. Then you should see which keywords are popular for your industry and your content. Finally, you should gauge the difficulty of relevant keywords to determine which ones you should go after. It’s an important step that if skipped, may mean your campaign is doomed from the start.

Conversion Rates

Conversion rates — the rate at which keywords leading to your site result in sales, signups, or whatever your call to action points to — are another important factor in whether your keyword rankings are worth it. Even if your site ranks well for popular or desirable keywords, they aren’t worth much if you can’t get those visitors to do what you want them to do.

Long tail keywords have higher conversion rates for than one-word keywords. A user searching for “shoes” is not as motivated to buy as someone who searching for “black and white saddle shoes size 10.” Specificity leads to higher conversions and should be taken into account when evaluating keyword rankings.

Return on Investment

ROI is a determining factor in any small business’s budgetary concerns. The smaller the business, the smaller the margins. Anything you sink money or time into must bring back dividends that make the cost worth it.

So how do you calculate the ROI of an SEO campaign? It’s not as simple as traffic or sales or new signups. A number of factors can affect those metrics and figuring out how SEO contributes to it is not an easy task. The most popular equation is Total SEO Revenue + Total SEO Goal Value – SEO Campaign Cost divided by Cost of Running the SEO Campaign. There are others, though. Some SEO companies have developed their own proprietary analytics that take in many more factors.

However you determine overall ROI, it’s a weighty metric. If you are putting money into your SEO campaign and not seeing a return on that money, you’re essentially throwing money in the trash. High keyword rankings won’t matter if your efforts cost more in output than they bring in revenue.

But the truth is that all of these things — keyword selection, conversion rates and ROI, as well as keyword rankings — are a piece of the search engine optimization puzzle. And any smart marketer should be keeping an eye on all of them.

3 responses to “Three Reasons Keyword Rankings Aren’t the Magic Bullet”

  1. Fantastic share Elizabeth, Explained superbly i really appreciate your time for sharing this post. It is very knowledgeable for us and also I love the way you described your points.

  2. waqid says:

    This all makes sense but is very industry specific. Some industries the main money terms like “Divorce Lawyer” or “Car Accident Lawyer” are going to drive the majority of potential customers to your site.

    The main terms are going to have lower conversion rate, but thats where the majority of a clients cash flow comes in. Without these keywords, the customer will not see a large influx of business. Again it depends upon the type of business and competition you are dealing with. When it comes to Ecommerce, the long tail will usually win when you are competition against a walmart or petsmart sized competitor. Because Google just loves to show a big brand at the very top.

    However, a long tail approach is what will raise your clients bottom line substantially. As much as i hate it when a client says “Why am i not ranking for this term” , they are correct and i cannot give them a good enough excuse as to why they shouldn’t focus on rankings.

    It is our job to ensure that all clients are ranking well for terms that connect them to their desired customer/visitor, but its vitally important to design a website (and content) that will create an authoritative impression and turn them into a customer.

    On the other hand I’ve seen SEO’s tell their clients they are ranking for a term which is not very competitive and the client realizes really quick that they are not generating revenue from this term or terms. Then there are clients who cannot decipher where their new customers are coming from and thats where a good reporting dashboard and tracking setup comes in. Maybe this is why the shady seo companies tend to stay away from commerce tracking, call or email lead tracking, cause they dont want their client to see the truth behind their faulty campaigns.

    End of day when the SEO campaign is working , and your reporting can easily/factually pain this picture , the client will not complain about keyword rankings. But then again we will always have a client where its never good enough and thats where you smack your head and nod your head until they disappear and you replace them with a client who is realistic with their demands : ]

  3. Greg says:

    Thank you so much for sharing. It really helped me understand keyword rankings