Local search rankings - important or not so much?


Nick Rink

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Have been noticing more and more blog posts being written of some of the large SEO sites about rankings and how it's a waste of time to monitor them. This was the latest one I read over on SELand last week.

I can understand how this would make sense for larger sites but for smaller local businesses I still think rankings are an important measure. Combine that with tracking non-branded searches and that generally keeps our clients pretty happy.

Would be interested in hearing your thoughts on monitoring rankings and what other metrics you like to keep a track of ...
 
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I've always thought this was an interesting topic. So many people these days are saying "don't worry about rankings" but every time I talk with a business owner the main question they ask is if I can get them #1 on Google. I think with the blended rankings it's become tougher to accurately track rankings, so it's more important to set expectations based on quantitative data. Setting the expectations for lead gen or new customers is probably a better way to go and what so many articles are mentioning.

At the end of the day you need to make sure you've set the right expectations with the customer and making them understand that our goal is to get them new business. #1 rankings won't translate into sales if the website isn't optimized right, if they have poor customer service, etc...etc... Whitespark has a ranking tool that is pretty accurate (from what I've seen in tests), but if the only thing the customer cares about is ranking, then I'd put money on it that you will lose them somewhere down the road. Strong relationships are built around showing the owner you can improve their business by generating real revenue. If you can show them the changes you made generated X amount of business, I think that has a better impact than just ranking well on Google.

Customers will always ask "what have you done for me lately." If Google changes their algo and the ranking fluctuates, you're in for a rocky conversation. If you're able to show them that although their ranking is moving up and down, but the sales have stayed relatively constant (or whatever the case may be) I think that will hit home to them and keep them. Owners care about the bottom line and keeping in business. Shape the conversation around that, not necessarily all about where they rank on Google.

That's just a few of my thoughts on ranking. It's important... but I feel like there are so many other KPI's that we need to remember as marketers.
 
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Nick, good question.

I believe local rankings can be very important in some industries. Lets take travel. I just read a pretty good post on this topic in Tnooz, which I'll share if I can find it again. If you search for hotels in San Diego, you'll likely get organic search results from Tripadvisor, Expedia, Hotels.com and many other OTA's. They have thousands of pages, get tons of links and an ungodly amount of traffic. So ranking organically is futile for many small to medium sized hotels and probably a waste of time competing with the top brands.

Local, however, is where they can compete. You'll still see some of the big hotels in the larger cities, but if you break it down into communities, like say a suburb of San Diego, then it is much easier to get ranked in the top of search for that market. This is where I believe ranking locally really matters.

I think it can also be important in markets where there are no major players, such as locksmiths, who live and die by their position in search. Can be significant for very specific products and services as well.

The days of Google being the champion for SMB's are nearly over. Local, PPC and review platforms seem to be the best place for the little guy.
 

JoshuaMackens

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We base most of our reporting on rankings. My job is to make your ranking go up and get money in the door. I have heard the rhetoric on not worrying about rankings as well but these same people are still worried about rankings, just not worried about reporting on them. If they're truly not worried about their rankings, then they're not SEO's.

Help the business owner to understand that rankings isn't the end all be all but it is just one measurement of many of success. Revenue is the real measurement but for local businesses, that's almost impossible to know and isn't even worth trying to track in my opinion. Local business owners don't have time to keep track of what is working for them and what isn't. They should but they don't, at least the ones I work with. In fact, I had lunch today with a client who I told him to try to keep better track of where the business is coming from and that was exactly his sentiment.

So, we use ranking reports supplemented with Google Analytics when we have a review with the client.

Hope that helps.
 

chrisauman

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We don't really focus on rankings. Obviously we like to see the pages we create show up for specific, top-level searches but ultimately none of it matters if traffic doesn't increase and conversions happen on the site. We report on traffic increases and goals/conversions. Clients could care less about the keywords they're ranking for if they don't see increased success where it matters.

I get irritated with companies that base everything on rankings and completely ignore the concept of the long tail where companies can find a lot of success even though they're not "ranking" for any of the top competitive key phrases. For every top-level, competitive keyword a client could be ranking for, there's 100 more long tail key phrases that I can rank for quicker and drive twice the traffic.

The other thing is that it's becoming harder and harder to show accurate rankings. Especially with automated software. So my question is would your client prefer that you spend your time tracking and reporting questionable rankings of keywords or spending your time doing some work that will return on their investment?
 

JoshuaMackens

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I'm interested in your approach with long tail vs mainstream keywords. It sounds like you avoid mainstream and just focus on long tail? Is this correct?
 

chrisauman

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It's not that we avoid the top-level head terms, it's just that we don't obsess and put all our efforts into ranking for a few terms like some companies do. If you understand the concept of the long tail, there is ultimately much more traffic there AND it's easier to get.

If you can get local rankings for highly competitive terms in your area without killing yourself I say go for it. We've done it. But many times I've found that continually tackling the long tail brings in more traffic and helps to build up the overall reach of the site more than just continually pounding on 5-10 top level terms.

Our approach might be different than some too. We focus on content development and landing pages built specifically around priority terms. It's hard and time consuming. But when you go after the long tail in this way you can get top rankings very fast and drive much more traffic than putting the same amount of effort into ranking for one or two competitive terms. It's not always the case but it's where we've seen a lot of success in developing targeted, local traffic.
 

JoshuaMackens

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That's great to hear.

I believe we do it a bit of the opposite way. We focus on the main terms first and then long tail. In our experience long tail is definitely much easier to work for but doesn't bring in as much traffic for our efforts. But then again, since we don't focus an even amount on both, it would be hard to tell. We have a few clients that are so developed that even most of their long tails are covered and when looking at their analytics, the main search terms still seem to be the bulk of what drives traffic.

I appreciate your perspective. Gives me a few things to think about.
 

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