Mike Essex

Why Too Much Ranking Can Make You Blind

19th Jan 2012 Analytics 6 minutes to read

RankingsAs SEO’s we’re all trained to scrutinise numbers and emphasise every gain in those numbers as a big achievement. Focusing on rankings alone, or an improvement in Twitter followers as the main achievement for a month is not enough when developing an effective strategy. Worst of all, obsessing over rankings and statistics can make you blind to the things that really matter – sales, return business and customer opinions.

I say this as one of the worst offenders. I’ve spent previous years obsessing about numbers, missing the core data that was staring me in the face, and blindly following number increases.

Part of this is an industry problem. People debate constantly whether you can assess the ROI of social media, and there is a general addiction to “I must get to number one for term X”. This is apparent with reports that highlight rankings which make it necessary to have some improvement month on month. Without these, it can appear as though nothing has happened – even though the reality could be that a new term was optimised as a knock on effect, and that’s what drove converting traffic.

Although it’s good to have goals, ‘term X’ could end up being a phrase that delivers no traffic; those that do arrive, are unlikely to convert. Then what? If you’re obsessed with rankings you’ll keep the term there and move on, happy in the knowledge that you have a great ranking. However, the confident SEO will admit it didn’t work and change the entire keyword focus of that page. They lose a high ranking, but could gain a new ranking for a term that actually converts.

I think this type of person needs to step up and be praised by their peers as it’s a brave approach to drop a 1st place ranking to pursue what you believe is a better option. There’s no reason we can’t, especially with e-commerce tracking, call tracking services, and site contact forms – it’s never been easier to see the traffic that converted and why it did so.

We took this approach last year, changing reports to focus on which terms converted and how they had changed. As a result of this, it went down well with clients. It works. Educating clients on why the rankings of 100 terms are not the be all and end all is one of the best ways to escape the rankings trap.

Of course this isn’t just an SEO / rankings problem. In the interest of transparency, I thought I’d share some of my worst number addictions from the last few years. Often I was looking left when I should have been looking right, but was distracted by big data that pampered my ego.



You only have to look at the above image to see just how pointless chasing a Klout score is. During one month, my Klout score went up, then down and settled on almost the exact same number as the start of the month. There was nothing special about the days that peaked as far as I could tell, or any logical reason for a decline.

Likewise, caring about Klout does not make you more efficient on Twitter. I understand how it can be a good metric for comparing two users side by side, but realistically, reading guides on how to use Twitter will make you more efficient. Actually engaging with Twitter and chatting to people will also make you a better user. Focusing on appeasing a mysterious algorithm isn’t the solution to Twitter dominance.

Twitter followers

Barack Obama Twitter Followers


Back in the early days of Twitter, I did an experiment to try and become the most followed “non-celebrity” on the site. It was relatively easy as you can grow your list by following people, then un-following those who don’t follow you back. However, I soon stopped, as I realised that chasing numbers was not good for the ecosystem of Twitter, and there was no way I could engage or monitor the conversation of everyone I followed.

So I started again with a natural account that only had 10% of the same follower numbers, and this allowed me to have great conversations and make new friends. This doesn’t stop people having 100,000 followers and following 100,000 people, but unless they have very good lists, I fail to see how they are using Twitter correctly. How Barack Obama follows 683,566 people and runs America at the same time is beyond me.

Amazon Sales Rank

Amazon Salesrank

I love graphs, and when they work, they are an excellent indicator of whether your progress is improving or declining. This is why Google Analytics didn’t make this list. However, Amazon Sales Rank seems fundamentally broken at times. I’ve sold no copies on there for hours and seen a huge rise in sales rank, and on other occasions I’ve seen a decline despite decent sales. It doesn’t help that the further down the rankings you are, the less accurate the calculation (see Amazon’s explanation here).

This reached its peak when I rose to the top 1,000 on Amazon and drunkenly walked round a pub saying “I’m a best selling author” (I told you these rankings could lead to ridiculous ego trips). The next day I checked my sales and nothing had happened to cause that rise, nor the drop to 2,000 the next day. I also made ridiculous pricing decisions in a desire to rise higher in the Sales Rank, when really I should have been focusing on sales and profit.

Squidoo Badges

Squidoo Badges

Although Squidoo have great tools for assessing your profit per article and traffic, I was always more obsessed with the badges you could get. These could be given to you for bizarre things like making a page about your dog, so – although I knew a page like this would make no money, and get no traffic – I made one the second the badge was announced. Then to get the 50 lenses award, I made lenses very quickly, only keeping them to a good level due to my own conscience, when really I could have written any old rubbish just to get a badge (and some people did exactly that).

This type of stuff is exactly why the Panda update happened. We were being encouraged to write bulk content. Then when Panda hit and people had to recreate their content, I was still chasing badges. In the end, my interest in the site peaked when I realised I’d gained all the good / easy badges and then I left. However, had I looked at the potential for revenue on the site, or optimised my high traffic articles better, I could have had a far more effective account and made more use of Squidoo.

Everyone wants to win, and that means we naturally latch on to great numbers and things that make us feel good. The reality is unless those numbers lead to more sales, they don’t matter. I can guarantee every client would prefer a call to say you’d won them 10 more sales, than 10 new rankings with no sales.

Thanks to @Koozai_anna for the blog title (blame her for the pun).

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