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In SEO: Search Engine Optimization Getting Started, author Jill Whalen explains the importance of site rankings and why search engine optimization is necessary for increasing web site traffic. The course covers choosing the best keywords, performing keyword research, augmenting keywords with search-friendly site architecture, creating social media networking strategies, and measuring the success of an SEO campaign.
Where any page of your website shows up in Google when someone types keywords into Google that are related to what you offer is obviously important. After all, if your page doesn't show up at all, then the searcher will never find your site. Because of this, most people measure the success of their SEO efforts by seeing where they rank in Google for the keyword phrases for which they've optimized. While on the surface this seems like a good idea, it's not always a good indicator of success for many reasons. Let's look at why. Google uses many different databases to retrieve search results for any search query.
Each of these databases has slightly different algorithms. So, any given search can pull up any given database, which creates a new set of results and thus can show your site in a different position when you check. Sometimes, just being on a different computer or a different browser can mix up the results. You'll often see different search results depending on where Google thinks you are when you're doing the search. They try to be helpful and show you results that would be more relevant for your particular location, but this means you may see your own website listed in a certain position, but someone in another state or country may see it in a completely different position.
Google has a lot of information on you. They keep track of all the searches you make via tracking cookies and other means. If you use Gmail or any other Google service where you have to log in, they know even more about you. So again, in an effort to try to show you what they think you want to see, they will personalize your result, which of course means that your results will be different than your boss's or your friend's who have different personalizations set. Even if you log out of your Google accounts, they still track you. While there are ways of turning it off, you have to assume that the average Google searcher who might be looking for what you sell on your web site doesn't know anything about this.
While you may optimize for specific keyword phrases on each page of your web site, real people seeking out what you offer, search in different ways. There could be 20 or 30 or more different variations of each keyword phrase you optimize for that someone might use in the Google search box. While you can certainly try to think of them all and then see where you rank, you'll never quite get the whole picture. Plus, what if you optimized for the wrong keyword phrases? You might be number one for them all at Google, but if they weren't quite the right ones, all the number one rankings in the world aren't going to matter.
As a side note, this is a trick that some unscrupulous SEO companies use. They rank you number one for all sorts of phrases that nobody's searching for and you're none the wiser until you realize your website traffic hasn't increased. The bottom line is that you're really looking for more targeted traffic to your web site, and beyond that, you want more conversions and typically more sales. Checking rankings doesn't show any of this stuff for all the reasons previously mentioned. Believe me, I would love to be able to check rankings and have that tell me how my site is doing, because it would be easy.
While seeing that your homepage has gone from being nowhere to being on page 2 or page 1 in Google is certainly worthwhile knowledge, looking at the specific placement number isn't going to be accurate. The good news is there are many great web analytic tools that do show you how well your web site is doing.
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