Last week I read Jonathon Colman's "We Can Do Better Than This" post and it inspired me to think more deeply on what I want to write about on my personal blog. There are tons of subjects that I would love to cover but I believe the ones that really matter are the ones that make us think radically about our approach to SEO, and to marketing in general, and that spark creativity. These are the subjects that I get the most out of reading and that is what I want to provide. So with this post I would like to propose a radical mentality change in the SEO community, especially for new-comers and technologists.
Avoid watching rankings, except for when you send out a monthly report. I firmly believe this leads to less stress which causes more productivity, more quality work, and more creativity which can be used for radical ideas towards link campaigns or otherwise.
Let us dive into a scenario that I think some new-comers sometimes experience:
Have you ever started work on a new client's SEO campaign that you really want to destroy the Google SERPs with? Of course we all want to execute well on every project we work on, but this one is different from the rest. It's personal. You want to prove something with this client, and you want to show some serious, server-crashing results. Either to use as a case-study to show for a later sales proposition, or just to show your Dwayne Johnson-sized SEO muscles. Regardless you are very anxious about how they are performing.
You start the campaign with some very thorough research and keyword assessments, plan out your strategy and start implementing changes. You grind out a full technical site audit and find multiple pitfalls in their site structure and back link portfolio. You are happy as hell about every little detail that you find out of place because you know how big of an impact these adjustments are going to have.
You form an entire task list based on the information you found during your site-audit and back link assessment and get cracking. You implement a bunch of changes in the first day that you think should skyrocket their terms and watch your rankings tracker like a hawk.
The next day you're back at it on implementing these changes and still watching the rankings like a hawk. You look at your ranking tracker and notice that client moved up slightly from the past day and you get excited to see how fast they will rank up. You keep on implementing changes and watching the rankings over the next few days and are still giddy as a grin for every site-fix you find. Over the weekend you are sitting pretty waiting to see whats going to happen in the next week.
First thing monday morning you check the client's ranking tracker and see their terms have SKYROCKETED, you go nuts! This is HUGE, you're going to look like a boss to your boss, and a king to your client. You create a report out of these changes and get ready to send them to the client. You explain the things you had found, the things you fixed, the things you are going to do next, and indirectly brag about the results you just got them. You send off the report and revel in your glory as you sit upon the olympus of SEO. Rand who? Yeah, you feel that good. All of the research you did about how to perform a sick site audit and all of the neat link building tactics you found are really starting to pay off!
You have some back and forth with the client and they are as excited as you are and anticipating further results, you have set their expectations incredibly high as to what they will be receiving in the future. The thought creeps in that "man, I hope I can actually keep this progress up" and that thought doesn't leave.
"Pride cometh before the fall" - and boy does it ever.
You thought that just because you implemented an entire checklist of on-site fixes and technical re-arrangements that your rankings would be spiking for months, but you forgot (or learned) that Google doesn't award sites that it doesn't trust. Perfectly optimizing a site in one week that hadn't been optimized (even marginally) for 5 years is not the most trustworthy looking thing to an emotionless ranking algorithm.
You check your ranking software and guess what? Your client's site has dropped dramatically across the board for all of the keywords that were on an immense rise. You freak out, "why is this happening??" and "did I get hit by a panda / penguin update?!" probably not, but those are some quick scape-goats to manage your psyche and to keep from jumping out of the nearest window. Google's trust indicators sent off flares over your clients site and gave it a slap-down while it re-evaluates it's worth over the next couple of months. You are not alerted of this except by the sickness-inducing, sleep-beckoning, mind-numbing ranking reports.
You scramble to find a way to let your client know what happened, even though you would rather climb into a hole and chill with golem for a few years. You explain that even though the rankings are showing a backwards swing that they are higher than they initially were when you started the campaign and that Google is just re-evaluating your site due to the amount of changes that were implemented in the past month.
For the month following you wake up everyday to check that client's rankings only to see zero or marginal increase in rankings. You are stressed to the limit so much on this client that you have forgotten about your other 11 clients. You set up all of the trust-proving strategies you can think of, fill out a full Google+ profile with every shred of the client's information. You verify any local listing they may have and make sure it syncs up perfectly with their site's information. You start your off-site link building from high authority sites with trusted domains. Their rankings continue to rise, but marginally, and you are still glued to the ranking reports and every report sent feels like you are slowly digging yourself out of the whole you dove head-first into.
Google finally comes around and starts pushing your client up for their keywords about 5-6 months after you started the campaign, that is 5-6 months after you sent that glorious report at the beginning of the campaign. You finally feel confident with that client again, but you realize you are still watching their rankings every other minute.
this is NOT what should happen in any SEO campaign
This can be terrifying if you work at an agency, even worse if you own your own business and this is one of your few clients, and could mean your job if you work in-house.
I personally experienced a very lower-scale version of this when I first started in SEO and it wasn't pretty. Since then I have applied Pareto's law (also known as the 80/20 principle) to some aspects of my SEO work and it has been unexplainably crucial to how I function from day-to-day.
If you are not familiar with Pareto's law then first off I would tell you to go read "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. Pareto's law basically states that 20% of your work yields 80% of your results, and the other 80% of your work only yields 20% of your results. The point of this is to determine what the 80% of the work you do is, and to discard as much as can be discarded from that excess fluff. Determine where the 20% of your work goes that yields 80% of your results and to hone that work. I will tell you right now that watching your client's rankings like a crazed, starving leopard is not yielding 80% of your results.
Implementing the changes that you implemented in those first 2 weeks that made Google give you a double-take is what yielded 80% of your results. In the future take those same principles and allocate time for them properly over a few months. Focus on link-building to fill in that time and do that on an on-going basis. Warning: stupidly insane amount of link building all at once can send off TrustRank red-flags as well unless they are perfectly organic (such as a viral video or something of that nature) which if that is the case, props to you!
Skeptics will probably say, "not watching rankings at ALL? What is wrong with you, you preposterous, deranged fool!" to which I would reply, "chill out Jeremy Clarkson"
Seriously though, to the skeptics that would say that not watching rankings is foolish and that we need to always be aware of what is happening in our client's pipeline. I would ask, what moves more product? Focusing on rankings or focusing on the end-goal and acting on your overall strategy? You guessed it. Rankings are nice, and they are our vanity piece for our monthly reports HOWEVER they are not what really matters. What really matters is in your analytics, how much volume are you really gaining from your rankings? If you can prove your worth through analytics reports then you will really be winning.
I'm not saying that you need to not watch your client's rankings at all, nor am I saying that instead of stressing about rankings you should be stressing about analytics. I would simply say to check your client's rankings before you send them their ranking report at the end of the month, also include a month to month analytics report comparison from the past year. This will show the real worth of what you provide.
You will also never have to worry about if the ranking reports will be negative because you have been rocking at acting out your strategy in the time you saved from stressing about the SERPs.
I hope this saves some people from useless stress and helps push forward the awesome, growth hacking SEO community!
Please leave a comment if you have had a similar experience or have another way to apply the Pareto's law in the SEO process.
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EDIT: Since writing this post Google has revoked access to the AdWords API to major software providers such as RavenTools & SEMrush due to a terms of service breach. This caused RavenTools and others to choose between being able to offer AdWords API delivered data or to show data scraped information that is unauthorized by Google. Raven and many others chose to continue to provide API access. I have wrote a new post explaining how this is not the end of the world for proving your worth as an SEO and how to function in the SERP's in the future.
I hope this further explains my point and will help the SEO community move past the "get you to the top of Google" sales line.