Fool’s Gold and The True Measure of SEO Success for Businesses

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By Moshe Shimon, New York SEO Inc.July 1, 2012

Mike Beeson penned an article in the March 2012 edition of titled: “SEO and the Fool’s Gold Fantasy”1 and he talks about the most common fallacy business owners who depend on website traffic have about SEO:

  • It’s a magic trick applied to a site that rapidly increases rankings and traffic without having to do any real work on the site itself.
  • That high ranking in the 1-3 “top” positions on the SERP (search engine results page) will automatically bring high traffic and sales/leads.

It’s mostly dead on right and every business owner with an online presence should read it.

Know The Difference Between Fool’s Gold & True Online SEO Success

Mike however makes the improbable assumption that if you’re not ranking highly, you’re not getting clicks:

“To give you an idea of how insignificant a number ten ranking can be: the CTR figures for a number eleven ranking – i.e. top of page two – are marginally higher simply because the eyes of the relatively few searchers who click onto page two are drawn to the top of the page!

Getting back to the top rankings of Page One – a page ranked at Number One on Google is rewarded with a ‘winner-takes-all’ jackpot.”

It’s certainly true (and academic studies have born this out2) that the higher a webpage appears in the SERP, the more clicks it gets, but his ‘winner-takes-all’ claim almost certainly can’t be right.

First, it’s reasonable to assume that searchers, by now, have enough experience with search engines to know that clicking on a top ranking site can actually turn out to be a poor quality site, or outright junk.

This distrust goes right to the heart of Google’s business because “the fundamental value created by Google is the ranking,” says John Battelle, author of “The Search.”3

In short,  trust in Google’s index  has greatly eroded over the last few years, and this has motivated Google to get ferocious about cleaning up its index with the introduction of the content-quality ranking algorithm4 last year (2011) and an outright Google over optimization penalty5 last April (2012).

A second argument against Mike’s ‘winner-takes-all jackpot’ claim comes when you introspect on your own search behavior during the research phase of making a planned purchase.  Let’s say you want to find ‘multivitamins for men’ or learn more about ‘multivitamins benefits.’

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Now, do you click on the number one ranking search result and immediately make a purchase from that site or believe that the top ranking site has all the information you would ever need about the benefits of multivitamins? Of course not.  And what if you even had more at stake than just getting the “right” multivitamin, like finding the right doctor or the right internet-marketing firm?

You know that for costly purchases — you click around; you visit a lot of sites; you kick the tires; you look under the hood comparing prices, quality and features, or (in the case of just looking for information) you visit several different sites that have information on the benefits of multivitamins.

Even if there wasn’t a problem of web spam,  some products and services cost a lot of money,  and sometimes the information you need has to be of the highest quality possible, so there’s no way (right now, and maybe not ever) that you can trust the search engines to rank the best sites.  The rational consumer will click on many, many search results.

And for someone in the number 1 or 2 position, yes, potential customers will almost certainly click on your site first, but when they do, you still have only scant seconds to give them what they’re looking for because they can easily leave and go somewhere else.  And even if they stay long enough to see what you have to offer, you can be sure they will comparison shop on other sites.

The True Measure of Online SEO Success for Businesses

The traffic you get, and the sales/conversions you make (assuming you have a compelling and persuasive site) reflects the success of your SEO and marketing efforts.

Many  SEO variables beyond the rankings of your top 2-3 keywords determine how much traffic you get, e.g., your click through rates, the quality of your content, how much of it you have (which determines the quantity of your long-tail traffic), the bounce rate of your most important site pages, and the speed of your site, just to name a few).  And many on-page variables determine how many sales you’ll make or how many leads you’ll get, landing page quality being the most important.

Assuming that traffic and conversions will automatically come with a high position on a SERP ranks as one of the biggest mistakes a business can make.  Unfortunately, too many business have put all their eggs (and marketing  dollars) in getting first page rankings for 2-3 keywords with the newest trick or scheme  only to wake up disappointed time and time again to a result of low traffic and/or little sales and conversions.

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SEO can get you higher rankings, but it can’t make people click through to your site, and it definitely cannot make people contact you or buy from you.  You (through your site) must do that.

Pay attention to the whole picture of what really leads to sales and conversion (i.e., site usability, compelling sales copy, effective landing pages, bounce rates, just to name a few) and you’ll find that your time and marketing money have been well spent.


1. SEO and the Fool’s Gold Fantasy – A SiteProNews Exclusive. Mike Beeson, SiteProNews, March 20, 2012.
2. Accurately Interpreting Clickthrough Data as Implicit Feedback. Thorsten Joachims, Laura Granka, Bing Pan, Helene Hembrooke, and Geri Gay. Proceedings of the Conference on Research and Development in Information Retrieval (SIGIR), 2005.
3. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. John Battelle, Portfolio Trade, October 3, 2006.
4. (Panda) More Guidance on Building High-Quality Site. Matt Cutts, Google Webmaster Blog,  May 6, 2011.
5. (Penguin) Another Step To Reward High-Quality Sites. Matt Cutts, Google Webmaster Blog,  April 24, 2012.

Do You Know How You’re Doing Traffic-Wise This Year Compared to Last?

  • Ideally, your traffic should up — right?
  • Do you know if it is or not?
  • If it’s not, do you know what to do about it?

The first step is to use Bing’s & Google’s Webmaster Tools to make sure your site meets current SEO standards set by the two major search engines. Next you should check your traffic data in Google Analytics or another analytics program to see how you’re doing so far.

If you’re not sure how to do any of this — contact us and we can help advise you, and be sure to ask about our Free Website Analysis! Email or contact us Today!

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