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The SEO Fool's Errand for the SEO Fool

SEO FoolThe other day I received an email from a client noting that some of his Yahoo rankings have slipped as of late. They are still ranking strong on Google as well as MSN and heck, many of their Yahoo rankings are still very strong. But there was, in fact, some slippage and the client was concerned.

Well, first we know that there is more to web marketing than top rankings. In fact rankings are just a small piece of the bigger web marketing pie. I know that and you know that, but for whatever reason, we all still have to deal with clients that refuse to accept that. But that’s a story for another post.

So what do you do in this situation? I know for a fact that the client’s business has seen 100-200% growth year over year since we started working with them oh-so long ago. They obviously see the big picture, but they still come back looking at rankings. And Yahoo rankings at that.

Ok, so let’s put the question aside about whether the client should focus on rankings or not. We know better, but they’ll do it anyway. Instead, let’s come at this from another angle.

Across the board rankings: Possible, but not plausible

From experience, we know that it’s not that uncommon to rank semi well across the board on all the top five search engines. I’m looking at several rankings for this client that are in the top five on Google, Yahoo, and MSN. But it’s not a majority. Looking deeper I see some places where they hold a #1 spot on Yahoo and Google but nowhere to be found on MSN. Similarly they also have keywords in top spots on Google and MSN and way down to page five for Yahoo. And even in a few places we see great rankings on Yahoo and MSN and piss poor showings on Google. Is this the norm?

Well, apparently it is. According to a recent study by the folks at Dogpile, there is less than a 1% overlap of top rankings between Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask. That may or may not be surprising. After all we are talking about four different algorithms here. But what really struck me were these stats:

  • 88.3% of total results were unique to one search engine.
  • 8.9% of total results were shared by any two search engines.

That doesn’t leave much room for holding top spots in more than one search engine. In fact, that means on any given SERPs page (results 1-10), you’ll find only one of those listings on the first page of the second search engine.

It’s interesting to note that Google has the lowest uniqueness value of each of the top four engines, with MSN being the highest:

  • 69.6% of Google’s were unique to Google.
  • 79.4% of Yahoo’s were unique to Yahoo.
  • 80.1% of Live’s were unique to Live.
  • 75.0% Ask’s were unique to Ask.

Translation: when looking at the first page of results on Google, three of those listings may be found on any of the other search engines. However when looking at the first page of results on MSN only two may be found elsewhere.

Chasing your tail – or just chasing rankings?

I politely explained to my client that 1) we’ll analyze the situation and do what we can do bring the Yahoo rankings back up. And we will. But I also pointed out that 2) we don’t want to make changes to gain Yahoo ranking that may cause him to lose Google rankings. Of course if the roles were reversed, if they had good Yahoo but poor Google rankings, we would upset the apple cart. But Google rankings are far more valuable than Yahoo. Sacrificing Google rankings for Yahoo rankings is just bad business sense.

So after analyzing the situation, what do we do if we feel we can’t improve the Yahoo rankings without disrupting the Google rankings? Nothing. Because we all know it’s not about rankings, its about business. A lower ranking on Google will most likely bring them more business than a higher ranking on Yahoo. (Your results may vary, contact your SEO for more details and take the most appropriate action as necessary.) So in this case the proper course of action is to do nothing at all whatsoever. Except to go back to the client and try to get them, once again, to look at the big picture and not individual rankings. Anything else is just a fool’s errand.


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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9 Responses to The SEO Fool's Errand for the SEO Fool

  1. Rob Woods says:

    “A lower ranking on Google will most likely bring them more business than a higher ranking in Yahoo…” I couldn’t agree more with this idea. In the wild world of SEO, it’s a waste of time to try to gain rankings in smaller engines if you will take a big bite in Google rankings. Come on people.

  2. John Faris says:

    This is a situation where you can use organic analytics to make the business case for doing nothing. You don’t have to tell the client in general terms that a lower ranking on Google often provides more traffic than than a high ranking on Yahoo!. Assuming that they have some form of analytics set-up, you can show them the actual traffic driven by each engine for a specific term. More importantly, you can build the business case by pointing to the number of conversions provided by that term in Google versus the formerly held Yahoo! ranking. You’d just need to look at data from a few months earlier when they were ranking in both engines.

  3. John, you’re absolutely right. Analytics are everything and they can often make any good argument for you. I appreciate you bringing that to the table.

  4. Clint Dixon says:

    Very good post. Clients from where I sit are sort of like the NFL and other professions with the “what have you done for me lately” question.

    This hit me after a year of nothing but client SEO work… and one of the major reasons I try to keep the ratio of Client Sites to Clint sites low lol.

    Better to SEO for myself, and listen to me bitch to myself – than having to put up with whiners!

    Peace!

  5. Better to SEO for myself, and listen to me bitch to myself – than having to put up with whiners!

    Ain’t that the truth!

  6. Ian Baldwin says:

    I have a website which does exactly that. High rankings on Yahoo but low on Google. As a result the amount of traffic im getting is not significant enough. I wouldnt mind optimising for Google more a the risk of losing my Yahoo ranking but I dont want to end up with neither.

  7. Ian, you should have someone analyze that to see if perhaps there is a problem in which Google is devaluing the site for. It could be a number of things but I suggest not making drastic changes until someone has given you an honest assessment.

  8. Ben Austin says:

    Ian I have the same problem, however it seems that you have now sorted your positions on Google, as you now are ranking very highly indeed for most of the top eywords in your industry. Any secrets you can tell me?

  9. annajennifer says:

    The other day I received an email from a client noting that some of his Yahoo rankings have slipped as of late. They are still ranking strong on Google as well as MSN and heck, many of their Yahoo rankings are still very strong. But there was, in fact, some slippage and the client was concerned.
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    annajennifer
    SEO