Anybody involved in search marketing knows that good rankings are a huge component of success, but what do we really mean when we say that we want better rankings? When most people say they want higher rankings, what they really mean is that they want more traffic.
As we shall see, these are not the same thing. In fact, if you want more traffic, higher search engine placement isn't necessarily the best way way to accomplish this, even from a strictly SEO perspective.
Rankings for What?
Let's start this off with an observation that is probably obvious, but that has implications a lot of internet marketers might not have thought about, especially those newer to the game.
If you wrote an article called "Dog Hats for Elderly People," there's a pretty good chance you could rank number one for the term. Nobody else has written an article on the subject, so it would be relatively easy to get high search engine placement for the term.
And of course, who cares? Is anybody searching for something so bizarre? If so, it's almost certainly a very small number. And that's the first lesson. High search rankings don't necessarily imply massive traffic.
Okay, Semantic Much?
Alright, everybody probably realizes that when they ask for higher rankings, they really mean they want better rankings for keywords with a lot of traffic, and most internet marketers are well aware of this. But this subtle distinction really does have an effect on the way we think about our approach.
The problem is that when we phrase things this way, we tend to go after keywords that we think we can rank well for. It puts us in the mindset that if we can't make the front page (sometimes even the first spot), it's not worth writing an article on the subject.
But it turns out that's not necessarily the best strategy. People can and do click through to the second, third, forth, and even 80th page. If they didn't, I wouldn't see the occasional click for queries I rank in the 800th position for.
Low Rankings Aren't Always a Problem
Did you see this coming?
Let me ask you a question. If you rank 400th for a term and it sends you 5 clicks, and you rank 10th for a term and it sends 5 clicks, which keyword should you invest more time in? It's probably intuitively obvious that the 1st one is far more promising. While a higher ranking for that term is desirable, you don't necessarily need high search engine placement to see a pretty substantial increase in traffic.
All of this is fairly straightforward, but here's where some marketers might start going astray. Suppose you put in a little effort with link bait, guest posts, and outreach, and now you rank 15th for the keyword. You see about 1000 clicks for the keyword, but your efforts aren't paying off anymore. You don't see any improvement in rankings.
This is about when a lot of SEOs will start to ask themselves, "How can I get better rankings for this keyword?" It's a tempting question to ask, because you know you could easily double your traffic if you just made the front page.
But wait a second. What if there's another keyword hovering around the 400th position with about 5 clicks? Shouldn't you invest in that keyword instead? You know it will take roughly the same amount of work to get it up to the 15th position, and there's a good chance you will double your traffic this way as well.
There is Always Another Keyword
This isn't exactly a, "there's always another fish in the sea" argument. That would imply you were "giving up" on one keyword and going after another one instead.
SEO doesn't work that way. When you build up authority for a new keyword, you build up domain authority that will help you rank for everything else.
But perhaps more importantly, moving on to a new keyword is usually a better way to get more traffic more quickly. There are diminishing returns the closer you get to the top of the search results. There's no question you would move on to a new keyword if you ranked 1st. Why should you think about it any differently if you've hit a wall and there's no sign of better rankings around the corner?
Have you avoided high traffic keywords because you couldn't get high rankings for them? What about pursuing the same keyword when it might have been better to move on?
Image credit: Alexandre Duret-Lutz