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Why Both Weight Loss and Google Rankings Are Limited Goals

October 19, 2011

My husband and I were talking the other night about one of his pet peeves: When people start exercising and eating healthier, they usually measure their success by how much weight they've lost (or not) as shown to them by their trusty scale. It annoys him because, Image Credit: Ben Stassenwhile losing weight is one sign that you're doing things right, after a certain point, it can only tell you so much.

It reminded me of my own pet peeve: how people usually measure the success of their SEO work by checking how well their site ranks in the search engines. Yet, similar to weight loss being a poor main goal for your health and fitness regime, where your pages rank for specific keyword phrases is also a poor main goal.

Healthier Body – Healthier Website

Your principal goal when eating in moderation and exercising regularly should be to become healthier overall, and ultimately to live a longer and more satisfying life. And your chief goal with an SEO program should be to create a better overall website and make more money from it -- which, incidentally, can also make for a more satisfying life! ;)

Writing articles nobody is really interested in about the history of your products is like eating lots of junk food. It's empty calories. There's no value in it to anyone (except perhaps the donut store) and it keeps you from eating the good stuff. Writing keyword-filled content just for the sake of search engines works the same way: It keeps you from adding true value to your website. While you can try to cover your big ole body in a floral mu'umu'u, let's face it, you're still out of shape underneath it all.

And it's the same with your website. There's no sense adding good content on top of bad. If it's already full of junk (food), it's time to trim it down and cut out the crap (content).

So how do you measure the effects of trimming the fat?

I'm not saying that weighing yourself and checking up on your rankings are utterly useless. In the beginning, both can be a good way to make sure you're on the right track. Let's say you get all into your new health kick because none of your clothes fit and you can barely make it up a flight of stairs without having to stop for a rest. The more you exercise and eat right, the better the numbers on your scale are going to look. This can definitely keep you motivated. But the weight loss itself is only one result of your success. Other results might be that you look and feel better. In fact, even if you lost only a few pounds, if you're eating better and exercising regularly, you're likely a whole lot healthier and may even have a lot more energy and overall focus.

And so it is with SEO.

When your rankings for a few key terms move from "nowhere to be found" to being on the first page in Google, it shows you that you're certainly on the right track. But here's what is more important: You're likely seeing not only more visitors to your website, but more targeted visitors. And just as more energy results from a good exercise regimen, more conversions and sales come from more targeted website visitors.

But you can only lose so much weight (and check so many rankings).

If you keep up with your fitness program you'll probably get to a point where -- even though you're back in your skinny jeans -- the needle on the scale has stopped moving in the "right" direction. When you measure your success by how many pounds you're losing, this can be confusing. You know you're exercising often and eating correctly, but can't understand why you're not still losing weight. And this is where my husband's pet peeve comes in.

According to him, the more you exercise, the more muscle mass you put on your body. This in turn may even cause you to gain weight because muscle weighs more than fat. At this point, it's silly to be constantly weighing yourself and worrying why you're not losing weight anymore. So at this point you can change your goals. After all, you are probably looking fabulous with a whole new body shape. You're healthy, fit and trim. Your scale isn't measuring your lost percentage of body fat, nor is it taking into consideration the fact that you're stronger and no longer short of breath. So why keep looking at the scale?

It's the same with your website.

Once you know you're on the right track with your SEO, you no longer need to check your rankings. They simply don't tell the whole story. Rankings don't make you money or make your site convert. They don't show you how healthy (or not) your website is.

After the initial stages of your SEO program, it's time to put away your rank checking software (or scale) and adopt new goals -- start counting how often your phone rings, your contact form gets filled out, and how fabulously your website is converting all those extra targeted search engine visitors. Then sit down and have a healthy fruit smoothie -- because you deserve it!


Jill Whalen is the CEO of High Rankings Jill Whalenand an SEO Consultant in the Boston, MA area since 1995. Follow her on Twitter @JillWhalen

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Post Comment

 Bonnie said:
Jill, I love this article!

So many small business owners I come across think "get my site ranked higher" needs to be their number-one goal. They hire someone to do SEO, they get good rankings... and then they wonder why they're not getting any customers. When I look at their site, I see the content is horribly written, for SEO purposes only... stuffed with keywords, links that serve no "human" purpose, etc... I'm sure you know what I mean. It boggles my mind that any sane business owner can read such content and not understand that it won't appeal to (much less convert) their human visitors.

Great analogy and writing. Thank you!
 Jill Whalen said:
Thanks, Bonnie. Maybe we should start calling it "Doughnut Content"! haha
 Ros Collings said:
This is a great article that I relate to both from the Health/Fitness and SEO perspectives - you make so much sense!
It seems though that many in both industries, who should know better, still encourage their clients to focus on the wrong goals. When I joined a gym to improve my health and fitness they were insistent that I specify a weight loss goal. I explained that weight loss would be welcome but secondary to my increased fitness. They created their own weight loss goal for me anyway.
Similarly most SEO companies that approach me only talk about getting me on the first page in Google search results - I am more interested in the overall health and profitability of my site - google rankings will always be secondary.
 JohnH said:
Jill, I keep hearing SEO marketers saying what you're saying, but I have to disagree with your blanket statement that "where your pages rank for specific keyword phrases is also a poor main goal."

I can understand how this philosophy might work with site's seeking repeat visitors or a lot of buzz, but for many industries it's still all about rankings. This assumes, of course, that the site is optimized to get leads and/or sales (traffic won't help if you have a poorly developed site).

For example, I have a roofing company as a client. Not much chance for repeat visits to the website since they offer 50 year shingles. And while the company's customer service earns it good reviews, I don't think we'll see too many bloggers talking about the site regardless of the great articles on how hail damages roofs (surprisingly interesting) or the need for ice dams. In the end it's all about ranking for the right keywords compared to the competition. Once we get them to click, our conversation rate is very good. But we need the click, and it won't happen if they aren't on the first page of the SERPs.

You said "rankings don't make you money," but in my client's case they do. When he ranks well, he makes money and vice versa. So the battle for rankings goes on.

Now maybe your real point (and the point of the other SEO marketers I've read on this topic) is that it doesn't matter how well you rank if your website can't sell. That I'll agree with, but that's not how I'm interpreting what you're saying above. What I hear you saying it that good content marketing equals good traffic from sources other than search engines -- thereby making search engines less important. Maybe for some sites, but for my roofer, he needs search engines to get clients to the site.
 Jill Whalen said:
@JohnH how do you even know where they're ranking? Everybody's rankings are different these days, even more so when logged into Google.

Have you read my article on why rankings are a poor measure of success?
 JohnH said:
@Jill Yes, the days of knowing exactly where you rank are over, but you can still have an idea of where you rank within a range. For example, Google Webmaster Tools offers a number that never quite matches what I see, but it's always within two or three notches. I always check Google's rankings with cookies cleared and logged out of my account -- accepting the fact that those who are logged in may see something a little, or a lot, different. I happen to be located within the center of my roofing client's market, so my results seem to be pretty accurate (I've double-checked on friends' computers).

On the other hand, I have to use proxies from different parts of the U.S. for my nationwide clients to deal with geotargeting issues. It's far from an exact science, but it's the best you can do with the new Google.
 Jim Angel said:
I couldn't have said it better, Jill. I recommend to clients that they have a strategy that answers questions such as, "Then what? And after that, then what? And what about after that?" so that that we are thinking short-term and long-term with our actions.
 Lyena Solomon said:
Great analogy, Jill! It is almost like temperature - if you are healthy, there is no need to take your temperature every day (read: rankings). You feel good. But if you have a cold, taking temperature will indicate how quickly you are recovering.