Manual Rank Checking in the era of Google Personalization

I’ve never been a proponent of manual rank checking (I’ve also called this “canned ranking checks”) as a reliable KPI for Search Marketing success, but with the “upgrades” to Google results in the form of personalization, my recommendation is that all manual rank checking be discontinued.

As Conrad Saam noted in SearchEngineLand last month in Excuse Me While I Have A Ranking Report Rant , ranking reports “convey progress while hiding failure. They distract from business goals and promote the misallocation of resources.” Personalization is one of the major factors as to why ranking reports are essentially a waste of time.

At SEMPDX’s SearchFest 2011 last week, Chris Sherman stated that personalization of results in Google is now the default. There is no way to completely turn off personalization and 60% of the results in SERPs are based on your secret Google “profile” based on your location, your search history, etc. You can’t get a “clean” ranking report anymore, so I recommend retiring this KPI.

Not showing up in SERPs is always a concern, but unless you can exactly recreate the experience of your potential audience in your own search results, your real and actionable data is in referrals to your site from Google. This is basic SEO, the goal of Search marketing is not #1 results in the SERPs; the goal is driving traffic from search engines to your site and gaining an audience of users with optimized content relevant to their searches.

Quick Review: Audience, Relevance, and Search

Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content

Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content

I’ve worked with many people on Search Optimization over the years I’ve been Search Solutionating and James, Frank, and Cynthia belong to a small subset of people I’ve met at IBM who truly “get” what the purpose of Search Optimization is.

I’ve never had to waste any time with them describing the “why” behind Search Optimization and Findability.  That alone is a treat — but also, I’ve learned a fair amount from working with them and a whole lot more from reading their book “Audience, Relevance, and Search: Targeting Web Audiences with Relevant Content”.

This book is of a far higher quality than many of the  search marketing books I have read (or attempted to slog through) during the search engine book boom of the past 10 years.  James, Frank, and Cynthia provide a thoughtful  approach to creating content that improves the user experience of search AND of your Web site. Because it’s all about the content — a little detail that Digital Marketers often forget in their quest for  #1 rankings in Google.

As a Technical Search Marketer I said “amen” to many of the ideas presented in this book – not because I had already thought them myself (I wish!), but because James, Frank, and Cynthia put into words a way of talking about search that built on what I already knew and put it in a broader context of user behavior and relevance. I  did want tips and guidelines — and I got that. But I also came away with something I would not expect: A greater understanding of why the user experience of search works or doesn’t work the way it does.

This book also goes even further, providing suggestions as to how to use that new understanding to not just write content for a #1 ranking, but instructions on how to create better content for the user.

I think this book would be of use, if not a revelation in some cases, for anyone in Digital Marketing (from novices to experienced SEOs), bloggers, journalists, Web content creators, and anyone who does anything on the Web.

4 examples of Web Effectiveness

mydw screenshot

A few weeks ago, I was asked for some examples of Web site effectiveness.  Here are a few from

What  elements make a Web site effective?

  • Think Global: Not everyone speaks English or lives in the US.  Make it easy for people  to choose a country, region, or language no matter where they begin their site experience — country and language selection should be available everywhere on the site, not just the home page.  At IBM, Country/Region selection is available in the top-right of the masthead on every page and people can choose not only country, but have a choice of languages for each country as well.
  • People focus: Understand it’s not about the Web site, it’s about the people. Social enablement is key — on your site and off.  On big sites like IBM, with so many  products and services, it’s easy to get overwhelmed,  To help with that , we make it personal on sites like My developerworks.  My developerWorks allows IT professionals, students, IBM product experts, and newbies to interact in their own personalized space on the IBM My developerWorks site as well as connect and integrate and their activities with facebook, twitter, and other social sites.
  • Content portability: Make your Web content available wherever your audience wants to access it — this is beyond making your site search engine friendly (although ensuring your site surfaces in search engines is one of the most  important components to Web effectiveness). Have a validated Web feed and make it easy to find, particularly if you have frequently updated content.  Understand that your audience may not want to come back and check the site every day.  Let  them decide when and where to read, view, or listen to the latest update — on a feedreader, on your site, on an iPod, or somewhere else entirely. Feeds put your content wherever it needs to be. And don’t forget to create content-type specific feeds for videos and podcasts, like the feed listed on the IBM Web site for IBM podcasts and this site on iTunes with an IBM iTunes podcast feed.
  • Provide answers: Most people navigate to a Web site with a question. The first goal of any Web site is to provide the answers on the page, by creating content that people can actually use.  But when the answer is a little more complicated, the site has to make it easy to get answers, when, where, and how the customer wants.  On the IBM Software site, many pages display a number to call or an option to ask via Web interface for a Call back, a quote, or a response e-mail, such as on the Rational Change and release management offerings page.   In some cases, IBM site users will even get a pop-up with an offer for live help from a real person.