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Obsessing Over Search Engine Rankings is a Waste of Time

Stop obsessing over rankings as an SEO metricDo you hop on Google several times a week and search your target keywords, hoping to see your website in the coveted #1 spot?

If so, please stop wasting your time.

That may seem like a strange statement for someone whose business is largely concerned with search engine optimization (SEO), which is all about improving a website’s performance in the search engine results.

Don’t Be Misled By Rankings in Personalized Search Results

The problem with measuring the success of SEO with a quick Google search is that the results can be misleading. Search engines have been personalizing your search results for a while now, so two people can search the same phrase and get completely different search results.

Location-based Personalization

Someone searching for “garden center” in Atlanta will get different results than someone searching for “garden center” in Seattle. Google assumes that you are most interested in finding a garden center in your local area.

Search results for “garden center” in Atlanta, GA

Search results for garden center in Atlanta, GA

Search results for “garden center” in Seattle, WA

Search results for garden center in Seattle, WA

Personalization When You’re Signed In

When you are signed in to Google for services like Gmail, YouTube, Google+, etc., you’re leaving a massive trail of web history that Google uses to personalize your search results. Your search results factor in which websites you’ve visited and what searches you’ve performed while your were signed in.

If this creeps you out, Google gives you the option to turn this off.

Personalization When You’re Signed Out

You’d think that would be enough, but Google also personalizes your search results based on your search history when you are browsing anonymously. They use an anonymous browser cookie to track your online activity when you are signed out of Google. If you want, you can also turn this off.

Personalization Based On Your Social Activity

Google knows a lot about your social circle from public profiles on sites like Google+, Twitter, FriendFeed and other social networking sites. That’s why your search results are more likely to include blog posts by someone you follow on Twitter, for example. Your search results are influenced by your social activity and your social connections.

I searched “gardening centers” in Google and the following result showed up at the bottom of the first page of results. I happen to follow Danny Sullivan, an SEO expert, on Twitter and he’s in my circles on Google+.

Search results personalized by social circle.

Learn more about social search, which Google calls “Search, plus Your World.”

Can’t I turn off all of this personalization and see my true search rankings?

Perhaps, but there really is no such thing as “true” search rankings anymore because everyone else is getting some type of personalized results.

This may be a little disheartening if you’re trying to gauge the success of your SEO efforts, but don’t worry. There are SEO metrics that really matter, which we’ll go into in a future post.

You can find out how your SEO is really doing with a comprehensive SEO audit.

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