As we all know, SEO is an ever-changing industry full of penguins, pandas and hummingbirds. Sometimes it is hard for even the best SEOs to stay up-to-date on what is relevant in the industry. As an account manager at Cardinal, one thing that is very difficult for clients to move on from is keyword rankings. As a result of all these algorithm changes in recent months, Google is trying to push the SEO industry away from keyword rankings and closer to more useful performance indicators.

The Problems with Basing Entire SEO Campaigns Around Keyword Rankings

  1.  You don’t know what keywords are actually driving your website traffic anymore. Back in the good ole days, before the hummingbird update, you could see the keywords that were driving traffic to your website. Now with secure search, keyword data has been eliminated from Google Analytics. So, that’s great that you are ranked number one for ‘Example Keyword,’ but is that one keyword even driving your site traffic?
  2. Most likely your ranking reports are only tracking keywords that have the highest search volume according to Google’s keyword tool. This is completely inaccurate because over 75 percent of searches are long-tail searches. So, no matter how thorough your keyword report is, you are still missing out on all the long-tail keywords that are driving traffic to your site.
  3. SERPs aren’t cut and dry like they use to be. When SEO started, there were the standard 10 organic listings on the first page, three Ads on the top and seven Ads on the sidebar. This structure is completely outdated and hardly ever shows up as a SERP. Now, SERPs can contain a multitude of options including maps, videos, carousels, images, news, products, etc. There are infinite options for search results, so saying you are ranked #4 on Google is completely outdated because the listings are constantly changing and differ depending on who you are, where you are and what device you are searching on.

So, How Should I Gauge My SEO Campaign’s Success?

I’m glad you asked! If you notice a theme to my blog thus far, you’ll see the word traffic in just about every sentence. As SEO changes, so do the KPIs. One KPI that has been a major success indicator for SEO is organic search traffic.

The overall goal of any campaign is to increase the number of visitors that get to your site. So if this is the main goal of SEO, we should be tracking ALL traffic to the website. Organic traffic is not the only important traffic to your site; you can’t forget about referral traffic, social traffic and of course total traffic. SEO in today’s search world also incorporates social and content strategies, so tracking traffic from social and referral sites should be included in your success metrics.



Traffic is great for any website, but when you get down to it, the real success metrics are sales and leads. The whole point of doing any kind of digital marketing is to get more leads and increase revenue. Monthly SEO reports should always include some kind of conversion tracking to show the client the results of your SEO efforts.


The goal is not to eliminate ranking reports completely, but to keep in mind what success metrics are most important to track. Ranking reports are not going away for quite a while. By incorporating new performance metrics into your SEO reports you will tell a better SEO story and provide more metrics to base the success of entire campaign by.