Why monitoring position in Google is not a good KPI

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There’s a tool inside Google’s web-based AdWords interface which allows you to see what your advert will look like in different parts of the world. It’s also interesting to use it to see the differences in the “natural search” results. I’m not sure how representative these are, but they certainly vary from place to place. And that’s before we start factoring in the “personalisation” which Google increasingly adds to the results. We all see slightly different results pages from each other.

The point of mentioning this is to emphasise how futile it is to monitor your “position in the Google results” on an ongoing basis. I’ve seen some people build up the most extravagant spreadsheets showing the ups and downs of their website’s performance in Google for certain search terms, and use these as some sort of KPI. Please don’t.

There are two reasons why you shouldn’t do this. Firstly, hardly any company gets an overwhelming proportion of its important website traffic from one specific search. Would you assess your company’s success from the sales of one specific model of one product? In search, it’s all about the long tail.

Secondly, it’s just measuring how things are being seen by you, and even then, influences other than the basic “Google ranking” can come into play over time. So it’s at best a relative measure.

BMON clients might be thinking: “Why then, as one of the reports you send us, do we get charts every Friday of the position of our sites in Google for key search terms?” The answer is that we’re monitoring to check that nothing serious is happening. We’ve seen companies suddenly fall away for all their search terms overnight (and occasionally fall away for just one!). The main purpose of our reports is to be an automated warning that there’s a problem. That’s the main reason for frequently checking: to ensure that you’re still there.

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