If you were asked whether you cared more about brand awareness and conversions, or your website’s search engine rankings, how would you answer?

From the onset of any organic search program, this is a major question we pose to our clients. Their answer is vitally important because we understand that our program must be rooted in a collective understanding of success.

Below, we’ve outlined key considerations when evaluating search engine rank as a performance metric, as well as our point of view.

The Historical Importance of Search Engine Rankings

Since the channel’s infancy, SEO specialists have attributed traffic and conversions to specific, high volume keyword phrases. Whether they’ve achieved rankings through “black hat” tactics or through an aboveboard approach – rankings have been the go-to way for explaining search performance. As a result, winning rankings for trophy keywords took center stage.

By attributing rankings for specific search phrases to an end result – more traffic and conversions – the preoccupation with rankings has been logical. But what happens when this transparency disappears? How then, do we truly measure success? In the past several years, Google has gradually made it difficult for us to understand the impact of a search phrase. While ranking highly may reap undeniable benefits, Google gives limited insight into actual performance by blocking data to those who rely on it.

More Than What Meets the Eye

Despite the historical importance given to search engine rankings, there’s an underlying flaw associated with search engine rank: while you may conduct a search and see your website in a certain position, it changes minute by minute. Google uses various data centers to populate their results. With personalization through Social Media preferences, a user’s location, along with search history – it is very difficult to truly understand the success of ranking for a certain phrase, when operating locally, nationally, or globally.

A Shift in Philosophy: Give the People What They Want

Rather than focus on a specific search phrase, Google in particular has decided to get smart (or smarter) in understanding what types of results to show for certain searches. Google understands context and is more focused on understanding the collective way people search surrounding a specific content theme, as opposed to an exact match. For example, if you’re searching “video conferencing,” Google may rank sites that focus on “high definition” solutions because those sites have chosen to include additional, highly searched information surrounding video conferencing. Sites that have created “semantic relevance” surrounding the video conferencing theme gain visibility as opposed to those who are strictly trying to rank for “video conferencing” without providing searchers with contextual information or value.

Consider the Bigger Picture

Today, there are more ways than ever for brands to be found online. A solid approach to organic search starts with the understanding of your competitive landscape and the opportunities that exist within it. While the website is vitally important as a final destination, there are many roads to get there – from Social profiles, to local listings, to videos, news results, and beyond. Every point meets potential consumers during their journey and has the potential to generate awareness, drive traffic, and incite action.