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Why a Top 10 Listing in Google Continues to Mean Less in SEO

So you’re thinking, Catfish you must have had way too much to drink at your birthday show Saturday night if you think that top 10 listings in Google are not important. Well I will plead the 5th on the extent of my celebration except to say I had a blast and I was very appreciative of so many of my friends coming out to celebrate with me. Turning 39 isn’t easy…lol. But, my original point in the title of this post still stands. A top ten listing in Google continues to mean less. And the reason is, because it gets harder and harder to measure what a top ten listing is.

Now don’t get me wrong. Maximizing your visibility on the front page of Google for your related keywords to as many users as possible is still the end goal of any good search engine optimization campaign. But the truth is that its getting harder to know what users see. In the old days, if you were #1 for a particular keyword in Google (and for us old timers, Altavista), that was consistent across the entire users base of the search engine. And it was good to be King! But in today’s search engine technology landscape, there are a number of factors that change what users see for their search results.

Currently the biggest cause of two users seeing different results for the same query is geography. Google serves different data to different users in different locations in order to try to best serve that user. So someone in San Diego that searches for pizza would see different results than someone in New York.

Another big differentiator is personalization. Users who are signed into their Google accounts when they do a search, will have their results colored by known preferences and past search history. And as Google continues to grow, so does the number of users that this affects.

Universal search is another recent development that has impacted the value of a top ten listing because their is more competition within the top 10 for the click. Now that images, videos, news results, maps and reviews have all been incorporated into the front page real estate, it is harder to capture the attention of the user.

Still another factor in all this is that Google has a number of different data centers that it uses for load balancing, and these data centers are not always in sync. It is not uncommon therefore to do a query in Google, hit refresh, and see different results.

So what does all this mean? Well not much in terms of the way you optimize (except for obviously making sure you have elements of image optimization, video optimization and local optimization built into your over SEO campaign), but it impacts the way that you measure a successful search campaign.

For those of us who grew up on Webposition software, search engine rankings have always been the natural barometer of our success. But because of the shift in technology to less homogenized search results, it makes more sense to place greater emphasis on analytics like search engine referrals and conversions (which is really where it always should have been to begin with). Search engine rankings are going the way of Toolbar Page Rank. It will always be a barometer, but it will continue to mean less.