Ranking reports have finally died a most definite death. Earlier today, Patrick E. Keeble, co-founder, president and CEO of Raven Tools wrote a long and carefully worded letter to all Raven Tools users on his company’s blog, “A message from our CEO: Raven to drop rankings, other scraped data on Jan. 2“.
It might be the most important blog post Raven has ever posted because Raven is removing one of the oldest SEO reporting metrics from its analytic tool set. As of January 2nd, Raven will no longer generate keyword ranking reports. That will pose an inconvenience for a lot of Raven customers but as Keeble notes, it also marks a major change in how SEOs will explain and measure their services, one that’s been brewing for a long time.
Keeble says Raven Tools was forced to choose between using data collected by query-bots (aka: scraped) from Google, and using Google Approved Data. At stake was Raven’s license to continue accessing data from Google’s AdWords API. In other words, Google told Raven that no outside party is allowed to provide Google results alongside results generated and prepared by Google itself. A note from Google AdWords to Raven read:
“In order to be in compliance with the AdWords API Terms and Conditions please cease offering any product or product feature that collects scraped data or uses scraped data acquired from another source (this includes the functionality offered under website and keyword research in your tool).”
After a few weeks of negotiation, Google gave Raven thirty day’s to turn off keyword based SERP result reporting and any other analytic reporting tool which gathers information about Google results from third party sources. Happy 2013!
This, along with the escalating non-referral keyword data in Google Analytics, pushes SEOs into a far more expensive and more professionalized future of web services. Both are very large waves in the storm of change facing the search marketing industry.
It’s important to note at this point, ranking reports are in most cases garbage. Though it might seem contrary to what people understand about SEO, tracking rankings by keyword at Google has not been an effective metric for the past three years. Most SEOs have continued to provide ranking reports but only because that’s what clients want to see, not because seeing the rankings was of any great relevance to the client. What good SEOs try to explain is, the ranking report the client is viewing is only good to the computer it was generated on. Any other computer is likely to see a different set of results. As we explain to our clients, ALL ORGANIC RESULTS ARE LOCAL. (hat-tip to Tip O’Neill)
This is a difficult thing to explain to a client. While anyone can easily understand regionalization, few know about personalization of search. Long term Google users see result sets heavily tailored to what Google perceives about their individual search patterns. If that Google search user is signed into another Google product such as Google Plus or Gmail, the information Google records about their interactions goes into the generation of future search result sets.
Many clients still perceive SEO services to be about keywords and search engine ranking. In one respect, that impression remains correct. We use highly descriptive words which we believe search users will enter when trying to find information. We also use phrases, sentences and entire paragraphs to the same effect. In many cases, we’ll try to introduce location specific information as frequently as possible. We expect the long-term effect of our work to generate high search engine rankings under a number of words associated with the product or service our clients offer. That alone however is not what SEO is about. It used to be but those days are long over.
Once upon a time, search engine optimization companies lived and died on their monthly ranking reports. The third week of each month was dedicated to preparing detailed depictions of how each URL in a website was ranking on six or seven search engines, against a set of target keywords. Life was good for those who knew what they were doing and achieving consistent Top10s meant you could consistently charge top dollar. SEOs could still serve small business clients and virtually (but never vocally or in writing) guarantee positive results. Back then, SEO was a 9-5 work-a-day job.
Today, SEO is about enhancing an environment of opportunities. The long-term goal of achieving high rankings remains the same but with a couple added goal posts and a heck of a lot more work. Search engines use a far wider range of signals and information sources than they used to. They also deliver wildly different types of search result sets. SEO firms are now tasked with providing expertise in multiple environments such as Facebook, Twitter, eBay, Amazon, AdWords, and increasingly in display advertising. As a myriad of web environments merge and draw data from each other, SEOs need to offer the service range of large-scale agencies.
The announcement from Raven Tools earlier today marks one of the last major milestones in the transition of the industry. The old way of reporting results is now effectively dead. Google has made it clear that serious analytic companies will no longer be able to provide ranking reports using data scraped from Google by query-bots. Keyword Ranking Reporting will be yesterday’s news within the next twelve hours. It’s a natural maturation but it’s a big one. One which bears marking.