When I first started doing SEO, I would check my rankings constantly. I had IBP and ran reports weekly, but I would also just go to Google and type in keywords that I’d been optimizing pages for. Looking back, I realize that I lost a lot of time that could have been better spent but rankings were my obsession back then.

So now its 2010 and rankings are still my obsession…I’m a little embarrassed to admit it but I still want to see weekly ranking reports. However, I don’t stop and check rankings all the time anymore (I guess I’ve grown up a bit). The biggest difference between now and then is that while I still want to see my rankings regularly, I don’t just stop there: as I’ve grown as a marketer and analyst, I’ve learned to ask some interesting questions. Below are a few of them that you might find helpful.

1. Why am I optimizing for this keyword?

Most keyword lists are a made from a combination of analytics data, gut instinct and management “suggestions”. Personally, I prefer to work from the data but you shouldn’t discount knowledge gleaned from years of experience. Sometimes a sales rep or copywriter or customer service rep will have insight into how people actually talk about your products or service. Use this.

The key thing to remember is that traffic is means to an end. If a keyword doesn’t convert or support your brand positioning, then maybe its not for you.

2. How many monthly visits does a ranking generate?

Check your analytics keyword reports.

3. How many conversions do I get from this keyword?

Check your analytics keyword reports.

4. What percentage of monthly search traffic am I getting at position X?

You can also think of this as CTR. I use the public Adwords Keyword Tool for this. Divide your monthly visits by the global monthly search volume for the keyword: ([Keyword Monthly Visits] / [Monthly Global Search Volume] = Search Percentage)

5.  Is my keyword pointing traffic to the right page?

Top rankings are great, but what if you are sending traffic to a sub-optimal page?

For example: You have a “widgets” page, a “blue widgets” page and a “yellow widgets” page. Your keyword, “blue steel widget” is sending traffic to the general “widgets” page. You need to look at your bounce rate and conversion rate and decide if maybe you shouldn’t try harder to get that keyword pointing to the “blue widgets” page or if you need to build a unique “blue steel widget” page and optimize it tightly for that keyword.

6. What is the searchers intent when he/she types in this keyword?

This one can be tricky. You’ll need to look at bounce rate, page views, conversion rate and navigation paths to really get a feel for what a searcher wants here. Take a look at Question #1 again, then ask yourself if this is a keyword that someone uses to shop, browse or research. Also keep in mind that some keywords can relate to multiple topics. You may be ranking for a keyword that has nothing to do with your business in a searchers mind.

7. Whats it worth to me to improve my rankings for this keyword?

You’ll want to look at your Search Percentage from Question #3 and then see what type of conversions it gets. If you are below page 1 in the SERPs and this keywords is still driving sales or even just a steady stream of traffic, then it may be worth investing some time to optimize for.

8. What related keywords should I be looking at?

So you are seeing  results for “Tom Cruise Scientologist”. You are getting visitors, subscribers, sells, etc. But you notice that your conversion rate is below 1% and your bounce rate is between 70-80%. Maybe you would be better off optimizing for “Tom Cruise Scientologist T-Shirt

Its About Targeting and ROI

As you can see, all these questions come down to targeting and ROI. If you are pursuing rankings for a keyword, then you should know that will show a positive return on investment. You should also be open to pursuing alternatives that might create a better return.

Want to add something to the list? Leave your question in the comments.