Is high keyword ranking the primary indicator of a website’s influence and popularity? While one might initially believe this to be the case, appearing in the top three search results on Google, Yahoo and Bing for my keywords does not necessary guarantee a successful site. High ranking does not necessarily translate into more clicks.

For example, you could have a niche market that gives you great results for certain “long tail” keywords (which is generally a 3+ word phrase), but usually the number of people searching those very specific terms is too limited and therefore will not result in many impressions and clicks. In another scenario, you could have great ranking for a highly competitive keyword, but fail to have a compelling hook in the description of your site in the SERPs, and consequentially miss opportunities for clicks to your site.

Another thing to be aware of is that the search engines, especially Google, are increasingly customizing the user experience based on search history and personalized settings. Therefore, a user who searches for something while logged in to his or her user account will often receive customized (narrower) search results that may or may not include your site. And of course, there are instances where your rankings will vary: what ranks well today may not rank well tomorrow, and vice versa.

The point is, working to achieve high keyword ranking in and of itself is not a guarantee that your site will be successful.

Traffic analytics tools such as Google Analytics are the most helpful resources to determine how your site is performing.  You will have at your fingertips a breakdown of the traffic on your site for any given week or month.  From unique page visits to bounce rates on internal pages, you will see a more detailed evaluation of your site’s reach and influence on the web. The keyword tool shows you which keywords have brought the most traffic to your site, allowing you to further optimize your site by investing more heavily in those keywords.

The conclusion of ranking versus traffic is obvious: ranking is the “horse brought to the water,” whereas traffic is the “horse at the water drinking.”  SEO is still very important, but it only brings you to the halfway point of having a popular website.  The bottom line question really is: how many unique visitors come to your site and interact with your site’s subject, product and service? In other words, traffic that increases ROI will always be the final litmus test in evaluating the success of a website.