Driving behaviour by metrics; a Google Page Rank discussion
Or, driving results through defined strategy by encouraging the right behaviours using the right indicators.
What happens when you drive behaviour by measuring activity? You get more of that particular activity, regardless of quality. When the activity isn’t as easily measured, then we start looking at indicators that can be measured, and that is where the slippery slope of metrics driven behaviour begins.
Take, for example, your website’s rank on Google search results. Using that single metric as a driving mechanism for success initially looks good and easy to quantify: is your site ranked in the first few slots on a google search result? If so, you’re likely focused on the higher the rank, the better…. except, driving behaviour based on this rankling leads to poor practices and even worse behaviour. In order to obtain solid rankings, there were many different ways you could game the system (some less than scrupulous SEO “experts” have tons of tricks to cumulatively work together) to ensure a high spot without having to do the hard work to reach that space organically. Thankfully Google is implementing changes that reward the right thing and remove the ability to actually game the system through simple tricks.
The maniacal focus on being on the front page is what comes from poorly focused, metrics driven activity. Rather, the front page/first spot should be seen as an indicator, a result from doing the right thing. Using behaviours to drive metrics instead of the reverse is the first step to having the right focus on the right things. The common adage is “you get what you measure”, and truly it is in this case as well. The right thing, in these cases is creating quality content and engaged conversation. “SEO has changed. It’s no longer just about getting all of your meta data aligned and your site content optimized, but also about getting your customers involved in the conversation.”
So, what’s the solution in this example using Google search ranking as a success metric? The answer is both simple and difficult: Measure and report on the behaviours you want to encourage. Only use search rankings as indicators that those behaviours are showing benefit. What does that mean though? Specifically, it would require measurement of content quality and more complex metrics to be developed in order to identify, in quantifiable methods, the activities associated with generating quality content and quality conversation. But, people are like electricity and water: all three follow the path of least resistance. In this case, that path is taking the easy way out by just looking at your google rank as a single easy metric to show success. But, like I noted above, Google is indeed doing things to reward those who are doing the right thing: both Google Authorship and GooglePlus provide deep benefit without much additional work (assuming you have content flowing already, these simple provide better connection to you and more robust results, they don’t make your content better).
If you’re still focused on page rank, you will soon find your metrics obsolete. With the proliferation of mobile devices and a shift to both smartphone and tablet computing, Google Now will be the driving force in benefits to site owners. We’ve already seen page rank plummet in relevance over the past 3 years as Google shifts their strategy to align more with organic search. Google Now is the future of a dying page rank. As a site owner or content creator, we are all best off paying attention to the future and building the right metrics to drive the right behaviours here and Now.