In search engine optimization, as in many things in life, our attention to details, complexities and nuances can cloud our perspective. We run the risk of losing sight of the forest for the trees. A common manner in which this SEO vexation manifests is through keyword-rank tunnel vision. We must examine our keywords relative to performance, efficacy and attainability.

Performance manifests itself in the simplest, most easily tracked manner. Has the ranking of your site for a given keyword gone up or down on a given search engine in the last month? If your ranking has improved, then your site is likely performing well. If you were on page three and now you are on page two, you would be doing well. If you were on page three and now you are higher on page three, you would be doing modestly well with room for improvement. Inevitably, your site’s ranking for some keywords will stay flat or go down.

Efficacy is easy to understand, but more difficult to track. A closed-loop, integrated marketing-and-sales approach, usually bolstered by a CMS (client management system/content management system), is required to make such assessments. The question is not how your rankings have changed but how many prospects have resulted from the changes in ranking. Furthermore, how strong is your conversion ratio for this prospect pool? Once we understand the finer aspects of inbound marketing, we gain a greater appreciation for the value of our SEO ranking gains.

Attainability is the most elusive aspect of SEO; efficacy is more often appreciated and understood. Attainability, which is just as important, is the ability of your SEO team to make effective gains on your site’s ranking for a given keyword on a given search engine. Though Web CEO, Google AdWords, HubSpot and other services may inform you that the competition for a given keyword is a specific numerical value (or numerical approximation), the actual competitiveness can vary dramatically. Beyond this, the far-reaching effects of Google’s panda algorithm can play differently with different keywords.

In the end, nothing beats experience and observation in determining the attainability of your keywords. If you are targeting a pool of 10 keywords that each have a similar keyword effectiveness index, and three go way up, four go up a little, two stay flat and one goes down, you should intelligently examine the possible explanations for this and try again. Once you have been targeting these keywords for three to four months, however, you should be able to determine which keywords are ripe for the picking and which are simply immovable. It is important to let these latter keywords go.

In this regard, search engine optimization is much like sales—a “yes” is good, a “no” is bad, but it’s the “maybe’s” that will kill you. Identify the winners, ditch the losers, pursue a new batch and see the forest for the trees.

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Alan Blume is an author, and as founder and CEO of StartUpSelling Inc., he works with small businesses on lead generation, sales, marketing, website design and branding. For more information, go to www.StartUpSelling.com.