Keyword rankings have long been the promised land for Search Engine Optimizers. From the earliest days of the search engines, companies have been around promising high rankings, or even more absurdly, "rank #1 in 1 week." It should be fairly obvious that these sort of promises are futile and should be avoided.
What then defines a good SEO? He can't promise keyword rankings. No one can. Are keyword rankings what business should expect from SEOs? Do they in any way define success?
No. No. Absolutely not. No business should care about keyword rankings any more than a bear cares about a bee pollenating daisies. Here's why:
Keyword rankings are a means to an end.
The bear wants his honey. It doesn't make a difference to him how he gets it or the process it goes through to become what it is. Bees buzzing around. Flower. Nectar. Regurgitation. Fanning of wings. Queen bees and female workers and drones.
In the same way, as a business, you ought to be thinking about the end result. Is your traffic up, thus causing your sales to increase? That's what SEO is all about, after all, making more money for businesses. There are a hundred (or more) different steps along the way. Don't get caught up in the details.
While it is beneficial to study the process in order to maximize results, you need results first. If you aren't getting the traffic, there is no value in ranking #1 for those terms.
Keyword rankings don't tell the whole story.
All traffic isn't good traffic. I know, this sounds entirely counterintuitive to just about everything you've heard up to this point. It's true though.
There's the obvious - if you're selling dog collars, traffic from searchers looking to learn about bees doesn't help your cause. Things aren't typically this cut and dry. Suffice to say, all traffic is not created equal. Some visitors convert while others don't. It's the SEO's job to concern herself with finding the best keywords. Let them do the research, and don't worry so much about the rankings - as long as the traffic and sales are coming in.
Traffic comes from too many keywords to track individually.
As golden as those couple of keywords might appear to be, they're a drop in the bucket compared to everything out there. There's this thing SEOs like to call the long-tail. It's really just a fancy name for a large number of keywords which bring in only a handful of visitors each. Alone they aren't very valuable, but in bulk they comprise a significant portion of your website traffic. Power in the masses, right?
It goes like this: most searches are unique. Shoppers don't always go shopping for dog collars by simply searching "dog collars." They have something specific in mind, so you end up with "pretty pink furry dog collar for a poodle-doodle." That phrase may only bring in 1 or 2 visitors (2 people would search for that, really!?). When you get 10,000 different variations of keywords related to dog collars, the 2,000 visits from just "dog collars" begins to pale a little bit.
Looking at 10,000 keywords that brought in a handful of visitors each? I sure couldn't bear to do it.
Don't get caught up in the keyword ranking reports. There's a place for them, but they're one small step in the process. Pare down your data to the critical points necessary to drive your marketing campaign. Metrics like revenue and conversions are a lot closer to the golden nugget.