Why #1 isn’t necessary

SEO SoccerIn sports being #1 is the ultimate goal of each team and there can be only one.  In search engine optimization, clients and SEOs alike often focus on the #1 place in search results for particular key words and phrases but it really isn’t necessary to be #1 to be successful, and any SEO who guarantees a client a #1 spot on Google or any other search engine is taking a huge risk in making that promise.

Snake-oil promises

Why you might ask?  Google and all search engines regularly change their ranking algorithms, other competitors enter the field of competition and a myriad of other scenarios cause daily fluctuations in search engine result pages (SERPs).  If you are fortunate enough to be #1 in Google, better enjoy it because staying there for any length of time takes incredible effort (and a fair shake of good luck too).

Industry expert and guru Rand Fishkin put it best recently (summary)-

From 1996 through to today, SEO scams have used “guaranteed rankings and traffic” as a slimy catchphrase to lure in gullible buyers with too-good-to-be-true promises. That association has stained the entire industry and repulsed even businesses that might consider using the “guarantee” label.

Many of the SEO companies that do still guarantee rankings have taken the clever tack of guaranteeing a certain number of keywords that they themselves choose. In this fashion, they can select primarily non-competitive terms and have a fairly high rate of success. Whether those keyword rankings provide any serious traffic is another matter altogether.

Additionally, the search engines that matter expressly warn against guaranteed placements. According to Google’s guidelines on search marketingNo one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.

What to do when you aren’t #1

Don’t get me wrong, being #1 in the SERPs is possible, plenty of SEOs have done it. I’ve done it a lot, it isn’t always hard, it just depends on what you’re trying to be #1 for. BUT, what if you are in an extremely competitive landscape, competing against multiple businesses who all have run their own SEO campaigns a long time before you? You’re already behind, losing sales and you need a miracle. It’s tempting to go for the big promises but properly organized SEO campaigns take weeks to begin seeing results and months for full results to begin paying dividends.

The point is, being #1 is attainable but shouldn’t always be your goal. If you can increase your rankings enough to generate a 50% ROI, would you be happy even if your search terms was #5 instead of #1?

Real SEO is about higher conversions, ROI and visibility. Not about being #1. But it’s nice when you are. :o)

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    • Marty has been an active search marketing professional for over 12 years. He has consulted with the Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 as well as medium to small B2B and B2c businesses, governments and higher ed.