Should You Settle For Google #2 or #3?
Google Rankings Drive Sales. That’s what a caller told me this morning. Let’s call him Chuck, from Massachusetts, to preserve his anonymity. A year ago his website was at #1 in Google for an important keyword in a somewhat competitive consumer market and now it’s dropped to #3. His sales during the same period had seen a 20% decline. He asked me whether I could help to correct this situation.
By coincidence, Sandra Niehaus has just published a related post entitled, Why Isn’t EVERYONE #1 on Google? She wrote it for all those SEO professionals who have been asked whether they can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. There’s some excellent advice there. It all relates to Setting Client Expectations for SEO and what it can achieve. Part of that included what might be called Reasonable Expectations
- SEO is not an exact science.
- Rankings are important, but not the whole story
- SEO should be judged by bottom-line improvement, not arbitrary Google rankings
To be fair to my friend Chuck, from Massachusetts, he wasn’t asking for guarantees. He knew they couldn’t be given. However he wanted to understand how the competitors now sitting at #1 and #2 had managed to push him down to #3. He felt that if he could emulate them and recapture the #1 position then sales would rebound. As we talked, it was clear that he knew some aspects of the way Google operates. He did understand that different datacenters might deliver different rankings. He also understood that some people would be receiving personalized search results that could influence the rankings. Nevertheless for him the key parameter to optimize was the Google ranking. Get that right and sales would follow.
I pointed out that although there was an obvious positive correlation between the Google ranking and sales, the situation might be more complicated. Had the website traffic also dropped in line with the drop in sales? The answer on this was somewhat vague but he did not seem to have done any website analytics either for visitor traffic or conversions to sales. For him, the Google ranking was almost the sole critical measure.
He asked me again whether I could determine why the new #1 and #2 had managed to push him down to #3. Since I feared that Chuck’s Expectations of what SEO could do would be difficult to deliver on, I diplomatically parted company with him. It really is impressive how those Google rankings have grabbed the attention of some website owners, almost to the exclusion of other factors that influence sales.
If I’d felt that Chuck might be open to looking at a slightly bigger picture, I might have described some of those other factors:
- The Search Engine algorithms are based on over 100 factors, are complex and highly secret and are constantly being amended and improved. In highly competitive markets, it can be quite difficult to determine why at a given time the top 3 or 5 ranking websites are in the order they occur.
- Provided a website is featured in the top 3 or 5, then it will appear ‘above the fold’ and so will be visible in the initial screen view from the Google search. Which website gets the click, depends not only on the order but also on the snippet of text that appears. (As it happened, the snippet for Chuck’s website was invariably better than the two that appeared at #1 and #2).
- Usually a given keyword or keyword phrase will be only part of what the customer actually types into Google. Related searches will far outnumber those for the precise keyword. What counts is the total number of clicks that the web page gets, most of which come not from the precise keyword but from related phrases. This is the so-called ‘long tail phenomenon’.
- Whether a visitor to a web page will ‘convert’ and make the purchase depends on many other factors relating to the website. If you accept that it’s the bottom-line that counts, then you should be aware of all these factors and make sure you put the priority on the factors that will bring the most immediate returns.
What is the moral of the story? It would seem that both Google and perhaps the SEO industry have oversold the importance of that #1 ranking. #1 does not give a licence to print money. It’s what comes up when you click that “I’m feeling lucky” button, but that alone will not guarantee successful sales growth. There’s a lot more to sales than that.