Google Rankings Drive Sales – SEO Expectations

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

  1. SEO is not an exact science.
  2. Rankings are important, but not the whole story
  3. 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.

11 thoughts on “Google Rankings Drive Sales – SEO Expectations”

  1. Barry you’ve given more than two cents of wisdom for SEO professionals. In this case i think chuck shud understand that his competitors have gone a step beyond more than what he has done during last year.

  2. One thing that I think you may have neglected to tell Chuck was that he perhaps needed to re-assess his actual website in comparison with his competitors. Maybe they just have better content and better Copywriting on their site. Maybe they just have a more accessible site. Both of these would make the sites more popular and give them a better ranking, plus if the content is overall better than his site it may stand to reason why he dropped (especially as Google changes things in its algorithm…)

  3. Great post there.

    You got me thinking about what I've been trying to do with my own site. I have been focussed with getting up the rankings and now that is starting to happen I need to be thinking about how to get people to notice me and buy stuff.

    Thanks for opening my mind

  4. I agree wholeheartedly. There is a lot more to sales than just your rankings (as important as they are). Trust, credibility, security, photography – all are just parts of the conversion challenge.

  5. Thankyou for the article, you learn something new everyday. Unfortunately, with everybody doing search optimisation it means some people out there are having there websites unvisited as the traffic is being monopolised. There will always be somebody out there who wants the top spot for your chosen keyword!

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