In this Webmaster Video from October 19th, Matt Cutts from Google’s Web Spam team addresses a burning question:

As an SEO [search engine optimizer], how can I explain to clients that #1 rankings can’t be guaranteed?

This is an issue that SEO firms and consultants routinely face. A client wants to land a great position for his or her website…but how do you tell that person you can’t promise them a certain result? Or that being #1 may not be the best course of action? You don’t want people to think you can’t do your job, but you don’t want them to leave with false hope or unrealistic expectations.

Matt offers some great insights that you can share with your clients to help them better understand search engine optimization and why rankings can’t be guaranteed.

1. Google Says No Way, No How

Google has an SEO help article in Webmaster Tools that gives it to you straight:

“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google.”

The article goes on, stating: “Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a ‘special relationship’ with Google or advertise a ‘priority submit’ to Google.”

In short: if an SEO promises you’ll be #1 or claims to be Google’s best friend, he or she is lying, and your best bet would be to run for the hills. (But not before you call them out on their shameless fibs!)

2. Being #1 May Not Be The Best Thing For You

Ranking #1 for a search phrase or keyword might not bring you the web traffic or customers you truly need.

Matt’s example is a plumber. Showing up #1 on Google for “plumber” wouldn’t be very helpful because you’d end up fielding calls from people all over the U.S. and across the globe, people who are not in your service area. You’d be much better served by having your website show up if someone searches “plumber in Sunnyvale California.” You want to make sure that you target a relevant audience.

3. Promises Lead to Deceptive Tactics

Sometimes, SEOs will deliver on their promise. They’ll make you #1 alright . . . but for something totally bogus and completely irrelevant.

Matt points out that it would be very easy to rank a website for a really long phrase like “change my default printer on Firefox using Linux Ubuntu.” Very few people (if any!) would use that phrase, so there’s not a lot of competition. You’re capitalizing on phrases that the everyday person isn’t very familiar with.

When an SEO firm promises that you’ll be #1, what that usually means is you’ll show up #1 for obscure terms and strange phrases that no one really uses.

4. Relevance + Quality > Being #1

A lot of times, people get caught up in the glow of being #1. They don’t stop to think, “Are these the words I want to rank for?”

Matt explains that ranking #3, #4 or #5 far outweighs ranking #1 if your website is showing up for a phrase that:

  • converts well;
  • gets a reasonable amount of traffic; and
  • is relatively targeted to what you’re interested in.

Moral of the story: Don’t obsess about ranking #1 . . . especially if it’s for a phrase that isn’t very useful and doesn’t help you achieve your goals. Instead, go after results that “stand the test of time.” In the long run, being #3 could benefit you in more ways than #1 ever could.

Ultimately, quality traffic for relevant terms is what your focus should be.

Shannon
Director of Internet Marketing