There’s More to Life than Google Rankings

By: Guest | March 25, 2013 | 

Foam #1 Finger Today’s guest post is by Adam Smith.

Do you want to be number one in Google rankings?

Of course you do.

Whether you feel it would be beneficial for your business or you’re driven by pure vanity, being number one really means something to us.

It tells us we’re the best and we’ve earned the recognition we deserve. But, what if being top dog isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

I’m going to share a few stories about how getting to the top of a search engine isn’t going to win you the race. Because Google is just another traffic and revenue stream – and not always a good one.

The Juicy Bone

A leading firm of contractor accountants ranked number one in Google UK for “contractor accountants,” which is the big search term in their niche.

Google keyword tool estimates search levels at approximately 2,400 per month. Can you guess how many clients they get from this in a year? A handful at best, because it takes a long time (and more than 12 visits) for a contractor to sign an accountant. The conversion funnel is huge as a result.

However, their entire business model brings in hundreds of clients each year. All while their competitors are spending crazy sums of money on SEO agencies and paid links in the pursuit of ranking first for “contractor accountants.”

Based on the data I have, their competitors are spending far more money on pursuing that ranking than they would make from being number one for two to three years. I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s a really bad ROI.

So what have the number one contractor accountants been doing while their competitors chase after the juicy bone? They’ve been expanding their business in other, more lucrative, directions. How many potential clients will they lose by not being number one in Google rankings anymore? Perhaps one during the course of a year.

So the point I wanted to make is pursuing search terms for vanity’s sake doesn’t make good business sense. And, if you don’t do your research before chasing after a juicy bone, it may taste sour when you finally catch it.

You could argue, in this instance, the cost of ranking first is justified based on the traffic for brand exposure. However, I often wonder if the number of local monthly searches for “contractor accountants” has been influenced by the sheer volume of marketing people typing it into Google every single day.

That would certainly explain its poor conversion rate compared to similar search terms in the conversion funnel.

Take a Holistic Approach

But what if your website ranks top for a search term that converts well? Oh wait, you only get 80 visits a month from it.

Hmmm… how can we do that better?

Well, one IT jobs site isn’t just creating pages for search terms and then trying to get them ranking. Instead they’re taking a holistic approach by creating a hub of content around each of their job categories for both users and search engines.

Let’s say you wanted to become a web developer. You would be able to find a page in the content hub for every step of that process: From researching the role and training to writing a CV, attending interviews, and surviving your first month in the job.

The user experience is great, because candidates are being provided with all the resources they need for their chosen vocation, including jobs to apply for at the end of the process.

Meanwhile search engine traffic would be greater overall because of the number of pages created around “web developer jobs.” Each page ranks naturally for ‘long tail’ search terms and provides an entry point into the content hub/conversion funnel.

For Google Rankings, Build Content

It may take time to write all of that good quality content, but it’s far more cost effective for getting traffic and conversions than building links to get to the top of Google for a single search term.

So do you spend loads on link building to rank first for “web developer jobs,” or do you create a hub of web developer content pages as a conversion funnel?

The latter has less risk, less cost, more traffic, and better user engagement. You just need to do some funnel tracking to attribute all of the conversions.

We all want to be first in Google for big search terms. We all want those big traffic numbers. But does it convert? And is it worth the cost? Do some analysis and forecasting before committing.

If the answer is no, then it’s better to pursue other, more lucrative, business opportunities.

Meanwhile, Google has said for years that selling (and buying) links that pass PageRank violates their quality guidelines. They even published a reminder about selling links that pass Page Rank after crushing a number of blog networks last month.

It just seems crazy when there’s so much at risk from link building right now for businesses to pursue the top search terms, especially when they may only generate traffic and not conversions.

So let’s use our analytics to get more of the traffic that converts well, and put it into some kind of conversion funnel to drive traffic towards your goals and pour your social followers and direct traffic through that funnel too.

Meanwhile, our competitors can wage a war of attrition with their wallets over the number one spot in Google for a high traffic search term that may not even convert well.

SEO, copywriter, and internet marketeer, Adam Smith lives a life of swashbuckling adventure in the digital spaces and now works in house for Technojobs in the UK as an online marketing manager. Track him down on Twitter and Google+.

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34 responses to “There’s More to Life than Google Rankings”

  1. samtaracollier says:

    belllindsay How the hell are YOU?

  2. glavahead says:

    belllindsay SpinSucks good stuff

  3. Jillian Paige says:

    oooop. *ducks behind the crowd*

  4. Steven Edward Streight says:

    This is a fantastic article that really nails it. Most clients want to chase after keyword optimizations, but fail to provide good content and satisfying user experiences. Thanks for this article. Shared.

  5. Tinu says:

    Sad these days we live in. It used to be understood that as an SEO professional, you had to not only advise clients of the best keywords, but manage the drive for rankings with other traffic generating marketing activities. I’m staying old school & as Steve Harvey would say “I’m not converting over”.
    It’s not that bad though. At least now folks can find good advice before shopping around.

    • adammbsmith says:

      @Tinu I don’t know, there’s a lot of bad SEO advice out there. Unfortunately it’s easy to pitch something on the back of ranking 1st in Google than it is to demonstrate other ways to improve site metrics.For example, simply adding “UK” to the end of all the Title Tags for a website brings in a small percentage of additional traffic. But if your site get 3,000 visitors per day, that could be an extra 30 visits per day (+840 per month) – simply by updating your Title Tags with an extra keyword for more long tail search results.I mean, why bother going to all the effort of trying to improve your rankings if you can do something as simple as this for more traffic and conversions site wide?

  6. crestodina says:

    I like this post. And I think about these things a lot. It’s not that surprising to read that ranking first in Google for a blockbuster phrase doesn’t necessarily lead to a lot of business. If you were a contractor looking for an account, you’d probably take a thoughtful approach and not just hire whoever Google put at the top. Same with “web developer jobs” It’s good to rank high (sometimes, very good) but when people are researching big decisions, they do more than click on the top site and sign up! 
    So rank is only part of the picture. Rank > Traffic > Conversions > Qualified Leads > Closed Business! The big picture is pretty big.
    Thanks for sharing this, Adam! I’d be interested to hear more about the “Hub of Content” and the other things these companies were doing…

    • adammbsmith says:

      @crestodina If you also consider how much is costs to get #1 for that blockbuster term, you can find more affordable, sustainable opportunities elsewhere by diversifying your content across a larger number of search terms. And content is great for mopping up all that long tail search.

      • crestodina says:

        @adammbsmith Agreed! The more specific the phrase, the less competition and the more targeted the visitor. I’d rather rank high for 10 longer, lower-volume phrases that one general, popular phrase. More targeted phrases bring in visitors farther down in the conversion funnel…

  7. ginidietrich says:

    mattmcgee That’s what I said too! Crazy talk! AdamSmithSEO

  8. ginidietrich says:

    Hey Adam! First, thanks for the blog contribution. Appreciate it very much! Secondly, when I read your headline, my smart butt voice said, “Oh come on! I love competing for search rankings!” But you’re right. We have a client who does this very well. They begin by paying for keywords and phrases while we work on the organic side. The amount they pay Google decreases each month as their organic increases through content, social shares, and email marketing (which we then post to their site). Like your contractor accountant friends, they don’t make their money from the web, but we have seen a significant increase in qualified leads. I guess my point is this: I feel about media relations like you feel about paid search. It doesn’t work if it’s done in a silo.

  9. Thanks for the great article, Adam. “A hub of content” around each key piece of your business! And yeah, let’s allow our competitors to keep emptying their wallets in pursuit of #1, while we attempt, instead, to bring a few new clients each month through the funnel! It is amazing, isn’t it, how much people are willing to risk on unnatural links these days!
    Thanks @TheBradEnlow for passing along this article to me.

    • adammbsmith says:

      @RonVanPeursem  @TheBradEnlow Glad you enjoyed the article. And thanks to Brad for sharing it.In my first SEO job many years ago, my boss at the time said “It’s not about being the biggest or the best, it’s about being profitable” and those works of wisdom have stuck with me ever since.

  10. SpinSucks says:

    PRNewser 🙂 Thank you!!

  11. mlaffs says:

    kateupdates ginidietrich love this headline

  12. vzagob says:

    kateupdates I think there more life here than any other place I’ve been

  13. SpinSucks says:

    Kato42 Thanks for sharing Kate!!

  14. SpinSucks says:

    marketingcloud Thanks for sharing!

  15. wickedjava says:

    lizscherer Amen, sister!

  16. SyrupD says:

    RT JeffSheehan There’s More To Life Than Google Rankings by adamsmith via SpinSucks

  17. pmccorkl says:

    As a Kent State University PR grad student enrolled in PR Online Tactics course, this was an interesting read. In class we discuss the importance of constantly creating content for our blogs to increase traffic and build our personal brand. You mention the need to focus more on what converts well to drive traffic toward goals which falls in line with class discussion. I’ve come to realize people search for specific content and once they find it want a lot of it. It’s important to create a lot of USEFUL content which will then increase traffic to your site. We’ve used Google Adwords to help determine keywords and phrases for tags within in our blogs to help with search results. My blog has been up since February so I know I don’t rank high in Google search. I do believe checking for top search terms is beneficial when creating content however, I agree with you that spending so much time focusing on that is actually a bad idea. While it would be nice to rank high in Google search, that should come naturally with the creation of informational, fun, and captivating content. Sometimes I find the best information on the third or fourth suggested site from Google instead of the first. The reason why? The CONTENT.

  18. […] long run. I read a captivating post by Adam Smith, an experienced SEO, in which he talks about how there is more to life than Google rankings and the importance of content. One thing is for sure, Google is constantly changing and what works […]

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