Do you really need to rank #1 to drive traffic?
Maybe you’ll condemn me for dishing up a bold title that seems to contradict SEO’s very roots.
I mean, how can the #1 spot on a Google search not be the goal with SEO?
Given the niche and the keywords, ranking #1 on Google strikes most people as the holy grail for traffic—and if you’ve done your homework, conversions.
But the fact is, in rapidly changing and constantly evolving search demography, #1 isn’t as magical as it was in the good old days of the Internet, when everything was much simpler.
Users are smarter because they’re accustomed to Google’s search results. Google is getting sharper with its knowledge base and query-answering capabilities.
Search is becoming a better and richer tool for users because they get answers instantly, sometimes without even needing to shift to other Google properties (such as maps, images, video search, etc.).
Then there’s the brand and authority that build around your website and how they define your relationship with Google and the users who find you.
This is why I think a case can be made that a #1 spot isn’t as valuable as it used to be.
But let me put the disclaimer in place right at the start: I don’t intend to preach that you shouldn’t aim for the #1 spot on Google for the keywords you target.
Rather, the idea is to focus on a variety of goals that surround this particular ambition which I would suggest are ultimately more important in these changing times.
Google dominates the search market because their motto is to give the user the most relevant search result(s).
In the course of this quest, Google has actually turned into a huge knowledge machine. It can do calculations, forecast weather, provide updated currency exchange rates, show you precise locations across the globe, and much more.
For a large cross-section of keywords, Google almost solves the search for users on its website all by itself (think of movie times, airfares, currency conversion, etc.). Interestingly, websites are still shown.
There’s still the SERP to play with, but the highest relevancy is the result that originates from its Knowledge Graph.
Google is continuously working to tweak and improve its knowledge graph. This means users will be less likely to want to visit the websites that are ranked below the information contained in the knowledge graph.
The knowledge graph contains web results too, but the ranking factors to this are controlled by Google and are, as yet, largely unknown.
Given the rise of the knowledge graph, and Google’s desire to improve and expand upon it, how much value will a #1 ranking hold in a year from now?
Two years? I’d argue that it will only decline.
User Demography #1: Google-Savvy Users
Since it’s no longer the late 90s or early 2000s, most users are Google-savvy now.
Since Google searching has become an everyday activity, many users have recognized that the world’s most popular search engine isn’t 100% accurate all the time, so the lower results are getting more attention than they used to.
Sure, the first page of search results gets many more times the views than the other pages, but the #1 ranking isn’t as important for users as it once was.
Even the slightly Google-savvy user understands there are more options than the #1 rank, and click-throughs are becoming, more often, based on the snippets (meta) that they see on the search results page.
User Demography #2: Varying Rankings by Country
There’s another interesting thing about search and rankings.
Although one of your properties may rank at the top (in Google US) for a particular set of keywords, the same usually isn’t the case in other countries.
This can be problematic when a large chunk of your traffic is supposed to come from countries outside the U.S. In an internet and economy that’s quickly becoming more global, this discrepancy will play a larger role in SEO.
Secondly, search results are known to vary widely depending on many other factors: whether you’re signed in, the preferences set in search, preferences set through Google+, and so on. This means a consistent #1 ranking is often an illusion.
Ever heard webmasters complain that they rank on the top spot, but the conversions and click-through rates are pathetically low? I’ve heard quite a few people say this.
In my experience, it’s not so much about the keyword as it is about user intent.
You may rank highly for keywords that are specifically indicative of what the user wants, but if the content you provide is of little actionable value to users, conversion rate will be low.
“User intent” is a simple science, but it can be challenging to implement changes based on the concept.
In many cases, user intent can be a deal clincher for conversions based on organic search traffic.
Becoming an Authority Among Users vs. Google
Brand, authority, familiarity: these are things that have become more valued on the web. Let’s consider a real-world example: If you want to buy a gadget, you tend to think of outlets where you go to buy gadgets.
The web is becoming a familiar place for users: think of forums, websites with a strong readership, the emergence of blogging, etc.
Since content is the backbone of a good SEO strategy, it’s important to note that simply having a content-rich, high-ranking website doesn’t necessarily qualify you as an authority these days.
Users are more inclined to convert on websites they are familiar with, and ranking on top isn’t the only way to build authority.
So Where Does that Leave Us?
#1 is not the be-all and end-all, nor should it even be the goal.
Many think of it as a means to an end; but in reality, it should be treated as a byproduct (or a milestone) of your real goal: to increase revenue via website traffic.
Since that’s the case, it would be regressive to keep thinking in terms of #1.
Maybe it sounds a little radical, but here’s my advice: give up going after a #1 search ranking as a goal. Instead, regard it as just an indication that you’re headed in the right direction.
Over to you…
Do you think that #1 organic rankings is still the ULTIMATE thing to aim for, especially now that Google is constantly tweaking their algorithms? Please leave a comment to share your view. Thank you.