You Don't Deserve #1

Recently it crossed my mind to start asking prospective clients why they think their particular Web site deserves to be No. 1 on Google or even in the top ten. I feel the answers could be very telling. Everybody seems to think that they deserve to rank at the top of Google for the products and services that they sell -- but the reality is that most often they don't. Let's face it. There are only 10 spots on the front page, and hundreds or even thousands of Web sites that sell the same product for roughly the same price.

Some days it feels like SEO has been boiled down to one simple concept: Buy your way to the top. And you know that gets me all fired up because SEO is what I do. It's who I am and if you reduce it to something as pedestrian as the concept that enough money can get you to the top, I'm liable to drown my sorrows in another beer before I even finish this article.

There is a weird reality though: What I just railed against is exactly how it works. You spend money with SEO experts and you get increased rankings. Maybe. Hopefully.

Sure you can buy a ton of links and maybe beat the system for a little while, but in the end the sites that typically do well long term are sites that deserve to do well. There is a "value-add" that makes them just different enough to warrant some extra attention. These are the sites that an SEO can really work with. We can prospect real links. We can bring a strong social media program into play to add some virility to the site and continue to grow the authority of that site. If your only differentiator is that your crappy articles are slightly different than your competitor's crappy articles, there's not much there for me to work with, and I'm at a point in my career as an SEO that I'm simply not willing to be your paid link broker. Yes I can do that and I'll incorporate it into a larger plan as necessary -- but if that's the only avenue to success, it's not even SEO anymore and it will fail at some point. Maybe not today or next week, but I guarantee it will fail.

So what is the secret to SEO success now? I believe it's the value-add I mentioned earlier. That gives me something to work with. It gives social media a chance for success. It gives natural link building a kick-start. It gives users a reason to bookmark the site. It gives users a reason to share the site with others. It gives you a reason to deserve to rank.

The value-add is wide open. It can be simply great customer service: Zappos. It can be predictive airline pricing: FareCompare. It can be a simple great offer: Woot.com. In SEO we always say to look at what your competitors are doing online and follow the pieces that are working. When it comes to the value-add, you need to look at what your competitors are NOT doing or what they are doing poorly and capitalize on that.

So when I ask you why you think you deserve to be in the top, and you tell me because that's where you need to be to make money but you have nothing new at all on your Web site -- and there are 10 other sites doing what you do and doing it better -- it doesn't mean we're not going to chase it down. It simply means I'm not just going to get you a bunch of links. It means we're going to have a little Come To Jesus chat and I'm going to tell you that SEO isn't just ranking. I'm going to push you toward doing something that is adding value for your users, that will give you a reason to rank and make ranking simply easier for all of us.

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15 comments about "You Don't Deserve #1".
  1. Gerard Mclean from Rivershark, Inc. , September 4, 2009 at 10:56 a.m.

    Perhaps that should be your first question to clients, "Why does your site deserve to be #1?"

    If the answer is something like, "Shut up, I'm paying you to do it now just do it," you may think about walking. But, even if clients don't have a good reason when you ask, at least they start thinking about it.

  2. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing , September 4, 2009 at 11:21 a.m.

    I find the whole SEO interesting. When I have to buy something that everyone carries I use Google Shopping and I can list from cheapest to most expensive usually having 150 choices (minus all the Ebay listings). So unless your in the bottom 10 or 15 on price I will never see your offer. For standard information truly the national brands/businesses will always come in the top 10. And it is a waste for a local brand to try to crack that search output. They should focus on web based yellow pages.

    This come back to the classic business school guidance that you either have to offer value added or be the lowest cost to succeed. Value added really doesn't need SEO. Most likely your brand is known (locally or nationally) and your website will be searched for directly vs a generic search.

    And for SEO people forget all the other types of media pumping info at people. If your searching for a new laptop retailers like Staples, Best Buy, etc do not need to show up in SEO. If your a local business your street sign, yellow pages online and local advertising will be much more powerful than SEO with Google or Bing.

    I truly think SEO is more important for abstract type of businesses. Your seeking an IT Networking Company, someone who sells Bulk Baking Goods B2B, or a SEO Consultant! Especially for businesses that do not advertise via traditional consumer channels.

  3. Jeff Weitzman from Go Factory , September 4, 2009 at 11:29 a.m.

    Good article. As I come to learn more about SEO, I am gaining an appreciate for search engine algorithms. They do a pretty good job of acting like humans, and if a human would look at a page and think "yup, that's what I wanted" the engine will to. Watchword for SEO: RELEVANCE.

  4. Raquel Bell from 23 Degrees, Strategic Internet & Marketing Solutions LLC , September 4, 2009 at 11:55 a.m.

    Great article, it's a great question that I have never thought of. How many times have you gone to that #1 position company, clicked on the link thinking you were getting what you were searching for and it's a mess, un-usable, undesirable and just pure crap. Great proposition I am going to propose this question myself when working with clients. It's a great lead-in to why their site needs to be more than just a corporate brochure. People want value and that's the bottom line. Companies that cannot provide that are just clutter.

  5. Greg Ventresca from ClubSkinny Denim , September 4, 2009 at 12:55 p.m.

    Envision your business as a talented musician or dancer. How would you get noticed? Your talent is your website...it better be good, or entertaining or, at least, interesting. Make people think, or laugh or feel something and they will share it.

    How would you spread the word? Print (good), media (better) or both (best). Polish your skills, then climb a tree and shout your own praises. SEM will forcefeed traffic to boost your popularity which then makes Google love you (SEO).

  6. John Rasco from RefreshWeb , September 4, 2009 at 12:59 p.m.

    Todd, this is just an outstanding bit of insight. I'm speaking next week in Houston at Interactive Strategies 09 (on 090909) on Transitioning to Interactive, and will address some of these same points. I am thankful every day that Google rankings are earned by merit, and as SEO guys we get to have the fun of helping clients deserve their top rankings, and reap the rewards. An SEO budget is still the most effective marketing dollars you can spend.

  7. Kevin Fox , September 4, 2009 at 1:21 p.m.

    You really lay it on the table. Thanks.

  8. Don Mccauley from Free Publicity Focus Group , September 4, 2009 at 1:32 p.m.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying it. Good to know someone has at least a lick of common sense. Great article.

  9. Joe Laratro from Tandem Interactive , September 4, 2009 at 2:35 p.m.

    Another great article Todd!

  10. Keith Paulin from SEO Works , September 4, 2009 at 8:07 p.m.

    Hey Todd...it's rare, when reading through the multitude of information on SEO that comes through my in box, for something to really make me stop, pause and go "Boy, what an unpleasant truth!" and made me feel uncomfortable.

    So, I quickly scanned through our top 100 clients and asked myself that very question..."Do they really deserve to be on page 1, or even number 1?"...and, in this moment of introspection, sadly the answer in at least 50 cases was "Hmmmm, no, not really." Are there better sites with richer content and a more compelling offer that genuinely deliver a special experience or product? And the answer is of course an unmitigated "Yes..."

    So, what should we do about it? Well, we are still going to do what we do, as we are pretty selective about who we take on as clients anyway (perhaps we'll be even a little more selective)...but when what they have to offer/experience is better than "OK", if they have the dollars, we're still going to work for them...can't change the fact that we have a team to support and they all need to feed their families...but, taking a leaf out of the legal profession, what we can do is offer some "pro bono" (Definition: Work done without compensation for the public good.) services to startups, really small businesses and non-profits/charities.

    Not sure yet how it will work, and there is bound to be a myriad of people attemptiing to take advantage of our offer for all the wrong reasons...but, keep an eye on www dot searchengineoptimisationworks dot com dot au.

    We'll let you and everyone know how it plays out...adding the page this week!

  11. David Iwanow from Marktplaats.nl , September 5, 2009 at 5:16 a.m.

    Awesome, it makes sense, just as you cant be the only business listed in the yellowpages.

    If your competitors are outspending you on buying links, the move towards spending on quality content makes sense and can provide a massive boost and those nice long tail keywords.

  12. Tom Shivers from Capture Commerce , September 5, 2009 at 11:14 a.m.

    Excellent post! I've been trying to say the same thing for many months now on my blog but this nails it. Thanks for the candor Todd.

  13. Benj Arriola from YDS Web Solution , September 8, 2009 at 1:19 p.m.

    The best article I've read in the past few weeks.

    This is where sometimes some clients don't get advice when you say your site does not look good. We need more design work, usability work, etc. And they say we are only hiring you for SEO.

  14. Richard Weiss , September 11, 2009 at 8:25 a.m.

    I see what you are talking about all the time. Google stands on its rock of righteousness saying it wants to give its users a good experience. Yet its algorithms are tilted to be exploited by those that can spend the bucks to get SEO experts to get them placement.

    The more I learn about SEO the more I realize that Googles claims are somewhat bogus. If good content dictated a high position many first page listing would be hard pressed to be on page 5.

  15. Chris Nielsen from Domain Incubation , September 12, 2009 at 10:11 p.m.

    There have been some search engines in the past the "rotated" search results. That is, if the ranking score for two or more listings was the same, the listings would rotate in the slot where they all appeared. I have suggested this to Google and I don't know why they have implemented this idea.

    But it doesn't really matter to me, since I never worry about "rankings" because it is not an absolute measurement of success from SEO efforts. That can only be determined from visitor conversion, and to a lesser extent, increased traffic.

    So the question we ask clients is not "Why should you be number one in the rankings?", but if they "Want rankings or more traffic?". Most reply they want the traffic when they fully understand the question. :-)