Strong Natural Positions Are Not A Birthright

I was chatting with a marketing manager from a well-established West Coast real estate brokerage the other day. He expressed a philosophy that I have heard a million times before, and always wondered at, because it's amazingly misguided.

In a nutshell, he said that because his company is the leader in its market and has been around longer than anyone else, it should thus be at the top of the heap in the natural results. Furthermore, the companies who are showing up ahead of his company in the rankings are much smaller, with a lesser reputation--so, in effect, he said, they shouldn't be there.

Guess what. Those factors will make a huge difference on the paid side of the fence, but they don't mean a lot from an organic perspective. While some people bemoan the fact that the Internet has become a pay-for-presence entity, I give the engines, Google especially, credit for maintaining the integrity of their algorithmic results. As many of us have learned, achieving and maintaining impressive natural positioning doesn't occur by accident, nor is it a factor of your pedigree.



I have found that in many cases there is a generational factor in the mix when companies think like this. Their industry leadership position is more a function of time-in-the-game than anything else--and they are being run by individuals who are in the latter stage of their careers. In other words, their significant market share is a result of a competitive advantage that they have held for years.

It's got to be particularly disconcerting to see other companies forge ahead of them in the search results who haven't paid their dues, who are encroaching on their turf, or who may be in another time zone or even on a different continent. It has also got to be very scary, as the Internet and search do not represent any sort of comfort zone.

Businesses who share this mindset ought to accept these realities and get on board with search. The upside potential is too great--and the opportunity lost by staying on the sidelines is too significant.

It is well known that Bill Gates underestimated the potential of the Internet for a very long time. As a result, Microsoft didn't allocate the resources that it could have early on. When you look at the market leaders in the space, you see that MSN continues to play catch-up to both Google and Yahoo. In an eerily similar manner to my discussion with that real estate company, the long time market leader (Microsoft) didn't accept the realities of the changing landscape and failed to adjust quickly enough.

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